Good morning, Friends!
I hope you’re all doing well today! Today is kind of a special day. I know all days are special, since today is a day that the Lord has made. But today is a special day for me, and I hope it’s a special day for Springfield Friends as well.
It was exactly four years ago today, that I gave my first message here at Springfield as your new brand pastor. I don’t know if that seems like a long time ago to you, or whether it seems like yesterday.
We’ve gone through a whole lot of things together in four years. We have new children who were born in the meeting. The kids are so much fun to have around! We have couples who’ve gotten married. We have young adults who have gone off to college – we’re so proud of them, and we miss them so much! And we’ve had losses, of people who couldn’t be spared. A lot of families have lost loved ones, including our own.
We have done so many things together, in the last four years. I want you to take a look, just for a minute, at the insert in your bulletin this morning. These aren’t all the things we did together. These are just some of the highlights.
- We put a new roof on the whole building – that was a big job, that you only do once in a generation
- We renovated the parsonage, which was derelict, and we turned it into a comfortable home again. Springfield gets a tremendous benefit from having the pastor living right next door to the meetinghouse!
- We invested in energy conservation, which has made a huge difference to our budget. Our heat bills are less than half of what they used to be.
- We’ve got new tables and comfortable chairs in the fellowship hall
- The lightning strike that totally destroyed all our office equipment a year ago turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We replaced our phones, our computers, our copier, and part of our sound system
- Here in worship, we’ve got new hymnals. We’ve got a new accompanist. We’ve got better music!
- We have a tremendous increase in our youth activity – the youth group is up and running again, and it’s so great to see!
- We’ve got a new drama group. We’ve got a new children’s library. Most of the kids in the meeting are going to Quaker Lake Camp.
- The Wednesday night Bible study draws 10-12 people, every week. That’s almost 20% of our attendance on Sunday. We’re learning stuff that most people have to go to college to learn.
- We’ve started a new adult class on the first Sunday of every month, that’s drawing over 20 people most of the time. All summer long, we had a pastor’s class on Quaker history that was very well attended. We’re learning stuff!
- We’re collecting a lot more food every month for COAT. That’s not a back burner ministry any more. The whole meeting is involved in the Shoebox ministry.
- We’re doing great things with outreach. Our web site got re-built from the ground up. Our newsletter looks better. We’ve got a great new sign out by the road. We’ve got all kinds of new literature. We’re trying to get the word out on Springfield, every way we can.
You can read through that whole list, and I hope you do. I’m not asking you to pat me on the back, because the things on that list are all things we’ve done together.
I don’t take credit for any of the things that we’ve gotten done on work days. I don’t take credit for any financial contribution except what our family has given. I didn’t put in all the volunteer hours. I didn’t put in all the hours in prayer. A lot of the imagination, the creative thought and the physical work had been given by everyone here.
I’ve heard people from other congregations complain that nothing new ever happens at their church. That’s not true of Springfield. I’ve had other pastors tell me they’d lie down in traffic, if they could get only half the things we’ve done to happen where they’re working.
And that’s just in four years. Just imagine what we could do, if we keep on working together.
When I first started here, four years ago, I read the same Scripture that I’m going to read this morning. And I warned you, that morning, that I was going to read the same Scripture to you, every year, without fail. And I have. Every year, I read to you from the first letter of John. Because for me, it sums up the reason why we’re here together, and it reminds us of what God wants us to do.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.1 John 4:7-12
After four years, we’ve gotten to know each other a lot better. The honeymoon period of our first year or two is over.
You know, more or less what I can do. And I know, pretty much, what you’re willing to do. We’ve been through a lot. And I think we still like each other.
When I first came here, the Search committee handed me three goals, and they said that’s what they wanted me to work on with you. Does anybody remember those three goals? I do. I took them seriously then, and they’re still guiding the work that I do here, every day.
Do any of you remember them? The three goals were:
1) We’re non-judgmental
2) We want to grow
3) We’re willing to change
Believe it or not, those three goals have guided me for the last four years. I check in with them pretty often, and until you tell me different, those are what I’m still working on.
I think we’re actually doing fairly well on the “being non-judgmental” part. Almost everybody in the meeting says they agree with it, and we actually practice it fairly well.
We accept each other, pretty much the way we are. We know that we come from different places. And that’s OK. We respect each others’ point of view, and we don’t go around picking fights with each other.
We disagree on some things, of course, but we recognize that those things aren’t the reason that we all come to church. We recognize that we’re all on the same team, and we try to work together for the good of the whole body. Any disagreements, we leave up to God.
Not judging is always a good place to start. We will not grow, if new people come to our door and feel unwelcome, or if they pick up any hint that we feel superior to them.
Our acceptance and our humility, our welcome and our listening are the keys that unlock the door when people come here who’ve been burned someplace else. A lot of people have. If we truly take people as they are, that makes a huge difference to them. Being non-judgmental strengthens our fellowship internally, and it also brings people in. Let’s keep working on it!
The next goal is a tricky one. Do we really want to grow?
