Farewell Dawn. Hello Erin

Dear friends,

As our searches for new staff continue, we are blessed by the gifts of our own congregation. Dawn Barnes has done a wonderful job this fall as interim associate pastor. Her pastoral and organizational gifts have served us well.  Dawn completes her time on staff December 31 and begins a new full-time job in January.

I am pleased to report that Erin Leraris has agreed to serve as coordinator of children and youth ministries beginning in January until a new associate pastor is called. Erin is an educator and enjoys working with young people. She and her family have been at Central for over ten years and Erin has served in many roles. She currently co-chairs the Communication team, and you may have seen her do the children's moment from time to time.

Advent has begun. Thank you to the over 60 people who turned out to "Activate Advent" on Saturday. The church was beautifully decorated and much artwork was created. Join our "Disciples Central" Facebook page to see some great photos. (You must request to be a member of this group.) All are invited to "Activate Advent" again after worship this Sunday (noon-2pm in the gym) to make piñatas and pipe cleaner orbs. In worship we'll be listening for the messengers of Peace sent by God to a tense and divided world. Hope to see you there!


Application accepted

Dear friends,
Last week we received the exciting news that our application for a matching grant from the Center for Congregations, through their Community Ministry Grant program, was approved. This grant will provide almost $7000 to further Central's efforts begun last year to connect more intentionally in and with the neighborhood around our building. It will allow us to host two art shows next year, delve further into storytelling events, host s'mores events and luncheons to connect people in our neighborhood, create opportunities for spiritual conversations with young adults, and continue developing our ministry through the labyrinth and Concerts with a Cause. In order to connect more effectively, we'll engage with some folks who can help us in our use of social media and relationship-building. All this, we hope and pray, will strengthen the fabric of our neighborhood and connect us in ways that are based on love and justice.

In the phone call that told us this good news, the project director called our application "beautiful" and "inspiring." It's easy to lose sight of those qualities when we're in the midst of the details of organizing events and putting together applications, so I was thankful to hear her perspective. It really is both beautiful and inspiring to work with all of you to build the kind of community we envision both within and beyond our congregation. It's all too rare in our world.

Many people had a hand in this grant application. I especially thank the team that worked on it directly, made up of Sandra Gourdet, Dave Miner, Robin Miner, and (until her westward departure!) Jill Cameron Michel. Good work, all!

Advent begins on Sunday, and the gospel lesson in Matthew 13 urges us repeatedly to "keep alert." As I hold this message alongside our overall Advent theme of "Be Not Afraid," the question I'm wrestling with is: How can we stay alert but not be afraid? Hope to see you in worship on Sunday as we worship God through the music, art, and message of Advent.


Thanks for Thanksgiving

Dear friends,

What a wonderful and numerous crowd we had in worship on Sunday, and at our Thanksgiving meal afterward. Many thanks to our guest preacher, Whittney Murphy, all of our worship and music leaders, the great crew led by Dawn Barnes that hosted our meal, and our storytellers Gina Cerimele, Aly Barnes, and Clark Williamson.

The "numerous" aspect of Sunday's gathering has us thinking about seating in the sanctuary during Advent, when typically we have more people in worship. We are exploring some options for adding chairs, and also want to encourage you to move to the middle of the pew, leaving places on the aisles for latecomers. If you need to be on the end, that's fine -- but please be aware of people who are arriving and invite them to step past you. In terms of parking, remember that you may park in the Goodyear parking lot (north or south of their building) or on the streets around the church.

What a great "problem" to have that our pews are filling up! It is a great joy to share the gospel and community with more and more of our neighbors. I'm thankful to all of us for our part in extending a welcome to those we don't yet know.



Dear friends,

By the time you read this, I should be close to arriving at a beautiful slice of creation called Hand Lake in northern Minnesota. It's a place my family has visited most summers for about five decades, so it is chock-full of positive memories along with the natural beauty of the place. My mom, some siblings, nieces and nephews and their young kids will be there, so it should be exciting (along with peaceful and relaxing)!

As is always the case, a lot will happen during the week that I'm gone. I'm thankful for all those -- staff, members, and friends -- who make ministry happen in and through this congregation. And I'm thankful for the chance to step away for a short time and be renewed for the work that is ahead of us. I pray that all of you have some opportunity for that as well.


