Monday, May 21, 2007

sweet tea and promises

Sweet Tea and promises. That is how I would describe my first day. There was a lot of sweet tea flowing at Cedar Grove UMC as generations gathered for homecoming Sunday. It was a big event. There were muffins in the morning, a worship service with the DS preaching, and then Sunday dinner in the fellowship hall. There were old ladies holding babies (the youngest yesterday was two weeks old, born to a woman who grew up in the church – her husband was a transplant from Efland UMC a few miles down the road). There was singing in the sanctuary – hymns to tell the old, old Story – and general chit-chat and catching up. One lady I spoke to told me “You don’t have to remember my name, I am from New York. I grew up here and always come for homecoming Sunday.” The men talked about the weather, and how badly we already need the rain. They teased each other in front of me about who is in charge of the church; though I am sure they are all a part of what keeps that church humming.

I went to Duke a couple of hours after homecoming to share a meal and witness the signing of the covenant between the Annual Conferences in North Carolina, the div school, and the Duke Endowment – but more importantly – the pastors of the rural churches involved in the Thriving Rural Communities program.

Many people had come a far piece on a Sunday afternoon after leading worship and taking care of their people. It was a testament to their desire for their church and their ministries to go beyond themselves. The commitment to the program is really a commitment to continue to do the things that these churches and pastors have been doing already – but now they will be doing these things together. How Methodist! We ate a meal together – there was more sweet tea. And then we went to worship where the groups gathered re-committed to serve God – but not as an island. These pastors agreed to join together to make a difference together in rural North Carolina. To be in relationship with one another and with a school dedicated to bringing up new generations of pastors committed to the same goal…spreading the good news about the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God to everyone – even to the least of eastern and western NC.

I thought about the older lady at church that morning walking around with a two week old baby, showing her off to all the people gathered for homecoming. The young man from the congregation who came to the event last night sat and talked to me before and after dinner. Converted two years ago (his words), he sees God at work in his life (lost a job Tuesday morning, got a new job at church’s Wednesday night supper! “Can you imagine that?!” he said shaking his head). He told me about the religion classes he takes to know more about God and Church. He described teaching a friend about why children are welcome in worship at his church. His wife was running the church office when I had arrived at work, and his son was the disheveled acolyte for the morning’s service. “My son is the stand in acolyte because, they know he will always be there.” This church has changed the course of his life and the life of his young family.

Those are the people who will be touched by the commitment made by those pastors last night. The people who grew up and live out their lives in rural NC know God will not abandon them. They know God and they love each other. But they need to have assurance that their church will not abandon them. They need resources and holy space to cultivate and grow in God’s love. As mills close and cash crops change, the United Methodist Church has just committed to not only stay in rural NC but also to be a presence on a scale that is larger and more connected than ever before. As Charles Wesley said:

Come, let us use the grace divine, and all with one accord,in a perpetual
covenant join ourselves to Christ the Lord;Give up ourselves, thru Jesus' power,
his name to glorify;and promise, in this sacred hour, for God to live and die.

1 comment:

Sam Keyes, M.Div. '09 said...

I'm curious where this "Homecoming Sunday" thing comes from. We had it out here as well, and it was quite a big deal.