After waiting for 150 years, October 2017 is here! This month culminates our year-long celebration and preparation for our sesquicentennial. (For those of you who have not learned how to say that word, you have twenty-five years to learn the next term, and you even get three choices for a 175th anniversary: Demisemiseptcentennial, quartoseptcentennial, or terquasquicentennial).
Our congregation looks very different than it did in those early days of the late 19th century. Different buildings, different people, different community around us. Even a different address – for 135 years, we were a Mount Holly church. Today, we are a Hainesport church. Thank you, United Sates Post Office.
In fact, our congregation looks very different than it did just a few years ago. Back when the 20th century gave way to the 21st century, we were a growing, thriving congregation, dedicated to the proclamation and the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; we had a great interest in children and ministries for young people; we looked for ways to share our resources with those less fortunate.
We are still blessed today. We still have a lot of space in which to do our ministries. We still have variety in the musical styles we offer. We have good relations with the congregations around us. We are still generous with our food and other products. We still have Christ as the center of what we do and say.
I have often wondered what if one of our founders could come back and visit us today – what would that person think? Could anyone in 1867 have imagined a church this size? Who would’ve thought that we would need a large parking lot to accommodate all the people who came here from around our region? In 1867, we were the only Lutheran church in this area of Southern New Jersey. Now we are surrounded by sisters and brothers who share the same Gospel message as we do.
If the article in the September 6 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer is correct, our style of being church will go out of style within a few decades. The article talked about the increasing presence of house churches; small groups of people gathering in homes for worship, unencumbered by the expense of buildings or staff. In other words, the church of the 2030s may look a lot like the church in the years after the ascension of Jesus! As a pastor of a congregation which has been the largest worshipping Lutheran congregation in New Jersey for two decades, I have trouble wrapping my head around that image. But if it is where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church (or pushing the Church), then that is where it will go.
Fortunately, the Spirit has always led the Church, not just in this congregation, but throughout the world. When recent hurricanes devastated Houston and Puerto Rico, the people of the Church responded to the needs of those affected. When the president decided to rescind the DACA program, threatening the lives of thousands of people who did not come to America by choice, but have chosen to stay and get educations and jobs, the Church was one of the voices being heard in protest to the cruelty of that decision. The voice of the Christian Church has always been one of the loudest voices demanding justice for all people, regardless of color, gender or economic status.
Our voice has been, and continues to be one of those voices within the Body of Christ. As we celebrate our accomplishments over these past 150 years, let us never lose sight of the accomplishments yet to come in the proclamation of Jesus as Lord.