Introducing Congregational Conversations
Over the next few months, we’ll be posting short congregational profiles sharing the wisdom and insights of our partner congregations on questions of calling and discernment. We hope you’ll visit Creative Callings again soon!
Ministries of sustenance and joy: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Located in the Uphams Corner area of Dorchester, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church sees Ministries of Sustenance & Joy as its strongest calling at this time, a calling lived out through its members. Through their food pantry, Sunday brunches, social justice work, sense of community, music, and diversity, they joyfully serve not only the physical needs of the community but their spiritual and social needs, as well. Every Tuesday morning in St. Mary’s Fellowship Hall at least 10 volunteers from St. Mary’s and neighboring St. Mark’s Episcopal Churches join forces to provide physical sustenance to the community through the food pantry. Everyone pitches in to set up tables, unload food from the truck, organize it on tables, serve customers, and then, three hours later after it’s all done, they break it down and clean up. The food pantry serves 70 households per week on average and sometimes as many as 100 or more. Moreover, every Sunday morning after the 11am service and before the 1pm Spanish-language service, the church serves attendees a delicious brunch buffet (including rice and beans, pasta, chicken, and a variety of desserts) as people from various walks and stages of life and ethnic and social backgrounds fellowship together.
While the neighborhood and the congregation are comprised of Cape Verdean, LatinX, white, and Afro-Caribbean people, “the heart of St. Mary’s is Caribbean,” says The Reverend Edwin Johnson, the rector, “and my vision is that we embrace our Pan-Caribbean identity.” This identity is incorporated into the life of St. Mary’s in a number of ways. Originally started in the ‘90s, their steel pan band, Heavenly Fire Steel Orchestra, is being revitalized. The band, comprised of 18 members of various ages and backgrounds, plays once a month during the 11am service and, once the band fully gears up, a subgroup will be playing weekly. Special events, like the church’s annual “Tres Reyes” party in January (which celebrates the visit of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus), “Bingo y Bachata,” and Carnaval also reflect this joy-filled Pan-Caribbean identity. Volunteers from the church also serve as teachers with the Hub, an Episcopal English-for-Speakers-of-Other-Languages (ESOL) ministry. Moreover, every other week, the church hosts informal Spanish-language meetups, where people interested in learning Spanish can come and practice conversational Spanish.
St. Mary’s calling to Ministries of Sustenance & Joy is lived out through its members, through its worship and through its ministries. They embrace and celebrate their Pan-Caribbean identity while striving to be welcoming, open and affirming to all.
Nurturing a Culture of call: Harvard-Epworth United methodist Church
Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church serves many university students, young adults, young professionals, and entrepreneurial thinkers. Through the years, these individuals viewed their experiences at Harvard-Epworth as an important formational time of discernment, as they reflected on purpose and calling. The church hears often from “alumni” who have moved away from the area who share how they have been blessed by their time at Harvard-Epworth and how it was an impactful step in their journey. The church has developed a culture that nurtures this reflection of purpose and calling, but it is not fully or systematically intentional. Our calling as a church is to take intentional steps to systematize our process, transform Harvard-Epworth’s established culture of call into a deeper mission to discern, affirm, and answer calls, and build a ministry model that can sustain this mission for years to come.
Specifically, our church's calling is to cultivate a culture of call at Harvard-Epworth that treats each individual as a person called to a particular vocation. We have people of all ages and professions who are considering God’s call in their life. Our students and young adults are considering all possibilities for their life and how best to use their unique life experiences to live out their call and values. Those in the middle of their life are trying to balance their many responsibilities with their call. Our elder cohorts are considering how they might spend the later part of their life in service to their faith, values, and community.
We believe Harvard-Epworth is particularly well-suited for this culture of call. Our church is blessed with both rooted members (i.e., individuals and families who attend for the better part of a lifetime) and transient members (i.e., both students and young adults participating for 0-5 years). This means that there is both a groundedness to our faith community and a constant flow. We have the opportunity to participate in the shaping of many vocations and calls over the years.
We envision a church that accelerates individuals into lives of calling. We want to equip individuals within our congregation with the ability to discern their call, as well as the skills to help others to discern theirs. We will develop programming to help individuals think about call in various contexts, build a mentoring network to help people navigate their call, and cultivate an overall shift in the culture of call at Harvard-Epworth.
Accompanying Through Discernment: A Reflection from Harvard-Epworth Member Kim Yeasir
I began attending Harvard-Epworth in 2010 just after graduate school. For the first five years I was wrestling with my call -- discerning my purpose -- and the Harvard-Epworth community remained present and encouraging throughout my personal journey. When I was questioning, the pastoral staff empowered me to transform ideas into action as I helped launch Brunch Bunch and covenant groups within the congregation. This was my first taste of taking an idea, and with overwhelming support, making it a reality. When I accepted my call, members of my community witnessed and affirmed me at Annual Conference 2014, even though I did not yet know what that call was. When I began to discern and understand my call in 2015, and my path became clear with a call to serve people returning from incarceration, the community and individuals at Harvard-Epworth supported my discernment with every step. Members invested their time, talent and resources in me and in the organization was called to found -- THRIVE Communities. From financial support, to grant writing, to tech support, to executive mentorship and so much more, THRIVE Communities is as much a reflection of my own call as it is a reflection of Harvard-Epworth's call to journey with people as they question, accept, and discern their own purpose in the world.
“What’s under your Cloak?”: Bethel AME CHURCH in Lynn
At Bethel AME in Lynn, Massachusetts, Pastor Bernadette Hickman-Maynard’s current sermon series evokes “cloaks” as a meaningful image of calling for her congregation. Pastor Bernadette explains how this image is based off a reinterpretation of Jesus feeding of the multitudes. She says, “Normally we think about this story as Jesus miraculously multiplying the loaves and the fish to feed everyone. Instead, we are looking at how people during that time would have packed lunches and had food concealed up under their cloaks that they would have been eating, while listening to Jesus. And by the time that it was late in the evening, they would have not wanted to share very much, since they would have been concerned about their own needs and having enough for themselves. But when Jesus brought them together and had the people sit in small groups, they were able to see one another. Maybe they were inspired by the little boy who gave up his lunch. They saw that the miracle was a transformation of hearts. People were willing to share and to take out what was under their cloaks. And when they did that, everybody pulled together what they had and there was more than enough to go around.”
Pastor Bernadette extends this to issues of scarcity facing smaller churches in the 21st century. “As we figure out who we are going to be in the 21st century as a small church, we often are complaining about what we don’t have or what we lack. But God has already blessed us with abundance! So, we already have something up under our cloak! Part of what we have got to do is discover what is up under our cloaks and then share what we find.”
The image of cloaks has been a generative one for their congregation as they focused on financial stewardship, and Pastor Bernadette and Bethel AME will now extend this into their continued participation in Creative Callings. “As we identify our purpose and the gifts and skills that we have, we know those things that are under our cloaks, that God has given us, we can use and bring out to feed and bless the world!” As Bethel AME navigates what it means to be a 21st century church in a traditional denomination, the congregation continues to lean into that question and themselves “What’s under our cloak?”