Reflections at the end of a 20 Year Ministry
As I have been up packing books and sorting out papers in preparation for the move of my church office home, I have had plenty of time to remember and reflect on the ground that we’ve been covered together in these last 20 years, and I am sharing some of the highlights this week in my blog. This certainly isn’t everything that these last 20 years have been about, but here are some of the things that are closest to my heart, in no particular order.
- The Leaders
In my first full-time church ministry back in Idaho in the summer of 1974 I heard a guest speaker at a church conference say that the difference between churches are their leaders, and that a church will never rise above the vision and passion of those leaders. Well, here 44 years later I fully understand the truth of these statements. Northway has long been gifted with skilled and visionary leaders. The Elders, Diaconate, Ministry Chairs, Trustees, and Executive Committees that I have had the privilege of working with over these past 20 years have been among the finest Christians I have ever known. You have consistently blessed me and this church with your commitments, and you have kept faith with the part of God’s purpose that has been placed in our hands as a community of faith. “Well done Thou good and faithful servants.”
- The Communion of the Saints
The closing scene of the movie “Places in the Heart” shows a communion service taking place in a small country church and all of the characters from the story – the living and the dead – are gathered there in the pews as the trays of bread and cup are being passed. The doctrine of the Communion of the Saints refers to the way that the church exists in two dimensions at once across time – those Christians who are alive on earth right here and now in this present moment, and those Christians who have died and are now alive in God’s nearer presence. Hymn #654 in the Chalice Hymnal is based on a poem that was written by Frederick Hosmer in 1882 –
I cannot think of them as dead, who walk with me no more;
along the path of life I tread they are but gone before…
And still their silent ministry within my heart hath place,
as when on earth they walked with me, and met me face to face…
Their lives are made forever mine; what they to me have been
has left henceforth its seal and sign engraven deep within…
Mine are they by an ownership nor time nor death can free;
for God hath given to love to keep its own eternally…
In my mind and heart I see the faces of all those dear Northway members who are no longer present with us physically, but who remain alive and dynamically present with us still. As St. Augustine put it, “we never lose those we love when we trust them to the God whose love we never lose.”
- The Ordinations
By my count there have been 12 Northway people ordained to Christian ministry in the past 20 years, there is 1 person who is currently scheduled to be ordained in May, and there are 2 people who are currently in the ordination process. 15 men and women have gone out, or soon will go out into lives of Christian ministry from the membership of this congregation in the last 20 years! That’s a remarkable record, and I am grateful for each one of these servants we have had a hand in shaping for ministry.
- The Ministerial Team
From Richard English, Marilyn Dickson, and Rod Fisher when I first got here in 1997 to Mark Bender, Barry Preston, and Megan Turner today, I have been blessed with the best ministerial partners anybody could ever ask for. And in-between then and now – Jack Arrington, Rochelle Richards, Lea McCracken, Micah James, Shari Sims, Jennie Churchman, J.T. Tucker, Casey Tanguay, Jamie Plunkett, Cheryl Scramuzza, Mike Johnston, George Patterson, Leslie Irwin, Zena McAdams, Kristal Seid, Regina Franklin-Basye, Ruby Henry, Dana Lobaugh, Casey McCullough, Bill Morgan, John O’Neal, and Justin West have all shared part of this journey with me. I respect each one of these people deeply and honor their gifts and graces greatly. What joy is mine to have labored in the Vineyard beside each one of them. Of special note is Margaret Mulvey-Claiborne who was at the organ when I arrived in 1997 and who will be at the organ after this Sunday when I am finished. Thank-you my dear and talented friend.