An open letter to our town…
‘…a tale of two communities’
July 10, 2020
It struck me just recently that the unease I have been experiencing of late, is partly due to the feeling that the temptation to ‘fear’ or to ‘worry’, was once again knocking on the door of our church. For a long time, the Church Council and members have consciously pushed that ‘fear of the future’ away, and sought to listen and to act solely on the voice of the Holy Spirit, as it lead us in building up our church family and community. And in large part we have been so richly blessed, as we saw our faith and our trust rewarded, and our budget balanced, as a result of numerous endeavors and much hard work on the part of all of us.
And as I reflected this past week on recent conversations regarding opening the church back up for ‘in-person’ worship, I realized that our ‘success’, or the actual underlying source of our blessings is actually a combination both of who we are, and of what we have long sought to do in our community. We are, in effect two different communities within the same town and under the same ‘name’.
Let me explain…for years now we have always sought to welcome all into our fellowship, and to truly seek to be engaged meaningfully in each other’s lives. We have not put forth any conditions, or asked anything in particular from anyone who has come through our front door, but rather just tried to make them feel at home and welcome. We have not specifically sought out the well-heeled, or made a big deal of stewardship or pledge drives each year but have let that aspect of our congregational life, ‘be what it is’.
Our fellowship and worship family who have gathered faithfully each Sunday is a community unto itself, a gathering of all who have heard that call to come, and have been welcomed in…regardless of anything and, as an invitation that had no strings attached to it. And by and large, the Lord has sent to us individuals who were searching for God, or who were much in need of finding, or being found by God due to hardship or deep need…or, those who just needed a friend, or to be around others who were friendly and safe. In essence, God trusted us to receive those in need.
And as a result, our worshipping community is much like the gathering that first assembled around Jesus…people needing help, hope, or support, or in need of friends or companionship. But…and this is a huge ‘but’…this is not a family that can support our church financially and in total all on its own, …for it is not something we have even asked of them, in fact, it was not something Jesus asked of his followers either. People are welcomed into our fellowship with whatever they have, and with whatever they need. If they choose to participate in supporting the church financially, that is a blessing to be sure, but it is not the only, or perhaps even the primary way we will continue to grow into the future.
In truth, Jesus’ own ministry was supported by many others in the surrounding community who, while not necessarily being a visible part of his movement, nevertheless believed in what he was doing and sought to support his ministry. There were in fact a number of wealthy women referred to in the scriptures, who played a significant part in supporting Jesus and his disciples, and in doing so, they enabled them to spread the Good News as they did for three years.
And that is where the second ‘community’ I referred to comes in. There are a large number of people within our surrounding community who see all that we have done, and continue to do for our community. They may belong to another church, they may not belong to a church at all, they may, or may not actually believe in God…and yet, they steadfastly support our efforts to serve our community. They make generous donations to our Food Pantry ministry (as evidenced so clearly lately), they make generous donations to our Thrift Shop through quality clothing and household donations which serve so many in need within the margins of our community. They come out for our concerts, dinners, cantatas, our farm stand, and monthly chicken Bar-b-q’s, and generously donate to us through civic organizations such as Patterson Rotary, and the Elks Club, all because they see and believe that we are doing a good thing for our community. And I would never ask them to do more than they are already doing…for in fact it is their support, more than anything else that is actively enabling and supporting the ongoing ministry and outreach of our church.
So you see, God has called two communities within one overarching work here in our town. One to minister as did Jesus to the sick and the broken…to lift up their prayers and needs each Sunday through meaningful fellowship and worship; and another, to offer support from outside of that in-house gathering, there to enable the ministry of our church not only to help those within the walls of the sanctuary, but also to help us continue our visible witness to all those on the outside looking in…all those who are pleased to see goodness in their midst…even if they do not fully know that God is responsible.
We all know who has been, and continues to be so generous and helpful to us, we all know of so many instances of unexpected blessings and unbelievably amazing opportunities that are just a part of who we are, and a part of the path we have been so blessed to walk together. And in this time of deep and strange uncertainty and real concern for one another, we need to remember how it is we got here, and who it is that has orchestrated the amazing blessing that Patterson Community Church has been and will continue to be. We need to remember and to lift up ‘who it is, in whom we have believed’, once again.
If anything, we should give thanks and not be fearful, for the one and only ministry we knew we could continue to do all through these last four months was not only the area of greatest need in our community, but the very thing that the ‘outer community’ felt most able and moved to contribute to.
So you see, being fearful is in a way, being unfaithful. For our Sunday congregation still gathers around a virtual YouTube service on Sunday mornings, and the other outer community still reaches out in steadfast support of our efforts to continue to serve. So, any fear of the church not surviving this pandemic, is just not taking into account, that good people in our community, still want to do good things.
We came this far by faith…leaning on the Lord…and we shall continue to be blessed if we continue to do all that the Holy Spirit places before us, both for our worshipping family, as well as for those who only look on from the outside and continue to offer their support. Our Lord tells us over and over, to ‘fear not’, but rather to continue to ‘seek first to live into our call to offer a refuge and welcome to all in need’…for in so doing we truly shall continue to have all that we need…
blessings, pastor david