Friday, June 24, 2016

At the threshold ...

By Rev. Bethany P. Wood

This report began with the words of Acts 1:8, calling the church to be witnesses even to the ends of the earth. A video outlining the theme of the brochure, “At the Threshold: Moving Forward, New People, and New Places,” which was made available to each member of the gathering, was shared.

Doors make an impression the first time we encounter them. They can be welcoming or unwelcoming. They can be doorways to the communities we live in or barriers to unintentionally keep people out. Are we intentional in opening those doorways or are we hindered by rusty hinges that make it impossible to push through to our communities of faith? Are we ready to open doors and move forward?

Rev. Dr. Kathleen Kind invited the assembly to go on a mental journey. Imagine the door of your church. Imagine taking the handle and trying to open it. Is it locked? Is there a need to find an alternate entrance to the church, other than the main one? Now, open that door and cross the threshold. Sadly, people don’t pass through our doors in the same numbers that they once did.

We do stand on the threshold, and it is time to step forward. Rev. Dr. Dennis Otto helped us to take a look at how that threshold is being crossed across the conference.

First, he introduced the Conference to a video detailing the Acts Network at First UMC, Williamsport. Mitch Marcello shared the work of the numerous small group ministries and outreach of that congregation. He illustrated how the staff team talk to leaders about being disciples. They talk about being a community. They talk about being missionaries. They intentionally create spaces that non-believers are willing to come to. One of the doorways to this community of faith is through a gym door where basketball, weight lifting, and other sports are combined with Bible study.

Second, Otto introduced Pastor Mack Granderson and Manny Valentin, who spoke of the ministries at Derry Street United Methodist Church, an area high in crime and low in education. Derry Street has become a multi-cultural faith presence, a mini-United Nations for that community. There is a 10 a.m. traditional service, an 11:30 Spanish service, and a 1 p.m. contemporary service; and that congregation is ‘on fire.’ Granderson and Valentin asserted that the congregation reaches a wide variety of cultures; people who have a deep need for God. Some of these people don’t know it’s God that’s missing, but they feel a void. The church at-large needs to become less insular and more forward-looking. It is not always easy. Although Satan is the number one obstacle, love is the key. They asked that we love everyone, from professionals to addicts, and everyone in between.

Third, Rev. Jennifer Williams spoke in a video sharing the story of CrossPoint’s Perking Point. She spoke of how the informal coffee house helps lead individuals to Christ. She indicated that when groups are led to pray, they pray with their backs to each other, facing out to the community.

Rev. Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries, took the stage to speak about how creating new places for new people can happen in a variety of ways. We need to rethink how we do church, as 60 percent of our communities are unchurched. The mission field is just outside our doors.

Are you ready to open the door? All that is required is to take the first step.
Rev. Dr. Thomas Salsgiver drew the assembly’s attention to the “At the Threshold” flyer, outlining opportunities for training, consultation, tools to strengthen existing churches, and Fresh Expressions US partnerships.

Concluding the report, Rev. Beth Jones introduced John Hodges Batzka, who brought greetings from Discipleship Ministries Interim General Secretary Mary Jane Pierce Norton. Batzka presented the “One Matters” discipleship award to the Southern Potter County Charge. This award recognizes a move from no professions of faith or baptisms to one, two, or even more. This charge and its pastor have exemplified the spirit and energy of this award.

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