September 16, 2013

Tending the Desolate

            I witnessed a remarkable church doing God’s work yesterday.  Persons with real challenges—addictions, prison records, mental disability, homelessness, and domestic chaos—all showed up for the services at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City.  Welcoming and accompanying them, this congregation made room for those on the margin.  They even have a “security team” that companions persons whose needs or demands are so urgent as to be disruptive.

            The reading from the Hebrew Bible recounts Jeremiah’s (and God’s) lament over the suffering of God’s people:
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? (Jeremiah 8:21-22)
From what I witnessed yesterday, the health of God’s people is being restored as faithful persons allow intrusion into their lives. 

            This historic downtown church, right near the capitol building of Missouri, is seeking to be the presence of Christ to those too often left behind—and I am not speaking of the rapture!  I sensed the wind of the Spirit blowing through the congregation.  It is not surprising that this is the church that nurtured our own Rev. Robin Sandbothe, gifted and compassionate Director of Seminary Relations.
            Good pastoral leadership fosters tending the desolate.  I observed the senior pastor, Dr. Doyle Sager, tenderly greeting those with pressing concerns.  (He also continued to receive calls during lunch, following up on security issues from the morning.)  I witnessed Rev. Jeanie McGowan, our treasured alumna, patiently engaging a man with a domestic dispute, greatly aggravated by his being “off his meds.”  I witnessed the pastor for worship find ways to include a variety of persons in the service; I observed the easy camaraderie of the youth pastor with her adolescents, who always needs the reliable guidance of trusted adults.

Rev. McGowan and her husband Keith, her greatest supporter, have moved into a troubled area a few blocks from the church so that they might help anchor their neighborhood and create a sense of hope.  The reality of their neighbors is with them daily, and the beauty of flowers on a welcoming front porch is a tangible expression of healing grace.
God desires willing instruments to share in tikkun olam, the mending of creation, as the Jewish tradition puts it.  So much good can transpire when God’s people make tending the desolate their priority.

Molly T. Marshall

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