A period of adjustments.

It was another great day at Central on Sunday. Worship included a beautiful and moving anthem to end the choir season. We are grateful for the hard work of all the choir members, led by Danielle Hartman and Keith Mikesell. The choir will have a break for most of the summer.

Thank you to all who stayed for the congregational meeting -- which was a lot of you!  We approved a budget and a slate of nominees to serve in the 2017-18 year. A lot of work goes into preparing both of those items. Kudos to the Finance team, led by Bill Singer, and the Nominating committee, led by Bethany Lowery.

And wasn't it a wonderful picnic? Jon and Dawn Barnes, our new Community team leaders, did a great job on their debut event, and the weather cooperated wonderfully.

This coming week our new office temp will begin two weeks of training with Sandy Heidenreich, whose last day will be June 30. We look forward to welcoming Jane Slattery. During this time of transition, Jane will work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  On Mondays and Fridays the office will be staffed by church members. We plan to close the office at noon on Fridays.

If you were in worship on Sunday, you noticed a few changes we've made for the summer. If you missed, here's a hint of what to expect:

  • we are invited to name aloud our joys and concerns during our time of community prayer
  • we are singing the words of institution responsively
  • we are bringing our offering forward and placing it in baskets on the table as we come forward for communion
  • we are passing the peace at the end of the service

This Sunday as we continue looking around at creation, our theme is "Sky."  What do you see when you look at the sky?

Hope to see you when I look around the sanctuary on Sunday!


Central’s 184th birthday

What a wonderful celebration we shared last Sunday as we hosted the Indy Pride interfaith service. We joyfully welcomed guests of Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths, and joined together in uplifting the wonder and diversity of creation and of the human family.  The world music ensemble Il Troubadore enhanced our worship in wonderful ways. Thank you to everyone who participated and especially to those who helped out in many ways.
This week has been full as we head into our congregational meeting on Sunday. We have the results of our stewardship emphasis and can now celebrate that, while we did not reach our “miracle goal” which would have funded a full-time associate pastor as well as increased activities of the Vision Implementation Team, we did have a great response with an increase in total commitments of more than seven percent. That is fantastic! We will be able to substantially increase the funding for an associate pastor. The Personnel Committee will continue its work of determining the staffing that will best support the ministry to which God is calling us. Many thanks to Mindy Hamm and Dave Miner for leading our stewardship emphasis, and to all of us who are on this “journey in community.”
This Sunday we’ll be “looking around” at light, the first creation of God in the story in Genesis 1. Please join us for worship, the congregational meeting, and a picnic to celebrate Central’s 184th birthday!

Special Events

There are a lot of special events coming up in our community, and I want to make you aware of some of them:
*This Sunday we will celebrate the baptisms of five of our young people, and the graduation from high school of three others.  It’s also Commitment Sunday in our stewardship emphasis (as you read above) and we’ll share a meal together after worship.
*On Sunday, May 21, we celebrate the ministry that Jill Michel has shared with us since August of 2014.  Jill will preach that day, and we will honor and thank her and her family in a reception following the service.
*On Sunday, May 28, I will be attending a college reunion (my first in decades!) in Connecticut and I’m pleased to let you know that Dan Moseley will be preaching and leading worship that day. On this day we also begin our summer worship format.  Our children’s ministries, Young Disciples and Worship & Wonder, will not meet during the summer. Children of Worship & Wonder age (3 years through first grade) will be led in an age-appropriate activity in fellowship hall during the sermon time.
*Our summer worship series, which begins June 4, will focus on creation.  We look forward to the opportunity to look at the world around us and consider how we interact with and care for creation. More on that as time goes on.
I am excited about the ways that God is leading us and looking forward to see what will come next.  It’s an honor to be on this journey with you.


