For Gaye Johnson, the new Listening Walk on the grounds of her congregation may be as much about seeing as hearing.
Members are encouraged to linger on the Walk for prayer, contemplation and inspiration.
Gaye is the lay leader who spearheaded the installation of the project. For her, the Walk is a symbol of the congregation’s recent commitment to renewal and prayer-focused leadership.
“With our new benches and our new trail, I hope the congregation can see itself from a different angle and see a new way of being ‘church’ together, with God as our center.”
As recently as three years ago, Halfway Creek was struggling with trust issues.
When the Jean Pagliaro arrived as the new pastor, Halfway Creek had a traditional model of a congregation council built around lengthy meetings. Members felt they had limited input in decision making.
Pastor Jean encouraged Gaye, who was vocal in her frustrations, to lead some informal conversations about creating a new vision of healing and hope for the congregation.
Gaye began to see a shift almost immediately.
“We had some good discussions about what it means to be a church with a purpose. We are asking lots of questions, but most important right now, we are listening for God’s voice.”
“God is loose in the world,” Pastor Jean reminded her congregation as they began a process of exploration and experimentation. What’s more, “God is near and God is here” at Halfway Creek.
A Sense of Renewal
Today a Vision Board has replaced the congregation council, with seven members ranging in age from high school to retirement.
Most important, according to Pastor Jean, “The meetings are fun! We spend 20 minutes for any business that needs to be taken care of. The rest of the time is spent talking and praying and discerning what it is that we’re called to do as a congregation.
“One meeting, for example, focused on doing a Meyers-Briggs personality inventory for congregations. We talked about the personality of the congregation, how we live out our calling, what we don’t like about it and what we do.”
“We’re just in the beginning phase of this new model,” Pastor Jean observes, “but so far it has been received well.
Much of the work of the former congregation council has been delegated to teams of members who focus on specific areas of ministry.
Projects underway include a cross-generational Vacation Bible School, serving a free meal open to the community and revamping an old lutefisk shed into a gathering place for youth.
After recently attending a conference led by ELCA Vocation and Education staff, Pastor Jean made some exciting discoveries about what it means to be a praying congregation. “I can’t wait to share their insights with the Vision Board!”
Finally, the sense of renewal at Halfway Creek is about members more fully embracing their call to share God’s boundless love with the world.
“There’s more room for creativity, for the Holy Spirit to work and for us to hear the dream that God has for us and this community and beyond,” says Pastor Jean.
Gaye whole-heartedly agrees.
“There are so many possibilities! We have so far to go. But the Holy Spirit is alive in Halfway Creek, and we are open to hearing God’s voice.”