By: Rev. Cindy Gregorson
I want to tell you about some heroes.
Embrace is a United Methodist Church located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and it is reaching new people in a big way. It started in 2006 with 40 people, and it is now averaging close to 3,000 people in worship attendance across its three physical campuses and an online community.
Bishop Ough (who is also Embrace’s bishop) invited Embrace's leadership to consider starting a campus in the Twin Cities. At first, it seemed to them like a crazy idea, and they told the bishop so. But the bishop asked them to pray about it. Embrace's heart from day one has been: Whatever it takes to reach new people for Christ, we will do. And so this past summer, they said “yes” to the invitation, no matter how crazy it appeared on on the surface.
This is one of those Holy Spirit breakthroughs we have been praying for in the Minnesota Conference. I am so thankful the bishop was bold to ask, and people like Rev. Adam Weber, Embrace’s lead pastor, stayed open to the Spirit and said, "Yes, we will go." (Read more about Embrace’s Twin Cities campus here.)
But as big of a stretch that is, the leaders of Embrace church are not the heroes of the story. They did not have to change everything to do this new thing. They had to simply extend who they are to a wider mission field. That is amazingly faithful to the call of God...being willing to move out of what is known to starting a new campus in another state...but it is not heroic.
The heroes of the story are the people of St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church in Lakeland. They were willing to give over everything—who they are, what they have, what has been sacred and meaningful to them—for the sake of reaching the next generation.
Three weeks ago—yes, you read that right—Clay Oglesbee, St. Croix Valley UMC’s district superintendent, and I approached the leaders of the church and told them we had a big, audacious, take-your-breath-away proposal for them. We told them: It is going to turn your life upside-down, but we believe God is in it. Will you consider it?
We asked them if they would give over their building, their identity, their way of being church to Embrace so that Embrace could launch a new campus in their building. They would cease to exist as St. Croix Valley UMC and would become a campus of Embrace. As you can imagine, this was an out-of-the-blue conversation for them. And…we asked them to make this decision within the space of three weeks, and to be willing to turn over the building on September 14 so it could be prepared for the mid-November launch of a new campus.
Heroes are people who, in spite of their fear, do really brave things for the sake of somebody else. I have never been more proud to watch a group of people really be the church. The people of St. Croix Valley UMC listened. They shared what excited them and what scared them. They wrestled with the implications. There were lots and lots of questions. They prayed. They talked to one another. They entered into holy conversation with God and each other. They knew how much this faith community meant to them, and they grieved what would no longer be.
They also knew their mission: to know Christ and to make Christ known. And they knew the dream they had when they completed their most recent building renovation: to reach more and more people for Christ. But in recent years, that dream was slipping through their fingers like dust. The building was beautiful, but the congregation was getting older and smaller, and the children were missing.
So when they were wrestling with what to do, here came an invitation: to die to who they were so resurrection could happen in their midst. I am here to tell you: It is one thing to talk about resurrection and sing resurrection songs on Easter Sunday. It is a totally different thing to stare death in the face and to choose to bravely give yourself over to it, without knowing for sure what that resurrection life is going to look like...but knowing for certain it is going to be a very big change! That, my friends, is deep trust. And that is what it means to be the church.
On Monday night, August 24, the people of St. Croix Valley UMC said, “Yes, we will lay down our life so those we don't know—the people we aren't reaching but Embrace can, those who are in the next generation—may find a faith community that offers to them what we have already found: Jesus Christ who offers a way to a life of love and joy."
That is heroic. The people of St. Croix Valley UMC gave up everything for the sake of the gospel. Those are the people who Jesus calls friends. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church