20th Anniversary Reflection for Providence Baptist Church
Rev. Dr. Michelle McClendon, Associate Pastor, 2014-2017
August 25, 2021

Happy Anniversary dear Providence! I’m delighted to be here on this day to celebrate with you. I have deep and abiding love for you as individuals and as a community of followers. I have many good memories of my time here among you that will sustain me through the remainder of my life, not the least of which is the first time we worshipped with you here. 

That was Easter Sunday 2014. I had already been invited by your Associate Pastor search committee to join your staff. Before we said yes, Rod and I wanted to visit worship to see if we thought this place of ministry was a fit for us and we a fit for you. We thought if we came on Easter we would be incognito, that we’d be able to slip in and slip out pretty much unnoticed amidst all the Easter crowd. That was a mistake! We walked up and joined you in the processional line, holding our flowers for the Easter cross. The line was long, but we were NOT incognito. Far from it. You knew we were visitors and you made us feel so welcome from the start, asking our names, telling us how glad you were that we had come. During the processional, we sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” … we sang it … and we sang it… and we sang it… I think we sang it through about 5 times before the procession was complete. When we finally sat down, a small child in the back said loudly, “WOW, that was a LONG song!” And instead of shushing that child, you laughed and clapped!!! We learned from the outset that this place loved and affirmed its children, allowed them a place among you, gave them leadership responsibilities in worship from the moment they could walk down this aisle. You trusted them… really…you let them carry in the fire. Rod and I realized that this was an unusual place when we saw how you welcomed and trusted your children to bear the light of God among you. 

But God was not finished with Rod and me that day. We took a moment to look at the worship order which held an invitation for congregational response after the sermon. When we saw that, Rod leaned over to me, pointed to it, and said, “this will NEVER happen.” Julie finished her sermon that day and sat down. Silence fell and lasted for a while. Rod leaned over and whispered, “Told ya.” But then folks started to speak… one by one, offering words of insight, renewal, confession, faith; words full of honesty and depth. We fell in love with this place that day. The spirit showed up, surprising us among you, time and time again. We soon learned that this was just the Providence way!

This was a place of healing for us. We felt welcomed from the moment we walked in this door, and we grew spiritually, regained equilibrium, were challenged to grow deeper in our relationships with God and in our engagement in this world. All that is important and I celebrate it now as I did while I was here with you, but the most wonderful thing I found in this place is the authenticity you demanded of me and of yourselves… the freedom to be fully myself with you in this place. What a gift that was to me. Thank you. Hold fast to that quality, because authenticity leads to wholeness. Honesty builds trust and leads to clarity.

I know that transitions in congregations are difficult to negotiate, and you have had more than your share in these past years. I believe that transitions are thin places where the presence of God abides if we are present to the Spirit. As I was preparing for this assignment today, I ran across this “Call to Open Us” that we used to center ourselves for worship. I want you to hear it and let it offer you hope and peace in the midst of this transition. Know that you are loved.

One: When you hear God call, will you follow?

Many: We come without fear, even though we do not know what the future holds for us.

One: Will you venture into God’s unknown way, willing to be changed, trusting yourself to God’s care and presence?

Many: We ask for courage and strength to be faithful disciples, open to the transforming power of God.

One: Will you let God’s love be shown and God’s name be known through you?

Many: We will follow where God leads and give ourselves fully to God’s call to love and give.

One: Will you let God’s life of justice, compassion, and mercy grow in you as you follow in trust and hope?

All: We will seek to trust and not be afraid. May the God who hears every cry and always finds a gracious way be present with us, provide us with living water, and inspire our steps when we falter. 

 

Providence, my prayer for you is that you will seek that presence, trust in it, give your fears to the one who hold the future. The future is never clear or sure, always full of surprising grace. And always remember that God’s middle name is surprise!

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