Ten years ago the Heisler family spent time in the waves of Lake Michigan. Much has changed but individuals and congregations continue to ride the waves of change. “Put on your gear!”
Director of Connectional Ministry
I had the opportunity this past week to swim in Lake Michigan. It brought back memories of 2010 and the few thoughts I recorded then:
I strapped on the life jacket. Wrapped my arms around the truck tire inner tube, and we headed into the waves of Lake Michigan as if we were surfers on a Hawaiian island. The sun was blazing. The water temperature was near bath water 80 degrees. My college-aged daughter and I belly laughed like two pre-school children as the waves tossed us about, as “Mom” watched from a safe distance on shore. We both knew how to swim. We had extra safety equipment and a “support team” watching out for us.
This summer, people have moved into your community. They, too, face crashing waves. They are the waves of change in a sea of new surroundings. They may or may not have the “equipment” to help them. Likely the “support team” is in another town or perhaps state. We, the Church, need to be the place of welcome, safety, relationships of support and sense of community that transforms the threatening waves, with their undertow of loneliness, into the celebration of life which friendships provide.
Ten years have passed since I penned those thoughts. That daughter is now married, teaching first grade, and is swimming in the lake with her 9-month-old son. She has already begun some “back to school” teacher meetings. For her, and all the schools across the country, it will not be the same. Some are “virtual-only,” some a hybrid of virtual and on-site with masks and physical distance, and some taking the chance of “just like we have always done school.” So very much has changed!
Congregations are facing the same challenges and opportunities.
Welcoming new persons into our congregations, especially our virtual congregations, will take determination and adaptations. Hospitality, being attentive to a wide variety of potential needs, and creating opportunities to engage in activities together, along with simply spending quality time with people, are essential components to welcoming and require a unique approach in these “physical distanced” times.
Be patient and willing to allow mistakes in the “accepted social etiquette.” We do not know all of what has shaped each of us. We do know God loves and accepts all of us as we are. Creating a climate in our congregations that is welcoming as well as one that sets an expectation that we will be inviting and engaging of others is essential.
Forty years ago, Linda and I moved into a new community. I began my first teaching job after graduating from college. There were no computers. I was excited that we had a self-threading 35mm moving projector in our school! That fall, we had an in-service training that began to introduce this “new thing,” the computer. The presenter started very basic with us all: “This is a monitor, keyboard, and a hard drive. This is a floppy disc. This is RAM (random access memory), this is ROM, (read-only memory). This will revolutionize education.”
Who knew what the future would bring 40 years later?!! Now, just like the “Dick Tracy watch of the 1960s cartoon,” that TV and computer can be on your wrist!
We seem to be at that next revolutionary moment in our culture as we make a substantial change to how we “do Church” as well as teach the children. We are facing our systemic racism with renewed determination, and we champion the stewardship of the earth with similar vigor. Do we bring the same passion to our evangelism and proclamation of the life-transforming message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
“No Jesus, No Justice! Know Jesus, know justice, and so much more!” That’s my bumper sticker, t-shirt, campaign logo for this year’s Fall Church Rally Day.
Just over ten years ago, we moved into a new community. We walked the neighborhood with our newly adopted Golden Retriever and met our new neighbors. We exchanged names. We discovered the approximate ages of our children. Together we noted that we were not the only ones with a variety of life transitions going on.
As we met again and began to get acquainted, if they had no church home, I invited them to the congregation we attended. Others did the same. Ten years later, that church is now three new locations! Inviting makes a difference. It always feels awkward, but I know it is what the Gospel calls me to do. We may need to go slow and begin with the basics; not everyone may be as eager to learn life-changing truths. But I have never had a person get angry with me just for inviting them. In fact, they have always been gracious in their acceptance or refusal.
So, “Put your gear on and wade into the waves,” I say. The joys and blessings in life are not found just driving by the beach, or the Humane Society, or your neighbor. The joy and the blessings come as we engage life and others. I don’t know all that the future holds, but I know the One who holds the future. May God give us the grace and the courage to step forward in faith.
That’s my story, and I am sticking to it!