PC(USA) pastor, NWC leader to be featured in hybrid ministry webinar

Congregation and connect.faith discover that God heals online through creativity

by Jon Moore, Mission Engagement Advisor | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Debbie Bronkema is pastor of Pleasantville Presbyterian Church in New York and founder of connect.faith. (contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — “If you reach out to people and provide a way for them to use their gifts, God will use that to build community.” That is what the Rev. Debbie Bronkema has learned the past two years.

Bronkema is the pastor of Pleasantville Presbyterian Church in Pleasantville, New York, and founder of connect.faith, a new worshiping community that emerged alongside the congregation over the past 27 months.

Filled with writers, musicians and artists, connect.faith bills itself a place where creativity, spirituality and justice meet. The key to its vitality is its openness to and encouragement of the creative and artistic gifts and the passion for justice that its participants bring with them. connect.faith has also pioneered a variety of ways to engage people.

“It turns out that people are eager to use their gifts and hungry to be in a community in which they are empowered to explore them,” says Bronkema. “We discovered that creativity is one of the ways God heals.”

Together they dreamed about an activity that could gather:

  • Those who could not attend worship on Sundays.
  • Those who have moved away but not found a church in their new home.
  • Others who liked the idea of a different approach to “church.”

With the help of a digital consultant, they created a weekly email that offered a sermon and music and made it available through Facebook and Instagram (this was a year before the pandemic forced all churches to do something similar).

As it began to catch on, they added an opportunity to connect in community with Creative Writing as a Spiritual Practice groups that Bronkema, the author of two books, had developed as a workshop. More than 100 people chose to participate in one of the groups.

As they heard back from those on the email list, they noticed some trends. A high percentage of those responding were writers, artists and musicians who often described themselves as spiritual but not religious — but hungry for community. connect.faith wondered if they could get people to come for the content, stay for the community and be transformed by the relationships.

They began experimenting and a year later when the pandemic struck, connect.faith was already online. Because of the solid experience already under organizers’ belt, people from all over the U.S. were finding them by Facebook, Instagram and by word of mouth.

The Rev. Debbie Bronkema (second from right in the back row) with the team of leaders at connect.faith (contributed photo)

And as people came to participate in this new community, the gifts they brought multiplied the ways that connect.faith reached out to the world. Today, on a regular basis it is connecting to people through:

Each of these activities draws people to active participation and reflection in light of the “big picture” of spirituality as modeled by Jesus. In fact, in a recent survey, 40% of the 200 people on the connect.faith email list reported that they were either “always” or “often” engaged with an aspect of the new worshiping community.

At the same time, connect.faith has enriched the Pleasantville congregation.

More than 100 Pleasantville members take advantage of its podcasts, creative writing workshops, book clubs and creativity labs. And congregation members speak proudly of the fact that, when the pandemic struck, they were ready to go online almost immediately, thanks to the new worshiping community producing its online worship services.

“I can’t imagine church being any more enjoyable and satisfying,” says Bronkema. “It’s made me more evangelistic, inspiring me to find more ways to invite more people in. In the pre-pandemic world, activities initiated connection. Today, in an online world, content initiates connection. It turns out that people will come for the content, stay for the community and be transformed by the relationships. That sounds like the way of Jesus to me.”

The Rev. Debbie Bronkema will be one of the featured guests on a webinar for The Scattered Church on Hybrid Ministry. Sponsored by the Office of Theology, Formation and Evangelism, the April 29 webinar starts at 1 p.m. EDT on Zoom (Meeting ID: 97962587430).

 

 


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