That was the same Annual Conference that Bishop Morison threw confetti everywhere. With its dark stained wood, its pale blue walls, its wrap-around balcony and a massive pipe organ to boot – the sanctuary of Elm Park Church is unmistakable in my memory. We were sitting in the balcony when the bishop invited all those who felt a call to ordained ministry to come forward. “Are you going?” Bruce asked me nervously. Teenagers – they always need reassurance. God bless ‘em. “I’ll go if you go” I said. So we walked down the stairs together in plain view of the whole Annual Conference body. Someone met me with a hug and a big smile – I don’t remember who. But I’ll always remember that when I first answered God’s call, there was confetti in the Communion Cup.
As a preacher’s kid, we first moved house when I was five. Luckily for me, I met a boy named Frank in my parents’ new church who would prove to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had. A year older than me though he was, Frank had never gone up front for the children’s sermon – he was too shy. The story goes that on our first Sunday together I grabbed little Franko by the arm and dragged him up front never giving him the chance to object – just a couple of toe-heads bungling their way through childhood.
When I got in my parent’s car to go home from Annual Conference I didn’t want to talk about the altar call. The whole drive they kept asking, but it was between me and God! It was none of their business. No one else had the right to pry! ……. Or maybe I just didn’t know how to answer their questions yet.
When I was in sixth grade I got my first taste of the Spirit. And she was potent as ever. We were standing in a circle praying and singing songs on a warm summer camp night when suddenly the spirit hit me right in the chest, hard. I’m not sure if that was my heart being strangely warmed, but I know that as I looked up at that unburnt burning bush hanging low in the sky, this time in the form of a full moon, God spoke to me. I could hear the words in my bones, “I’m here,” God said. “I’m here.” I don’t think I ever cried harder in my life.
So the years went on and having earned a degree and having lived a college life – I enrolled in seminary still adamant that I would not be a pastor. But. You can only sit in church for so long before you realize you’re not alone. Amidst the books and study and the wear and tear and toil of seminary life, my peers showed up. They were speaking about their own anxieties – their shortcomings, their insecurities, their fear of the unknowable future. I found comfort in them. I found courage in them. You can only sit in church so long before you realize that God is talking back.
And apparently, if you’re me, you can only sit in church so long before you realize you’ve been sitting in the belly of a whale for a long time. Thanks be to God for that!
So, when I recently got a call from Abel, your District Superintendent, and was asked to be appointed to the Park, Waterville Charge, I talked to God, as one is apt to do, and I offered God a deal: “I’ll go if you go” I said. And now, as I write this my life is stored in boxes – we seem to have reached an accord.
So that’s where our story together begins, I suppose. I don’t know your stories yet, but I soon will. Let’s walk together. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s learn to trust one another.
‘What does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?’
But to ‘Love from the center of who we are.’
“For if God is with us who could stand against us?”
There is a certain Hope in our People – this Body of Christ.
The Gospel truth is this:
“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth. Not anything else in all creation.” Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
The truth is that despite what you may have been told or despite what you think you deserve, you are loved. To the very core of your being you are loved. Profoundly and utterly loved not despite who you are but precisely because of who you are. No. Matter. What.
So what will our response be to all this? We are called to love God through the example and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to love one another in return.
“I’ll go if you go.”
So be it.
Pastor Bryant Clark