Church Work isn’t Just at Church. But Some is!

Our Life Together — The Other Stuff at Church

(a newsletter article for somewhat later in summer)

At the start of summer, I wrote to you about the benefits of being in church, that this is where you get to know God in Christ, and that you are missed when you’re not here.

Moving toward the close of summer, a variation on those thoughts continues on my mind. Tim and I are thinking and talking about it, with your staff, and Ministry Board, and in other conversations.

I’ll admit, it’s a conundrum. It’s a both/and paradox, of your life here and your life away. See, I firmly and wholeheartedly believe that Jesus is the center of who we are and what we do. Our basis is not in being spiritual or seeking God. Neither are we the same as a service organization, social club, or self-help support group.

We are here because we are Jesus people, and because we so continuously fall short as Jesus people. In worship we effectively meet Jesus. We are formed and re-formed, inspired and restored. It all can happen in an hour, once-per-week. Even briefer, God’s word can be proclaimed for you in short phrases, with splashes of water and hardly a taste of bread and wine.

But we’re not a religious drive thru. You can’t exactly pop in for a helping of Jesus, a dose of grace, a serving of forgiveness, and then be on your way. It’s more than a spiritual pit-stop to fill up your depleted reserves and rejuvenate the empty tank.

Joined together as members of the Body of Christ, community is essential—necessary for our very being. Never merely isolated and individualistic, we are dependent on the wellbeing of relationships and working together, in the local place of this congregation and with all creation. Neither can it happen only staring at computer screens; it is incarnational, flesh-and-blood.

So, the conundrum: Mostly your vocations—your living as Jesus people—happen away from “church,” in your very busy days, in families and workplaces, in zillions of interactions, in purchases and conversations and voting booths and food choices and on and on. It’s impossible to be a Christian primarily at church. Life is so much more.

Yet if this is where you are formed and how you practice being a Christian, if this is where we share peace and welcome the outcast and give thanks for natural cycles that grow grain, if it is here that you come to know your fundamental identity as Jesus people…then we need this place, this work here together.

And parts of congregational life don’t happen in an hour on Sundays. In newsletter there are lots of activities and invitations we share. Or that we are supposed to share. In July, we had to cancel a youth Boundary Waters canoe trip, the children and families olympics and potluck, and the men’s Minocqua retreat. We struggled with help on weeding gardens and praying for peace amid the Gaza conflict. We’re slow on sign-ups to serve homeless families at The Road Home and, looking to the fall, could use more Sunday School helpers.

On the other hand, our Food Pantry continues great ministry. WilMar, too. Monona Munchies has been serving hungry kids all summer. Concerts on the Square had a large St. Stephen’s contingent. A great group is headed to Mallards baseball this weekend. Our nursery is mostly staffed through the summer.

I’ll also commend to you two saints: Most every time I greet Don Jambura, he asks, “What can I do for you, pastor?” Frequently, I don’t have a task in mind, but he is always available. Again, I just got off the phone with Joann Esser. She noticed a mess and asked how she could be part of the caretakers.

I’m so grateful for God’s blessing that gets lived out as vocations in all the locations of your lives, being Jesus people. But we’re also asking for your involvement here, in these programs, responsibilities, and activities. Please give that a renewed consideration on how you can participate. Volunteer. Talk to us. Engage this faith.

Thank you, dear saints.

+ nick


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