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Annual Meeting explores church vitality

Annual Meeting delegates, clergy, visitors seek to understand what church vitality is.

Peter Ilgenfritz, PNC board moderator, opened the 2017 Annual Business Meeting at Pilgrim Firs Camp and Conference Center on Saturday, April 29, announcing a quorum with 48 of PNC’s 79 churches and with 88 clergy, 77 delegates and 13 visitors.

Annual Meeting participants fill long rows of chairs at plenary sessions in Pilgrim Firs’ lodge.

The final total of 229 fit in the space for the first Annual Meeting held at one of the PNC camps.

“Although the room was definitely full, we’re hearing really good things,” said Conference Minister Mike Denton.

After welcoming messages from Conference Minister Mike Denton and a welcome to Pilgrim Firs by managing director Wade Zick, Courtney Stange-Tregear, minister of church vitality, discussed what “vitality” is.

“We are about being agents and ministers of vitality,” she said.

Part of being minister for church vitality has been to define the task in the PNC setting.

Courtney told of being welcomed at a Board meeting by having board members write ideas about church vitality, put the papers on yarn and put it on her.

“All of you are the conference,” she said.  “Last spring I preached at Annual Meeting about ‘Going out on a Limb,’ and then I did just that, moving my family from Baltimore.  Since arriving, my focus has been to get to know you and define what church vitality is for the PNC.”

Courtney Stange-Tregear points to graphic on vitality.

So she has traveled the conference to meet pastors and lay leaders, to hear their stories and struggles, and to find where they need help.

“I am your resource,” she said.  “I want to know what makes your heart sing.  I’m already impressed with the vitality here.  You are doing amazing things and need to talk about it, to share your stories, your lives and your testimonies.”

Courtney told the story of Frog and Toad.  Toad sees that Frog has a wonderful garden.  Frog gives Toad seeds to plant.  Toad does that, and then shouts, “Grow.”  Frog hears the commotion and says if Toad shouts the seeds will be afraid to grow.  Toad changes his tactics and reads the seeds a bedtime story and sings.  Then the sun

Graphic is based on phrases from Micah 6:8.


shines, the rain falls, and Toad falls asleep.  The seeds start to grow.

“Toad needed to be patient and caring,” she said.

For eight months since arriving, she has been listening and meeting people.  She’s aware churches in Eastern Washington and North Idaho feel isolated geographically and Western Washington churches feel isolated from each other even though they are near.

“We need to reach out and be together more, so we can listen and care, so we can share our struggles and vulnerabilities,” Courtney said, inviting, “Lean on me.  I can suggest a resource.  More connections are needed for the seeds to grow.

“Church vitality means that the conditions necessary for life are present.  The tasks are to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly.  It’s not just about stewardship, worship and committees,” she said.

She used a graphic to describe necessary conditions for vitality using what God requires of followers in Micah 6:8—to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

“From looking at actual churches, we can see the most vital ones are those that find a balance between these different ways of being,” she said.

• Doing justice includes both charity and justice—supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting unjust legislation, feeding and sheltering the homeless, visiting and caring for those in prisons.

• Loving kindness includes such Christian practices as worship, Bible study, faith formation and labyrinth walking.

• Walking humbly is about giving and sacrificing, including stewardship of time, talent and treasure, development and fund raising.

Each requirement is a different colored circle in the graphic.  In the space where the circles overlap is where vitality resides, Courtney said.

“We cannot attain vitality by simply insisting we be vital,” she said.  Like seeds that need sunshine, rain and patient love to grow into plants—and cannot be forced to grow by shouting at them—we cannot force vitality by insisting we are vital or starting a praise band,” she explained.

When churches strengthen stewardship, justice-and-witness ministries and Christian practice, they have the necessary conditions to thrive and be vital, Courtney said.

“It’s not a formula that vitality = go to a protest, form a stewardship committee and continue Sunday worship,” she said.  “Continuing to do things as you always have done will not increase vitality, nor will it help to add activities that aren’t authentic to your church.”

She believes that putting energy into these three areas of church life will create conditions that increase vitality.

In discussion, Marlin Brown of Eastgate said vitality requires difficult conversations, because it’s hard to be completely welcoming to someone who has been injured by the church, hurt by past trauma.

Courtney said, “Relationship is energy. If injured people do not share, people don’t know what’s going on. “We need to prioritize relationships.”

David Anderson of St. Paul UCC was grateful for Courtney coming Jan. 8 to bless the congregation and building as they began again to use the sanctuary after repairs from a fire.

Bruce Edwards of the Congregational Church of Mercer Island said the first step to being a vital church is to be open to truth.

Courtney is gathering and sharing “out on a limb” stories with the Church Development Committee.


Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News © Summer 2017


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