Let’s Be Kind To One Another

The confessional and personal nature of my last post meant that the comments were more important than usual to me. Each and every word of encouragement, prayer, song snippet or kindness held great meaning for me. I thank you for your comments.

But it is those words that you have not seen that are hitting my heart with power. And conviction. And pain. Look, here; read a sampling of what has come to me via private messages or emails:

“Mental illness is a subject I’m very sensitive to, and I have spent a lot of time cringing and biting my tongue…You come to expect that your position isn’t going to be understood or welcomed, so you keep your mouth shut.”

“…I know all too well the devastating effects that mental illness forces upon families…I grew up ashamed of my mother and did whatever I could, at any cost, to keep people outside the confines of our four walls from discovering what really went on behind closed doors…I continue to wrestle with the demon of guilt…because I was a terrible daughter to her. I was hateful, impatient, and angry with her most of the time. I mourn now over a lost relationship…If only I had the support as a child that walked me through the mood swings, the paranoia, the mania followed by the can’t-get-out-of-bed-for-days depression…if only.”

“I just want to say that it did my heart good to read your words…I wish my mother had reacted that way years ago. The fact that she didn’t and to this day still says “it’s in my head” is irreversible damage that she’ll never be able to undo.” 

“My youngest daughter is also suffering with a mental illness…She is filled with anger and hatred and much of it is directed towards me.”

“…our son also is bipolar. I have told almost no one…I understand the pain, the fear, the heartache, the confusion, even the shame and the guilt…And I understand the feelings of helplessness. Utter, gut wrenching helplessness.”

“I read your blog on mental illness with great pain.  My eldest daughter…The disease has affected her marriage, her relationship with her daughters, her friendships and our relationship…I worry.  I feel bad.  I feel responsible.”

And here is my further confession: most of these folks are known to me in real life. I have touched their hands, had face-to-face conversations with them. They are my friends.

And in most cases, I didn’t know. 

Before we moved into this new place, I never thought much about bipolar disease. I was ignorant. It didn’t factor into my assessment of others, my relationships, my expectations, my empathy.

But now I know.

And it makes a difference.

There’s a lot of pain out there. Let’s be kind to one another.

Thank you for all of your responses. Your encouragement means the world to me.

Checking Out And Getting Things Together

I walked into Food Lion and headed towards the orange juice. A man walked by and did what I now recognize as “the PCC double take”. As our church grows, I encounter people in the community who recognize me from the worship band or speaking, though sometimes it takes them a minute to figure out where they know me from. I don’t always recognize them.

He saw me, walked on by, and then turned back around and looked again.

“Hey,” he said. “Y’all in that new building yet?”

We went on to talk for about 10 minutes. He shared a bit of his story, which includes a wife struggling with a very challenging medical condition and some difficult financial circumstances. Due to their situation, they are in the process of moving to a neighboring county. It’s been a rough year.

He said he hasn’t been to church in about 2-3 months, but he used to come a good bit with his wife – of almost 40 years – and his kids and grandkids.

“I sat there in the second row. In the middle section.”

As we talked and he shared how challenging life had been lately – just in a factual manner, not looking for a handout, sympathy or pity – it really made me think. This guy’s been coming to our church for a while; he seems to consider PCC “his church”. But as far as I know, when hard times hit, he just checked out to take care of his stuff.

He said, “I’m gonna come back after I get my life together.”

Made me wonder how many people are just like this guy, “checking out” of church until they can pull things back together. I wonder how we can reach out to them better. I wonder what will make them want to come back sooner rather than later. I wonder where we missed out on the opportunity to let him know that we would walk through these difficult days with him and his family, that he didn’t have to check out and “get his life back in order” before coming back to his middle section, second row seat.

He said one more thing before moving on down the aisle.

“One thing I won’t forget. That Bible you guys give away? I got one. I read it – the whole thing. Took me about a year, but I read it.”

Let’s Fight.

Holly Furtick wrote an incredibly powerful blog post last week.

