But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Twenty years ago this past March, Charleen and I drove back to Pittsfield from Marietta, Ohio, where I was serving as Pastor of Putnam Congregational Church. A few months earlier while home for Christmas, I had promised the Elders of the church then that I would send some information to them, because I been approached several times during the previous year and a half about the possibility of serving as Pastor here. I wasn’t really looking to move from Ohio, as I was part way through a Dr. of Ministry program at Covenant Seminary then, but Grace Church had been impacted heavily by General Electric having left town, and I knew the church was facing the very real possibility of closing its doors. And even though we weren’t looking to move Charleen and I were deeply concerned about the welfare of the church we had both grown up in.
Unbeknownst to me, the congregation at their annual meeting in January made the decision to extend an official call, and it was that call that precipitated our decision to drive out in March to do some visioning with the congregation. So that Sunday in March after worship, we had a meal together in the church basement and then spent about 3 ½ hours sitting around the table discussing the future of Grace Church. (I had yet to accept the call).
I began the discussion by asking six questions, four of which I asked again recently on an insert in our bulletin. They are: 1. If a stranger walked into Grace Church today, how would you define the identity of our church in one or two sentences? 2. What do you like most about Grace Church and why do you go here rather than to another church in the community? 3. If you could change something about Grace Church, what would it be? 4. If lack of money or people were not an obstacle, what is your wildest dream for Grace Church? Each of those present then were asked to write their answers on a piece of paper and then I had each person read their answers. There are not many left who were a part of that original meeting twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago seems, on one hand like just yesterday. On the other hand it seems like a long time ago, and indeed it is- a full generation. Our children were quite young then; Ian was nine and Rachel was five. Now they are both adults and I have grandchildren almost that age now. But the questions are equally as relevant now as they were then. What do we see as the future of Grace Church?
I certainly do not want to minimize the contribution of those of my parent’s generation who had the vision to start this church in this community. And I do not want to minimize the contribution of all those of my generation who have continued that work, but if I do not ask the question about the next generation, then I am being irresponsible in my duties as Pastor.
Our core values have remained true to the original vision of Grace Church- to be a continuing witness to the historic gospel in this community. Our identity as a church is still the same as what Peter articulated in his first Epistle, and our vision is no different from the vision that Jesus passed on to his disciples 2000 years ago. But the question we have to ask now is, how do we do that today in the community and culture we have at hand? This was no different than the question that Paul and the other Apostles had to ask in each new community they entered for the first time.
Pittsfield is not the same town it was in 1959. But the gospel is the same. How do we effectively bear witness to it now? This is why I asked you these four questions. Pray about how you answer them.
We will be giving attention to our vision as a church for the summer months. At the end of the summer revisit those questions and see if you would answer them differently.
Pastor Tom Bridgman