Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43: 18-19)
Yesterday, our congregation met for one Worship Service, followed by our Fall congregational meeting as part of our Stewardship Sunday. It was a blessed day. We welcomed guests from our ministry in India, Bethania Kids. We baptized a newborn from one of our new young couples. We celebrated with music and a full house in worship as well as giving thanks for the many ways we continue to serve others at Bethel.
The day also included asking some difficult, but necessary questions about our ministry together. At our congregational meeting, we discussed some of our frustrations with declining Sunday worship attendance and continued struggles with our finances.
Our worship attendance has been declining for several years - from a high of 272 about 5 years ago to our current level, in the 230's. There are apparent reasons for this -- i.e. changing worship patterns for families, some people who were active have moved away, and others who have left our fellowship for other reasons. The sense that the sanctuary is less full and the additional concern about meeting our financial realities has caused anxiety and concern within our congregation. In fact, it has caused some anxiety and concern with me too!
I have attempted to remain faithful to the promise that God is with us always, even to the end of the age. And I don't believe we are at the "end of the age" quite yet. And because "God is with us" we can dare to seek new paths and new ways that God can lead our congregation forward, albeit perhaps looking differently than before.
My first sermon at Bethel included the above text from Isaiah. I believe that what God does is bring new life, new hope, and new possibilities amidst dying, desperate, and uncertain moments. This is the work of God, the purpose of Christ.
I believe yesterday, at Bethel, we took some new steps down a God-breathed path. I am heartened by the people of God at Bethel who are willing to covenant together to be community together, even when it is hard. As we do so, entering into our Bethel Re-Forming visioning process at the beginning of 2018, I am confident God will satisfy and nourish our parched places, and renew our life together in surprising and creative ways.
In Jesus' name, Amen.