Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We are the Church

 "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." 1 Cor. 12:27

Growing up, I remember as early as second grade singing a hymn that went very simply:

I am the church
You are the church
We are the church together
All who follow Jesus
All around the world
Yes, we're the church together!

The whole point of the song, as the verses continue, is that church is not merely a building. Rather, the church references the people involved. It doesn't matter where they come together, it's the different spiritual gifts that combine to create a community, an extended family led by God the father, saved by Christ the son, unified in faith by the Holy Spirit.

"Who's the king of the jungle?"
Despite being a church member for the past 20 years or so, the words of this hymn have never rung so true as during the past five months. Our beloved leader, Pastor Jeff, departed in December after being the pastor on Guam for 9 years, leaving our church here to be run by a shell of a staff (including moi) and a team of exceptionally dedicated volunteers (everyone else). In retaliation for him leaving, I am posting the goofiest picture of him I can find (thank you gorilla-motions song from jungle-themed Vacation Bible School).

Throughout this period of transition as we seek our new pastor, the pendulum of our abilities as a church people has swung back and forth in my mind. I have stood in awe of the Sunday morning services our church has put together. I have teared up listening to the sermons written by inspired lay pastors who somehow create time during their workweeks as lawyers, active duty military, university professors, and businessmen to listen to God's message in the scriptures and relate it so personally to the interworkings of our lives. I savor every doughy morsel of homemade communion bread, prepared lovingly and unceremoniously each week by a navy spouse. I belt out the harmonies to familiar hymns and worship songs that make my soul feel renewed, energized and at home. I memorize Bible verses alongside our youth during Confirmation and Sunday School. I marvel at all we are able to accomplish with our spiritual gifts as the body of Christ.

Oh, how I wish this were the end of the post! (insert long, dramatic sigh...)

Other times I get a glimpse of why God needed to take things into his own hands and come down into this painfully fallen world to show even his most devoted followers the Way (while we were still sinners...). Try as we might, we have so many flaws. Sometimes our Sunday services seem so disjointed, they can be painful to sit through. And as a former public speaking coach, it's all I can do not to boastfully extend free consulting services (!) to some of the volunteer speakers. Sometimes the music... it just doesn't come together. The hymns are boring or unmelodious and even the worship leaders hit their share of wrong notes (I can say this because I myself am completely guilty!). We leave long, awkward pauses in places that used to flow so smoothly. Some Sundays it seems like the only thing we do right is pass the peace.

As a people, we have all of the gifts to create flawless church services as we reliably did just a few months ago, but we are now painfully aware of how valuable it was to have a leader to organize us all. Metaphorically, it's like taking a peek of the disaster our lives would quickly become without the Holy Spirit's persistent guidance and direction. Our new pastor can't get here soon enough!

Nitpick as I might about the ins and outs of the weekly service (and under the circumstances I try really hard not to!), it has been during this same transition time that our team of 19 church members (out of a congregation of 190 - that's 10%!) went out into the world to care for those in need at an orphanage in Manila (and it took three church-supported fundraisers to get us there). Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of a dozen or so women for intensive Bible studies on topics as far reaching as Roman history to the apocalypse to meditation. My faith (and my understanding of God) has grown tremendously from being part of this group of spiritual leaders. That's in addition to at least two other Bible studies going on churchwide throughout the week. And you may recall our church created a mural of the entire world from paint and supplies and time donated by our members (and a special visitor) in just five days.

Putting the books of the Bible in order
In two weeks on Pentecost, nine of our youth will stand before the congregation and become confirmed adult members, having memorized the Apostles Creed, the 10 Commandments, the books of the Bible (in order!), the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and a dozen other verses of scripture. Thanks to the program's leadership by a church member who stepped in, their ability to explain the tenets and sacraments of the Christian faith is almost mind-boggling. The current members of our youth group are transforming into the future leaders of the church... and the world... right before our very eyes. Despite our tendency to run around like lost sheep at times, the things our church... the people... have been able to accomplish without a pastor seems, at times, supernatural.

"In this world you will have trouble,
But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:3
I believe it's that brush with the supernatural that keeps us, the fallen church, coming back in faith. I think back to this time last year, suffering through pneumonia and facing the funerals of two grandparents days apart on the other side of the world.  I didn't know if it would be physically possible to get there in time. Pastor Jeff encouraged me to go be with my family. My Bible study prayed for my health, my decision, and the ensuing travel. Hours later, the Space-A flight schedules aligned almost, well, supernaturally and carried me from Guam straight into the arms of my sister on the West Coast. She accompanied me the rest of the journey to Florida, where I was reunited with my extended family, and later that week with Nick's extended family in New Jersey. Both memorial services were held in churches. Surrounded by people. Being present among so many people I love in the midst of our pain and celebration was so healing. And healing was exactly what we broken people needed as the permanent eternal change (as well as the temporary earthly change) began to take hold of our hearts.

I am so aware now more than ever about the role the church body plays in our lives, our community, and our world. I am grateful for the members of our church who continue to give and teach and pray even when, at times, it seems we are running on fumes. Somehow (supernaturally, perhaps) we keep on, not only running, but staying the course. And I have the utmost faith that this rickety era in our church's inability to conduct perfect services will one day be something its members look back and laugh about with our awesome new pastor. "Remember that Sunday when there were two sermons? Hahaha!" (Yes, this really happened.)

It's times like this that I must so faithfully remember... or rather, am so painfully reminded... that I am the church... you are the church....

And for better or for worse, we are the church together. May God help us all. That, after all, may just be the whole point.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

For my family... Remembering Shoopa and MomMom this week... forever in our hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Every church body goes through transition at some point, and surely it is tough when it happens. But I agree with you, it's God's way of bringing out our gifts and talents to serve Him. I pray for a pastor for LCG and hope that this time of learning does indeed make everyone a stronger contributor to the church!


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