It was not a tale of three cities but rather three tales in one city. They took place at the General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ, the once every two years family reunion. In addition to everything else like forums, worship and business, there is lots of catching up. Here are three catch up stories.
Story one: I’m sitting in a worship service and a hand taps me on the shoulder. I stand and greet a young man who obviously knows me though I don’t know him. After some small talk I read between the lines and it suddenly occurs to me who he is. The tall and bearded young man is the same lad I saw on the first day after he was born, who sat through children’s sermons and plunged under the water when I baptized him. I can see the boy in the man’s face now. And he tells me that he is doing a summer internship with Disciples Peace Fellowship. He’s dancing around the idea of going to seminary. The wheel turns and us with it. Baby to man. A good man.
Story two: She walks up to me and we swap stories of what has passed since that last Assembly. We were ministers in another part of the country at the same time. Since that time she left what become a terrible church situation. It seemed so promising. New people came into the church and exciting ministry began to emerge. But simultaneous with that change a pocket of malcontents feared they were losing control. They undermined the direction of the church and sabotaged the pastoral leadership. It’s an old, well-worn tactic. It only takes a few to poison the water, especially if other lay leadership isn’t strong. She not only left the church but the ministry for a while. She is reentering now, a wounded warrior. The old congregation now realizes what happened and her sacrifice and truth-telling may keep it from happening again. But just because it’s a common story it doesn’t make it any easier to endure. I pray for her as I walk away.
Story three: I am in a forum on the congregational ministry of receiving and nurturing those veterans who have returned from deployments. Many of the stories are heartbreaking. The suggestions are right on and reflect an understanding of the cultural role of the military and crisis we now face with returning warriors. In the middle of the session a woman chaplain speaks up in the back. She was deployed in some of the hot spots, the places you don’t want to think about. Now she is being assigned to a stateside base. After the session she finds me and tells me that she is the daughter of a member in one of my former churches. I am shocked. Her mother often prayed for this young woman and had us pray for her but I had never set eyes on her myself. Now she is standing in front of me, the one prayed for, the one whose mother lifted her up constantly, the one carried in all our hearts.
Three stories, one Assembly, one city, one world, one web of the Spirit. The connections, suffering, grace and hope are thick, like breathing pure oxygen. And I’m just an observer, receiver, connector, connected. Say mystery. Say it twice, and thank you.