It's December already...I wonder where the year has gone! It seems like only yesterday that I began my ministry as "gathering pastor," charged with bringing together a community of people to be the core group for a new church in the Protestant/Presbyterian/Reformed tradition in the Chain of Lakes area. Out of thirty prospects, twelve have signed on. That doesn't seem like a lot, but they're an enthusiastic, gifted and congenial bunch, committed to the vision that God is doing a new thing. Also, I seem to recall another group of twelve--mentioned in the Gospels--who went on to do great things! So I have to believe it's enough for God's purposes.
Now that the first (gathering) phase is essentially complete, we begin a planned transition to the next (organizing) phase. I'll be departing this month to make way for the organizing pastor, who has accepted God's call to lead the new congregation. He'll begin his ministry in mid-February and, together with the core group, begin to bring the vision to reality. Many things will begin to happen in 2009, so that by this time next year, the church will be worshiping God, serving and bearing witness to God's love in the surrounding community, and actually being a community to one another. Despite its Presbyterian origin, we hope the church won't be defined by its denominational indentity as much as by its faithfulness to God's call to be an authentic community of servants gathered for worship, nurture, witness and service in the name of Jesus Christ, the great Head of the church.
Starting four weeks before Christmas, the church season of Advent heralds the beginning of the Christian year. In this hemisphere at least, Advent is a time of darkness. The light dawns each day as if with labored reluctance, and the shadows lengthen early as the night encroaches upon the remnants of the day. For Christians, it's always been a time of reflection and preparation, of memory and hope, of promise and wide-eyed expectation. During Advent we look for the One who is to come, knowing full well that he has already come and pitched his tent among us, and that he will come again in glory to make all things new.
That can be a comforting message in these days when darkness seems to triumph over light, not only in the measure of our days but also in the travails of economic uncertainty, environmental degradation, ruthless terrorism, the weariness of war and the hungers for sustenance of human bodies and the human spirit. While faith by itself won't solve our problems, it can offer reassurance, as the church's celebration of Christ's nativity approaches, that "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
It's in this broader cultural, seasonal, social and political context that we make the transition to the next phase of this new church. In some ways it may seem trivial by comparison, but in other ways it can be a powerful witness to the light shining in the darkness, to the importance of a community where we can bear one another's burdens and share each other's joys, to God's promise to bring life out of death, and to the reality of God's love for this world and for each one of us.
As I conclude my ministry here, that's my prayer for the core group, for the organizing pastor, for this Chain of Lakes region, and for all whose lives the church will touch in the years ahead. I'm confident that, with God’s continued blessing, this new church will join other established churches in the area in a strong and unified witness to the love that God reveals in Jesus Christ. When it does, I will give thanks for having played a small role in helping it to become a reality.
As I've said in previous posts, stay tuned... There's lots more to come!
Grace and Peace,