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Open invitation

For Such a Time as This congregation finds renewed life and growth by reaching out to neighbors

September 26, 2012

young girl holding balloons and Presbyterian hymnal

Stacy Garcia, invited by Jean Carol Mundy to Lavonia Presbyterian Church, recently invited her cousins to Sunday school and worship. —Photo courtesy of Jason Clapper.

LOUISVILLE

If faith sharing and door-to-door evangelism are rarely practiced by Presbyterians, no one bothered to tell Jean Carol Mundy.

The 81-year-old member of Lavonia (Ga.) Presbyterian Church—who describes herself as “open and gregarious”—is on a mission to grow her congregation one personal invitation at a time.

“When I woke up to the fact that God had something in store for me to do, what I felt led to do was to be open to anyone I came into contact with,” Mundy said. “I listen to their story and let the Spirit tell me what to do.”

And Mundy is by no means alone.

When the Rev. Jason Clapper was called as the church’s pastor in July 2011 through the For Such a Time as This program, he was out every day knocking on doors. “Only a few Sundays after I arrived, we had five new people come out to church, which was really exciting for the congregation to see,” Clapper said.

For Such a Time as This, a pastoral residency program for first-call pastors, was designed to renew and grow small churches and help them to become healthy, missional congregations. Since three classes of pastoral residents began serving “hard to call” rural, small town, and urban churches through the program, their congregations are already experiencing amazing growth in spirit and numbers.

“Jason has really has energized the church,” said Mundy. “He is a doer.”

In the first year of Clapper’s leadership, the church has received eight new members and started a children's Sunday school and a youth group. “We went from not having a children’s Sunday school at all to one Sunday where we counted 55 people in worship and 12 kids in Sunday school,” said Clapper. “Of those 12 children, 5 were Mexican-American. I think it’s really cool that about 25 percent of the attendance at our basically all-Anglo congregation is now Hispanic.”

Clapper attributes the church’s remarkable cross-cultural growth to Mundy’s personal initiative.

“Jean Carol is really just a great example of what it looks like for a church member to reach out to people in the community,” said Clapper. “Because this church is her ‘family,’ she wants our neighbors to experience that same unconditional love and support. She also has a strong sense of social justice, which is how our congregation became involved in the lives of Stacy Garcia and her family.”

After meeting Stacy’s parents through another Mexican-American couple in Lavonia, Mundy began inviting the family to her home for meals and later started bringing Stacy and her two older siblings to church. “When I first brought them, Jason jumped right in with both feet and said, ‘Let’s start a youth group,’” Mundy recalled. “Then he invited all three of them to come over to his house.”

Clapper said the group’s first meeting intentionally had no agenda. “We just wanted them to spend time with us.”

After an evening of drawing with sidewalk chalk and blowing bubbles— with which the children were fascinated—they thanked Clapper and his wife, Laurie, for “letting us be a part of your family.”

“It blessed us because it made us realize how much we had to give,” said Clapper. “Even though we really didn’t do much in the way of activities, it just meant so much to each of them to be a part of something, to be included. We realized, too, how little opportunity this particular group of children has to do much of anything. They spend most of their days at home. Now they look forward to being with their church family.”

Eight-year-old Stacy in particular says that she loves being at church, especially singing the hymns and learning about the Bible. Imitating Mundy’s example, she has recently invited her cousins to come to church.

Mundy, who has five children, 12 grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren of her own, has embraced Stacy and her siblings as part of her extended family.

“It makes such a difference to them to be here, and it does a lot for the congregation, too,” she said. “You always get back more than you give.”

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For Such a Time as This: A Small-Church Residency—Growing Leaders, Growing Churches has announced recruitment plans for its next class of residency presbyteries, congregations, and pastoral residents. Prospective presbytery partners and pastoral-resident candidates are invited to visit the website for further information or to email the residency staff team with questions and inquiries.

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