By Rev. Ruth Fletcher, Regional Minister for the Partnership in Montana
The church was having a car wash on Saturday morning to raise funds for those who had been displaced from their homes by the wildfires. We had read about Milagro Christian Church. We had followed the blogs of Christian Piatt, one of the congregation’s leaders. We had planned to worship with them on Sunday, but our car was plenty dirty, so we drove to the church parking lot.
Those washing cars saw our bumper sticker right away. “Oh, you’re Disciples!” they said. We told them we lived in Montana. “Well, what are you doing here?” they asked.
“We came to see you,” Ron said. “We’re pastors traveling on sabbatical. We’re visiting churches that have a reputation for reaching out to their neighbors.”
“Well, that’s us!” they said. Then they introduced themselves. “You know, our pastor left a few months ago to serve another church,” they told us. “We don’t even have an interim minister yet.”
“Yes,” we said, “we know.” (Actually, we had put the church on our list of places to visit just to observe how the congregation was functioning without the strong leadership of their founding minister.)
“What did your pastor do to prepare you for her departure?” Ron asked.
“Oh, it was God who prepared us,” they said without hesitation. “Over the last few years, God sent us just the right people with the gifts we would need. Now, we have a great team in place who preach, who lead our ministries and share their musical talents with us on Sunday morning. Everyone’s pitching in.”
They started in on our car so we walked around the property. In the vacant lot next to the modest church building, we saw signs of a community garden being built in conjunction with a housing development next door. Inside the church, we were greeted with a bulletin board entitled “God’s Miracles Every Day.” It was full of pictures and news clippings telling stories of the miracles that had happened because of the church’s ministries: giving away prayer shawls, collecting school supplies, setting up a booth at the Pride Festival, volunteering at a free dental clinic at the fair.
On the fellowship hall wall a banner announced their identity statement: Milagro Christian Church cultivates love that is greater than our differences. Beneath that were the congregation’s areas of focus: Building Relationships; Nurturing Youth; Mission Outreach; Shared Story. Along one wall a sign invited people to take a piece of paper and write down their prayers, their thoughts, their worries or their miracles and attach them to a large cross.
Back outside, I asked one younger woman who was scrubbing away at our car, “Why do you belong to this congregation?”
“This is a church that is not based on fear,” she said, “but on how you can become the person God created you to be.”
“We are a lot of people recovering from bad church experiences,” another woman chimed in. “I bounced around for five years from church to church before landing here. I just couldn’t swallow the fundamentalism those other congregations were dishing out.”
Like a lot of the vital congregations we visited on sabbatical, Milagro was clear about why it existed as a church. It was able to communicate that purpose clearly and succinctly and it was not shy about talking out loud about the ways it experienced the power and presence of God in and through its life and work in the community.
How about your congregation?