by Rev. Racquel Ray
Associate Minister of Congregational Life
Change is hard. For many of us, routines and regular habits are so ingrained in our daily lives that we tend to get comfortable in our ways. We may wake up at the same time every day or go grocery shopping on the same day each week. We go to church on Sunday morning and many people sit in the same pew every time. We walk the dog around the neighborhood on the same route. We drive to our destinations using the same paths we ‘always take’.
What happens when the ‘usual’ is disrupted? When change occurs, we feel anxious and sometimes stressed. We’ve all heard jokes about someone new at church sitting in ‘so and so’s pew’. We are thrown off when road construction detours our usual route. We tend to get uncomfortable with new things and changes.
On Sunday, our congregation will be voting on a new organizational structure for Barrington Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. This is new and it is change. And that may make some of us uncomfortable. I admit I bristled when I saw the proposal and didn’t see a role for the Associate Minister in the first draft! I’m still concerned about the role of Congregational Care and the ministries under that title while so much of my call falls into multiple categories.
And yet, we have so much work to do! If we are truly to live out our call to worship God, embrace all people, minister to one another, work for justice and peace, and render loving service to God’s world we must move through changes.
Just as we pivoted through the changes of becoming an Open and Affirming Congregation and as we pivoted though the changes of the covid pandemic, we now must pivot through the changes in our organizational structure. How did we do it previously? We talked through our options, we made challenging decisions, and we drew from each other for support through the process. And we will do it now as well!
One of the draws of the new structure is ‘inspired ministries’. This opens areas of new ministries – or restoring ones that have fallen away – with more fluidity than the former team-appointed-by-law-structure would permit. We now have the flexibility to try new things! Include new people in our ministries! And engage with our communities in a deeper way.
One of the initiatives of the Southern New England Conference, UCC is to develop covenantal partners. According to the SNEUCC, “We encourage local congregations and varied ministry settings, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, to form covenant partnerships with all who work for the common good in their local communities and throughout the world.” This is the idea behind community chaplaincy and is why I reach out to local schools, government committees, houses of worship, chaplain groups, businesses, senior living facilities, social service agencies, and veterans.
If we look at the groups that our congregation connects with, we already have many partnerships. Dale is one of the organizers for the Barrington Day of Caring. I have helped with the Barrington Interfaith Partners and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team. We partner with Federal Hill House and the Olneyville Food Bank, We Share Hope, Good Neighbors food pantry and soup kitchen, St. Vincent du Paul, Books are Wings, The Women’s Resource Center, TAPIN, and Crossroads Rhode Island.
Inspired by the words of church member and Executive Director of Federal Hill House, Kim Fernandez, what would it look like for our congregation to form a deeper relationship with the organizations with which we partner? We donate funds to these organizations several times per year. What would a Covenantal Partnership look like? How could we deepen our connections with our neighboring community? Could we volunteer our time with our partners? Could we invite guest speakers? Could we come up with some creative fundraisers?
We have a beautiful church building and campus – including a huge parking lot. Could we host concerts as a fundraiser for a Covenantal Partner? What about our big gathering space and kitchen? Could we share it with a Covenantal Partner for their meetings or events? Could we ask for a tour and go visit our Covenantal Partners and ask them how can we help?
This week, I met with the Plant Docs https://www.plantdocspvd.com/connect a local nonprofit organization started in 2019 by Sandra Musial, MD, Suyin Lee, MD, and Steve Stein, MD to educate the public and medical professionals about how whole food, plant-based nutrition can prevent, improve, and reverse chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. Dr. Musial has offered to share her expertise with our congregation! She and I would love to partner to offer the Jump Start wellness program to our community in January – perfect time for ‘new year, new you’!
Covenantal Partnerships are reciprocal and community building. We are beginning a season of change and possible stress – yes. And, we are also beginning a season of wondering ‘What is next?’ and ‘What is possible?’
Today, we do not have every answer. But, we have vision, options, and hope. We may not know the direction and the path may be full of turns and pivots. But, whoever you are and wherever you come from you are welcome into the full life and ministry of our church. We’re on the journey together.