As we journey we must look at the events of our lives to see God and be witness to the love of Jesus Christ. This past weekend's events have so many components of awareness that is part of our ministry. As each of you may know I am engaged 1/3 time at St. James PC and have a field placement on top of my paid time. This gives me opportunity to preach every Sunday, engage with the interim moderator who is also my supervisor, while engaging in new and exciting programs to help this rural congregation feel inspired.
This weekend was no exception to the greatness of rural community and the rural family. In January I had approached session about bringing in a Christian youth band that I am familiar with to perform at St. James on a Saturday night. It was approved and this past Saturday was the night. The congregation had never heard of this group before and were not familiar with the music or the experience. I have known of this group many years. I have watched as the youth come and go from it; this June the group celebrates their 25th anniversary with over 150 alumni.
The social club took on the challenge of the meal prep, as this group consists of 14 youth between the ages of 11 and 18, 4 to 6 parent volunteers and a conductor. They arrived at the church at 2:30 pm set up for the concert, practiced for an hour and then it was our responsibility to have a meal ready and then they performed at 7:00 PM. We also invited other congregations to bring youth and have dinner; so all in all there were about 40 people who had dinner. (we get about 20 out on Sunday morning to worship)
The concert was well attended (over 100 ppl) and almost $400 was collected through a free will offering for the group and there was $100 in CD sales and donations for cassette tapes. Then the group packed up at 8:45 pm loaded into vehicles, and lead by the truck and trailer, went to a church in London set up before they were billeted and returned for the 9:00 AM contemporary service. This group of inspired young people then broke the equipment down once again to move to a third church where they performed at 2:00 PM as a mission fundraiser for a country church just outside of London. This group much like our congregations have seen people come and go, participate then wane, grow into it and die out of it (retire).
On Sunday morning I had a pew full of young people. They were all present the night before and were inspired by this group of singers. Young people praising God in song is, to some, an unorthodox way of worship. The sanctuary of the church was still ringing with the sounds of Chaverim (means ‘good friends’ in Hebrew) and the people were all talking about them and asking when they would be back. The outlying churches have reported that they went away with a fresh feeling of hope and all are hoping to book this group into their church.
It warmed my heart that I was able to facilitate this meeting of two worlds. Then on Sunday morning the scripture was John 4:5-42, the woman at the well. In my undergrad I had presented a paper in which we were to take on the persona of a woman in the bible and I had chosen the woman at the well. So I dressed the part and while the congregation was singing the hymn ahead of my reflection. I stepped out and came back in costume. I presented the story from the woman’s perspective. A conversation with Jesus in a place that most people of the day avoided (Samaria), detoured around for fear of their lives or fear of encountering a despised people. An unorthodox approach perhaps but my message was simply how many people avoid our churches, detour around and miss having a conversation with Jesus.
These two events on the same weekend raised a personal awareness that we must be somewhat unorthodox, but not to the detriment of our roots, traditions or heritage. We must listen first to the congregation’s heartbeat and get into its rhythm. While taking the time in pastoral care to place the stethoscope, listen carefully, trust is built and we then can hear God’s voice directing how and where we should go. In taking on the role of the woman at the well those in the pews had a feel for what it might have been like for her. I wanted them to have this experience because I feel like the woman at the well all the time. I have great conversations with Jesus and yet feel sometimes the world despises what I am or detours around me in fear. I was out for a beer and a social time with my daughter on Friday night, engaged conversation with a couple over the pool table and when they asked what I did it was interesting to see the change in them. A pastor having a beer and shooting a game of pool just seemed to be something that did not comprehend. I am aware that I must be where people are; I must meet them at the well like the woman met Jesus.
This praise and worship and unorthodox way of delivering a sermon both were accepted because I have built a trust with my congregation. This rural community is hungry to see what is going on in the world. Contemporary music to them is “Open the eyes of my heart Lord” which is a piece that is 20 years old or more and contemporary music has exploded since then. This small area of the world has been like the woman at the well, the world has been detouring around or avoiding the rural life in search of a more modern life in an urban setting. The context of rural life is no less hungry for new ideas and they are willing to ease into the community at large, but unlike the fast pace of urban contrast it must be done slowly and carefully, allowing time for it all to sink in and feed their very soul.
In the voices of the youth and acting the scripture I felt breath of the Holy Spirit weaving its way through all who witnessed. God was present and I feel God said “it is good” as thunderous applause and hearts were joined through praise and worship. From the 82 year old man who has been part of St. James since he was 18 (1948) to the 9 month old who was watching intently God was bridging the generations through our common heart of music and visual. On Sunday morning, all the children could name all three puppets used the previous evening and were abuzz as they went down to the lower level to paint God into their picture during lessons on Sunday morning. God is ever present we just have to find ways to bring people to the well in the heat of the day and they too can have a conversation with Jesus.
At 8:30 pm on Saturday night we honoured God and Mother Earth for Earth Hour and Chaverim sang Point of Light. A song about volunteers and they link it to the great mission of the church. It was moving and the electricity of God was in the air. As we darkened the sanctuary and the members of Chaverim held candles there was a hush over the crowd as this prayerful song reminded us of our responsibility to God’s creation.
In taking risks we probe and poke at our faith. We probe and poke at the faith of others. By building a trust and honouring each and every person where they are they will let you lead them into unchartered waters in faith and be open to where they might see God for the first time. God will speak to them if you take the time to help them listen. As Jesus walked into Samaria, to be with the woman at the well we must watch for Jesus in places that we do not expect him. It is the human who thinks him not there. It is not because he is absent. I have seen great growth in myself this year. With the help of the TFE requirements and the congregation opening their hearts to a student, with all her flaws, God has blessed us all in many ways.
A colleague of mine said, “I'm wondering what God really wants us to do.” I believe God wants us to listen and then act in faith. Blessings, Cynthia.