November 26, 2023
Feed, clothe, welcome, and visit. Sheep behavior. That’s what we’re about! Yet it’s hard to quantify your pledge and all that it allows to happen.
I was told by church member Colleen Rice that a coworker wanted to come in and talk to me. She’d recently gotten a bad diagnosis and wanted some guidance. I said I’d be up for it. It was Tuesday sometime in August 2022 at 10 a.m. Carrie Park walks in. A bright-eyed woman in her mid-50s who asked amazing questions. We spoke in the East Room for 3 hours straight. It was incredible. I walked away feeling like I had helped.
The next Tuesday at 10 a.m., Carrie showed up again. I didn’t know this was going to be a weekly thing. And it was! We met almost every Tuesday for over a year until her death on Friday, November 17, 2023.
We spoke about everything. We shared a particular frustration for religious jerks. You know. Those who just want to fight. They show up to spoil a party. To condemn whatever is happening with their trash theology of a sin-miser, disappointed, sky-dad god. Carrie yearned for a God that she could understand. She wanted a faith that was clearly articulated and wasn’t wrapped in nice bible sounding words that didn’t mean anything. Faith is in the living.
Carrie had a voracious appetite for books. Any book I mentioned, she’d pick it up and read, sometimes reading two or three books if she liked the author. After reading Rob Bell, she even made a group of friends watch his Introduction to Joy video at a holiday party. She was scary smart. We spoke a lot about Christian existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophical stance that says that all of our categories will ultimately fail in trying to explain reality. God gave us this life, and God wants us to live it. Sometimes there’s no good category or way to describe something. It can only be experienced.
Carrie wondered why she got stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I told her because a cell in her pancreas wanted to be immortal. That’s why. There’s no “God’s Plan” in this. I would not worship a God who gives stage 4 cancer because whatever plan that involves cancer is a bad plan. I mean none of your plans involve giving someone stage 4 cancer of any type, and we’re not better than God.
The existentialists explain that asking why often leads to an uninteresting and unsatisfying conclusion. Why cancer? Sometimes cells do that. Why this heart condition? Genetics or too much fried food or both. Why did those people die in that car crash? Physics. Mass times Acceleration equals a Force that wasn’t survivable. I don’t think God’s hands were on that car specifically in the crash. I don’t think we’re fated like that. The real question is “Now what?”
This thing happened… now what? We got the diagnosis. We had this horrible thing happen. We were called a terrible name. The worst-case scenario happened. Now what? Now what is a very interesting question.
Carrie asked the BIG questions of life. What is its meaning? What’s the nature of God? What is love? What happens when we die? How can we keep our heads up when things are falling apart? And I learned from Carrie what really matters in life. Family. Friends. Leaving a meaningful impact on your community. She did what she loved. She didn’t have a bucket list, for when she set a goal, she achieved that goal. She’s been around the world a few times and learned so much. She did say she was greedy and wanted more time. 55 years was too short of a life for her, and there is still more story to be told.
Carrie taught me that there are two outcomes to anything. We either succeed or learn. Carrie knew there was no beating stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Yet she was fearless in trying. When her medical staff would balk and whatever she wanted to try, citing all the complications and issues with the set path, Carrie would say, “You can’t scare me, there’s no stage 5.” She tilted her whole self at her health. Her mind, body, and spiritual health.
I was there for it. A wonderful conversation partner. She doesn’t even go to our church. She wasn’t interested in joining officially, she didn’t have enough time. But your pledges made our visits possible.
And so many like it. Your pledges help form community. Your pledges keep the heat and lights on for Hobby Horse Preschool. Families we might not ever know pass through our doors. Will the students remember each and every lesson? No. But they’ll remember how we made them feel, and that they were comfortable in a classroom environment.
Your pledges help folks who are looking for food or a night in a hotel. A guy once showed up at our door who said he walked all night from a shelter in Cleveland he didn’t feel safe in. He felt God guided him to our doorstep. I sat with him. Had lunch with him over at CUPS Café. Got him set up at the Town Motel for the night. He showed up the next day saying he has a place to stay in Columbus. I told him that if he could get to the greyhound station, I’d buy the ticket. I saw him around Easter this year. He calls at least once a year to let me know he’s doing okay.
We are a different type of church. We feed, clothe, welcome, and visit because that’s what sheep are supposed to do. We’re not big on memorizing the bible here. We have bible studies, but we don’t always cite chapter and verse because we believe that the reading is in the living.
We won’t make you agree to all of our doctrinal points. We won’t try to make you believe like we do because we believe that faith is in the living.
I’ve been called names. A wolf in sheep clothing. You will be, too. That’s what the rigidly religious did to Jesus when he was here, why would we expect anything different?
At our pet blessing back in October, a man stormed up and asked me multiple times if I’m the pastor. I said multiple times I was. You ever get the vibe of someone? I know Jesus is the judge, and I’m just a lowly sheep, but I knew this guy was spoiling for a fight.
He asked about the Medina witches’ weekend. I asked him what he thought. “They’re worshipping Satan.”
“I think they’re shopping,” I replied. He gave me a look. He didn’t like that answer.
“Well, what do you think of it?”
“Well, we’re Congregationalists. We were responsible for the witch hunts in the 1690s…”
“Those weren’t real witches!” he interjected.
“Right. And neither are these!”
“You’re no pastor. This place is devoid of the Holy Spirit.”
“Well, buddy, I have 600 people that would disagree with you. Why don’t you move along?” I eventually had to kick him off our property when he sat down in front of our sign and prayed for the Holy Spirit to open our hearts. Long story short, I kicked a guy off our property for praying.
I think y’all deserve a perfect pastor, but I’m so thankful you have me.
Listen, that’s the whole vibe of the religious jerks that Carrie and I got so frustrated about. It’s goat theology. All about trying to condemn and not bless. Church, we are blessed to be a blessing. Your pledges allow for the quiet work of blessing to begin.
With folks who have a diagnosis and need to talk. With people grieving. With folks looking forward to being married. With friends who have been told who they are is unworthy of God. We exist to welcome, love and serve. Not to condemn.
We exist to bless. Babies, 3rd grade bibles, 8th grade confirmation, graduations, weddings, all the ups and downs of life and at the end nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God found in Jesus.
What would you rather hear? Which statement sounds like Good News?
“You’re living in sin.” Or “Your sins have been forgiven.”
“You’re such a disappointment.” Or “I’m so proud of you!”
“Get your life right with Jesus.” Or “Welcome home.”
I think the answer is easy. We exist to be a blessing. Why is the wider church associated with the first answers when the second statements are all good news?! Here we stand for the second statements. Your pledges do that in so many ways seen and unseen. Thank you.
God’s people are humble. I believe we are God’s people. We, like so many good churches in our town are trying to do our best to be Christ to the world. To bend this world toward blessing. Less condemnation. More feeding, clothing, and visiting.
Your pledges make all this possible. If you want to set up a weekly meeting time like Carrie Park, or monthly… or any at all. Give me a call. Or if you know someone who would dig our vibe like Colleen Rice did for Carrie, and they’re looking to get into this whole feeding, clothing, visiting situation… tell them about our church. Bring a friend. Pastors only land about 6% of new members. 86% start attending church because a friend invited them. Let us boldly go and bleat out the good news fellow sheep! For there is so much in need of our blessing, and folks have so many questions they want to ask. We’re the safe place to ask them. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 According to Barna, Pew, and Lifeway Research centers, all hover around 80-86%.