United Church of Christ
Guiding theological question: What does it mean to be called, as an individual and as a church, to be a neighbor and serve in your neighborhood?
Guiding Scripture passage: Mark 12:30-31: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Signs of change:
- There is more of a willingness to share our personal stories and be introspective about the ways our experiences have shaped our faith because of the model of lay preachers sharing to the whole congregations and small groups and workshops creating safe space for people to try new language or open up.
- There is more intentionality around expressing what we are called to do or respond to in a particular moment (what programs/ministries should we take on, what important issues should we give our attention), rather than being as reactive or following the loudest voice. This is due to weaving in the language of call in everywhere from worship to education to committee meetings – it is slowly becoming a part of our culture.
Year 2 Activities
Provide a prayer resource for every Edgewood household and youth/child.
Lay preachers featuring stories of vocation, connecting God and faith to our work.
4 week worship series in January featuring guest preachers across the United Church of Christ to expand our stories of vocation.
Create neighborhood cohorts across the congregation and invite each cohort into a series of relationship building, prayer, and mutual support activities.
Work with a coach from Vibrant Faith to explore Edgewood’s call as a neighbor.
Explore call to advocacy for Palestine with online panel discussions and guest preacher.
Year 1 Learnings
- Our two evening dinner & conversations with the Islamic Center taught us that there are ways we express ourselves that are particular to our faith tradition, both how faith shows up in our work places and what justice commitments we are drawn to. There was a lot of overlap in the wider themes of faith & work and justice, but why things were important or the justice causes to which we were called differed across religious communities.
- We learned that practicing the language of call is important to deepening our understanding of it. Each of us has call experiences, but we don’t always know how to articulate them as call stories or do not have practice making connections between those stories and our faith values or themes in scripture.
- We learned that sharing our experiences in small groups, and hearing others reflect back what they heard us say, helps us find deeper meaning in them. Our lay preachers reflected this to me in the responses they received from the congregation, our small groups learned this each week together in their discussions, and our workshop on aging & memory loss created a space where not only did people feel less along in their experiences, but they found richer meaning and purpose in roles as caretakers that often felt overwhelming and devoid of value.
Resources Developed by Edgewood
- Lay Preaching Program materials — CCI core team member Jon Ritz worked with lay preachers to develop sermons featuring stories of vocation, connecting God and faith to work.
- Calling Sermon – Jonathan Ritz – a sermon on finding our place in the kingdom by Ritz, a lay preacher at Edgewood United Church
- Calling Sermon – Marcia & Harold Beer – a sermon that explores Howard Thurman’s idea of the “growing edge.” CCI core team member Marcia Beer details moments in life when unexpected opportunities opened up and her faith grew.
- Calling Sermon — Rev. Phiwa Langeni, Ambassador for Innovation and Engagement for the UCC National Setting — Langeni offers a litany of ways we are called, reminding the congregation that God calls them into service exactly as they are, in the richness of their diversity. The sermon starts at 24:00.
Recommended Prayer & Study Resources
We recently sang “Like a Mother Who Has Borne Us” and without picking it as a “hymn on vocation” noticed the refrain is “God has called us into life/walked with us in life/calls us into life/walks with us in life.” The main verses speak of our call to work for justice and speak strongly of a congregation’s vocation. Great hymn!
- The Growing Edge podcast with Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer. It is about life, nurturing your spirit, following you call, and how to do that in the chaos of daily life.
When did your church last take on something new?
This February, Edgewood voted to adopt an Environmental Justice covenant. It was the culmination of almost a decade of work—integrating recycling and sustainable practices for our building, providing ongoing environmental education to members, and becoming the first congregation in mid-Michigan to install solar panels on our roof. Passionate lay leaders at Edgewood committed two years to work on the covenant: slowing teaching and listening, laying a Biblical foundation, and inspiring the rest of us to integrate these practices in our own lives.
We did not originally have the covenant as our end goal, but rather, it was an organic process that challenged us to go deeper in our environmental commitment while responding to the immediate needs of the congregation to speed up or slow down as needed. For example, when we first discussed solar panels there was pushback from some members of the congregation about expense and necessity. These members felt so heard and respected that by the time the congregation voted on installing them, the vote was unanimous and the fundraising campaign was quickly and generously funded.
Celebration was an important part of the process: we had an official “ribbon cutting” for our solar panels and a blessing of our Environmental Justice covenant. Local media attention at the celebration resulted in sending lay leaders to other congregations to share our experience and help equip them for their own journey.
We learned that listening to one another, open communication, and adapting our plans and hopes to respond to our community helps us be successful. Through this process Environmental Justice has moved from the passion of a few to a core foundation of our congregation.