Members emphasize four different mission themes to associate with the seasons
October is right around the corner and you can smell fall in the air: cider donuts at the local farm stand, freshly baked apple pies right out of the oven, pumpkin bread spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. It makes you hungry just reading about the seasonal fare.
Hungry is what First Church of Christ in Pittsfield is hoping you will feel. But it's not your food cravings they are hoping to satisfy; it's your hunger to help. Every fall, members of the Pittsfield church renews its participation in the Church World Service CROP Walk to raise funds to end hunger and elevate awareness of the issue. Last year 80 people participated -- 25 from First Church -- and over $5,000 was raised (up over $3,000 from the year before.) This year the goal is 100 walkers and $7,000 -- and the participation of two more congregations in Pittsfield.
But fall is just one of four seasons, and The Reverend Dr. James Lumsden, pastor of the church, wants members to think hungrily about other mission themes as the calendar progresses.
"For the past two years we have been trying to change our internal culture by emphasizing four different mission themes," he said. When it's fall, we think of hunger. In winter, we think of peace. In spring, we think of justice. And in summer, we think about caring for the earth."
This past summer, First Church partnered with the Berkshire Environmental Action Team to clean-up the Housatonic River. Each month church members joined folks from the wider community to actually get into the river and clean it up. They hauled out cars, televisions, shopping carts, tires, cans, plastic and the like. "This gives us an action to go with our reflections," said Lumsden.
For their spring/justice emphasis, First Church has been active in letter writing campaigns in partnership with Bread for the World. "With Bread for the World, we encouraged ALL our Massachusetts legislators to support additional foreign aid for development in Africa as well as keep tax credits for low income American families," Lumsden said. "Both public policy commitments will immediately reduce hunger for those at the bottom of society -- and ALL of our legislators have replied to our letters," he added. Over 50 people in the congregation participated.
As people head into the cold months and Christmas season, the hope for peace on earth is a universal theme, so First Church concentrated on 'peaceful' opportunities. One winter, they dedicated a peace pole in the front of the church and held community forums with the local peace and justice group (i.e. war tax resistance, women returning from a tour in Iran, etc.). The church outreach team also chose a ministry of compassion to the peace demonstrators who gather every Wednesday on the square by bringing them hot chocolate and coffee during their winter vigil.
"By nature," Lumsden explained, "we are creatures of habit who also want to do the right thing. Too often, however, we're either too busy to build mission into our plans or we do so as an afterthought. By emphasizing a clear mission theme each season, we not only link our best intentions with the seasons -- a great reinforce -- but we also have a cycle of mission themes that resonate with our daily lives. What's more, mission is now integrated with liturgy which increases our liturgical literacy."
On September 11th, 2010 the Mission Outreach Ministry Team of First Church held an all church mission retreat to discern the success of the new emphasis -- and evaluate how to make it work better. Dana Noble, clerk of the congregation, said that "seasonal mission themes had helped her focus attention -- and prayers -- on the wider church." Bobby Hyde noted that "the seasons now have a deeper connection to justice and compassion." After a full day of study, prayer and discussion the 20 retreatants realized that more work needs to be done linking the Biblical insights about social justice with changing public policy -- an insight that will be forwarded to the church council.
More work may need to be done, but even now the members of the First Church in Pittsfield are putting songwriter James Taylor's words to action:
"Whether it's winter, spring, summer or fall,
All you got to do is call.
And I'll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You've got a friend."
Hey, ain't it good to know that First Church in Pittsfield is a friend.
The Reverend Dr. James Lumsden can be reached at the church office at
413 447-7351 or email: email@example.com