What an exciting century in which to be a ‘mainline’ Christian, and more specifically to be a member or friend of the First Presbyterian Church of Hightstown in the Year of Our Lord 2019. There is nowhere else I’d rather be in this time which requires creativity, trust, patience and faith in a God of abundance, even as it is also a time of rising anxiety about our future and about our ability to meet the challenges before us with the resources we have.
As you have heard about in some of my recent sermons, the session has begun a process of geting clear on where we are as a church and where God is calling us to be in the next 5 or 10 years in light of the major cultural changes of the past few decades, and the resulting changes we have seen in our congregation. You will hear more about that in months to come as we are committed to transparency, and eager to have your participation as we seek God’s guidance. This is a challenging time that requires new learning. In our March session meeting, we lit candles representing our prayers for the future of the church, prayers for ourselves as leaders, for our hopes and fears for the future, and grief for what has passed. I will confess to some grief. How I would have loved to be a pastor in the time when my only job was to lead Bible Studies and worship, to preach the comfort and the challenge of the Word with integrity and authenticity, to laugh and weep and pray with you as we commended one another to God’s care in life and in death, to reach out in love and service to our neighbors. That would have been enough, and that is the work my three years of seminary trained me well to carry out and certainly a big part of my work as your pastor. But it is not the only work to which I am called in these days of the 21st century church, to which we are called together.
Some days it feels like an impossible challenge – and it would be if we were trusting in human strength and human resources only. But Jesus reminds us, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 Since 1857, God has made use of us – our hands and feet, our hearts and minds. God has lavished grace upon us and we have responded with generosity and joy. What is next for us as a congregation? A season of change makes space for the Spirit’s work. One church leader speaks of pivot points – opportunities in the life of a congregation to respond faithfully to God’s call. Such pivot points are times of anxiety and energy, times of new fruitfulness and change.
What can you do in the meantime? I have three suggestions this month, and will share more in time to come. First, pay attention to the Spirit’s leading by listening for God in the Word and the world. Pay attention to what God is calling you to do – not just in the church, but as the church. The church is not a building, but a community of people called together by God and sent forth by God to join God already at work (and at play) in the world.
Second, pray for the session (list names below if room – or somewhere?) as we seek faithfully to get clear on where we are and to join you in gettng clear on what adventures God is laying before us.
Third, give generously. If you are excited about what God is doing here in and through and among us, then give generously of your time and your money – not only in the church, but in all the places in your life where your heart is moved by the Holy Spirit to be engaged. “Stewardship” is not just our calling once a year at pledge time or only about how we spend our time and money for the church, but how we are called every day to seek to follow in the sacrificial and generous footsteps of Jesus Christ.
I close with my favorite ascription of praise from the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:20‐21):