You should read it.  Especially if you are part of Powhatan Community Church – or any church – you should read this post.
And, after you’re done reading, do something.

And leave a comment and let us know what you did.

Here’s an excerpt; the emphasis is mine.
I’m just saying – this is truth. I have experienced it this week.  Maybe you have, as well.
Let’s fight. 

“…do I think that there are forces in this world that want to attack and/or distract us during a time of year when many many people will come to church for the first time (or maybe first time in a long time). Absolutely.

How do I fight? Well first of all I am aware. I see a negative attitude that rises up inside me as an opportunity for there to be a tension in my marriage. I am sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I try to spend more time meditating and praying as I go throughout my day.

I am also not going to bring up a conversation that may cause a disagreement…If the enemy cannot get at my marriage through a moral failure, he is going to attack through the seemingly small.

You may be reading this post and think, this is not for me. I am not in the ministry. This post is for everyone.

If you are in the ministry, open your eyes. Be aware, be sensitive, be prayerful.

If you are not in the ministry, be in extra prayer for your church, your pastor, your church leaders and for their families. Pray for smooth services, functioning equipment, plenty of volunteers, good health, the list can go on and on.

This is a fight worth fighting because people’s lives are at stake. Put up your dukes.”

You can read the entire post here.

Sunday Setlist 4.5.09 Unity Service

Last summer, a young man in our community was murdered.  Teen-aged sensibilities, cars, drugs, insults and guns; a devastating combination.

The boy who lost his life was black.  The kids who shot the guns were white.
During the trial a few weeks ago, tensions were high.  Folks were looking for justice, for answers.  Tension that has simmered below the surface of the friendly faces in the community began to erupt.  The subsequent jury verdict of involuntary manslaughter caused a great deal of grief for those who felt it unfair, unjust and biased against the African American community.  There were peaceful protests and marches and a lot of media coverage.  The hot story for the media was, of course, the racial tension simmering in Powhatan county.  
Not long after, some idiot planted KuKluxKlan literature throughout the county – surreptitiously, of course; stuck in mailboxes and yards, inviting folks to join their organization.
(Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth, just a little.)
Several pastors got together last week to talk about what the local church community could and should do.  The silence thus far had been deafening; and so, plans were made, and in four short days, we organized a community Unity Service.  And new relationships were formed.
Last night, after worshiping in our own churches on Sunday morning (still, the most segregated place in our community), we came together.  Since we currently worship at the high school, which was to be the host site (thanks to the generosity of the Powhatan School Board), PCC was very involved in most of the practical aspects of the gathering.
We threw out an “all-call” for anyone who wanted to sing in the community choir, and scheduled a 4:00 rehearsal.  We had no idea what to expect, but we’d put together a few song ideas and decided that we’d do what God’s artists do – we’d create something.
We ended up with about 75 folks in the community choir – with huge diversity.  Black, white, Baptist, Pentacostal, Mennonite – it was a jumbled mess of humanity.  And, oh, did we sing…..
I’ve never witnessed anything like this in my life.  We sang loudly and it was glorious, all those voices.  From the stage, we looked out over a crowd that represented every color, tons of churches – and many folks with no church affiliation, who just came in search of peace and unity.  We estimate that around 900 folks were in the room last night, and it was an incredible surge of energy and positive power, reflecting the incredible depth of strength God provides when we humble ourselves to one another, submit to Him and just get together with one simple purpose:  to say that we are His people.
We got news coverage, and it was positive.  The reports did not flash back or focus on the negative – they showed a community commited to grasping hands and declaring that things could and should and would be different.
At the end of the service, all the area pastors were called onto the stage.  Representing black and white churches, all of whom worship and minister in different styles, our leaders stood together to demonstrate something far beyond anything we could have manufactured.  I still have no words for what I witnessed.
But I’ll tell you that what I heard was more magical and beautiful than any music I’ve ever created.  The simple sound of voices singing together – minimal rehearsal, no assignment of parts, just instructions to sing – it was.  absolutely.  stunning.
I’m thinking that an eternity of worship doesn’t sound too bad.
On the practical side, here’s the way the service went:
You Are Good – Most contemporary chuches know this tune.  We rocked the house.  It was a GREAT declaration of the goodness of God, and an incredible way to launch the service.
At the Foot of the Cross (Greg Ferguson/Willow Creek)This song has always been a challenge (for me) in it’s format.  There’s something about it that has never quite held together in a way that’s comfortable.  But the message in the lyric is brilliant and was a perfect fit for the night.  
Five pastors then spoke, each on a different topic:  Love, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Comfort and Unity.  They each had five minutes – and of course they each went over, just a bit.  Hello – they are pastors!  But it was worth it.  Each speaker was followed by another pastor representing a different church or race, whose role it was to pray.  Beautiful stuff.
We showed A Thousand Questions, a film from Willow Creek that is absolutely stellar in quality and content.  If you haven’t seen this, you should.  If you haven’t used it, you should.  (You can purchase the dvd from the WillowCreekAssociation.)
As the video ended, we asked folks in the room to gather round for prayer – to find somebody of another race, from another church, and pray together.  And the choir began to sing I Need You To Survive, directed by the amazing Aleisha from Little Zion Baptist Church.  We moved into a creative version of Jesus Never Fails, with a call and answer from the choir that was stunning and so powerful – and rich for me, because I was able to just stand in the choir and sing.
We closed with Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and I swear, I felt the heavens break open and the angels sing with us.  
What a night.  There’s little more to say, but my heart is full and will never be the same.
Read one pastor’s perspective on the night here.

