My work life has been a little chaotic lately, and thankfully this time it doesn't center around me. Although it does present challenges to everyone in our church.
The first Sunday in November (which coincidentally was both the week after our church planning meeting and the week of the fiasco at New Life Church with Ted Haggard), a couple of men started attending First Baptist. These men arrive together and leave together. They sit next to one another, and they have the same address. They are impeccably well-groomed, and they have jumped into the life of our congregation almost immediately.They especially enjoyed jumping in with our church decorating party, as well as our choir.
Now, our choir has always been an "open" choir. What I mean by that is that anyone can join our choir. It is not a leadership position, it functions more as a church small group than it does a deacon board. Thus, when these men joined the choir the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we were not prepared for what was about to unfold.
What did unfold? Well, because two men who appear to be homosexual (though nobody knows if they are or they are not) have joined the choir, about 12-20 of our 200 regular attenders have left the church. Some of those regular attenders are long time members with deep pockets. Others are people who have regularly attenders who have invested a lot of time in nearly every facet of our congregational life. Most, though not all, are members of one influential family that helped found our denomination at about the same time our nation was founded. Last Sunday, with our other ordained pastoral staff on vacation, several of them chose to leave our congregation. Some wrote letters saying they were leaving.
Others chose to take their last Sunday leading their sunday school class to explain why they were leaving and convince others to join them. This surprised us. We expected that is was a possibility they would leave. But we felt ambushed. And when they left before the worship service we felt violated.
Too be honest, I have mixed feelings about their departures. On one hand, in part through difficult tensions, I have become friends with several of them. On the other hand, most of the insults, frustration and difficulty that has come my way over the last 3 1/2 years has been spearheaded by the meanspirited nature of those that left and/or are leaving. I am sad to see them leave, I am scared about our church finances, and I feel a heavy burden has been lifted from being the target of their annialating contempt all at the same time.
Most of our congregation is a conservative church in their theology, but compassionate and open-minded. So, wheras they believe that homosexual behavior is immoral, they at the same time recognize that they themselves have moral struggles as well. Thus, most are open to welcoming anyone into our choir and even membership. However, many are struggling.
Into was into this environment that I was assigned to do preach on Sunday. There was also a blizzard earlier in the week, so several of our more mature members were struggling to dig out. So many people were sad, discouraged and low. You could physically feel the congregational sadness and depression.
At the same time, I felt led to at the same time acknowlege our difficulties and remain enthusiastic and positive about our church and mission. I preached a very average sermon on the flight of Jesus to Egypt and God's desire to deliver us---both his church and those who are outside of his church (It will be posted in segments below).
At the end of the service, two unexpected things transpired. First, at the end of the service, the congregation erupted in clapping. This has never happened to me, and this has never happened in anyone's memory in the history of the church. So this was both very encouraging and very disconcerting. The second thing that happened was that members of the congregation came forward during the invitation simply for prayer and to connect with God.
It seems that out of difficult circumstances, good things are happening.