It’s been one year since I accepted a call to serve Bethany. People keep asking me, “How do you like it here?” I always respond that I love how the people here enjoy each other’s company. Events are scheduled without the underlying expectation that we will raise funds or create moments of perfection. There are fundraisers, and they are very well planned and successful by any measure. There is a level of professionalism here, particularly around youth and music ministry, filling this church with pride and satisfaction and joy. But there are also events where the only goal is relationship building and fun. That is oddly unique among many churches and I find this refreshing and sustaining.
If you are going to spend a lot of time at a building, with a group of people, how wonderful to spend a large portion of that time having fun, watching people enjoy one another’s company, caring for each other. In this year there have been many, many funerals and on each occasion the church has risen to the occasion with support. I particularly admire how the church recruits people who will bring food for receptions and these persons are placed in teams so no one person gets burned out with these requests. I also like that the recruitment is not specific to women, men contribute as well, which is as it should be! The church also has a Chapel which is offered to grieving families as a place to have visitation, saving money and providing a warm and familiar place to meet those who arrive to offer support.
The choir is another source of relationship building. It is the largest choir I have experienced in 26 years. The reason for this is obvious, our Minister of Music Shawn brings the personal touch. People enjoy his company and his mentorship. The choir has two social occasions each year which are very well attended and great fun.
Bethany also has a unique way of offering lay faith formation, a large (15-20 people) lay-led Bible study group that meets biweekly. The group is entirely lay-led and lay-driven, though I attend (and surprisingly keep silent, MOST of the time). This community of seekers are also friends and offer one another deep companionship and support.
If there has been a growing edge for me it is around the level of affection for tradition here. Every church loves tradition, whether they admit it or not and we clergy often joke that it takes only one service to be repeated one time for something to become “a sacred tradition”. But Bethany has a bit more of this than most. This year has been a learning curve in becoming aware of these “we always do this”. When I share that those experiences are unique to Bethany I can see the look of disbelief in the eyes of the traditionalist, as if other churches must also be following this practice every year (they’re not).
All in all once I started wearing my Geneva gown (given to me by my good friend, retired Minister Ray Francis) things really began to fall in place. People seem to be OK with the way I preach (no notes, wandering about and making eye contact) and all the visits (they are not used to clergy who visit folks not sick or in crisis). We’ll see if they get used to my unique sense of humour.
Author Flannery O’Connor has written my favorite quote, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd”. We shall see if in years to come Bethany feels our mutual search for the truth explains my oddness. And so it goes…