I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)
Over the last several years, we have spent much time working on and worrying about our aging building (much of which dates to 1968). It sometimes seemed that once one problem was addressed, another would turn up. It is remarkable to see how much has been done to improve our grounds and facility, especially during such difficult economic times. Messiah has physically become a more safe, beautiful and welcoming place, and so I am thankful for the council, property team, and all those that help with painting, fixing, mowing and more. People have been very generous with their time, treasure, and talent; blessing both us and the greater community we serve.
Yet as vitally important as such work remains, I don’t lose sleep over the challenges we face. Our strong foundation and cornerstone has and will remain Christ. It is a joy to be among so many Christians who are willing to take time to participate in Christian formation classes so that they and others can grow. Dr. Paul Hinlicky recently shared at a Virginia Synod ACTS class, “The more educated the laity is, the more powerful the ministry is.” This has proven true as more and more members have discerned that they should participate in existing ministries at church and within our community, or have felt called to initiate new ones. It is also seen in the thoughtful and prayerful way our council approached the refinancing question or the welcome of All Souls Episcopal to share our building on Sundays and beyond. The conversations were thoughtful, biblical, challenging, and sometimes quite passionate, yet always, those involved went away secure in their love for one another and more committed to sharing in the mission placed before us by God. It is quite a testimony to the reality of the priesthood of all believers that James Anderson, Jake Addair, and Tripp Dillard conducted our congregational meetings about our financial challenges with such honesty, compassion, and vision. Few congregations exhibit such strong leadership across the board as I witness time and time again here at Messiah. It inspires me, and it builds up Christ’s church.
All this reminds me that it isn’t our building or the hierarchy of the ELCA that is ultimately the church. We are the church together in the way we love God, each other and our neighbors – not perfectly yet certainly well. “Your cooperation with the Richmond staff of Lutheran Family Services is a model for the entire state,” commented the CEO of Lutheran Family Services of Virginia on a visit a few weeks ago. As Thrivent Financial for Lutherans reviewed our church life, assets and vitality, the loan officer noted one of the greatest assets we have is one another. He said, “Amazing. I’ve looked at congregations ten times your size that don’t seem to have as much going on.” One recent visitor commented without any solicitation, “I felt the presence of God in your worship today.” A member of Messiah who travels many miles to worship with us told his surprised friends why he travels so far instead of finding an assembly closer by his home. He said, “I just can’t accept not seeing the people here at this church.”
We are a smaller congregation than many. We face many challenges – financial and otherwise. Yet Jesus is most certainly among us as our Lord and our friend. We are sincerely seeking to be faithful witnesses to him by living as loving friends to one another and our community, and your participation at any level has blessed many others whether you realize it or not. The ancient wisdom of Sirach proves true here:
“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.”
In you, I have found friends, and even more so, brothers and sisters in Christ, a true treasure. In this season of thanksgiving, I offer mine to you and my God. Kristine and I will continue to celebrate your love and faithfulness in our lives. We pray that you and your families be blessed not just this Thanksgiving but always.
Messiah began on November 3, 1968 (All Saints Sunday). To see pictures of our history together, visit the heritage page of our website’s gallery. (Complete photo gallery available through http://www.mlcas.org)
The above pastoral letter was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2012 edition). To view the entire issue of The Messenger or to see the full calendar of events, visit: http://www.mlcas.org
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2012 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.