Like most of you, I went to church because I got taken to church. Through the years it became a habit or a ritual. You know the drill: baptism, Sunday school, vacation bible school, confirmation, etc., etc. etc. Going to church became routine, a habit, a tradition. You just go because that’s what you do on Sunday morning. I also helped in the kitchen with my mom getting the fellowship hall ready for our dinners. Yes. That was my serving stint. Serving in the kitchen (set up and clean up mostly).
Well, one day, when I was somewhere in my 30’s, I was sitting in church with my mom at Hope Lutheran in Park Forest IL. We go to the late service while my dad goes to the early one. That particular day when I was watching the pastor holding up the bread as he blessed it, something happened.
Things I heard through the years about Christ and what he’s done for us started to come together for me. It was like connecting the dots or putting the pieces of the wafer puzzle together. Things started to fall into place. I just sat there with tears in my eyes trying to figure out what made this time different than all the other times I’ve come to church. It was much later when I talked to my mom or someone else about this experience that it was the Holy Spirit that came along and touched me. It was like, “Duh!” who else but the Holy Spirit would touch me like that.
Going to church now was no longer just a habit or routine. I went because I felt led. I wanted and needed to go. I didn’t just go to the communion table. I ran like hell to the table! Like a kid running to the table because supper was ready! Next thing you know I mouthing pastor’s lines for the communion part. Or I was mouthing the leader lines for the Kyrie or “This is the feast”. Looking back I thought “Gee, I don’t recall mouthing those lines all those years before”. This time it was different. I took notice of all those things we do now. My mom told me once or twice “I’ve seen you mouthing those lines for years”.
I had no idea at that time that I would land at Holy Trinity in Lombard years later. I had no idea then that I would serve as worship leader or read the lessons at the pulpit. I hadn’t the faintest idea what’s going to happen next.What happened next was that in 1990 after having finished college, I started work in the west suburbs in the information systems field. After driving to work from the south suburbs for all of two months, I knew this commute wasn’t going to work for me in the long run. So I looked up my uncle’s brother who lived in Villa Park and through him I found an opening at an apartment up the road from him. After eight years of apartment living and going home on weekends to church, I moved into the condo building that was going up in town. Eventually, I stayed in town on weekends and visited home less often.
In the spring of 2000 I found myself at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Lombard. A friend I met at Prairie State College started working there, and knowing I wanted to stay in the Lutheran church, suggested I check this place out. Having grown up a Missouri Synod Lutheran, the ELCA wasn’t on my radar screen. I figured “Why not check it out?” So I did. I wound up staying and she wound up leaving. God must’ve been bringing my friend there to lead me there. Her purpose was finished and it was time for her to move on. After being there for a year or so I thought “Now what, God? What shall I do here? Join the choir? No way! Nobody ever begged me to join. They got their friends to beg them! Try Sunday school leader or nursery? Nah! Not that either. How about doing the readings?” OK ! I’ll serve communion too. OK with me. Let’s see how this goes. If I suck at it, I’ll try altar guild, which I joined anyway.Well, I did it! Got up there and read the lesson. Shaking in my boots and locked my knees so they wouldn’t do the hula at the pulpit, I pulled it off. After a year or two of doing that, I sensed a “what next?” question. The thought of eventually assisting is still brewing in my mind and heart. But that’s the Holy Spirit’s job of pulling the heart strings and sending those promptings along and giving you the heart’s desire to do a certain thing. Well, those heart tugs and promptings have come my way to do this next thing.
Yep! It took quite a few attempts to get up the courage to tell the pastor I was interested in serving in this area. It was in the spring of 2003 that I inquired about it. The pastor didn’t seem to have any objection. I think he was rather surprised that I took the initiative and went to him to volunteer myself. Most people are usually approached by someone to consider serving as assisting minister. OK. So I’m a salamander swimming upstream and against the current while the other fish floated downstream and going with the flow. Whatever the others were thinking, I’m simply following the Spirit’s leading and continue to do so this day.
It was late summer of 2003 when I started the assisting. I was putting on my robe and microphone and stood there thinking “Here it goes” and walked into the sanctuary alongside the pastor, reverenced the altar with a bow and took my seat on the chancel. Whoa! What a different view! Can’t believe I’m doing this! I could never do this in a Missouri Synod church. I read the Psalms, the prayers, even lead the Kyrie and “This is the Feast”. The best part was standing at the altar beside the pastor as he led the communion part of the service and getting to commune the people with the bread “Body of Christ given for you”. What a feeling and an experience! I couldn’t wait to get home and scream “I did it!" Well, I’ve been doing that for 10 years now and it’s still a great feeling for the most part.
