More than two hundred churches participated in the Local Church Experiment in the United States. The following are representative stories and memories which lift up the bold experimentation and structures that were created, and the profound journeys that occurred. Explore the links to learn more.
Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, Phoenix, AZ – 1973 to present.. The Religious Studies I (RS-I) course of the Ecumenical Institute played an inspiring role in the founding of this new intentional church by Rev. Bill Smith. The Wedgeblade symbol of RS-I plays a prominent part in the structure of their building and the RS-I curriculum was adapted for laity formation. In 2008 with new pastoral leadership of Rev. Ken Heintzleman, the theological heritage was re-energized with an adult formation retreat, Profound Journey Dialogue (PJD), an adaption of RS-I in secular form. Innovative work continues today in the outreach of the church.
After participating in the Local Church Project, Linda and Milan Hamilton were challenged that 15% of the world’s populations are “Have’s” and 85% are “Have Not’s” and the inadequacy of food banks. They organized a grassroots effort to deal with hunger and poverty, Food for All, Inc. By simply adding a donation to your grocery receipt using a bar-code, one could help end hunger while shopping for your family’s food. It involved volunteers from the food industry, grocery store employees and customers, in the promotion and distribution of the funds raised. ICA methods were incoporated throughout the organization, from it’s board and staff to the local and international grant-making boards with regular board, staff and volunteer retreats, strategic planning events, research assemblies, ‘sharing approaches that work’ conferences, and regional Think Tanks on Ending Hunger. In the thirteen years the Hamiltons led the organization, twelve million dollars was granted to US and international anti-hunger projects. FOOD FOR ALL was merged with a food industry based non-profit, the Food Industry Crusade Against Hunger in 1998, which retained the FOOD FOR ALL brand and raised more than 25 million dollars until it changed its name to ‘Making Change’. The legacy of FOOD FOR ALL is that almost every hunger cause and retail company has adopted some form of the “add a donation” technology to its operations since the inception of using the bar-code as a charitable donation. The inspiring story of Food for All was published in Guideposts magazine: “The Quiet People“. Later Milan Hamilton documented this work in his blog in order to give others a view of the work behind the dream.
Evanston United Methodist Church, Denver. Rev. George and Ruthe Yost served as the pastor family. David Yost, their son, a teenager during the LCX, recalls the huge “war board” that took over their dining room with all its tactics and strategies listed on it. The church saw that its task was to serve the world. As the congregation aged and the neighborhood it served changed dramatically, the church was merged with another. Read about the dynamic community role this “resurrected” facility plays as the mission arm of University Park UMC. In 2019 OliveAnn and Jim Slotta began attending the church and wrote this report:
Once Vibrant Church Closes and Reopens to New Ministry of the Merged Congregations
Evanston United Methodist Church (UMC), Denver, CO was one of the four congregations of the Local Church Experiment (1969-1973) coordinated by the Denver Religious House of the Ecumenical Institute. Rev. George Yost and Ruthe were the long-time pastor family. In 2013, with an aging congregation and weakened resources, the once-vibrant, diverse Evanston Church (with membership representing 7 continents) merged with University Park UMC (who had a youth program and mutual vision of ministry of care and encouragement to the needs of the community). With the combined strength and wisdom of both congregations, the building of the Evanston church was transformed into the Evanston Center for Spiritual Wholeness and Healing as a neighborhood service center with meeting spaces for three churches, yoga, meditation, centering prayer, a labyrinth, recovery groups, English learning, and classes on conscious aging —stretching minds, bodies and spirits. It is ecumenical, open, non-judgmental and friendly to a wide range of people.
In a recent celebration of the legacy of these two congregations, a 90 year-old former pastor, Rev. Kenneth Neal (June 2019) delivered the sermon “Hope Does Not Disappoint Us,” closing with this affirmation for the outreach ministry of University Park UMC: “We have unequaled spiritual, physical and mental outreach as a church. The Hope of spiritual wholeness and healing certainly does NOT disappoint us. It is a model for all of us as individuals and for many churches. Of the many churches I have known who closed their doors, none of them have opened again for such an amazing resurrection.” To read the entire sermon, view the pictures of the 90 year Legacy of Evanston UMC, and to receive information about the Evanston Center for Health and Wholeness, click here.
Pine Valley Christian Church, Wichita. Rev. Bill and Ginny Reece, were hired to begin and pastor a new experimental church. For 27 years Bill taught RS-I to his membership classes. Read newspaper accounts of their pioneering efforts in social outreach and with various forms of worship and education. Enjoy the cartoon birthday celebration booklet created by Bill’s children as they remembered growing up in that church.
