On Sunday, December 13, the Winnetka Congregational Church celebrates what church officials say will be its 100th Christmas Pageant.
The pageant will take place during the 10 a.m. worship service, in what has become, according to pageant coordinator Elaine Clemens, the most “beloved tradition of our church.”
“There is no other event that our youth and families look forward to as they do this pageant, which represents an opportunity for us to tell the Christmas story through the children of the church,” said Clemens, who has directed the pageant since 2008.
While the pageant includes seasonal music, beloved Christmas carols, and elaborate costumes, church representatives say it originally was based on “The Adoration of the Kings and Shepherds,” a script written by Mildred Emily Cook in 1922.
Program directors have come and gone over the years – adding ideas to the pageant’s presentation. Officials said a contemporary revision was undertaken in 2006. The pageant also was moved from the late afternoon to morning service.
But church representatives said perhaps the most dramatic change has been in the growth of the number of participants. Church records show a humble beginning in 1915 that has transformed into a grand 2015 program showcasing up to 100 children, ages 4 to 18, expected to perform in this year’s pageant.
For some, like church member Betty Carbol of Lake Forest, this is a generational celebration.
“I started singing in the pageant with the children’s chapel choir when I was 10 and never stopped,” said Carbol, 80. “Our son was a gift-bearer at 3, dragged out a fainted shepherd when he was in junior high and went on to be Joseph when he was in high school. Our grandson was a villager last year. So the pageant is part of our family.”
Elizabeth Woodburn of Winnetka, who played Mary in 2013 and is now a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said while, “plenty of churches have annual Christmas pageants, not many have one that spans preschool through senior year of high school.”
Woodburn said she has played a villager, shepherd, Gabriel and more over her 12 years of involvement. She said it’s not an uncommon experience.
“Children move up through the years, from sheep to villager to Magi attendant in elementary school, shepherd to angel in junior high, then to Gabriel and Kings/Queens in high school, and finally to become Mary or Joseph their senior year,” she said.
Woodburn recalled how as a younger child, she idolized the high-school students playing the roles of a king, Joseph or Mary. The pinnacle for her, she said, was taking the lead as Mary, aware then that all the younger kids were looking up to her.
At the church, all youngsters are encouraged to participate – and if they don’t want to be in the pageant, then perhaps they might play a trumpet fanfare or sing a solo.
According to the senior pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun, who joined the church in September, “this pageant is quite clearly the micro-expression of the larger sense of community at WCC. It has become integral to our experience of Advent.”
This 100th-anniversary celebration this year will honor the pageant’s history by including three anthems performed in the past. Pageant coordinators also will use as a template for the 2015 pageant bulletin the one used for the pageant bulletin in 1926. Many new costumes are also being created this year, church officials said.
“An anniversary like this one,” Braun said, “often brings into consciousness the deep ongoing connections that we are rooted in — revealing the celebratory quality and making us aware of how joined we are as a church.”
Gina Grillo is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.
Winnetka Congregational Church puts faith into action with Kids Against Hunger.
By WINNETKA CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH (Open Post)
November 19, 2015
Winnetka, IL – On Sunday, November 15, over 100 members of Winnetka Congregational Church gathered in the congregation’s activities center, Alsdorf Hall, to assemble and pack 21,000 meals for hungry children and their families in Nicaragua. This outreach, or “Mission Doing”, event was done in concert with Kids Against Hunger, a non-profit agency working to relieve hunger for children and their families both in the United States and Nicaragua.
The event on November 15 is part of an ongoing series. Each year, Winnetka Congregational Church designates a special Sunday, aptly entitled Jesus Has Left the Sanctuary, when the congregation arrives for an abbreviated worship service and, then, heads out for a hands-on service project.
Assembling the 21,000 measured and vacuum-packed meals for hungry children in Nicaragua was the third Jesus Has Left the Sanctuary event. As with the first two, this event was designed so that everyone could join in, regardless of age or ability level. Upon entering Alsdorf Hall, every participant, from age eight to 88, was given a hair-net (very fashionable!), assigned to one of the 11 assembly stations, and provided instructions about how to assemble and box the meal bags at each station. Children too young to help at the tables pitched in by coloring stickers marked, “Sent With Love”, which were attached to the food boxes.
The event was an uplifting blend of fun and function, of levity and laser-focus. In the numbing aftermath of recent events in Chicago and Paris (namely, Tyshawn Lee’s murder and the terrorist attacks), the pervading sense in Alsdorf Hall was that everyone was grateful for the ability to come together and to make a positive difference in the world. As one participant remarked, “Being literally elbow to elbow with so many other like-minded folks, both young and old, inspired a sense of prayerful purpose and comfort.”
As longtime church member Harry Grace described it: “We all felt so incredibly connected in our work, and you could feel God’s love alive in the room.” The positive spirit was not only palpable―it was audible. When a given station of hair-netted volunteers had vacuum-sealed enough meals to fill one of the many packing boxes, a spirited cheer would break forth. Not surprisingly, there was friendly competition between stations about who was assembling faster. And yet, as one team would develop a way to pack the meals with greater precision or efficiency, that team would gladly share their engineering insight with the other stations so that everyone could benefit.
