It’s official. It was the will of the Cabinet, the Bishop and their discernment of the Holy Spirit that we continue in ministry together as the congregation of Laurel Heights. Starting our eighth year together, I know what a glorious mission field it is. I support the Bishop’s and Cabinet’s decision and believe that God has called Laurel Heights to be in ministry together and to work near and far in making disciples for Jesus Christ. The tradition of Laurel Heights has been to find joy and excitement in welcoming their pastors and I approach this season with the same joy as if I am coming in to a new appointment. I look forward to hearing each of your hopes and dreams for Laurel Heights as we begin the next season together.
The most recent issue of Christianity Today has a chart on page 15 comparing self-identified Christians who attend church regularly with those who do not. Both groups profess to love Jesus at 90% and 93% respectively. The biggest difference between the two groups is the responsibility to tell others about their faith, talking with their friends about spiritual matters and reading the Bible. Those who do not attend church view their faith as a more private affair. How do we reach those people and share God’s joy that we experience when we worship and work together and share our faith? “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” Matthew 9:37 NRSV.
You have new ideas and God has given you insights that I do not have. As we start this new season together, I want to hear what you have to say and what God has placed on your heart. We have done good work together but there may be a more effective way. The longer I serve at the local church, the more amazed I am at what I am able to learn. I am not so naive as to believe that I have not made many mistakes in my 30 years of ministry but I also have seen the depth of forgiveness and God’s grace exemplified through worshiping congregations.
There is a temptation for United Methodist Congregations to filter their activities based on how long they think the pastor will be appointed to their congregation. Most churches (and pastors) seem to be excited and open to new ministries and programs when a pastor first arrives. They know they have at least a few years together and want to make the best of their time together. As the length of the appointment grows they may be less willing to invest of themselves in what they see as an unsure environment. Will they be together long enough to see this ministry through? I want to make the most of each year we have together.
The core nature and spirit of Laurel Heights has not changed in our seven years together. This is still a congregation that cares deeply for young and old alike and works hard to provide a place where people can grow and thrive. Meaningful and relevant worship is key to our life together and we have a personal responsibility to tell others. The missional outreach ministries of Laurel Heights touch the lives of those who live close and share the values of the individual members. Yet we also care for those who live far away and may have different values. We care for those who built this church and have given their life to Christ and the church and we acknowledge that we are indebted to them for what we have. We understand that we are to respect every life in the church, and we teach others by our example to show trust and respect.
Studies show that nationally the number of people raised in the church and who attend worship regularly is declining. Laurel Heights continues to grow numerically and spiritually. If we do not find some way to tell those who love Jesus but not the church about the depth and meaning we find in being part of a worshiping community, then the church in America may follow the course of many of the once great cathedrals we love to visit while on vacation. We can’t wait for God to call someone else or wait until things are more predictable. God has called us, and now is the time.
See you Sunday,