Pastors Trey and Sarah Hegar share what they’ve learned after eight years at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant
July 5, 2023
Video URL: https://vimeo.com/823890114
When she sat for a recent interview, the Rev. Sarah Hegar, who directs congregational ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, was still basking in the glow of having welcomed six confirmands into membership the previous weekend. They got there in part by studying Matthew 25 confirmation materials that asked the youth: How do you change the world?
“They are starting to think more deeply now,” Hegar said. Members of a previous confirmation class also participated since their class had been offered only online during the pandemic.
“I came away from last weekend on a high. They are so compassionate, thoughtful and hopeful,” Hager said of youth at the church. “They have such good ideas for getting involved. We should listen to them.”
Indeed, getting involved is at the heart of First Presbyterian Church’s varied Matthew 25 ministries in this community of nearly 9,000 people in southeastern Iowa.
When Hegar arrived in 2015 with her husband, the Rev. Trey Hegar, FPC’s pastor, and their son, few children were attending Sunday school. It was Trey’s idea to begin offering an after-school program on Wednesdays, which grew to include a Bible lesson, a mission project, games and crafts. “People on Sunday ask, ‘Where are the kids?’” Sarah said. “You have to come on a Wednesday afternoon to see them. We can’t keep doing church the way we’ve always done it. Matthew 25 helps us be more inventive and reach other audiences.”
Asked to imagine what the church will look like in a few years, Sarah envisions an even greater “sense of inclusion, and thinking even more broadly outside the walls of our church. It might mean constantly reminding people there is a community beyond our walls. It’s good to think about the ways we can keep the focus on mission for folks who may not leave their house much.”
That work builds on efforts begun during the pandemic, when the church distributed Advent wreaths for members and friends to assemble and count down the days until Christmas. Sarah said the mission has expanded to “How can we keep serving online folks and make them feel like an important part of the church?”
“One conversation we have been having is around connectionalism,” she said. “Other folks will be hearing our story, but it’s also a chance to hear their stories. That’s been a good thing because it reminds people there are so many churches doing great things. What we’re doing here is also really great, and people will want to hear our story, too.”
One of the congregation’s Matthew 25 focuses is congregational vitality, because, as Trey notes, “what gives us the most energy is serving others. When we focus on what we can do in partnership with others, we find ourselves energized and coming up with new ideas.”
“We’ve tried everything we know to do to get people to come to church — host the world’s best potluck, have a bounce house — and people don’t bang down our door. We were beyond knowing what to do next. We didn’t even know the right questions to ask. Now we ask, ‘What do our neighbors need?’ We ask, ‘How can we make our community grow and thrive?”
“That’s where we found our energy,” Trey said, “and that’s where we found our neighbors.”
For Trey, evangelism is more than “beating people over the head with a weaponized Bible. It’s about proclaiming the good news of God as opposed to the good news of Caesar,” who “used enslaved people to build infrastructure. Jesus said, ‘We are going to set the enslaved free and take care of the widows and children.’ That life counts just as much as this life. The good news is living into that, not just some heavenly place far away.”
First Presbyterian Church has indeed lived into that good news through ministries including IowaWINs and All God’s Creatures, as well as its partnership with the minimum-security prison in Mt. Pleasant.
“This congregation always understood the relational aspect of how life can be,” Trey said. “We all have something that’s broken in us. Here there is permission to take that brokenness and offer it up. They do that. It’s in their DNA.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
John Glenn, Network Operations Manager, Information Technology, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Thomas Goetz, Long-term mission volunteer serving in Japan, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
God of grace and glory, we thank you for this ministry and outreach. We ask that you would continue to encourage and challenge them to accomplish your work as you lead them. In the name of our Savior. Amen.