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At Caldwell Presbyterian, the walls of our sanctuary talk. The voices are those of enslaved African Americans owned by the Caldwell family on a plantation north of our city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Before emancipation, their forced labor, blood, sweat and tears created the fortune that was later given to this church to build its sanctuary in 1922.
Years ago, I read a quote by the Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly that changed my ministry: “Yet ever within that Society, and ever within the Christian church, has existed the Holy Fellowship, the Blessed Community, an “ekklesiola” in “ekklesia,” a little church within the church.”
This inspiring passage was recently one of the lectionary readings in church — and remains a favorite for me. One word in particular caught my attention: redeemed. It is not a word most people use on a daily basis, and therefore, its meaning is a bit hazy to us. In his new book, Seventy Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know (Abingdon Press, 2018), Matthew Schlimm puts it this way:
“Outside of church, I don’t hear the words “redeem” and “redemption” very much. When I do, it’s usually to talk about coupons, gift certificates, or lottery tickets. When the Bible talks about God redeeming Israel, it’s obviously not suggesting that Israel is like a coupon that gives God a discount on something! … I fear that for many Christians, “redemption” is a positive word, but also an empty word whose basic meaning is filled willy-nilly with whatever comes to mind.”
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta wanted to reshape its ministries. Standing in the heart of the city since 1848, becoming the first Presbyterian church to lay roots in Atlanta, the congregation has had a long history of community involvement, from serving breakfasts to the homeless every Sunday to providing safe housing to women, to name a few. Still, it was time to think differently, go further and create ministries that would empower people, ministries that would “walk alongside the community,” says the Rev. Rebekah LeMon, executive pastor.
I’ve been working with a pastor for a number of years, helping him invigorate a somewhat stagnant church. We’ve talked about a lot in the process, and the results of our conversations are showing signs of breathing new life into the congregation. But it’s still been a frustrating ministry for this pastor. He’s struggled because much of what he’s tried hasn’t worked.
How long, O Lord? This anguished cry flows from the mouths of millions of beleaguered folks in this, the richest nation in the world. We hear reports of the wealth of our richest citizens and see on our streets those who have no place to sleep. We pass beggars at intersections with their cardboard signs asking for a pittance. Our star athletes are offered monumental amounts of money to play the sports we so avidly watch, and even those among them who grossly misbehave can afford fines in the millions of dollars.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — / I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost. I hadn’t read this poem in years and so, when a friend recently included it in an email, it brought back memories.
A box to put memories in. That’s my current project in the wood shop.
I wish I was home for Christmas. Home means eating cinnamon rolls made by my mom, playing with my nieces and nephews, meeting up with friends we haven’t seen all year. Home means getting to have cheese fries at my favorite restaurant and hugging my partner’s 80-year- old grandmother who I love like my own.
As a new year begins for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), synod and presbytery leaders share their resolutions for the church. Among those resolutions are challenging congregations to do something radically new without worrying about failure, lifting voices often ignored and widening the witness of being a Matthew 25 presence in the world.