A Season of Departures

We are in a season of departures. The last two Sundays we have said goodbye to our Learning Ministry Together (LMT) students from Christian Theological Seminary, Preston Becker and Alex Pittaway. This coming Sunday is Linda Bush’s last Sunday with us as Student Pastor, though she will remain on staff through the summer and beyond that as a member of the congregation. On May 21, we must say goodbye to the Michel family as they move to Iowa where Jill will serve as pastor of First Christian Church in Coralville. And on June 30, Sandy Heidenreich will retire after serving for more than a decade as our Office Administrator. While we celebrate the new phases of life that are ahead for each of these people, we also acknowledge the loss that these departures represent for us. We will miss them! Each person brings something particular that shapes the community, and we are grateful for all that these folks have brought. On May 21 following worship, we have the chance to express our gratitude for Jill and her family. God is good! I look forward to celebrating with you in worship on Sunday. Blessings, Linda


Jesus invites us to go on a journey – we call it discipleship.  It is both an inward and an outward journey.  It’s meant to form us more into the image of Christ through the disciplines of study, worship, prayer, service, and generosity.  It’s also intended to strengthen us as powerful agents for the good that God is doing in our world. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sent the disciples on a mission – to reveal the Realm of God through their actions.  Today we are disciples with the same mission.  As Jesus spoke to them, he speaks to us now. As they were sent, so are we.
This mission is about extending the blessing of health and wholeness to all of creation, because we are certain that this is what God desires.  The world is broken and hurting. More people in the world need a community like Central, and the world needs more people to be part of this kind of community so that they can positively impact the world. We are agents of grace, on a journey that makes known the generosity of God.
Our faithful financial stewardship is one way we work against the powers that harm and divide.  Our generosity funds the mission and ministries of Central and the broader church. We have begun Journey in Community as a preparation for determining our investment in the ministry and mission of Central.  We will conclude on Commitment Sunday, May 14th. I hope you will be with us, not simply to offer your estimate of giving card, but also to join us for a lunch celebration following worship on the 14th.
God has done, and continues to do remarkable things through us and with us – things that matter in our community!  Your prayers and your participation are key to helping more people experience true community inside these walls, in our neighborhood, and across the world. We know that when the early church gathered, they did so with glad and generous hearts and that there was no need among them (Acts 2).  We desire such a spirit of true community to be among us. 
Thank you for walking alongside me on this journey, in this community. 
Linda McCrae

The challenge before us is to live the Easter message every day

What a glorious celebration we had on Easter Sunday!  Our breakfast crew prepared good food and welcomed us into nourishing fellowship. Our egg hiders and hunters created great merriment. Our musicians, pastors, and lay leaders led us in meaningful and uplifting worship.  All of us together rose to the power of life and love as we have seen and experienced it.
The challenge before us is to live the Easter message every day.  To remember – and to witness to – the power of love to trickle through and wear down the hardest hearts. To let our lives be shaped by the practice of Jesus and the hope of resurrection.
It’s a challenge that touches all parts of our lives, and in the weeks ahead we’ll reflect on the impact of our Easter faith on our giving.  This Sunday we begin our annual stewardship emphasis, which will culminate with Commitment Sunday on May 14. Our theme this year is “Journey to Community.” Our journey of faith is one of continually growing into the image of the beloved community God calls us to be as a congregation, and with respect to the world around us.
It is an exciting time in our life together as we witness the continued growth of our congregation and its ministries.  The apostle Paul might say: Some have planted, some have watered, and God has given the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)  We honor those who have worked faithfully for so long and seen this congregation through some tough times. We rejoice that new people have come with new talents and resources.
I believe that, building on our long history and strong sense of mission, God is calling us to do some new things.  Those things may include: further development of our ministry with children, youth, and families; formation of more small groups; outreach to millennials and others in our immediate area; the development of our worship life; the full engagement of newer people in the life and ministry of the congregation; and being a fomenter of deeper connection and relationship in our neighborhood. We believe that there are people around us that need a community like Central, and that Central helps us all to make a positive impact on the world
Our ministries require our financial support in order to thrive.  In the weeks to come you’ll be hearing more about these ministries and our response, and I look forward to sharing the “Journey to Community” with you in the weeks ahead.


A prayer for Good Friday by John Vest:

God of mystery and wonder,
because we know the ending of the story,
it’s tempting for us
to ignore the darkness of this day.
It’s tempting for us
to go about our business as usual.
It’s tempting for us
to move too quickly
to the dawn of light on Easter morning.

