Intervention helps Hernando congregation transform



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Intervention helps Hernando congregation transform

By Jenna De Marco | Oct. 2, 2009 {1086}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Lois Barnum is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

Three years ago, the congregation at Hernando United Methodist Church in Hernando, Fla., was enduring a period of conflict marked by strained fellowship and diminished Sunday attendance.

Today, it is working in unison toward a shared mission, emphasizing community outreach rather than inward struggles.

That renewed harmony and transformation did not occur by accident. It was the result of a process that combined outside intervention with internal introspection, says the Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan, who helped facilitate the changes while serving as superintendent of the North Central District.

The journey included the congregation forming a unique, short-term partnership with a specially appointed interim pastor supported by the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT), the North Central District and other connections within the Florida Conference.

“It was the first attempt at specific, planned interim ministry” within the conference, said the Rev. Lois Barnum, who served as the church’s interim pastor from July 2006 to November 2007.

Rev. Lois Barnum

Barnum’s transitional service was well received by the church, McClellan said. “They were ready to put down their swords and welcomed the ministry and the opportunity to reach within themselves to revive this congregation,” she said. “They put their differences aside and learned to love God, themselves and others.”

The effect of the temporary alliance has been a solid “sense of self” among members, according to the Rev. Kelly Greenawald, Hernando’s pastor as of July 2009. She says members understand what God has called them to do — care for one another and reach out to the community.

“Any pastor loves to step into a church where the leadership is in great shape,” Greenawald said. “They have a vision (of) where they are going and how that needs to be accomplished.”

The progression began in March 2006 when Hernando’s appointed minister resigned on short notice. About half of the church’s members and most of its leaders left, as well, causing attendance to drop to about 110 people. The Rev. Tyler Montgomery, a retired local pastor who is now a member at the church, led the congregation until Barnum arrived a few months later.

Montgomery said the church was not in crisis, but dealing with the effects of poor communication and an inadequate understanding of the principles of “The Methodist Way.” Right away he provided an intuitive solution — offering a class about what it means to be a United Methodist.

“Pastor Tyler played a critical role in leading this congregation through some difficult and troubled waters,” McClellan said.

By listening to and loving the congregation, she said, Montgomery brought a sense of calm to the congregation and was the “catalyst” that paved the way for a smooth transition to an important next step — Barnum’s arrival as interim pastor.

“The gifts of ministry that Lois brought to Hernando UMC allowed this congregation to lay aside their differences and focus on that which was healthy and good and to recognize that all conflict is not bad, but can be healthy,” McClellan said.

Interim pastors are called to serve during difficult moments in the life of a congregation, said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the congregational transformation office. They may be asked to bring healing to churches that are struggling after losing a pastor due to crisis, as an example, he said, or serve in churches that are dealing with the reappointment of beloved, long-tenured pastors.

Interim ministry requires special training

Barnum was appointed to her interim position in part because she had recently completed the Transitional Interim Ministerial Specialist (TIMS) training through the Intentional Growth Center in Lake Junaluska, N.C., according to the Rev. Kendall Taylor, now retired, who was serving as OCT director at the time.

“It was something she wanted to do,” Taylor said. “She volunteered for the training.”

They were ready to put down their swords and welcomed the ministry and the opportunity to reach within themselves to revive this congregation. They put their differences aside and learned to love God, themselves and others.” 

Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan

During her appointment, there was a written contract between Barnum, OCT, the North Central District and the Hernando congregation. It “addressed specific concerns that needed the congregation’s attention in order to be put on track for becoming a healthy church,” McClellan said.

Contractual tasks included the congregation coming to terms with its history, continuity and identity. Additional goals were identifying and empowering lay leadership, strengthening denominational connections, analyzing pastoral needs, and committing to new directions of leadership. These goals are common to situations where a TIMS is used, Barnum said.

Openness to learning makes difference

Although Barnum’s training offered “real, definite tools” for helping churches, the most important factor in Hernando’s improved vitality was the congregation’s “teachable spirit,” she said.

