What does it mean to be a “Vital Congregation?” Does a vital congregation imply lots of people or programs? Can smaller churches be vital too? Recently, I attended a dedication service for a new education wing at Calvary United Methodist Church in Gladys, Virginia. The amazing part about this service is that Calvary is not one of our larger congregations. Over the years however, thanks to the leadership of their pastor and a dedicated group of church members, Calvary United Methodist Church has become one of our “Vital Congregations.”
The part-time pastor of Calvary UMC is Captain Mike Miller who works full time as second in command for the Sheriff’s Department in nearby Bedford County.
In his message, Rev. Miller asked: “Why are you here today? I hope you are here because this house that the Lord built, also built you. Calvary is the perfect example of a family. Our Sanctuary represents the hopes and dreams of our older generation. The Fellowship Hall, built later represents our middle aged generation. Our Education building is designed for the youngest generation. Each area has its strength and weakness. Each is unique in its own way.”
Recently Rev. Miller was asked to describe his church and what they are doing to be a more Vital Congregation. “Calvary United Methodist Church is located in a community both aging and rural, filled with farmers as well as other workers. Our community suffered due to the economic downturn. There are needs for basic supplies such as food. Elderly neighbors need basic housing supplies such as air conditioning. There is a growing homeless and substance abuse population. Job loss and higher gas prices are impacting everyone. Basic staples such as food, medication, and utility expenses are becoming more expensive and out of the reach of many, especially the elderly and poor.”
“Our congregation is attentive to individual acts of piety and acts of mercy. Acts of piety for us involve regularly attending worship, studying the scriptures, prayer, participating in the taking of sacraments, and sharing our faith with others. Acts of mercy are visiting the sick, feeding the hungry and collecting basic necessities for community needs. We try to find ways to love anyone who seeks our assistance.”
“If Calvary UMC no longer existed, our community would suffer by not receiving food, financial assistance and spiritual growth opportunities. This is not provided by other sources. We promise to continue to grow in faith and then share that faith with others by feeding the hungry, helping the needy and providing spiritual growth opportunities to our church and the community.”
Rev. Miller said in his message: “No one is perfect and that’s the wonderful way Jesus wants us. Jesus went to the streets to find the sick, the lame and the sinners. Jesus was there and is there for the ones who come up short, who make mistakes, who are not perfect.”
“A beautiful example of that is right in front of you.”
Standing at the Prayer and Altar rail, Rev. Miller said: “Did you know that three of the many posts that supported this rail are actually upside down. Somehow the person who put the altar rail together made a mistake… or did he? I like to think that he deliberately placed these posts upside down as a reminder to all of us that we come to Jesus as imperfect, flawed people. When we come to this altar rail we find healing, forgiveness and grace. We discover the true meaning of family, God’s family.”
What does it mean to be a vital congregation? It’s not about size or programming, Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruit.” (Mat. 7:16) Rev. Mike Miller and the family at Calvary UMC certainly understand what it means to produce fruit for Jesus.