But give us courage and strength on this day
to live for a while in the darkness,
to set aside comfort and pleasure,
to feel the darkness
in which so many of your children dwell,
the darkness into which your son Jesus entered.

As we reflect on the frailty of Christ,
remind us of the frailty of all life.
As we cringe at the suffering of Christ,
make us mindful of suffering throughout the world.
As we witness the death of Christ,
bring us back full circle to the beginning of Lent,
to the wisdom of Ash Wednesday:
the awareness of our mortality
and the mortality of those we love.

Gracious God,
deep in the human heart
is an unquenchable trust
that life does not end with death.
Like a seed which is buried
in order to bring forth life,
Christ goes to the tomb
to usher in new life.
We trust that we too will be raised to new life,
in this world, here and now,
and in the mystery of what lies beyond physical death.
We trust that the whole world will be born anew,
that your kingdom is coming
as a new heaven
and a new earth.

On this day of darkness,
it is for this kingdom that we boldly pray.

I wish for each of you the courage and strength you need to wait in the darkness today.



As we anticipate staff transitions in May and June, I am happy to announce that our Student Pastor, Linda Bush, will be staying a bit longer than we’d originally thought.  Linda’s time as Student Pastor ends on May 7, but she will return on May 22 through August 31 as Part-time Associate Pastor. Linda will pick up some of Jill’s responsibilities as well as that wonderful category of “other duties as assigned.” I am thankful for Linda’s willingness to serve during this time of transition.
And speaking of transitions (this one potential)…thanks to all of you who have filled out a survey about a second worship service.  If you haven’t had the chance, please do so in worship this Sunday or online via the link we sent out on Wednesday. We want your voice to be part of this conversation. The conversation has been going on for at least a couple of years as we’ve watched our congregation grow and approach capacity in the sanctuary and parking lot.  We know it is a BIG DEAL to add a second service, and if we’re going to move in that direction, we need to do it thoughtfully and well. So please, join this conversation and discernment by filling out a survey. As time goes on there will be opportunities for face to face conversation as we continue to discern.
This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday, the beginning of what the church has come to call “Holy Week.” The word “holy,” coming from the ancient Hebrew, means “separate” or “set apart.” You had ordinary space and you had holy space. You had all the nations, and you had Israel called to be a holy nation, separate from the others.
Spiritual leaders and mystics through the ages, as well as poets and artists, have helped us see that the line between holy and ordinary is much more blurred, and the whole world and all people and all time is holy, infused with God and God’s spirit. Everything from sitting in church to brushing our teeth can be holy. So in that sense every week is Holy Week, and yet, we set aside this time when as a community we re-create the final days of Jesus’ life, almost like a drama or a play that we put on every year. We don’t do this because we’re such great actors, and we don’t do it for God’s entertainment. We do it for our own sake, because we need it. We need to set apart these days and focus, more than we normally do, on this mystery of faith.
Please join in the community observance of this Holy Week, on Palm Sunday, and then in our Maundy Thursday service at 7pm on April 13.  Then, of course, we join together joyously on Easter Sunday in two services, 9:30 and 11:00. In addition one of our own, Warren Lynn, will be installing a painted/mowed labyrinth in our green space this weekend -- another wonderful way to walk the path of Holy Week.


The world can seem like a pretty crazy place. 

Dear Friends,

The world can seem like a pretty crazy place. 
A car plows into a crowd near the Parliament building in London. The future of health care in our country is up in the air. Jewish organizations, including in Indianapolis, are receiving bomb threats. North Korea, Russia, Syria, Iran…can seem complicated and potentially dangerous.
Certain songs have become my touchstones for times when I’m feeling discouraged about the state of the world. One is a David Wilcox song called Show the Way, which also feels rather Lent-ish to me.  It begins:
You say you see no hope
You say you see no reason we should dream
That the world would ever change
You're saying love is foolish to believe
'Cause there'll always be some crazy
With an army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream
Put the fear back in your life

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?
As if he's almost in defeat
So it's looking like the evil side will win
So on the edge of every seat
From the moment that the whole thing begins, it has been

Love that mixed the mortar
And it's love that stacked these stones
And it's love that made the stage here
And made it feel like we're alone
In this scene set in shadow
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play

I hope to see you on Sunday to renew our confidence in the love that wrote the play that is our lives.


