Our denomination is working on a “call to action” – ideally a call for the revitalization of the church in the world – in response to its ongoing work of discernment and improvement. I’ll be sharing thoughts on this direction of the Church at large, but before I start wanted to share a related reflection about when the church gets it right…
My family and I just returned from a two week vacation, most of which was spent with members of Lynn’s family in Florida. We did what she calls the “whirlwind tour” of the state, spending time with her parents, one of her sisters, and her grandparents. She and I also spent three nights just to ourselves – something we have not had since Will was born 4 1/2 years ago.
I share that just to give some context, because I actually want to write a bit about when the local church gets things right. Both examples come during the time of this vacation.
The night before our last full day in Florida, a major storm moved through the area. High winds, thunder, and some rain came through late night / early morning (it woke us up around 3am). When we got up in the morning, damage around Lynn’s parents’ place was not bad… but then we heard that one of her mother’s (Joyce) colleagues at school had major damage around her house, was “blocked in,” and without power.
So as the ladies loaded up materials for sandwiches, Will and Kate made their usual messes in the living room, and Lynn’s dad (Bill) and I loaded a generator onto the trailer. When everything was found and ready, we rode out to the home and spent a couple hours there helping.
I fired up Bill’s chainsaw and did a bit of cutting (not very well – I had to use a chisel to free the blade at one point!), and did a bit more of moving logs out of the way away from the house and fence. Bill attached the right plug onto an extension cable and managed to get power to the home (the trees that had fallen around the house knocked down power lines in at least two places). Lynn and Joyce made lunches while Will and Kate ran around with the kids getting in everyone’s way.
I had various thoughts about the morning during and after, and much of them came back to the way of life in rural and small towns around the nation. My experiences in Woodland and Marshall, Illinois, as well as that morning’s experience of going out to help a neighbor – and Bill was out most of the rest of the day, helping another neighbor fix a broken water line (granted, he had stepped on it, but still!) – are very often the norm, not the exception.
Recalling my suburban life with my parents, I mentioned to Lynn at one point that this was something that appealed to me about rural life. Back home, people might very well have to wait for state employees or some business to come and help. In small towns, people still seem to take the initiative to reach out to their neighbor. (Indeed, just that morning Joyce was making a dish to take to a family that had suffered a sudden death the day before.)
A very similar thing occurred in our local church just as Lynn and I were leaving for our vacation. The husband of one of our church’s members was very ill in Alaska at the time, and members of the church rallied around her to support her, even managing to get her tickets to fly to Alaska. We connected her with a pastor in Alaska who was a God-send, offering her a place to stay, transportation, and some needed pastoral care. She went, and was with her husband when he passed away.
This whole experience was sudden and unexpected, and all the more difficult because of the distance that initially separated the couple. Her flight out was the day after ours, and I was in touch with members back home (in AZ) as well as the pastor in Alaska during the time.
The members of our church – as well as others in the community who have been connected with us at one time or another – rallied around this woman to support her through a trying, traumatic experience. I just sat with her and her daughters today, and they expressed just how thankful they were for the love and care the church members extended to their mother.
And here is the thing: in this instance, our church’s members were the church for this woman, in all the right ways, in all the ways that mattered. They’ve prayed with her, shared their airline miles to get her to Alaska, helped her connect with others there, and supported her with visits and food and in other ways since she returned. In some cases, our church’s members have given up their own resources – even, perhaps, their own dreams of how to use them – to support another member of the community.
This is when I am the most hopeful to be a part of a local congregation or community – when people can give of themselves, not expecting anything in return, to help out others. Jesus demonstrated the nature of love, taught us to love God and neighbor, and called us to be His followers. Paul teaches that this means we are to be His Body in the world, to literally be Christ for others. One way we do this is when we go beyond ourselves to care for others – whether its for a colleague who attends another church, or for a member of our local congregation going trough tragedy.
This is when we get it (church) right.