Well, it’s been a year now since my family and I trekked our way westward from Jackson to Ellendale. What a ride it’s been and what a joy it has been to be in ministry with you all these past twelve months.
As I’ve been reflecting on the last year, I think back to that first Sunday with you all as we were preparing to welcome lots of children for VBS – one of the most important ministries a church can offer to the children and families of the community. I knew the names of about 10 people at Ellendale at the time. I’ve gotten to know a lot more since then.
In the last year: we’ve grown closer to one another; we’ve embraced new statements on vision, mission, and a core process of disciple-making (H.O.P.E.); we’ve welcomed new families into our household of faith; we’ve hired a new children’s minister, Nilse Gilliam, who has brought a great spirit of enthusiasm and leadership throughout the church; we’ve celebrated births and baptisms; we’ve gone through an entire season in the church year; and we are drawing ever so near to being debt free and beginning a new chapter in ministry and service to the neighborhood. Yet we’ve also gone through some tough times: in coming alongside folks who have been given difficult medical diagnoses; in supporting people in need of assistance at a particular difficult time; and in grieving the deaths of several who left us far sooner than when we were ready.
Yet I find myself ever mindful and grateful for the faithfulness of God – that God is indeed good, all the time! This faithful God calls us deeper into relationship with him and the community around us. My prayer as we move forward is that we would continually open our eyes, our hearts, our doors not merely to welcome others into our community of faith but also to go out into the world. Our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ starts with the hospitality of going and welcoming – of providing a warm and safe place in which people can discover God’s grace along with us.
One of the primary entry points for people, especially children and families, to experience God’s grace anew is through ministries like Vacation Bible School, which will be in the middle of this month – July 17-21, 6-8pm, nightly. Welcoming these children and providing a safe space for them to discover God’s love is one of the benchmarks of what authentic discipleship looks like, for Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name, welcomes me…” As we reach out in this effort and others, I would encourage you to pray for the children and families who will be in attendance at VBS, especially those who have no church home or are looking for a community to plug into – that they might come to know the warmth of God’s love and grace. I ask you to pray for Nilse and for the many volunteers who are leading in a myriad of ways to ensure all goes well and that there are as few obstacles as possible between the children and their experience of God. And if you are able to do so, please consider finding a tangible way to help as extra sets of hands will always be welcomed. It is our prayer that the children and families that take part in VBS will witness us being “…the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ.”
We do not yet know what all God will lead us as to do as a church as prepare for a new chapter in ministry in the retirement of our debt. But I am confident that at the heart of how God is calling us is with regard to our faithfulness in ministering with those whom God puts in our path – by learning names and stories, by offering God’s grace to all, and by encouraging others to grow in God’s love – in short, by making disciples of Jesus Christ so that together we may be the hands, feet, and voice of Christ.
Carrie, the kids, and I are so eager to discover what God will do among us as we continue to minister with you all at Ellendale UMC!