“Every learning opportunity that I provided or that the district … and the conference provided they took advantage of,” she said.

Barnum focused on teaching what it meant to be the church of Jesus Christ, “uniquely United Methodist” and part of a larger connection. At other times, the congregation worked with Barnum on forming and managing leadership groups, such as trustees, staff-parish relations and finance committees. The church began to grow again, Montgomery said, after the congregation “reestablished a foundation and our working committees.”

One activity that reinforced the longstanding ministry of the church was the development of a church timeline in the worship center. It included world and church history, as well as members’ handwritten personal memories of Hernando. Barnum helped the congregation in “going back to our roots,” highlighting Hernando’s 100-year history, said Don Chapman, a lay member of the church and finance committee chairman.

Several dozen new leaders also traveled with Barnum to the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, N.C., for a retreat designed to enhance their spiritual growth. The experience “was just a tremendous time of affirmation for them that they were heading in the right direction,” Barnum said.

Outreach emphasis heralds early finish to pastor’s term

Another indicator of the congregation’s returning health emerged when members began considering more ways to make their ministry connect with the community, Barnum said. The church held a car show that included 42 vehicles in 2007. It grew to more than 50 cars in 2008 and 60-plus cars in 2009.

Neighbors check out restored cars at a car show held at the church. Photo courtesy of Hernando United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1308.

“We had a lot of people come in from the outside community and become familiar with our church,” Chapman said.

The expanding interest in outreach in 2007 was a sign, Barnum said, that a visioning pastor would soon be needed — several months earlier than planned in the contract. An interim pastor helps a congregation reach a point of readiness for visioning with a new pastor, she said.

Although there was some sadness among members about an early end to her term, Barnum said she sensed it also felt like a “graduation” for them. After concurring with McClellan that the terms of the contract were fulfilled, Barnum went on leave of absence in December 2007 and officially retired in September. In her absence, Montgomery again led the congregation until Greenawald’s appointment this year.

The “church healed itself at a different rate than a two-year process,” Montgomery said.

Coordinating the entrance and departure of interim ministers can be tricky within the United Methodist Church’s itinerant system, Taylor said, but it is not impossible. Conferences can prepare by proactively identifying and training potential clergy for this type of ministry so they are ready before their expertise is needed, he said.

The OTC is also examining other issues related to the use of interim ministry, Stiggins said, including where to help them receive appropriate training and in what situations to use them. In the future, he said, it is possible interims will be appointed more frequently, especially in crisis situations.

‘Eye to outreach’ marks revived members

The congregation’s ongoing “eye to outreach” is remarkable for a church of Hernando’s size, Greenawald said. Sunday attendance is about 190 to 210 people in the summer; it is expected to increase to 280 people during the winter.

The Rev. Kelly Greenawald was appointed to the church this year. Photo courtesy of Hernando United Methodist Church. Photo #09-1309.

One demonstration of their concern for the community is participation in a feeding ministry, Greenwald said. Beginning Oct. 1, the church outreach committee is helping launch the “Blessing in a Backpack” program at Hernando Elementary School. The program provides a backpack full of food on Fridays — enough food for the weekend — for economically disadvantaged students. The backpacks are returned on Monday.

More than $2,000 has been raised or given by the church to support the program, according to outreach committee member Janet Petro. The Hernando congregation will fill the backpacks the first weekend of every month. Other churches and organizations will fill them the rest of the month.

“Everyone credits the Lord for his divine intervention in making this program a reality,” Petro said.

Another event in the fall is a camping supplies collection drive to benefit the local homeless population, Greenawald said. The church plans to host a “marathon camping weekend” to gather supplies, coinciding with a pumpkin festival.

“I’ve been very impressed with how outward-looking they are, and I think God has blessed that,” Greenawald said.

More information about interim ministry is available at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Web site at http://www.gbhem.org.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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