Catch some of the media coverage here.

And here’s A Thousand Questions.  Go buy this vid and show it to your church.

Being The Church

“I have visited a lot of churches throughout my short life, and in the last 10 years, I can recall only once when a couple I did not know came up to me after a service and invited me and my wife to a meal with them.”

I read that today on this blog and was really struck by the implied challenge.  

So much of my emotional and physical resources are spent thinking about church, preparing for church, working for church, talking to people about church, “doing” church – and yet this one statement (along with what followed) really got me thinking about what it means for me to say that I “do church”.
I prepare, work for, talk about, “do” church – but am I being the church?
I’m going to spend some time today thinking about this, and asking God to show me how I can step up.

“I believe that until we get our thinking to change from church being something we go to as opposed to something that we are, we will never understand the call to community and communion…

This thinking of going versus being has permeated our culture in more than just church. Gone are the days when work was something we did. We now go to work. Education used to be something that we did by learning at all times. Now we go to school. We’ve removed the responsibility of being the church, doing work, and learning by making it something other than a part of us. Perhaps this is why it’s easier to complain about church, work and school because they are places instead of postures.

Our thinking must change. Our actions must change. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying.’ He was also convinced that action by a few wasn’t enough, it would take all of us. ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.’ ” – Brad Abare, emphasis mine

Making Something Out Of Nothing

The church gets to be the church when we reach out and help someone.  Sometimes it’s an emotional need, sometimes spiritual.  Sometimes people need a friend, a listening ear.  Sometimes they need guidance and direction.

Sometimes they need the basics of life.
Frances and Shannon Wells go to our church.  They are a young couple with three small children – Andrew, Brittney and Lee.  They’re awesome people.
Yesterday, their house burned.  They were renting, and without renter’s insurance, they’re left with nothing.

We’re rallying around them to help – at band rehearsal last night, our small group of musicians handed over gift cards from their own Christmas gifts and over $400 in cash.  One of the junior high small groups took Frances shopping and spent $120 on basic necessities for the family.
Maybe you’d like to help, too. Nothing like the joy of making something out of nothing…

The church is handling monetary donations; you can contact the church office at 804.598.1174 or at http://www.powhatancc.org. You can mail a contribution to:

The Wells Family
c/o Powhatan Community Church
P.O. Box 834
Powhatan, VA

If you have any tangible items you would like to donate, please contact John Starkey (johnS@powhatancommunitychurch.org).