When my sister told my dad she was pregnant, she made sure I was there. I don’t know what type of protection she imagined I would offer her but seeing as I was equally afraid for her life I decided accompanying her was the compassionate thing to do. My sister was in her early 20s. She wasn’t married. Hadn’t finished college. We all know these things happen but that night, sitting around the neatly set table, the sun setting gently behind us, my dad realized they happen to our family too.
This morning, standing before all of you, the fate of my sister that quiet evening feels quite real. See…. “I’m having a church.”
This wasn’t the plan, of course. I imagined myself settled down as the solo pastor of a quiet mountain town church by now. I would live in the parsonage, do story time at the local library, and go hiking on my lunch hour. That was my plan. Except, something happened. No one told me I needed to protect my plan. A few days ago, a friend sent me a Bonhoeffer quote that read ‘we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” I wish someone would have told me this two years ago. I would have ignored Dick Hanson when he regularly sought my advice regarding the 9.5 acres of land the Conference purchased 20 years ago under the leadership of Rev. Margaret Hankins in Southeast Aurora. “I don’t know, Dick…” I would have said.
I wish someone would have warned me that there are people, young people, unchurched people, out in our community that are desperate to believe; to believe in a new beginning, a sacred space, a welcoming community. I would have kept my mouth shut. But I didn’t. We gathered together and I as the dreamer found over time that to others these were not dreams at all, but plans. And now here I am, hands shaking, eyes tearing up, telling you that I am unexpectedly expecting the birth of something completely unpredictable; a new faith community.
I don’t know what the right way to birth a new faith community should be but I’m not sure anyone does anymore. From 1945 to 2001 more than 60 churches were started in what is now the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church. That averages out to one church a year. In the last 13 years, however, our Conference has started only two new faith communities. In our three state conference, over the past 13 years, the average of churches we used to start each year has become the number of churches we close each year. No wonder our plans are concrete, our visions so scarce…we, whether we are aware of it or not, are preparing for retirement not pregnancy.
My dad wasn’t excited about my sister’s little dinner announcement not because he was worried about public appearance or neighborhood rumors but because he loved her and wanted the best for her life. As a man thrust into parenthood with no college degree in his early twenties, my dad knew more than any of us at that table how hard her life was going to be as a single mom. He was not angry with her, he was afraid for her. He wanted something for her, he had not had, an easier way.
JK Rowling writes that soon we will all have to choose between what is easy and what is right. Will we retire or will we give birth? The hardest thing for us, as people of faith, is trusting that the unexpected, the unplanned, is the best for our lives not because it will be easy but because it will give birth to new life in all of us. With the support of the Rocky Mountain Conference, Pastor Don Bird, and Hope’s Administrative Council, over the next six months I will be inviting Hope Church to hear the story of this seed of a church we have come to know as The Land….and if you fall in love, as I have, with all that may become, perhaps we will find ourselves holding hands in the great sanctuary of labor and delivery in a field filled with cows in southeast Aurora.