“The church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God’s Word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world. All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.” Introduction of Baptismal Covenant III, The United Methodist Hymnal
This grand language began the service of my baptism. It also began every baptism I witnessed for the first 34 years of my life and each one I celebrated for the first seven years of ordained ministry. What a bold vision of God’s church! Whenever I get discouraged by shallow understandings and failings of the church, I remember this great vision of God’s church and find encouragement.
In everyday living, however, it is not such great vision that touches my heart. It is the people of God. Remember that old poem, “Here is the church and here is the steeple … ?” I much prefer the revised version that begins, “Here is the church. It’s made up of people … ” The people of God are an instrument by which God expresses grace and love. People like Ms. Fox, who taught a rowdy group of first grade boys all week in public school and then, again, on Sunday morning in Sunday School. She followed us and we received cards at every graduation and accomplishment. My last card from her came when I graduated seminary. That is faithfulness! Or Hank Deschner, who was Scoutmaster of Troop 3 for 20 years, with over 100 Scouts attaining the rank of Eagle – including me. Not until I was an adult did I fully appreciate the sacrifices he made for all of us. There was Jake Reynolds, who wisely and gently brought healing to my soul after my father’s death. And Eleanor, who coached a young and very green pastor in his first solo pastorate – along with the Rev. Joe Ray doing the same. (Some of us need more help!) Not to mention Nell, Eric, Taylor, Dan, Linda …
I arrived at Bethany and immediately found myself surrounded by a wonderful community of compassionate Christians – way too many to list! The leadership bench was far deeper than I was used to, and I knew I had much to learn. Bethany ventured into building projects and mission projects way beyond anything I had imagined. Those leaders’ courage gave me courage to trust God to do great things. At the same time, I was lifted up by prayers and love in times of loss and illness. Our family was blessed by this community helping raise our children. You even shared in the joy of the baptism of our grand-daughters! And we have been invited into so many of the sorrows and joys of your lives.
Watching Rev. Stella Burkhalter delight in all of you is a joyful reminder of what an amazing community of faith we are blessed to be part of. Yes, the UMC is going through dark days. And every church in Austin is battling back from the repeated body blows of COVID. But Bethany is still a people of God who are expressing the grand vision of God’s Holy Love. God has invited us into so much that He desires and gifted us with blessings profoundly deep and wide. Bethany is making real what one leader has said, “The local church is the hope of the world.”
The world is a dark and confused place these days. But the church, including Bethany, is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time, for the conduct of worship and the due administration of God’s Word and Sacraments, the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline, the edification of believers, and the conversion of the world. All, of every age and station, stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies. Can I get an “Amen!”?