So, my hubby has his own blog as well. He writes about all kinds of things: missing the existence of record stores, the church's view on gay marriage, our homeless friend, Steve, what it's like being an angry teenager, etc. But this past week he wrote a post about our situation here in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
You see, he is pastor and I am "pastor's wife" of a very small congregation here in the mountains. We have 30 members on the books, but average only about 18 a Sunday (up from six a Sunday when he first got here). On paper, the church runs out of money in a year.
Nothing left to even keep the lights on.
It's been a struggle.
We live in a small mountain town, so even if the church did grow in numbers, it would be limited growth simply because we live in a valley at 5800 feet with a limited amount of space for people. It's not Orange County or New York.
Past members don't want to come back because of all that happened before Scott got here, and other churches in the area are, for lack of a better term, very "trendy." They have the contemporary praise band and the visual aides and contemporary graphics. They have the coffee bar with coffee from around the world brewed fresh and ready to consume as you walk in. They have sermon series on how to be a better father, mother, child, student, entrepreneur, you name it. They fly in speakers and hold workshops and do mass mailings to attract even more people to their congregation. They have hundreds in worship on Sunday mornings, not 10-30.
I have to be honest in that I grew up in a very large congregation with many resources and talented, gifted people. I come from a tradition of excellent music in worship (both contemporary and traditional), with choir concerts with live orchestras and handbells and adult choirs and children's choirs and connections with the local University and a fully double graded elementary school with called workers and a counseling center and the list just goes on...
...and I thought for a really long time that, that was the "right" way to do ministry.
I don't feel that way anymore.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all about to bash the church I grew up in or somehow condemn them. I am so happy they have the gifts and resources they do. It makes worship incredibly uplifting. It offers opportunities for people to come together and thank God for His goodness. That's not where I'm going with this.
Here's where I am going with this:
Scott and I have no guarantee that a year from now either one of us will have a source of income. We have no guarantee we'll be able to make our mortgage payments, student loan payments, car payments, insurance payments, and the list goes on (like everyone else). We have no guarantee of security, and yet, we are not afraid. Nervous? Anxious? Absolutely. But afraid? No.
Sometimes the greatest thing God can let His people do is to lose everything. When we have nothing else to find our hope, comfort, or security in, we find ourselves in a place where we realize we need God because no one and nothing else can help us. We call on Him in our day of trouble, and He hears us. When we are weak, then we are strong. God calls things that are not, as though they are.
A year from now, we may need to sell the house we just bought and all the contents therein. We may need to live in Scott's office at the church or live in our tent at a camp ground to have a place to stay (don't worry, we've learned well from Steve, so we'll be more than okay). We may need to sell our cars, computers, and anything else we can think of. We may need to sell the property these people have worshipped on for over 50 years and have church in someone's home. Scott may need to become a worker-priest and have one full time job and one full time call. We're ready for whatever is coming. And, again, we're not afraid.
You see, if I'm really being honest, all of these "bottom of the barrel" options used to be "beneath" me. I'd used to think "how embarrassing" or "what would my friends and family think if we did that?" I thought that these kinds of situations would reflect only failure on the part of the pastor and would be something to be ashamed of.
I don't think that way anymore.
I remember my first Good Friday service here. There were like 5 people in church, we sang to a recording, and our lights can't gradually fade or flicker, so we were either sitting in entire light or entire darkness. The theatrical, big-church girl in me was bursting inside with thoughts of "how it should be done" and "oh the potential for this and that" and all that stuff. I was always thinking of how we could make it "better."
This past Good Friday service, there were more people in church, but not many more, and it was very similar to the previous year's service.
I loved it. I was moved. I cried. It wasn't because we had live music - because we didn't have live music. It wasn't because it was a packed church - because it certainly wasn't a packed church. It wasn't because we installed a new, updated lighting system that allowed us to dim the lights every time we removed a candle from the altar - because we still have the lighting system that is original to the building. I was moved because in that year of time I stopped looking at what wasn't there and started looking at what was there: a faithful remnant coming together to remember their Lord's death.
We have this elderly couple in our church - he has cancer and she's on oxygen. Every Sunday they help each other out of the car, up the stairs, and into the sanctuary. When they go up for communion, we have another member who faithfully waits for them at the bottom of the altar so she can help them with the one step they need to climb to get to the communion rail. We have a family of three who have been our church's faithful musicians for God knows how long by pressing "play" and "pause" and "stop" on their ipod so we have music to sing along to. We have this incredible woman who bakes the most delicious everything you can think of from scratch and brings something for the congregation every Sunday to enjoy during bible study. She also cuts her own roses from her garden to make arrangements for our altar. We have people who fix windows and door hinges just because they can, people who mow the lawn because it needs to be mowed, and people who refused to leave their congregation even when it seemed like it was the smartest decision to make.
We have a faithful remnant.
We're all quirky and weird and loud and small and full of history and sin and grace and hatred and love. And yet, we come, just as we are, week after week, and day after day. We are stripped to the core. We have nothing fancy to distract and entertain you with, no musician to make your heart swell. Instead we have 20ish people singing louder and louder every week with one voice to the simple recorded music played on a sound system about ready to blow.
We're potentially looking at what could be the end of something, but what also could be just the beginning of something else entirely. We're trying to be faithful to the call of Christ. That doesn't always look or sound attractive - and it very well may change every single aspect of our lives - but being broken, being beggars, and needing a Savior is a great place to be.
It reminds me of the final verse to "Praise to the Lord, The Almighty."
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him
Let the 'amen' sound from His people again
Gladly forever adore Him!
We're small and we're broke. But we're still His people and we're still sounding the "Amen!" Come and see us in a year - we'll be here.