The Ability to Make It Through: Old First E-pistle 06.05.14

The Ability to Make It Through: Old First E-pistle 06.05.14

Last Friday night, the three YASC Community Ministers made a presentation to the YASC Committee about what their year with us has meant to them. On July 20, the last Sunday they will all be with us, they will be making these presentations in our worship service. You won’t want to miss their insights and lessons: they are memorable and moving.

But I want to share with you something I heard said later in the evening during the discussion of their presentations. I had commented on how they had spoken more about what they were taking from their service placements at Bethesda, Old First and POWER then they had shared about how the intentional community, living together, has made a difference for them.

We were discussing what “intentional community” is… and what it is not — with an eye towards what it could be.

That’s when our Pastor Emerita Geneva, who has taken over as YASCers’ spiritual sojourner after Rich moved away, said something to the effect:

“I think an intentional community is pretty much like the church itself. You are suddenly thrown together with a bunch of people not of your own choosing. It’s not easy. But from there you have to figure out how to live together.”
Her insight reminded me of this passage Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Community is not easy. Somebody once said, ‘Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.’ In Jesus’ community of twelve apostles, the last named was that of someone who was going to betray him. That person is always in your community somewhere; in the eyes of others, you might be that person.”

This all took me back to what an elder pastor wrote me in 1996 when I arrived as pastor of Flatbush-Tompkins Congregational Church in Brooklyn. His name was Arthur Wells. He had grown up at Tompkins Ave. Congregational Church– one of the forerunner congregations that, merging in 1942 with Flatbush Congregational Church, had formed the local church that I was serving as pastor almost 60 years later. Arthur was also a character and sort of the self-styled Dean over the UCC family of churches in the NYC metro. area.

He was apologizing for not being able to attend my installation as the new pastor. And he wrote about the pastorate that lay ahead of me: “It won’t always be easy. There will be days when you wish you were anyplace else. Misunderstanding will abound. Unkind judgments will be made. Unkind words will be spoken. But forgiveness is possible. Redemption is the promise. And making it through together, that is worth all the trouble. When you get there, it’s nothing short of glorious.”

There have been many difficult days of ministry since he wrote those words — in the midst of painful disagreements or frustrating misunderstandings — when I have meditated on and given thanks for the wisdom of his counsel. And there have also been days when I — we — have experienced the glories of forgiveness and redemption and “making it through” together.

Of course, you need the good times to have any reason for being willing to make it through the bad times. And I guess, sometimes you need the difficult times if you really hope to learn and grow and get on to even better times.

I have a friend, a woman my age, who never married. She tells me she prefers to date men who have been married and raised a family with their wife. She explains that, though the marriage ended, these men often have an ability that other do not. They’ve hung in over the long haul, lived through tough times, she thinks, because they figured out that the relationships and the challenges and the rewards were worth the difficulties. She says they have a stick-to-it-ness and are much better potential partners.

I don’t know if she’s right. Or if she’s talking about some acquired skill or an innate gift some have for hanging in there and making it through. But I do believe the question for all of us — in so many relationships and situations — is whether we have the maturity and commitment to give as well as to take. Can we hang in there when we’d rather throw in the towel, give up on the complications of community and do our own thing?

See you in church,

Michael