P.S. You can listen to this song at :


The only constant is change.

Though I’ve quoted it for years, only recently did I discover that it was the Greek philosopher Hericlitus who said, “The only constant is change.”
It sure seems like that’s true around Central. Like the world around us, we are always changing, but this spring and summer bring major change in our staff. As you’re aware by now, Sandy Heidenreich will be retiring on June 30 following over a decade of service as Office Administrator, and Jill Cameron Michel and family will be relocating to Coralville, Iowa after May 21. 
We’re happy for them, but it will be hard for us. Both Sandy and Jill (along with Jim, Cameron, and Teegan) have served us extremely well and worked their way into our hearts, and we will miss them even as we celebrate these next steps in each of their lives. Sandy, I’m glad to say, will not be relocating, and will be part of the Central community – though she may take a vacation for a while!
While we can’t ever replace Jill and Sandy, we do need to plan for future staffing, and we do this as a growing congregation. At its meeting last week, I shared with the board some numbers. Numbers are not the most important measure of our health, but they do give us helpful information.  Since 2001, average attendance in Sunday worship has increased from 63 to a high of 162 in 2015. In recent months the increase has been more dramatic, with an average attendance in worship of over 180 since January 8 of this year.
Attendance numbers give only part of the story. Because not ALL of you come to church EVERY Sunday, we’re a bigger congregation than we might think. In fact, we have about 335 people who we could reasonably expect to walk through the doors on any given Sunday (plus guests).  That number will fluctuate as people come and go and yet for me is a fairly accurate representation of “our congregation,” those with whom we try to stay connected and for whom we offer spiritual care and nurture.
The other aspect of our context of growth is our neighborhood. We see lots of new construction going on, and new businesses opening. According to data from MissionInsite, the population in the area around our church building grew 14% between 2010 and 2014, and is projected to grow an additional 18% between 2014 and 2019.
We have taken numerous steps in recent years to support our congregation’s growth – adding a second clergy position and a facilities manager, renovations in our building, and establishing a Vision Implementation Team, to name a few. So while we are saddened by some of the upcoming changes, we are also committed to continuing to welcome God’s children into the community of faith and fellowship we call Central Christian Church.
I am thankful to be church with you, and look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Fifteen Years aready?

Thank you for the recognition and gift that you gave me on Sunday on the occasion of my 15th anniversary at Central. Who knew you would put up with me for so long?! It is an honor to have served with you in ministry in this place for this amount of time, among such amazing people!
The anniversary got me thinking about the beginning of my time at Central, and specifically, my move from northwest Arkansas to Indianapolis. In February of 2002, Terry Bradbury and Greg and Jerry Nickel drove to Arkansas to help me load a moving truck and drive back here.   It was an incredibly kind act that revealed to me a lot about this congregation I was coming to serve.
We drove in a little caravan, with me bringing up the rear in my purple pick-up truck with my dog Ripley.  We had a few adventures along the way.  There was the time I looked up and realized that I was no longer following the van but instead was staring at the back of a postal truck.  Oops!  At the next stop, the guys said they wondered what I was doing when all of a sudden I zoomed past them.  They learned, I suppose, that I’m not always good at following.
The real fun started when the moving truck broke down on the side of the highway about 50 miles from St. Louis. It was Super Bowl weekend and St. Louis happened to be in the Super Bowl. So we had trouble finding someone to tow us because everyone was watching the game. We finally made it to the rental company’s garage where after checking the truck’s engine we were told that they couldn’t fix it, but they would give us another truck instead. All we had to do was move my stuff from one truck to the other.  Um, no. Jerry made a fuss until they agreed to bring in some guys to do the heavy lifting. I was just a tad bit worried as all my earthly belongings were quickly shifted but fortunately most everything made it more or less intact (including the four of us).  I think we arrived in Indianapolis at around 4:00 in the morning.
Occasionally someone asks me how I have stayed this long in one congregation (I’ve heard that the average is now under four years).  I respond that while my location hasn’t changed, my work has changed and the congregation certainly has as well. Each year brings new people and new opportunities and challenges.  One experience I’ve NEVER had at Central is boredom. The experience I’ve ALWAYS had is that of a caring and compassionate group of people who treat their pastors well.  Thank you so much for that, and for the years to come!

