Realizing a dream for revitalized ministry in Braintree

December 11, 2019

From left: Claudia Verge, Joziane Mendes and Rev. Carol Stine

Joziane Mendes had a dream about a church that she felt God was calling her to seek out. Claudia Verge was looking for a sign from God about what to do next. At the same time, Heritage United Methodist Church was praying for a way to revitalize its ministry. 

All three received the same answer: Be part of a multicultural ministry in Braintree, MA. 

Rev. Carol Stine, a retired elder, was appointed to Heritage UMC beginning July 1, 2019. 

“There were 10 people total,” she said. “Those 10 people were doing all the work.”

Heritage UMC members were talking about ways to reach out to the Braintree community – maybe even going door to door – when Verge and Mendes came to the church’s door instead and began infusing new life into the congregation. 

The women, who are Brazilian, know each other from the clergy candidacy process and New Family UMC in Weymouth, MA, but had not planned to do ministry together. 

Still, both were seeking something, and they say they found it at Heritage.

“I had a dream that I was in a different church,” said Mendes with Verge translating. “I didn’t understand it, because I was good where I was; everything was good, so I let the dream go by.”

Then Mendes took part in the First 12 training conducted by Conference Director of Congregational Development Rick McKinley. First 12 is a two-day training event designed to help planters gather and grow the first 12 core people for a new ministry, church, or faith community.

During the training, Rev. McKinley was talking about local churches that are struggling with aging membership and few young people or children. 

“At that moment my heart started burning; it was a weird sensation,” Mendes said. “In English I said, ‘I’m here. I will.’”

Rev. McKinley suggested that she visit some area churches as she sought God’s direction.
At the same time, Verge was also looking for something. She wasn’t as interested in her work as she had been and felt a bit lost. 

Verge’s husband is American. “My kids’ main language is English, so for me it’s always been a very, very hard conflict with that,” Verge said of worshipping only in Portuguese. “I started praying to God [to figure out] what’s going on.”

Verge spoke with Rev. Stine and came to a worship service at Heritage. 

“Her preaching was exactly what I was looking for,” Verge said. “It was straight from God; it was heavenly, and I started crying.”

Mendes, on the other hand, knew she was in the right place without even going inside. 

Driving past Heritage, she turned around to check the time of the service. When she drove up the driveway to the back of the building, she said, “Oh my God. This is the building in my dream.”

“From that point, I started praying,” she said. “I came and spoke with the pastor, saying ‘I’m feeling that I have to stay here; I feel I need to help.’” 

The goal at Heritage, the three women say, is not to have two congregations worshiping in different languages, but to have a truly multicultural congregation that worships together on Sunday. 

Along with the new Brazilian members, there are member from Nigeria and Uganda. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, when Rev. Stine baptized the baby daughter of a Nigerian family there were 72 in worship; there are regularly 35 to 50. 

“I am a big believer that we, as immigrants – and this is what God told me a long time ago – that we came here to give birth to our kids; to have our kids here to revive this region again,” Verge said. “We came with our faith. We raise our kids in the faith, but our kids are American-born and they’re gonna bring that faith back.” 

The church’s transformation hasn’t been without some challenges – the Anglo members of the church are now the minority, and that is not a familiar feeling, Rev. Stine said, and the church is asking itself “How do we make this work?”

“I don’t know what models are out there, because this is different,” said Rev. Stine, who has not led a multicultural congregation before. “[We’re not] starting a Portuguese-speaking church. We’re – I’m not quite sure what we’re doing …

“We just know God is in this, that’s all,” Verge said.  

Verge credits Rev. Stine’s leadership in bringing the cultures together. 

“I think the pastor has been very wise,” Verge said. “I feel God brought me here to learn a lot from her. She’s able to balance both cultures without diminishing either of them but making them together. … That’s wise. It’s not taking sides or making one better. It’s ‘we are here together. We are one church.’” 

“I feel very strongly that God brought me here not just to help them, but to learn from her for my own future ministry,” Verge said.

Of course, the church also faces the same issues that many other local churches are grappling with – such as an aging boiler and how to better engage with their community. Oh, and there’s the problem of how to accommodate all the youth … 

“We have about 50 children,” Verge said, adding that 13 teenagers were at church the week before.

The three were talking about finding space and supervision to accommodate them all. 

“It’s a good problem to have,” Rev. Stine said. 

While Heritage may not have its path fully mapped out, Rev. Stine knows the next steps will have to lead outward. 

“It has to be outside this building,” she said. “We come here to worship, to learn, to pray, to meet Christ, but then we have to take it out to the streets — otherwise we’re not engaged in the ministry.”

“For John Wesley it was the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and we have to be engaged in mission out there, not just in here,” said Rev. Stine, who added that their surrounding community has also become increasingly diverse. “So together, we have to find what it is that is critical to the people living in this area where we can share God’s love together as a multicultural group dealing with multicultural groups out there.”

Verge shared her vision, saying, “I believe it’s going to be multicultural – but a service that has instruments and a lot of kids – it doesn’t matter if it’s English, Portuguese, Spanish, whatever – but it’s going to be alive.”  
Rev. Stine gives the children's message during worship on Nov. 17, 2019.