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State of the Church 2018
February 11, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana

Text: Hebrews 12:1-2

As First Presbyterian Church, Columbiana enters its 153rd year of ministry in the name of Jesus Christ we remain faithful to the gospel on which we were founded. We also find ourselves at the center of a growing network of relationships – concert goers and HUB participants, new visitors in worship and new friends in the community. We’ve reached out but we’ve also reached in, strengthening our bonds with each other, being intentional about embracing our children and not forgetting our elderly.

After a year of intense change we find ourselves a little tired, a little overwhelmed, possibly a little frustrated, but standing tall upon the shoulders of those who built this congregation and forming a giant, sprawling love circle within and beyond our walls. Together we’re part of a great cloud of witnesses to the gospel, a refuge in our community for those who seek to experience Christ’s love, to form healthy relationships, to be known for who they are and be welcomed into healing space.

We’ve arrived at this point because, two years ago, we stopped for a little while and listened for the call of the Holy Spirit. We’ve arrived at this point because we continue to listen, to follow, to run the race not of our choosing but of Christ’s, to build a community not to our criteria but to God’s.

Last fall, as we were working on launching THE HUB, Beth Schallick testified to me how strongly she felt the Spirit working in our midst. Over the last year the Spirit’s opened doors we didn’t even know were closed, brought people to us we didn’t know existed, revalidated ideas we had long ago discarded, elevated voices previously unheard, and enabled respectful conversation around hard decisions.

How far have we come? As she lay dying Patty Minteer had one wish – she wanted her extended family to experience the same welcome, healing and love she’d experienced. Think about this for a moment. A few weeks ago a young adult in our community, a young woman who grew up in our church, told me she didn’t want her children involved in this church – or any church for that matter – out of fear her children would be as deeply wounded as she was. Now we find ourselves called into ministry by a dying saint who desperately wanted her family to become part of our sprawling circle of love, to be supported in their grief by the great cloud of witnesses in whose center we stand.

Over the last year we’ve taken baby steps toward healing past wounds and creating a culture of healthy, Christ-centered relationships within and beyond our walls. To continue this journey we must become even more intentional about forming and maintaining healthy relationships. As we expand our cloud of witnesses we must be intentional about the welcome we give and the journey we take together.

While we’ve begun many of the strategic investments we laid out last March, the HOST program has languished. The Holy Spirit has yet to call the right leader and the pastor’s been pulled in too many directions to give it the attention it needs. Perhaps that means we don’t need it – but I don’t think so. I believe having a team within our congregation whose primary duty is cultivating and developing healthy relationships, a team who will serve as both inspiration and catalyst for the rest of us, a team whose training allows them to monitor what is perhaps our most important ministry asset, I believe such a team is essential. Without them individuals programs – the concerts, the HUB, Sunday worship – will attract their constituencies but the community as a whole will languish, the sprawling Circle of Love will devolve into multiple circles each competing for attention and resources.

So in 2018 we must move from welcoming people to HOSTing them. In part we must implement the HOST program. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to call the appropriate leader for this program – perhaps that leader is you. Beyond launching a program and training a team, we must all shift from a static definition of our congregation to a dynamic one, one based not just on membership or attendance but on healthy, Christ-centered relationships – relationships stretching far beyond these walls, relationships comprising a great cloud of witnesses who bring radical welcome, spiritual and physical healing, and the embrace of Christ’s love to individuals and community alike.

As we continue to develop more relationships we are going to want to invite more people into our building. Already in the last year we’ve had more people attend events in our building than in recent memory. God willing, the continued success of THE HUB will create even more demand for hospitable spaces in which our neighbors can experience radical welcome, spiritual and physical healing, and the embrace of Christ’s love. Spaces we don’t have.

We must, in the months ahead, commit to renovating this lower level of our building. This spring the HUB is hosting seven workshops, six of which will be in this space. Next fall we may possibly be offering multiple workshops at one time. Yet our best space, the adult classroom, is unusable. The fellowship hall – where we currently hold all HUB workshops – is visually cold, dingy, acoustically difficult and not conducive to forming community. As a congregation we’ve long since named this need and agreed to this need. Contractors have walked through the building and bids have been received. It is time to act. To decide on a course of action, open our pocketbooks, and create facilities to match our vision, spaces communicating welcome, healing and love.

Renovating spaces is easy. Becoming a church focused on building intentional, Christ-centered, healing relationships remains our largest challenge. Without that, any money we dump into our building is lost. Without that any energy we put into great HUB workshops, great concerts, exceptional Sunday morning worship, is wasted. The Holy Spirit has called us upon a great journey – a journey to become a true community, a welcoming community, a healing community, a supporting community, a faith-filled community, a committed community, a community centered within and supported by a great cloud of witnesses, a genuine community of Christ.

Anchoring our community are our Core Values, based on Colossians chapter 3. They are on the wall by the entrance to our building, with many of our signatures affixed. They are also in your music book. As we enter 2018 let us recommit ourselves to being Christ’s community here in this place by standing together and saying our core values.