It is with great joy that I sit to write my annual report. There have been so many positive changes and developments this year that it is hard to know where to begin.....
Perhaps the best place to begin is speak to the over 80 new members who have joined in the past two years. 41 this year alone! We baptize by assembly line these days, with anywhere between ten and twenty adult and child baptisms on a Sunday. When the council decided that we would commit ourselves to grow as a community, we set as a goal twenty new members! Let me be the first to congratulate the council on overachieving and more than quadrupling that goal...
And let me be one of the chorus of folks that says "welcome" to our newest members. We are so grateful that you have chosen to walk with us as a community, bringing your unique gifts and interests. We welcome you into the Lord's house as fellow stewards of the riches of God's love for this neighborhood. It has been so much fun to get to know you, work along side of you and share the ways God has blessed us here at Gethsemane with our neighbors on the blocks of God's parish. I pray that we will all spend the time committing to building new relationships with one another that will grow over time into deep and abiding friendships in the service of Jesus Christ.
This has been a remarkable year for our ministries in the twice-monthly food shelf and almost daily food lines. You will all remember that miraculous day a few years back when the post office mailed us 18,000 pounds of food to start our food shelf. Now, just two years later, I am stunned at the depth of God's benevolence yet again. 2012 is the year we will remember that God gave out almost 50,000 pounds of food to feed God's people. I have never been more mindful of how God multiplies gifts as I have this year. From "how can one little church feed so many hungry people" to "what are we going to do with all of this food?" in two years.
When Gethsemane decided to open its lunch bag and hand over the fish and bread to Jesus, Jesus fed the Camden community. And we still have
12 baskets of food leftover. . . . . . . . . . . . . . What will God do in 2013?
We have seen quite a number of changes in our sanctuary as of late.... The baptism font has moved to the center of the sanctuary and the communion rail and altar have been moved to the east wall. The carpet is gone and the glue sanded away. A number of the broken pews have been removed and the remaining ones re-installed in a new, semi circular pattern. The chancel now has a table on it. The organ console has moved up on to the chancel and the piano has moved down off of the chancel. There are more banners up on the walls and a power point screen built and installed.
In the past weeks we have all waited patiently, worshiping in the fellowship hall, stealing peeks at the construction and talking together about what all these new changes could mean. We have taken tours of the sanctuary, danced around in all the open space and marveled at the investment and love our long-since deceased congregants put into this house of worship.
And now we have had 4 Sundays in our re-purposed sanctuary. I say re-purposed because we have spent a lot of time looking at and wondering about what great new purpose God has had in store for all the gifts of love and service that have found their way into the sanctuary. We have scratched our heads together trying how to best re-purpose things that, though once given in great love and
devotion, had fallen into disuse because of deferred maintenance or access.
And what a re-purposing it has been! The communion rail has been reupholstered and its placement along the East wall has given members who missed taking communion at the rail an opportunity to do so once again. When we moved the altar to the East wall and removed all the
candles, flowers and altar clothes, we noticed more fully (and some for the very first time!) that the altar has an inscription "Watch and Pray." And now the altar has had a re-purposing, as congregants and visitors alike are coming regularly to the rail and altar during the service to ask for and receive prayers and special anointing for healing and wholeness.
And now, with the rearranging of the pews on a beautiful red oak floor around a central point in the middle of the congregation, has come another opportunity for our own generation to contribute to the legacy of loving devotion; the council commissioning of a new baptismal font and an altar table for the chancel! The details and the drawings of what these will look like will be shown to all of us the moment they become
available, but suffice it to say that the design of both will reflect a faithfulness to our past as well as our desire to be re-purposed by God in our neighborhood. Let me echo the sentiments of the council and our congregation when I thank Jeff and John Nelson for their work fashioning the fount and table in memory and love of their late father...
In some very important ways we have been re-purposing all along as a community of faith in North Minneapolis. As a mausoleum of our great past as a congregation, we were pretty to look at from a distance but falling apart as a congregation from diminishing use and lack of access. Like the floor, altar and rail, how do we serve God as a relic to a time that is no more? But once we decided to be re-purposed by God for our neighborhood in our time, we have discovered that there is vitality and growth and energy in being re-purposed. And beauty too.
We also have discovered that we did not have to throw out the old. Just like the fount and table, we can connect our own gifts with a taste and style that reflects who we have been as faithful disciples in the past 120 years at Gethsemane. And just like the rail
and altar, we can once again be used in the manner for which we have been designed, but now more accessible in this new time of our life as a congregation.
My prayer for our congregation as we walk together through these changes is that we resist the temptation to be overwhelmed by the flux. There is no doubt about it, change is hard, whether it is a new look for our sanctuary or a new look in our neighborhood.
Instead, let us be re-purposed as God's people in God's sanctuary in God's neighborhood.....and focus, like the Gethsemane of old, on the growth, vitality and energy that has come!
By Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
Where can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 61)
You can almost picture the doe, beginning to feel panicky to find water, any water. Her tongue is swollen and feels like dust. She pants for a brook, a creek, a pond. Somewhere to quench her thirst.
We Californians know what it's like to have years of drought. In the wooded countryside where I live, we hadn't seen deer for several years. But this year, after the rains, a young buck and a young doe are again grazing the trees and shrubs near our home. There's water again.
Have you ever felt like the thirsty doe? We can have a good job, strong family, and even a strong emotional support system, and still be thirsty in our souls. You can put all the food in the world in front of a deer, but unless it has water, the food is superfluous.
For we humans, that water is an ongoing friendship with Jesus. He satisfies us deep within, even when everything else is in turmoil.
"Where can I go and meet with God?" the Psalmist inquired. Though I've heard people say they worship God on the golf course, I wonder. They're getting physical and mental refreshment there, but worship?
A year or so ago, when I was deeply discouraged, I found myself asking God, "What am I doing here, anyway?" Pastors can get discouraged, too. The Lord spoke to me so clearly I'll remember it always: "I have called you to create an environment in which I can work." A church, a local congregation.
What an awesome calling!
That's what God wants the Church to be: an environment in which He can work in our lives. I can recall many occasions when I have sat in church or in a Christian conference I was attending, and as the meeting went on I found God speaking to me. Questions I had been wondering about, problems I had pondered suddenly began to resolve themselves. Often it had nothing at all to do with what the pastor or leader was saying.
It's humbling, but true. On many occasions someone will come up to me and say, "Pastor that was the most wonderful thing you said this morning." When I inquire what I said, I often don't recognize it. While the Spirit of God was helping me to bring a message to the people, the Spirit was bringing personalized messages all over the congregation. This was an environment in which God was working.
I long to see that atmosphere in which God can work become more and more powerful in our congregation, and in congregations all across our land. Because where God is at work, our thirst is quenched, our dry spells are alleviated, and our soul is refreshed.
Are you thirsty? Good. I know a place to find water. Try coming to meet Jesus this Sunday with your family.