The Leadership Academy delivered another collaborative event of clergy and laity on Oct. 21 with its new Advent Workshop, a virtual session that encouraged the participants from New Jersey to Seattle to carry the celebration of Jesus’ arrival into the new year.
“We had a lot of great conversation, particularly about how to handle Sunday, December 26 and creating engagement during services and preaching,” said Breakthrough Coordinator Emily Wilton who also co-pastors Titusville UMC and is a coordinating pastor at Centenary UMC in Lambertville.
Rev. Linda Ross of First UMC of Mays Landing, who also had her laity with her during the Zoom call, digested what Wilton shared and is now planning to do a fireside chat the morning after Christmas next to her own fireplace at home. She thought giving her congregation a break from the usual routine would be a good idea.
Wilton added that she encouraged participants to use the last week of the new Breakthrough sermon series, God With Us for January 2 to give visitors on Christmas Eve a reason to come back. It was also suggested that planning another event at the beginning of the year could be another good thing to share in Advent services.
Week 4, “God With the World” embraces the idea that help is here, that even in those times when we feel alone, God is always there.
It rounds out a series that puts us in the place of the first people who awaited and celebrated Jesus’ birth. By unraveling these stories, people can learn what it meant for God to be with them, and what it means to open our eyes to experience God with us, too.
Wilton also encouraged participants to get creative and collaborative, noting that one south Jersey church is worshipping together with local churches of different denominations. Others use this time for pulpit exchanges or a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt. One pastor recommended creating a digital Christmas message involving the congregation to be shared during a service.
The collaborative spirit of the group that night was alive and contagious as each pastor shared with others what tools they use from a gratitude journal to a Rubik’s cube.
“Seminars like this build up your energy and passion for ministry,” said Ross. “It was so well organized. Hope they do it again another time.”
Wilton shared the importance of having everything prepared ahead of time like candles, music selections or performers and programs and doing a walkthrough prior to the Advent services. Also stressed that evening was the need to revisit what measures need to be taken during this time of COVID-19.
One participant recommended taking along a clergy member from another church who might recognize something you may have missed, and then reciprocating.
“A set of fresh eyes can illuminate something important,” he noted.
Ross echoed that idea, saying, “Especially now that we’re doing things online for people who aren’t as familiar with our surroundings, it’s a good time for a walkthrough.” Ross added that she also gleaned the idea of training a lay person to lead a small group, and she plans to implement that into her church’s schedule in the near future.
Wilton encouraged pastors to step outside their church doors and into the community, embracing what makes your community unique during this time and getting involved in it.
“How can you be part of your community?” said Wilton.