During the weekend of March 2-4, AHCC members had the opportunity to gather and reflect on our past, discover what we learned during the Sacred Circles and Cafe’ Conversations, and take part in shaping the future of this church. Below is a summary of the events and findings of the weekend. Additional information can be found on the Vision Boards posted on the Member Engagement table in Drew Hall.
Hindsight: AHCC’s History presented by Bart Halloran, Vice Moderator
As we sit in this beautiful church, it is tempting to think that our recent struggles are an aberration, that the congregation has seamlessly worshiped and grown for over 150 years until we came along. Like every family, however, the truth is that our church family has struggled.
We all know about Joseph Twichell, Mark Twain and the fight against the anti-Chinese legislation. Another chapter of the story, however, is that Twichell and Twain supported an independent prohibition candidate in the 1874 presidential election over Democrat Grover Cleveland (a supporter of restrictions on Chinese immigrants) and Republican James Blaine. At the time of the election, there were lively discussions, as many members favored absolute party loyalty. Stories were told at the time about Twichell’s almost losing his pulpit because of his political stance.
Our next senior minister, Rev. John Brownlee Voorhees, was mortally wounded and died due to complications from injuries sustained in World War I.
After an upsurge in membership and endowment, AHCC’s third senior minister, Rev. Willis Howard Butler, whose doorway many of us walk through on Sunday mornings, died unexpectedly from a severe illness, at the same time as the start of the Great Depression. During his pastorate, the pew rental policy was abolished, and in 1930, church income was budgeted at just over $18,000, with $13,500 from pew rentals. The first year the rental policy was abolished, pledges fell $13,600 short of the goal.
During WWII, about 150 members of our church served in the armed forces, and the focus had to be on serving our own. Membership shrunk, outreach diminished, and the church operated at a deficit.
Hartford went from a wealthy city in the 1800s to a city in which 60% of the population lived below the poverty line. With manufacturing gone, the population shrank from 177,000 in 1950 to under 140,000 in 1990. As the church considered moving to the suburbs, once in the ‘50s and again in the ‘70s, it faced a shrinking endowment, with many members living outside Hartford, and fewer than half the members making an annual pledge. The church population was aging, with no apparent replacements.
In 1979, with membership of just under 800, average Sunday attendance was 184. The neighborhood was viewed as unsafe, and the last minister had left under a cloud. How did the church survive? Simply put – by pulling together.
Truly the beauty of this church is not the design, nor the stained glass, nor the wood carvings. The beauty is not that it has been perfect, but instead, that the congregation has banded together through adversity to reach out beyond itself and accomplish things not thought possible. In the words of Rev. Butler:
Suppose you live in a place where injustice flourishes; where ignorance or indifference or inertia make the prospect for better things almost hopeless; suppose you meet with others every Sunday, and pray, “Thy will be done, as in Heaven, so on earth,” and then never raise your voice in protest against existing conditions, nor lift a finger to remedy them. Is it fair to expect that your prayer will be answered? You may not believe that it is God’s will that things should be as they are, but how do you think they become better? By some miracle? By sudden, spectacular and supernatural interference?
As we have already remarked, that is not the way in which the Kingdom of God comes, it is only by doing God’s will by those who are clear-eyed and devout enough to see it. It was so in the days of the prophets of Israel; it is so now; it will always be so.
Insight: Lessons Learned presented by Dahlia Rivera and Leslie DesMangles
Using feedback from the heartfelt, thought-provoking discussions of over 200 members in our Sacred Circles and Cafe’ Conversations, five key lessons have emerged.
Our Faith Unites Us: Deeper conversation with one another has opened our hearts, revealing our individual and shared commitment to our core values, beliefs, and mission to respond to the world around us through the lens of the gospel. We are bound together by our faith, our commitment to our neighborhood, to our Asylum Hill partner agencies and to the city of Hartford, in ways that are real and palpable, living out Jesus’ mandate to do unto others as we would have done to us.
Inclusion and Diversity: We are Open and Affirming – yet have not fully achieved a sense of welcome and belonging for all of our members and guests. It is our desire and intent to become a community that authentically accepts and embraces one another by our words and deeds in the example of the radically inclusive example of Christ.
Comfort and Challenge: At times we require solace and comfort, and at times we are called to stand up to injustice. Rev. Laney’s ministry was inspiring and challenging. His devotion to the gospel was at the fore, and his call for us to be disciples of Christ led many to answer the call and deepen their faith. For others, he raised questions and concerns that have stimulated vigorous conversations about who we are and who we are called to be. We affirm and celebrate preaching that inspires us to live as Jesus would have us live, and to use scripture to expose our blind spots and reveal implications for today’s issues and inequities.
Trust, Mutual Respect, and Transparency: We desire clarity about the decision-making process and the roles of clergy and lay leaders. We affirm equal standing and voice for all members, dispelling the notion that affluence earns influence. We are dedicated to sharing information, rejecting rumors, and promoting channels for healthy conversation with our leaders and each other – finding new points of connection.
Charity and Social Justice: We are learning about the balance of charity and social justice, and the role of politics. We are committed to participating in more conversation to broaden our awareness and understanding of the ways we can embody our core values, mission, and beliefs. We will continue to grow and evolve as Christians. We re-commit to our faith and each other, moving boldly into the future.
