By: Rev. Michelle Hargrave
I came to Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Mankato four years ago. It has a long and admirable history, great leadership, a ton of talent, an accessible building, and a heart to care for its neighbors. But we needed a spark, a push, a breakthrough of the Spirit. So I asked Bishop Ough about the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI) program, and our church received an invitation and whole-heartedly began this transformational process.
A year and a half later, I can say we are experiencing breakthroughs of the Spirit at Centenary. In August, when we opened the doors on the first night of our social justice theatre production of Shrek: The Musical, the line snaked through the building and out onto the street. About 1,000 people joined us over the course of a weekend for this message of what it means to “love our neighbors.” But we didn’t just prepare for the one event—we had events all month leading up to the musical, even pairing a sermon series to fit the “Once Upon a Time” theme of the set and story. And each person who came to the play received an invitation to our “night out” 10 days later and our Wednesday night programs in September, which will include a theatre class for children and youth.
That’s the sort of intentionality we’ve learned through MCCI. After 25 years of ministry, I am learning to do things a new way.
Our production of Shrek was part of something new we tried—a “don’t miss” August. Through an MCCI stewardship seminar, we learned about ramping up programming in August instead of taking a church vacation. August is a time when visitors check out churches, and it creates momentum for fall programming. I was intrigued, and the theatre team wanted to do a large musical involving children and youth, so we put those ideas together. We clergy moved our vacations and fall planning to July, and in August, we hosted free movie nights tied to our sermons, advertised on the radio and in the newspaper, and made sure that each event provided an invitation to the next one. We added an Ad Council meeting to mid-summer, and the leadership prayed over the cast and crew during a rehearsal, then sent the directors thank you notes for their work. Breakthrough prayer is an undergirding part of our MCCI work.
All of this was in the midst of preparing for a building project so we can continue to feed our neighbors (about 75 people per day), training on improving our welcome, working to address homelessness in Mankato, reviewing our staffing needs, and holding all-church book reads twice a year. Our congregation approved these prescriptions with a 96 percent vote, and we are working on them as fast as our capacity allows.
As I wandered into the crowd the first night of our production, I looked at the faces of my parishioners. They were delighted to be hosts of such a well-run and successful event. But, because of the MCCI process and our strong vote, there is a sense that we are all partners in this work of being the church, reaching out to the community, sharing the love of God. We have buy-in, we have a plan, we have hope, and we sense the Spirit of God moving among us.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to bring MCCI to my congregation.
Michelle Hargrave is the senior pastor of Centenary UMC in Mankato.
This story was previously published in the Fall 2017 Breakthroughs newsletter.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church