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Here we are at the end of 2016. It has been a full year at First Christian Church. There were ups and downs just like any other living organization. While I am not someone who usually makes resolutions at the end of the year in preparation for the coming New Year, I may deviate from my norm a bit this year. In looking back at all that has taken place, maybe forward with resolution might be the way to go forward.

At the beginning of this year, a leadership team from First Christian was trained in the process for the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. If you thought it was long reading it, try saying it aloud fast. This program is from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and helps churches make hard decisions about the future of their congregations. In May and June we held house groups to go over the material provided, look at information about our community, and make recommendations to the congregation. Ultimately, we decided to begin the process of re-visioning, redefining the Mission of First Christian Church.

Re-visioning is not about saying we will spread the Gospel message. It requires we create a dynamic statement that is action oriented. Ultimately, it reflects the Great Commission of going out and making disciples, but is directed toward the unique time and place in which we live.

As part of the process, we suspended our constitution and by-laws in order to be flexible during this process. We also created a Transition Team to guide the effort and communicate with the congregation. Since that time, we have taken some new steps and done different things that we have not attempted as a congregation in a long time.

On October 1st, we hosted a Fall Festival for the Pre-K through 3rd grade children and their families at Miller Elementary School. There were inflatable events and games, hotdogs and chips, and prizes. Children were given a card with numbers for each of the stations. As they went to the Bouncy House, or the Face Painting room, or one of the games, their card was stamped. They even got a stamp when they went to eat. The last stop was in the prize room where there were colorful pencils, stickers, pencil bags, coloring books and reading books. Many parents were surprised that this was all free, especially the food and books. We had a good turnout of volunteers and children, and it was a fun afternoon.

We have also joined with All Saints Episcopal Church and Faith Lutheran Church to provide an after school tutoring program created by the Episcopal Church in GA called Path To Shine. This program targets early elementary children who are on the edge between success and failure. According to studies, if these children don’t improve, the chances that they will leave school before graduation are very high. This program began on Nov. 8th. The response of the children the day after the program started was tremendous. People from all of the congregations volunteer to tutor, lead recreation, bring special programs like art, or music, and provide food for the children.

We also partnered with Faith Lutheran Church to hold an Ecumenical Election Eve Prayer Service. On the Monday before the election, we gathered in the sanctuary to pray and to remember that we are called to pray for those selected to serve the government at all levels. We also recalled our baptisms in order to remember that no matter who won or lost, we as Christians must stand together and not give in to divisiveness.

The newest opportunity to gather for fellowship and conversation is the Wine and Wisdom gatherings on Wednesday evening every 2 weeks. This program provides our church family as well as anyone else who would like to come to the Fellowship Hall and share in focused conversations on various topics, of which not all of the topics will be serious. We will also share in wine and other refreshments as people choose. As I am writing this column on the day before the first Wine and Wisdom party, I cannot tell you how it went. I am hopeful that it will go well.

Our focus as a congregation is moving from counting numbers on Sunday morning and moving toward counting the impact First Christian has in our neighborhood and community. Counting the amount in the offering plate and the number of people in worship has been the norm for generations. We need to look back to what counted in the Gospel, who was touched, who was fed, who was healed. We made an impact with children and their families with the Fall Festival; we are touching the future through Path to Shine; we are reaching in new ways to our community and seeking greater depth of disciple within the congregation.

Now, as we approach our next step in Re-visioning, we will begin to write our Future Story, a narrative vision of our next 5 years of serving God in Warner Robins. We look at 5 years, because the world changes rapidly and we need to develop a habit of reassessing what is needed and what we can do more frequently than we have in our history. We are called to serve in a living community where needs and challenges can change and we as First Christian Church, need to be able to respond more quickly than ever before. Please pray and participate in the process and the ministries come from this effort.

This December, Christmas Day is the last Sunday of the month. Because of this, we will do some different things in worship. There will still be singing and have scripture and responsive readings, but the focus for the sermons will be odd.

On Dec. 4th, the sermon will be on The Littlest Angel; Dec. 11th will be on The Little Drummer Boy, Dec. 18th will be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and on Christmas Day we will sing as many carols as we want.

On Christmas Day we will have a light breakfast available at 10:00. There will be no Sunday School, so come enjoy fellowship and then come to worship. Also, if you received a new clothing item for Christmas, wear it. Well, maybe not PJs. We will sing carols and read the Christmas story and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

Shalom, Darrell