The reason it’s a tricky goal is that of course everybody says yes. Of course we want to grow! Of course we want all those empty seats filled! Of course we want Springfield to be just like it was, back in the 50’s and 60’s.
Trouble is, it’s not the 50’s and 60’s any more. We can’t go back there, because the world has moved on.
Nobody wants to join a church that’s stuck in its own past. Nobody moves ahead, when they’re staring at the rear view mirror. We can learn from our past – the things that worked, the things that failed. But we can’t live in the past.
Growth is not impossible. In fact, if we open ourselves in the right way, growth is joyful.
Just to take an example – only a week ago, we had a beautiful concert here at Springfield. It was outside, there on the grass. We had over 130 people here, and more than three-quarters of them had never been to Springfield. I can’t begin to tell you how nice it was. It felt like a glimpse of Heaven, and the music was going out and blessing the whole neighborhood.
Most of those 130 people were friends of just one family. One family drew 130 people! They all showed up, because someone they knew, invited them. A couple of very gifted people from Springfield, asked a couple of gifted friends to help them out, and they shared the music inside them with everyone they could bring here.
That’s how we grow. Turn people loose, to share something really good. Invite everyone you know, because you believe in what you’re sharing. Thank people for coming. Welcome them when they show up, and thank them for what they give.
Some people put only one can in the barrel last week. Other people brought whole sacks and boxes of food. One high school kid put in the only dollar he had. One couple put in a hundred dollar bill. Didn’t matter. Every gift counted. And we were all there because we love the Barata family, and we love the music.
I’d like to see more concerts. But not everybody’s gift is in music. I’d like to see quilt shows, and art shows. I’d like to see exercise classes. I’d like to see prayer groups and 12 step groups and language classes. I love the new hat and scarf ministry that Belinda is starting. I love the idea of asking some Scouts to come and help us build some nature trails back in the woods that we own.
My point is, that growth isn’t something mysterious. Growth happens, every time somebody wants to do something really cool, something beautiful, something fun and interesting and delicious, and invites other people to join them. That’s the way it works.
It can be on a small scale, just two or three people gathered together. Or it can be on a large scale, with hundreds of people involved. But that’s how growth works.
In the chapter we looked at this week on Wednesday night in Bible study, Jesus said that “the good news will be proclaimed throughout all the world, as a testimony to all the nations.”
If we want to grow, we need to share that good news a lot more. Remember what I said: growth happens, whenever we do something beautiful for God. We grow, when we share our joy with other people. We grow, when we invite people to come, accept them as they are, and welcome them into our space.
Do that, and we will grow. Don’t do that, and it ain’t going to happen.
Third goal: we said that we’re willing to change.
When I came here, I listened with a straight face when you said that. Because in fact, most congregations don’t want to change. We’ve survived as long as we have, by doing the same things, with the same people, as we’ve always done before.
It’s one of the very first lessons pastors learn in seminary: churches don’t really want to change. “The way we are is comfortable; please don’t take us outside of our comfort zone. The old way is the safe way; we’re scared of failing, or falling behind.”
I could give you dozens of examples of things that we do at Springfield, because we’ve always done them that way. And you know, it’s fine if we do the same things, if we love them, if there’s fun and fellowship and excitement about them. But there are some things we do here, that aren’t much fun any more, and there’s absolutely no reason not to change.
And if you want to do something new – why not? Everything here was new, once upon a time. Everything here was brand new, from the building to the hymns to the Sunday School.
Part of my job, as pastor, is to show us how, in the Bible and in history, God does new things and opens up new doors.
Part of my job, as pastor, is to encourage you all to try new things. All the things on that insert in your bulletin, are things you said that you wanted to happen. I didn’t push you to do anything you didn’t want to do.
You said you wanted new hymnals. I went out and researched which ones were available, and sent away and got samples, and took them round to all the different groups in the meeting, and you chose one. We raised the money to pay for those new hymnals, in just three weeks.
You said the heat bills were killing us. Again, we researched the problem, people stepped up and invested in our future. We put in insulation, we converted a couple of boilers, we watch the thermostats carefully, and our heat bill went from $12,000 a year to just over $3,000 a year. We can do something new, that works!
We can have new classes. We can have new ministries. We can move the furniture around. We can respect our past, and cherish it, but we don’t need to live in the past. We can try new things, and if they don’t work, we can try other new things. Everything here was new once upon a time!
This morning we skipped having open worship earlier, so let’s take some time for that now. During open worship, I want to ask you: what do you want to do next?
How can we be more welcoming to people? How can we listen to them, and love them, just the way they are?
How can we have more times, where we feel the love and presence of God as something real? How can we find times for people to share what they love, and share what brings light and passion in their lives? How can we get past our shyness and invite people to come? Because those are the things that are going to help us grow.
And are we really open to change at Springfield? Are we willing to lay old things down, and do things that feel alive? Are we willing to sing new songs, try new ways, make room for new groups, and open new doors?
Let’s spend some time in prayer, and please share from your hearts.