DCC News

 

Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church

 

September 21 , 2007

                                                           

                                      

For Every Community of Faith

 

Here is what the United Church of Christ Book of Worship has to say to people who are joining our church.

“We give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home, and we celebrate your presence in this household of faith.”

I like those thoughts, which we say to all new members of our churches…”we give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home.” It means that your previous church home was important to you and that we respect the time you spent there and we recognize that you grew in the Christian faith. It means that your former “community of faith” is now important to us. And it also means, that somewhere down the road, we may be that former “community of faith” and former “spiritual home,” when you move on.

Your presence with our church is really just temporary, a rest stop on the Christian road. You came from another church and will probably move on to another church, and we are better for having you join us and we pray that you are better for having been a part of us for the time you were here.

So, let me tell you a story that happened to me.

Some years ago I served a church out west and a woman whom I will call Elizabeth started coming with her kids. She was known to all in the community. She worked with many of our members and we were glad to have her share her spiritual life with us. She had previously been at her husband’s church; her husband never attended with her so she decided to find another church. She found us.

Not long after, her husband died in an industrial accident. I conducted the funeral. Our people at the church reached out to her. She went through grieving in bits and pieces but always receiving the fellowship of our church as we watched over her. Within 6 months she no longer worshipped with us.

We pastors are a territorial lot and as her pastor, I wondered why she left. After all, we had ministered to her, helped her heal some, stood with her and her kids and prayed with her and she still left us.

I mentioned my disappointment to my good friend Tom who was a member of the church.

He said to me, “We were there for her when she needed help the most. I’m glad we could do that much for her and her kids. She just needed to move on.”

And she moved on. And so did the church. And I realized that we, as a church, are merely lent people to minister to. They are not “ours.” They are believers who move into our lives and often times move out and in the meantime we just might be a comfort, friend and spiritual partner to them. But, they probably move on. They are not ours.

 

That’s where the UCC Book of Worship comes in. We really got it right when we stated “We give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home.”

Not long ago there was a funeral service where a minister spoke about someone who “wasn’t able to practice his faith” (so to speak) at his former church. I know that some in the former church were disappointed because they knew that not to be the case. This former church had indeed ministered, walked with and prayed with the former member. It disappointed many to hear it said that they had not been faithful church friends, when they knew they had.

What was not acknowledged by this other pastor was that their mutual friend had been ministered to; had been befriended by and had been released from his former church. He was able to move on precisely because of the spiritual journey with his former church home. He had been led by his former church to a crossroads where he could see other horizons and make his own choice. He chose. And like Elizabeth, he chose to move on. I trust he gave thanks for his former community of faith, even if his new pastor was not willing to acknowledge the debt to the former church for the faith journey, which they made with that individual.

Do you know what I think is the biggest problems for churches to comprehend? I think it is that we are not all on the same page in our faith journeys (and thank God for that!).

If we sold widgets, we could look at each month’s tally and see how many widgets were sold and our profit and our stock price and that would pretty much define our success for the month.

But we don’t sell widgets. We don’t sell anything (sure, an occasional bake sale, rummage sale or brunch…all of which are fun…but you get my point.) and so we don’t know if we are successful. We can take in new members, baptize children and meet the budget. We judge our success from those and the reason why we judge our success from those things is because they are quantifiable. They are numbers and we understand numbers. More numbers in the plus column and we must be a success. Fewer numbers and we must not be successful.

But that does not even come close to our ministry with Elizabeth in her time of need, nor the man who moved from one church to another. We can’t quantify it. We can’t put it a bottom line on it and tell the front office that we are succeeding.

Our ministry should be measured in the lives we touch and only Elizabeth or the man can tell us if we were a success. But in the end, Christ was not about success; He was about faithfulness. If faithfulness is the measure, then we succeeded. We are merely a rest stop for those on the journey and “we give thanks for every community of faith that has been your spiritual home.” The lives we touch are not ours to possess nor are they ours with which to measure our own success.

Peace,   Bob