Episode 35: Service

I am reading through historic documents from our archives.

I came across on that was written in June, 1961.

In it is written this terse line: “The only true church is a serving church.”

Ah – there it is. In its simplicity, brevity, and directness the true meaning of the church is articulated. The only true church is a serving church. 

I have been saying it this way for many years now: “It’s about mission.” When churches ask what they can do to revitalize themselves, I repeat that: it’s about mission. Find a purpose beyond serving the needs of your members. Or, to put it another way – the only true church is a serving church.

One of my mentors used to tell me to “hear the cries,” borrowing a line from the Exodus story in which we are told that God heard us crying out on account of our taskmasters. Hearing the cries engenders the kind of love and compassion that calls for a response. When churches hear the cries of those who suffer unjustly, we become what a true church is called to be: a serving church.

And so I put the question to you and your church leaders: whose cry do you hear? And upon hearing it, in what way is your heart stirred to be present to that cry?

The Church of the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita AZ proclaims: “We are a church on the border, called to serve the immigrant.” Among one of the healthiest and most vital churches I know, they respond daily to the cries from the desert of those dying in the wilderness.

We tend to judge our success as communities of faith based on how many people attend or how much money we collect. I would invite us to think differently about that: whom do we serve? Therein lies our true worth and value – regardless of our size.

I remember when my first church, in a small rural town of some 250 people, built the first Habitat House in Lafayette County. It taught me a valuable lesson about making a difference where and how you could – regardless of the size of your membership or your bank account.

Stay focused on your mission. I think the founders of this new denomination, believing that fresh thinking about the role of the church was required, got it right: the only true church is a serving church.

And so, gentle listener, I invite you to meet the sacred in the presence of those whose cries emanate from their place of vulnerability and marginalization. Be open to where the Spirit of God is inviting you to serve, and to whom she is asking you to be present with kindness, with compassion, with justice, and with love.

I have found there is no greater joy than to be present to another’s pain in a way that brings comfort. In the same way the sacred presence of the living God can touch our own grief and pain, so to do we live out our divine purpose in service to another.

May you come to know that joy. May the community in which your sustain your spiritual life come to know its mission, and hearing the cries of those in their midst respond with faithful service. And may we all come to grow in courage and strength through the abiding love of God as we travel together down our own pathways Into the Mystic.