One in an occasional series of articles about the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Endowment Campaign.
Last year, just before Easter, Rev. Kate Layzer was called to preside over a sad ritual: the closing of the United Church of Christ in Winthrop, MA, which had operated since 1896. An aging congregation and shrinking membership had brought the church into decline – and so Layzer, who had served the congregation for five years, had to help the church’s members consider what the final good acts of the church would be as it dissolved.
In moving toward dissolution, however, the members reached to the future and behaved with visionary generosity. “We had to figure out how to give away our assets,” Layzer said. “We were fortunate in that we didn’t have restricted gifts in our investment portfolio that could only be used for particular things. I wanted there to be a process around this, with prayer and discernment and involvement of the congregation. So I asked people to go home and dream and pray about what matters and what this church had been about.”
The next step involved talking, as a congregation, about each item and whether it should remain on the list – yes, no, maybe. “The congregation was thinking about giving money to ministerial retirement funds,” said Rev. Layzer. “I didn’t want to do a lot of steering, and I wanted the decisions to come from who the congregation was and what they valued, even in the midst of this sad closing of the church.” But Layzer presented another perspective: “What if we didn’t focus on the past, but more on the future, and on renewal and vitality and creativity?” “That,” said Layzer, “was all I had to say.”
"The Winthrop congregation," said Rev. Layzer, “had very generous instincts. They never had much money but they had a heart for showing compassion and doing the right thing. They acted in hopeful ways, and they tried…when it came to giving money away…to think about who would benefit most from the gift. If a grain of wheat falls to the ground you want to help it bear fruit. And they felt really good in the end…and this became larger than us.”
The church voted to put the bulk of their funds (expected to exceed $50,000) into new church starts for the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ (MACUCC), church vitality programs, and in support of the Pastoral Excellence Program (PEP), as well as gifts to several Winthrop area programs.
Why does support of the PEP and other MACUCC vitality programs make sense? Layzer said, “I had been in a new clergy group and I was aware of the mission of PEP -- and I admired the ways in which the MACUCC helped people to be the best leaders that they could be. I think this is a good place to put resources and funding, to train inspired and inspiring leaders.”
Layzer reflects, “I have been a consultant to other congregations that are closing and this story is being played out in other places. The church is going through a period of intense change, and yet we need to equip clergy to help congregations think beyond the four walls for the church, and get them outside the church to really save us, do ministry in a way that embraces the community. Those are very important skills to build and our seminaries are thinking a lot about this: what are the fuller dimensions of ministry? The Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Endowment Campaign will help carry forward the kind of dynamic ministry we so desperately need today.”
You can join other lay leaders, pastors and congregations by making a pledge of support, payable over three to five years, or taking a special offering. Pleaes contact MACUCC Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development Andrew Gustafson: (508) 875-5233, ext.231 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), or Associate Conference Minister for Leadership Development Sue Dickerman: ext.233 email: email@example.com).