In leaving the current congregation that I have been serving for the past six months as a First Responder, I wrote the following message for the December newsletter:
This being my last message in the newsletter, I just wanted to express my thanks to God and my heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity to serve this wonderful congregation. I realized upon my arrival that my role and my purpose in coming here was misunderstood by many. “First Responder” ministry is relatively new in the church, although it is growing rapidly as more congregations discover themselves in the midst of conflict.
If there is one thing I have learned about the Presbyterian Church in my years of service, it is that we are a mirror of our culture and our times. We live in an era of great upheaval and change, although I must admit that from my earliest memories I cannot remember a time without change. However, our changing culture today is also characterized by deep animosity and mistrust, as people factionalize themselves. As a culture, we have almost become tribal as opposed to diverse, and these strong social influences are tearing at the fabric of all groups, both secular and spiritual.
Yet, as the church of Jesus Christ we are commanded to be united by the Holy Spirit, even as the Spirit expresses the presence of God in a multitude of settings, languages, and practices. In these turbulent times, I keep remembering one phrase from the beatitudes that would help us to navigate these troubled waters: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” – I think if there are any words that Christians should currently adopt as the heart of the gospel, it is this idea and practice.
So this is the thought with which I will leave you as I head to the desert – “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This congregation needs to embrace peacemaking among each other, and practice peacemaking for this community. I have rarely been in a region where the needs are so great, especially as our communities enter a time where border issues are about to become prominent and possibly more divisive. I think you are blessed to live in a wonderful community, and I think that opportunities for the ministry of this congregation are abundant, but we cannot heal others until we first heal ourselves. Brokenness is not a curse, but a call to reclaim that which is essential and authentic. So it is that this congregation, in its brokenness and healing, has the obligation to find unity in purpose.
That purpose is nothing more or less than the work of bringing the love of Jesus to those in pain, those in turmoil, and those who dwell on the boundaries and in the shadows of this community. I have always believed that churches simply need to be too busy to fight with each other and, instead, fight for those who need the merciful love of God. As the church, we need to be mission-centered and spirit-driven, because the world needs us now more than ever. This is my prayer for you.
In return, I would covet your prayers for a wonderful start to my work in Tucson, and safe-keeping for myself, Amy, and Patti. I look forward to visiting you in the future, but whatever may come, there is a brighter future ahead for all of us, and place of reunion beyond anything we can every imagine. Until that endless day, may Christ keep you in his love always.