“This church is doing an amazing revitalization of Camp Bedford. The God incidences are numerous and noteworthy.”
That’s how Christie Sharpsteen, a Facilitator with Hope Partnership Services, describes First Christian Church of Bedford, Indiana — a congregation she’s worked with since early 2018 when they began the Epiphany process.
Epiphany is for the congregation longing to become a transforming presence both inside and outside of its walls. It is designed to help congregations imagine and live into a new vision of their mission. During the one-plus year process, congregational leaders shift the focus from ‘what’ the church is doing to ‘why.’ By finding clarity on why it exists, a congregation will discover innovative ways to do ministry and transform both itself and its community.
Proof of the process is First Christian Church of Bedford (FCCB), which has existed as a congregation since 1846. But why? Why was FCCB still part of the Bedford community? And, why did FCCB have so many activities that drained members’ energy without enlivening their spirits? To answer these questions, the congregation turned to Hope Partnership Services.
“Change is hard, even when you know you can’t keep going the way you have been,” says the Rev. Bruce Ervin, FCCB Transitional Pastor. “It’s tough to let go of things we’ve been doing for years,” he says. “But the Epiphany process showed us that letting go can be liberating. For example, once we realized that we didn’t need to have a Fellowship Luncheon every month, we had more energy for outward focused ministries –those that address the needs of the people of Bedford.”
As part of the Epiphany process, congregational leaders developed a Future Story. There, in narrative form, is a vision of FCCB circa 2023. Amazingly, as Christie Sharpsteen observed, many of the ministries envisioned there are already underway.
First, the congregation discerned why it exits: to reach outward to connect people with God’s abundance!
Then, looking for an easy win, the congregation turned to its beloved Camp Bedford. Sitting on 70 beautiful acres overlooking the White River, the camp has hosted outdoor ministries since 1951. Over the years, volunteers from Disciples churches in southern Indiana have assisted with the maintenance of the grounds and buildings. But, as the volunteers aged, it became difficult to maintain the camp.
As soon as the congregation embraced FCCB’s Future Story and its call for a revitalized Camp Bedford, great things started to happen. First, the sale of the Region’s Camp Barbee created funding for the capital improvements that the Future Story envisioned. Second, a group of young adult Disciples stepped forward as the ‘Friends of Camp Bedford’ to help clean and promote the camp, just as envisioned in the Future Story. Then, a neighboring property owner expressed interest in the camp and was hired as Camp Manager.
“So much came together so quickly that it was clear God’s hand was guiding the whole process,” Pastor Ervin observed.
Newly rechristened as Bedford Camp and Conference Center, the facility is moving toward other elements envisioned in the Future Story: a new website, making the buildings ADA-compliant, installing bathrooms in refurbished cabins, and enabling multiple groups to use the camp at the same time. The goal is to make the camp a year-round conference, retreat, reunion and wedding venue. A high priority will also be placed on making camping experiences possible for those who would otherwise not be able to participate.
“What began as a dream only a year ago is well on its way to becoming reality,” says Pastor Ervin. “On the Spring Work Day in 2019, we had more than 50 volunteers! And, there are now more than 300 Friends of Camp Bedford online who will help build a donor network to fund future camp improvements and pay part of the Camp Manager’s salary.”
But it’s not just about the camp! The Faith Formation Task Force has begun a Children Worship and Wonder program for the congregation’s kindergarten through 4th grade children. Eventually, the Task Force will also develop new initiatives in youth and adult ministries.
In addition, the Community Service Task Force is busy forming new partnerships, as called for in the Future Story. The blessings of abundance that God has given the congregation include a well-maintained building in downtown Bedford where community partners are being offered space. Two agencies have already benefited. This new community initiative augments the congregation’s existing outreach ministries: food collections for the Lawrence Interfaith Endeavor Food Pantry; the Coat Bank that provides winter coats to families; a free, monthly community breakfast; and the Men’s Warming Center, a homeless shelter and recovery ministry. Steps have also been taken to provide families with back-to-school supplies and clothing in the fall.
“Clearly, the people of FCCB had an epiphany and were able to envision a future for their ministry that is transforming both their congregation and their community,” says Gilberto Collazo, Vice President of Hope Partnership Services. “The process came from us, but the vision of ‘reaching outward to connect people with God’s abundance’ was theirs.”