By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
May 30, 2021
Video of Entire Service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/585474779092563
Scripture: Philippians 1:1-11
Last week, I confessed some of the things I’ve been struggling with lately. I mentioned that the work just doesn’t seem to be flowing these days. I feel like I’m running into lots of little roadblocks in everything I do, and I’ve found myself more-easily-disheartened than usual. Like with most things in life, I also found out that I am not alone. Some of my pastor friends are struggling these days as well. I think it’s very pandemic-related. It’s the space of being sort-of opened back up again, but not fully. We are all fumbling a bit and trying to find our way.
For example, I keep thinking there will be more people coming back to in-person worship, and there are not. I know that’s the situation not just for me, but for many churches. I think it’s because people are just hesitant to really believe that we are safe gathering together. I also know some folks are waiting for Worship in the Garden because they feel more comfortable gathering outside.
But overall, I’ve just been feeling a bit unsure. Does anyone else feel that way? That we’re in this kind of liminal, in-between space where the future is not quite clear yet?
So we’re left in this space of just having to wait for things to unfold. It’s a space I don’t really like. I don’t have the clarity I would like to see yet that everything is going to turn out just how I want it to.
I think it’s because we as a church community are entering a time of renovation again. Renovation is messy, right? I think we are entering a new season of renovation. It is not something we haven’t done before. When I first arrived here at Hanscom Park about four years ago, we spent the first year or so, I think, working on what the author Kevin Oakes calls “culture renovation.”
Oakes rejects the term “cultural transformation” that often gets thrown around when organizations are trying to improve. He says that successful organizations don’t undergo cultural transformation. They don’t need to just scrap everything about their culture and start new. But they do need culture renovation. They need to look at their most cherished values, see how they need to be updated in light of their current reality, and then build on the strengths of their culture. They don’t throw out their culture and start new. They return to the roots of their culture. They remember what’s most important…and then they build on it.
When I arrived here four years ago, we did a lot of remembering our deepest values. You might recall that we gathered a Mission & Vision Team, and we articulated three mission foci. Remember what they were? Do the gestures with me! Embrace people as they are. Share God’s love in word & deed. Grow in faith together.
These were not things we just made up that we wanted to do. They were descriptions of what we were already doing. They were descriptions of what our deepest values are. We put on our anthropologist’s hat, our investigator’s hat. We observed the culture that was already here.
We saw folks who embrace people as they are. We already welcomed and loved people of different political perspectives, of different educational levels and classes, people of various abilities (especially you are so wonderful at supporting neurodiverse kids in our children’s programming). You all – before me! – had already taken the steps to become a Reconciling Congregation, proclaiming your intention to welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We had already developed a culture of warm hospitality – of really welcoming those who found their way into the church.
We also shared God’s love in word & deed. We participated in a feeding ministry that was literally called “SHARE.” It was a really interesting feeding ministry in that it was a co-op model. While there were certainly opportunities to donate boxes of food to families in need, the heart of the program was working together, pooling resources so that all the families involved could receive low-cost, high-quality food. There was this sense that sharing God’s love wasn’t just about giving stuff to people, but about empowering people and working together to make a community where everyone thrives.
As the Apostle Paul might have say it: God began a good work in you. Like the Philippians to whom he writes the letter we just heard, you had already learned the gospel, the good news of God’s love for us and our call to love our neighbor. You were spreading the gospel by embracing people as they are, sharing God’s love in word & deed. You were welcoming everyone who came into the church. You were serving in ways that both help and empower people. You were already doing that when I arrived here.
So we simply named those things, and we began to do them even better. Now, I think we are on the cusp of a new season of culture renovation. We have begun to see that we are called to embrace not just the people in the church, but all the people in the community in which we reside. We have come to understand who WE are. WE are not just the people in the church. WE are the people from all over the world who have come to this place, (even virtually!) to little old Omaha, Nebraska seeking shalom – peace and prosperity. WE are attempting to build God’s kingdom of shalom for all people here together.
We are not transforming our culture…which is already one of embracing and welcoming and loving all people. We are renovating our culture to include even more people.
