Sunday, February 20, 2011

Churches and Pastors and You

How devastated the disciples must have felt to have lost their spiritual leader in the context of a night and the next day – arrest, trial and death by crucifixion. Along with many others in my community, in the last weekend we experienced the devastating loss of our spiritual leader, the senior pastor of our church, Ken Diehm. Yet, we do need to be reminded that we do still have the presence of our original spiritual leader, Jesus Christ, and the comforter that he sent, The Holy Spirit.

How do you choose your church? Is it social/business contacts or does it promise financial gain? – does it challenge you to grow in spirit and serve in your community? Do you choose to find your spirit on your own instead of trying the context of a community of believers who are all flawed with their own sins? I have always searched for a church that would fit my needs to learn & grow & provide for my family.

When Darrell & I were newlyweds, we joined Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving. Darrell worked with the RA’s (Royal ambassadors that he had known from his youth) doing campouts and basketball games along with another sponsor named Jay. I worked with the GA’s (girls auxiliary) that I had known from my youth and met wonderful families and girls who were open to learning. Our pastor was Bo Baker and we met some great people there. Then we moved to North Richland Hills and spent a short stint in a Presbyterian church there before moving to New Jersey for Darrell’s job promotion with IBM. While working in the local schools as a substitute teacher, I was invited by a teacher’s aide that I saw often to come to her church – she was the organist & she knew that they needed a pianist (me). We joined Glenwood Baptist Church and grew close to the young pastor (David Hess) and various families. While visiting at home in Texas during the Christmas holidays, our historic church building which had lasted since its early days in the 1800’s burned to the ground on Christmas Eve. Being human, we were all heartbroken over the loss of a storied building, but we rebuilt and I was privileged to pick out the new parish piano at the show room at Carnegie Hall (I played at Carnegie Hall!) Lol! Jonathan was our adorable, young son who came with us on Sundays & everyone loved him!

Then we moved to Indiana & attended the First Presbyterian Church where I brought Jonathan to preschool classes during the week. After our short time there, we moved back to Texas and during our life in Colleyville we were members at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Bedford where we were attracted to the vibrant, engaging sermons of the pastor, Jim Collley. Jonathan and Travis were both baptized there and I always volunteered to do crafts at Vacation Bible School – among others, we met the Lamprich family there and one time my helper at VBS had been Byron Scott’s lab partner in college (our conversation must have transgressed to pro basketball).

So, now our children have grown and gone to make their own homes and families. I went to church to teach them, now I need to go to continue to grow on my own. So where do I go? We moved to Grapevine & I felt like the church in Bedford was too far so I started checking out local places. The new church had to pass my test for accepting gays, not focusing on financial prosperity for the staff or its members, grounding themselves in the exact words from the Bible and reaching out to serving those in need in our own community. I had already canceled out Fellowship church from what had been experienced personally through friends who were members and from what I had read and researched on my own – I did not go. I tried First Baptist and on that day the minister preached against gays – goodbye. (Although he had done a really good job at a funeral for a former student who had committed suicide that year.) I tried Lonesome Dove Baptist because I loved Larry McMurtry’s story about how he got the name for his book –no. I tried First Presbyterian – they were nice but that was not the one.

My dear friend Cassandra was going through years of distress trying to recover from the death of her husband Mike. She went with a friend to an event called The Well at First Methodist Church Grapevine and she could not stop telling me about how wonderful it was – giving her hope and confidence in God’s love. Hmmm. She invited me to go with her to one of these events but the timing did not work out. One of the most intriguing columns in the local newspaper, The Grapevine Sun, was that of Cindy Ryan – she was insightful, funny and the associate pastor at this same church that had helped Cassandra. I checked out the church website and I found something called 10/10. That meant to spend 10 minutes each day in reading the scripture and 10 minutes each day in prayer – so I started doing that – it gave a positive focus to begin my day. Cassandra and I visited the Sunday service on Palm Sunday – it was awesome for me. Darrell came with me later and we joined and I have not wanted to miss a Sunday service since joining. Ken and all the other pastors were regular people who had a special calling to challenge us to think about how we carry on our daily lives.

Ken asked for questions constantly from the congregation. He wanted us to send him emails or call him or talk to him about what troubled us and he always responded, either in a personal message or in a sermon to serve a larger group. When we showed up to do our little acts of service, he worked with us. I volunteered on a fall community work day and was assigned to do a garden project where a family who had lost a child had donated money to beautify a place at the church to be a garden in his memory. Ken and Kendra worked along with me and several others digging in the dirt, leveling pave stones and creating a pretty place to commemorate the memory of a precious child. Ken told a story about someone who was surprised that he was a “regular guy”.

He pushed us and challenged us to think beyond the scope of our own comfortable lives here in Grapevine to help our neighbors at the nearest trailer park who mostly did not speak our same language, to help our fellow Christians in Kenya who were trying to help children who had lost their parents to AIDS, to help “any of the least of these my brethren” who crossed our paths. What a compassionate heart who submitted to God’s call to try to lead us all to the path of all truth! We are devastated to lose this leader who could take a Super bowl commercial about Darth Vader and translate it to show God’s love for all of us, his children. I will continue to reflect on his words in his blog of 12/31 which stuck with me and I will continue to follow his challenge to stop being a baby believer who settles for just drinking milk. This is Ken’s post from that day - the reading was  Hebrews 5:

The author of Hebrews expresses his frustration with the readers not growing up in faith. He uses the image that they are infants still drinking mild, when in fact they should be eating solid food.

What about you? Would the author be frustrated by your progress in faith? Or are you doing the acts of faith that help your faith mature? Those acts would include scripture reading, prayer, presence in worship, giving, serving others, fasting, participating in a Sunday school class or bible study....with the start of the new year it would be great time to put a plan in place for your spiritual maturing. The author of Hebrews expresses his frustration with the readers not growing up in faith. He uses the image that they are infants still drinking mild, when in fact they should be eating solid food.

I wanted to ask Ken more questions about this, which he would have welcomed – I never got around to it.

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