It’s Working (Part 2)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
-Galatians 6:2 NRSV
A few weeks ago I told you how our Family Ministries are working in powerful and poignant ways. I believe that was on full display this past Sunday in worship as the student testimonials and music led our way to experience the Holy Spirit.
This week I want to bring your attention to another area of our church that is successfully bringing the grace and power of God to our community: Care Ministries. Being the more confidential/sensitive type of occasions I do not have pictures, however, I do have plenty of stories to tell.
Exhibit A: Why Theology Matters
I recently had a young woman ask for some time to speak with me about some confusion she was feeling in her faith. Not to disclose too much about the conversation, but the gist is that she constantly feels like she is disappointing God and fears God will just give up on her. It should be noted that while we were talking, one of our office volunteers accidentally came in my office but upon noticing who it was almost screamed with excitement to see this young woman and gushed to me about how awesome this young woman has been and is.
Perhaps you can see the disconnect between self-perception vs. reality.
This young woman is on fire for Jesus, constantly serves as an inspiration, advice-giver, and pastoral presence for her friends, and even is exploring a calling to ministry. Yet the feeling still lingers whether she is “good enough.”
What we discovered is that beyond some circumstances in her life beyond her control, she has also been surrounded by a theological message of shame in her current environment. When she is at her best, she is on a pedestal and asked to serve on stage at her church. When she slips up publicly, she isn’t simply asked to take a break, she is shunned and exiled by her community and friends who don’t “want to be influenced by her.” Her pastors have told her that she is disappointing God, all the while telling her that once you accept Jesus then the impulses and distractions of being human should fade away. Her lack of absolute perfection is being touted as her lack of faithfulness or true encounter with Christ.
Can anyone relate?
John Wesley could. He struggled with the absolute need to be perfect so that God would love him, but ultimately had a heart-warming experience that led him to know that even in his imperfections, God was still active and loving in his life. I laid out John Wesley’s “Way of Salvation” to her and helped her see that baptism and justification in Christ isn’t the end of perfection for us, it’s simply accepting God’s amazing, free grace – and THEN the work begins to respond as whole-heartedly as we can by trusting God and in the way of Christ. Human perfection isn’t expected, because the Gospel message says it is only in Christ that God makes us holy.
I could see the tension melt away as she continued to say “I wish I could just pick up my college and move it here so I could come to Creekwood.” It’s amazing how much care can come from simply an accurate portrayal of God and the Bible. At least, that’s what I saw this week.
Exhibit B: Funerals Make the Best Parties
On July 22 we celebrated the life Harry Crosby lived and the life he has gained for eternity through Christ. It was a lovely memorial service that was packed with friends and family. I always point out to families that it is okay to feel emotions during funerals (or all of life) despite the cultural notion that we are supposed to be tough or self-reliant. Again, the Gospel message is one of God bearing our burdens that we are unable to bear by ourselves. Self-reliance is a goal for most of human maturation, but shouldn’t come at the cost of excluding community help for things we cannot handle alone – such as losing a loved one.
As it always happens, emotions of sadness and joy flow, and having shared that common grieving experience the Holy Spirit brings the congregation together in revelry at the reception. People the family hasn’t seen in a while share stories of the beloved deceased and by the time everyone has left it’s almost like we were celebrating life instead of losing it. That doesn’t discount the grief that follows and must be cared for as well, but there is something about being surrounded by people who share the same grief and love as you do to make it easier to cope with.
I could end thereby stating how our funeral service worked in sharing God’s love, but I’d be remiss not to mention who served as the vessel of God’s love that made the “party” happen. Amongst that great crowd of people were members of the Celebration Sunday school class, led by Peggy Stapp, who put together a great spread and served it with cheerful compassion. Other members of Celebration Class sang at the service to usher in the care of God. I couldn’t walk 3 steps without one of Harry’s family members or another person grabbing me to tell me how caring and hospitable Wendy McConney has been to them. And beyond that, Gay Kiser went to Julie Stelly as two members of the Lay Discipleship Team that has been focusing on radical hospitality and said, “We can even do better if we had ushers and greeters at our funerals since so many people haven’t been here before.”
It’s amazing what can happen when the culture of a church includes radical care as part of its DNA. At least, I saw these miracles happen a few weeks ago.
Exhibit C: Passing Down From Generation to Generation
Two weeks ago, at Camp Bridgeport, my youngest daughter Chyler and I entered the variety show to sing some Taylor Swift – which she is currently obsessed with. When I was 12 years old I would have NEVER been as vulnerable as she was to get up in front of 150 other junior high students, because let’s face it, junior high students can be brutal in their own insecurity.
Chyler did start to get a little nervous as we rehearsed and the time was coming for her to perform. I knew any Taylor Swift song would illicit the other obsessed Swifties to bring their support, but I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous as a parent that my child would have a negative experience at the expense of her peers.
All of that changed when she started singing the first line.
This may be unique to the culture of Bridgeport, but almost as soon as she started “Love Story” even non-Swifties had their phone flashlights waving in the crowd and people were yelling along with her. But what really made the moment great was a green banner that rolled out that read “We Love You Chyler!”
The spearhead of the banner operation was the incomparable Kelley Lawrence, along with Amelia Wiley, Annie Lawrence, and Laura Lamka-West (who all were screaming wildly in support as well). Seeing her church friends support her was heart-warming to a nervous father, but the dots I connected following that were even cooler to think about.
Kelley led the effort to care for Chyler, but while she was away at camp, Amelia’s mom Melissa Wiley made sure that Kelley’s other, younger daughter Maggie had fun things to do each day and semi-adopted her for the week. Not that Melissa needed any inspiration to care, but just weeks before, Melissa had received love through meals from her church. I’m not saying one thing led to another, but I do see a chain of care that suggests…
- What we are doing as a church.
- The theology we teach as a church.
- The love we promote as a church.
- Our obedience to the way of Christ as a church.
- Thank you to all who show care and grace in your daily lives.
- Thank you to all who show care and grace as greeters and ushers on Sunday mornings.
- Thank you to all who serve on the Care Team with Wendy.
- Thank you to all who mentor kids and students and teach them the power of love and grace.
- Thank you to all who participate in our Share the Love
- Thank you to all who make sure that no one gets forgotten.
- Thank you to all who give their time to help make funerals a special time of grace in the midst of grief.
- Thank you who give financially to help make all this possible.
If you would like to be a part of any of our care, meal, or funeral ministries – please let Pastor Wendy McConney know.
If you would like to serve as an usher or greeter on Sunday mornings or during funerals – please let Tonya Vining know.
If you would like to work with students or kids – please let Pastor Keri Lynn Lucas know.
PS – Don’t forget we go back to TWO worship services this Sunday, August 6. Traditional will go back to 8:30 am and Contemporary will remain at 11 am.