I have long had a thought that, one day, somewhere in distant time, I’d be pastoring a small congregation, in a little white small town church. It’s always been a sort of peaceful, wistful vision of a more relaxed and peaceful stage of life. That vision changed a bit yesterday. Not seeking to distract from the unimaginable horror experienced in Sutherland Texas yesterday, I am a bit reluctant to sit down and write anything that would not be helpful. I am hopeful and prayerful that, beyond the political and social angst already at full boil, something of beauty might be recognized. To say that my vision changed should not imply that its a bad thing. In all actuality, I am better able to appreciate my imaginary dream even more. So many stories of tragedy mixed with heroics, which are natural in the aftermath, and yet, if you listen closely, what continues as a thread of light throughout is the personality and power of the relationship between town and a church.
The comments and interviews, apart from the tragic details, paint the image of an incredibly close knit community both inside and outside the walls of this church. Whether members or neighbors, it seems that all were cared for and considered in the everyday life. Faithful and skeptical alike were touched by what we sometimes refer to as “The family of God”. In my consultant/coaching role I often challenge churches with the question “If your church were to close its doors tomorrow, who would notice?”. The answer is obvious in Sutherland Texas. I have given myself to the care and health of the local church, which I still hold is God’s hope for the world. In this role I have a front row seat to the maligning and ridicule of perceived images of church and church people. I’m pretty sure that after 25 years in this role I am well aware of every one of its faults and failures. More often than I’d care to admit they are accurate. The focus is too often on what we are against. We have too many more concerned with doctrine than the call to love our neighbor. We have competition, consumerism, apathy, and evil. Why wouldn’t we, we are human. And while the echoes of critics and criticism still echo in the background, what I’m seeing in front of me defies every one of those. In the midst of evil, great love, family, and community … all with a church in the middle of it. In more ways that one, it keeps my dreams alive.