Thursday, June 09, 2011

breakfast at faithfulness

At least once a week I would guess, I get some sort
of communication - electronic, mail, phone - which
usually tells me "Pastor!  We have the perfect program
for your church to grow/bring in new folks/attract new
members!  If you act now, we will throw in, at no extra
charge, our refurbished 'Transform Meager Misers Into
Stewardship Saints' DVD series."  Or so it seems.

But I have never gotten an invitation, a flyer, an email,
a phone call regarding that seminar which would show
me "How To Develop a More Faithful Church."

Until yesterday.

Every Wednesday morning, those who are around and
available gather as the 'urban pastors' of our presbytery,
to break our night's fast, to share prayers of joy and concern,
to speak of our struggles, our hopes, our dreams.  Yesterday
morning, we were invited to meet at Third Presbyterian Church.
In the eyes of the world, of the church growth experts, of
(probably) most of the leadership of the presbytery, it is seen
as a small, struggling, impoverished little congregation,
holding onto its past with its fingertips.  After all, it has only
about 18 members, doesn't have a full-time ordained pastor,
doesn't have a big budget, has a facility that most people
would just drive past in their search for the nearest
'successful' church.

But there in the basement fellowship hall of this church,
sitting around tables with mismatched chairs, and eating
a breakfast fixed by hands of love and hope, I found one of
the most faithful congregations I have ever encountered.

Only 18 members, but 19 ministries carried out by this
congregation of ordinary, everyday folk.  Members and
ministries that reach out to draw in the children and youth
of their community with tutoring programs, vacation bible
school (that had so many kids show up last year they had
to transport some of them to one of the bigger churches
nearby), programs to help young men become better
men and fathers, young women to be more caring, more
virtuous, more focused on their futures than their pasts.
Ministries that let children, youth, parents, neighbors,
strangers know that God is present in their neighborhoods,
that Jesus joins them in their prayer walks past the drug
dealers (who sometimes join with the pray-ers), that
the Spirit still swirls through their lives, dancing flames
on tops of their heads.

In that place, with those people, on that morning, I found
what faithfulness looks like, what the tongues of Pentecost
sound like, what grace and hope taste like.

And as I drove away, I wondered, "What if every church had
more ministries than it did members?"

© 2011 Thom M. Shuman

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