It has taken me over a week to digest and reflect on our first physical annual gathering since the arrival of COVID. (I do extend my apologies that the recorded portions of the gathering have not been uploaded to our web page. There are some unanticipated tech issues, but this should be resolved soon.)
There are three salient pieces of the annual gathering that stood out. The first was the number of people who physically participated. I was warned that no more than 50 people would attend, but in my eternal optimism, I said it would be 150, not really convinced that it would happen. Yet, in the end there were 135+ participants. The group was overall younger than other years, I think because of the prudent decisions made by others to not attend. There were more children than I have seen at an annual gathering in maybe 15 or 20 years. It is simply encouraging to attendees be comfortable in bringing children and teenagers to join. We welcomed in a new church, Sunshine Community Church in Allentown NH, and several new pastors and their spouses. There was spirit of hospitality and welcome among the those that were there. I was struck by the diversity of the group, and the mutuality and generosity people extended to each other. A constant theme was, “It is good to be together.”
Despite COVID’s lingering, God blessed us.
The second point was the powerful worship, and for many of us, feeling that renewing joyous presence of the Holy Spirit. After Dr. Stokes’ sermon and prayer on Friday night, from where I stood, I could see the tears, the prayers, and welcoming Christ’s presence. The Holy Spirit does comfort, confront, and change us during moments of community worship. Sometimes we take for granted how close Christ is when we worship with an openness to the Holy Spirit. Another theme I heard was “We need to worship together more.”
The third point I would describe as “ferment”. After quality workshops and two excellent keynoters, conversations were grappling with the present and the future. There was a catalyst about, as people pressed each other for their thoughts, strategies, and questions. For some, they didn’t realize that human trafficking is present in small rural communities, often connected with drug trafficking. Or it is okay to seek to understand people of other races and cultures while suspending our own preconceptions, because this too is the way of the cross. Defensiveness never serves Christ and His Kingdom. There was constant buzz around the question of “So what is the church?” Are there differences, even nuanced differences, between evangelism, Christian community, and the church? If we evangelize and bring together communities of new believers on the journey of discipleship and servanthood, when are they Christian communities, and when are they a church? Where does teaching happen, baptisms, and the Lord’s table? Does the Holy Spirit preside over a wide range of church venues and experiences? How are we trying to find our way in the world in the name of Jesus?
Overall, I thank God for the risk we took, and God blessed us in our trying, Jesus was there helping us see and know be close.
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