Fostering Imagination: Building the Resilient Church

A Small Church Leadership Community for Northern New England churches

We are no longer accepting applications for this program. 

Two years into a global pandemic, having lived through a season of tremendous disruption and uncertainty and loss, and facing the urgent crises of our world, many congregations are feeling a collective sense of weariness and disorientation. At nearly every level of society, change is stirring — accelerating change, traumatic change, complex change that requires transformative leadership** — and faith communities are trying to find their bearings.

In times of dramatic change, small congregations can respond in two ways: they can become more rigid, holding tight to status quo — a path that often leads to burnout, decline, and death; or they can step into the changing realities with curiosity and faith, adopt practices that nurture resilience, and embrace imaginative possibilities.

Both pathways are possible, but choosing the way of imagination requires intentionality, because in times of anxiety, stress, and fear, our imaginative capacity can be diminished and difficult to access. As author, innovator, and environmental activist Rob Hopkins has noted, “We are living in a time of imaginative decline at the very time in history when we need to be at our most imaginative.”

Beginning in spring 2022, and continuing through the fall, The BTS Center has convened a Small Church Leadership Community that calls together teams from small churches in Northern New England, with the intention of exploring practices that nurture spiritual and ecological imagination within congregational life. 
Through shared reading and exploration, twice-monthly Zoom gatherings, participation in The BTS Center’s Convocation in early October, and engagement with intentional practices designed to inspire hearts and minds, congregational teams are stretching their imagination muscles and stepping into the future with imaginative abundance and deeper resilience.

** We are grateful for the work of Susanne C. Moser, PhD, a social science researcher, writer, and leader in climate adaptation conversations, who has written extensively on this topic in her essay “The Adaptive Mind” (published in the collection All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elisabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson) and elsewhere. Learn more at

Participating churches  

Meet the facilitators of the program

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill joined The BTS Center as its Executive Director in July 2019, following 20 years of local church ministry. A Maine native, ordained in the United Methodist tradition, Allen most recently served as the co-pastor (with his wife, Rev. Sara Ewing-Merrill) of HopeGateWay in Portland. Having been raised in a small church in midcoast Maine, and having served congregations of various sizes in rural, suburban, and urban contexts, Allen brings a particular love for small congregations and an interest in helping them live into the best version of themselves. A graduate of the University of Maine and of Boston University School of Theology, Allen is continuing his studies in a Doctor of Ministry program through Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. He previously served as pastor of First United Methodist Church of Hudson, MA and as founding Executive Director of Hope Acts, a nonprofit focusing on housing asylum seekers and helping immigrants succeed. Before seminary, Allen taught high school English at two Maine high schools. Allen has extensive experience in advocacy, direct action, and faith-based organizing around issues of justice and equity. In addition, he is deeply engaged in conversations about progressive Christianity, about faithful responses to the climate crisis, and about the future of the church. Allen lives in Portland with his spouse, Sara, and they are the parents of three daughters.

Rev. Doretta Colburn

Rev. Doretta Colburn is a pastor, farmer, bread baker, writer, grandmother, and co-founder of Climate Conversations: What Can WE Do? sparking dialogue and collective responses to environmental justice and climate action. She has served as a local pastor in the United Church of Christ since 1994, both in Connecticut and Maine, and is currently serving the Waterford Congregational Church, UCC in Waterford, Maine, where she and her husband live on the family farm growing organic produce, raising a small flock of laying hens and a small herd of bison. Doretta’s sense of social responsibility and passion for people and the environment grew out of a childhood steeped in outdoor exploration through hiking, canoeing, and camping close to home and throughout the country. Influenced by her love for the natural world, she became a science teacher with a strong focus on environmental education and later received her MDiv from Yale Divinity School seeing an inseparable bond between spirituality and the health of the environment. While Doretta continues to put this into action through her church ministry, along with work on the Public Policy Committee of the Maine Council of Churches and with the Environmental Priorities Coalition of Maine, her inspiration is regularly reinforced by predawn walks around the farm with her dog and working among their food forest of gardens, berry patches, and orchards.