Community of Christ, Washington
by Larry McQuire (President of Seventy)
Originally Published: Herald Magazine
Jesus proclaimed his mission in Luke 4:18–19, and in Acts 1:6–8 he handed it to a community of believers as its transforming mission.
Washington Congregation in Indiana is such a community. It’s famed for its Watermelon Festival, which serves the community and congregations in the Kentucky-Indiana USA Mission Center.
However, after years of service, active membership had begun to decline. Questions surfaced about how long the congregation could provide ministry. In 2006, Evangelist Robert Rugg and High Priest Donald Maymon began helping the congregation engage in discerning God’s will. The journey helped members celebrate their faithful past and provided opportunities to seek God’s desire for their future.
As part of that journey, the congregation prepared to receive an evangelist blessing. Members shared in faithful expectation for their future and received the blessing. The event was meaningful for the congregation and those leading the process. Participants committed themselves to doing whatever it took to accomplish the mission they would receive. And they waited….
THE CHURCH building sits several miles outside town on the family property of the pastor, who also serves as the sheriff of Daviess County. Jerry Harbstreit grew up attending the congregation and has seen many changes in the church and his community.
Ed Sellers, a professional counselor, former pastor, and active congregation member, also saw the changes. He hoped something would happen through the efforts to discern a focus of mission.
Several other key congregation members also were anxious because the small congregation feared it had a limited future. And they waited.…
AS SHERIFF, Jerry encounters people in distress. Often, their actions put others in distress. He continued to see an increase in the inmate population of people addicted to drugs, especially meth and alcohol. Multiple offenders and generations of addicts hurt the community. Jerry, Ed, and other community leaders knew something needed to be done.
In 2004, a new initiative began at the jail called Resisting Addiction and Recovery Eduation (RARE). It’s an avenue for inmates to address serious issues of addiction and decision-making with a goal of living lives of recovery every day by confronting and restructuring their thinking. It is not simply a classroom program; it’s a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day experience of education, treatment, and mutual accountability.
Billy Wagler was one of the first inmates in this program. He turned the corner of addiction and began to work in Bible study outreach in the jail. He worked on a road crew with other inmates. Jerry and Billy talked about a different way of life. He was released in 2012, and his testimony and transformation witnessed to many in the program and community. As a result, increasing numbers of inmates joined RARE.
And the community began to transform
I HAD VISITED the Watermelon Festival in 1994 as my first “official” assignment as an appointee minister. When I returned in 2012, it wasn’t just members from the local congregations who joined in worship. Eighteen inmates from the Daviess County Jail were there, too. Nothing would be the same again.
In January 2013, RARE began reaching into the community, where family members of inmates come to join in the training and journey of recovery. I had the privilege of being there in September 2013, when 66 people were in attendance.
It’s now a support group, relapse-prevention, and Bible-study session—all in one. Brian Patterson was a meth addict for 20 years. Now, as a Community of Christ member, he’s leading the session. It all started with the witness of Billy Wagler and the tremendous support he received from Jerry, Ed, and other church members.
In the last year, the stories of transformation of people and the community have been overwhelming. Lives are being changed in such a radical way that one article could never capture what’s been happening.
Every week, inmates, their families, people from the community, and congregation members gather for study as part of RARE. The mighty acts of God continue to amaze and transform people.
During one study session, a man came up from his cell pod, carrying a letter he’d received that day. It welcomed him to Community of Christ. With tears of joy and thanksgiving he shared with the other inmates and friends, “I’m part of a family, and they want me!”
SO THIS SMALL congregation—with seemingly limited capacity—discerned and waited. Now it’s seizing an enormous opportunity.
In August, during the annual Watermelon Festival—held under a huge tent because more than 200 people attended—another amazing experience happened. Twenty-nine people were baptized. Nineteen were confirmed, with the others working to complete preparation for confirmation. We then confirmed two who had been baptized in another faith but chose to become Community of Christ members.
Before the baptisms we shared in the blessing of two children.
After this amazing worship service, the evangelist who worked with the congregation on its discernment process talked with new members about the opportunity of an evangelist blessing. God’s Spirit was in abundance.
The evangelist, a high priest, and a small group of people all had put their hearts into ministry that brings Christ’s love to people—many of whom were facing huge challenges. Now, they find the amazing power of the Holy Spirit at work in them as they share together.
God wants to guide, gift, and empower your work as much as theirs.
They had waited…but now, something’s happening!