OUR CHURCH, THROUGH OTHERS’ EYES
Jon Bigelow, chair, Associate Minister Search Committee
For a church as for any institution, it is enlightening to step back and see how others view us. We had an opportunity to do just that during the recent search that led to calling Gary Morello as our Associate Minister. I’ve borrowed this space, while Dale is in Costa Rica on the Habitat for Humanity work trip, to share some of what we heard.
To post the position in the UCC network, we crafted a 30-page profile of First Congregational Church: our demographics, theological leanings, worship, history, organization, finances, mission work, the challenges we see in our community and our aspirations for addressing them. (A copy is available in the church office.)
As we interviewed candidates from around the country, we received feedback about what the Profile and our answers to their questions told them about our church. What did they say?
They were often surprised that our church, in its ByLaws, commits 10% of all pledges to outreach, and also has a history of including a 10% mission component in capital campaigns. They were further impressed at the breadth of our involvement in the community, for example that we serve up to 200 meals each month at the Norwalk Emergency Shelter and help keep the pantry filled on a weekly basis, and remarked on the amounts we have raised through the Darien House Tour and, before that, the Antiques Show. Clearly this commitment of time and treasure to outreach in the community goes beyond that of many churches.
We were praised for our practice of regularly conducting mission trips for our youth. We heard positive comments on our Come As You Are services to attract more worshippers and accommodate busy schedules, and on our commitment to music and initiatives such as Jazz Sunday.
More broadly, much time was spent discussing our concerns for the stresses of growing up in (or, for that matter, being an adult in) the high-achiever, high-expectation environment that is Darien. Ministry here comes with special opportunities but also special challenges, and candidates were pleased to see the attention we pay to this issue.
Candidates noted our inclusive tone, and our ability to rebound from past difficulties within the congregation. And hats off to our Communications Committee: We were complimented on our social media presence, incorporating Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well as our website.
In short, a key reason we attracted a strong pool of candidates (at a time when fewer divinity school graduates enter parish ministry) is because they saw in First Congregational Church of Darien a community of people working hard to make a difference. There is more for us to accomplish, of course. But-even as we begin 2016 with Gary on board, many new members, an energized youth program, an adult work trip underway and youth mission trips planned for summer, the Evans Center about to open, and a slate of special services and events in coming weeks-it is worth celebrating the progress we are making.