While the past month has been an anxious time for churches, especially financially, there has also been a considerable amount of conversation among clergy and church leaders about signs that churches are growing. Some congregations, including Newtonville, have seen very regular participation in online worship from people who hadn’t always been that regular in person. Some of that may be due to isolating at home, or the opportunity to stream worship whenever you want. It may also, however, come from a longing for hope.
What I am most excited about is the growth I see throughout our congregation in both witness and discipleship. I’ve received feedback on the letters I’ve written from people far and wide, because you’re passing those letters on to family and friends. Some of you are sharing the link to our livestream worship with others who don’t have a church. You’re learning new technologies so that you can participate in meetings. Financial contributions are being mailed in. People are communicating better than ever. The church is alive and well.
Note that I didn’t say that I’m surprised by any of that. I knew it was there. I was confident that we had it in us. I want to make sure, however, that you understand the profound significance of what you are doing because you may not have the vantage point that I do. What you are doing is unleashing the Spirit into the world in new ways. What you are doing is taking bold steps to be the church at a profoundly difficult yet critically important time. What you are doing is recapturing the essence of Wesleyan Methodism.
When I have thought about the identity, the DNA, the very soul of Newtonville United Methodist Church, I think about all of the ways in which we are a center for community. I think about all of the local organizations – from recovery groups to Boys Scouts – who meet here. I think about the Samaritan Counseling and Albany District offices that we host here. I think about the community that happens through our Brooks Barbecues and Garage Sale. Now, with all of those on hold, you are finding new ways to be a center for community.
This is an anxious time for churches. Like our bishop, however, I am confident that God will not waste this moment – and neither should we. This is a time to grow. This is a time to learn. This is a time to try new things. This is a time to explore. This is a time to remember and revive the very essence of who we are, and perhaps to reinvent what it means to live that out. God will not waste this moment, this opportunity, for us to move boldly into the future. We are an Easter people. Let us step beyond our anxiety into new life, into hope, into faith.
Peace for the journey,