Past, present, future

Our church is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and there have already been a variety of events marking the milestone. This weekend was the anniversary weekend and it included a banquet last night and a special service this morning. The guest speaker at the banquet commended us for having a party, for celebrating and rejoicing in fifty great years. He also told us to meditate on the blessings of those years. So I have been.

When we arrived in Canada we went church shopping, visiting a handful of churches in the area where we were buying our house. Alta Vista was one of those churches. I remember the first time we came, we were welcomed at the door by two women involved in the Sunday School program. Our girls were invited to participate in the appropriate classes which ran before the service. Those two women are still involved in Christian Ed. at our church and have led or taught our children over the years.

After Sunday school finished we sat in the service behind the new pastor’s family. Chatting to his wife we discovered they had just arrived in town, and were waiting to move into their new house as we were. Seeing that I was eight months pregnant she could also relate to moving with a brand new baby. Our younger daughters, we noticed, were close in age and although the friendship may not have started that day, start it did. From that first meeting has grown a strong friendship between our two daughters and between our two families.

Following church that first Sunday we were invited home for lunch by a couple who, again, are still involved in our church and have become friends of ours. I was telling them last night how much that invitation meant to us, how much we appreciated their hospitality and how their kindness impacted our decision to come back to the church again.

After our son was born we visited the church again and people remembered us and were delighted to meet B. There were two women in particular who were happy to take him off our hands at the potluck luncheon so that we could eat and help the girls. Their help did not stop at holding our baby, later that day they arrived at our door with a rocking chair, as I had told them I had nowhere to sit and feed B. Our friendships with these two couples and several others in our congregation have also become special. It is these couples who sit where grandparents would sit at our girls’ violin recitals. Not once, but over and over, they have come and encouraged the girls and always ask when they will have the next opportunity to do so.

Not only have couples older than us come along side and encouraged and supported us here. We have developed some wonderful friendships with young couples who have come to our home and enjoyed family life with us before they had families of their own. They have loved and invested in our children so much so that our children are as delighted to hear they are coming over as they would be with their peers. Just as they baby sat our children over the years L and A are more than willing to baby sit theirs in the future.

Around our dining room table over the years we have formed some lasting and significant friendships. Not only as we shared meals but also as we studied God’s word. For several years we were part of a small group made up of a couple with grandchildren, a couple with grown children, ourselves with young ones and a couple with no children. People came in and out of the group but the breakdown of ages remained the same. I loved to sit in the group and hear the perspectives, struggles and victories of each different member. We all had something to share and something to learn. These people cared for our family in many ways, from staying to babysit and pray when we took a child to hospital in the night to faithfully praying for years for members of our families who they had never met.

Having left all our family on the other side of the world we are not able to join them for special celebrations. I would love to welcome our parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews into our home for birthday parties and Christmas dinners. Our church family know that and know we miss them. As I thought last night about the Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners we have enjoyed with friends from our church I was overwhelmed by the way families have shared their families with us. We have sat around fires, sung songs, taken sleigh rides, exchanged gifts, hunted for eggs and of course eaten a great amount of wonderful food in homes of people who we are privileged to call friends.

As I think and write about these blessings I realise that there is more to our church than great friends. It is for us a place of learning and growth, a place where each one of us is encouraged and enabled to use their gifts and talents and a place where we are challenged to become more like Christ. Maybe I’ll expand on those thoughts another day. Today I want to thank God for the people he placed in our church over the years, knowing that He would greatly bless our family through them.

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One thought on “Past, present, future

  1. ND

    Your comments on “church shopping” prompted several memories as we thought of our own experience on a couple of occasions.

    For much of our life we have not been faced with the issues of “church shopping” as the church, through its various calling and appointment procedures has chosen the place and the congregation which would be our home for a period of ministry. Nevertheless, we have still prayed that the situation might be one where family members would find friendships and supportive relationships in the midst of the diversity of life that comprises most congregations. In each situation, that prayer has been honoured in and through the special people whose support and encouragement have been a source of strength through some difficult and lonely times, both from a professional and from a personal and family perspective. Beyond that, we have also come to recognize the presence of God with us in each of those situations, assuring us of the right place and time to be where we were.

    In later years, an appointment gave us the opportunity to go “church shopping”. This proved to be more complex than we had expected and over a period of about six months, we sampled four congregations before settling at a fifth which was to become our ‘home’ for the next fourteen years. Though we had been focussed upon our own needs at the time, the choice was to become very significant a year or two later as your younger brother, whom we had left with you in Canberra, joined us again for his university years. Some of the friendships and support he found within that congregation have been very important for him through some difficult times. Our prayers in the introduction to that congregation were answered in ways that were beyond our seeking or expectation at the time.

    Most recently, we have been introduced to our local congregation in the Mountains. It was the logical choice at retirement, but not easy as it had a reputation as a difficult and quarrelsome group of people. Our prayers were a little different this time. Not only were we seeking a congregation where we might find fellowship and nurture and care, but also that God might show us how to minister in a congregation where we were no longer the ‘Minister’. Once again, we are finding that our prayers are being answered in some remarkable ways. Not having been part of the history of the congregation we are finding fellowship across its wide diversity and opportunities to minister across some of the differences that have marked the congregation over the years. Once again, God’s answer has provided some unexpected surprises.

    Your reflections on “Past, present and future” brought to mind our prayers for you and your family as you made that long migration in 2000. We knew that we were going to miss you, even though you were already living a thousand kilometres away from us. We knew, also, that you would miss us and that you would miss the church family with whom you shared so much in Melbourne. Our prayer was that God would lead you to a congregation which would welcome and support you and in which you would find nurture and encouragement and a place for each family member to participate.

    It was joy to read how God has answered that prayer in the welcome, fellowship and support of the Alta Vista congregation. We have enjoyed our own experience of that welcome on our visits with you. But once again’, we find that God has gone one step further in answering our prayer, even providing “couples who sit where grandparents would sit at our girls’ violin recitals”.

    We join our thanks with yours for the people God has used to bless your lives, and for the Alta Vista congregation at this time of anniversary celebration.

    ND

    Reply

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