A new year of mission and ministry...
Today we kicked off a new season of mission and ministry at First Church on Park Square: we started by gathering on Public Square with our Baptist and Methodists friends for prayer and song before heading back to our respective sanctuaries. It looked to me like we had about 50+ people - adults and children - for this morning's ecumenical celebration - a good beginning for a full year.
During worship we had over 25 children today - and LOTS of energy. I was feeling a little ragged leading music on the Square, practicing with the choir, getting our Sunday School registration moving and getting the band rolling, too. Hard to feel grounded when being pulled in three or four directions at the same time. And then, while welcoming the children, a little guy from China - Nicholas - just touched my heart by simply being Nicholas. And all the stress seemed to vanish so that I could be fully present in the joy and blessings of the day. There really is something to be said about greeting each moment as a child...
One of this year's commitments is strengthening our ministry to families and children. A number of folk have left the Roman Catholic tradition for a variety of reasons and found themselves joining us; they are looking for a strong foundation that celebrates the best of the Christian tradition with our unique emphasis on compassion and community. Others have found that our blend of the arts and the call to justice resonate with them. And still others have noted that at the core of our worship and prayer life is a sense of God's abiding joy. As I have written on many occasions, this ministry is shaped by the words of Jesus (reworked by Eugene Peterson) in the 11th chapter of St. Matthew: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
We distributed a beautiful little book of Psalms for Children to our elementary children this morning. One of our members discovered it while searching for resources for her grandchildren and it felt right sharing this treasure with our children and families today. The beauty of the book - in addition to the art work - is that each Psalm is carefully synthesized to its essence in simple and comforting language. These tender reworkings of the Psalms called to mind Christ's words in Matthew 18:
The disciples came to Jesus asking, "Who gets the highest rank in God's kingdom?" For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.
But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you'll soon wish you hadn't. You'd be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don't have to make it worse—and it's doomsday to you if you do.... Watch that you don't treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don't you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?!
Strengthening this ministry to children and families has taken on a new dimension for me. I firmly believe that the BEST way to equip children with a true faith is to equip their parents because children mostly become what the adults embody. At the same time, in this era of fear and hatred, I sense a unique obligation to share God's loving grace with our littlest ones, too. Not everybody grasps the importance of creating a safe place of faith for our children. Not everyone sees it as essential given all the other justice demands... but I do and this year we will give LOTS of attention to it.
We also kicked-off our Adult Formation ministry, too, with the "Living the Questions" series. The introductory material notes: People know that at its core, Christianity has something good to offer humanity. At the same time, many have a sense that they are alone in being a "thinking" Christian and that "salvaging" Christianity is a hopeless task. What is needed is a safe environment where people have permission to ask the questions they've always wanted to ask but have been afraid to voice for fear of being thought a heretic.
Tomorrow night I begin a series concerning justice and human sexuality... it is going to be a full and sweet year of mission and ministry.