I recently learned a new word: “coddiwomple”. It is a verb meaning: “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.” It seemed like a fitting way to describe 2018 in the life of First Church. While we as Christians know and are assured of our ultimate destination in Jesus Christ, the interim destinations along the way often feel rather “vague.” The question that has been on my heart this last year as I know on the hearts of our session is “where are we headed as a church” or “where is God leading us?”
Though the destination has seem less than clear, I do believe we are at least well on our way to coddiwompling in the sense of our traveling in a purposeful manner. While we aren’t as far along in a strategic planning process as I had hoped at the beginning of 2018, we are moving in a steady forward direction. In May and June, 69 of you completed the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT) in order to offer us deeper insights to what is happening in our congregation. In October, our consultant came to help us interpret the results of the CAT. One of the things we learned is that we are a “Transformational Church”. We are a church with relatively high energy and high satisfaction. This is the best place to be in for what God will do with us next in our journey together.
A newly gathered Strategic Planning Committee has begun the work of taking what we worked on together at the October retreat and fleshing it out into a fuller strategic plan. A vision and four strategic initiatives have been defined already. The vision, as approved by session, is: Become a hub to care for the community better together than any of us could do alone.
This vision will continue to become a reality as we ground ourselves in what we do well and where we most feel God’s Spirit at work within us: in worship and in mission.
Worship is certainly a “participatory sport” at First Church with many hands needed to make it happen and all of us taking part. Worship is where we ground ourselves each week again in God’s love and God’s call to love others in the world. This year in worship, we all took part in sermon series, a choir cantata, singing out of our new hymnal, and risking trying new things and ways of worshipping. We baptized babies and an adult, confirmed 5 youth, and welcomed new members. It is our weekly “family gathering”- a time to check in with one another and God and be nourished for the week ahead.
We come together each week in part so we can go out (or stay in!) and serve our community. One of the highlights this year in mission was our deeper partnership with IONA (the Islamic Organization of North America) for two weeks of hosting the Warming Center. It was a very moving experience for all volunteers not only to serve our guests but also to work across religious identities. We had over 30 other organizations and businesses taking part in serving this week as well- inviting others to share their gifts with those in need.
The Inclusion Ministry program, which we highlighted on World Communion Sunday this past year, continues to grow. The relationships being built between high school youth and seniors at Warren Glenn is inspiring and nourishing. In 2018, the deacon Christmas basket program was directed towards the Sterling Heights youth who clean the church once a week. It was very successful and much appreciated by the youth. This program is a key example of our church becoming a “hub” of care for our community. Not only First Church members serving in mission, but inviting others to take part and share their gifts as well.
To support our vision, one of the things we need is an adequate, well-maintained facility. 2018 has been a year of a number of capital and building. After several years of work, we got a new electronic sign! We resealed the parking lot, got a new roof on fellowship hall, painted the hallway, and dealt with plumbing issues amongst other things our building and grounds committee (and friends!) helped to accomplish. More capital improvements will be needed in the coming year(s) and we will be asking for your support in that effort.
The vision will also continue to need dedicated staff and lay leaders. I am so grateful for the work of our staff this past year- Nancy, Trish, Marijo, June, Sharon, and Lauren. Since there are more of us now(!), we began having regular staff meetings this year which are helpful not only in checking in on calendars and church events, but checking in with one another and praying for one another personally.
The culture on session since I began here four years ago has always been one of grace, willingness to take (good) risks, and love and commitment for First Church. Two of our “core” members, Lynn Meuchel and Glenn McIntyre rotated off at the end of 2018 after six years of dedicated and faithful service. We give thanks for their ministry and look forward to the new elders coming on board. Our deacons have also been doing some amazing work this year and trying new ways to care for the congregation. I am grateful for their leadership in this.
As we begin 2019, I’m looking forward to see where our journey together is heading and maybe even more importantly, the stops and fun we’ll have along the way! And as we journey, may we pursue the same goal as the Apostle Paul: “the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Rev. Julie Delezenne