This journey of discernment that we are on is not just about our own personal lives of faith, but also the life of our congregation.
One of the other things that my General Assembly committee did last week, that I am sure no other GA committee has done before, was to go on a field trip to visit with two local congregations who are growing both deep and wide in the Minneapolis area.
First we drove out to the suburbs to visit Christ Presbyterian Church, which has a total membership of over 5000, 9 pastors on staff and at least 1000 youth participating weekly in programs with a budget of 14 million dollars. As we walked into the building the 55 members of our committee were more than impressed with their beautiful facility and the thoughtful and perfectly timed presentation given to us by their pastor of over 20 years and two of his colleagues. They loved it. And I have to be honest that I enjoyed it as much as the rest of them. I honestly took pictures of their bulletin boards to be able to show Jamie when he is back from vacation, and I grabbed as many of their very glossy brochures in the lobby for each specialized ministry in which they are engaged as I could without looking too suspicious.
At the end of the presentation several people asked the pastor if they could go into the newly renovated sanctuary, and I was so pleased with his answer. He told them that they were welcome to go and check it out, but that it really is only a room…that the heart of who they are happens outside those walls. Clearly by almost anyone’s measure this congregation was blessed in their ministry.
Then we drove back into the city, to Kwanza Presbyterian Church in urban Minneapolis. As we drove into the neighborhood and up to the church, I could hear people in the bus around me commenting that this was going to be a totally different experience. We walked into the building over beautiful art that had been painted on the church sidewalks, past bulletin boards that needed quite a bit of updating, through the unairconditioned sanctuary into a small meeting room at the back. The pastor was a little late and he had no power point slides to show us, but he talked to us about the growth that they are experiencing and the ways that they are touching lives in the community. Of their 225 members 33 of them joined in the past year. Even though their annual giving is under 250,000 a year, they are engaged in compelling work in cooperation with other local organizations. This includes starting a women’s center for women trapped in the sex trades in cooperation with the University of Minnesota, and an urban community garden in the vacant lot next to the church in cooperation with the Science Museum of Minnesota.
He told us compelling stories about how their congregation was vital to their community. Certainly as well, maybe even more so as they struggle to help those who have been pushed to the very bottom of the community, this group of believers was blessed by God in their work together.
We have the same kind of complicated expectations when we think about what it means to be blessed as a congregation…blessed is the church with no typos in its newsletter, blessed is the church with the very charismatic pastor, blessed is the church with the most children in its Sunday school, blessed is the church with the most beautiful sanctuary, blessed is the church with the most organized committees.
It would be my hope that by using these words of Christ to discern God’s call for our congregation, we might try to count our blessings in unusual, maybe upside down ways.
I have shared that the work that I did at GA was unlike anything a committee of theirs had done before, and as we move forward in our work on this journey that we call our stepping stones you are going to hear that kind of thing a lot- that we want to go about being in ministry in different ways than we might have ever done before. That might make you a little anxious, and it probably should. I’ll remind you that Jesus was all about making people a little anxious and turning things on their heads…blessings and all.
As we count our blessings and seek new ways to be present in this community as a community, may we be merciful to one another, may we hunger for the call that God has for us, and may we trust in the presence of Christ to guide us on this journey.