A Time of Encounter

On Wednesday about 80 of us gathered at church to observe the beginning of Lent with a meal and an Ash Wednesday worship service. In Bread for the Journey, Lent is described as: “A season to remember that to follow Christ is to take up our crosses and be servants of all. A season to remember Jesus’ question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” A season to ask ourselves how we might help to bear the cross. A season to ask ourselves how we are afraid and turn away. A season to ask what we have to offer. A season to give sacrificially to others.”
This year at Central, Lent is “A Time of Encounter,” and we are offering two news ways to be reflective and active during this season.  First, you’re invited to join in an online conversation about the sermon text, prompted by reflections by some of our members. And second, each Monday you’ll receive an email with a biblical reflection and suggestions for ways you can be an advocate for those who are struggling. More information on both of these is below.
Looking ahead a couple of weeks, Central will be participating once again in the Learning Ministry Together (LMT) program of Christian Theological Seminary, in which second year ministerial students spend 7 weeks in four different congregations over the course of an academic year. This year two students, Preston Becker and Alex Pittaway, will be at Central from March 13 to April 30. We look forward to introducing them in worship on March 19.
Looking further ahead, this summer Indianapolis will be the site of the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. From July 8 to 12, thousands of Disciples from around the country and partners from around the world will converge on our city for five days promising worship that lifts your soul, stories that touch your heart, educational resources to assist congregations in ministry, conversations that stretch your mind, messages that call you to action, and connections that remind you that God’s family is bigger than a local congregation. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the Disciples or to reunite with friends and acquaintances. Worship services in the evenings are open to the public. A lot more information is available at ga.disicples.org.
On the Sunday of General Assembly, July 9, assembly goers worship in local congregations, and as the Disciples congregation that is closest to the convention center, we expect quite a crowd. I am thrilled that the Rev. William Barber has agreed to be our guest preacher that day.  Rev. Barber is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina and leader of the Moral Mondays movement which has brought thousands of people together to protest unfair treatment and discrimination. His is a powerful voice in our faith-based struggle for racial and gender equality, and it will be an honor to host and hear him.
It will be an honor as well to worship with you this Sunday.  Hope to see you there.


Dear Friends,

Today at an event where representatives of many churches were gathered, a woman approached me and asked if I was a pastor at Central Christian Church. She said that she had been looking for a church last winter and that we had come in second in her search. The church where she settled is much closer to her home. However, she went on to say how much she appreciated the worship experience at Central, and how important it is to have a church like Central in the downtown area. She herself had left the church for many years because as a teenager, a gay friend had tried to commit suicide, in part because of messages the church had given her. It’s so important, she said, for people to know that they are welcome and loved.
There are many ways people are hurt by the church, and it’s part of our calling at Central to be agents of healing. I was encouraged by the words of this woman and reminded that the simple act of welcome that we extend each week in worship can change people’s lives.
Changing lives is something to which we attend especially during the season of Lent, the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead to Easter. It’s a time of intentional reflection and action that begins on March 1 with a soup supper and Ash Wednesday service. Lent at Central this year will be a time of Encounter, as we hear gospel stories about significant encounters with Jesus and reflect on our own encounters with Jesus, God and other people. Significant encounters change our lives.  How might your life be changed by your encounters this year? And how might your actions change the lives of others for the better?  Each week during the season we will be sharing biblical reflections and prayers along with suggestions for ways you can support people who are hungry, homeless, immigrants, or in need of health care.
Change is in the air at Central, with Pastor Jill’s news that she has accepted a call to First Christian Church in Coralville, Iowa. She and her family will be leaving Indianapolis in late May.  In addition, our Office Administrator, Sandy Heidenreich, has announced her intention to retire on June 30. Both of these departures will be sad for us, yet we trust in God’s faithfulness and presence through these changes.
Hope to see you on Sunday.

CCC in our community (continued)

Other the last couple of months, members of Central’s Vision Implementation Team (VIT) and others in the congregation have been conducting a series of listening exercises in our neighborhood. We have talked with business owners, directors of organizations like the Central Library and public school #2, heads of neighborhood associations, downtown residents and elected officials.  We’ve listened to conversations in coffee shops and talked to people on the street. We’ve set out in pairs on a prayer walk through the area around our building.
All this has been part of an effort to learn more about our neighborhood, and we have indeed learned a lot!
We learned about what people see as assets in our neighborhood: transportation, leadership, businesses, restaurants, helping agencies, neighborhood associations, and lots of millennials! People expressed appreciation for being able to walk, for lots to do, and for the decency of people. It’s a great place to raise a family, some said, and it’s on the upswing.
We’ve also learned what people are concerned about: homelessness and panhandling, inadequate sidewalks and roads, gentrification and economic sustainability, the lack of green space and gathering places. Some are concerned about crime (while others don’t think it’s a problem) and others about the fact that people stay in their homes and don’t get involved. And there are definitely some areas with a lot of trash.
One of the most striking impressions from our interviews was the eagerness for collaboration on the part of businesses and organizations. We are not the only ones who are looking outside our walls. And in fact, we have already begun to pursue some of these partnerships. The middle school girls basketball team from School #2 is now practicing in our gymnasium.  The management at Riley Towers has offered to publicize our need for clothing and food donations to its resident. A nearby cell phone repair shop has offered to give a class.
As we continue our work, we will look for the intersection between the gifts and passions of our congregation and the needs and opportunities of our neighborhood, in order to find that “sweet spot” into which God is calling us. One thing that we know is that we want to continue to get out and make connections in the neighborhood. 
In next week’s issue I’ll share some of the pilot projects that our VIT is planning in the coming months.  Stay tuned!
Hope to see you in worship on Sunday as we hear the words of Moses to the people of Israel to “Choose life – so that you and your descendants will live.”  In the afternoon, I hope many of you will join me and other faith leaders, including our own Sharon Watkins, at the IndyCAN public action to stand for “A City of Inclusion.”  See below for more details.

CCC in the community

Dear Friends,

As most of you are aware, last year Central’s board created a Vision Implementation Team (VIT) to help us live into our next phase of life as a congregation.  Since May this team has led us in research and brainstorming about opportunities for ministry. We’ve also done a lot of listening in the congregation and in our neighborhood. 
I want to share with you in the next couple of issues some of the things that the VIT is learning and also some of the pilot projects that are coming up.  But first allow me to tell you what I see in you, dear congregation, from my perspective as pastor.
I see a community of people with a wide diversity of background, life experience, and perspective.
I see a community that is beginning to understand itself as part of the neighborhood around us, expanding our notion of who makes up “our community.”
 I see a congregation that is becoming less focused on people becoming members of Central and more concerned about how many lives we are impacting.
I see people struggling (in the positive sense of the word) with the balance between freedom and constraint, between spontaneity and structure. We want to uncover and nourish and amplify the passions for mission that people bring as individuals, and we also want to strengthen our organization as a vehicle for finding common ground and sustaining our work both practically and spiritually.
 I see the work of the VIT moving us toward a better understanding of ourselves and those around us, and giving us the opportunity and encouragement to experiment with new ways of being in ministry.
It is a challenging and exciting time to be in ministry in downtown Indianapolis, and I thank God for the opportunity to be in this with you!

Fellowship of Love

Dear friends,

On Monday we observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Signed into law in 1983 and finally observed in all 50 states in 2000, it’s a day that not only draws us back in time to the witness of Dr. King but also forward to the dream he dreamed, and that we still dream.
This past Monday my family and I joined about 25 other Central folk to see the movie “Hidden Figures.” Most gathered to talk about it over lunch. It was a great way to observe this special day, and I recommend the movie to you if you haven't already seen it.
One of the things I appreciate about Martin Luther King Jr. Day is that King’s powerful words are brought again to my attention. Some, like his “I have a dream” speech, are quite familiar to us, while others are less so. One quote of his that I read this week resonated as a challenge for our time:
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. 
It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. 
If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. 
If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause [people] everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. 
But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of [humankind] and fire the souls of [people], imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. 
Men [and women] far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
What do you think? Does this resonate for you? How or how not?
Hope to see you Sunday in our “fellowship of love” at Central.