By Chris Meehan
Several branches are launching initiatives aimed at sharing the Holy Spirit and the blessings of community life with their friends, neighbors and coworkers. Here are some examples:
In Buffalo, the branch has begun monthly open prayer meetings. The meetings are part of a larger plan to get the word out to the surrounding region about the People of Praise and baptism in the Spirit. “Our Spirit and Purpose says that spreading baptism in the Holy Spirit is part of who we are,” notes Tom Shriver, Buffalo’s principal branch coordinator. “During the past year, we looked around and didn’t see anyone in the area actively doing that, so we volunteered to the Lord. At the same time, we realized that we must have kept a relatively low profile over the years, because so many people didn’t seem to know we even existed.”
As part of this plan, the branch has opened up some branch activities to friends, acquaintances and family members. The new open prayer meetings are scheduled on the fourth Sunday of each month (there have been three meetings so far). Branch members also solicited an article about the community from the local Catholic newspaper. “We figured that the fact that members of 14 different parishes work together in an ecumenical outreach is a story worth telling,” says Tom.
Between 50 and 75 people came to each of the three prayer meetings, and about a quarter of them were new folks, estimates Jim Peters, who led one of the meetings and gave a talk at another. Rosanne Tabone, a good friend and guest of branch member Cindy Widmer, has attended all three and enjoys her chances to pray with the branch. “The meetings are wonderful. You can feel the Holy Spirit fill the room,” she said.
The open meetings have a familiar prayer-meeting format, and participants also receive a newsletter which lists all upcoming community events to which they are invited. Peter Hammer leads the music and intersperses contemporary worship songs with community favorites. A seder followed the most recent meeting.
“New technology has been a help to us in raising our flag,” adds Arlene Meyerhofer. She created a Facebook page to promote the meetings, and lists the event on the local Craigslist web site. She was delighted when, during one meeting, a young guest pulled out his smartphone during a period of praise, recorded a section and had it posted to the branch’s Facebook page before the meeting had ended. “One day perhaps we’ll use Skype to bring the meeting to shut-ins,” says Arlene.
Saskatoon branch members are meeting in small groups to discuss the meditations on the life of Christ that Craig Lent introduced in 2009. The branch has two groups that meet every other week. Members rotate the responsibility of picking the next scene in Christ’s life to pray and talk about.
“Ken Roberts, Phil and Suzanne Rooke, Iris McAleese and I gather on Friday mornings, usually at Grainfield’s family-run restaurant,” says branch leader Glenn Hilton. “It’s a good environment. The waitresses know what we’re doing, so they serve us breakfast and then leave us alone to talk. When I get something significant from a particular passage, it usually turns out to be only about a quarter of what I ultimately get out of it after hearing everybody else’s take on it. There are lots of ‘Wow!’ moments. That really enriches my experience.”
Once the meetings were established and running well, the members began to see them as an opportunity for outreach. “Our life is all about being friends with Jesus, so what better way to help people get to know him than through these meditations on Christ’s life,” Glenn explains. “So we recently decided to invite guests to join us for these meditations and discussions.”
Ray Hickey is a member of the Thursday evening group, along with his wife Judy, Roger Schmitz, Cathy Rice and--depending on her work schedule--Suzanne Rooke. “We’ve already had one guest,” says Ray, “and he enjoyed it so much he has returned.”
On three Saturday mornings this spring in Servant Branch, about 50 men came together at the branch’s center to learn and talk about the role of Christian men in the modern world. Topics at these open events included: “Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ Today” (March 2), “Careers, Crisis and Character” (March 23) and “Marriage, Money and Life” (April 13).
Servant Branch men sponsored the events “because we have a desire to shine the light of Christ on the people we meet every day, particularly at work,” says Joel Kibler, principal branch coordinator. Joel and Steve Becker, who was the main organizer of the events, especially hoped to attract younger men in their twenties and thirties.
Branch members Sam Claassen, CEO and president of SEH Engineering, Bob Brickweg, IBM senior client executive, and Judge Chris Dietzen, of the Minnesota Supreme Court, each gave talks. Bill Wacker, a father of five, challenged husbands to pour themselves out for their families as Christ did on the cross. Mike Wacker encouraged the men to follow God wholeheartedly, trusting him to fulfill all their financial needs. Several young community men gave short personal sharings at each event.
“I’m pleased with the results,” says Steve. “At the first two events, over half the attendees were not in the People of Praise, and half were in their 20s through early 40s. Some guests came to all three events, and I think there were six entirely new men at the third gathering. I got very positive feedback from them.” One man Steve invited, Mark Motzel, is vice-president of operations at Trademark Transportation, where Steve worked before his retirement. Mark not only said yes to his first invitation, but returned twice more, bringing friends with him.
During one of the meetings, Mark was seated near the front and couldn’t see the faces of the men behind him who were asking questions and sharing their stories. “I was struck by the fact that I usually couldn’t tell if the men sharing behind me were in their 20s or 60s. God’s call and their response was a theme that resonated across the generations! It was encouraging to hear such powerful stories and to be part of the strong praise and worship.”