THE GIFTS OF 2020
As I write this the fields lay frozen. Snow is in the air. Winter is upon us. The season feels bitter, cold, lonely. As winter sets in I am mindful of what I lack. I have the feeling of being a soldier without a brigade, a mother hen without her chicks, and a shepherd without sheep. I have not been with the people I love, Ford Street Church, in the way I want to be in almost 9 months. The sheep remain scattered. The troops hunkered down and dug in, riding out the assault. The chicks are still on the run. I do not write this so that anyone feels guilt for responses to this year, but so that I can name the sense of isolation I think we all feel. Thanks 2020! It is a year that keeps on giving!
It is not so much that 2020 is a year like no other, it is more that 2020 has been a year like several years rolled into one! Pastoral leadership author Tod Bolsinger recently made the observation that while the Church has faced trying times before in its vast and storied history that it has never faced in the United States all of these challenges at the same time. He reflected that 2020 seems to be like 1918, 1968 and 2020 all rolled into one.
In 1918 the Church faced a pandemic made more severe by the both the voraciousness of the disease and the lack of education about how to prevent the spread. Churches closed for long seasons in many areas in America. Yet, Christians came back as the pandemic ended. Church was an essential part of life and communal spirituality was a given. We have added to this, in this last year, the social pressures of 1968, another year full of rapid social change, extravagant violence, and resplendent with too many national leaders who sought to exploit the rifts between us rather than listen, lead, and help us learn. In 1968, however, commitment to our faith communities and faith itself kept people at the same tables, still in conversation, albeit very imperfectly. In 2020 we are left wondering if churches can hear and respond to the cries for justice in our society or if in responding the church might dissolve in the winds of competing and cross-pressured allegiances. Even before we entered the pandemic of 2020, statistical indicators from every kind of church and denomination in the US indicated that people en masse no longer were responding to faith and faith communities in the same way. Steep decline was reported in 2019 by a broad range of religious traditions ranging from Episcopalians to Southern Baptists and the non-denominational.
Pandemic, social change, and secularity, these are the gifts of 2020. The church now must face challenges similar to 1918 and 1968, with the added pressure of doing so in the culture of 2020! We are sick, tired. We feel alone.
WHAT A TIME FOR THE GIFTS OF GOD!
Don’t get the wrong idea, now. I have named our reality. That is an important step. Yet, as a follower of Jesus Christ I also live with another reality laid over all of this. I believe that Jesus Christ by the gift of his life, death and resurrection demonstrates the victory of God over the powers of our world. I believe that God has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us with gifts as well which are more than equal to the time and task before us. What are your gifts? Generosity, courage, sensitivity, wisdom, love, mercy, peacefulness, persistence, self-control, leadership, joyfulness, kindness? In this season of gift-giving, Christians of all people should be reminded of God’s gifts to us and in us! We must be reminded to respond, with responsibility, with the gifts God gives.
It is worth remembering that Ford Street Church held many wonderful gifts of the Spirit before this season. We were (and I think are) a growing congregation. We have gifts of adaptability, discipleship, worship, justice, and generosity all obviously present in our congregational life. We have shown these gifts and given them even in 2020!
Though we remain scattered for a time, I hope you will hear my call. The call I extend to you is to continue to practice GOD’S GIFTS in 2021, even as many of the gifts of 2020 begin to fade from memory. My call to you today is to name your gifts and anticipate how God will use them in 2021.
For this purpose we have included a gift commitment card. You may complete this card and return it by mail to PO Box 626 Lapel, IN 46051 or you may complete this commitment by visiting our website at www.fordstreetchurch.com/gifts. Where are the 3 places you spend your time most? How will you commit to using the gifts God has given you for building God’s Kingdom in 2021?
For many of you the places you go will not be limited to church! How will you use your gifts there? This is an invitation to commit 2021 in all our life in service to God, in unity with one another.
In 2021 Ford Street Church may very well make major additions and adaptations to our building. In 2021 we may see the return of Summer Sports Camp, carry-in dinners, and close-knit small groups. More important, however, than any of those achievements in 2021 will be that Ford Street Church emerges from this time with a greater awareness of its gifts and graces from God, more equipped to serve Lapel than ever before.
So, in this cold and isolated hour of early winter, let us be warmed and gathered by our shared resolve to serve Jesus Christ, the gift of God. Let us be drawn together by the mystic chords of love as we commit to each other and to service with the gifts we have been given by God’s Spirit. Let us look forward to the day when we gather as God’s people, not empty handed, but with the gifts God has given. Let us look through the real challenges before us, to that glory which lays ahead and commit. “Lord and God, these gifts you have given. Lord and God, these gifts, they are all for you.”