Note: The following was a talk I gave in front of my congregation last Sunday, to thank them and wish them goodbye before I move to seminary next week.
The morning of Pastor Mark's last service here stands out in my mind for two reasons. One: the slightly-startled way he responded to the completely packed pews, by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. And two, the brief conversation that I had with him after the service was over. I thanked him for everything he had done for me in the previous few years, and explained how he and the congregation of Our Saviour had made me believe in organized religion again. He replied, “Well, that's the thing about God's Church, isn't it? It's made up of fallible people. It's easy to see that as the Church's weakness, but I try to think of that fact as its strength.” As human and imperfect as we all are, I've seen God's love, and God's work being done, through so many of you. I feel like Our Saviour is a family in a way that I have never experienced before from a spiritual community.
Now, I know that I'm only going to grad school, and that my seminary is two and a half hours away rather than in Antarctica or something. I suspect I'll be back for Thanksgiving and Christmas and some summers. But the closer the time comes for me to move to Philadelphia, the more I've realized how much I'm going to miss coming here on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, I've usually had to dodge out of here much earlier than I would like in order to go to work, which is also why I've tended to be an early service kind of guy. But worshiping and fellowshiping with you all has been one of my favorite parts of the week. You've made me feel cared for, appreciated, and loved. You've seen and fostered positive qualities in me that I hadn't recognized before. It's pleasant here. It's welcoming. It's spiritually uplifting and energizing, even on the mornings when I haven't had time for my morning coffee yet. And it's comfortable. In general, I know what to expect.
The truth is, I have no idea what my future in Philly has in store for me. I have extremely high hopes that I will find myself among great people at the seminary and in whatever congregations I serve and assist in worship. But those of you who know me well are probably aware that it can take some time for me to feel really comfortable and at ease in different situations. I'm sure that I will form some great relationships with time, but a small part of me is also afraid that I will end up being a bit lonely at first.
That's why I'm so grateful for the experiences in my life that have taught me that I don't need to be afraid of being alone. The people who are dear to us don't need to be physically there in order for them to continue to be present in our lives. The love and confidence they have in us persist, day by day and change by change. I felt that love from friends and family every day while living alone abroad a few years ago. And in April of 2012, sitting alone in my Egyptian apartment, I accepted Christ with a strong sense that I was actually the farthest thing from being alone. Opening my eyes to the fact that God is always with us, even in our seemingly loneliest moments, has made all the difference in the world to me in times of solitude and change.
So I ask you for your prayers and encouragement. I ask you to send the occasional positive vibe my way over the coming years. Please, wish me strength for getting through and learning from whatever challenges lie before me, for discerning what God would have me do and determination to act according to His will, and for an easy transition into new communities and new friendships. And in return, because I believe that whatever confidence you have in me comes with its own responsibilities on my end, I will try my best to take the lessons I have learned from you, about what it is to love God and neighbor, and apply them in whatever ways I can in a world sorely in need of God's love.
A few weeks ago, I was driving to work after church. I was getting really excited about my upcoming move, about new classes and new opportunities, and was looking forward to the prospect of becoming a pastor years down the road. Then, my thoughts drifted to my mom, as they often do. The realization that she won't be there to see me move in, graduate, be ordained, or preach my first sermon hit me like a ton of bricks. After twenty minutes of DWC (Driving While Crying: something I wouldn't recommend or condone for safety reasons, by the way), God led me to a second, far truer conclusion: She will be there, in moments good and bad, through successes and apparent failures. So will God, and so will you, through your prayers and moral support. With a community like Our Saviour behind me, I don't need to be afraid of change while starting the next phase of my life as a disciple of Christ. Instead, I can study and learn and serve others in peace, secure in the fact that I'm not alone and that there are people out there who believe in me. And I can be equipped with the resolve to show the world what the Church of God can be like with people like you, guided by the Holy Spirit, as its strength.