Foresight: Key Focus Areas representing the work done by Vision Weekend participants
1. Bringing in/Engaging New Members
Pastoral involvement (with follow-up); Membership active in inviting friends to worship/events/outreach activities; Using missions of church to engage young people
2. Support/Work in our Neighborhood
Reinstate home renovation and building programs; Continue work with youth (Boys and Girls Club, ConnectiKids, West Middle School); Work with other churches in the neighborhood
3. Listen to Community about Needs
Make sure congregation has all the information about outreach groups and efforts; Work with Outreach Committee for opportunities for volunteerism; Summer program for kids in the community
4. Small Groups
Create new groups with leaders; Coordinator to be more communicative about what groups there are to join; New picture directory of members
5. One Sunday Service
Budget advantage; Promote greater sense of community; Service to start at 9:30am; Return to two Sunday services when needed
6. Forums – Diversity Groups
Leadership that focuses on Adult-Ed Forums; Intellectually diverse topics; Topics that are attractive to parenting, young families; Practice spirituality; Book and Film Series; Coordinate with outside groups for top/diverse speakers; Determine funding
7. Politics from Pulpit/Politics & Jesus
Not be afraid to discuss social justice issues and matters; Understand what Jesus wants us to do; Have conversation/forums after services
8. Understand that Jesus dealt with people in the margins
Communicate to congregation regarding upstream justice issues/matters; Facilitate discussion on top social issues; Forum after service/presentation for discussion
9. Step Up, Step Out (SUSO)
Create a better speak out component; Make movies and books on social justice issues more available to congregation and wider community; Use power of testimony about things going on in our community
10. Tackle Difficult Issues
Series of workshops to teach us how to talk about difficult subjects; Language and conflict resolution; Awareness of time and place for difficult conversations; Partisan politics as it applies to sermon, prayers and forums; Myers Briggs workshop to help with ability to listen/understand each other
11. Allow Pastors to Speak Beliefs, Freedom of the Pulpit – What’s permissible?
Preacher should be free to apply biblical teaching to social, economic and political issues of the day; Avoid partisan politics
12. Conversations about Racism
Important to get better educated about what’s happening in the community and the world; Learn about how we got here and what’s going on; Get involved and participate; Compile information about outreach in a way that it is attractive to people such as with reading lists and/or movies
13. More Interfaith Collaboration
Get interested point person to schedule events; Field trips to other places of worship; Set up classes before/after field trips
Next Steps by Holly DeYoung, Moderator
Several things are in full swing:
Nominating the slate of officers, committee chairs, and committee members is in its final phase. If Vision Weekend provided you a greater sense of urgency to help the church shape and realize its ministries, please reach out to Nancy Whitehead, Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee at email@example.com. Three newly formed committees as well as our Communications Committee, and the Children and Family Ministries Committee would benefit from 2-3 more individuals. That might be you!
Formation of the Search Committee for our next settled Senior Minister. In late March, the Board of Deacons began reviewing the list of candidates offered by the Moderator and Vice Moderator to serve on the Search Committee over the next 9-12 months. Their work begins with the writing of the Church Profile and the open clergy position. All of what has transpired over the past 9 months as well as the longer arc of AHCC history will go into that lengthy document. It is anticipated that the Profile will be shared with the congregation this summer. The Board of Deacons has called a meeting of the congregation to vote upon the slate of nominees for the Search Committee who will take on this very important work in service to AHCC.
Stewardship. A committed and enthusiastic group of members from our Stewardship Committee and lay leadership have formed a task force to plan and facilitate our Stewardship Campaign this year. The campaign kick-off will be Sunday, April 22 where we’ll celebrate the wonderful ministry we share, acknowledge our time of transition and ask our membership to strongly support AHCC as we enter a new chapter doing God’s work in this place.
And as always, we ask everyone to visit the AHCC website, ahcc.org, login to the Member Portal and make sure your email and telephone numbers are up to date. Our clergy, your fellow members, and lay leaders appreciate having the best way to reach out to you. If you’ve never logged in to the Member Portal, please contact Mary Way, firstname.lastname@example.org, for instructions on how to do so.
As the church prepares to name the Senior Minister Search Committee members, bless them, and get them on task, the rest of us will continue to support and participate in the church’s transition. Why? Because there is still work to do!
We want to:
implement the changes you want to see in the church, while continuing the momentum you have for excellent ministry, in depth and scope, in this community
equip the church to be successful in future ministry
be prepared to have a good partnership with the incoming settled senior minister
One of the steps in the process was to welcome Transitional Associate Minister, Rev. Erica Avena to the staff. Rev. Avena’s ministry has been helping congregations re-focus on their core mission and ministries since she began in Intentional Interim Ministry in 2007. “I am looking forward to working with your clergy and staff, leadership and entire congregation as we focus on ‘being the change we want to see,’” she says. “I’ve heard a lot of good questions and appreciate your care for one another, as we go through this process. I’ve been pleased to see how many of you participate, love this church, and the respect and honesty you show one another.”