Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Journey vs. destination

Last month, our Vision Team began working on a mission statement for The Well. There were many things that we felt spoke to who we are and to who we want to become as a church. In describing the core practices that help us fulfill our mission, we described ourselves as:
"Journeying: We are fellow-travellers who are seeking to follow Christ in the midst of our daily lives. We acknowledge that none of us has arrived, that we have much to learn, and that for us, church is journey, not destination."
I think that for so many of us, church has become a place where we arrive - a building, a program, a place to have everything make sense. Church as destination makes church a one time event, an occasion, and our one opportunity to connect with God. Church as a journey turns our gatherings into stops along the way, but make the other moments on the way no less precious and no less important. Church becomes something that we are a part of, something that goes with us. We do not arrive at church, we are the church wherever we go as Christ followers.

As we traveled to Atlanta this weekend, I was reflecting on this idea. A group of us partnered to help Edgewood Church do some work around their building, and to hear more about their experience starting a church in an urban neighborhood. I knew the building needed some work, but must admit I was a little surprised at the amount of work that will need to take place. There was no flooring yet, many rooms had damaged windows, and there were several puddles of water that had come from who knows where. There was a lot to be done, but the church was not waiting for the work to be completed; they had already begun occupying the space.

The next morning as we arrived for worship, I did not notice the building's problems. What I did notice was the warm welcome, the sincerity of the worship, the genuine hospitality and the sense of community. This church was not waiting until things are all in place to begin being church, and I think I know why. For Edgewood Church, there is no need to wait because church is not about having it all together, it's about being a community of Christ followers in the midst of our messy lives. If we wait until we have the perfect building, the right words to say, until everything runs smoothly, until we have the answers and know exactly where we're headed, we miss out on the truly important ways that we are called to follow Christ together. We are so focused on arriving somewhere that we fail to see the beauty that's all around us.

I saw the beauty this weekend. We went to Atlanta to learn more about church starting, but church happened on the journey. I saw it as my sister in Christ, Faith Buan, worshiped in a way that was meaningful to her. I saw it as Nathan, one of pastors of Edgewood Church, gave a man in his congregation an opportunity earn an income. I heard it in conversations where personal stories were shared and as strangers became friends. Church is journey, not destination - we do not leave it on Sundays, it goes with us and continues to shape, challenge, encourage, and strengthen us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reflections on Relay for Life

Last weekend, our faith community participated in the Springfield/Urban Core Relay for Life (RFL)through the American Cancer Society. I expected it to be a meaningful time of participation in an important cause, but I had no idea what was in store. As the Luminaria Chair, I spent much of the day directing people to remember their loved ones who've battled cancer by placing candle-lit bags in their honor. It was a moving experience. People could not write the name of their loved one without reflecting on the significance of their lives. There were tears shed, stories told and memories rekindled. It was as if seeing the name of that brother, sister, friend, husband, or wife opened the way to express some unspoken emotion that was just below the surface.

The occasion of RFL was an opportunity to reveal what lies just below the surface for each of us - the knowledge that we are all vulnerable to disease and death, the truth that we all walk around with unspoken pain and grief, and the reality that life is precious and to be lived to the fullest. It was also a reminder of the powerful help and healing that comes from surrounding ourselves by a community of people that believe things should be different. Together, we saw a day when there would be no more cancer-realted suffering, and it was a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

There is no way I can do this!

I remember sitting in the office of a friend in ministry six months ago when she looked me in the eye and said, "You know, Susan, there is no way you can do this...only God is capable of doing something this grand." In my cynicism (not really appreciating her direct tone) and my mounting to-do-list, I quickly moved on to the next conversation of the day, but her words lingered with me.

Last night as I arrived at my daughter's girl scout dinner carrying my half-baked mac-n-cheese, wearing stained pants, and accompanied by my pouting 7 year-old, I was reminded of her words. Just an hour before arriving at the dinner, I had realized I had underestimated the time it would take to do all I needed to do in the next hour. I rushed at a record breaking pace, throwing ingredients in a dish, even breaking a plate along the way, but somehow we managed to make it there on time. I was a mess ... and to be honest, I am a mess most days. I forget things, don't get near enough sleep, realize my children have nothing to wear to school because I have not washed clothes yet, clean well only when we're having company (sorry, honey!), and I could go on. I'm a mess.

I want to make a confession. So, here I go: There is no way I can start a church. My friend was right. I cannot pretend any longer that I have the leadership skills, the experience, the education, the creativity, the perseverance, the patience, or the ability to multi-task a billion-and-one things. If this is going to happen, I will have to get out of the way and make space for something much more powerful, much more creative, much more patient, more experienced and more persistent to bring this into being.

My friend's words have lingered because I need to remember them. I need to confess my inadequacies, to remind myself and those around me that what God wants to bring into being is far greater than our abilities. When I try to manage and manipulate it into existence, I end up exhausted and ineffective. When I remember that it is God that is capable and God that has called me, I am free to show up with my half-baked casserole and enjoy the meal anyway. It was never about me in the first place.

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks to the village!

I love being a mom and there are a million reasons why, but I was reminded of one this week: I love being able to watch my girls express their sense of wonder and imagination on a daily basis. I never know what they are going to do or say, which sometimes can be a scary thing! Most of the time, however, they serve to remind me of what's important and what deserves my attention.

It caught my attention that my youngest daughter has been making a collection of used name tags after our faith community gatherings each week. I'm still not sure why she does this, but she keeps the name tags posted on the car door next to her (trust me, I've asked her). I want to make all kinds of theological assumptions like...her faith community is a source of love and acceptance that she takes with her, she knows she's part of another family, etc. (I wonder where she gets her imagination!). While these may have some truth in them, I think all my daughter knows is that she loves and is loved by these people represented on her car door. I guess that's why I can't bring myself to take them down.

Part of being a mom is encouraging our children to be loved and nurtured by others. While we want to be all things to them, that is just not possible. I am so thankful that my children have been "mothered" by a variety of people as we have moved from place to place in the past several years. I am thankful for LeAnn, Rachel, Robert, Alicia, Clayton, Anna, Wade, Courtney, Brittany, Candice, Eleanor, Nancy, Milton, and the list goes on...women, men, teachers, friends, grandparents, and ministers. I am grateful that my children have experienced God's love and care in a variety of ways through a variety of people. They say it takes a village, and I believe it does - thank you, village - Happy Mother's Day!