Practicing discipleship in community leads to transformation, we are changed through God's grace and can then participate more effectively in God's work to change the world.
Cindy Salter and Gay Wyche
It's Often the Little Things
FHPC has a Tuesday evening prayer group, a small group that gathers weekly to pray for the congregation, the greater church, the community and the world, and for those who, knowing of the group, request prayer. Participating in this group has transformed my prayer life, and thereby, my life in general. Used to be that I had to get in the "right mindset" to pray. It was a process - to clear my mind, focus on God, and then stay there. Now, I get there quicker. It might be an overstatement to say that I'm always in an attitude of prayer, but it is at least as though God is one click away, bookmarked, or an icon at the bottom of the computer screen instead of at the end of a novel. I think it is because of regularly meeting, focusing on prayer, and practicing with others. It didn't happen overnight, but now I always seem to have a sense of God's presence.
Hunger Too Deep For Words
FHPC went to Washington, D.C. in 2012 for a week of urban ministry, learning about and serving homeless and hungry and working in D.C.communities that were struggling.
But honestly, the day we looked forward to the most was the 4th. It was our first opportunity to celebrate our country's birthday on the mall with fireworks and thousands of fellow citizens. Our group packed coolers with cold water and our favorite soda. We made lunches and packed extra snacks. Just in case that wasn't enough, we stuck money in our pockets.
We made sure to get there early to secure a shady spot in the park and a clear view of the sky for fireworks. As we waited outside the gates, we chatted about what museums we would visit, and most importantly, what we would have for dinner...what restaurants were the best according to the Urban Spoon reviews.
I glanced up at the movement that caught my eye and saw a man standing at a trashcan, mumbling to himself. He was dirty, one of the homeless we were there to help. He began to dig through the trash, bent over, and fished out a partially eaten hot dog. He wiped off the excess garbage from the food and ate it. And he really didn't just eat it, he devoured it.
My eyes were opened. Watching that changed me. I had to ask then, and I have to ask now, how is God calling me to be a good steward of what I keep and what I give away? What is my part in changing my world so no one has to eat other's garbage?
Transformation in a Thin Place
For quite awhile I’ve heard people refer to Montreat as a “thin place”—a place where heaven and earth seem separated by only a membrane…a place where it’s easy to glimpse God’s kingdom on earth. I trusted what I was told…but now I actually get it. The experience is truly transformational. During the conference week our minds and hearts were engaged in a wide variety of activities that grew our faith and our discipleship practices—worshipping with the large conference group, discussing scripture and sermons with our small groups, and sharing nightly devotions in the intimate setting of our “back-home” group. It was truly a week of living the Forest Hills vision statement. Both adults and youth explored their gifts and became better equipped to use them. We talked about faith, and we put it into action by reaching out to others. This year in particular was a good time to see that happen, as we shared a house with a group of Montreat first-timers. Our youth stepped up to mentor these folks in a number of ways, including how to have thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions of keynotes, sermons, and scripture, how to plan and lead group devotions, and how to notice the presence of God. Probably without even being consciously aware of it, our youth responded, “Here I am,” over and over again when the Spirit called.
I, for one, came back from that thin place feeling as though I had returned from another planet...or at least another time zone. But i can assure you that we did not leave our Montreat experiences on the mountain. The renewal and strengthening of faith that we all gained from our trip remains with us and we will continue to take root and to blossom.
The first year Mom and Dad "suggested" we deliver Mobile Meals on Christmas Day, I was furious. I complained. I pouted. I refused to go. Christmas Day is precious to me. My preacher parents are home. All. Day. Long. They are not planning sermons or writing Sunday School materials. They are not answering texts and calls from congregation members in need. People usually manage not to die or get married and therefore there is no wedding or funeral to prepare for and attend. Our family gets to be “normal.” We get to spend time together opening presents, preparing and eating delicious food (with plenty left over), and we even go to the movies (when we can all agree on which one). I didn’t want this family time to change. The rest of the world could wait.
I went with them the second year they delivered Mobile Meals. Begrudgingly. We postponed presents by an hour and lunch by two. We still made the movie, ate popcorn, and drank diet coke. But those things didn’t seem so important. I did not lose time with my preacher-parents. With them, I handed food and love to my brothers and sisters in Christ and realized they are my family too.
On a day in which we celebrate the new life of Jesus, God-with-us, and claim the promise of new life as we follow Christ, I realized just how different my life is to those we minister to with Mobile Meals. I realized that I am not called to selfishly cling to the wonderful life I live, no matter how justified it seems. (I’m just asking to spend quality time with my family after all.) I am called to reach out and embrace my family in Christ.
On Christmas morning, for my immediate family, that means making sure our brothers and sisters do not go hungry. For me, now, it’s the only tradition that matters.
Walking a Labyrinth
It was the first time I had ever walked a labyrinth, and really I did not know what to expect. I had read about them and seen pictures so I knew the pattern. But what about the experience? I guessed it was supposed to be "spiritual," but I was a bit worried that I would not feel anything.
The idea to visit the labyrinth came from a Tuesday evening prayer group. Others in the group had participated in this ancient practice and encouraged us to do the same. We picked a date and traveled to a nearby church to walk. Erica gave me some information to guide my walk.
We entered as we were ready. I started, but stopped and returned to the car to grab my phone and take some pictures for my granddaughter who had never heard of a labyrinth.
After I entered the second time, I got lost as I traveled the gravel path...lost in God's Love and lost in the closeness to God I felt. This is the hard part to describe; words are inadequate. I felt God with me, and I was walking, living, breathing one of my favorite scriptures, Joshua 1:9: "Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take."
These words have carried me through some tough times. I was blessed to enter the labyrinth and walk with God and others who encouraged me.
I would love to walk with others in a labyrinth journey.
"A true leader is not the one with the most followers, but one who creates the most leaders."
Forest Hills embodies this statement through the ministry, the children's programs, the various leadership pathways, and the community outreach programs.
I came to this church looking for refuge and compassion. But I received much more. Not only was I showered with love by you all, but I also learned a priceless lesson. I learned that I am whole. I am the greatest miracle. We all are.
Through the numerous sermons, I understood that I can be whatever I choose to be. There is nothing to do but to be. Whatever I want to be; happy; sad; weak; strong; joyful; vengeful; insightful; blind; good; bad; you name it. I have nothing to do but to just be.
Thus, I do not have to have money, to drive a particular car, to visit a particular site to be happy. I just need to choose to be happy. I keep growing each day. I am 29 years old, but deep inside, I am still a baby.
Last Sunday, i had another light bulb moment during Beth's sermon. Nothing lasts forever. The pain I feel today is a mere experience, and no experience is permanent. It evolves to something different, higher, greater. The child of today will become an adult tomorrow. Night gives way to day., and vice versa. New gets old, current becomes obsolete. Summer gives way to fall, and so on and so forth.
However, there is only one thing I can keep constant. Me. The who I am., the who I choose to be. The me who remains invariable in spite of several variable life circumstances.
To sum up, I learned that I do not need to be spectacular, but simply available. Today, I have a better understanding of the word acceptance; acceptance of one self, and acceptance of others. Today, I am convinced that love is all there is.