This weekend a dear person in my life died unexpectedly. Louise and I have been part of the same faith community for 18 years. She was a member of that community for decades before I arrived. Lou and I shared many different seasons in our relationship, and we had more connecting points that I can count.
I’m sharing this loss with you today, not because I want to eulogize Lou. Our faith community will do that beautifully in the days and weeks ahead. And I am capturing my own memories as they come up for me. What I want to do, however, is to praise the beauty of the relational character of shared ministry.
I’m fortunate to be part of the community of faith that meets at Glendale Baptist Church. In that community I know the joy of being in relationships over time that grow and change shape. Dozens of people at Glendale, including Lou, helped me to survive graduate school, and the long and sorrowful journey to parenthood, and the birth of my daughter, and many job changes and vocational shifts. I’m a better person, and parent and minister for all the support and belonging they have lavished on me.
My life is also richer for the many ways I have been a part of their lives as well: the walking together and the praying, the welcoming new life and grieving lives lost, the cooking and caring, the navigation of conflict and change, and the work of serving people who are hungry, aspiring to more justice, and re-creating life together. Through all these many processes my family has a place of belonging at Glendale. And together these relationships give shape to an authentic shared community.
Relational, embodied faith communities
In a mobile culture that offers so many ways to escape, hibernate and isolate, I am delighted that week by week I get to stand in one sanctuary and share in worship. We sing in joy and lament together, watch children become adults over time, and hear one another speak and lead.
In fact church is one of the few remaining kinds of social groups in a postmodern society where people can still be a vital part of a community across time. At their best churches offer genuine opportunities to see each other at all life stages, interact across generations, and walk together through all the seasons from birth through death with all the milestones and rites of passage in between.
Of course at their worst, churches can also do harm, fail to show up for each other in authentic ways, lose their purpose and perpetuate all the ills of the human condition. This week’s 3MMM story about Trong, a study participant in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, and his first mentor Tam, shows how faith communities can both exclude and inspire their members.
Churches are never perfect or without flaws. But they are built on the ideas of God’s good news of love, and the possibility of forgiveness, and the manifestation of hope. And we can know none of these — love, forgiveness, or hope — without the beautiful and broken relationships of our shared life together.
This week as you think about your practice of ministry, I hope you will take into consideration the significant ways that ministry is relational, how those relationships have shaped you, and what your call is to be in relationships in ways that embody God’s love, forgiveness and hope.
This is also a good time to say thanks to Glendale Baptist Church for being a partner and earliest sponsor of the Three Minute Ministry Mentor. They also do great work in supporting the current generation of ministers in training!