God has continued to do that good work in us…even in some pretty rough times.
In March 2020, really not much more than a year ago, we had just filled out the application to have Pastor Peter Karanja come here last summer as our intern. We were hoping he could help us embrace and love even more people by connecting with New Americans in our community. We hoped his work might help us discern how to share God’s love better in the future.
Then the pandemic hit. Our work appeared to come to a screeching halt.
You know what? I had forgotten this. I had forgotten how hard those days were. I had forgotten how disheartened I was at that time. Friends, I’m sure I never told you the fullness of this. I try to keep my struggles and doubts between me and God. But I want to read to you what I wrote in my journal in April 2020. I address these journal entries as notes to God and as prayers. Here’s what I wrote on April 1st, 2020:
Wednesday, April 1st 2020
Lord Jesus, protect me from becoming burnt out in my work. On July 1, it will be 5 years in full-time ministry for me. Five years! I read somewhere that is the average length of time women make it in full-time ministry (before they quit). Help me to pace myself, to know what things I should prioritize, to trust that you are working alongside me, to trust others to help me. Protect me from hurting my family in pursuit of my call. Protect me from failing to be content and failing to receive all the blessings you give constantly to me. Protect me from letting joy and goodness pass me by… In your holy name, I pray.
And here’s the entry for Thursday, April 2nd (It has a much less formal salutation, but God and I are buddies like that.):
Thursday, April 2nd 2020
Hey God – so…I just heard schools are closed until the end of May, and I am feeling sad & afraid. I am sad because it means another month of us not gathering in church. It puts our summer plans in jeopardy. I wonder if Peter will even be able to come to Omaha this summer. It just puts everything up in the air.
That was really just over a year ago. That was my fear that I laid out in prayer before God. I doubted that Peter would even be able to come to Omaha last summer. I doubted that we would have a successful Worship in the Garden. I felt like everything was up in the air.
I also worried about our building campaign – that other way that we were planning to expand our ability to embrace people as they are. We had begun to develop a timeline with our Accessibility Team for a campaign to make our building accessible to people with disabilities. Then the pandemic hit. I doubted that would ever happen as well, but we have started meeting to get that project going again. To be honest, it can be pretty overwhelming when I think about it. I still have doubts.
A couple weeks ago, I preached about confronting the brutal facts. I do that. I know the brutal facts. I know what we are up against. I knew it a year ago, and I know it now.
I also know that just over one year ago, I was worried that Pastor Peter wouldn’t even be able to come work with us for a summer. But not only did Pastor Peter come last summer, yesterday the Bishop set Pastor Peter’s appointment to come here and be our Full-Time Associate Pastor for Community Engagement. He will be around in a volunteer capacity until mid-July when his full-time position starts. This new ministry is made possible through $90,000 worth of grants from the Conference and the Nebraska United Methodist Foundation. They are helping us plant the seed of this vision.
Just over one year ago, I doubted I’d make it past five years in full-time ministry. Well, it will be six years on July 1st, and y’all are going to have to put up with me for Year Seven as well… because the bishop has appointed me as your Senior Pastor starting July 1, 2021.
I can’t wait to work alongside Pastor Peter and all of you. God is not finished with us yet!
Now I haven’t talked about our third mission focus. Remember the three? Say it with me. Embrace people as they are. Share God’s love in word & deed. Grow in faith together. I know that the times I struggled, I was forgetting about that last one. Even this past month, I confess my spiritual disciplines have been something of a shipwreck. So I’m going to invite you to join me, as we enter this next phase of culture renovation, to prioritize the foundation of our values and our identity and everything we do: and that is our faith in God. This summer, as we plant this new ministry, we need to nurture it with prayer and scripture and worship and song. Then we need to trust that God will make us and make it grow.
Because we do none of this on our own, but through Christ.
So. To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Hanscom Park Church. In the physical and the virtual sanctuary…I want to share some of the Apostle Paul’s words from our reading today with you.
“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”
Thank you, and above all else, thanks be to God.