October 25, 2011

Sharing Our Own Selves

                One of the best parts of my work is visiting congregations that shaped Central students for their vocation in ministry.  I am always curious to learn what nurture or example a congregation provides to cultivate the calling of one of its own.  On Sunday I traveled through the shimmering fall scenes to Hamilton, MO, to preach; I am sure that I was more blessed than they as I participated in their services.  Active lay leadership was in abundance as I witnessed their roles in worship planning, mission projects, community service, and genuine care for one another.  One of the saints even shared her abundance of turnips with others in attendance.  Sadly, I got in line for my bag full too late!

                I knew this was the home church of one of our graduates, Brian Ford, who now serves as pastor of the Little Bonne Femme Church, Columbia, MO.  My host for the morning was his father, a faithful deacon, wise and respected for his leadership. That was my first clue. 

Then I met an older woman, Mrs. Anderson, who told me that at one point in the church’s life Brian was the only child his age.  She determined that she would commit herself to being his teacher and that they would explore the Bible and faith together.  She is a remarkable woman.  I quickly learned that she is the conscience of the church, in many respects.  She is encouraging the “Backpack Buddies” program because she is concerned about the hunger problem among school children on weekends.  She is also the force behind the “Operations Christmas Child” initiative that fills decorative shoe boxes with gifts.  She was my second clue.  I imagined her devotion to Brian was an encouraging source of his Christian and vocational formation.  She spoke proudly of him as one of her own.

                Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8 of the promise of authentic sharing for the purposes of the gospel.  Gentle tending of others is transformative, and generous sharing of self allows a space where another might “fearlessly enter,” in the words of Henri Nouwen.  As the Apostle recounts his relationship with the Thessalonians, one gets the sense that he could not offer the gospel of God without also offering his own self. I believe that is true for us, as well.  Embodying the truth of what we profess is the best witness.

                Hamilton Baptist Church also bears the faithful imprint of its pastor, Dr. Doug Crabb.  A seasoned pastor, he has come alongside this congregation with gentle guidance and wisdom born of years of sharing his life with congregations he has led.  I was grateful to step into the flow of this church’s response to the summons of the gospel; it was a blessing to share myself with these good people.

                Molly T. Marshall

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