Re-Gathering

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One morning I found myself overwhelmed by competing demands on my time. With five women in the Titus 2 residence, three of whom are relatively new and two under court order, there are a lot of meetings, counseling sessions, and appointments- mental health, medical, legal, etc. One of them had a mental health meeting by internet video which required my phone for an hour. I also had another lady in jail who was appearing in an important pretrial hearing that involved our ministry and I had been meeting with her regularly since January regarding what the likely outcome of this hearing would be. It was a tense morning. My husband and I have a dog that has been suffering some medical issues for several months. The night before we’d been up most of the night with him coming to grips with the reality that we may be nearing an end of life decision for him. On top of these things, I felt it necessary to be at a two hour church staff planning meeting that morning for resuming church services in our renovated building in Lynn Haven which had formerly been our church’s secondary recreational facility.

I arrived there at 10:00 a.m. anxious and ambivalent about my priorities that morning, not knowing which of these competing demands were most necessary. And without my phone, I also felt cut off from all of them except the church planning meeting, which I had no part in arranging and to which I felt I could contribute little. My role on staff is quite tangential to the work of others. I handle benevolence requests that come in. I do community outreach at the margins of society. I do some discipling and counseling with congregation members, as needed. But I have no role with the day to day operation and no role with worship services or other functional week to week activities. I do read the minutes of the meetings and I read the weekly newsletter and review and pray for the weekly prayer list and attend weekly worship.

I could not go into the meeting. I excused myself and went to an office to pray first “Lord, I am anxious and I am conflicted by all that is pulling on me this morning. I do not know why I feel this way. I want to run back to Titus 2 and wait for the call from the jail about the court’s order so I can make whatever arrangements need to be made. I want to tend to the matters at hand there and check on Bill and the dog. Everything there feels important. This planning meeting does not feel like my work. Tell me what you want me to do.”

As quickly as that God reminded me that in 2014 when I was challenged by the circumstances that were pushing me away from Bethel Village, a ministry coach asked me, “Do you have to do what you do there at Bethel Village?” I thought about it and prayed about it overnight. The next morning I was at peace. The Lord told me that I was called to “a purpose and a people, not a place” – to teach the Gospel to women with life-limiting dysfunctions, assimilating them into healthy faith community. I could do that from anywhere. The next day I told the staff I would be leaving. My leaving there and starting Titus 2 Partnership, Inc. happened within 24 hours. The next few months and years would further clarify additional lessons about God’s call on my life to “a purpose and a people, not a place”, including freeing me from an idolatrous religious devotion to denominationalism. While The UMC had formed much of my theology, it had also shown me the seedy underbelly of institutional religious politics and the divisive manipulations of power in the hierarchies of human bureaucracies and spiritual warfare. This was not the beautiful bride of Jesus Christ. It was an institution of men. God could still work within its flawed people, but this was simply one more of them coming apart at the seams. God would not let me leave, but he would not let me go deeper into the fracas either. Finally, God released me from it and so did they. It was a relief. Similarly, he challenged my “place” in my own home church that had molded my love of community and I felt moved to the margins there, as well. Then with Hurricane Michael I was freed from the very notion of a physical church facility altogether and even from the idea of being part of just a single church “family.” Place was no longer even in my every day language for “church”. I had become quite comfortable with the new view at Lynn Haven UMC that “The church is not a building.” So here I was in the newly remodeled building and the discussion was the “re-gathering” of the congregation that had not been in its own facility since October 2018. I felt like I was coming out of my skin. This was the last place I felt like I needed to be. I had little to offer in how to manage crowd flow or how we would manage to “social distance” and assure safety and meet and greet with masks on. This was all so out of my comfort zone. I am no longer an “inside” staff person with regular duties.

However, in that moment God said to me, “THIS is most important. Being here. This is the Body of Christ. When I called you to a purpose and people, I called you to this – the Body of Christ, the church. This IS your purpose and people. If you are not bringing people to the church, then all the outreach, all the discipling, all the teaching, all the mentoring, all the living in their midst means nothing. You must draw them in, closer to the heart of God.”

I have had some of my holiest moments with God in worship, in prayer, in Communion, in the sacrament of baptism or in rituals of remembering baptism, or hearing the Word proclaimed among God’s people….. in community. Community brings healing. Community gives rise to praise and thanksgiving. Community is celebration of God’s presence among us.

I recalled an essay I had read many years ago entitled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles Hummel and I realized I was under assault that morning by that very Tyranny….. All of these things felt so urgent to me. I couldn’t see what was most important. But I could feel the tyranny of it and I knew where to go with it. God was good. He took me immediately back to my first love and his will…. His call on my life and the reason I get up each day and do what I do….. His glory.

These last few months of isolation and “virtual church” have been harder for some of us than we have realized. We are starved for true community. I am eager to re-gather. No, it won’t be the same. It will, however, be wonderful. God will be with us and we will be with one another.       CBB 5-19-2020

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