Developing faith at Mount Clinton
by Jim Hershberger
Pastor, Mount Clinton Mennonite Church
Mount Clinton Mennonite Church, part of the Central District of Virginia Mennonite Conference, is located in the village of Mount Clinton, about five miles west of Harrisonburg, Va., and surrounded by corn, soybean and rye pastures that feed the dairy and poultry farms of Rockingham County.
Mount Clinton has had ups and downs in attendance over 170 years of existence. Most recently, we lost some attendees over the human sexuality challenge in our culture, and are in the process of adjusting to a smaller size while continuing our ministries in the surrounding community.
We have worked at developing Christian faith in those who attend and also have reached out to others in the surrounding community. We have strong Sunday School programs for school-age children and young adults. We also have several classes for adults. We have had a youth activities program that includes Bible studies as well as recreation opportunities for our teenagers.
We also have an outreach to persons who are incarcerated, which includes writing letters to inmates, prayer, visitation, and support for them when they re-enter the community. We form support groups to pray, read the Bible, prepare for baptism or church membership if they desire, job searches, and reintegration into the community in general. We are in the process of discussing possible partnerships with other local churches and a local chaplain supported by VMMissions to provide more support for inmates re-entering the community.
Christian faith formation for our children and youth tends to focus on basic understandings of the Bible story, God’s claim our life, what is sin, God’s great salvation for us in Jesus Christ, and the challenge of following Jesus in our cultural moment. We use the Bible, our Confession of Faith, and stories of our Anabaptist forebears and exercises to help our youth embrace our Christian heritage and faith and build their understanding in preparation for baptism.
Faith formation in our older members follows this same pattern. But it also responds to the challenges of raising families. One of the ways to support middle aged members who have children is to challenge them to help with baptism preparation. This encourages parents to teach their children and not put this important parental duty only on the pastors. I also meet with single persons to support their responsibilities in life and vocation.
As pastor, I work with the older members to ensure they have the discussions with their families and their wills are in place that will help their children work together after their passing. I discuss with them what they have learned from their life in the church, as a believer, and their relationship with God.
While discussing funeral plans might seem like a difficult conversation, it is helpful to reflect with them the legacy they want to pass on to their children and church.
Mount Clinton has small groups that meet usually twice each month. They usually include a meal, sharing, prayer and Bible reading. These groups have historically played a large role in both integration into the church and also served to help believers mature in their Christian faith through Bible study, prayer and fellowship.
While we have faced decreased attendance in the last several years, this has leveled off and we have had several new families and single persons begin to attend. The challenge is to integrate new attenders and members into our small groups in a way that keeps the focus on Bible study, prayer and Christian discipleship.