Dear Sisters and brothers in Christ,
I just returned from a trip to Binghamton, NY where the ministers and lay leaders from the United Church of Christ in New York gathered to refresh, renew and to respond to the new thing that God is doing in and around them.
Traveling to Binghamton refreshed my spirit as I looked out upon the majestic mountains of central New York State. My love for the mountains began when I was a child traveling out to my grandfather’s dairy farm outside of Binghamton. There is something about looking beyond the town and seeing the mountains in the distance that brings me a sense of peace. Like a cool mountain stream, I feel refreshed in the rolling landscape of peaks and valleys. Looking out on this landscape today, it seems ever firm, strong, and unchanging.
My Spirit was then renewed through the worship we experienced. Worship was a big part of the event. Throughout the three days there were stirring lessons taught to us by Rev. Freeman Palmer, Associate Conference Leader for Congregational Development; Marian Shearer, Associate Conference Leader for Leadership Development, Kathleen Norris, the guest speaker and youth members from around the conference. The theme seemed to be centered on one scripture that we heard several times along the way:
” Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
This is a message that we all need to hear as we journey together. I need, you need, and we all need to conform not to what the world expects from us but what God expects from us. Not my will Lord, but your will be done!
This is not easy to do because we often get bogged down in the minutia of life that we miss the bigger picture. Many congregations get bogged down in formality, tradition, and procedure that they miss the fluidity of the Spirit’s movement. As a detail-oriented individual I know how hard this is to do. Just as the mountains can comfort me, so too I find comfort in knowing that there is a place for everything and everything in its place. In turn, I also know how freeing it can be to throw caution to the wind and allow the Spirit to take control of our lives.
As the Assembly of church leaders gathered in Binghamton discovered, it is not always easy to let go and simply trust the movement of the Spirit. One of the key items of business was to consider a change in structure and procedure. As debates began, it became clear that there were many details that were overlooked which brought discomfort. As human beings we desire transparency and clarity and when it seems that a group of well-intentioned people try to impose their ideas upon others, we recoil. After a “friendly debate” the conference approved a motion to refer the structure and bylaw changes back to the council and to bring it back to the Assembly next year for action.
Yet in the midst of this, we responded in the way we celebrated ordained individuals who had passed milestones in their careers and congregations who are living out their faith through active mission outreach. This reminds us that even when we might push back in one area of church life, the Holy Spirit continues to move us forward in other important areas. The landscape may look the same but change is still taking place whether we embrace it or not.
As we approach the summer months, I hope that we would seek to be refreshed, renewed and ready to respond to God’s will for this church come September. Continue to be refreshed by the Word of God through worship and prayer. Allow the Holy Spirit to renew your commitment to “not be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Take the time to breathe this summer. Take long walks along the beach or trips to your favorite mountain retreat. Put down the dish rag and the hammer to gaze up into the evening sky. God will be there with you. Listen for God’s voice.
I thank God for you,
Pastor Kathy Nealad
- Pastor’s Letter June 2012 – The Coming of the Holy Spirit (friendlychurchli.wordpress.com)