One of the things I love is taking long walks along the bay beach. Because the area is not manicured, cleaned, or policed, it is about as natural a landscape as exists in south Jersey. It has become a place of both renewal and healing for my spirit, and each time I am there, the Holy Spirit reveals some new truth or insight to my soul.
While walking a few days ago, I was busy meditating and picking up stones and breathing in rhythm with the immense and soothing body of water to my right. I stopped when I realized just how far I had gone, and I felt a quick wave of adrenaline wash over me; not because I was lost, but because I realized I had gone further than I had before. I decided to keep going, just to the next jetty, enough to notice and experience a new terrain. I was not disappointed. Because of the way the tides flow, the beach in between each jetty is different; some are filled with small rocks and stones; one is scattered with oyster shells, another completely smooth sand, yet another littered with washed up reeds and driftwood. They are all beautiful and unique.
Walking back I realized just how far I had walked. My legs ached. I was thirsty. And I wondered how long it would be until I was back home. But something made me look down. What I notice stopped me in my tracks. Though the beach is at least 20 yards wide, I had been walking back over my own footprints. Literally tracing my steps without being aware of it.
And then I heard a whisper- "Go back over where you've been- this is your path."
As I hope is evident in the latest sermon series, "Interruptions and Upheavals," we should notice that we have indeed gone beyond where we have walked before as a congregation. We are at a place where we realize it, and yes, we have a chance to go just a bit further, or quickly turn and head for home.
But before we take a step one way of the other, let's take a moment to retrace our steps; to look at the path we've traveled to get here. It doesn't take much to see that God has been steadily equipping us and strengthening us for such a time as this.
People: Look at the people God has brought to our congregation over the past few years. Each one with a specific gift, talent, idea, skill, quality. They are too numerous to mention here; but mixed and integrated with the people already at FBCM, it feels much like a puzzle with each piece being fitted into the other perfectly. Each one enhances the gifts of another to complete this beautiful colorful community of faith. Because of your willingness to follow the spirit a little further, each person, each one of us, found their way to and/or stayed at FBCM.
Programs: Reflect on the structural changes that have taken place In our church over the past few years. The way we function day to day, the implementation of a one board system, ministry teams and circles, and a streamlined model of leadership; one that is efficient enough to continue through a quarantine, and at the same time, encourage new ministries to develop and grow. This could not happen under the old system of church governance and without a willingness to follow the spirit just a little further.
Personnel: The church staff over the past few years has also grown and shifted. God blessed us with a loving and passionate Associate Pastor who's broad range of gifts enhances our congregational life and spiritual walk. Our kind and selfless Pastor of Visitation who continues to bring pastoral care and inclusion to our stay at home congregants, making sure every one feels valued and connected. Our Children's Minister- a joyous surprise to our congregation who has been with us just a short time yet has made such a huge impact on all of us, young, and young at heart. Our Music Minister who brings a passion for sharing the love of Christ and a talent for multi genres and styles of music to our worship so we can experience the spirit in the sacred and the secular. Because of our congregation's willingness to listen to the spirit's call to go a little bit further, each of these people now minister in an unprecedented time and share pastoral leadership and responsibility which is beyond what any solo pastor could do.
Perks: (or: Some incredible gifts which emerged from our new people, programs, and personnel) A person who used his gifts in Art Ministry enhanced our worship for the past two + years and now, because of his willingness to go beyond and learn new things, we are gifted with online worship technology and creativity that affords us a way to be connected each Sunday morning. Our food pantry continues to operate because of two people who feel called to share their time and think outside the box creating safe practices which will change the way we address food insecurity from now on. Online giving has enabled our church and beyond to participate in the ministry in big ways that is allowing our ministry to thrive. Small groups have formed and are taking root because of our need to stay connected, but because of someone saying yes to the Spirit urging them to begin a small group initiative. Each ministry circle has been listening to the Spirit to go beyond, just a little bit further.
Plans: In 2017 we took a long hard look at ourselves and began to live into our new structure and even our new region; following the Spirit a little bit further had changed and grown and shifted us as a people of God. We discovered spiritual gifts and how our call might play out in this community of faith. And God increased out number again. In 2018 we took a year in our "backyard" to get to know one another (old and new), assess our gifts, grow and deepen relationships and enjoy the people God brought together in ministry who we now sat next to in the pews. We worked hard, and played hard, and at the end of the year we were ready to walk beyond our backyard. In 2019 we prepared for and lived out the pastor being on sabbatical. Our Associate stepped up, our leadership team stepped in, and the church learned another facet of being community and lived out congregational care and communion in confidence! Of course!! the spirit said, 'go just a bit further,' and the response was a resounding yes!
Provision: Our last sermon series before worshiping apart yet together, was called "On the Road Again." We talked about how we can't go with God and stay where we are at the same time- and how intentional Jesus was about ministering to people he met, not in church, but on the road. Simultaneously, we were commissioned, deployed, sent out, on our own ministry roads. You can't look back at the path we've traveled and say we were not prepared.
Our latest discipleship journey began when we heard the spirit to urge us to go beyond, try something new- connect and worship in new ways, and we've listened. And if we are honest, she is still speaking to us, still urging us a little further down the beach to what lies beyond the next jetty. I can't promise you it will be easy, or that the terrain will be recognizable. But what I can promise you that God will bring us new revelations, new insights, healing and renewal as we go.
Just a little further...