Southern New England Conference Churches Selected for Thriving Congregations Initiative

Southern New England Conference Churches Selected for Thriving Congregations Initiative

It began with a conversation between John Roberto, of Vibrant Faith and Lifelong Faith and Karen Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation and Leadership for the historic CT Conference and the new SNEUCC.  

Ziel was eager to learn more about the research project Vibrant Faith had undertaken regarding vital faith formation and vitalizing congregations.  In conversations she believed would lead to engaging Vibrant Faith to consult with some local congregations, she began to imagine the potential benefits of bringing the resources of Vibrant Faith to a cohort of CT. congregations. She knew that the leaders at VF were eager to work with local churches to guide and accompany their movement beyond the challenges of today into true change and transformation.

Ziel had identified a number of congregations she would like them to work with and who were at a precipice of moving beyond transition to transformation.  She believed that they needed to put "a little something on it" as her former colleague Rev. Da Vita McCallister would say.  The something that was needed would be as unique as the congregations themselves.

At the same time, three Southern New England states were in the last stages of forming a new Conference. Change and transformation was taking place all around! At her second meeting with John Roberto in the fall of 2019, he shifted the conversation with a new proposal.  He reported that VF had submitted a proposal for a Lilly Endowment Inc., grant to engage a new initiative and would hear at anytime now, if they had been awarded one. He suggested that the emerging SNEUCC consider whether or not it would be willing and able to identify 6 congregations who would welcome an opportunity to engage in a more in depth, comprehensive project of change.  To move beyond consultation into a deeper more significant journey of study and engagement and of accompaniment and guidance for change.  Ziel was excited and eager to know more.

As the conversation evolved, in consultation with faith formation colleagues, Debby Kirk, Debbie Gline Allen, and Kristin Putney (and others in the Conference) Ziel worked to identify several congregations in the three SNE states who would be invited to consider participating in this project as a SNEUCC cohort. The initiative was scheduled to begin at the same time the new Conference would be formalized.  These congregations received a letter and a brief summary of the initiative, with an invitation to apply. The application process included a request that they describe their growing edges and imagine what development in faith formation would vitalize their ministries, including a project.

After leaders at VF reviewed the applications, conducted interviews and following their further discernment, 11 congregations were selected - not 6 as originally indicated but 11!! Wonderful news.  Almost simultaneously in the process,  a pandemic began to impact our communities and our country and the project was intentionally slowed and reimagined a bit by the very savvy leaders at Vibrant Faith.

Fast forward to today!! 9 congregations remain engaged and eager to begin their work.  Initiative updates have been provided and for the next 3.5 years, leaders in these communities will journey together toward vitalization! The 9 congregations are: 
E. Woodstock Congregational Church, CT
N. Madison Congregational Church, CT
First Congregational Church Rockport, MA
First Congregational Church Tisbury, MA
Edwards Church of Northampton, MA
Park Avenue Congregational Church, MA
West Parish Church, MA
Newman Congregational Church, RI
United Congregational Church Little Compton, RI

These congregation's teams will work with two professional coaches from Vibrant Faith, Jim Merhaut and Rev. Michael Droege. Their first steps in the journey are team formation, team building and exploring the scholarship in, Always On-practicing faith in a new media landscape by Angela Williams Gorrell.  Dr. Gorrell will conduct a virtual webinar for the teams in September as they anticipate their first "live" engagement.  As VF reimagined the early stages of the project in this time of CoVid-19, the VF team and coaches imagined that learning more about and developing competencies for digital ministry would be of significant value to the teams and thus, their communities.

The SNEUCC Discipleship Team is pleased and grateful for the opportunities these 9 congregations will have over the course and scope of the initiative to develop and vitalize faith formation and thus, their congregations. We will learn along with the communities engaged.  Watch our newsletter, Discipleship Matters and other SNEUCC news publications for regular updates as the initiative unfolds.

To learn more about development opportunities for your congregation, contact Karen Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation and Leadership.



Contact Information

Karen Ziel


Karen E. Ziel

Karen Ziel supports Christian Educators and faith formation leaders with consultation, training, resources and programs. She has guided the development of the Leadership Studio at United Church Center, a communications and workshop facility for ...

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