As I write, it is a Sunday afternoon and I have just returned to my office from sharing with Mooreville United Methodist Church in worship. While with those good and faithful people, I saw the Holy Spirit at work. But I am ahead of myself.
Sometime around 10:30 p.m., Feb. 7, this vibrant country church sanctuary caught fire. While the sanctuary was a total loss, firefighters heroically managed to save the detached fellowship hall just behind the sanctuary. Sunday morning, Feb. 10 Pastor Dennis Rejcek led the congregation to worship in the packed fellowship hall.
Make no mistake, the loss is great. More than eight generations have worshipped and prayed together, been married, baptized, confirmed and had their lives celebrated in funeral services in that sacred space. It seems like it was just a few years ago that I was preaching at their Anniversary Worship service celebrating 150 years.
Getting out of my car, I walked over to the still smoldering ruins. I promise this is not an exaggeration. In the midst and drizzle, I saw what looked like smoke still clearly rising from the ruins. I asked Pastor Rejcek and a member of the church who were standing behind me if that was really smoke? They assured me that it was and said that the Fire Department had to put it out twice.
Despite the pain and loss, the worship service in the packed fellowship hall was vibrant and the sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence was contagious. Publicly they declared their determination to rebuild and keep serving the Mooreville community. Preaching on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and Isaiah 54:1-3, Pastor Rejcek offered a hope-filled message that readily acknowledged the loss and grief, while anchoring all of us listening in God’s promised presence. Facing the loss, he lifted up the implications of Isaiah 54:2. “Enlarge the site of your tent and stretch out the drapes of your dwellings; don’t hold back. Lengthen your tent ropes and strengthen your stakes.” We prayed. We sang (“My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness …” and “Standing on the Promises.”) At the end of the service, a person came forward to recommit their life to Christ and join the church. Mooreville UMC is growing!
I am deeply moved and spiritually enriched by such faithfulness. Here is a vibrant vital congregation living out the WIG (the Wildly Important Goal) of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I saw the Holy Spirit at work in their midst!
Rev. Brad Brittain, the South District Superintendent, and I both shared a brief word of encouragement and support on behalf of the entire Central Texas Conference. (Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, Central DS and Dean of the Cabinet, and Barb Hunsberger, South District Lay Leader were also present representing the District and Conference).
Pastor Rejcek ask me to share an opening word and a prayer at the start of worship. What came to me was a passage I had focused on in my devotional time a few years back. It is from the opening chapter of Joshua. I shared a verse as the Spirit lead me. You may remember the context of Joshua 1. Moses has died. The people are preparing to enter the promised land under Joshua’s new leadership. The future is uncertain. The Lord speaks, “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
It was only later driving home that I realized that such a word is not just for the good people of Mooreville United Methodist Church. It is the word of the Lord for all of us in these uncertain, fearful times. The Holy Spirit is at work in the larger church. In significant part the task before us is to open our eyes and ears, hearts and minds to discern the Holy Spirit at work!
It was Basil the Great (a great church leader in the 4th century) who once wrote: “One cannot see the Father without the Spirit! It would be like living in a house at night when the lamps are extinguished; one’s eyes would be darkened and could not exercise their function. Unable to distinguish the value of objects, one might very well treat gold as if it were iron. It is the same with the spiritual world; it is impossible to maintain a life of holiness without the Spirit. It wouldn’t be easy for an army to continue its maneuvers without a general, or for a choir to sing on key without its director.” (Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, taken from Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall, pg. 100)
This Tuesday, we will start our yearly Cabinet Inventory Retreat. Together as a Cabinet (with two new members – Dr. Randy Wild, Interim East District Superintendent and Rev. Louis Carr, North District Superintendent - effective March 1) we will go through an extensive examination of churches and clergy trying to make the best matches for the work of the Lord through this branch, The Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and of the Church universal. We as a Cabinet covert your prayers. I have learned to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the appointive process.
The following week I will leave two days early for the Called General Conference in St. Louis. I will be participating in presider training on Feb. 21. The Council of Bishops – COB – is involved in training a “pool” of possible bishops available to preside at General Conference. Bishops are chosen by a Committee of the General Conference. They are not selected by the COB. The world-wide Council of Bishops will be meeting one day prior to the General Conference and one day following General Conference.
The possibility of strong disagreement and even some churches perhaps leaving the United Methodist Church is real. The future of the United Methodist Church is uncertain. As we near General Conference, I perceive that concern and anxiety is rising among both clergy and laity. This is both reasonable and to be expected. What is critical is that we apply the lesson Mooreville United Methodist Church is modeling. In faithfulness, the Holy Spirit is at work! The words of Joshua 1:9 apply to the United Methodist Church as a whole and not just the church at Mooreville. “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Mooreville UMC teaches us all. We can stand on the promises of God. The Holy Spirit is at work!