Portland First United Methodist Church in Portland, TX has been on a journey to “connect and reconnect with the neighborhood around the church” for 20 years. The principles and practices of Transformational Communities of Praxis (TCOP) have enhanced the church’s ability to do just this.
Rev. Larry McRorey and a small team (Lisa Rush and Richard Hyde) from the church participated in the yearlong TCOP core training in 2018. At the end of the training, this TCOP team helped their church make a small change to an existing ministry to be more relational vs. transactional in the way they interacted with their community. This shift was successful but also highlighted the need to invite more of the congregation into a deeper journey of neighboring.
So during this past year (2019), the TCOP team helped the church do just that! They began with a Wednesday night book study of When Helping Hurts. This was followed by a sermon series in the fall that included concepts from Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) such as recognizing the community’s assets and the gifts of neighbors. All of this was accompanied by bi-weekly prayer walks where church members were simply getting to know the church’s surrounding community better and meeting some neighbors through casual and informal conversations.
This led to a second book study: The Art of Neighboring. Now even more of the congregation were ready to put some of their learnings into practice. While TCOP and Portland First UMC recognize the need to connect with the neighbors right around the church building, both also recognize the value in connecting to one’s literal neighbors where you live. With this in mind, church members hosted ten separate block parties in August in their respective neighborhoods. All reported that it was a great experience of meeting new people and nurturing community.
On a recent Sunday during Advent (2019), Rev. McRorey was preaching on John the Baptist. During the sermon, Rev. McRorey refers to the Great Commandment to love God. Before he can finish his sentence (and the commandment), the congregation exclaims from their pews, “and love your neighbor!” Rev. McRorey was surprised and delighted. Indeed, this congregation is being transformed into a congregation of neighborly love and action!
If 2019 was the year of meeting our neighbors, Rev. McRorey says that 2020 will be the year of being very intentional about getting to more deeply know our neighbors and discovering what new ways God will invite this congregation to more fully live out the Great Commandment.
Note: This article was reprinted from Nov 27, 2019 and the Transformational Communities of Praxis (TCOP) website. TCOP is an initiative of the Rio Texas Conference of the UMC. Amy Moritz has been a consultant to the team since 2017 providing program design, evaluation, training and coaching.