Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

To Do God’s Will

By Janice Lexton

This year as a Reimagining Church fellow has been a delight. I have been so impressed for the courage of my working group members at First Baptist Church in Branford – their courage to say yes to this program, say yes to the process, and say yes to the listening for where the Spirit is already moving. It’s taken bravery to stay at the table together, not knowing where this was going. I am moved by their generosity of spirit, and their commitment to the process, through its challenges and its joys.

And I can think of no better way to recap the year that has unfolded, than by turning it over to one of our working group members. Many thanks to Janice, for her heartfelt and thoughtful reflection below. I look forward to seeing what God does at First Baptist Church in the future!


To do God’s Will – by Janice Lexton

Our journey to Reimagine First Baptist Church - Branford (FBC) over the last 7 months has been a moving and spiritual journey. The Reimaging Church initiative allowed us to start to envision a new direction for our church. The work to Reimagine required each of us to keep an open mind, an open heart, to trust the process and most importantly trust that God is there every step of the way.  

Susan Beaumont taught us to shift our thoughts from a process of decision making to the practice of discernment. Susan said, “discernment unfolds in God’s time – teaching us to exercise patients with the process, with each other, and God”. 

Rev. Tyler Sitt energetically spoke about his work. His prayer walks around his community to ask the people, “what matters to you?”  His work to organize lasagna dinners every week to further invest in his community were inspiring.  As a visionary, he encouraged all of us to “think outside the box”, to not be afraid to try something once and if it doesn’t work, move on to something else. His session instilled in us the courage to look beyond what has traditionally been done and experiment with new ideas/concepts and to not be afraid.  

Carolyn Foster educated us to the work of the Poor People’s campaign and that each of us can speak out and stand up to protect the rights of the poor. How will we address social injustice seen within our communities and change the narrative as part of reimaging FBC? Carolyn’s commitment to this cause would stay in our hearts through this journey as we looked at the needs of the Branford community.  

Rev. Nancy Petty recited a poem by William Stafford “The Way It Is”, the first few lines goes as follows: “There is a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change”. The thread represents something that remains constant, that guides us through life’s challenges. This conjured up thoughts, what is the thread that gives meaning and a sense of purpose to First Baptist Church? That question would be answered along our journey to reimagine our church. 

Under Caroline’s leadership, our group entered a laminal season. Caroline, our Reimagining Church Fellow from Yale Divinity School, guided us through a number of exercises to help articulate the changes that occurred in our church as a result of the pandemic, changes in pastoral leadership and in the congregation as a whole. Caroline further encouraged us to envision what our church could look like in the future. 

Several of us also decided to look beyond the walls of our church for further inspiration by attending a Sunday morning worship service at a neighboring church. Music was a large focus at the neighboring church service. It was like attending a rock concert – lead singers, full back up band under the roof of a church. The music, loud, and engaged people to stand up and sing to the words streaming on monitors mounted on the walls.   

Over the course of the many weeks and months, our group continued to meet, discuss, discern, and tease out common themes that we saw as important to move our church forward. Our overarching themes – community, outreach, fellowship, music, and our ideal location (near the town green, on main street) has begun to direct some future goals to Reimagine FBC: 

1.     To renovate Fellowship Hall. Our Fellowship hour is more than coffee and dessert. It’s become a full meal, where the congregation gather to eat and share stories together. It’s our desire to update the space. This will involve painting the entire room, reorganizing the floor plan of the room to create different spaces, and purchasing new tables and chairs. –  the end goal to create a more welcoming space for our congregation and the community to come together.  

2.     Once Fellowship Hall is renovated, to look to bring the community into this space. Discussions of community lunch on Sundays, use of the space as a resource center to the Branford Community, classes for English as a second language, game night for families – are a few of the ideas being discussed to repurpose that space. 

3.     Incorporate more contemporary music into our worship service (one selection/week) and still keep our hymns. This in an effort to draw in younger members but still respect what so many of our long-standing members enjoy.

4.     Help address inequities seen in our community - homelessness and food insecurity. FBC looks to cultivate hope to those who are in the most need. We are in the initial stages of discussing putting a food pantry on the church property to have non-perishable, shelf safe food available to the community 24/7. The community having access to food 24/7 doesn’t currently exist in Branford.  

So, to go back to what is the thread that gives meaning and a sense of purpose to First Baptist Church, It’s our faith-filled history – existing in Branford since 1838, our desire to be a welcoming church to the community, our desire to bring hope and love to the world (this is part of our vision statement) and our desire to do outreach programs that help to address inequities that exist in our community. 

The future to Reimagine FBC is filled with endless possibilities to do God’s will. 

Image | Mike Enerio on Unsplash