In the September issue of the Moravian Magazine, we highlighted the Northern Province’s Healthy Congregations Task Force. In this and coming issues, we will be sharing examples and ideas of how putting the “Seven Characteristics of Healthy Congregations” to work have enhanced the mission and ministry of local churches, while providing illustrations of each of the characteristics.
This month, Task Force members discuss “Worship,” “Spiritual Formation” and “Mission and Service.”
What does it mean for a congregation to work on the Healthy Congregation Characteristic of Worship? It means setting an intentional focus on the worshiping life of the congregation through the communal expressions of worship, individual prayer, small groups, praising God every day and simple practices of gratitude, to name only a few.
At Good News Moravian Church in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada we explored worship together. We considered three things that affect how, when and why we worship:
- Expectations—We talked about the ways that our expectations of what worship can be can either open us to dynamic experiences of praise or limit our vision if worship is too small.
- Elements—We thought about the elements of worship: prayer, music, silence, scripture, reflections, etc. How do these parts of worship fit into our communal services, as well as lead us to more intentional personal practices of worship
- Expressions—We shared stories about powerful experiences of worship that stayed with us. We talked about what worked in those moments to feel a greater connection with God and how we might learn from them to create similar opportunities for others.
Through this experience we saw more openings for discovery, experimentation and celebration of how worship can lead us to the life abundant of Christ in the world; by highlighting direction and encouraging us to see God’s working in the world we gain a greater opportunity to love more fully.
Worship helps us improve our congregational health by engaging our hearts and minds in God’s dream for all of creation and by challenging us to respond with our actions in the world. ■
Rebecca Craver is pastor of Edmonton Moravian Church in Edmonton, Alberta and a member of the Healthier Congregation Task Force.
Spiritual Formation, one of the seven characteristics, is lifelong learning about what it means to be a Christian. But what does that mean on a practical level?
A congregation’s engagement in lifelong Christian learning can mean many things. A children’s chat during worship, a women’s group studying Bad Girls of the Bible, a collaborative vacation Bible school between area churches or encouraging young adults to discuss contemporary issues with a biblical interpretation at a camp or retreat all represent some of the many ways to experience the biblical story at all ages.
My experience growing up in Schoenbrunn Community Moravian Church and then attending the Promise Church as an adult gave me the opportunity to really see what spiritual formation looks like as a decades-long process. Understanding God’s invitation to discipleship and then having chances to respond to God’s call to daily living as a Christian disciple is neither a simple task, nor one that happens overnight.
A family eats dinner together every night. Over the course of four years, that family has consumed nearly 1,500 dinners. If at the end of those four years you asked each family member to name all that they ate, you might be lucky to hear a few dozen memorable meals. Even if they can’t remember all that they ate, does that mean that the family is not being fed and growing?
Such is the relationship between an individual and spiritual growth. Spiritual lessons may be taught daily for years with some remembered and some forgotten, but all were nourishing and put to use by the body.
Spiritual Formation helps us grow in health by feeding the Body of Christ. ■
Nicole Fowles is a Healthier Congregations Task Force member from Ohio.
Mission and Service
A few weeks ago I was at the grocery store and was asked where I work. When I mentioned our church, the clerk said, “yes…the church who has that Back to School Shopping Day!”
She was talking about one of the ways the Emmaus Moravian congregation serves locally, by hosting our Community Back to School Outreach. It is a ministry that serves families by providing gently used clothing, sports equipment and new backpacks for kids.
One of the things we are especially mindful about is building partnerships and relationships through mission and service. In this particular ministry:
- Seven school district guidance offices contacted families who would benefit from the event.
- Our local food bank distributed flyers for the event.
- Students of a nearby charter school donated items and served.
- And one community group who meets in our church made our mission their mission, donating 40 backpacks!
On the day of the event, folks line up long before the doors are scheduled to open. Greeters welcome and talk with them while they wait. Later inside, volunteers and shoppers enjoy free coffee, doughnuts and good conversation together. Church members and volunteers help make decisions for this event, and shoppers are asked for their feedback, which makes it an evolving ministry that is shaped by both those who serve and those who receive.
One shopper wrote to us and said, “You are a group of people who really care about the kids in our neighborhood.” Yes, we are!
Mission and Service helps us grow in health as the people of God, by building relationships in our communities as we show love to our neighbors in Christ’s name. ■
Linda Wisser is director of Growth and Development for Emmaus Moravian Church in Emmaus, Pa., and Northern Province Healthier Congregations Task Force Member.
All illustrations ©2015 Andrew David Cox.