What a wild and wonderful month we had in January! The heart of this congregation has shone so brightly – and for that, I give God great thanks.
One way our heart was revealed was through hosting Abraham’s Tent. For a week, our church building was transformed into a safe haven for neighbors to be filled and to rest. Many thanks to Brian Gray for leading us in this missional experience – while it is Christ who calls us to service, Brian helped us all find special ways to ensure the well-being of our neighbors and guided us each step of the way. From grocery shopping to greeting guests daily; from preparing meals to tidying spaces; from organizing church members to spending the night – we came together as a community to care for God’s people. Though we anxiously await the day when homelessness is a thing of the past, the heart of this congregation shone brightly as the opportunity to steward our gifts for the well-being of God’s people arose.
And, while we hosted Abraham’s Tent, the heart of this congregation also shone brightly as we began to engage with the Church of the Redeemer. To give a little recap for those who were not able to join us in person over the last couple of weeks, our neighbors at the UCC Church of the Redeemer have been and are engaged in a longstanding process of discernment about their church’s future. Over the last couple of months, their interim pastor, Susan Murtha, has led them through “Next Steps” conversations wherein she presented the congregation with the image of a highway, lanes which represent opportunities that lead to life-giving and God-glorifying ministry. After recognizing marked similarities in the worship, mission, and congregational life of Redeemer and First Pres., Pastor Susan suggested the possibility of joining First Pres as one of the lanes available to them.
On January 14, our congregation gathered after worship to discuss Pastor Susan Murtha’s bold proposal. Questions were raised. Hopes were shared. Compassion was expressed. And, of course, reminders of caution were voiced. As I listened, I took heart as much of what was shared in our congregational dialogue was and is shared around the Session table – a sign that we’re on the same page. While it is wise to be cautious of pitfalls and to be mindful of hardships, we, as a whole community, desire to share our faith, to practice radical hospitality, and to prayerfully say “Yes!” to the Spirit at work in our community. For this, I give God thanks.
And so, on Sunday, January 21, we introduced ourselves to our neighbors and had at least 175 souls in worship – 88 of them were visitors. Not all of our visitors were from Redeemer, but most were. The sanctuary was filled – yet there was still room for more. Our hymns were full and harmonized beautifully. Our prayers were lifted powerfully together. The Word spoke to us meaningfully. Connections were made among neighbors and old acquaintances. Aside from a few extra ushers to help folks find seats, the worship service was a typical service of worship for First – and, like always, the Spirit moved among us. Also, the cookies – we had delicious cookies galore!
From this point on, the Redeemer congregation has a lot of discernment work to do. I invite you to join me in praying for them – that the Spirit of Wisdom and Life be among them and guide them with tenderness and joy through their next steps.
As for us – we have an opportunity to draw our attention to the ministries we live into here at First Pres and consider the ways in which we engage. I encourage you to pray about how you want to be involved in the life of First Pres. and how you are called to serve. And then, tell someone sitting beside you in the pew – after all, after the pew pad is passed in worship, they’ll know your name. They might as well know your passion too!