I am amazed at what seeds in the desert have to go through to get to the point where they germinate. Some seeds have silken-like threads that help them fly through the air and in their dispersing, will hopefully land someplace that has decent soil. Others have a tough outer seed coat that requires a good rain before they allow the embryonic plant to break free and grow. Some cactus seeds are placed in protective pods (fruit) that dry out over time. They are so tough that something is often needed to break the pod open to allow the seeds to finally make contact with the soil and new life to grow.
On Sunday, August 14th I attended the final worship service at South Mountain Community Church. I know it was a Central West District Church, but you see its predecessor church was part of my family history. Neighborhood Congregational Church was where my dad and his parents worshipped. My grandmother talked about how important that church was to her and to the community. It was called Neighborhood Church for a reason. The church had a building that was called the Neighborhood House. This was where wedding receptions were held, graduation parties, etc. If there was an important celebration in the community, people held it at the Neighborhood House.
There were immigrant families who lived nearby (my grandparents immigrated from Scotland), so one of the driving forces of the church was to create the support that immigrant families needed. If you were sick – if a baby was born – if there was a death – if there was financial need – the people of Neighborhood Congregational Church reached out to be your family.
Over time the original mission of the church changed as first generation immigrants died and second generations moved away. The people who remained at the church cherished the seeds of outreach placed in the heart of the church, but the focus of the ministry was not felt as keenly as it once was. In addition, the neighborhood changed demographics.
Strengthened by a merger with Grace UMC Phoenix, the new South Mountain Community Church continued its work. The challenges faced by the church were great and now they have, in faith and filled with love, handed the ministry to a Catholic group called The Croziers. The Croziers have survived for 800 years. They are committed to ministries of social justice. They are committed to caring for the poor.
The people that I still know from South Mountain Church told me yesterday that they are excited that the new owners of the property will be living out the ministry that was planted deep in the heart of the church from its earliest days.
As I drove away yesterday I wondered what seeds were planted in our Central East churches? What was the original mission of your congregation? Has that given you strength to grow deep into the soil of your community, or has it separated you from a changing demographic? What will it take to have the seed pods break open and new life to flourish?
As we explore these issues together, there is one thing I am certain of, God has great work for us to do. God will empower us to break through the protective seed coat, where new life can happen.
19 Look! I’m doing a new thing;
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.