Where From Here?

Where From Here?


X WHEN PEOPLE EMBRACE THE WAY OF JESUSThe early church in Jerusalem didn’t quite know where to go or what to do. They were at a crossroads. They worshipped daily in the Temple, held their mid-day potluck dinner to which they invited everyone, where they broke bread, passed the cup of wine and remembered Jesus. The Temple authorities had tried to intimidate the leaders of the fledgling Christian Community – Stephen had even been stoned to death — and many of them had gone into hiding in Samaria, where they began preaching and bringing Samaritans to the way of Jesus. Was that permitted? I mean wasn’t the way of Jesus intended for Jews only? How could they begin to include those dirty rotten Samaritans in the community of faith? When people embrace the way of Jesus everything can change!


X PHILIP & THE EUNUCH Philip was one of the deacons, who had begun preaching in Samaria. And then one morning, while he was praying Philip heard a voice saying, “Today, walk down to the Jerusalem to Gaza road!” So Philip went. And while he was on the road he met an Ethiopian, a Eunuch, who had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and he was returning to Ethiopia. As a result of the scattering of Jews throughout the world after the first destruction of Jerusalem, a community of Jewish traders and businessmen had grown up down in Ethiopia. One of these Jews had been chosen by Queen Candace to be her minister of finance, so he was very influential.

Perhaps the Eunuch had been disappointed by his pilgrimage, for according to the Law of Moses a eunuch was not allowed to enter the inner courts of the Temple. Anyway on the way home he was pondering a passage from the Prophet Isaiah — Chapter 53:

As a sheep is led to the slaughter,     and quiet as a lamb being sheared, God’s servant was silent, saying nothing.     He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.


X BAPTIZE MEGod prompted Philip to climb up into the Ethiopian’s chariot, and when he discovered the passage with which the eunuch was wrestling, he used that as an opportunity to share the story of Jesus with him. The Eunuch responded to the narrative of the passion of Jesus with great hope. If the Messiah could be executed on a cross and yet live again, there was hope that even a mutilated black Jew could be fully accepted into the household of faith. He asked to be baptized, and Philip obliged. The Eunuch then returned to Ethiopia sharing the story of Jesus, and God led Philip on his way to continue the ever expanding circle of the people of the Way. According to tradition the Ethiopian Eunuch’s name was Simeon Bachos, and he is credited as the founder of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.


X WHERE FROM HERE 1I believe the story of Philip and the church is important for United Church. The early church enjoyed initial success, but then they had to confront the question where do we go from here? This spring has been an extraordinary period of activity, when much of what we have worked for in the past couple of years has come to fruition in the life of the United Church of Huntsville. In February we proved that we can find the resources to help this congregation thrive. We have moved ahead on refurbishing the church kitchen. We are in the process of getting rid of junk and cleaning up our facility. We are making improvements to the sound system in the sanctuary: new sound board, microphones, amplifiers and speakers. We have also consulted with a professional sound engineer who has helped us to discover that we need to make changes in the acoustics of our sanctuary, so we can hear clearly what is being said through the sound system. Matt Youngkin found on sale on the internet some special sound dampening material. Soon we will begin experimenting with new sound panels on our walls to decrease the amount of reverberation in our sanctuary, so we can hear more clearly.


X PARTNERING WITH OUR NEIGHBOROnce again we entered into a cooperative agreement with our neighbor St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to jointly sponsor a successful Vacation Bible School, and by the end of June, the initial installation of our Healing Steps Labyrinth should be complete. Soon to follow we will pour sidewalks, create benches, landscaping and some shade, where people can sit and rest. I would like to be able to forward the church phone to my cell phone, so I can have office hours on the Labyrinth in order to attract people from the community to the Labyrinth and our property.


X SUPREME COURT SUPPORTSFor a couple of years we struggled with the decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation. Now all of a sudden on Friday the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the action of General Synod back in 2005 embracing marriage equality. The rest of the culture is catching up with us.   Apparently Roy Moore has decided that he is above the Supreme Court, but he may become the first Alabama Supreme Court Justice to be impeached twice.


X REVISIONINGWe also included in our 2014 Annual Report a copy of the Re-visioning Report. In case you missed that report, I have re-printed some copies and they are available as you leave the sanctuary this morning. I also included in your bulletin a copy of the proposed Mission Statement. Allow me to highlight some of the recommendations included in the Re-visioning report.


X SERVE OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR WORLDCentral to the Mission Statement included in the Annual Report is this paragraph: “Our primary mission is to connect with and serve our community and world. Empowered by the spirit of God, we affirm our journey to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ, seeking peace and justice for all.” Our mission statement makes clear we are not a club. The community of faith is not about us, rather we are called to the way of Jesus in order to serve others. Thus, one of the recommendations of the Re-visioning Report is to reduce the number of people serving on administrative boards and committees, in order to release more time and energy for mission reaching outside of our congregation.


X TECHNOLOGICALLY ADEPTThe Re-visioning Report also recommends that we become more technologically adept, because reaching a younger generation will require mastery of internet communications and social media. Sharing our worship on the internet will be an important step in inviting younger people to consider walking through the doors of our church.


X COACHING MENTORING LAY LEADERSHIPWhere do we go from here – ever expanding circles of inclusion. But as Bill Tucker points out diversity and inclusiveness are hard to achieve. When people are very different from one another, maintaining cohesiveness as a community of faith is difficult. So, this Spring Bill Tucker and I attended a webinar about Church coaching from the Center for Progressive Renewal. Church coaching is an institutional version of spiritual direction or individual coaching. A congregation seeks out an outside consultant to help the congregation recognize its strengths, weaknesses, and identify the congregations opportunities for growth. By utilizing someone outside of the congregation, someone who does not have a dog in the fight, the church can avail itself of a more objective perspective in visioning its future. If our congregation would decide to enter into the coaching process one of our specific goals would be mentoring lay leadership.


X WE HAVEN'T ALWAYS HANDLED TRANSITION WELLCoaching costs money and should not be undertaken lightly. Unless the leadership of the congregation is willing to commit to working through the process, then the investment in coaching would be wasted.   But let’s be honest about our own history. We haven’t always handled transition well. Assuming we don’t need help, because we are so smart would be a mistake.


X WHERE FROM HERELike the early church, the United Church of Huntsville is approaching an important time of transition and growth. We all need to prayerfully ask the question, “Where from here?” God is powerfully moving through our culture, and the United Church of Huntsville has been on the right side of history. United Church and the United Church of Christ have been on the cutting edge of change and justice advocacy. People outside of the church are aware of our witness and will be drawn to our diversity, and authenticity. If we can seek help in telling our story, the United Church of Huntsville, can grow and thrive in the next decade.



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