Lent better together for three local churches
If two was a good start, then why not make it three?
That's the basic logic Newberg First United Methodist Pastor Cathy Davis and Kim Hester of Joyful Servant Lutheran Church followed in deciding not only to renew joint activities between their congregations in celebration of Lent, but also to welcome Newberg Emerging Friends Church into the mix.
"Folks said they just loved last year," Davis said. "Then when the Friends church moved over there, I think it made it even more exciting for folks because they know so many people in both churches. It's kind of crazy we have so many churches and we don't do anything together when everybody knows everybody in Newberg."
Last year, Davis and Hester arranged for the congregations at Joyful Servant and First United Methodist to meet weekly in order to share a meal and learn a bit about each other's traditions.
The effort was sparked, at least initially, both by the church's youth groups, which had cooperated on a few things, and the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
"We were seeking to show there was more commonality than difference between the two communities," Hester said. "That was really kind of a direct lecture class. It was short, 20 minutes, but (Davis) and I stood up and it was a traditional teaching moment."
This year, the Wednesday night meetings, which will begin with a simple soup supper at 5:45 and run until 7 p.m., will take a more relational approach.
Davis and Hester, along with Newberg Emerging Friends co-pastors Steve Fawver and Elizabeth Sherwood, have developed a theme about risk and will introduce a new weekly topic that people will then discuss in small groups.
Each topic, like "Risking in Relationship" at the opening session on Feb. 21, will also feature a text or verse from scripture to focus the conversation.
"So talking about what do we risk by being in a relationship with God and being in a relationship with each other," Hester said. "What does that do? The following week is risking discipleship, then self-preservation, transformation and authenticity. Each week just has a little different twist."
The two churches alternated hosting the weekly gatherings a year ago, but with Newberg Emerging Friends also sharing the space at Joyful Servant, the pastors have opted to host all meetings there this time around.
Last year's meetings were more heavily attended by folks from Joyful Servant, which wasn't a surprise considering celebrating Lent is generally a more regular practice for Lutherans, but Davis said there may be increased interest from her congregation this time around due to positive word of mouth from last year and the less formal approach they're taking.
"We're putting the questions before them and letting them bring it up and talk about it," Davis said. "Then on Sundays we're addressing the same themes in our sermons, so it will all tie in. People know each other and they have so much wisdom within them, it will get them to think deep and share something."
First United Methodist features a much older congregation than Joyful Servant, with the average age coming it at 75, according to Davis, so driving at night was also an impediment last year, but the churches hope to arrange for vans to pick up those who don't wish to drive.
All three congregations will also come together for a traditional Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. Feb. 14, as well as a Maundy Thursday service and a Saturday morning vigil during the week of Easter.
Hester said that during the Wednesday evening supper gatherings, the pastors will encourage people to form in groups with folks from all three congregations. That approach is congruent with the impulse that inspired Davis and Hester to bring their congregations together in the first place.
"For Cathy and I, we truly believe that as the world continues to change, if we're not working together, we're going to get lost," Hester said. "That's kind of the push from us on the leadership side, to remind people that we don't need to hide in our little corners. We actually have a whole lot in common and can do a lot more together than solo."
Neither aren't quite sure how many people to expect for the initial Ash Wednesday service or for the weekly meetings that will follow.
Joyful Servant and Newberg Emerging Friends also experimented with hosting a single Christmas Eve service for both congregations this winter and were pleasantly surprised by the turnout.
"We had over 400 people for worship Christmas Eve, so we have no idea," Hester said. "It will be a fun first week."