Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rolling With the Spirit: Welcome to Waldorf Y'all!

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.  —Ruth 1:16

 Derecho!  Oh no!  

An intense windstorm whipped through Waldorf this past Friday night just one week after our arrival at our new home.  While our home was spared damage—and we even kept our power—millions in our area were not as fortunate.  Good Shepherd UMC, where our family was to have our first worship with our new congregation on Sunday, lost power as a result of the storm. 

“Houston, we have a problem. How will God’s people respond?  Houston, can you read me?  Or is your power out just like everyone else?”

Here’s how the people of Good Shepherd responded:

The youth of the church had planned a car wash for Saturday to raise money for a missions trip, but the power outage made that impossible.  So what did they do instead?  Well, they could have all just gone home, or gone someplace cooler like the mall or the pool.  No one would have blamed them, really.  It was a stinking hot day!    But that’s not what they chose to do.  Instead, they saw what needed to be done and they did it.  They noticed that a good-sized tree limb had fallen in the parking lot, so the youth and their leaders went to work and removed it—so it wouldn’t obstruct traffic flow on Sunday. 

While that was going on, others were working to make alternative plans for Sunday worship.  Good Shepherd has a beautiful sanctuary but it is quite dark when there is no power.   The people could have thrown up their hands and said, “Well, I guess church is canceled this week.”  No one really could have blamed them.  Other churches in the area made that choice.  But Good Shepherd didn’t.  No, instead, they simply moved to “Plan B." While the sanctuary would not work as a worship venue with no power (too dark without electricity) the fellowship hall was well lit and could be used—and in fact we later found out that this was the original worship space for this congregation.  A generator was set up outside that provided enough power to run Power Point and a small sound system (used at the early “contemporary” service); chairs were set up in the fellowship hall.  The communion table and hymnals were bought in from the sanctuary. The people did what needed to be done when it needed doing.  All was in place to have worship. 

And so, on Sunday morning that is precisely what we did. Yes, it was a little chaotic; yes, it was a little uncomfortable; no, it was not exactly how we planned our first Sunday to be—but we the people of Good Shepherd worshipped God together.  The electricity was out but God’s power was not!  I think we had a good first Sunday together.  (And the electricity came back on mid-way through the second service!)

The text for the day was Ruth 1:1-18 and it was quite fitting.  Things didn’t go according to plan for Ruth either.  Her father-in-law died; not long after that, her own husband died (as did her brother-in-law); life was spiraling out of control.  She would have had every right to walk away from Naomi in that moment, her mother-in-law even encourages her to do just that—but she doesn’t choose to.  Instead, Ruth stays

Even though the decision will be cost Ruth a great deal personally, she remains loyal to Naomi. She wants Naomi to have a chance at a better life and she knows she will not find it in Moab. Thus Ruth forsakes her identity, her home, and all that is comfortable and familiar so she can embark on a journey with Naomi to Bethlehem.   Ruth is stepping out in faith.  She does not know what lies ahead for her; but she trusts there is someone who does.  She does not even worship the God of Naomi’s people, and yet she utters the unbelievable words of loyalty to Naomi written at the top of this post.

Ruth is willing to do what it takes, when it is needed, for as long as it takes, and wherever it takes her, to support her mother-in-law.  In her we see the essence of what it means to follow God.

I think I saw a glimpse of that kind of loyalty on display this past weekend as the people of Good Shepherd rolled with the Spirit to make sure that worship happened on Sunday and that the new pastor had a proper welcome this past week. They did not know her yet, but they wanted to make her—and her family—feel welcome to their new community.  They came and brought meals, they came and helped us unpack, they welcomed us and our children at Vacation Bible School, they rallied to make sure that worship went off without a hitch despite unexpected occurrences.  They treated us as if we had been “part of the family” for years.

The congregation embodied the spirit of Ruth 1:16
The church sign currently reads: “Welcome Rev. Laurie, we are your people.”  Nice words of welcome for the new pastor, yes, but this week they became much more.  Through their kind and hospitable actions, the people of Good Shepherd lived these words.  What a remarkable “God-incidence!” 

I’m sure it wasn’t easy or convenient for anyone involved; some no doubt had to make personal sacrifices to do what they did, but they chose to do it anyway.  Each pitched in and did what they could, so no one person had to do more than they could bear.  Together, they embodied discipleship—working together as a team to do what was needed for the Kingdom of God, when it needed to be done, for as long as was needed, placing the needs of the community on par with or even above their own needs.  The common good was served!

Laurie and I are thankful for the welcome we have received thus far and looking forward to discovering what God has in store for the Ward family in a place called Waldorf at a church called Good Shepherd. 

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