This month, we gave the local school system 40 pairs of brand new shoes for kids headed into summer. The shoes were bright colored and cheery, and people seemed to have a lot of fun shopping for them. Someone asked me if I thought the shoes they’d brought were all right. They’d bought them to match the school colors. What thoughtfulness! “Of course,” I said. “They’re perfect!”
On Easter, we had a guest in the church who didn’t feel like a guest because the pulpit had once been his. Jess Norris was BDUMC’s pastor in the mid-1970s.
The pastor who replaced him led the church through a period of rapid growth, a theological shift, and a split that was still painful to talk about when I arrived in 2006. Over the years, Bois D’Arc UMC had worked amongst themselves to regain a theology that made sense to them and to stabilize their membership. In other words, a lot had happened in the 30+ years between our pastoral assignments to the same church.
While I was leading the service, I noticed that Rev. Norris and his wife were smiling. A lot. When I was introduced to them following the service, Rev. Norris could not hide his glee. He admitted that he had arrived with a feeling of sadness. He knew that many of the people he had known and loved in that congregation had passed away. Since the people are the church, he had no idea what to expect. What had we become?
He said the church felt exactly the same! Many of the faces were new, but the feeling was the same. There were still children running around, there were still old time hymns, and we were still focused on giving to others in the community. Just look at what we were collecting: kids’ shoes!
He shared stories of things the congregation had done to help his young family and how kind they had been to him. He told me he’d only preached one sermon before the assignment, and the congregation was still gracious to him as he learned his way. I told him how low my head was hanging when I’d arrived and how their graciousness had opened my heart again. We stood there, grinning at each other, proud to be a part of the history of the same church that had given us the grace we needed to become the pastors we are now. It was quite a moment.
Churches need change. They need to change with the times, change people as generations come and go, and change their methods of reaching new people. But. But. If something works, there’s no need for it to change. I was happy to hear that although our ministries were farther apart than my lifespan, we both experienced the church with a spirit of graciousness, a spirit of love and acceptance, The Spirit at work.