A group of churches in northern Vermont is exploring new ways of doing church.
The parish has a yoga ministry, an adult coloring circle and a whittling group, all of which take place at the Methodist Community Center in Highgate.
Pastor Kerry Cameron, who leads West Swanton, Sheldon, Highgate Center and Rice Hill United Methodist churches, said “the idea came from God,” through a post-Lent retreat titled “Being Naked in the Presence of God,” she attended in April 2015.
“I don’t believe people are silent enough,” Pastor Cameron said, and when we’re not quiet, we’re “not hearing what God has to say to us.”
All of these ministries, she said, “are about getting quiet with God.”
The combined yoga and worship service, Holy Health, began about a year ago. It’s a full hour each Thursday that starts with prayer. There’s a small devotional, a love offering, and those attending pray for others.
“We are continually moving through stretches and postures,” throughout the service, Pastor Cameron said. She also includes guided imagery and meditation as part of the worship.
Pastor Cameron is a dancer and owned a dance studio for 40 years before becoming a pastor. She said that when she stopped dancing, she started doing yoga. While she is not a certified instructor, she has enough knowledge and experience to lead people through the basic poses that are part of the worship. “It works for a worship experience,” she said, it’s not an exercise class.
The weekly whittling group – which includes kids as young as 11 – got started in May. A woodcarver and his wife started attending church. He’d taught whittling to senior citizens in Florida and offered to teach at the Methodist Center. The instructor provides a pattern or a pre-cut piece for folks to work on. He’s also offered some valuable lessons on how to handle a slip of the knife: Crazy Glue will seal a cut.
Pastor Cameron said there’s a sense of community in the group – not unlike the days of front porch sitting – but folks are mostly quiet and intent on their work.
Pastor Cameron also visits the park regularly as Pastor in the Park, where she sometimes does some wood carving.
“For me, my life is so busy it’s hard for me to have devotional time,” she said. “I have devotional time in the morning, but it’s hard to find time to sit in complete silence. Whittling provides that place of complete silence; I can block out the entire world and just sit with God. For pastors, that is really hard to come by.”
The Coloring Circle is the newest of the ministries; it started in September 2015. It grew out of a conversation between Pastor Cameron and the lay leader who also runs the daycare in the church. During a state tour, she was told that children were no longer permitted to color using coloring books, but rather should be encouraged to draw their own pictures.
Not long after, the lay leader heard a news report about the benefits of coloring for adults. The report said adults find coloring meditative and calming. It can help those coping with depression and other forms of mental illness.
“This new series is about how important it is for adults to be quiet,” Pastor Cameron said. The church provides coloring pages, colored pencils and soft music; people can drop in for a couple of hours. The lay leader provides a devotional people can think about and pray over while they color.
“People are excited about what their pictures look like,” Pastor Cameron said; she has one member who now colors every night. People also share their coloring pages at church on Sunday. She used one woman’s coloring page as a bulletin cover.
Pastor Cameron admits that coloring before a meeting can “put her in a good mood.”
“They love it,” she said of people’s reaction to the new ministries. “I haven’t heard anything negative.”
As for what the churches will be doing in the future, Pastor Cameron said she’s “waiting for the next vision from God,” and she’s eager to see what it will be.