Buried deep in the midst of Sunday’s not-so-happy set of lessons for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, is a nugget that is very much worth preaching. In what my well-worn Student NIV Bible calls “A Call to Persevere,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews challenges his readers with these words:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This admonition is, I think, at the heart of what the Acts 8 Moment is about. Acts 8 is a call to perseverance, a call to faithfulness, a call to encouragement. Acts 8 is a reminder that when the stones of the temple are torn apart, God remains faithful to the people he loves so dearly.
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, AL is not in a crisis, thanks be to God. Our most pressing issue in 2012 was how to fit all the people who wanted to worship with us in the space we have available. Not a bad problem to have, if you ask me. So, as we gathered last night for the 88th Annual Parish Meeting, we did so with hopeful expectation of what God had in store. As we planned the flow of our classic church potluck supper, it became clear that looking back on where we’ve been is nice, but the more important work, the more exciting work, would be to get together and dream about what God has in mind for us in the years to come. One way to facilitate dreaming is to hold an Acts 8 Gathering, and so that is precisely what we did.
The evening began with a prayer for a Church Convention of Meeting (BCP, p. 818). We quickly dispatched with the business of the parish: electing vestry members and delegates to Diocesan Convention, and settled in for a fine feast of fried chicken, salads, slaws, pasta dishes, and more desserts than one could imagine. As supper wrapped up, our Senior Warden addressed the gathering, inviting us to remember that God is capable of doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine and challenging us to keep our imaginations working.
This proved to be a perfect entree into our Acts 8 gathering. I started with a brief overview of where the Acts 8 idea had come from, including using Frank Logue’s great video from General Convention
I prayed the prayer for the whole Church (found variously in the BCP, including p. 280) and then around our tables we did a quick study of Acts 8:1-8. After the first reading, we discussed what one item jumped off the page. People noticed things like joy, healing, miracles, listening intently, waves, and being scattered. After the second reading, we discussed what Acts 8:1-8 has to do with our church. Here came thoughts like: we are scattered to come together, our call is to go out to bring people back, and a challenge to love ’em until they ask why. Next, I asked that people come to the mic and finish the sentence, “I dream of a church that…” Not everybody followed those directions, but between audio and video, I was able to cobble together some of what we dreamed.
Here’s the full list: I dream of a church that…
- is full of people younger than me
- does more and does not give up
- welcomes everybody in the community, no matter who they are
- is led by the Holy Spirit
- doesn’t care what you dress like on Sunday
- continues to recognize the needs around us and finds amazing ways to solve them
- I had dreamed of finding a church just like Saint Paul’s
- impacts every newcomer and visitor the way it did us 8 years ago
- is filled with more young families
- offers hope for a better life
- is full of kids
- inspires us to be closer to God
- is as financially rich as it is in love
- bridges the gap
- is fill with all my friends (Halle, 5)
- where every uses their gifts of time and talent
- has the courage to follow the Holy Spirit
- when one member stumbles, someone else is there to help them up
- gives food to the needy
- has more activities for children and youth
- I am thankful for this church
- is focused on the fact that we are the body of Christ
- continues to teach and help me understand
- believes and expects miracles
- expects God to do the impossible
- where joy is obvious
- when someone says, “what if,” the rest respond, “why not”
- where no becomes yes
- recognizes all God’s blessings
- where this happens every single day.
Last night, we provoked each other to love and good deeds. My prayer is that this continues far into the future.