Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

The Spirit’s Work is Never Finished

By Amanda Bryant

I concluded my first reflection on the Reimagining Church process with the following: “The soul of Woodmont UCC is clearly alive. The fact that so many members of our working group and other active members of the congregation are so new to the church that they don’t recognize what has ended is a sign of new life in the church. The Spirit of God is clearly moving in and among this community. As another working group member put it the last time we gathered, “It is a gift to take this time to figure out where we are and where we are going.” As we continue to reflect on the history of Woodmont UCC, bound up in the soul of the institution, I am hopeful for the creativity and imagination that lies ahead, as we seek to discern what new thing God might be doing in our midst.”

As I reflect on the year I have spent with five incredible members of Woodmont United Church of Christ, their pastor, Rev. Jill Olds, and many members of the Woodmont UCC community who were not formally tied to our process but nevertheless contributed to it in countless ways, I see the statement I made in October of 2023 as a prayer that has been answered in ways large and small throughout this year. While our working group was hard at work reflecting on the past and present of the congregation, another working group formed in the church to begin to question the needs of the community and think through the ways in which Woodmont UCC might fulfill some of those needs. Meeting the needs of a community is a wonderful thing; and yet, it is not the entirety of what it means to be the church. 

One member of our working group has served as a prophetic voice for the rest of us since Susan Beaumont joined us in September, reminding us that we are not merely finding our “mission,” we are attempting, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to locate our “next proximate purpose,” that place where the “divine spark” is already being kindled in our midst. Thanks to this helpful refrain, our working group has been able to stay grounded in locating the identity and next proximate purpose of Woodmont UCC in conjunction with locating the needs of the community to be met. The kind and generous community at Woodmont UCC is seeking, in my experience, to be the hands and feet of Christ in their community, while acknowledging that those hands and feet must be rooted in the Body of Christ gathered there.

What has emerged as an extension of the next proximate purpose, it seems, is the opportunity to distribute books that uphold the values to which Woodmont UCC is committed, such as LGBTQ+ affirmation and anti-racism, to children in the community. Flowing out from the “soul” of the institution, this project will allow the congregation to extend a hand of kindness to their neighbors in a way that affirms the values of their own church community. I have no doubt that other like-minded projects will flow from this one, and that Woodmont UCC will continue to be, as Tyler Sit called us to be, “stewards of momentum” of the good work the Spirit has done, is doing, and will continue to do through Woodmont United Church of Christ.

Image | Bhushan Sadani on Unsplash