“As Christians and, more broadly, as children of God of whatever tradition,” reflected Senior Pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey Braun, “we are never better, never more alive in our faith than when we are working together to serve our sisters and brothers of the world; never better than when we harness our wills and our resources (be they time, talent, or treasure, or all of the above) for the common weal and so as to build up God’s beloved community. Events such as Jesus Has Left the Sanctuary empower us to do exactly that: to reach beyond ourselves so as to connect with God, with others, and with our truest selves – and all in God’s name and for God’s glory.”
Winnetka Congregational Church’s Mission Doing Committee, headed by Patti Van Cleave and Laurie Morse, organized this event. Winnetka Congregational Church has a strong mission and outreach program. The church gives 10% of its annual operating budget back to the community through grants to non-profits that address basic human needs. Another $200,000 is disbursed annually by Winnetka Congregational Church’s Benevolence Committee to support area non-profits serving women and children, with those monies coming from Winnetka Congregational Church’s Woman’s Society’s Annual Rummage Sale.
All are welcome to attend worship at Winnetka Congregational Church on Sundays at 10 A.M., as well as the myriad cultural and community events that Winnetka Congregational Church hosts throughout the year.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Winnetka, IL – The Executive Committee of Winnetka Congregational Church (WCC) is pleased to announce that the Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun has joined the church as Senior Pastor, effective with the unanimous vote of the Search Committee and Church Council. At a special meeting on September 13, 2015, the members of WCC affirmed this Call. Pastor Braun and his family arrived in time to celebrate World Communion service on Sunday October 4.
Pastor Braun brings over eleven years of ministry with extensive experience cultivating dynamic worship, community outreach, pastoral care, and programming, including special musical events, lecturers, and youth services. Pastor Braun’s proven passion is collaborating closely with both lay leadership and staff to ensure that church is a welcoming community that meets people where they are, that engages their God-given gifts, and that is willing to move―boldly yet humbly―beyond the walls that can all too often divide us as brothers and sisters of the world.
In his first sermon to the congregation on September 13, 2015, Pastor Braun shared how moving the search process was for him, as well as his sense of God’s Call to be the next senior pastor at Winnetka Congregational Church. He is delighted to be part of WCC and the greater Winnetka/North Shore community. “There is a brightness of mind and an openness of heart, both in Winnetka Congregational Church and in the greater community of which the church is a part,” reflected the Rev. Braun. “From my very first phone call with the co-chairs of the Senior Pastor Search Committee, all the way through to my first Sunday here, the warmth, inspiration, and intentionality of this congregation have moved me. My family and I feel blessed to be here and to join a faith family that seeks, with such passion and proactivity, to address the needs of the world in a way that both reveals and cultivates our common ground as human beings, as children of God.”
Prior to joining WCC, Rev. Braun served for six-and-a-half years as Senior Minister and head of staff at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Cheshire, CT. Prior to that, the Rev. Braun was Associate Minister with The First Church of Christ Congregational, United Church of Christ, in Redding, CT. The first ten years of his professional life were in marketing and advertising, where he consulted to Fortune 500 companies and other businesses. As the Rev. Braun has often noted, “The combination of my time in the business world and the challenge of seeking a life-path that would better match my passions have proven invaluable to my ministry, in general, and to my ability to relate to the professional and personal challenges facing my congregants, in particular.”
The Rev. Braun received his Bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric (with Honors) from Bates College, and his Master of Divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School. Pastor Braun was awarded Yale Divinity School’s distinguished Tweedy Prize, the highest honor bestowed to a graduate, which recognizes exceptional promise for pastoral leadership.
From 2005 through 2015, Pastor Braun served as an adjunct member of the Yale Divinity School faculty, helping to teach a core pastoral care course. The Rev. Braun has served on Yale Divinity School’s Dean’s Advisory Council since 2005, and he served on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ from 2013-2015.
All are welcome to attend worship on Sundays at 10 A.M., as well as the myriad cultural and community events that Winnetka Congregational Church hosts throughout the year.
About Winnetka Congregational Church
In accordance with our belief, Winnetka Congregational Church is a house of worship that welcomes all people. As such, the diversity of our membership is a reflection of the complexity and variety of each individual’s life path and faith journey. While we impose no particular vision of faith, we encourage personal growth in the Christian life. Together, we strive to be a force for kindness and good in the local community and the world.
Winnetka Congregational Church believes that our purpose is to change lives by following the teaching and life of Jesus Christ with peace and courage; and to weave the grace of God into the fabric of our relationships and the world.
WCC welcomes the community to attend worship in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings at 10am.
<end of release>
For more information, please contact:
Clerk of the Congregation
Minister search firms play matchmakers for pastors, churches
On Sept. 13, Winnetka Congregational Church is scheduled to affirm its new senior pastor, Jeffrey Braun, who is expected to begin leading the 141-year-old institution a few weeks later.
