A Renewed Spirit for Ministry in Our Congregation

The Pastor’s Message

In this month’s letter, as we conclude Lent and prepare for the celebration of Easter, I want to tell you about the work of the Vital Church Initiative (VCI). Elsewhere in this newsletter is an update about our work and information about two events for the congregation coming up this month, a prayer vigil on the evening before Easter and a one-day retreat two weeks after that. I hope you’ll be able to participate in both of those.

I advocated strongly for our church to take part in VCI last summer. Without serious self-reflection, and a renewed spirit for ministry in our congregation, we will not be of use to God’s mission very much longer. We may be able to keep our doors open, the lights on, and tend to the needs of our members for a while, but we are running out of the people resources needed to reach out effectively and make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Part of the truth is that worship attendance at this congregation has been shrinking steadily for almost fifty years. I recently reviewed attendance records going back to 1970, tracking at five year intervals and all but one of those intervals showed a decline, from 288 in 1970 to 79 in 2015. The congregation contributes to ministries of the Annual Conference and the larger Church only through funds made available in bequests rather than our regular income. FUMC cannot afford to pay the pastor’s health insurance and so the appointment of myself and of my predecessor was determined as much by the availability of health insurance from other sources as it was by any missional need expressed by the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. The signs of serious decline and ministry struggle are unmistakable. We ignore them at our own peril.

Meanwhile, the mission of the church remains critical to our discipleship. To know God, to accept Christ, to be led by the spirit is to be in mission. We cannot claim to follow Jesus and ignore his commandment to love one another or his commission to go and make disciples. These are not suggestions or options for those who love Jesus, but essential acts of mercy that have the power to change the world. That is why The United Methodist Church has identified its mission as making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and further identified the local church, like First United Methodist Church of Wayne-Westland, to be the primary agent of this mission. The heart of ministry does not reside in the Annual Conference, or denominational offices, but in the hands and feet of the local church, extended in its global reach by the ways we work together with other congregations.

The struggle for a rebirth of ministry is a spiritual struggle. That is why we are gathering for prayerful focus on the day before Easter, that we might work toward a resurrection of ministry. The yearning for vision to drive us is a search for insight. That is why we are taking retreat together on April 29, that we might be guided by discussion and insight toward principles that can sustain us in ministry and mission in our community as God calls us forth to serve. I hope you will take part in these events either directly or with your prayerful support as we continue to work toward a rebirth of ministry in God’s name and in our community.

Paster Carter