God's Showing Up on Sunday: Expect Surprises: Old First E-pistle 01.07.15

The day is almost here!

We’re getting started!!

Hold on to your hats!!!

The Capital Campaign has finally gotten past:
…the quiet phase,
….the fundraising phase,
… the ‘repaying our endowment with the first dollars’ phase,
…the ‘less than exciting, but things that really needed to be done down in the basement where no one sees them’ phase, AND
… the ‘getting all our information together so we can figure out how to move ahead’ phase.

Someone asked me recently, “What happened to the Capital Campaign? It’s like it just disappeared!” It does seem so long ago that we got started on the Capital Campaign. All the planning. The feasibility study. And the Capital Campaign themes. The people witnessing to why Old First is important to them. The hands hanging from the tree in the front of the sanctuary. All the talk, and a summer full of cake!

The challenge to give above and beyond. And the heartening responses — both people’s generous pledges and the speed with which we are putting our money where our promises were! (Actually, a lot has been achieved and happened — they’re just not necessarily the most visible of accomplishments!)

Nothing has been dropped. People have been hard at work all along, getting ready for this moment — strong leadership preparing a challenging recommendation… and for the congregation’s vote.

Keeping with an Epiphany theme, we move into a more visible phase of the Capital Campaign this Sunday: the Renewal Committee will introduce the property assessment prepared by KSK Architects. But more than that motherload of detail and information, the committee will present their 4 Recommendations for an approach for proceeding with the Capital Campaign’s work on our buildings.

The Renewal Committee has been one of those rare committees in church life — in a relatively short time, its members have covered a lot of territory; assimilated a whole new landscape of information; and, finally, synthesized a bold, insightful leadership proposal for the congregation to consider.

My deep thanks to Geneva for taking this big job on as one of her first “special projects” as our Pastor Emerita. And to the members of the committee: Griffin, Julie, Keith, Mark F. and Nancy.

Their work together really has been a model for church leadership:
~ learning whole new areas of information in a strange and foreign world that can’t help but be surprising;
~ remaining honest, real, faithful (mission-oriented) and hopeful; and, in the midst of all that,
~ plotting a way forward that honors our past and opens us in faithfulness to a different future.

Before that decision at the upcoming Annual Meeting on Jan. 31, we have just 2 more things to get in place:

1) Turn out as many people this Sunday, Jan. 10, to hear the Renewal Committee’s presentation and 4 recommendations. (Could you help us with turn-out? Make a few calls; send a few messages?)

2) A ‘question & answer session’ after church on Jan 24 — where members of the Renewal Committee want to make sure everyone understands their recommendations (and they field the questions that anyone has).

Unfortunately, I won’t be here this weekend: I will be back in Missouri for my mother’s funeral. I have complete confidence in the Renewal Committee, their recommendations and their ability to present them.

Still, pastors serve a certain role. Often, it’s my job to provide stability and reassurance when things could get unsure or reactive. I feel badly that I won’t be present for that ministry. Let me then finish this E-pistle with a brief reassurance by which I ask you to prepare yourself spiritually for the meeting on Sunday:

One of the reasons unexpected or quick change is hard for us to grapple with sometimes is because it’s surprising. We want what we know; what we have grown gotten used to and comfortable with. Surprise often leaves us feeling bewildered or confused, unsure or disillusioned. Beloved, expect surprise this Sunday. But one that is being shepherded to you by people you know and can trust. Surprise that I am confident is of God. Not surprise as an inevitable loss or bad news. Rather as a sign of possibility and of God’s presence.

As Christians, our faith promises that even what at first appears to be negative, can often turn out — in God’s grace — to be positive. One more surprising way that God acts.

How’s that? Because God is, precisely, a God of surprises, who breaks into the human heart and soul, and into our world — and EVEN into our church — with fresh visions and expectations. It’s the surprising Christmas gospel of the Christ child born in Bethlehem. It’s the surprising Easter gospel as well — of an empty tomb, of Jesus resurrected and still with us.

I have a trusted colleague who claims the exclamation “Surprise!” is another name for God. When God shows up, you can count on there being surprises…

Beloved, come Sunday and let God surprise you!

Sit with anything that leaves you feeling unsure or a bit off-balance.

Pray on it. Talk with others. Listen deeply. Stay with it and look for God in it.

Come to the q. & a. on 01.24 with your questions formulated.

But also ask God to help you see again how surprise and grace work for us.

I will be praying for you all at Old First (from First Congregational/St. Louis, the church I grew up in),


P.S. I can’t wait to get back on Monday and hear how you all reacted…