|It was something like this but more snow|
“'The glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one: that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.' This is amazing doctrine. It sounds novel even now. Christ declares his mission to be the binding of men together by indissoluble bonds. It is by the brotherliness of those who believe in Jesus that the hard heart of the world is to be softened and the truthfulness of Jesus' words established. The world is to be brought to God by Christians loving one another.” Charles E. Jefferson, 1910
This past Sunday for the first time in twenty-six and a half years of pastoral ministry I nearly pulled the plug and cancelled our Sunday morning gathering – nearly. An early spring front moved through the upper Midwest dumping over a foot of snow Saturday night and by Sunday morning there was no real let-up. In fact, at 7 o'clock Sunday morning it was near white-out conditions outside and the roads hadn't even been plowed yet. But on the principal that “whoever can make it will” I decided to not cancel and see who would show up and what God would do in spite of the weather conditions.
When I was a kid, I loved a snow day from school. Who doesn't? But now as an adult in charge of a Christian congregation I'm pretty old school about these things. In other words, (to date) I haven't allowed the weather to dictate the terms of whether or not we'll gather. I don't say that with even the slightest hint of judgment against those of my fellow pastors who felt it more prudent to not have their weekly gathering that morning. After all, they know their fellowship best and what is best for them. I just don't like to turn off the lights simply because of weather. On Sunday, it was “on with the show” at 724 Leonard Street and for the 27 people who did make it all of them were glad that they did.
For me personally, here's a few reasons why:
Kale & LeAnne:
|So sweet and good|
For the first time since anyone can remember they led worship together. That's actually how they met. Back in 2006-ish, Kale was our only worship leader then and that summer a lovely young lady with a beautiful voice moved to town and began attending our fellowship. Kale is what I call a “contemplative” worship leader. He's not into “bouncy” songs. I would suggest a song or two to Kale to implement in his weekly set which seemed to fall on deaf ears. But when LeAnne would suggest the same suddenly one would appear Sunday morning. Hmmm. As our bass player at the time and I concurred, LeAnne was definitely “Plan B” when our requests for music went unheeded.
They are a wondeful couple and ten years later parents of three beautiful daughters. These “baby” years, however, have kind of put the cramp to LeAnne's Sunday morning worship-style for obvious reasons. It was soooo good to see her back on the platform aside her husband just like the “old” days. To me, that was worth the price of admission. She has a prophetic bent to her and that clearly was in play yesterday morning.
|NOT Renee and NOT us (they seem more organized|
than we are!)
Renee and Children's Church:
You would think on a Sunday morning where only 27 heads can be counted we wouldn't necessarily have the need for Children's Church especially since several of our families were absent. But Dennis & Vicki brought their grandkids and James had a friend sleep over the night before and throw in two of Kale & LeAnne's girls and now you have a posse of littles. It was Renee's week to lead Children's Church and thank God she was ready for action because that brood brought it. Renee, one of our elders at Refuge (which does not make her old), is one of the wonderful servant-leaders that our fellowship is blessed with. Mind you, she doesn't see a future for herself in Children's Ministry but is more than willing to pitch in and help so that these kids' parents can participate in the gathering without distraction. I'm glad she's on our team.
The rest of us:
At Refuge we identify ourselves as a “healing community of Jesus Christ.” We cannot save or heal anyone but the good news is Christ doesn't call us to do those things. He calls us to love and accept people and foster loving, nurturing community among ourselves. I personally believe that for a small faith community like Refuge that is easier to do simply because of our size. A small church should do what a small church can do and so we have experimented on Sunday morning for sometime now different ways to “do” fellowship. Actually, a lot of these things we do are very conducive to a small group gathering in someone's home. But if we – meaning, Refuge – try and establish a home group our history tells me that these ventures start with great enthusiasm and then fizzle out by the end of Lent simply because our interest wanes and other ventures beckon. So, why not use Sunday morning – which we know we pretty much still own – to nurture Christian community?
