Archive for ◊ January, 2011 ◊

• Monday, January 31st, 2011

By Linda Hilliard, co-author, Finishing with Grace

Word is spreading about Finishing with Grace, A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church.  Thanks to friends and colleagues, news of this helpful book is getting out there. In fact, the word-of mouth phenomenon about Finishing with Grace – and the positive responses – confirms the need for this type of guidebook.

Here’s what we’re up to as far as promoting the book.  And we invite you, Dear Reader, to help us by emailing your promotional ideas to

• As a member of the clergy, Gretchen, especially, has made some wonderful connections with religious leaders who have not only been very supportive, but made some terrific marketing suggestions for the book.  For example, it’s been suggested that we contacts seminaries and divinity schools, which we are doing.

• We’ve sent out press releases to all the major newspapers across the country.   Alas, The New York Times and Chicago Tribune have not picked up the releases YET, but maybe sometime soon.  Now we’re starting a second mailing to smaller, but equally important, newspapers in the United States.

• Friends have urged us to contact the leaders of all the religious denominations across the country.  We’re starting to do that.

• We’ve done an email announcement about the book to clergy across Massachusetts.

• We’re meeting with local church leaders.

• We are considering taking out ad space in religious newspapers.

• We’ve started to research religious book stores.

• We’re excited to report we have our first speaking engagement this June.  More on that in a future blog but – for now – our “expertise” is in demand. (How cool is that?!)

• We’re updating our blog weekly. And recently we’ve started connecting our blog to other similar blogs.

• We’re forming an Advisory Board (More on that in a future blog).

• We’re available to do Talk Shows!   (Hair!  Makeup!)

• The fun idea of an author’s tea – with readings – is on the table. (Expect an invite next spring!)

• We have postcards and business cards. (Would you like some to hand out on our behalf?)

•  We’re sending information about the book to any church that we hear is in peril. (Do you know of any congregations that we could add to the list?)

• We’d welcome volunteers to take a few of our promo cards to the UCC General Synod in July , as well as to other denominational meetings in 2011.

As much as we have happening, we need more ideas as to ways to let churches across the country know about this book.  Please – drop us a line with your promotional suggestions at

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• Monday, January 24th, 2011

Gretchen Switzer & Linda Hilliard

Author of Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church

And we are in that long line of small, tumultuous churches that were about to change the world.  If we look at their essential characteristics, we see our continuity with our spiritual ancestors.  Small groups (house churches) that lived on the edge, precariously, dangerously!  There was diversity among those who gathered together – people as well as ideas – a diversity which we also experience.   And while the earliest Christians shared a common meal together, even food issues were divisive between Jews and Gentiles in that early community.  Mundane things, even with the best of intentions, were fraught with meaning and tension, as they are today.  Notwithstanding those tensions and struggles, these earliest, dedicated followers came together devotedly in sacred moments, celebrating Baptism, worshiping, singing, and calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
We certainly recognize that the church today is constantly evolving in finding meaningful ways to worship God, to serve Christ and neighbor. But, as is true in our personal lives, we, as a community of faith, must also look to our past; that which has made us who and what we are.  Indeed, we become stronger, more mature, and perhaps even more faithful, if we learn from the struggles of our mothers and fathers in faith, as well as drawing from the strengths, insights, and values of our spiritual ancestors.  We are rooted in tradition, not enslaved by it, but richer for it.
Yes, we, too, await Christ – not necessarily a glorious second coming right now – but rather waiting for the earthshaking awareness that Christ is, indeed, born in our hearts and souls  – a new birth of hope and grace that can transform our lives and our community of faith.  God incarnate experienced so profoundly in us that we desire to make changes in this world!  God incarnate experienced so profoundly that we can sense, even taste, our communion with God, with Christ, as we come to this table.  A mystical communion with God and one another – a sacramental moment as significant to us today as it was for those who ate and prayed and sang together over two thousand years ago in the first small groups of house gatherings.  We are in communion with them.   We, like those who first gathered together simply to prepare for Jesus coming back into their lives – we prepare for Jesus continually coming into our lives by worshiping  joyously with song and meal, inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit!  Amen.

To purchase “Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church,” click here.

Click here to email Gretchen or Linda

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• Monday, January 10th, 2011

Gretchen Switzer & Linda Hilliard

Author of Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church

What if we use our current circumstances as an opportunity to re-discover the gifts that the early church has to offer us? We are, after all, as has been pointed out by several commentators, more like them than (we) the Church has been for centuries. Like them, our congregations are often small, urban, and diverse. Many of us no longer worship in large sanctuaries. Like them we explore new forms of worship. What if we re-learn through them that we are not fundamentally about wealth, temporal power, prestige, majorities, basketball teams, baked goods (although that is a hard one) or being absolutely right about what we believe happens when we share Communion? What if we learn through them that what matters is that we sustain our essential unity in all of our diversities and in all of our changed circumstances in service to our mission in the wider world? In 1986 when I was working as Assistant Archivist for the Lutheran Church in America  I attended the ordination of a young man named Jose Abelardo Gonzalez into the Lutheran ministry.  The ordination took place in a small white clapboard church on the edge of Humboldt Park which, as anyone who has ever lived in Chicago knows, is one of the most “ganged up” neighborhoods in the city. Several years before the aging Norwegian Lutheran congregation, seeing the writing on the wall, had formed a Hispanic congregation. Occasionally, they worshiped together, mostly separately. Both congregations were small but the gang ministry which Abe served, was thriving. That day our gathering included some of those gang members, Abe’s familly from Nicaragua,  old Norwegian ladies, Abe’s wife’s family who were German American farmers from central Illinois, Paul Manz, composer of some of the most beautiful sacred music ever written, and Martin Marty, church historian.  It was a hot day and the church did not have air conditioning so the windows were open. We crowded into the pews and since the church did not have an organ, the pianist struck up the opening hymn We rose to our feet. “Beautiful Savior we sang, Ruler of All Nations” first in English, then in Spanish. We rocked that little church off its foundations. The music poured into the outside world. I like to think that even the gang members hanging out in the park across the street sat up and took notice.  In that moment, we were neither Norwegian nor Puerto Rican, male nor female, renowned scholar, or troubled youth. In that moment we were the church. It was for this that Paul prayed and hoped as he advised, exhorted, harangued, bolstered, and encouraged the small, tumultuous Mediterranean gatherings he loved. Small tumultuous churches that were about to change the world.

