“Old First is here serving all year long.
Join us, and contribute what you can
to the Gospel alternative we offer the world.”
It was an annotation next to the Offering in the bulletin at the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service — inviting the many, infrequent guests at that service to consider supporting this church and its ministry. Not just inviting them so much as giving them a reason they might want to contribute.
The explanation was a “volunteer” (like a single, out of place plant that has ‘shown up’ from an earlier year’s seeding or crop among this year’s different plantings) — from last year perhaps, or even earlier? For those sorts of once a year special services, we often begin by pulling up the previous year’s bulletin. When I read this “side-text” invitation on the first proofreading of the order of service, I instantly liked it, but its provenance escaped me. It was as if these words were completely new to me? Did I write them some year before? Or is it Teresa’s handiwork? Or some other proofreader’s anonymous contribution?
Here’s what I think I hear in those few words:
Gospel alternative: So much in our world feels like it’s spinning out of control into some bottomless abyss these days.
But we at Old First are among the many and varied communities that stridently, faithfully, confidently maintain a different vision and reality, an other, better way — a community where we are trying to give people the experience and space to keep hope alive. It makes me think of that flickering light in the deepest dark night from the beginning of John’s Gospel (John 1:5): a brave light that clearly cannot light the whole night, but that all the night in the world can never overwhelm.
Humility to replace our over-reach: Sometimes, going with Paul’s exhortation not to be conformed to this world but to transform the world (Romans 12:2), we set our sights big. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that… though maybe our eyes are sometimes bigger than our hearts? Also, I often wonder if our sense of ourselves, and our calling, and our capacities (even with God’s help) aren’t a sign of the privileged position that the church has often held in Western developed societies. Instead of claiming too much — that we’re going to revolutionize the whole world –we’re making a much humbler claim: that we can be a spring-fed oasis in an arid and desiccating time.
The promise of a place to help us stay grounded when everything around us feels out of control: I don’t think it was ever forethought or intentional, but there has emerged in our ‘congregational conversation’ about the next few months a new intermediate goal: to stick together and support one another, aware that times may well get worse before they get better. Old First can be a witness and solace, a place to repair and a place to prepare. As I said in the sermon last week, a bad tax plan didn’t stop God in Jesus’ time… bad politics in our time might slow us down, but doesn’t need to paralyze Christ’s church.
See you there,