About a month ago, the kids from The Focus, the interchurch youth group that meets at Refuge on a weekly basis, took up a collection or two and bought two couches from IKEA and a few tables for the corner opposite the sound booth in the sanctuary. On Wednesday night it makes the sanctuary feel a bit more “homey” and on Sunday mornings, it's a blessing to parents with little children. This past Sunday rather than preach the message I had prepared I invited those of us who remained upstairs after the kids egressed down for Children's Church, to circle up in the “couch corner.”
|Some of us in the "couch corner"|
The way we normally “do” corporate prayer alternates between open mic on one Sunday followed by prayer circles on the following Sunday. Honestly, if I did away with the open mic format I think a lot of the folks would only be too happy. They love circling up their chairs and praying for one another. Sunday was supposed to be a prayer circle day anyway so we just drew the circle a little bigger than we normally allow (17-18 as opposed to 5-6).
It was Missions Sunday at Refuge so I shared an email we had recently received from Duane, another elder from our fellowship, who is presently on a ministry trip in Bangladesh and the Philippines. I updated everyone on the developments at The Well International, the inter church agency that Refuge helped establish back in 2008, to reach out to the Somali refugees in Barron. We spent time praying for a number of these people and after awhile moved on to finding out how we can pray for one another.
Sean is in need of work and housing. Kale is changing jobs. I asked prayer for my students in the class I teach at the jail. Our daughter, Emma, is contemplating a job change as well and traveling to Thailand for a month of service there and so we prayed for her, too. Again and again as the needs were shared prayers were offered for those who requested it. Of course, in the sharing natural opportunity arose to encourage and affirm one another. Ultimately a common thread emerged that a lot of us present needed to be reminded that God is in control (“He's got this” was spoken forth more than once that morning almost as a mantra) and we needed to trust him in the areas where we have little or no control with regards to securing a job, the spiritual condition of our adult children and the choices they are making.
As I looked around the circle I was struck by its diversity – Greg and Rachel, a couple in their 30s with five years of marriage under their belt, were on one couch and their baby, Raiyn (if not in the arms of my wife) was in her car seat working a bottle; Dennis and Vicki, a couple in their 60s who have been together forty or more years, were trying to entertain their two youngest grandkids who had a case of the wiggles. The rest of our group was made up of a teen, and at least one representative from every age group from the 20s through the 60s, married and single. It was, in effect, a family gathering in what someone at our fellowship likes to refer to as God's living room.
We have said to each other that we want to foster fellowship and community at Refuge and in our case the snow storm helped make some of that happen the other day. We gathered, we worshiped, we shared prayers and requests and spoke into each other's lives. This, too, is what “church” is all about.
|Though gone his words still "speak"|
I've been reading Charles E. Jefferson's The Building of the Church lately. Jefferson was a pastor in New York City and ministered at the same church (the Broadway Tabernacle) for nearly 40 years from 1898-1937. The Building of the Church is made up of a series of lectures he gave at Yale University in April and May 1910. His stuff, even though he wrote it over a hundred years ago, reads like it just came out last month. Speaking to those who were at Yale training for ministry, he said:
A Christian owes something to a fellow-Christian which he owes to no other human being, his first duty to his fellow-believers, his first obligation is to his Christian brethren, his first concern is with his comrades in Christ. It is by Christians loving one another after the sacrificial manner of Jesus that other men are to become Christians. Love is the law of the church. Love is the badge of discipleship. Love is the chief evangelist and head worker. Love is the power which overcomes. It is not love for the community or love for humanity, but love for one's fellow-Christians by which the door of the world's heart is to be opened. “Building the Brotherhood”
We had fun this past Sunday morning but it was more than just gathering together to spite the storm. It was practicing loving one another and if we can do that – and get better at it – than for all our shortcomings we will be a fellowship where Jesus abides and the love we have for one another is real and growing.