In October 2015, the Agawam Congregational Church began their journey into the Crossroads process of discerning their future. Crossroads is a Conference ministry, designed for congregations that find themselves at a crossroads and want to intentionally discern their path forward.
The church’s core leaders had realized for a while that the structure that governed them and the bylaws that defined them no longer served the church that they were becoming. They realized there was a palpable need for a new way of being and a new way of doing church, so they called a new pastor, who led them to the Crossroads program.
“The intent for me as pastor was to encourage people to talk about what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Dr. Gregory Dawson. “It wasn't so much about completing a program as it was about transforming our understanding of who God has called us to be in the here and now. The highlight of Crossroads is that it gets people talking about church.”
Although they have completed only the self-assessment and small group discussion portions of the process, the program has already helped make changes within the church, including a deepening of spiritual lives. A Wednesday night group formed as result of an expressed desire to meet and share. Dawson leads some meetings while volunteers lead others. This group, called Let Us Gather, has grown close through exploring God's Word and through prayer together.
In addition to Let Us Gather, once a month there are informal prayer gatherings, called Encounter, that meet in the Sanctuary for a time of worship, sharing, testimony and discussion about what God is doing in one’s lives and the church.
“There has developed in this group an equal level of participation and willingness to lead the conversation and to add everyone's voice to public prayer,” said Dawson. “No one planned this group, yet in our discussions many have expressed their sense of deepening intimacy and spiritual growth because of it.”
“We gather to encounter God in worship, but it has been amazing to see individuals desire a time and place to try out different ways of engaging the Holy Spirit,” said Janet Brown, director of family ministries. “Sometimes it takes the form of discussion, giving testimony, or even trying out a new spiritual discipline. God is drawing us into a period of growth and renewal, and it’s amazing to be a part of this encounter.”
On Thursday mornings a healing prayer team gathers and members say they have experienced the movement of the spirit and divine healing. “We have seen some amazing healing through prayer and our prayer shawl ministry, which has become a way to express our desire to reach out and comfort those in need,” he said. “This has stimulated a growing hunger for God and what God wants to do through His spirit.”
Charlene Trombley, coordinator of this ministry, explained: “Making prayer shawls is doing God's work in an anonymous way. It is fulfilling to know that we are making something through which someone will find peace and comfort.”
A minor change to worship time has also made a major impact. Where most churches watch the clock to ensure the service starts on time, the Agawam church is purposely less formal and less punctual. People gather in the narthex to greet and talk, sometimes making it difficult to get to the sanctuary. But as a result of that pre-service fellowship, the passing of the peace has moved from quickly greeting those around oneself to people moving around the sanctuary to engage those they might not know.
“We shifted from doing it right according to the formal traditional way, to doing it right in a way that the congregation could experience the movement of the Holy Spirit,” said Dawson.
Dawson feels that the generation that presently serves as leaders in the Agawam church are becoming more excited and vocal about a need to reach out to the community. He trusts that because of the deepening of their spiritual lives, participants are expressing a growing sense that this transformation must have an outward expression, and believes that the church’s next move is restructuring the governance so that their emphasis will be on ministry rather than maintenance.
“For us this has been a spiritual journey of exploring how the spirit of God wants to work in us and through us,” he said. “There is still work to be done, both by us and by God's Spirit. I am looking forward to what God has in store for us.”
You can reach Rev. Dawson at the church office at (413) 786-7111 or email Office@agawamcong.com or Revgregdawson@hotmail.com.
Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane is the Spotlight Editor for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