In my recent letter of transfer to notify Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi of the Oertel family joining our congregation, I included a note of sympathy for a church that is grieving the loss of a much beloved former pastor, and let them know that he had been lifted in prayer here on May 6 as well. I wanted to find out more about him, so I went online and found a couple news articles in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger that included what I think is a great vision of the church:
Olivier forced the congregation to think about the gospel message in new ways that was sometimes uncomfortable, she said. “But it was the kind of discomfort that promotes growth, and our church was deeply affected by his ministry,” she said. “He loved to remind us that we should be ‘Port Galloway’ and not ‘Fort Galloway.’ He loved that image of the port as a bustling place of life, vitality and energy, and he pushed us toward that.”
The Clarion Ledger, May. 4, 2012, accessed May 18, 2012
I think I have a new catchphrase to add to the marquee! “The church is a port, not a fort.” What an inspiring witness, especially in a week when we look forward to Memorial Day and the last Annual Conference held in Tulsa. How often do we think of the church as a repository of our memories and sentimentalities, and then marshal our efforts into defending it?! Perhaps the church doesn’t need our defending at all, but instead should be opened up so that people of all sorts may come and find safe harbor and a place to “set down their cargo” to take up the yoke of Christ! Yes—a fort is where we find protection from the world, and a port is a network of places that connects the world! It is a place of lightening the load and taking on new commitments.
Now, applied to the goings-on at hand, Memorial Day and Annual Conference, one might ask, “How can memorializing our lost loved ones not find its endpoint in pining away for days gone by, but instead become a source of life, vitality, and energy?” Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he (I just can’t get over how it seems so callously) dismisses the idea of a potential disciple going first to bury his father before following along with him by saying, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60, Matthew 8:22) Though it sure seems like a harsh statement to be reminded of on Memorial Day weekend, it will perhaps inform and enlighten how we approach memorializing the dead. How does my memorializing “live beyond” laying flowers on a grave and include advancing the Kingdom of God? One might be tempted at Annual Conference to orient the current state of the church in marked contrast to the “glory days,” especially when marking an occasion that is a “last,” such as this year. Perhaps remembrance which only ends in nostalgia, both for cherished memories with loved ones and with churches glorifying “days gone by,” is a whirlpool that sucks our energies down into the murk. Whirlpools are caused by the collision of opposing currents, after all, and it would seem that when the “current” of our energies are directed toward self-obsession, then God’s current is surely going opposite us. Beware of whirlpools that suck you down in these instances. But when our current flows into God’s current, we find a merged and broader one that moves “ships into port” more effectively than before!
I am currently developing a Bible Study on Acts that focuses on how the first church made the transition from thinking of “The Way,” as a “fort” for their own cultural heritage into a “port” that would service the world. I’m open to suggestions on when it would be best to offer such a study. Let me know!