“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” A time to begin and a time to end. The end of our time together has come and I want to offer you a final blessing. At the end of each quarter of the class that I teach, we learn to bless one another as if we will not see each other again because endings are a part of ministry, as they are a part of life. We share three gifts that we see in the person we are blessing and offer one challenge. Let me tell you the gifts I see in you.
You are progressive and adaptive. I’ll tell you, there aren’t many congregations that I could say that about, so it is high praise. You always seem willing to hear a new word or idea. I have always felt free to teach and preach here because you are so accepting. We don’t have to agree here to love and accept each other. Some churches quit talking to each other when they disagree. You are willing to listen deeply even when you don’t agree. Do you know what a gift that is? And when a program or practice has run its course, you know how to let it go. I am particularly amazed by the United Methodist Women who created focus groups to replace monthly meetings, restructured when the list of officers seemed archaic, and decided not to do any more yard sales. You have assessed your resources and directed them where they will do the most good. And you still create ample time for fellowship and community building and donate hundreds of quilts and sweaters each year. If you’re new to the church, you may not know that both the men’s and women’s coffee circles on Tuesday morning were adaptive solutions to meeting the needs of members with health crises. You have experimented with different structures for your Council of Ministries. I have never heard you say the seven words that kill churches, “We’ve never done it that way before.” You are creative and adaptive, always ready to step up to the challenge of trying something new.
You are a church in mission. You’ve heard me say this before. Members of this church sit on every board of every social service agency on the Island, some of which you created! You are a vital part of building the safety-net on the Island. You have worked in Haiti and at the McCurdy Mission on Volunteer in Mission trips. You have generated projects in support of social reform. You have contributed liberally to the Dove Project, teen suicide prevention, Imagine No Malaria, Jamaa Letu, IFCH, and Vashon Youth and Family Services. You designed an after-school program for middle school youth that is changing lives. Our former District Superintendent, Pat Simpson, noted that a lot of churches support missions just with their donations. You are hands on, in the community preparing meals, working at the food bank and Granny’s Attic, raising money for Vashon Youth and Family Services, working with the arts giving people a place to share their gifts, preparing for natural disasters, caring for Island eco-systems, providing rides and emergency assistance for your neighbors. The coordinator for providing services for IFCH is a member of this congregation—most of us have no idea about the responsibility that Nancy Vanderpool shoulders. You are talking about racism with your neighbors. Some of you are helping people think through their end of life choices. You are leaders and volunteers in this community, making it a better place. You don’t have to plan mission projects, you live the Church’s mission every day.
You are generous people. You are generous with your time and your talent and your treasure. You were challenged to be generous with your newly remodeled building and you have shared your beautiful space with the community for plays, concerts, celebrations, meetings, meals, showers, music lessons, and counseling sessions. You have made your building accessible for those with disabilities, providing a lift, large print resources, and the hearing loop. You are more than generous when a cause touches your hearts.
And you have published a broad welcome to members of the LGBTQ community. On this first Sunday after the horrific massacre in Orlando, you have already said that you stand on the side of love and acceptance. Your rainbow flags were already flying when a representative from Vashon Youth and Family Services came to us to ask if we would be willing to display a rainbow flag in memory of the lives lost. Because of who you are, I could say “Of course!” You are the arms of Christ open wide to people who justifiably live with fear and grief. And I love you for that more than I can say with mere words.
My challenge to you is to invite someone to church. If what you hear and do here is important to you, if you find meaning and community, invite people to share your experience. There’s a story about two neighbors. One was a deacon and pillar of his church. He attended church faithfully every Sunday. He was also an avid golfer and enjoyed playing with his neighbor across the street. They found time on many Saturday mornings or late afternoons for a round of golf. On Sunday mornings though, the deacon headed for church while his friend across the street loaded his golf clubs in the trunk of his car. “Care to join me on the links, this morning?” the neighbor would call out. “No, I’m on my way to church. See you later this afternoon. Good luck out there,” the deacon would respond and drive off to church. This went on for over a year until finally the neighbor across the street quit calling out on Sunday mornings and began to seek out other golf partners. The deacon was perplexed and finally got up the courage to ask his neighbor what was wrong. “I decided you must not like me very much. Every Sunday I invited you to play golf, but you never once invited me to go to church.” Don’t you wonder from your own experience, how many times the neighbor would have declined before he decided that today was the day?
At one church that I served, we mailed out 10,000 flyers inviting our neighbors to church. I thought we would have a flood of visitors. We didn’t get a flood of visitors. But we didn’t have one Sunday without at least one visitor for over six months. I visited one couple about 4 months after we mailed the flyer and asked them how they heard about our church. They took me into their kitchen where the flyer was pinned to their bulletin board. It took them four months to put their shoes on and come to church. Four months! Don’t get discouraged if your invitation doesn’t result in your friend showing up the next Sunday. Sometimes the desire simply rests in a person’s heart until circumstances make this the day.
This is a great time to invite your friends and neighbors because when a new pastor comes, people are curious. Invite them to come meet the new pastor. Invite them to a special event that is particularly meaningful to you. Tell someone why your faith is important to you in a single accessible statement. You are a beautiful, faithful, welcoming, caring congregation. You should shout it from the mountain top.
I love you and I will miss you terribly. You will always be part of the communion of saints in my life. I trust you to welcome Pastor Paul as graciously as you welcomed Steve and me. You will be in good hands. Share the love you once shared with Steve and me with Paul and Mary and let your light shine.
Blessing upon blessing.