Ecclesiastes 3: 1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Our newsletter theme for November is “Growing in Faith Together” and as I roll the idea around in my head, I hear echoes of the idea found in “Hilltop: a place to belong, believe and become.” The Ecclesiastes 3 with the sounds of Pete Seeger and the Byrds echoing in my brain, fingers, and ruminations.
On November 30 at 9:00 AM, we are going to return to being a church with multiple worship opportunities. Prior to my arrival, Hilltop took an extremely bold and courageous step to move from three different worship opportunities to one. At least part of the motivation centered on bringing unity to the Body of Christ. Sadly, in our journeys to unity there is always the possibility we might have to pass through a little disunity. For example, we lost a few long time members. There was no one constant reason but in our unity quest, we got to a season where we belonged, believed, and became. But seasons are rarely, if ever, static. A church is a living organism and in our belonging, there are Ecclesiastes 3 seasons of contrasts for “every matter under heaven.”
We are about to embark on a new season in the Hilltop story.
We intentionally chose to return to multiple services as the start of a new season in the church year: Advent. Laurence Hull Stookey in his seminal look at the church year, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church writes: “the primary focus of Advent is on what is popularly called ‘the second coming’ … Advent is the celebration of the promise that Christ will bring an end to all that is contrary to the ways of God.” So, in this new season of the church year, we look forward, in hopeful anticipation to a time when the ideas of seasons disappear into the mist. But until that ‘second coming’ becomes, we have to focus, or perhaps, refocus, on our beliefs and our belonging. A new season emerges, and we get a chance to reexamine God’s divine purpose for us, and perhaps more importantly, our role in God’s divine purpose.
We exist, at least in part, in order to make God’s reign, just a little more obvious, a little more visible, a little more real. Our purpose in going to a new service, at least in part, is to reach a group of people who might not be with us at the present time. One group is those who might want to celebrate their praise of God a little earlier in the day, and then “beat the Baptist to the Buffet” or to the trailhead or ski slope or … you get the idea. We know there are people who want to use the Sabbath as a time for family and reconnecting in various ways and the solitary 10:30 AM option sends them elsewhere, or maybe even, nowhere. A second group is those who want to have their children receive Christian Education while they are in worship. We know they exist. We are mindful that a few believe that we should be developing children who understand worship with more intentionality than this model presents, but we have elected to accept that a parent will know when their child can be better informed and grow spiritually through worship. They know their child’s season.
I do not know how long the season of getting this service to fruitfulness will be. The Greek of the New Testament has at least two words that both mean time and one is about what we might think of as “clock” time but the other one means “the fullness of time.” It is, I think, about the idea of seasons. I don’t know the precise day that good skiing will occur in the Wasatch Mountains, but sometime this season, skiing will be an option and an opportunity. I believe that the 9:00 service will organically take on its own unique characteristic, style, charm, and approach. I just don’t know what they all are right now. I think cherishing elements of what we have done at 10:30 which is a style that encourages a certain amount of congregational work is where we will be, but at the end of the day, I no more know precisely what this service will be anymore than I knew precisely what the 10:30 service would precisely look like on July 1st, 2012, my first Sunday at Hilltop. I am prepared to allow the season to unfold in the fullness of God’s time.
A key element of my personal ethos is that the church is the means by which God’s mission of transformation is deployed in the world. It follows that we are the church in order to meet God’s needs in the world, rather than our own needs. We are not alone: we stand in continuity with generations of women and men who found the Good News of God’s Grace through Jesus Christ to be transformative. Grace truly experienced moves them from a season of self loathing to a season of humble appreciation. I believe there are people who will know the peace we know through the threefold fullness of Grace we represent that will not find spiritual wholeness elsewhere. Through Wesley, we offer unconditional grace to all of God’s broken children.
I do see this new season as a chance for us to ‘grow, in faith, together.’ We are setting out on a new adventure wrapping up one season of unity, and starting a new one of opportunity. I am excited. I pray you are as well. I invite everyone who calls Hilltop their spiritual home to plan to be at one of the two services on November 30th. In particular, I pray that those who plan to make the new service their spiritual connection to Hilltop plan to be here. I am going to be there. Join us.
Selah, Pastor Dennis