ReformING: Always being made new

In 2015, Pastors Lauren and Paul Carlson were called as co-pastors to Calvary, Morganton, where they would share one call, 50/50. Today, they’re still serving at Calvary and they’re still sharing one call, but now Pastor Paul is three-quarters time and Pastor Lauren is one-quarter time, but that’s not the only thing that has changed. Some of the members, who have worshiped at the 78-year-old congregation for many years, now look around the worship space and only recognize about half the congregation which has an average worshiping attendance of 120. There’s a new level of energy and excitement at Calvary.

That energy and excitement didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always easy. The congregation took risks that meant change; the changes were not welcomed by all. It took a couple years of difficult, and sometimes messy, work among the church leadership, the pastors, Bishop Smith, and Danielle DeNise, the synod’s director for evangelical mission, to redefine roles and expectations of the leadership and to vision and dream about possibilities for mission and ministry in Morganton. Pastor Paul shared, “We defined who we are and who we are not and we worked to know why we do what we do. We refocused our ministry and then stepped forward in faith with lots of positive energy to tell our story and God’s story while welcoming all.”

In the spring, ten new members joined the congregation. This fall, they are expecting at least thirteen more, but maybe as many as twenty. Many of those are families with young children. Some of those new members have musical gifts that are being shared and providing new energy for worship. Two years ago, the congregation called Megan Downey as their Director of Youth Ministry.

Megan shared, “Calvary has made great strides in figuring out how to genuinely be more welcoming. What excites me most are our outreach programs through which new families and community members are becoming more aware of the congregation and what we are doing. One of those outreach programs is an outreach summer day camp where children of the community attend day camp all day for free, with all meals and activities included. It is exciting to see the congregation grow and thrive with people who have been coming to Calvary all their lives, and those who started coming a week or two ago.”

Recently, Calvary hosted a Rally Day Ministry Fair to help folks learn about all the ministries offered as well as for fun and fellowship. During the ministry fair and after sharing her own dream for Calvary (“for everyone to love God and love others”) six-year-old Finley (pictured above), daughter of Pastors Lauren and Paul, recruited others to share their hopes, dreams and visions on a freshly painted red door. Following the ministry fair, Pastor Lauren shared, “Lutherans are not a reformED people, but a reformING people who are ‘Always being made new.’ It was under those words that we nailed up our ‘theses’—our hopes and dreams and visions—for the future of Calvary! We will leave it up for a couple more weeks so folks can see what was shared and offer their own additions. These will then be shared in staff meeting and at our congregation council retreat in January as we plan for the coming year(s) together!”

Pastor Paul recognized, through both difficult and joyful responses to the change happening at Calvary, he needed to continue his own training as a pastor to lead in this new season. He reached out to Bishop Smith and Pastor DeNise who connected him to the ELCA’s Congregational Vitality training event in Baltimore in August. Thanks to synod mission support, Pastor Paul was able to attend the event. A variety of education tracks were offered at the event, but Pastor Paul attended the “Church Launch” track. He shared, “This track was designed for mission developers and church planters, but so much of what I learned is applicable to any congregation. We are always launching new ministries, renewing relationships, redefining roles and expectations, and being inspired to think outside the box. I’m excited to share what I learned with our church leaders over the next several months.”

“It was an honor to be sent by the synod to the vitality ministry training event in Baltimore,” says Pastor Paul. “It was very inspiring to be surrounded by so many people faithfully stepping out of their comfort zones and boldly following God’s call to new and vitalized mission. The synod’s support of this ministry is a strong affirmation of not only my own, but also my congregation’s discernment in the past four years.” As a synod, we give thanks to God for mission support dollars which often help rostered ministers attend synodical and churchwide continuing education events.