I have been doggedly catching up with folks lately, particularly the new faces who have arrived over the summer while I was away as well as those who have been showing up this fall. One of Old First’s particularly blessings is the number of new people this community is always welcoming. I guess, that’s a challenge too, but the kind of challenge one wants.
Anyway, the conversations with people a pastor gets to have are often quite incredible. In fact, they relate to perhaps the profoundest privilege of being a pastor — having people invite you into their lives. While sometimes ministry can leave one feeling sort of impotent, in as much as often there is not much you can do — but sojourn with people — when they are facing some very difficult situations. You can’t heal their illnesses, or salve their disappointments or even, as a Protestant pastor, forgive their failings. Rather, you get to be with them, whether they find themselves on a mountaintop or in some shadowed valley. And every place in between.
Pastoring works best, in my experience, when I can keep in my head and heart the honor of being invited or allowed to stand with people. Sometimes, I even hope, the position we pastors get to take in people’s lives is some low-grade, human-facsimile, “through a glass darkly” reflection of our God who has promised to be with us always.
Anyway, in one of my recent catch-up conversations, I heard from a newcomer how, while he was hospitalized, the Bible was his introduction to God and faith. That’s not surprising really, even if it’s unusual in our congregation. In more conservative churches, where a more literal or fundamentalist faith in the Scripture is common, I believe bible study — in a class or on one one’s own – – is a fairly common pathway to faith. It’s just not as common for as many in our more progressive community!
Another person I spoke with this week understands that life itself has been how he’s come to faith. The church and faith of loved ones has always been part of his life. But it’s only over the years and all the twists and turns and what he has learned… the road of life, it turns out, has delivered him some distance to the doorstep of the church.
A young woman told me recently how she came to faith via a Christian fellowship group in her college years. If I understood correctly, this was the woman’s first time on her own, and, away from her family, she loved the community and how she fit all closeknit in it. In those bonds, she not only came to know others, but also God. Interestingly, as she got to know herself, she realized that who she was wasn’t welcome in that community. Isn’t that just like life? The wholeness she found in a certain community landed her beyond that community and where it could go or accept her going…
I suspect that, details aside, this last example is the most common path for many of our folks at Old First. Like the UCC itself, we’re a pretty horizontal faith community — it’s in the midst of us that most of us come to discern our faith and who Jesus and God and the Spirit are for us.
I share these scenarios not to suggest any road is better than another, but to remind us how many roads there are… the diversity of paths to God. We often say that church needs to be a community with open doors in all directions. That’s true. But that’s because long before the door, or our threshold, there are so many pathways coming in from all directions and starting out way farther back than we can see.
There are also the pray-ers. And the charity workers. And the pastoral visitors. And the social justice fighters. And the quiet, behind the scenes servants. There are the folks who serve on the administrative boards. And the choir. And the music lovers. Or the Ushers. It takes a congregation to be the church!
And I suspect for most of us, it was a few different roads or a big knot of different roads that brought us on the incredible journey from unbelief to faith.
It’s probably important to have some history or remembering of your Road to Damascus. What road brought you to your faith? Are you still on that road now? Or is there another road that has opened before you like some second mile?
My point is simply to ask that people notice, appreciate and marvel all the ways that God can bring us to faith. There’s some confidence in that, I believe. All the miles we need to travel and all the different scenes and lands we need to pass on our way.
And, I hope, we pray that our church has openings at the end of each of God’s roads for the people God has had them walk… openings to find their ways on into the place they fit closeknit in our community, a community with enough space for us all to grow.
See you in church,