Jeanne Gamble on Community

When I think of Community, I am reminded of the story of the pebble tossed into the water and how the ripples spread out in every direction–so it is with our influence at National Avenue.  From our youngest members to the older ones, we have so many opportunities to spread our influence in the “Community,” which  goes far beyond Springfield.

From the youth projects to gather money for building houses in Nicaragua, to various projects to help our less fortunate here at home, to remembering our members who are unable to attend services, to donations of various items from food to coats, blankets and shoes, and, of course, cash and time.

As a 50 plus year member of this congregation I have found our church to be welcoming, open, worshipful, and spiritually uplifting in all areas, especially our Sunday morning services. But above that I feel we have gone so far in the idea of “Community” to mean so much more than just our immediate church and the building.

“I Can See The Resemblance” by Steve Flower

Of all the topics in our recent series on Celtic Christianity, I really looked forward to Pastor Laura’s message on “The Image of God.” My own understanding of who I am, who others are in relation to me, and how I wish the church could be are all tied to this idea of how I image and understand God to be.

You and I could sit and chat over coffee for days on this topic, easy – so I won’t get it done in one blog post. It’s enough to say that over the years, I have seen how many different communities’ images and understandings of God can color and flavor how they believe – and how they behave.

A friend told me that in the Bible , humankind was made in God’s image – which meant that you,  me, and Aretha Franklin and Richard Nixon and Richard Simmons were all “created in God’s image.” So I am pretty much past the whole idea of the phrase “in God’s image” meaning just “God must look just like us.”

I see God as Spirit….and I see God as Love. So if we are “created in God’s image,” I believe we are created as spirits who love.

When we do that–when we live and act as loving, caring, committed people–my experience is that others can see the resemblance to the One in whose image we were created. I believe it’s what our community at National Avenue does best.

Chris and I saw this in action the first Sunday we walked through the door at National Avenue. Louise Jackson saw us come in, hand-in-hand and before we could slip quietly by the greeter-lady, she just reached right out to us. (Anyone who knows Louise can picture the scene…) In her typically-subtle way, Louise roped us both in, smiled and said, “Hi fellas! We’re just SO glad to have you here!”

And we saw that resemblance–the resemblance to a loving and welcoming God.  We both knew God’s love had spoken through Louise. We were “home” in that instant. (We never visited another church.)

Maybe a week later, we heard Pastor Laura telling how different churches have tried to limit and control access to Communion over the years–and we also heard how it grieved her. (Chris and I both have had experience with folks trying to keep us from sharing Communion–and it was not pleasant for either of us.)

As Laura walked down the center aisle in the sanctuary, and talked about how this was God’s table and how this table was open to all (especially to anyone who had been told it was only open to some)… we saw the resemblance. We saw and heard the spirit of a loving God in this tiny dynamo of a lady.

When I’ve seen Susan Wheeler and others preparing to serve food with loving care for people who have no home and no food, it’s not hard to see the resemblance to the God she serves. When I read Terry Heitman’s Facebook comments about how serving meals at Bill’s Place has touched him each time he’s been there, I see the resemblance, too. When I see the service results of National Avenue’s youth, selling blankets or washing cars or sleeping in a makeshift shack to raise funds and awareness for Nicaragua, I  see that resemblance … and I weep with joy.

When the choir, or the bell choir, or the talented soloists and musicians of our church begin to sing or play, I am again moved to tears of joy (and a wee bit of envy)–and I hear the message of a loving God within me. When people go out of their way to reach out to Chris and me … to include us, to welcome or encourage us… once again, we feel the arms of a loving God surrounding us.

It’s not hard to see God’s hands and feet–at the end of the arms and legs of so many members of National Avenue Christian Church. We are not without flaws (no church is)–but this church works real hard to be a community that points-with-its-actions to a loving, caring, welcoming and accepting God.

My prayer is that others who come will see that resemblance –as we have.

Community by Conor Wadle

An anonymous person once said, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is a progress, and working together is success.” This quote and this idea explain exactly what happens at National Avenue Christian Church. Not only have we kept together as a community, through easy and hard times, we’ve stuck together. Furthermore, as we can see, we’ve worked together to do amazing things recently.

Keeping together is one of the biggest parts of this. Not only have we kept together, we’ve been able to value every part of our community equally. Every Sunday for a little while now, we’ve begun service with a younger member of the community speaking in front of us. As a part of the youth, I’ve seen how much this church allows its younger members to contribute. Many of the youth as well as me have been the Worship Leader on Sundays. Many of the High Schoolers are deacons as well. And those are just ways that our youth are a part of the community. Our church stands out in more than just letting our youth be involved. Our church also welcomes gays and lesbians, something that most churches don’t. This community has grown into a huge collection of people, who, while we may not all believe the exact same thing, all come together to help others.

