A Pentecost Dream

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

Pentecost is really the birthday of the church.  We see it emerge in this Sunday's reading and we look to celebrate who we are as a part of the body of Christ in mission to the world.

That being said, my current appointment has changed.  I am starting my sixth year as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Edmond but I am also starting my first year as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Guthrie.  In our denomination, this is known as a two-point charge.  They are commonly assigned when neither church can afford the salary and benefit package of a full-time elder.  

We are doing something different.

The opportunity came upon us rather quickly.  Late in the spring, I found out that Guthrie First was facing some financial difficulties which would force them into an appointment change at conference.  We were asked to consider if Edmond First might partner with them in some way so as to provide leadership that would strengthen their congregation.  After we analyzed the situation, we decided that we could offer some ministry that would be helpful to their context.

Starting in July, they will switch their worship times from the current 10:30 am time back to an 8:30 am start.  Our associate pastor, Rev. Trey Witzel, will be preaching this service and will bring musical leadership from our worship band from Worship on Hurd.  They will be back to Edmond in time for Worship on Hurd at 10:50 am.  Guthrie's Sunday school time will move from its current 9:15 am start to 9:45 am.  While an earlier start time doesn't sound ideal, Edmond's 8:30 am service is often the most well-attended of any of our four morning worship services.

They will have a part-time local pastor living in Guthrie with Rev. Kevin "Tank" Tankerson being appointed to this position.  He and his wife Alejandra Rivas-Tankerson will be living in the parsonage and they are expecting their first child in September!  Rev. Tankerson will cover some of the weekly pastoral care and evangelism duties for the congregation.

One of the main problems Guthrie is facing is the graying of the congregation which is happening across the denomination.  Sometimes when we speak of our ever-upward creeping average age, we disrespect those faithful members who remain as the backbone of our churches.  We may do so unintentionally.  We may do so carelessly.  It likely comes out of frustration because we want our churches to fulfill our mission and if we do not reach younger generations, we realize that our shelf-life and relevance to the world are limited.

Our intent is to seek out younger families living in Guthrie and to gather them together.  We would ideally like ten families with elementary or younger aged children.  As we gather, we would seek for them to covenant together to attend this church as their family church.  This mission-mindset would be transformative to their families and it would also be transformative to the church.  Unfortunately, we can't simply pick these families off the tree and insert them!  We are seeking to network in lots of ways to seek them out.   We would invite you to be in prayer specifically for this effort.  If you know of any families that you would like for me to contact, please email me at sam@fumcedmond.org.  But the good thing is just like at Pentecost, God continues to be a part of this effort.  We are not doing this without some very important support!

As with any new thing, there will be resistance.  Notice in today's reading that as Peter reflects upon the vision of Joel that it sounds very egalitarian for the times - young and old, men and women, slave and free - all will receive the Holy Spirit.  But then this movement is accompanied by blood and darkness.  When the Spirit comes upon them at the beginning of the chapter, it comes as a "violent" wind.  No substantial changes come without a significant amount or stress or resistance.

Both congregations will worry about this new arrangement.  Neither have done anything like this before.  Edmond may worry about their staff.  Are they doing too much?  Are they neglecting the Edmond church?  Is this a distraction from their focus?  The fear is the loss of time and energy from their clergy and the possibility that this would curtail the growth we have seen in Edmond.

Guthrie has more to worry about since they have never met us.  How in the world do I relate to a three-headed pastor?  What if this new worship time is too restrictive for young families?  What if the new worship-style seems to foreign to what we know and love?  Will we continue to have a say in the governance of our own church or is this really a take-over?

If we can meet these questions head-on and be honest about our anxiety surrounding them, we will be much better off.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will flare up in both congregations.  Imagine what an influx of young families would do to a congregation for worship?  Imagine if the sister congregation started thinking about its own mission once again and became more effective at reaching out to its own area?  If we adopt the vision for ourselves, it can become contagious.  We become mission-minded and focus our energy outward rather than inward toward ourselves.  Of inwardly or outwardly focused congregations, to which would you rather belong?

This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost.  We will recognize how the church began.  And out of our roots, we will find that the Holy Spirit is not finished with us yet!

In Christ,

Sam