faith journeyI can’t believe that I’ve been here in Madisonville for a year!  Since many of you haven’t heard it before, at this important milestone I thought it would be appropriate to tell you a little more about my faith journey.  I grew up going to a medium sized church in what was back then a rural area of Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was one of those churches where everyone knew everyone because they had mostly grown up together.  We young people were mostly just later generations of the same families.  I felt at home in this church for many reasons.  Everyone watched after us, and if we got in trouble someone was going to tell on you.  These people helped each other when category 4 hurricane Hugo came unexpectedly all the way inland to Charlotte, taking the power out for 95% of the city, destroying homes and trees, and stranding people.  We were without power anywhere from a week to three weeks because of all the huge oak trees plucked up.  Unfortunately, everyone here is all too familiar with this type of unexpected devastation.  Just like here, the community of faith pulled together and helped one another with food, water, clothing, cutting trees, and fixing homes.  They loved deeply and I’m truly grateful for being enfolded in that love.

Our church members went hunting together, went on farm tours together, made quilts together, and worked on a church cookbook together.  I went through Confirmation with these folks as mentors, and we loved our pastors.  Then, one pastor retired, and the other associate pastor accepted a call at another church in a different state.  We were all shaken.  Anxiety was high but we were grateful our retired pastor was still in the community because it gave us a sense of comfort as the church looked for new pastors.  After what seemed like forever, a new pastor was called.  This pastor was “good” in a lot of ways but not as “good” as our previous pastor in other ways.  This transition was difficult for us, for all of us.  By now, the church was just down to the core group of people who kept things running.  But these people were faithful.  They kept going.  As they aged, they grew weary, and the new pastor wanted the congregation to see the community potential around them as that area had a real need.  The community was beginning to be less rural, and people were moving there from the northeast United States, from India, and other places due to the development in the city.  The congregation invited the neighborhood to join them, and some people would, but they wouldn’t stay long.  This amazing, most loving congregation who taught me how to love God was officially struggling.

Years went by and the church hobbled along as my loving community.  They were so proud of me when I graduated college, got a job, went to seminary (for the first time…and then for the second time).  Rich and I felt called to be in membership at that church when we moved to Charlotte to be part of the rich community that was established.  This time is when I was first introduced to the real opportunity of a congregation being full of people who may all vary in their beliefs.  The church was filling with people wanting to learn about Jesus, wanting to take part in the community, and wanting to join the groups and committees.

But it all began to crumble. The core faithful began to question the faith of new visitors and members, to question their church relationships, and some of these people turned on the pastor.  People attempted to do evil and work behind people’s backs and bicker, and fuss.  My heart sank.  Church wasn’t supposed to be this way.  I grieved as I watched a pastor leave after a traumatic experience.  The congregation suffered because of the breakdown of community, and programs ceased because of little money and participation.  All the amazing memories that I had there were not being built for others.  Everyone was tired.  We prayed.  We wept.  We prayed some more.  The church finally called a new pastor.  The search committee, session, and pastor set forth some clear expectations of the community of faith.  They seemed to be growing in faith and in numbers. And now?  God is thankfully still writing their story.  Meanwhile, I left to serve a church on the other side of town and had the opportunity to be part of a congregation that was already established as one that brought new people immediately into the fold through ministry, mission, and outreach.  What happened next?  Join me next month for "the rest of the story."