A few years later, like in 2005 I saw an article in the newsletter about the Diakonia program that was being offered. Hmm! What’s this about? Why? Like some of you who heard about the program, I was asking “Why?” So I put it aside for awhile. Months later, I picked up the newsletter and read the article again. This time I went further. I called up the chairperson and Ray Bebee and asked about the program and went on the website and decided to go to the River Forest campus on Saturday morning. This time I asked “Why not”? What do I got to lose? The only thing to lose was to put the altar guild duties aside for a time so I can do this program. No problem there. Pastor seemed thrilled that I was doing this and told me later that it has done me some good. It has done some good. I developed a greater appreciation for what I was doing. The course offerings sounded interesting and worth exploring. I came out of curiosity and to explore these topics. These courses are not your typical Sunday school material. Not by a long shot! I call this program “seminary lite”.
Diakonia was great! We explored topics that I never thought I’d have access to without going to seminary! Topics like theology or church history, the practical ministry courses. For two glorious years of exploring these topics and getting better acquainted with my classmates, I felt a sense of belonging, a sense of community that I never felt before with other believers. Through the program I met Pastor Dawson, Ray and Laura Bebee in a home study group and Nicole who finished a year ahead of me in class. The Diakonia community and the study group was the kind of community that I longed for, ached for, that’s centered on God’s word. Being a part of this community that has a strong heart for God, a burning passion for the spiritual things of God was an answer to my heart’s cry. It was this Diakonia community that led me to visit St. Phillip’s where Pastor Dawson and Phil and Nicole served at the time.
Just a few years after I finished the program, things started happening with the ELCA which led a lot of us to leave our congregations and plant a church based on the New Testament. I was still at Holy Trinity leading with the others the adult education period between services. The Living Faith and Daily Discipleship groups were the two adult-ed programs led by lay people. About a year later, the people voted out that period between the services and put things back to the way they were. The Daily Discipleship group got moved to a slot before the 9 am service and the Living Faith group got voted out. After a period of time of reflecting on this decision, I came to a conclusion that these people wanted to go back to what was convenient and comfortable for them. They wanted comfort, not growth and challenges. That decision said it all about who they are and where they’re going. I haven’t at the time figured out what I was going to do. I kept on doing my thing there and went about my own business. The group that was planted was still meeting at people’ homes at the time and were sorting things out before other people came on board.
It was Easter Sunday 2012 when the Gathering moved out of the houses and into this Heron Point building. Now, here we are over a year and a half later. Now that the Gathering is off and running, I started spending more time here than at my own church. What does that tell me? What is God saying here? Is it time to pull out of Holy Trinity and join this new venture? Those were the thoughts that kept running in my mind. After observing and reflecting on what was going on at my own church and the direction they were taking, I started to seriously consider leaving my church. One question remains:
What will Christianity look like in the ELCA when the kids we baptize now approach their confirmation years?
Is Christianity going to be all about the social gospel and social justice issues?
Do these people have any Uncle Roy's in their lives? My uncle Roy used to talk to me about getting saved, going to heaven or hell and having a relationship with Christ. I don’t recall thinking of him as nuts. I just didn’t have what he had at the time. It didn’t hit me until that day I sat in church during communion. It wasn’t until that time that I could talk to him about God. There were other people in my life who were waiting for that moment when the light bulb came on. I would’ve loved to have the Living Faith program continue so I could share that with them and maybe be an Uncle Roy for them. But, that was not going to happen there. The god of comfort and convenience seemed to have ruled over their spiritual lives. I felt sad and discouraged and knew it won’t be much longer before I felt the need to pull out. I simply told the Pastor what was on my heart and sensed a leading in a different direction.
It was this past August that I knew that I couldn’t continue there much longer. I chose the day I would be assisting for the last time there to be my swan song. We had a baptism that day. Sure enough, as I held the candle and pastor was baptizing the baby, that last question came to mind again. What will Christianity be like when this kid approaches the confirmation years?” It was then that I felt at peace about leaving and moving on. The fire I had going in there would most likely get snuffed out had I stayed there any longer. It was time to leave and move forward so I can get this fire reignited. These people seemed content with the status quo. They’re not ready, not interested, or hungry for spiritual things of God.
It was just a couple months before The Gathering came to the hotel that I came along. It’s here that I saw that this community was different from the rest. I sensed the ease and openness here. They’re more open about God and not afraid to talk about their faith journeys. Since I got better acquainted with the Beebe’s and Pastor Dawson during my Diakonia days, I felt at home here and felt encouraged to express and demonstrate God’s love. I also felt the chemistry and openness here that I didn’t feel at other churches. Here, I particularly enjoyed the small group opportunities where intimacy and relationship with Jesus is encouraged. I found that The Gathering is a place where spiritual relationships are encouraged to be developed with others and with Jesus. And right now in my journey, that is what I was looking for and sensed that this is the place where I'm more able to develop that here.
It’s been quite a journey being led by the Spirit. Who knows what He has up his sleeves for me next.