19 Jun A Clear Sign Pointing Ahead…
My friend recently told me about a writing assignment given to his 6th grade daughter. She was asked to write an essay based on a before & after story from her life. She thought and thought, wrote and erased, and thought some more. He asked her what was giving her so much difficulty. She answered, “Dad, I’m a kid. I have lots of material for the “before” part, but I can’t write the “after” part yet, because I’m still in the middle of it.”
That’s a good description of our congregation’s story, and our recently joining the Fellowship Community (on May 31st of this year). Over the last eight years, Westminster has been in the middle of it. Our congregation’s story has not always been a graph trending up and to the right, but it is a congregation in a vital transition. We have struggled at times to learn how to be a congregation that is intentionally multi-generational, that is centered on gospel and on God’s mission more than on our preferences, and that is other-focused as a means of our discipleship. Joining the Fellowship Community is an important part of this dynamic process.
While the marriage issue was the latest presenting issue that stoked lots of concern and conversation, it is not the center of our decision to join the Fellowship Community (at least we don’t want it to be). The Community’s articulation of the Essential Tenets and its positive commitment to a gospel that embraces and transforms sinners of all stripes (beginning with me) is the focus that is a great gift to our congregation. We realize that our vote on May 31st wasn’t the culmination of anything, but commits us to a deeper, more selfless, and more faithful ministry; it’s a clear sign pointing ahead.
One of the unique things about our congregation’s ministry is that we are situated directly across the street from a middle school. Under the operating assumption that anyone you could throw a Frisbee to is most definitely your neighbor, we have poured lots of love into the students and staff of West Middle School, and that persistent love is revealing beautiful stories of God’s amazing, left-handed power in people’s lives. This year in particular, we have seen lots of sexual confusion and brokenness in kids, and while some may say that affirmation of every choice is the best way to love, I think the Fellowship Community reminds us that affirmation of people beloved and created in God’s image allows us to love them more, not less.
Of course, not everyone in the congregation sees it this way. Some of the 18% who voted no are nervous about what our decision may convey to people looking in from the outside, and this is an appropriate concern; but the only thing that can really address that concern is to love people really well, and to demonstrate and speak the truth in that love. People’s strong reservations and disagreement, in my experience with Westminster, is almost always attached to a painful personal story and/or misunderstanding. I was very touched when one mother of a gay son told me after the vote that she was very encouraged by the conversation and the decision because she knew that she and her son were loved. We’re praying for lots of patience and healing and opportunities to minister to these friends…and for them to minister to us.
It has been an interesting point/counterpoint that while our congregation has been having many formal and informal conversations around all of this, our Session has been reading Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart. The month of the vote, I was struck by this quote:
Now, the simplicity of spiritual formation lies in its intention. Its aim is to bring every element in our being, working from inside out, into harmony with the will of God and the kingdom of God. This is the simple focus. We must keep it constantly before us and not be distracted by other things, no matter how good they may appear.
We’re grateful to be part of the Fellowship Community, and looking forward to what God has in store!
Pastor Bob Jacobs
Westminster Presbyterian Church,
Rapid City, SD
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colo. Springs: Navpress, 2002), 93.