Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Stepping Out in Faith

Having been the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church (SSLC) for eight months and a week, I am starting to see a pattern emerging.  Whether it's my own personal pattern, or that of St. Stephen, or perhaps some synergy happening in our relationship, I don't know.  What I do know is this: we have been required on a number of occasions to step out in faith, out into unknown territory when the planning hasn't seemed quite to get us all the way.

The first occasion is what led me to become the pastor of SSLC.  Having agreed with the bishop to take part in the Delaware-Maryland Synod's first group ordination, the planning was already underway for the 18 September 2011 event.  My call sermon and the Congregation Meeting to elect me as pastor was scheduled for 28 August with three weeks to spare before the ordination service.  Hurricane Irene had other plans.  Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without power on 28 August, the heat was pressing heavily on the region, and emergency resources were called in from all over the region to help those in need of medical attention and relief from the dangerous conditions.  SSLC decided to cancel worship for that Sunday.  The earliest the worship and vote could be rescheduled was three weeks later, 18 September.  The synod staff and I decided to trust in the Holy Spirit and move ahead with my name in the ordination service bulletin, confident that our patience with the process and the mutuality of excitement between the SSLC Congregation Council and me were promising of a positive vote.  We were not disappointed.  The worship went forward as planned (the second time), the vote took place and was overwhelmingly positive (I am told), and a mere three hours after receiving the good news, I was vested and processing into my service of ordination.  St. Stephen, the Delaware-Maryland Synod, and I had stepped out together in faith and been met by the uplifting presence of God.

Though other faith-stepping moments have happened between then and now, I want to highlight two events from this weekend which are the reason I decided to write this post.  The first was our first SSLC Community Flea Market and Bake Sale on Saturday.  On Sunday, when we had to make the call whether to go ahead or not, we only had a few tables (two?) booked for sellers, one of which was our bake sale table.  It wasn't promising, but efforts had been made at advertising, and I feared that canceling would have made any future prospects much more difficult to manifest.  So we moved forward.  We borrowed a giant canopy-tent from a member's employer, I spent two days knocking on neighborhood doors and distributing flyers, and we stepped up our promotion on Craig's List.  Much to our surprise, in just a couple days we had collected ten sellers.  And then an unexpected derecho swept through the region.  The tent was destroyed, power was lost to half a million customers in our area alone, and roads were blocked by fallen and broken trees in every direction.  The question was raised whether we ought to go ahead, and again we pressed on.  No one knows what would have happened without the challenges, but we raised $150 that day for our local food pantry (S.W.E.S.) and the ELCA Malaria Campaign, and we began our work to let the neighborhood know that we are a community resource for everyone, that they are invited to come and experience a relationship with God.  SSLC and the shoppers from our neighborhood stepped out together in faith and experienced an outpouring of generosity from God and our neighbors.

The next day was Sunday, and power was still out in the neighborhood.  We did not cancel worship this time, both because reaching all those who might make an effort to come for worship is unfeasible and because the Church is to be a resource to strengthen God's people, and when might we need strength more than when we are struggling?  To everyone's surprise, we had more than twenty people in worship that morning (about half our regular attendance in recent weeks).  God gathered us in the midst of this trial to share camaraderie and experience the soothing grace of God.  In the still, hot air of our Fellowship Hall, to the sound of an acoustic guitar and our rarely-played piano, lit by the mid-morning sun streaming through our high windows, and abbreviated from the printed bulletin on the fly, the faith community of St. Stephen Lutheran Church worshiped our Lord Jesus Christ in recognition of and gratitude for our many blessings which we all-too-often take for granted.  Sweating together and enjoying each other's company over a cup of water and the zucchini bread made from the first produce of our starter garden, we stepped out in faith and were overwhelmed with the endurance, perseverance, and dedication of our fellows in our beloved St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

The path is not yet straight, and the mountains are not yet plains, but God accompanies us every step of the way.  St. Stephen Lutheran Church is relearning endurance and trust in God's providence.  We pray for what we want, for the solutions as we see them, but we are being reminded that God answers prayer in the ways that we need to be upheld.  With God before us and behind us, above us and beneath, within and always beside, we will continue to trust that we can accomplish that which is given into our care.  We will build endurance as we take each next step, always stepping out in faith.

No comments: