Each week I listen to the sermons and read the column of Amy Butler for two reasons: 1) she is an excellent communicator of God’s Word and 2) She pastors the famous Riverside Church in NYC, a church in which I have had strong interest over the years because of it’s founding pastor – Harry Emerson Fosdick, who has been called by some one of the five most effective communicators of the Gospel in all the history of Christendom.
Amy is completing her first year in this historic church and the year has not been an easy one. Read with your heart, as well as your eyes, my edited version of her recent column.
“I had just spent my weeks of vacation …missing people I’ve already come to love, and remembering the hope, optimism and possibility swirling throughout this amazing church. But, (upon returning) it felt like I’d walked straight into a constant barrage of negative reports and bad behavior.
Then, on my second week back, into my office came my first congregational appointment, an octogenarian member I knew but with whom I had never had the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time in conversation. She bustled into my office, settled herself on my couch, and pulled out a collection of papers, including a cover-sheet with a list of scribbled conversation points.
She started, “You know, there is a group of us who get together by conference call every Tuesday morning at 6:30 to pray. We started this little group last year when you came to be our pastor, because we wanted to pray for you. As you start your second year here, we all know it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of change, and it’s so exciting, but some people are unhappy. So before you get overwhelmed by all the grumbling, I wanted to tell you that we are praying for you.”
I didn’t know.
Then she shuffled her pile of papers and handed me a creased paper with a numbered list. “Here’s our list of things we pray about,” she said. “You can see you’re there, on the list. We’re serious about praying for you.”
I’m not sure if she noticed, but tears started to well up in my eyes. I’d been expecting more problems to solve, yet another assault on the positive progress all over the church that I was beginning to think only I could see.
As she got ready to leave, this congregant said, “We know there is dissension, and some people are grumbling about change. But we are praying. And we are taking our job seriously. We feel that we are like midwives—we’re midwifing the future of this church we love.”
And it was here, in a moment of grace like this one, that I began to remember what I should have known all along: none of us ever does the work of gospel community alone. We are, together, midwifing the future.”
My dear Middle District ministry friends, “before you get overwhelmed by all the grumbling” please know there are people in your church praying for you. I know this because many of them have told me. Also, every week in our staff meeting, Brenda Green and I pray for you. We too care deeply about you and what you and your people are going through. We really do. So…be encouraged. We’re prayerfully “midwifing” the Kingdom of God in and through your church.”