By Pastor Deb Stehlin
I had one of the most remarkable Sundays of my ministry not long ago. In the morning, I practiced the ministry of showing up, and joined the people of Edina Community Lutheran Church for their first Sunday after Pastor Stephanie died. I was a witness to these things: Seeing people enter the building and fall into each others’ arms, hearing broken-hearted people sing sustaining songs, smelling the perfumed oil as I traced crosses on mourners’ foreheads, and holding in my hand bread that carries the presence of Christ and strength for the week.
“The grief of an entire faith community is immense and is heavy. Is there anything strong enough to hold it?”
The community named the truth of their profound sadness, proclaimed the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and insisted that even as their hearts were breaking, they were being broken open for the sake of joining God’s mission in the world.
The grief of an entire faith community is immense and is heavy. Is there anything strong enough to hold it? Yes! A community that lives trusting the work of God in Jesus is indeed strong enough to hold all this.
AFTERWARD, I GOT IN MY car and drove to Fridley, where our new Hmong ministry is taking root. Pastor Nhiabee Vang invited me to show up to witness nine people getting baptized. This was the second such Sunday in which baptismal candles were stacked up to be ready for a large group of people who have heard the good news about God’s love for us in Jesus and want to be part of Christ’s body, the church.
There was such joy! Being claimed by this amazing, grace-filled God and being received by a vibrant Christian community as siblings, made the new Christians (and more experienced ones) feel buoyant and light. Where else can you go to be set free like that? What else can hold this immense, expansive promise of God, except for Christian community?
“Being claimed by this amazing, grace-filled God and being received by a vibrant Christian community as siblings, made the new Christians feel buoyant and light.”
My call was renewed that day. What a valuable, beautiful, and sometimes fragile thing is a faith community! What else has the strength to hold the worst that life brings, and can also carry the best that God has to give us? I want my life to be about the flourishing of faith communities, … because nothing else can hold what life and death bring.