On Sunday I preached at Elkton Presbyterian Church. It’s the first time I’ve been back to preach for many months, though I’m in that church every Friday for Community Kitchen. I led both services, traditional and the new contemporary. It was a deeply moving experience for me. The church is changing and, like always, I am astonished to see God’s creative grace in the midst of a renewed and growing community.
I remember the church over the years... very traditional, mainstream Presbyterian. Recently, though, a quiet revolution has been taking place: a compelling move to reach out in mission, and, even more significantly, the church itself has become a place of doing mission.
I saw it in the mix of people... not just long time members and staunch defenders of the traditional faith, but folks from our community at Meeting Ground and Kitchen who have been homeless, and one woman experiencing homelessness who felt warmly welcome to come to church just like an old-timer. Pastor Laurie Loveless has been a gentle, determined leader.
The contemporary service was crowded, and there was an atmosphere of Spirit... worship leaders were not afraid of making a blunder, but free to praise God and share the warmth of being present. Just outside the sanctuary, small round tables were set up. People were enjoying fellowship with refreshments, but unlike a rigid after-church coffee hour, it had the informality and relaxed ambiance of a sidewalk café.
I preach in a lot of churches, and I see this movement emerging. Not just among Presbyterians, but in other denominations too. There is the sense that an old order is being laid to rest, although I am certain there is much in the tradition that will always stay rooted in our common heart. But it is the warmth, the Spirit of relationship, a new way of being “church” together. And it’s humbling to realize that the Lord God is not limited to denominational boundaries. God is at work in the world for sure, and maybe now, at long last, in our churches as well.
Most remarkable of all, there is a sense that church political issues are not so important. The people are centered in Jesus, present and alive, and focused on right-relationships with God, themselves, and all others. They are eager to make a difference, in the Church certainly, but more especially in the world. The Spirit is moving among us in a dynamic new way.
I kept thinking all day: God help us Presbyterians if we fail to grasp this and to follow its tide. It’s not a fad, that’s for sure. Forward looking, yes. But it is moving toward our roots – it’s a radical movement... a return to the day as when Paul was passionate to say, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified... “ 1Corinthians 2:2 Fancy that. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever our future.