A Continuing Story
In June I published a piece titled “There He Is! Visible Grace in Our World” detailing some stories of people engaging in an amazing response to God’s gifts of Grace upon Grace. From time to time I plan on revisiting the idea of “visible grace”, if only to not become too despairing of the mess humanity has made of God’s creation. There is much that is wrong about what humanity does in this world, but there is much that is good, decent and life affirming.
This week I wish to focus on a small story, that I happened to have a small part in. It concerns the creation of a ministry at my local church, and how it evolved, and what it says about cooperative, faithful response to what God has given us.
It Seemed Like Hoarding
The story begins with a large sum of money that had accumulated in an account at our church. The amount was close to half a million dollars. This 500K sat in a “self-restricted” account. That it, there were no strings attached to this money, the way bequests have strings put upon monies, to reflect the wishes of the donor. This money was locked up by the church council and pastoral leadership. I am not sure anyone really knows why, at least I never heard a coherent explanation for this sequestering of these funds. The money was over and above the “building and maintenance” fund, that exists to take care of emergencies to the physical plant of the church. This money was also above and beyond the “emergency fund”, that comprised about 6-months’ worth of expenses. So, in the end, this was just money that struck me, and a few others as a hoard.
How We Should Respond
At this point, one of the leaders in our congregation suggested that we do something positive with this money that was just sitting there. His idea was to use that fund to pay off the mortgage on the church property. There is a school of thought, embraced by our then pastor that if a church is not carrying some debt, then congregants won’t donate at all. I don’t share that, as being debt free gives you more options and greater protection in difficult economic times. As for continuing donations, you go before the congregation and make the case, and have faith that they will respond accordingly.
After a bit of back and forth our pastor agreed to use the money for this purpose. Then the church council went and segregated new monies in a similar “self-restricted” account. In a few years the balance was back up to $500K. At this point our former pastor had retired, and I found myself on the church council. One of the things I wanted to accomplish as a council member was putting this hoard of money to use in ministry. Fortunately there were many like-minded people on council, as well as our new pastor.
Cooperating for God
As we came together to discuss what to do with these monies, no one cast any aspersion on those involved with the buildup of the fund. No one should have. There was nothing but the best intentions by all involved. In the end, there was likely a method to the former pastor’s vision. In waiting for the fund to build up we were able to do something more impactful than if we has disbursed the funds in dribs and drabs.
Our council and pastoral leadership took the matter under discernment, and we discussed at length what we might be able to do with these funds. At the same time we had a space open up in the church basement; a childcare facility was closing as the owner was retiring. After some discussion, we decided to renovate the space and install a food pantry. We were fairly certain that there was a need, even in our outwardly prosperous neighborhood. Even if the pantry failed, we would have a usable blank space, that needed renovation anyway.
By the time this renovation was completed I was council president. At the meeting in which we voted on the final appropriation, the church treasurer explained that this would be the last of this fund (not in an oppositional way, but in the prudent manner of all good treasurers). My response was Amen!
Signs of a Satanic Ass Kicking
The renovation was completed, the food pantry established, and it proved a solid addition to the neighborhood. It also was strongly supported by the congregation, in terms of monetary, and in-kind donations as well as in a source of volunteer staffers. This was the case in 2019.
Then we all know what happened in 2020. The pandemic and its response shut down and shattered much of society. At this point we looked like geniuses. The steady line of recipients of the pantry’s offerings became a torrent of deep need in the community. The use tripled from the pre-pandemic days. I was dropping off something at church one day, and saw the line of cars stretched around the building. Talk about seeing Christ in action on planet earth!
I would love to claim genius status, but none of us knew what 2020 would bring, or the continuing economic dislocation that continues to drive such a heightened need for as basic a thing as food. We simply came together, decided that we as a church had always had a heart for feeding our neighbors and acted accordingly with the resources at our disposal. My part was small, I give the bulk of the credit to our senior pastor, and my fellow council members.
All of this sounds mundane, and it is. Frankly many of the discussions were tedious and boring. That is my point. God’s works is usually not flashy or dramatic, it is simple things done well. There is great ministry to be performed in the mundane, tedious work of church councils. What emerges on the other side of mundane is a clear sign of visible grace, that serves other children of God who are in need, and gives witness to the one we call Lord. And the really cool thing is we get to show the world how we kick Satan’s ass…again.
Look for the signs of visible grace in our world. It will renew you, and refresh your soul. Those signs are out there amongst all the pain that is in the world. They are usually the result of simple things done well, which should give you strength to get involved yourself. None of us has to put on an earth shattering, dramatic performance. We simply need to get about the cooperative, mundane work in unseen corners of meeting rooms and workspaces, that then bursts forth the light of Christ for all the world to see. So, what are you waiting for? Let go kick some Satanic ass!
Praise Be to God