Most folks in our congregation could tell you what our mission statement is. The guiding principle of our church is (say it with me): “We are about relationships: with God, with one another and with God’s hurting world.” You know it. I know it. The children and the youth know it. But one of the things I love about this congregation and about our mission statement is that it’s not just printed on posters around the building. It’s not just a tag-line at the end of every official email. It is lived out in hundreds of different ways every week. Let me tell you about just a few of the ways I’ve seen relationships at work over the past few days.
If you were in worship at 11:00 this past Sunday, you may have met Chester, a church member who had just been released from Riverbend Maximum Security prison on Monday. Chester’s regular mentor was unable to pick him up that morning, so another loving church member volunteered. He picked Chester up, took him to breakfast, and brought him to church to pick out some clothes. Later in the week, another church member took him to navigate the Social Security office and get his identification cards. When I saw Chester on Sunday and complimented his sport coat, he said that another church member, one who had also been an inmate at RMSI at one time, had taken him to do some shopping. After church, Chester and a whole group of people went out to lunch together, a spontaneous celebration!
During the Sunday School hour I met with the Inquirers Class in the Library. This was our third week together, and I have really enjoyed getting to know these new friends. Apparently, they have enjoyed getting to know each other as well, because one of the couples in the class invited everyone over for chili after the class wraps up! They too are about relationships as they become a new and important part of this congregation.
On Sunday afternoon I came back to the church to drop Tate off for youth choir and to prepare for our Disciple Bible Study class. I had an hour to prepare, so I decided to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. While outside, I ran into two of our church members who lead small groups with the youth. Neither of them is the parent of a teenager. They are both young adults, and yet they choose every Sunday evening to come to the church and be loving, supportive mentors in the lives of young people.
I left the playground and headed into Disciple class, where I sat with a diverse group of adults, many of whom did not know each other before the study started. In the course of two hours we laughed and cried together, and we struggled over some of the deepest questions of life: the nature of God, human nature, sin, temptation, repentance, grace. As we wrapped up, I had to run upstairs to get Tate so that Paul and Doug could turn out the lights and go home, but I left a group of classmates hanging out in the classroom, sharing stories and hugs and life together.
I am amazed at the way God is building relationships in this place. We live in a county, in a city, where it’s easy to feel isolated. People don’t always know their neighbors. They don’t always have a place to belong. What we have here at Christ UMC is what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a “beloved community,” and it is worth sharing with others.
This is just a gentle reminder, then, to be aware and mindful of others in our community. Reach out and offer kindness to others. Invite them to church. Or when you’re here on Sundays, introduce yourself to someone new. Invite someone to sit at your table on Wednesday night. Bring someone with you to Sunday School. Stand at the coffee pot on Sunday morning and make new connections. Together, let’s continue to “draw the circle” of relationships wider still!