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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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celebration

An Indispensable Church

An Indispensable Churches Post

The white frame church sits on a low ridge above the little village.  It’s been on that ridge for over 100 years, looking over the comings and goings of the village and its people.  And there have been plenty of comings and goings here in this pleasant village in southeastern Ohio.  At one time this was a busy place, the home of miners and farmers that would come to this church every Sunday by the hundreds.  Weddings and funerals, baptisms and celebrations and farewells were held here time and again as the people came and went from the area.

These days the strip mines are closed and farming is harder than ever.  The population in the area is way less than it used to be.  Even for the 100th anniversary of this congregation, hundreds of people did not show up, though the celebration was wonderful and fun.  They haven’t been able to afford a full-time pastor for a lot of years, so other congregations in their district have shared their pastors with them.  On Sunday mornings twice a month the congregation meets in the morning to worship, using sermons provided by one of those pastors.  On Sunday afternoons the other Sundays of the month one of those “shared” pastors makes the two-hour trip to worship with them, bring the Good News of Jesus to them, and celebrate Holy Communion in their worship service.   Sometimes he stays to have dinner at somebody’s home. Less than two dozen people come to these services, some of them struggling with the infirmities of age.  Hospitalized members are usually cared for by the pastor of a Lutheran church in the next county.

But babies are born and baptized here.  Young people are confirmed, then married.  Twice a month the saints of God in this place celebrate Holy Communion.  In the summertimes the congregation has opened its building to servant-event groups coming into southeastern Ohio to do mission / service projects in the Appalachian foothills.  Sister congregations have sent Vacation Bible School teams there as well as other service project teams.  (For all the financial people:  this congregation has a higher annual per capital giving amount than the majority of its sister congregations in the district, though it is one of the smallest.)

This congregation is small, and getting smaller.  We don’t know how long it will last, or what it’s future will be.  The kids that grow up there, get married and move away, so it keeps getting smaller.  Is it dying?  Is it on the verge?  Shall we do something to encourage the few who are still “hanging on” there to follow others westward or southward 30-40 miles to the next nearest congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  Or shall we think again about whether this is one of those Indispensable Churches

It’s Indispensable because of its location – one of only two LCMS churches in an entire quadrant of the State of Ohio (almost 20 0f the 88).  It’s Indispensable because of the opportunities it offers others to be of service.  It’s Indispensable because it offers sister congregations opportunities to expand their ideas of ministry and fellowship beyond their own walls and embrace the saints of God in this little village.  It’s Indispensable because it offers those congregations opportunities to share their pastors with these saints, and it offers the pastors opportunities to see their own ministries as wider than the communities to which God has called them.  It’s Indispensable because the Word and the Sacrament are there, and so is Christ.  It’s Indispensable because the people of God gathered in this place are the temple of the Holy Spirit in this little village in the hills of southeastern Ohio.  If someone ever asks, “where might I go to find the Holy Spirit’s temple here in Pleasant City, Ohio?”  people could point to the white frame church up on the north ridge.  It’s Indispensable because it is named Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and together with St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church on the south ridge the saints of God in Pleasant City have these visible reminders that the Triune God who loves them, who redeemed them, who sanctifies them, and the angels that He assigns to protect them, are watching over them always.

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Celebrating the Unborn

From The Formational Pastor

 

One of the things that the church can do to provide a healing, formational atmosphere for the people it serves is to model healthy relationships and behaviors.  We know that the ways in which we celebrate and welcome newcomers into the family of God in our particular place can create positive memories for them.  If we make habits out of these celebrations they may become a part of the culture of the congregation, and people will assume “this is a church that celebrates people.”

Many churches celebrate the addition of infant members into their midst through a rite like a Dedication, or the Sacrament of Baptism.  The words and form of these rites not only welcome these children into the local congregation, but since the rites also have some root in history we are saying that the children are being welcomed into the church through the ages as well.  But there is more that we might do, I think.

At our congregation, when it comes to distributing the Lord’s Supper we have a few people come up to the front of the church at a time, where they kneel at a rail.  One of the elders goes along the rail and gives out the bread, and I follow to give out the wine.  We encourage children to come along with their parents.  Although we don’t give communion to small children, I do pause at each one, place my hand on their head, and bless them because of their Baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus, praying that “He will fill them with all joy and hope in believing in Him” or something similar.  Most of the children seem genuinely happy to receive this blessing – even the infants are enthralled.

But there is one more step I use to celebrate the presence of these children of God in our midst.  If one of the persons at the communion rail is a pregnant woman, after I give her the Blood of Jesus I pause, place my hand gently on her head, and pray a prayer of blessing for the child that she is carrying.  These unborn ones are part of God’s family in our place, too, and deserve the prayers and anticipation of the entire body just as they do from their immediate family.  And when we begin to celebrate them before they are born, we know that they are already a beloved part of our family when we finally do see them.

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