Happy New Year, Friends.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and as such, it is also the Anniversary of the church plant (now church regular?) of which we are a part. Not just any anniversary either – today marks 10 years we have been meeting as a church.
Today’s service began with a singing out of “Sleeper’s Awake” – a literal call to worship, to awaken and be present – to come together and be fed. It echoed the Mark (13:24-27) passage for this week and was purposeful in it’s placement. We were called to be together – and still distanced – outside and online because we are in a pandemic – but still called together. Celebrating 10 years in a very different way than expected. Lighting Advent candles with the hope that the wind would stay low enough to keep them lit.
10 years of being called together.
Each week wondering who will answer the call. Wondering who will continue answering when they realize the call doesn’t always fit contemporary culture’s want for a feel good, fill-your-cup, and feel rested Sunday.
10 years and while, honestly, I’m not sure I’ve made it through a Sunday without tears for the last 2 years, there is nothing I’d change.
In my mind, as I sit to write this, all of the expected phrases come to mind: “It’s been an amazing journey” – “this is not what we expected when we began 10 years ago” – “a beautiful and bumpy adventure” – you get it. And while those things are true, their truths only scratch the surface of what these past 10 years have been.
These years have been good and hard.
When we sat at a kitchen table – 5 of us – 10 years and a day ago, going over the last details of what the first service would look like, we knew this wasn’t an easy path. We all had been part of church congregations; we’d been part of big and small congregations – reformed and evangelical – some of us had been part of church planting; some through the ringer of classes that teach you the dangers of church planting; some of us were pastor’s kids. While we talked through the hardships we might face, we approached them with the delight of knowing that’s not where we were starting.
We started with a defiant hope that God had a plan for this church in this place and even when it feels like maybe we were wrong, I can sift through the pictures of the people who have come and gone, the baptisms and celebrations, the sadness of goodbyes, and the sweet faces of so many friends – and I can recognize the good and the hard and while I can’t always parse out a balance that says more good than hard, I’m a firm believer that even a little good is worth all the hard.
Helping to plant a church in a transient town is something we knew we were doing. We knew people would come and go, we knew our version of church and worship and life together would not fit everyone’s understanding or background – but we promised to be hospitable, to be honest, to be loving, and to live out the Truth as best as broken people can. Holding onto a hope that each person that answers that call to worship on Sunday will be fed in a way that strengthens reassures each individual that he/she is not alone – that this life is not meant to be done alone – and that there is Love and Grace enough for all. That we are the church – together.
Appropriately then, each week ends with a Sending.
Sending us out to our daily lives – togehter.
This week “All Must Be Well” was the sending song – really, I wavered on that one, but eventually fell back to the want to reassure and the want to end in a place that gives hope – It’s the beginning of Advent, after all.
The service might have ended there if it weren’t our 10 year anniversary, but I’m so glad it didn’t and that it was.
Instead, as the instruments continued to play through our passing out champagne and cider and cupcakes, one of the musicians grabbed another Sending Song – and instead of “All Must be Well” – we sent out the congregation with “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine down upon you, and be gracious to you – May he turn his face toward you and give you Peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)
Just like that, we were given peace and grace, placing the pillars of hope for the week. “All Must be well”, today, felt like an anxious prayer rather than a promise. The two songs together were a reminder that all does not have to be well right now for peace to follow us out into the world from our Sunday. All does not have to be well for another 10 years to pass. All does not have to be well for another Sunday to come and for us to continue to answer that call.
10 years was a smaller celebration than 5. We missed hundreds of faces that have moved or are distanced through a screen rather than a grassy lawn. It was easier to be sad today than joyful – and sometimes I have to write it out to remember. Advent is cold.
Today’s service was beautiful, and it was brighter than it’s been in the past (meeting outdoors will do that). There were faces old and new. The Advent candle stayed lit.
All must be well.
However, it’s because it doesn’t have to be that All is well.
10 years was not what we expected; and yet, not altogether unexpected.
All the good and all the hard, wrapped up in a never ending reminder that we are part of something more than we can ever understand, and we are not in charge. So we will keep telling and retelling the stories.
Today, I sit reassured that as we move forward, at very least there will continue to be a calling and a sending; that there will always be grace and peace.
So again, Happy New Year friends. Light your candle and wait. Hold out hope, rest assured, and may His face will shine upon you, and His peace be with you in your waiting.