Creating Safe Harbor, Lighthouse Congregations
By Jasmine Haynes, Communications Specialist
Disaffiliation votes are happening here in Mississippi, but not all members of disaffiliating churches desire to leave The United Methodist Church. These persons committed to staying United Methodist are reaching out to find safe harbor to discern what’s next in their faith journey. In an effort to create safe places for those committing to remain United Methodist, the Mississippi Conference is designating Lighthouse Congregations to help facilitate that process. According to the Mississippi Conference Office of Faith Community Formation, Lighthouse Congregations are United Methodist churches that are equipped specifically to welcome anyone whose church has closed or disaffiliated, or are simply looking for a place to belong.
Episcopal leader of the Mississippi Area, Bishop Sharma D. Lewis said that she wants Lighthouse Congregations to be a place of healing, pastoral care, worship, mission and discipleship, as well as a place of discernment for people exploring what’s next.
“As bishop and shepherd, I have to make sure I continue to feed, protect and take care of the flock,” said Lewis. “My role as a bishop is to make sure that people have a church home whether their churches are closed or disaffiliated.”
|Bishop Sharma D. Lewis speaks at laity session of "Chat and Chew with Bishop Lewis" in the Starkville District.
Lewis further explained that God placed it on hers and the cabinet’s hearts to make sure that in this season of disaffiliation, these lighthouse opportunities provide safe harbor for people in transition. The faith community formation office has been tasked with implementing this mission of preparing local churches to serve as lighthouses for United Methodists who are now without a church home, as well as seekers—individuals who are not committed to a church yet and are searching for deeper meaning in life. Worship opportunities provided by Lighthouse Congregations will be unique and contextual. Some may be in person in a sanctuary or at a coffee shop, and others may be online. All lighthouse worship services should be intentional about engaging and welcoming new people.
Jason Zebert, Mississippi Conference Faith Community Formation Project Coordinator, shared that in this season of disaffiliation, there has been so much focus on what may be lost that some people have a hard time realizing that there is a future for The United Methodist Church in Mississippi.
|Rev. Jason Zebert, Mississippi Conference Faith Community Formation Office Project Coordinator
“This is an opportunity to change the way that we do church,” said Zebert. “We don’t change the Gospel, but the way in which we deliver it and share it needs to be adaptable.”
According to Zebert at present, district superintendents have recommended approximately 30 faith communities to apply to be Lighthouse Congregations. Churches can also self-nominate. These faith communities will then go through specialized training on hospitality and healing as well as other training to strengthen the churches’ health and resilience. The goal is that eventually every church goes through this training and can grow in becoming a hospitable, safe place for healing.
Other annual conferences are also implementing Lighthouse Congregations and similar initiatives. According to a United Methodist News Service
article, the North Carolina
and Western North Carolina
conferences have been incubators for the idea and both conferences have seen success in a combined total of over 110 Lighthouse Congregations and other churches exploring becoming one. Additional conferences experimenting with like ideas are Western Pennsylvania
, to name a few.
“Lighthouse Congregations are giving us new ways as a cabinet to appoint clergy to faith communities and be creative during this appointive season,” explained Lewis.
Although this idea was birthed from the need to have safe places for those who desire to remain United Methodist after their churches vote to disaffiliate, it is still on target to reach the primary mission of every United Methodist church which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“We hope that by injecting this hospitality and healing training into our DNA, we can start reaching the 60% of those people who live around our churches and do not go to church anywhere,” shared Zebert. “There’s so much potential out there and so many people who need the hope of the Gospel and the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ in our communities.”
Right now, persons whose churches have disaffiliated and are looking to remain United Methodist, or persons wanting to become United Methodist can click here
or find the button on the conference homepage
to fill out a form indicating their interest in connecting with The United Methodist Church.
For interested faith communities who wish to apply to become a Lighthouse Congregation or would like more information, reach out to Jason Zebert in the faith community office at email@example.com