Wisconsin’s Union Presbyterian Church is open to the Spirit’s calling
by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — When the Rev. Stacy Cavanaugh was talking with the session of Union Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Wisconsin, about becoming their pastor, she asked ruling elders, “What’s the one thing I can change?”
The only answer they could come up with was, “Just don’t tell us we can’t do mission.”
Officially 103 members, the church is actively engaged in short-term and long-term mission in their southern Wisconsin community of 10,000. The question they consistently ask is, “are we doing enough?”
Although session members asked for time to pray about the Matthew 25 invitation, when Cavanaugh presented the opportunity to become a Matthew 25 church, she felt certain it was a clear path. As with every other mission in the church, she said the congregation has embraced it with energy and enthusiasm.
“They loved the Matthew 25 idea because it helped to solidify the biblical foundation for what they were doing and what they want to do,” she said. “They liked it because they could say their outreach comes straight from Scripture.”
“It’s what we are as Presbyterians. This is what we believe, and this is how we live it out.”
Union has literally opened its doors to the community, offering free or inexpensive rentals to groups ranging from a home school partnership to a support group for LGBTI parents and children. The literacy council held its annual meeting in the church sanctuary and the local multicultural association used it for an immigration forum.
“We are so focused on reaching out to the community,” Cavanaugh said, “often it’s the church that moves to a less accessible venue so we can be there for our community partners.”
During the last day of Vacation Bible School, three groups were meeting in the fellowship hall, so the church moved to the park next door for its final meal. Later the congregation put together a mission project in the sanctuary and then invited the community to join them on the lawn for an outdoor movie.
With all the Midwest flooding earlier in the year, Cavanaugh suggested church members and friends put together 25 hygiene kits, which were very much in need throughout the region. One member suggested they could do 100 kits, and another said 200. They collected 206.
The church’s musical outreach is an African drumming group, which began with two youth and the music director. Today they are 25 strong, play throughout the community and in the church five times each year.
There’s also a prayer shawl ministry, “a visible symbol of the active prayer life of our church family,” is how it is described. The shawls not only provide warmth and comfort, but they represent the prayers, hope, and love of the UPC congregation, which are wrapped around the recipient. They may be given to someone undergoing medical procedures, as a comfort after a loss, during bereavement, during an illness and recovery, for a new baby or for some rite of passage.
Cavanaugh has been serving Union since December 2018. She had been a solo pastor in Galena, Illinois, for 12 years and was looking for a new way to grow her leadership skills. One thing that attracted her to this church was that on the missional information form it said outreach in the community was a big part of the call.
UPC is also one of 14 host churches providing housing for homeless folks for one week at a time, on a rotating basis (usually about four times a year). Church volunteers serve meals, do laundry, or can stay as an overnight host. The project, Family Promise of Green County, has generated good results thus far.
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Eric Anderson, a church member and local physician, has traveled to Haiti twice each year to participate in medical mission clinics. Sometimes members of the church accompany him, including Union’s 97-year-old member, Lois Baker, but she hasn’t gone since her early 90s.
In her 80s, she hiked the Appalachian Trail and took pledges, raising money to clear land mines in Mozambique. She spent her career as a physical therapist and the thought of children having to be amputees was abhorrent to her.
“She’s our mission conscience,” said Cavanaugh. “She is always reminding us that we could do more. I want to be her when I grow up. These are the kind of spitfires I have in my church.”
Those spitfires range from six weeks old to 103.
“I feel that my vocational call has been renewed in a powerful way,” Cavanaugh said. “It has less to do with my leadership and more to do with a congregation that knows what God is calling them to do.”
Matthew 25 is an invitation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that calls on congregations to actively engage in the world around them. Congregations accepting the invitation agree to embrace one or more of three areas of focus in their communities:
Become a Matthew 25 church
Matthew 25 is a bold new vision and invitation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that calls us to actively engage in the world around us — serving people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. When we practice justice, love and kindness, we become a living translation of Jesus Christ. Your congregation can join us on this journey. Learn more.
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