Braun came from a church about 900 miles away in Connecticut, and he wasn’t looking for a job when the North Shore church went searching.
A minister headhunter delivered him.
“It became clear to me that he really knew what he was doing,” said LeAnn Pope, who helped lead the church’s search committee, about William Vanderbloemen, CEO of the pastoral search firm that bears his name. “We’re ecstatic about Pastor Braun. I think he’s going to be a fabulous fit.”
When Minister Search, considered the first pastoral headhunting firm, began in 2001, founder David Lyons didn’t land a single client his first year. In recent years, he said, his firm places 30 to 50 ministers annually.
Vanderbloemen said his firm, which launched in 2010, has experienced annual growth of 50 percent in placements and revenue in recent years and has completed 753 successful job searches in that time. Other search firms report similarly brisk business.
“It makes sense,” said Scott Thumma, director of Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who has written extensively about nondenominational congregations. He said pastor search firms are particularly logical approaches for nondenominational churches, which typically lack a hierarchical organization to assign pastors or help with vacancies.
It is a practice that has taken hold among nondenominational churches in the Chicago area. Moody Church in Chicago is using a search firm to find a successor for its senior pastor, Erwin Lutzer, who is retiring. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington found a campus pastor through a search firm. And, Grace Baptist Church in east-central Mahomet used one to find its senior pastor, who later tapped the same firm to find a youth pastor.
Placing ministers with churches involves “a ton more variables” than corporate recruiting, said Greg Allen, president of the Shepherd’s Staff, based in Dallas. Candidate and church must align theologically and on issues such as politics, homosexuality, even alcohol consumption, search executives say.
For recruiters, it’s lower-paying than corporate work but also more fulfilling for many.
“I really believe that my role isn’t to be a headhunter but to be a heart hunter,” said Rob Lauer, president of Agora, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is working with Moody Church to find its senior pastor.
Winnetka Congregational is a “lay-led, nondenominational Protestant church” with about 800 “very pragmatic” members that was established in 1874, Pope said. When its pastor, Joseph Shank, retired in June 2014 after more than two decades, search committee members thought they might find a corporate recruiter who could help fill the position, Pope said.
Committee members had no idea minister search firms existed, she said. Then they found Vanderbloemen, who had served as a minister for about 15 years and worked in executive recruiting. He combined those experiences to form Houston-based Vanderbloemen Search Group. One of his previous clients is Willow Creek Community Church.
His company signed a contract with Winnetka Congregational Church in October and delivered a final slate of candidates to the search committee in March, Pope said. Braun signed a contract in late July, she added.
The firm starts the minister search process in a number of ways, but leads typically come from churchstaffing.com, an online clearinghouse of church-related job openings and job hunters. Firms also market their services to churches and pastors, regardless of whether they are in the job market.
A search firm usually makes a weekend visit to the church to assess its needs, while prospective candidates complete detailed questionnaires and are vetted by the firm. One company makes sure a candidate and a church align on upward of 150 topics before an interview is scheduled.
Search firms charge churches about one-third the compensation of the minister job they are helping to fill, firm executives said. Those salaries often fall between $75,000 and $125,000, which yields a fee of $25,000 to about $42,000 per search.
The Rev. Andrew Powell appreciates the effectiveness of pastoral search firms. Minister Search brought him to the attention of Grace in Mahomet, which hired him as senior pastor in 2012.
The preliminary review was so thorough, Powell said, that he and church leaders were able to “get the jargon and Christian-ese out of the way” and discuss core concepts to determine if he and the church were suited for each other.
When Grace needed a student pastor, the church again used Minister Search, which brought them a candidate the church hired in January. It didn’t work out, and Grace is using Minister Search to find a new student pastor — at no charge.
Although the number of churches using search firms is growing and expected to continue to do so, the practice can ruffle the feathers of some flocks. Some church leaders view the companies as an inappropriate corporate encroachment in the spiritual realm, a business practice for a journey that should be led exclusively by prayer and trust in a higher power.
Lyons, of Minister Search, recalled a church official telling him pastor search firms were “with the devil.”
He and others who run the firms said they are doing God’s work. They noted that seminaries don’t teach hiring practices or career management, and that church search committees almost always are composed of volunteers who lack skills to find and interview qualified candidates.
Furthermore, pastor search executives said, churches use outside businesses for investments, real estate issues, legal questions, building renovations and construction. Pastor recruiting is another example of tapping independent expertise.
William Bertsche, Moody’s executive pastor, said he and the seven-member search committee are “in no way trying to put the Holy Spirit out of a job. Prayer is built into the process. It goes hand in hand, just trusting the Lord with it.”
Braun, who is expected to preach when he visits Winnetka Congregational Church on Sept. 13, said Vanderbloemen’s firm brought “a clarity and yet prayerful energy” to his odyssey.
“These are not businesspeople who have spelunked into the church realm,” Braun said. “These are church people who understand what churches need and what pastors need.”
He should know. Before enrolling in Yale Divinity School, Braun spent nearly a decade in advertising and marketing.