Just look at what we’re doing in Nicaragua. Our church has raised the money to build 25 homes in Nicaragua. We raised the money to do this. Something that is as big as this was only successful because we are a community. Without the entire church working together, we couldn’t have done it. The youth’s sleepouts and car washes were almost completely successful because of the backing of the rest of the community.

It’s amazing to see what we as a church can do, when we keep together, and when we work together. We’ve seen that this church has the ability to achieve amazing things. But we have to make sure that we don’t stop here, because we shouldn’t be asking what we’ve done. But instead, what we can do.  Because as we learned from Laura’s sermon on Sunday, that’s what can make the difference between a good community, and a great community.

“It Doesn’t Matter What You Look or Smell Like” by Emma

The people of National Avenue Christian church are very kind, loving and giving. They help underprivileged countries like Nicaragua by raising money and participating in mission trips to help build houses and schools. The church family also helps local causes such as shelters, food pantries and meals for underprivileged people. My church community supports our youth with fund raising and by encouraging us to take part in church activities like worship services. My favorite part of our church community is that everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter what you look or sound like, who you love or what your beliefs may be we will welcome you with open arms. I can’t imagine having a better church family than I do at National Avenue!

Community by our Kids

Here’s our some of our kids “picture” the idea of Community:

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The First Day: The Light of God

To say that light is created on the first day is to say that light is at the heart of life. It is the beginning of creation in the sense that it is the essence or centre from which life proceeds. At the heart of all that has life is the light of God.
–J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, 3.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.
–T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock.”

Though many people were (wrongly) disappointed with its ending, I was a huge fan of the show LOST. Ultimately, the show was about a battle between the attempts for good and the distractions of evil that we all work our way through in this life. I thought of the show particularly during Peter’s sermon this week, as he described the unfortunate heritage of “light” and “dark,” which are often described as good and bad respectively. In LOST, the two embodiments of the struggle on the island were visually represented by the physical colors of white and charcoal gray, but neither side was ever thought to be thoroughly good or bad; they simply were the two sides. It was a dichotomous conflict that the show’s writers detailed through six seasons of flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sideways, and moral ambiguity. It was difficult to know who was or who would end up being “good.” The characters all had sordid pasts filled with mistakes, missteps, misfortunes, and misunderstandings. But on the island of a million confusing and mysterious questions, they were forced to choose who they would trust and who they would not. In the end–and I’ll try not to spoil too much–the characters found the ultimate goodness, the true ability to “step into the light,” in their commitment to one another. They found love and friendship and community and life together. As Jack Shepherd, the de facto leader of the survivors of Oceanic 815, always said, they could “live together or die alone.”

For me, I resonated with the overarching message of the series because of its willingness to explore the complexity of our journeys as human beings and its insistence that, in the end, the most important piece of who we are, the true light that we can all walk in, is found in our journey together. As a community of faith, I feel that we are continually discovering and re-discovering the beauty of that light. And as we so often walk into the unknown ahead of us, may we carry each other as bright lights into an uncertain future.

I really like this John Mayer song and was reminded of it during these past couple of weeks. As you listen to it, I’d invite you to jot down your own thoughts about light and darkness. If you feel comfortable, share your own thoughts and responses in the comments section as we continue our ongoing conversation through this series.

Collaborative Meetings begin in September!

While an essential part of our conversations around restructuring have dealt with the business aspects of our church, more importantly there has been a wonderful energy surrounding new ideas and ways that we can minister at National Avenue. Over the past year, as a church community, we have been focusing on the areas of Spirituality, Community, and Justice. Last fall, our budget was presented in a narrative form that helped us understand how we financially support these parts of our vision.

In September, we will begin the next portion of this initiative with the gathering together of committees, teams and individuals that will be working in each of these areas. On Sunday, September 9th, at 6:00 pm, you are invited to gather together with the leaders of each of these areas to begin talking about our hopes and dreams for this coming church year. We are excited for your voice and input to be heard and felt, as we work together to grow spiritually, develop an evermore loving and caring congregation, and use our time and resources to work for justice in our community and in our world.

If you are already involved in a team [or department] that is working in one of these areas, you will know which of the three groups you want to join that evening. If you are not currently involved in one of these areas, please think about what means the most to you as a part of National Avenue and come be part of that group, bringing your energy and ideas.

Listed below is the breakdown for each Collaborative and their leaders.

Spirituality: Etta Madden and Peter Browning
Worship
Education
Music
Stewardship

Community:  Susan Wheeler
Membership/Evangelism
Fellowship
CWF
Congregational Care
Youth Groups
Property

Justice:  Brad Wadle
Outreach Financial  and Outreach Volunteers
Local
National
International

A light dinner will be served that evening, and you are invited to bring a dessert to share. An Evite will be sent closer to the event date; you may register attendance through that method or call the church office to RSVP. A meeting of the General Board will be held at 5:00 pm, prior to the Collaborative Meetings.