What Are We Sent For?

by Pastor Doug Kelly (from September/October 2019 Briefs)

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”    –Jesus, from John 20:21

When I was a kid, my mother would often send me to Hightower’s Market two blocks down Morse Street to purchase some ground round for burgers at dinner.  Sometimes, however, she’d send me not for ground round but for ground chuck.  The problem was, by the time I’d arrive at the store, I’d forget which cut of beef I was sent for.  It happens to all of us.  Churches too.  We’re given a mission, but with all the distractions on the way we forget.  Why has Bethany been sent to Queen Anne in the heart of Seattle?

At its July 9th meeting, Session approved our new Purpose, Character and Direction Statement, updated from previous such statements in 2002 and 2007.  The statement is Bethany’s attempt to remember and focus, to name the why, who, and what: Why are we here? Who are we? What is God calling us to do?  We call it purpose, character, and direction.  If you haven’t already, I suggest that you read the entire statement published on the Bethany homepage at www.bethanypc.org. You can also find hard copies on the Welcome Table in the lobby.  Let me offer comments on each section, especially our newest section on “direction.”

Our Purpose: Written decades ago and unchanged by our current Session, this is the why of our worshiping community.   It’s the 50,000 foot view of what we’ve been sent for: “to be grounded in God’s love, centered on Jesus Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to be a blessing to our world, our city and one another.”

Our Character:  In 2014 the session and congregation worked together to name our DNA code.  This we call “character.”  It’s how we do things at Bethany and how we live together.  This is pretty much unchanging stuff, just like our own individual DNA.  It’s not who we aspire to be, but simply who we are.

Our Direction:  This is more of the 10,000 foot view that Session has been discerning recently.  This isn’t a strategy, a detailed set of new goals and objectives.  Neither does it try to name everything we do.  Rather, through a lengthy process of prayer and discernment, Session has identified specific “growing edges,” places where we see God moving either in our church or in our world and beckoning us to join the Lord in this work.

We are hearing God call us in the next few years to be intergenerational, invitational and incarnational in five ways.   These directional thrusts are not meant to exclude all the other ministries we engage in.  As the statement puts it: “This is not an attempt to list all of Bethany’s ministries, nor should it be seen as marginalizing any of them.”

At the risk of distilling the statement further, it seems to me that one might see a unifying thread of hospitality in these five directions. Hospitality is the practice of creating space for the other to thrive and grow; it is a vital practice in the Bible.

We hear God calling us at Bethany to “invite newcomers into a welcoming church family.”  I constantly hear from first time worshipers that they feel welcomed by others in worship.   But what about community beyond Sunday morning?  God is leading us with new small groups, better church wide communication, and clearer entry points to Bethany through gatherings, classes, and ministries like ALPHA.  

We feel called to “invest in senior and emerging adults.”  Bethany has a large baby boomer population of 60 – 70 year olds.  In ten years that will become a large group of 70 – 80 year olds, something Bethany has not experienced in more than a half century.   

Hospitality means making space to benefit from the wisdom, time and energy of this group and to serve new needs.  As we grow older as a church we also feel called to grow younger.   God is bringing a growing number of millennials to our worship services and wants to create space at Bethany for them to flourish and grow in Christ.  What does Bethany hospitality look like in a city that’s a magnet for 20 somethings?  

In an interesting way, making space for the other includes making space for the voice of the Other, a Holy God.  Session has discerned that this is a season to “immerse ourselves in scripture.”  Are we in tune with our Story as a people of God in our worship, study and community life?   How can you make space for scripture in your own life so that, in Paul’s words, the “word of Christ may dwell in you richly?” (Colossians 3:16) 

In the Bible, of course, hospitality starts with the stranger, the alien, and the immigrant, and so it is that God is calling Bethany to “incarnate Jesus mercy” to refugees.  We’re feeling called to build on Bethany’s history of ministry to immigrants, a history that includes the housing of  refugees on our property in the 80’s, our decades long partnership with World Relief refugee resettlement, or our more recent partnership with Seattle World School. 

Finally, we hear God calling us to “incarnate Kingdom justice” around racism.  Henri Nouwen says, “Hospitality, means the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of any enemy.”  How can God use Bethany to create space where polarized groups can become friends?  This is a call to “understand” the truths of our church history, name lingering systemic racism, and to “practice anti-racism through compassionate and informed action.”  

In her novel “Lila,” Marilynne Robinson reveals the back story of the wife of the Rev. John Ames, the voice in her celebrated novel Gilead.  Lila, reflecting on a homeless and chaotic childhood, makes this comment on one season of relative stability in the family she traveled with: “it seemed that they knew who they were and where they should be and what they should be doing.”

Bethany’s Purpose, Character and Direction Statement is not a centralized five year plan etched in granite.  Being a resurrection people means we can never quite be sure where, when, and how Jesus is going to show up.  And given our DNA we know that we will be listening, “anticipating that the Holy Spirit will guide us.”  Meanwhile, it’s good to seem to know who we are and where we should be and what we should be doing.

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