These past weeks, since my arrival in your midst, I have so enjoyed getting to know you better and learning of your experiences and hopes and dreams for Winfield United. And as you know by now, I have been hosting Meet & Greet sessions with small groups and I am grateful for what has been shared with me…I look forward to more of the same this coming week. When a new minister arrives in the midst of a congregation’s life, it sometimes feels like being parachuted in. I arrive not at the beginning of a story nor at its conclusion, but rather right smack dab in “the middle”. You didn’t wait this past year, you didn’t put things on hold, you didn’t cease to exist. You carried on and might I say amazingly well. As a group, you rolled along and continued to live into what I have personally calling your mission statement: Love Lives Here. And we are figuring out how to work together, our leadership styles and how they differ; how we communicate with one another, how do we make decisions, what needs to be addressed and what things can wait. Hopes, dreams, expectations and anticipation characterize our time with one another.
The scripture readings we heard this morning may seem so very far removed from our concerns in the here and the now. Do these words have anything of substance to offer a new pastoral relationship like we find ourselves embarking on? Well, there were times this week when I would have said no. The sentiment in both Paul’s letter and Matthew’s writing to the early Church, sound heavy-handed and laden with legalism. Live under the Law or else! That sentiment may not be particularly helpful to us as we are still getting to know one another in a new relationship if ever they will be helpful. What the passages did cause me to reconsider is what does it mean to be spiritual? We are salt and light…we have these wonderful qualities that make us shiny and flavorful and ultimately the world a better place. Back in Jesus’ time, the individual and the community were profoundly interdependent. Would we say this is the case today? You may argue that community today is not as important as it once was…we have trouble depending on people…we don’t know our next door neighbors anymore…we go out and try and join a group…but there are expectations that seem to go with belonging and those can be hard to maneuver. Churches too can fall into this. I like to think that Winfield does a very good job of extending welcome because I have experienced it firsthand. Might it be your spirituality that you are in touch with that makes this community open and accessible?
So what are the characteristics of a healthy, spiritual community? Well the answers to that would be as varied based on one’s own experience. But I do think there are certain benchmarks that we would do well to keep in sight as a community going forward. I have three to share with you this morning:
1. A commitment to being on the spiritual journey with others: who is around me this morning? Who do I not maybe know very well and need to step out of my comfort zone and go over and say hi to at coffee? What do I know about their spirit-story? Am I ok with people thinking and sharing in ways different from my own?
2. Contributing to something greater than oneself: Instead of asking, What’s in it for me, consider How can I help? Each one of you is a necessary part of the greater good. There are an amazing overflowing abundance of gifts in this community. I get excited every time I consider them. The Thrift store and the countless volunteer hours that go into an Outreach service for our community as well as much-needed and appreciated income for our church. Eat Play Love and how it looks different from what we have known in the past… There are growing pains that we will face if we are going to be on the cutting edge of new and alternative gathering styles.
3. A willingness to be transformed, to be changed through an ever-increasing indwelling of the divine presence that is already here, in our hearts. We do this in so many ways as a community. We have a pastoral care team that works to ensure you all know that you are cared about. The Circle of Peace gathering which every week offers new spiritual experiences, times for silence so that we might connect with our inner beings as well as hold space for the persons gathered around that circle. The various studies and workshops that are brought to you by our Spiritual Nurture team.
As I reflect on the spirituality of this community, there are specific things that I hope we will consider as a congregation doing together that will further our spirituality. I hope we will eat together on a regular basis. Last night at Eat, Play, Love was a beautiful example of this. Breaking bread, sharing meals, good conversation is part of a life-giving practice. It’s at meal times that we share our joys and disappointments and continue to learn about one another.
I also hope we can have a discussion about how we see inter-generational activities becoming part of what we do on a regular basis. There are strong feelings on both sides of the Eat Play Love Sunday offering and I want to hear everyone’s perspective. It is hard to hear feedback that counters our visions and desires…but this is just part of being accountable to one another and that means coming to the table and having a conversation about how we fulfill this very aspect of our being in community with one another.
I also hope we can create opportunities to explore what role prayer plays in our individual and communal spiritual lives. You made the decision to let go of the Lord’s Prayer in its traditional form. I accept this. But I find myself asking what do we pray in its place? Are words we say together necessary to our gathering? And if so, what will they be?
You started a process of visioning and writing a mission statement that did not see its completion. I think resuming this work is a necessary undertaking and comes at a critical junction in our journey. What things do we agree on and what things will we agree to disagree on. It’s ok to think different from one another. But the end goal is still the same and that is building a caring and spiritually uplifting community that you have told me repeatedly since I arrived is of upmost importance to you.
I called this reflection today Life Together…you can expect more messages from in the coming months that will likely have this same title. We have so much to celebrate here in this place. Things will change as we go forward but they always do. The diversity we experience in community matters but it also won’t stall us. Together we keep going….to be salt and light…things necessary to our very beings in both a literal and figurative way. May we give flavor and taste to our sharing….move the bushel basket out of the way that was hiding our inner light from shining. May we be salty and bright together.
Amen and Amen.