Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three Parishes Experience Resurrection Out of Dire Straits

About our contributor: The Rev. Peter E. Bushnell, Rector Holy Trinity Church, Enfield, CT - see parish website,

There were four small churches in the North Central Episcopal Regional Ministry for about 15 years before three of the parishes voted to merge in 2007.  This was accomplished with a great deal of enthusiasm after about two years of intensive discernment and planning.  The fourth church opted to attempt to continue on their own, which they have done, with a fair degree of success. 

The three churches that emerged as Holy Trinity were St. Mary's (the current location of Holy Trinity), Enfield, St. Andrew's Enfield, and Calvary Suffield.  St. Andrew's was about 3 miles west of St. Mary's, and Calvary was another four miles west of that.  I found that it took about 10-15 minutes to drive from any of the locations in the regional ministry to any of the others. 

The merger was a wonderful outcome for the three churches involved.  By 2005, I had to report to the membership of the regional ministry that I had great doubts that God was being glorified in any way by the continued existence of churches in such dire straits.  The energies of nearly fifty people were being devoted, on four Vestries, to a grim struggle merely to keep the lights on and the doors open in four separate locations.  We began to experiment with combining our congregations for major services (Christmas Eve and Easter) to begin to test our strength together.  The experiences were like experiencing a resurrection.  More and more, in a variety of combined undertakings, we began to discover what coming together might hold for our future.

We were very fortunate in being able successfully to sell the surplus properties.  Today, the Calvary buildings house the Suffield Senior Center, and St. Andrew's property was purchased by Enfield Loaves & Fishes, which is a soup kitchen which has operated at St. Andrew's since its beginnings as a ministry of the parish in 1984.  So that was a happy outcome, which has contributed greatly to Holy Trinity's stability.

Holy Trinity, and the regional ministry benefited greatly from the fact that St. Mary's was a fairly large congregation, that I always identified as the "flagship" of NCERM.  With an average attendance of close to 100 most years, they formed a talent pool and resource of support over the years.  St. Andrew's had a moderate endowment, which enabled us to have a reservoir of income to help with the investment needed for the transition. 

Today, with growth of members and giving, we are a parish with an average attendance of about 125 per week, and we are close to balancing our budget each year.  We have taken care of a lot of deferred maintenance in the church building, and are looking to the future with hope and confidence. 

A huge part of our transition was centered in renewal around the Alpha Program.  There were a number of people who were opposed to the merger, and felt that the loss of their church was a breach of trust between themselves and the leaders of their parish and the regional ministry.  Many of them have taken their membership elsewhere since 2007.  A few have begun recently to return.  Others felt that the emphasis on spiritual renewal was not for them, and they either withdrew or transferred out.  Since 2007, Holy Trinity has managed moderate growth, replacing the losses, and becoming larger, in the bargain.  We are a parish focused on mission, in a large variety of ways, as God has inspired individuals and groups to bring needs near and far away to our attention for ministry.

For me, it has been an exciting time, that at moments, has seemed like a wild ride.  Overall, it has been a great experience, and one that I never could have imagined years ago at the beginning of my ministry.  I have been very blessed to have been called by God to lead this group of Christians.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this story.  Hope it will help another church or churches.


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