To purchase “Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church,” click here.

Click here to email Gretchen or Linda

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• Monday, January 03rd, 2011

Gretchen Switzer

Author of Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church

Listen again to these words from Romans 15: 4-13:  “May our dependable, steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as Jesus gets along with us all.  Then, we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Beloved of Jesus.”  Dirk Lange, writing about this passage online, said, “The harmony ‘in accordance with Jesus Christ’… comes from welcoming the unexpected, dying, and being raised to new life, new beginnings.. The witness of living together in harmony… is communal song.”  Indeed, in those earliest gatherings, there were ideological differences and conflicts that challenged Paul’s goal of harmony and unity. But Paul was insistent that living together in unity, sharing a meal together, and singing God’s praise were the faithful ways in which these followers of Christ should be spending their final days before the expected imminent return of Jesus.  A community of faith, God’s people waiting and hoping and rejoicing together!

Many years ago my father went to visit his friend and mentor Glen Anderson, Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, who was dying of cancer. In the course of his visit, my father asked him if he had any words to share with his friends and with the seminarians whom he had taught, and with the denomination to which he had given so much of his life.  Dean Anderson’s response was both challenging and open-ended. He said “Be the church.”  The question of what it meant to be the church was a central preoccupation of the Apostle Paul as he wrote to and visited the small congregations of believers with whom he was so intimately involved.  Remember – neither Paul nor any of his followers had ever heard the word Christian (they were Jews and Gentile converts to a Jewish sect that believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah).  Remember –  neither Paul nor any of his followers had ever seen a written account of the life of Jesus (the four gospels had yet to be written).   Remember – neither Paul nor anyone else had ever seen a building dedicated solely to the purpose of Christian worship.  They worshipped in small, overcrowded gatherings in private houses.  Remember – neither Paul nor anyone had settled on acceptable modes of worship, or acceptable forms of leadership.  The reader often gets the impression that Paul, theologian and pragmatist is putting out brush fires, walking tightropes, and making it up as he goes along.  How he wrestled with what it meant to be the church 50 years after the birth of Jesus.

In 1982 I had the opportunity to spend the summer studying in Italy where I caught a glimpse of what the church must have been before the Reformation separated us in the 16th century. Italians live out their lives in parishes, not neighborhoods.  Many of those parishes are dominated by beautiful church buildings topped by towers from which the passage of time is tolled by a chorus of bells many times a day.  And everywhere there are representatives of different religious orders, dressed in distinctive garb. Even now, in its relative decline, the beauty and dignity of the Church in Italy inspire awe.   What would it have meant to be the church in the Middle Ages, when the church had more power and wealth than any nation-state as well as a near monopoly over the spiritual lives of millions of Europeans?

In Quinsigamond Village here in Worcester, where I grew up in the early 1960s, there were churches, not one church. There were the Swedish Baptists, the Swedish Methodists, the Swedish Lutherans, the Swedish Covenanters, and of course, the Catholics who were mostly not Swedish but made up for it by worshipping in St Catherine of Sweden.  This kind of religious, if not ethnic diversity did not always make for good times.  I swear, I remember arguing heatedly with my friend, Karen Londergan, over whether the Body and Blood of Christ were actually present in the Bread and Wine or not – on the playground when we were eight years old.  But I was a weird child and a preacher’s kid, to boot.   Still, most of the churches were lively and full.  I did not know a single child who did not attend one or the other.  We had Sunday schools and catechism classes the size of small cities. Older kids formed basketball leagues; their parents baked for Ladies Aid or sang in the choir.  What did it mean to be the church in mid-twentieth  century in America?   In times of both prosperity and unity?
And what does it mean now?  When many of the churches in Quinsigamond  Village, including St Catherine of Sweden, have closed/  When my daughter, who grew up with a  handful of  friends who attended church regularly, says that most of her college mates are not merely indifferent to religion, but repulsed by it? What does it mean when soccer coaches are genuinely puzzled by the fact that anyone would have a problem with soccer practice on Sunday?  When one can listen ad nauseum ( and I do not use that phrase lightly)  to a diet of all-holiday music on   and  hear the name “Dominic the Donkey, far more often than one hears the name Jesus.  When only one in five Swedes professes to believe in a god of any kind.  When one cannot imagine most adults, let alone small, strange children bothering to have a doctrinal dispute about anything?  When some observers claim that the only hope for the long-term survival of the Christian Church is in the vibrant, enlivened congregations in Africa and Asia?  These are disquieting, even dispiriting times for many Christians in the West.  Well, maybe, maybe not!  ( See Part Two later this week)

To purchase “Finishing With Grace:  A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church,” click here.

Click here to email  Gretchen

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