In April of 2017, First Christian Church of Paris, Texas (FCCP), began working with Hope Partnership to dream about its future and discern what God was calling it to be in its community and beyond. After two all-church retreats, several members of the congregation were chosen as the local Hope team. They were tasked with developing a vision of what FCCP might become over the next five years. On October 15, 2017, the Hope team revealed their vision to congregation members, who have been living into it ever since.
“All they really got wrong was their timeline,” laughs Christie Sharpsteen, a Facilitator with Hope Partnership Services who started working with First Christian Church of Paris when it began the Epiphany process. “This church has already met all of the goals in its Future Story and is creating new ones. Outstanding accomplishments here. FCCP is engaging with its community in new and creative ways.”
The Epiphany process is for the congregation longing to become a transforming presence both inside and outside of its church walls.
“It is designed to help congregations imagine, and then live into, a new vision of their mission,” explains Gilberto Collazo, Vice President of Hope Partnership Services. “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,” he notes, “a congregation will discover innovative ways to do ministry and transform both itself and its community.”
Because its transformational process coincided with FCCP’s 150th anniversary, the resulting ministry vision was dubbed ‘Hope 150.’ Congregants can keep abreast of progress made in the three areas of transformation identified there through on-line updates. These areas are Meal Sharing, Community Connections, and Sharing Facilities.
“In developing our vision, we agreed on a main objective for our ministry: kindness,” explains FCCP Pastor Barry Loving. “I know that sounds simplistic, but we believe that the expression of kindness can positively impact more lives than are imaginable. We see kindness building bridges in Paris, Texas. Bridges from our past to the future. Bridges from wounds to healing, from separation to connection, and from foe to friend,” he observes. “Kindness is the framework that builds these bridges. It can transform individuals and, in time, a whole community.”
True to the Epiphany process, the people of FCCP were encouraged to answer the ‘why’ question: Why did they want to do this? Their answer was also simple: “Because God has commanded us to love everyone as we love ourselves.” So, the people of First Christian Church found new and different ways to spread the kindness with one another and to the wider community.
For example, in January of 2018 the congregation served its initial First Responders Breakfast, a monthly event that shows gratitude to police, firefighters, E.M.T.s – anyone who runs toward a crisis in hopes of averting it. The meal now draws anywhere from 50 to 100 first responders a month.
FCCP also reaches out to the community through its quarterly Dinner Theater Events which attract attendees with food, fellowship and entertainment with the proceeds going to a designated local charity or ministry. In addition, the congregation has adopted the philosophy that its church facilities should be available for use by local and regional concerns in an effort to share ministry with different missions. The church also has expanded on its opportunities to serve area residents by supporting and participating in several community programs, including Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Clubs, The Texas Dream Center, The Tour de Paris, Goodland Boys Academy, Summer Lunch programs and City Square.
“Our children and youth ministry has been blessed and does a lot to serve in the community beyond our walls,” notes Pastor Barry. “And, one of our members, a retired teacher, coordinates a free weekly tutoring program, called Little Lights, that helps area kids who are struggling in school.”
Other Meal Sharing, Community Connection and Facility Sharing efforts include Lunch and Learn gatherings for the retired; partnering with the Masonic Jewish Fellowship; monthly Traveling Tablecloth dinners in people’s homes; and, the planned development of the four acres behind the church into soccer fields and baseball diamonds for community use.
“This has been one of the most exciting and wonderful years of my whole career,” says Rev. Loving, who came to FCCP as pastor on September 1, 2018. “Our people have been living into our mission of kindness beyond our walls, transforming our community and being transformed themselves,” he notes. “As a result, our weekly worship attendance has more than doubled in a year. That’s real proof of the bridges kindness builds.”