When my parents separated in the late ’40’s and waved goodbye to the church we attended (and the wave was returned), our grandparents took my brother and sister and me to the new start-up Grace Brethren church meeting at the Harrisburg, Pa., YWCA.
Wen when our grandparents donated land for a new church building just a block from our houses, we were there “whenever the doors were open,” as one verse says. My brother was head usher at age 16, and I was his assistant at 15. I won the national youth preaching contest when I was 16. We prayed with the church on Wednesday evenings and went out on visitation on ursdays. Of course, there were four or ve sessions every Sunday.
Bear with me. Then I went to Grace College and Seminary for eight years, including teaching journalism at the college; served two years as associate pastor with one of the most conservative and best Grace Brethren pastors; before loving 15 years as pastor at Ashland, Ohio’s Grace Brethren Church, with a simultaneous seven years as lead director at CE National in Winona Lake, Ind.
My last two years of that I was also moderator of the national Fellowship and chair of the two-year study committee on Brethren distinctives.
I’m just saying; I know the Charis Fellowship. (Nice new name!)
And even as I served 26 years at the Chapel, an independent church, and then began coaching pastors and teaching these last eight years, I have kept many connections and touches.
May I offer some observations from an insider who went another direction not far away?
Celebrate your relationships and friendships with each other. You can be close to many in ministry, but there are strong connections with partners in the Fellowship. Enjoy those for sure. Keep them candid and major on uni ed goals. ese connections can be so supportive and joyful.
Never go back to arguing about smaller issues and areas of distinctives rather than majoring on mission and what unites! I remember writing on my national conference business agenda, standing on the platform while moderating, “What am I doing leading a meeting with people arguing about nuances of words?”
It does seem like those days are over, and that there is grace (or is it charis?) for differences in practices. There is so much for all of us to do, and it seems like liberty calls us to keep featuring what is especially clear and our main mission.
Forget forever the little fundamentalist legalisms that scared us about dancing and people who differed on wine. My fourth grade Sunday school teacher told me that if I were in a movie when Jesus returned, I wouldn’t go along back to heaven. I was scared to death when I came out of King Kong, the movie.
I think we all agree that we need to be hard on ourselves and easy on others. And King Kong really would not have been worth it, if my teacher’s theory had been true.
Rejoice together in the mutual embracing and proclaiming of our verbally inspired Bible. Many denominations and fellowships have fudged on that central one. Or at least on teaching it like it deserves expository centrality.
I will say that I used to smile when comrades boasted that we were a “non-creedal church,” while reciting a sort-of creed, “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.”
Join the many who do not wave goodbye to the hurting people churches used to neglect, and who gain ground for grace in their communities, starting ministries or partnering with others. Many good churches waited too long on this, thinking only that mission was about crossing the salt-water, but it is never too late.
Cherish your national and worldwide combination ministries. They seem robust and creative, and most of us who knew Winona Lake, Ind., as the Holy Land can accept that some of them have moved to other spots! And the ones that have stayed there – those I still know best – are vibrant and good for the churches and many others.
Be glad for what looks like undeniable honor to younger pastors too, with allowance for them to lead and model church life and mission. It seems like there is honor also to the veterans without establishing a “Good Ol’ Boys” club” that has hurt so many fellowships and denominations.
Give thanks for the strong mood of love for other church- es and fellowships, with little thought that you are Lone Rangers or the only true depos- it place for God’s grace! No one ever really believed that, but it might have sounded so at times.
I will always be grateful for those who remained encouraging friends when I made the hard decision to go to another church, and I threw away the nasty notes that called it heresy. I am sure they did not really mean it!
I just wanted to give thanks to God for you, and to commend you for wonderful gains for the kingdom of our Lord and Master, whom we serve together. — by Knute Lason
Knute Larson coaches pastors and churches, majoring on pulpit, leadership, and daily grace. He draws from his 41 years of experience as senior pastor of two churches: Grace Brethren Church, Ashland, Ohio, and The Chapel, Akron, Ohio.