This time has made me think about the nature of churches, both old and new.
Being part of a church plant is hard. It opens your eyes to many things: for example just starting a Sunday school is difficult. Redeemer don't have a good facility for it, nor enough numbers for sizeable classes, much less identified teachers and curriculum. And the ongoing problem for church plants is here too: we don't have an established practice to run with, just experiences each of us have had from other churches. But all that has to come together to make Sunday school happen, and your people need to make that happen. Also, we're largely transplants to the area. Thus, many if not most of us travel for major holidays, leaving our numbers lower at various times of the year.
A church like Greenville ARP has a very different feel. The church is nearly 100 years old, has had ups and downs, but is currently growing, has a good facility (in fact seems to be maxing out), and plenty of organization, groups and activities. I've been essentially gone since graduating high school nearly 20 years ago, but I'm still recognized by many there and some in the youth group are still there as parents themselves.
The thing is, Greenville ARP (like every church) started as a plant at some point. I don't know the history, but it must have started with all the uncertainty, doubt, and messy-ness I'm feeling now. Those planting a church don't know if it will fold soon, fold after they're dead, fall into bad theology, or flourish to 30, 60, or 100 fold in terms of people and years. We plant in hope and prayer that the Lord would be pleased to use Redeemer to disciple a flock right now, and for it to continue as a witness of His grace to the time and place where it exists.
I suppose the situation of the early church was similar to a church plant - the fear and doubt of starting something new, no nursery plan, etc. However, look at how the Church has spread over the world. There is good reason to hope for one more part of the body of Christ to be established in a place.
Another thought I'd like to share is the beauty of a long faithful history. The Christmas Eve service brought that home to my heart yesterday. There was a comfort sitting there and seeing so many familiar faces and knowing many have served in this one church for decades. In our mobile society (and my own multi-state life), that is a feeling of groundedness and "home" I long for.
Seeing the elders serve communion added to this sense of faithful history. I recognized many of them, yet there were new faces there as well. Knowing some of them personally still, and seeing them still serving communion to the people was a moving and beautiful thing.
Even some liturgical forms they use put me in mind of faithful service. Greenville ARP serves communion by having the elders pass the plates of elements along the pews. Perhaps it was my perspective of sitting in the balcony, but I noticed that each elder had to bend over or "bow" at each row to give or take the plates. It served as a picture of their service to the congregation, not lording over them but lovingly serving them communion. Another picture of service is in how the pastor is served communion. After the elders serve the congregation, the pastor serves the elders, then elders serve the pastor. This communicates that each of us needs to be served - no one can serve grace to themselves. Greenville ARP has done this as long as I remember, and the picture painted there always strikes me.
This Christmas is bittersweet. The world seems a terrible place with much evil and sin. Our church plant seems small and an introvert like me struggles with hospitality and reaching out to others. This is also likely the last Christmas with my dad alive as ALS ravages his body. And yet, there is beauty in many places: faithful people, good family, and loving churches. Memories, such as of my own father serving communion as an elder help as well. My faith is not in these things, but they point me to the body and blood of Christ, still held out by sinners to other sinners. Whether we, our family, or our local church stands or passes away, we must pursue faithfulness to our God today.
Merry Christmas, and I encourage you whatever your circumstance to look for beauty and faithfulness, but most of all to "Behold your King."