The Girl Scouts have a song for it: Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.
Beaven and I missed a great day in our old Garland church Sunday. They celebrated their 125th anniversary by having my dear friend and former pastor preach. Then they had a great lunch afterwards. Everybody was there including many former members like us who have moved away. I would have loved to see them all. You have seen me write how important this church family is to me so it may be puzzling why I would miss this celebration.
The answer is that I was too busy developing a relationship with our new church family. I signed up to teach the high school Sunday School class just a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to bail on them so soon. Even though the class spent a good chunk of time looking for the Screaming Goats youtube on my phone, I still think I’m giving them a decent education in the scriptures. We were studying the parable of the sheep and the goats so it makes perfect sense to me.
Then, after church, we went to play laser tag with two other youth groups in East Texas. And I, for sure, didn’t want to miss that. Anyone who has spent time at wider church events picks up a few friends in other churches. Sure enough, when we got to the laser tag place I saw two old friends from the church in Longview and one from Tyler who I have known since he was a youth. Now he’s the Youth Director.
I had been to a Presbytery meeting on Saturday and my guilty little secret is that I don’t go to these meetings for the mind-numbing attention to the wording of an amendment to the Book of Order. No, I go to see old friends. (Plus they always have good snacks at these meetings. I will do almost anything for a snack.)
And that brings us to our word for the day. If I have learned anything in the Presbyterian Church at all, I have learned that we are a Relational Church. The Baptists notoriously go it alone in making their own decisions as a congregation while the Methodists let their bishops do the heavy lifting. But the Presbyterians do everything together. We meet regionally as a Presbytery almost monthly to support individual congregations and transact the business of the church. .
At our meeting last Saturday we spent some time hearing a short report on how the town of West is doing after the fertilizer tank exploded. The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has sent a team to evaluate what we can do to help. I found out the fertilizer plant was the largest employer in town so folks lost not only their homes, their fire department, their friends and loved ones but also their jobs. I heard what I know to be true: PDA may not be the first to go into a disaster but we are the last to leave. We are not sprinters; we are endurance runners. There is still a PDA camp in New Orleans.
In the middle of the meeting we got an email from the Boston Presbytery sending their prayers, saying in effect that they understood West’s loss and stood alongside them in their grief and turmoil, sending their prayers.
Now, folks, that’s Relational Living. God has put us here in a family, not as orphans. Sometimes we don’t even know each others’ names but still call ourselves brothers and sister in Christ
All of this came to mind as I spent a good chunk of time on facebook last night looking at Amy Mears’ wedding pictures. I met Amy years ago in Mississippi when she came with her New York church to work with PDA rebuilding a house in Pearlington. She usually stayed behind during the day to cook dinner for the several groups in camp. She is a trained chef and it was amazing to see what she could make out of the everyday ingredients in the camp kitchen. I will never forget the Easter dinner she made. I got her email address so I could ask for her bread pudding recipe. We stayed in touch and became friends on facebook.
Our relationship is based on more than a good bread pudding. It is based on a common belief in Christ. I know why she came to help after Katrina. I know her heart. I looked at her pictures and saw her sister who also came that week. I saw pictures of her son who I have watched grow over the past few facebook years. I know enough about her to call her a sister in Christ.
Last night Beaven and I went to a Volunteer Appreciation dinner the ladies at Morgan's Mercy Mansion drug and alcohol rehab center cooked for us. They put so much love into this evening we were all positively gooey afterwards.
When a girl graduates from the six-month program I try to stay in touch with her through facebook to keep a relationship going. From facebook, I know when one of them is sick. I know when one has had a bad day at work. Maintaining healthy relationships after they leave the program is vital to their continued success. Most of them have never had a healthy support system. Healthy relationships are new territory to them.
Last night, I looked around at the fellow volunteers who help lead classes at the rehab. I only knew about a third of them because the Mansion fills the day with more classes than you could imagine and uses teachers from the whole community. Our little bible study is only one of many. But I have a relationship with them all. It is based on a mutual desire to have each girl in the rehab succeed. More importantly, it is also based on a common relationship with Christ. Almost every mainline denomination in town had someone there last night: Baptists, Methodists, Disciples of Christ and Presbyterians. The rest came from the Pentecostal church who sponsors the rehab. We ate together. We prayed together. We sang together. Some of us raised our hands during worship in a manner familiar to them. And some of us decidedly did not raise our hands in praise. Most Presbyterians don't do that in our home church and it was an unfamilar move. We do have our differences. But not any that mattered last night.
We were all brothers and sisters in Christ. We have all heard Christ tell us to feed his sheep. We all live in relationship. I am who I am because of who we are together.