Faith Matters: Sojourn for a changing time

  • First Congregational Church of Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz PAUL FRANZ

  • Rev Nada Sellers in the First Congregational Church of Ashfield. May 15, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev Nada Sellers in the First Congregational Church of Ashfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

First Congregational Church of Ashfield
Published: 5/25/2018 2:02:03 PM

I am a Christian pastor who works with congregations who are in transition. The words, “transitional ministry” seem fairly self-explanatory, I suppose, for all organizations undergo seasons when change arrives and transitioning is necessary. Within religious communities, and more specifically, congregations in the United Church of Christ, periods of transition can occur for any number of reasons; most involve some sort of change in pastoral leadership which triggers an intentional season of transitional ministry. An interim minister is called into partnership, to sojourn for a changing time, both to assist with the ongoing ministry needs of the church and to help with preparations for installing the next “settled” minister.

Each congregation I have the opportunity to work with is grappling with aspects of an astonishing spiritual revolution that is taking place in all corners of our world, something observers who study the confluence of culture and spirituality with histories of religion have been writing about for the last several decades.

I am reading the work of Diana Butler Bass in her book titled, “Grounded: Finding God in the World.” (HarperOne, 2015). If, as Butler Bass claims, “Where is God?” is one of the most consequential questions of our time, and conventional teachings about a distant God seated on a heavenly throne acting as either a divine puppet master or a stern judge no longer fit with what we know about the world and our part in the mess things have become, how can a faith community remain relevant?

Again, Butler Bass offers, “Roiling across the planet is a shifting conception of God. In a wide variety of cultures, God has become unmediated and local, animating the natural world and human activities in profoundly intimate ways…. Simply put, the informational queries of who and what, along with their authoritative (religious) answers have been traded for the experiential and open-ended concerns of where and how.”

So it is at the Congregational Church in Ashfield. As we look at what it means to reground our lives and our community in God, who is imminently present, we are asking who God is calling us to be and to serve. In what ways shall we become newly “grounded” in this community and the challenges we face together? What needs to change in us so that we can open wider spaces for belonging which is inclusive of different paths to wisdom? Can the way of Jesus for peace-making and justice-seeking continue to animate us as a church, giving hope in the face of so much fear?

My position at the Ashfield church is a part-time role, meaning I work bi-vocationally to support our family. For me, this means I’ve returned to working as a spiritual care coordinator in hospice. A recent conversation with an 87-year-old patient of mine lingers in my thoughts. As she explained her experiences of growing up in a Protestant Christian congregation, she remembered her love of music and her long participation as a choir member. She had done this and many other acts of service and care for so many years, and she had grown tired of all the changes happening in the congregation after her minister retired. “I guess you could call me un-churched now, right?” she said with a smile. “I do still believe in God but I don’t attend church anymore.”

The opportunity to “be church” without depending solely on conventional standards of what faith looks like is before us.

Perhaps we can be the church for all ages and stages by nurturing circles of those who are rooted in the holy ground that is God throughout the many communities we are a part of.

May it be so!

About First Congregational Church of Ashfield

Founded in 1763, First Congregational Church of Ashfield is a community church affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC). The vision statement for the congregation reads: “We are a small group, striving to be open and accepting, sometimes disagreeing yet loving one another, wading though the joy and pain of spiritual growth, who pledge to worship God together, follow the example of Jesus, embody God’s Holy Spirit, support our church family, and serve our neighbors, near and far.” Worship is at 10am on Sundays, and the Hilltown Churches Food Pantry in the church basement is open for distribution on alternating Tuesdays from 3 to 6pm. Like us on Facebook at “First Congregational Church, UCC Ashfield, MA” and check out our new website at:


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