A couple of years ago, our beloved 90-year-old neighbors died. For a long while, the house sat vacant – a testimony to the neighborhood’s grief and loss. Eventually their children and grandchildren all arrived from out of state and began cleaning and sorting and packing. The house went on the market and a family with teenagers moved in.
The rhythm of the neighborhood has changed some. For one thing, there are more cars that go up and down our street these days – often driven by young people we don’t know. They have been hard at work reconstructing (what seemed to the neighborhood) a perfectly good house, so there have been lots of the kinds of things that go along with home construction – trucks and noise and chaos. Every once in a while, I still hear one of the long-time neighbors say – wistfully – “I sure miss Arne and Karen”! On the other hand, when my husband had a medical crisis earlier this summer, the teenaged boy next door showed up to mow the lawn (without being asked). And Shawn has come back every week. How grateful we are for able-bodied and big-hearted new neighbors!
Life in the church isn’t much different than life in a neighborhood. We all look at the empty pew where a long-time, newly absent member sat – and we say to one another – “I sure miss so-and-so, don’t you?” There are holes in our hearts that aren’t easily filled. But then there is the pew that had long sat empty and is now filled up with wriggling children who seem to be in perpetual motion. If we are lucky, our hearts will go out to welcome and include them, and then one day they will do something that teaches us that they, too, are a part of the community – that they, too, can make a difference in our lives.
These days, every communication from the Iowa Conference has the tagline – “Boldly Following Jesus”. You’ve seen it. You might even have wondered what it might look like for our Conference (or our churches) to follow Jesus BOLDLY. In reality, I’m quite sure that it means a whole lot of things – each one unique to place and time and circumstance. I am also sure that – in every place and circumstance, all around the Iowa Conference – to boldly follow Jesus involves a delicate dance of saying “good-bye” and saying “hello”. It means accepting and embracing change!
Jesus invites us into the places where life is “real” – places of sorrow and struggle and loss, as well as places where celebration is full and joy overflows with new vision and dramatic dreams. He invites us to open our hearts to newcomers – and to share the core values of Christian faith and discipleship. That means exercising those core practices of Christian faith for the rest of the world to see – things like forgiveness, hospitality, prophetic witness, peace and justice-making, prayer, the sharing of resources, kindness, courage, (and you can add more!). That’s how we pass on this peculiar and blessed life that we know as members of the communities that bear Christ’s name.
“Boldly Following Jesus” isn’t just a cute slogan. It is a way of life that changes life – for all of us!
Iowa Conference UCC Adjunct Staff – 2030 Iowa