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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

10 Days Ago imagine/Northampton Reached the End Of Its Journey.

Eight years ago, while sitting in the living room at the Center For Renewal in Simsbury with Jim LaMontagne, Catherine Chhabra, and Tricia McDermott talking excitedly about the intriguing possibility of launching a church plant, I never imagined I'd be writing today about it's unceremonious end yesterday. Eight of the ten remaining members gathered at our place for lunch to see if there was enduring interest to hang in and try again in Springfield where some of us reside. After lunch and an earnest discussion around the table, we took a vote. It was unanimous that we'd reached the end of the road.

If any of us were sad, we didn't show it particularly. There were no tears. Our numbers had been dwindling the last year or two even in Northampton. When we moved to Shutesbury in the summer of 2014 we were down to 14 people or so. We tried to gather fairly regularly, but the passion in many if not most of us seemed waning at best. No clear vision or direction flowed. While we liked being around each other, (and still do) it didn't have the spark of anticipation we were heading somewhere and it was going to be good.

I haven't had much time to let the reality of "no more" sink in. I know I was plumb out of any vision of the future toward which we'd head. Nothing sparkled or beckoned. And the church took a long break for a number of months. The Leadership Team met sparsely and our gatherings were only a few.

So I know our decision was right to call it a day. At the same time, I could never say our 8 years as a missional community was a waste. It was not! We did so much ministry I had not done before:

  • Getting to know and serving the homeless on the street: feeding them, giving them gloves, scarves, and hats, taking them to the hospital.
  • Doing the Christmas Bag Giveaway to people on the street in Noho. 
  • Having a plot at the Community Garden in Florence and giving the food to a shelter.
  • Cooking meals for the homeless at the Drop-in Center.
  • Opening our space for Halloween and having large crowds of non-Christian families attend for more than one Halloween.
  • Launching and running the imagine Art Gallery for 14 months; creating relationships with townfolks; making friends and supporting artists, including non-Christians.
  • Creating 1Flight Up, a working jazz group; performing out.
  • Having poetry readings and Deb Davis's Children's Book Reading, and a dance performance.
  • Creating and teaching the Inward-Outward Spiritual Formation Workshop 3 times.
  • Discipling bright and talented Smith Students who've gone on to continuing service in the Lord
  • Serving in September at the Smith College Ice Cream Social put on by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
  • Tricia and I counseling many individuals and couples toward healing.
  • Offering spiritual direction in and out of the Imagine community.
  • Teaching  the Scriptures and worshipping. Jim LaMontagnes's excellent and faithful teaching week in and week out, especially the Heartwood Series for Lent.
  • Putting on Feast at Easter for townspeople.
  • Participating in the Hot Chocolate 5K run in Noho.
  • Being a member of the Chamber of Commerce. The first church to do so in Northampton.
  • Purchasing and sending diapers to poor, young Native American mothers at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
  • Discipling a number of young men and women within our church.
  • The Sacred Pause Advent Reflection opportunity.
  • Pot of Grace Community meals.
  • The Place and Possibility Seminar conceived and led by Brad Davis.
  • Training up young leaders through mentoring
  • Baptizing three people. 
  • Writing the Old Man Planting Churches blog; my first blog ever.

I also need to say we had the privilege of a great team as the idea took shape in Connecticut. It began with the folks I mentioned in the first paragraph, but I must add Matt and Karen Bayne who pulled up stakes from Simsbury and also moved to Noho where they still reside. They were the first to plant the idea of a missional church at the end of a teaching I was doing. 

Our wonderful friends, Jim and Karin have stayed the course through all the ups and downs of our journey together. We couldn't have lasted this long without them. They are loving, gifted and generous people. Jim was on the Leadership Team from the beginning. We spent many a Tuesday night working on how to do what God had given us to do whether it was the next sermon series, a new missional project, how people in the church were growing or struggling, and how we could be more effective as a community of Christ-followers with people who weren't Christian. The challenges were great, even sometimes mind-boggling. Jim and Karin were a part of all we did; they supported Imagine's ministry in every way possible.

Our LT also included Kevin and Janet Williams who live in Shutesbury but trekked to Northampton each week for meetings, missional events, and Sunday Worship. Our work was made  better by their service. When it was time to leave Northampton in the later summer of 2014, they offered us a place to live at Pine Brook Camp in Shutesbury and even gave us a purebred German Shepherd puppy we named Marley who is now serving a vet through Rebuilding Warriors. Our time in Shutesbury enabled us to decompress and heal far away from the city. The Williams were the great blessing in Imagine's dedication to helping people discover and the God who is far more than they imagine. Our work together was made better by their dedication and giving spirit.

I would be shamefully remiss if I didn't mention our generous financial and prayer supporters. Some had been supporting Tricia and me as Klesis

So as we move into 2016 in Springfield,  we'll not easily forget the laughs, the tears, the praying reading, talking and doing missional ministry in Northampton. We were stretched and exasperated. We were excited and frustrated. We were fulfilled and discouraged. We were pushed out of our comfort zones and discovered fresh comfort zones. God was faithful, patient, kind, generous and always there even in our most forlorn times.

So we want to thank everyone who supported imagine/Northampton by:

  • Helping us move to Sunderland, then Armory Street, then Main Street in Noho then Shutesbury, the Springfield.
  • Donating boxes of diapers for poor native American women in North Dakota.
  • Making gloves, hats and scarves for the homeless on the street in Noho.
  • Helping fill our Annual Christmas Giveaway bags to hand out on the street.
  • Playing on the Worship Team.
  • Helping with the imagine Art gallery on Opening Night and during the weekends
  • Donating food on for Sunday Morning Worship.
  • Cleaning the carpets in Imagine's offices and worship space. 
  • Serving meals at the Drop-in Center.
  • Fixing our computer issues. 

I guess by way of ending, I am most blessed by the fact we held to and worked hard to offer the wondrous reality of grace in Christ to anyone who crossed our doors. We saw it as the normal Christian life as a Church community and as individual Christians. We didn't always get it, right that's for sure, but persisted as far as we felt we could given a particular challenge. There were times it was far beyond what others would've done.

So thank you all for praying, supporting and serving with us. Every bit mattered. Every bit.