I recently saw a picture of a Facebook friend whose family went whitewater rafting. It was one of those action shots, in the middle of a rapid, snapped at the precise moment when it seemed everyone in the raft was caught with mouth and eyes wide open, rapt in a strange mix of exhilaration and fear.
I recognized the expression. It’s been years ago now, but I’ve been rafting on the New River in West Virginia, which has Class IV and Class V rapids (or, as my five-year-old would call them, “mack daddy” rapids). For five hours, the people on my raft did the best we could do to navigate the whitewater, but we often felt anxious, fearful, and afraid of what was just beyond our sight--a white-knuckled loss of control.
My suspicion is that we have all felt that way in our lives, regardless of whether or not we were on a raft at the time. Many of life’s circumstances can produce this kind of anxiety and angst. Grief. The unknown. Change.
As a congregation, Advent has experienced all of the above over the last few years and months. There have been significant changes in pastors and staff: Beloved pastors moving on to new areas of service, deeply loved staff members leaving, new pastors and staff arriving. Grief. The unknown. Change.
In fact, we have just welcomed a new Associate Pastor, Laura-Allen Kerlin, and have two search committees in place right now. (Names of those serving on these committees will be listed in an update from SPRC in the E-news. Please pray for them.) Those search committees are working to fill vacant positions on our staff: Director of Music Ministries and Director of Children’s Ministry.
In times of significant change, I always find it helpful to focus on the things that are NOT changing to offer a sense of stability and calm. Most importantly, Advent’s DNA is not changing. What is Advent’s DNA?
First, at our core, we are a church that is passionate about worship. Worship is the heartbeat of the church, and we are proud to offer God our best in two different styles of worship (traditional and contemporary). Due to space constraints, these services take place at three different times. However, even though we worship at three different times in two different styles, we are one church with one mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our focus on excellence in each of our worship styles will not change.
A key part of our DNA is our emphasis on youth and children. Advent has a proud history of excellence in growing and shaping young people into servant-leaders in God’s church. We don’t believe that children and youth are tomorrow’s church leaders. We believe that they are today’s church leaders. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for such is the Kingdom of God.” As a congregation, we have been blessed with many young families including lots of children and youth. Their formation as disciples of Jesus will always be a focal point for our faith family.
Missions is vital to our identity as a congregation. For Methodists throughout history, faith and action have been inextricably linked. It is not enough to simply tell people that God loves them; Jesus has called us to show and share God’s love with the world. Advent is and will continue to be a leader in reaching outside our walls to be in ministry with the people to whom Jesus ministered--the least, last, and lost.
Another Wesleyan/Methodist emphasis that is integral to our congregation is on spiritual growth. In keeping with Scripture, our founder, John Wesley, thought that Christians should never be satisfied in our faith journeys. Instead, he thought that we should gather with others in small groups, study Scripture, pray together, and always seek to grow closer to Christ. Sunday school and small groups (Disciple Bible Study, Christian Believer, etc.) have always been important at Advent, and they will continue to be.
There are many other things that are not changing, but, from my ten months as your pastor, I have discerned these to be essential to who we are as a congregation. These core parts of our identity will continue to shape us long into the future.
As I think back to my time on the New River, there was one key to my sense of ease, one thing that gave me comfort: our guide. We had an experienced guide on our raft, someone who had navigated those waters thousands of times, someone who knew what he was doing.
We, too, have a guide. No matter what pastors are appointed to serve Advent, no matter which staff members come and go, our Guide is the Holy Spirit. That means we are in good hands and can navigate any water.