The main part of our church year here in London is winding down—a lot of people are heading back to the US for extended holidays, and many of those who stay are taking advantage of the good weather to make short weekend trips. Last year at this time it was raining daily, so the sunshine is something to seize when it happens. The result of all this is that over the next few months our attendance at the church and the programs we offer will dip a bit. It's a good time of year to look back on where we've been.
Last year at this time we were finishing up our first half-year here, and we were physically and emotionally exhausted. Settling into a new life in a new place, getting back into full-time ministry, living on a much tighter budget and adjusting to a new climate took a lot out of us. To top it off my Mom got sick while visiting us here almost a year ago, and we went back to LA for our vacation still reeling from the seriousness of her illness. I’m happy to say that she’s doing much better—back to full health and feeling even better than before the crisis.
I’m even more happy to say that the same is true for us and for our work at the American Church.
When I started here I introduced a four-pillar understanding of the church. If you’ve been reading this blog or attending ACL for a while you know that a healthy church is built on Jesus Christ and expressed through Fellowship, Worship, Discipleship and Mission. Our plan has been to make sure that we are growing and challenging each other in each of these four areas. We even restructured our church council to reflect our priorities as a church—our business committees are grouped into one team that makes everything work, and the rest have been renamed and/or reshaped as Fellowship, Worship, Christian Education and Mission committees.
As I look back on the progress here I feel very positive about the direction we’re going. With Kate's leadership our children’s ministry has grown in numbers and depth, we’ve established a partnership with Young Life for the fall that will join our resources with theirs as we reach kids and their parents for Christ. Our adult Sunday School class is wrestling—honestly and faithfully—with some serious questions about the Bible, about the role of the Christian in a secular society, and how to share what we believe in meaningful ways. We’ve done evening Bible study series on Genesis, Philippians, and a topical section on biblical justice. There are still holes to fill and needs to meet, but our plan for discipleship here is underway.
Our worship service is evolving. I'm committed to the blended worship I learned at Glendale Presbyterian Church, where instead of homogenizing everything into a soup with unrecognizable parts, you make a salad, where each ingredient keeps its shape and flavor. It's hard. I think there are people from all around the worship spectrum who wish I would just choose one form of worship and make the rest either leave or conform. I can't say this strongly enough: That's not going to happen on my watch. Traditional worship reminds us of where we've been as a faith and as a redeemed gathering of fallen people who have always needed a savior. The more contemporary music and forms of communication remind us that this old, old story still has something to offer people today, right now, in this place. We're on the right track here, but there's a long way to go.
On the fellowship side, Julie and I are starting a Young Marrieds fellowship, and seven couples have already joined—that’s 14 people out of an average Sunday attendance of 130. In the fall we’re introducing a Group Date Night open to everyone, but specifically aimed at parents of young children. There will be activities for kids at the church while the rest go out to one of the local restaurants for a meal and conversation. It won’t even happen until October, but six couples have already said they want in. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving together and laugh our way through our traditional Quiz Night and Talent Night events. Our fellowship—one of the most difficult things to establish and grow in a city church—is about to start thriving.
Our mission efforts are also set to expand dramatically in the coming year. Our partnership with Young Life is shared within our church between the youth and mission programs—it will be an extension of our evangelistic work here in London. We continue to support the Soup Kitchen for local poor and homeless persons, which is housed here on the church grounds. We’re hoping to get a Habitat for Humanity project off the ground for all ages here at the church—it’s our goal as much as possible to make our mission service as intergenerational as possible. Finally, we’ve committed to joining the network of churches providing shelter for homeless people during the winter months. From January through the end of March, every Wednesday night, we’ll have 15 people sleeping here and being served by volunteers from our congregation. That's a bold commitment to service, and an indication of growth in other areas.
But we're not done.
While we've paused the plans for developing the church facilities, there is still a lot of work to do to make our building accessible to people with limited mobility. That's a commitment we can't ignore, and I'm happy to say that we've made good progress in that area just recently. Our new website is up and running, but work remains to be done on improving the range of tools we have for communicating with our church family...past and present. We ended last year 'in the black', which is great, but we still rely too much on our church-run business for revenue.
We're not done.
We have miles to go before we can rest on any laurels or feel as though we’ve ‘arrived’ in any way. But as we move into the slower pace of summer here in London, I’m feeling much better—much more connected with God’s plan for this place—than I was a year ago. Ministry is so much harder than it looks, but it’s also much more thrilling. There are more aggravations in this job than I could fit into my allotted space on this blog, but the privilege I feel to be a part of a church that is finding its way—honestly and faithfully—into being an authentic expression of the Body of Christ in London, is more than I could ever put into words.
While the main part of our year may be winding down, and even as I look forward to my time away visiting family and friends this summer, I’m moved to tears to write this next sentence:
I can’t wait for the new church year to begin.