One month ago, we buried our long time pastor. He married my parents in 1977. He lead me to Jesus and baptized me in 1987. He was the figure head for my home church- her leader in every way. He was strong, constant, fearless and faithful to the end. And he went to be with Jesus just 8 weeks after his diagnosis of brain cancer. My husband, kids and I no longer attend FBCW that I grew up in, but we still live in the town. My family still attends church there, my kids attend the church's school and we are still deeply connected there. It's my home in many ways.
But in 2005, Ronny and I returned home from Africa pregnant with our first child and in need of a job (which would give us a church home- my husband's a youth pastor) Long story short, a church here in my home town needed a youth pastor and doors flung open for us to land there. The very first Sunday we went to HBC, I was so excited to be there- a little nervous but excited. But then something freaked in me and next thing I knew I was sobbing. Uncontrollable, deep, obnoxious sobs. My head was screaming "these aren't my people! This isn't my church!" I was jetlagged, pregnant, longing for Africa, longing to feel at home, totally freaked. Yet over the days and months and years that followed, I did find my home there and fell so deeply, deeply in love with that fellowship. My three babies were born there- it's the only church home they've ever known. We have found such precious teenagers and families. We've seen God do miracles. We've found deep community. It's home.
Our dear HBC has had a rough couple of years. Our long time pastor retired. Two strong candidates have gone through the process of coming to us, only to withdraw from the process days before a church wide vote. Elders have resigned. Many families have chosen to go to church elsewhere. Today our worship pastor resigned. Ronny probably doesn't want me to talk about it. He's on staff after all and someone might read this. I have nothing to say about the politics and opinions of it all. I'm just sad. And over the last couple of years, I've actually started to think maybe this doesn't work anymore. I feel wounded, jaded, and in my flesh, a little bit hopeless. But let me say this before I say any more-- I am...we are... deeply, utterly, completely devoted to the body of Christ. I need her.
I sat down at Pastor Toby's funeral a month ago and knew there would be some sadness, some grief for the loss to his family and to the church. I wasn't at all prepared for God to speak to me so clearly. I was breathing quite shallowly and tears began to stream before the service even began. I watched a deacon I knew as child seat a friend I've known since infancy and I lost it... I looked around at all these people... former staff members, old friends that had moved away, friends of my parents I knew as a kid, and kids a little older and cooler than me in the youth group in the 90's... and there we all were. All together to honor the life of a man committed to serving God the best he knew how for his entire life. And you know what God said to me? "It still works. It worked here for you as a kid and made you who you are. My people are flawed but most of them mean well. He winked at me when he said "most" ;) Hang in there. My body; it still works." I was beginning to make noises then and Ronny was elbowing me ;)
The minister on the stage was reading a letter that Pastor Toby's daughter in law had written about how he shared Jesus with her father many times and the day before he died, he'd asked Jesus into his heart. I felt like I needed to take off my shoes and shout. I'm not even kidding. So simple. Just sharing Jesus. And the conviction was so thick. All my pride and all my judgement and all my self righteousness and all the ways I knew best had to go- there was no room left in my heart when his grace poured in.
I'm not saying we will always be a part of the same denomination or the same church (little c) or always work on church staff. I'm not saying that this church does it better than that church so let's all try to do it just like that church.
What I am saying is the two church homes I have had in my life are hurting. And I could give up on it altogether. But I'm choosing- and it's a choice I have to make daily- to put ALL my hope and ALL my trust in my Savior. Not a person, not a building, not even a group of believers. ALL my hope in Christ alone. And then I'm going to give the church a whole lot a grace. Because Jesus has given a whole lot of grace to me.