Other churches in the Kansas LCX experiment:
Rev. Carlton Stock and Rev. Ellie Stock served at Dewey Avenue Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY, 1970-75. The detailed report Carl and Ellie wrote shares the process of the corporate pastorate of the churches within the Galaxy formation. It also highlights a wide range of the Local Church Experiment tactics ranging from their ministry, theological education for the laity, curriculum building, the Women’s Forum, song writing, outreach into the community, consulting with other churches in the national experiment to a three-week Global Odyssey to increase their knowledge of the world they intended to serve. They created powerful symbols that reminded the congregation of their work in the Maplewood neighborhood, and summarized their annual accomplishments; various symbols highlighted their youth programs like the Mighty Micros, the Young Giants and the New Day Youth. In their retirement, the Stock’s work continues with sharing methods with local churches, presbyteries, and indigenous communities. As a songwriter, Ellie has written many songs for the ICA and Local Church Experiment.
Rev. Mark Dove and Janelle, 1971. At Friendship United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, Mark led a How Do I Decide? Confirmation Retreat for junior high students with the Religious Studies I and Individual and Family courses. At the Epworth United Methodist Church, Columbus, Janelle shares the 40 week overviews of church preschool curriculum and her design of a Solitary Devotional Booklet used in the LCX.
Rev. Mark and Jean Poole were another clergy couple in an Ohio galaxy at a UMC. Jean recalls that 30 people from the congregation attended RS-I and one lay person joined the corporate pastorate. Another joined the Order for a time and another still leads the congregation, seeking justice, always in the servant role, youth group, social concerns, lay leader and worship leader. One parishioner, after coming back from RS-I, remarked that RS-I was good. Where is RS-2?
During that time, Mark worked with Dr. King in Cleveland, and took folks along who were willing and able. When a black pastor was invited to preach at their church, death threats followed, but no harm came. Getting people more comfortable with the globe resulted in getting folks to the Cleveland House for Odysseys, Corporate Pastorate planning and other courses. Locally, the Corporate Pastor’s work with Sunday morning education and church school curriculum was focused on images from other cultures, and we introduced singing at “Welcome the World” potluck dinners. The Galaxy model with the four congregations was a life saving model to a struggling church and would be a great structure of support for some of the current divisions that are happening in the church.
Jean Poole recalls how the LCX was a life-saving model with its corporate pastorates and the four-church galaxy structure that gave clergy as well as laypersons alternatives to participation, which helped with current divisions being struggled with. She remembers the LCX work she and Mark did in Ohio in the 60’s: “The first step was getting about 30 parishioners to the Religious Studies I weekend course, and the tireless work that many of them did after the course in being part of the church leadership. One man was so excited, he asked, ‘Where is Religious Studies II?’ People began to experience the globe around them as we gradually introduced ‘Welcome to the World’ potlucks around different cultural themes and developed church school curriculum and new songs around the images of other cultures. Mark was working with Dr. Martin Luther King at that time, and we invited a black pastor to preach which was accompanied by death threats, but no harm came. New challenges are upon us now.”
University Baptist Church, Seattle. Rev. George Lawson recalls his new sense of calling after participating in the Parish Leadership Colloquy (PLC) where he experienced a potent “demythologized” Christian doctrine and the possibility of working corporately with other churches. In the forming Local Church Experiment, he was able to work with three others churches (Lutheran, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic) in the Galaxy configuration. He speaks of the deep bond that developed between the pastors and the core group of laypersons as they met weekly to plan and share their victories as well as their setbacks. He speaks of the transforming journey he took as the group worked with this “revolutionary” church renewal group.
Rev. Bob Hanson was the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Hephatha Parish in Milwaukee, WI, participatings in the LCX in the 70’s. His poetry 50 years later speaks of the seeds that were planted during that time that are now being harvested and giving hope and courage.
“From the trenches, the SWIM (Scaling Wellness In Milwaukee) Conference working on trauma issues. A brain-child of the President of Marquette University and his wife to deal with the surge of trauma events in the life of people in the city.”
Seeds do grow at their own speed
I am sitting in the midst of an exciting
Energy-filled group of community leaders
Working on the issue of Trauma.
SWIM is the group’s name,
It came to me as I sat here
Many of us planted these seeds 50 years ago
Walking in the hood with our red berets
Scaring some but loving the community
That small cadre that met weekly
To do the tactics, challenge the systems
Transform lives by doing, action, resistance.
(In Hephatha Parish!) and many places.
Hold on, it ain’t harvest time
It’s not over till it’s over,
That’s why the energy in this room is so wonderful
Resistance – Revolution – Freedom for all!
The path is long, hard and endless,
Keep on going is the encouragement
And the hope of a new community…
By Bob Koshin Hanson
Various colleagues are continuing in the spirt of the Local Church Experiment: