Focus on Congregational Renewal: First Baptist Church of Framingham, Massachusetts

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Focus on Congregational Renewal: First Baptist Church of Framingham, Massachusetts

A church of four continents and ten countries creates Family Services Coalition/Partnership to care for homeless. The story below is written by The Reverend Jason Rutherford, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Framingham. Below the story are a link to additional learnings from ABC church renewal activities, as well as a list of reflective questions for stories of church renewal.

The First Baptist Church in Framingham is deeply rooted and passionate in service to people and community.  We celebrate the shared spirit that brings us to weekly worship as people of faith, and we celebrate a growing church representing people from four continents and 10 countries.  We value the dignity of every person, and recognize the need for security, stability, freedom, and autonomy as basic human rights.  Holy Spirit, coupled with human dignity, is a core strength binding us to one another and extending into our community, leading us to ongoing creativity as we strive to understand and meet the world’s hunger.

First Baptist Church in Framingham, Mass., is an active participant in both community and regional ministries.  I am grateful to share an evolving ministry to homeless families that was birthed from a grass roots concern for the wellbeing and welfare of hundreds of families living in shelters in the Framingham and Natick Massachusetts communities.

In the fall of 2012 I began to notice a rise in the number of calls our church was receiving from families in distress and living in local motels in Framingham and Natick, Mass.  I began to discuss this within my clergy circles and realized other congregations were experiencing the same increase in calls.  As I began visiting the motels, as well as escorting some of the families to our church for services, I began to see that the motels were actually shelters contracting with the state of Massachusetts to provide housing for homeless families.  As community clergy and leaders began to meet informally to organize ministry to these families, growing concern led us to more formally unite as partners, forming The Family Services Coalition (FSC) in December, 2013.

Family services coalition is comprised of local congregations, civic leaders, public school officials, motel managers, as well as social service organizations. FSC meets twice monthly, once for the steering committee, and once for the community-at-large, to plan, execute, and report on services and ministry we currently engage on behalf of the growing homeless population.  I want to clarify that each of the families is assigned a social worker, and that our group is in active cooperation with their social worker as well as other state offered services.  However, speaking as a local pastor, I work to build relationships with the families through our church family, enabling our congregation to become an extended family, which has been the case on multiple occasions.  Most Sundays there is a homeless person or family attending First Baptist. Everyday my heart prays for these men, women, and children going through a very difficult time.  Gratefully, families have continued to attend First Baptist after moving into their own home.

Some of the services and ministry FSC organizes include: driving families to grocery stores, organizing E.S.L. classes, planning and funding healthy activities during school vacation weeks and summer vacation, planning and implementing a Bible School (this past August), as well as providing daily meals through “Project Bread” during summer months.  I could go on and on, however, I want to share a brief perspective regarding this particular shelter program in Massachusetts.

Family Services coalition is not alone.  There are other faith and civic initiatives to minister and care for families going through the trauma of homelessness.  FSC is one of many, and targets a specific motel in our community.  The motel has 63 rooms, and on any day, they are books with families ranging from 3 to 7 people.  One recent census listed 95 adults and 147 children.  In the state-wide motel shelter program, there are nearly 2100 families a night, with the average stay between 7 to 12 months.  This represents a portion of the homeless families in Massachusetts.  People become homeless for diverse reasons; lack of affordable housing, physical and mental disability, low paying jobs, lack of personal and family support, and domestic violence, to name a few of the common reasons.

Homelessness is increasing.  My heart is full and the bulletin board in my office is covered with friends and memories with families at the Travelodge Motel.  However, our community, our society, has a big problem, and my goal is to raise awareness, leading to consuming concern, which will lead to action.  It is not enough for our own families and congregations to be warm and well fed.  My encouragement is for all of our congregations to turn an eye and ear outward.  Look to the community members in need, in pain, alone, and struggling through each day with increasing labor for the basic necessities.  And go, organize, and bless every possible soul our God shed’s a mighty tear for every day.

The Reverend Jason Rutherford, Pastor
First Baptist Church in Framingham

Read about additional learnings from ABC Church Renewal Activities.

Reflective Questions for Stories of Church Renewal

  1. How is this congregation similar to your congregation?
  2. How does this congregation differ from your congregation?
  3. What surprised you in this story?
  4. What was the turning point of the story?
  5. Where is God at work in this story?
  6. How do God’s desires for this congregation compare to God’s desires for your congregation?
  7. Where is God at work in your church’s story?
  8. What is God inviting you to explore as a congregation?