Hayes UMC, Blue Water District, hosted a Blessing of the Growing Season on April 24, a VCI inspired ‘bridge event.’
Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
As trees budded and plows broke ground, Hayes United Methodist Church honored the coming of spring to rural mid-Michigan. Their Blessing for the Growing Season took place on April 24 after weeks of planning.
“This wasn’t just for farmers,” says Lay Leader Stephanie Leipprandt. “It was for every person within a ten mile radius of the church who grows a garden or mows their lawn.” And the parking lot was a thing to behold. “We had people, like my boys, coming in on great big tractors down to a little guy on a battery-powered toy tractor and everything in between,” she continued.
“We are an old farming community,” Stephanie went on. “We had the sanctuary decorated with old tools and fun stuff like that.” The cover of the worship bulletin bore the phrase, “A seed planted today, is a blessing for tomorrow.”
Planting seeds is indeed the nature of what the Rev Dirk Elliott, Michigan’s Director of the Vital Church Initiative, calls “bridge events.” These events are planned to make the church more accessible to the community around them. And so, bridges look different one community to the next.
For Hayes UMC the Blessing for the Growing Season was a natural. Worship surrounded by ordinary tools of the trade … a sermon about Growing in Grace … a blessing of each family standing beside their tractor offered by the pastor in bib overalls … fellowship and a meal together.
Stephanie reports that the response was overwhelmingly positive. “You guys are going to do this again, aren’t you?!” was often heard. She vows it will be an April event every year at Hayes, hopefully outdoors in a tent in 2017.
The Vital Church Initiative came to Hayes UMC in January 2016. Pastor Brian Johnson, shepherd of Bay Port and Hayes UMCs, lifts up three important aspects of VCI. “First the team building brought people together in a different way than normal church functions. VCI encouraged us to take a true look at the state of the church. We had to ask the tough questions while beginning to plant seeds of hope for the possibilities of the future.”
Beyond bringing a new perspective on ministry, Brian notes that VCI sparked the congregation’s creativity. “That’s how the Blessing for the Growing Season came about out of a very diverse team with everyone having a voice.”
The third benefit Brian observed is passion. “I have never seen so many people excited about an event in our church! People were asking to volunteer, telling others about it, and anticipating the event’s arrival.”
And he expects that enthusiasm to continue even though Hayes has a new pastor transitioning in this summer. “That has taken some of the gas out of our work together,” he remarks, “but I know that the foundation has been established and as long as we are faithful the Lord will continue to shower blessings on these servants of Christ at Hayes UMC.”
Stephanie echoes his optimism. “I expect us to continue with VCI. I can’t say enough good about it,” she says. “Yes, Pastor Matthew (Chapman) will come to us in June so he can get his feet wet. We will make this change as smooth as possible for a young pastor coming to his first church.”
The Lay Leader describes Hayes as an “old brick building surrounded by farms that’s been around forever, started by missionaries to the Thumb in the mid-1800s.” Ten pastors have come and gone during the 29 years she has been involved in the congregation. “And we are pretty good at raising them up,” she adds. “We are strong in our faith and a perfect place to train up pastoral leaders.”
While the church may be old, it is clear there is openness to new life. “VCI costs a lot,” Stephanie admits, “but in my book it is well worth it. This is a great way to bring fresh air into a church and get them out into the community and out of their complacency.”
Yes the strawberry social will continue, the 4th of July BBQs will keep on, as will the traditional Bible School done in cooperation with Bay Port churches. But Stephanie and other VCI team members are already looking forward to the next bridge event. “We are thinking about building a small float and getting involved in the parades in our area,” she says.
One thing is for certain, the Hayes UMC will have NO trouble finding a tractor driver eager to pull that float and pass along the blessing.