On Saturday I attended (and Kurt did too!) the South Central G.R.O.W. Regional Gathering of the Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, held at the South Congregational Church in Glastonbury.  It was an opportunity for clergy and lay leaders to gather together for fellowship, connection, and support for one another in the post-Covid world.  We focused on Generosity, Revitalization, Outreach, and Wonder (hence G.R.O.W. as the overall themes).  Most of our time was spent chatting in small groups with our conversations centered around these four topics.

We heard a bit about the current religious landscape.  In 1940, 73% of Americans identified as religious (that included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc.) and today that number is right around 43%.  Again, only 43% of Americans identify as “religious” across all religious traditions.  That is a signficant change. 

How has that played out in the UCC?
In 1960 our denomination had 6,755 churches, and in 2021 there were 4,724 churches.*  We also spoke about religous communities post-Covid where worship attendance will likely be 80% of our pre-Covid numbers.  That’s what the experts who study congregational life are saying.

Now, we could look at these realities and lament that things aren’t how they used to be. 
Though there is power in naming what’s going on.
Because otherwise we waste time and energy looking in the rearview mirror and yearning for what was as opposed to taking the next faithful step into the future God is callling us to enter. 

This UCC regional gathering began with naming the relgious landscape we find ourselves in and then asking all sorts of questions:
-What does vitality look like now compared to the 1960s?
-How can our churches center our communities?
-How do we invite people to participate in God’s economy?
-What does it look like for us to talk about hope?
-How do we talk about what God is doing here?
-How do we create an environment of awe and wonder? 

I left the gathering with many thoughts!  For my part, I am starting to focus on plans and preparations for my Sabbatical.  I will be away from CFC from July 1 – September 30. 
Post-Covid I realized that my Sabbatical needed to embrace the original meaning of the word Sabbatical: “of or appropriate to the sabbath.”  Sabbath is about rest, and the hope is to return rested and refreshed—to better help our congregation contemplate challenges before us like generosity, revitilazion, outreach, and growth. 

Not to be the church of the 1960s or the 1980s.  That is not our reality anymore. 
But to be a place of hope that centers our community in 2023 and beyond. 

What does it look like for us to talk about hope? 
What does vitality look like in our church?
How can we participate in God’s economy?
How do we talk about what God is doing here? 
How do we create an environment of awe and wonder? 
How do we center our community of Colchester, CT? 

Pastor Lauren

Photo by Rev. Lauren L. Ostrout

*UCC Statistical Profile 2022.

Thursday Thoughts 4/20/23