I wrote the following for our church newsletter. A section of it you may recognize (O, Loyal Reader, you!) from this post a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to share this piece in light of my sister Emily’s seminary graduation and Pentecost Sunday.
We tend to operate from a posture of fear, don’t we? We make plans, or hesitate to make them, out of fear for what might (or might not) happen. Worry comes pretty naturally to a lot of us. This is especially true when it comes to the church. We love our church – we want other people to come, to visit, to join in – we want other people to realize what a wonderful community our church is.
And yet we fear that we aren’t doing the right things to draw people in – we fear we must follow someone else’s formula to put our fears to rest. We worry, too, because we hear reports, studies, statistics, that tell us the church is dying. We are fearful because we think those studies and statistics might be right: we see fewer people showing up to things, or we see fewer people volunteering for as many committees and activities as they once did. We wonder where the young people are. We worry that maybe the voices outside proclaiming our death are correct.
But friends, the church is alive and well. The church is changing, but it is certainly not dying. I know this for two reasons: One, I’ve seen the present and future of the church. Two, the church is not ours to kill or keep alive: the church is created and sustained by God’s Holy Spirit.
Many of you know that I traveled last week to Atlanta to bear witness to my sister’s graduation from McAfee School of Theology (affiliated with Mercer University). I’m
kind of a sucker for graduations – I really do enjoy the pomp of the event, and love seeing all the academic regalia – the bright colored robes, hoods, even the puffy hats! Graduation events are busting at the seams with pride in accomplishment, and hope for what is next. They give me hope. In particular, this graduation gave me even more hope. I spent time listening to my sister tell stories from her three years at McAfee – time spent learning and growing in and outside the classroom. I watched as she smiled through teary eyes saying goodbye to professors who know Emily, the person and minister, as well as Emily’s academic work. I sat in the living room of one of her friends listening to a group of current students and recent graduates laugh together and share stories and dreams for the church and the world. These young people care deeply about church, worship, theology, mission, they want passionately to bring God’s kingdom into fruition. That is their call. That the call for each of us. If they are the future of the church, if all of us together are the future of the church, then the church is not going anywhere.
Last week I paused on Tuesday to remember my own ordination – two years ago that day. One of the things of which I’m becoming more convinced is that we are not – any of us – called just once. We are called and called again, and continue to need moments to recognize and to remember God’s call on our lives. I sat in my office and re-read words written and spoken to me two years ago. I remembered the call to which I responded in Waco two years ago, and recognizing that that is the same call alive in my life among you, First Baptist Church of Lawrence. One of the primary reasons I first sought ordination was my commitment and faith in the Church. I wrote this to my ordination committee:
I do not believe that ordination is about me, or any given individual. It is a moment when a church community calls out persons, responding to God’s call to develop particular gifts for ministry, yes; more importantly it signifies the call of God to continue the work of the church. Ordination is a promise that the work of God through both individuals and churches will continue to operate towards hope and new life.
More and more I feel called to speak on behalf of the church. I see ordination, in concert with my formal theological education, as a choice to take on the mantle of the church and to accept the great honor and responsibility to speak for the church in and to the world—to be a voice of hope and courage in a world that so desperately needs and wants the church to work for justice, peace, and reconciliation.
After spending time with, hearing from, and participating in the blessing of a new class of seminary graduates last weekend I believe even more that God is continuing to call and bless the work of the church. I feel humbled to be called to this work alongside ministers like my sister and her fellow graduates.
Friends, the church is in good hands. God, indeed, continues to call folks to minister in and among the broken, messy, hurting corners of the world. The Spirit continues to empower all of us to being God’s church.
The church belongs to God – together we humbly call ourselves God’s body. It is God’s work to create, redeem and sustain us all, and to call us together as God’s church. To assume that we could witness the church’s death places a great deal of faith in ourselves, and not in God’s power to work for goodness, mercy, and justice. Friends, as long as God continues to call all of us to this work, the church will not die.
On this week, this Pentecost Sunday, may we give thanks for God’s call and remember the power of being God’s church.