A Christmas Story
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you, when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God” (Isaiah 43:2-3a)
When we come together for the Holidays, we often hear stories that warm our hearts. I want to share with you an excerpt of the Great River Region’s story. We were born in 2002 as three states considered their mission, vision and long-term financial sustainability in order to provide a pastoral presence and administrative support to their churches. After many months of strategic planning with task teams, and decisions around staffing and development and resource allocations, we came together as one region. Our leaders made huge sacrifices for us to become one region. They walked this path not knowing what our future would be today. They made a commitment that no state around us would be left behind. Some came on board with excitement, others came with uncertainty.
And then Hurricane Katrina happened. One storm changed the trajectory of our future, forcing us to face our will to survive and rebuild, to bring hope to a damaged state. Members in Louisiana congregations made difficult choices about where they would live, and how they would rebuild their communities. Our partners came from all over the nation to provide relief and long term recovery. And we were grateful.
Over the past eight years of my tenure, we have done some amazing things together. I walked into congregations who needed a regional presence. We became presence for each other. I can say whereas we were once separated, disjointed, aloof about our identity, we are now in better spaces spiritually, geographically, and relationally. We move through Connection (staying close while spread apart), Covenant (saying yes to be the church), and Support (having each other’s back).
Several weeks ago, we sat together at our Annual Gathering, to consider our preferred future story. We heard story who confronted how death keeps showing up, and losing. We heard a 4th of July story of miracles with children needing to have a great experience. We heard a story of one who beat the tornado in the middle of the tornado. We heard a story around vocation and calling, confidence in God’s call to service. The youthful innocence in chasing a call, friendships and wounds of bullying and theological abuse. We acknowledged a future story that we chose six years ago and accomplished those goals. We realized that we have a bright future as the Great River Region.
Dr. David Anderson Hooker, Transforming Communities Conferences, and consultant for the Narrative Project, challenged us by asking these questions, “Will you believe that the realm of God is at hand here in the GRR, so that this a new narrative becomes your work? We are small enough to change and large enough to change the world.”
You may ask what is unfolding in God’s future for us? What are we seeing or experiencing that cannot be explained by the problems that we see in our churches and communities? Deeper relationships with God and each other, an increase in ministry capacity through those same relationships. Trust is showing us that God is up to something. We want the word of God to be seen and taught as relevant because we have the heart for education within the body. Young people are continuing to make room for God in their lives, and they are coming to church. They are still going to camps from Northwest AR, Mississippi and Louisiana.
There was the recognition that we fall short and still move in deep conversations. We envision hubs throughout the states for distribution of disaster relief resources. We know that souls are at risk, so we take this ministry seriously. There is a growing sense of grace at the core of who we are, this grace and agape that moves in all of us. We make a choice for the future of our churches by creating spaces of grace, hope, and curiosity. Churches and congregations are praying together, connection and trust of God and one another are relevant. There is a commitment to live in covenant life together.
What commitments have we made to our church, to our region, and to the wider denomination? My brothers and sisters, our calling is to make God’s mission our mission. We embody the call to live and be the body of Christ. We embrace the empowering spirit that God breathed into the church on the day of Pentecost. We are called to see ourselves as instruments of God’s purposes in the world, inviting all to participate in God’s generosity. We have the privilege of being partners with God in God’s redeeming work in the world, God’s agent in counteracting greed and scarcity, bringing forth the abundance that Jesus Christ promised. Through new church ministry, disaster relief, search and call, camp and conference, Disciples women and men’s ministries, mentoring candidates in specialized ministries, all grounded in the power of prayer
Will you partner with in writing and living into our preferred future together? We are seeking for those who want to do more. We are seeking to challenge those who have time, talent, and treasures to give, but for whatever reason, have not made that leap of faith. We want to challenge smaller churches to join us. If you can see yourself in this story, then join us in what we already see happening in the realm of God. We open our hearts to share bountifully what God made us stewards over. We will continue this journey through overwhelming waters of life, through rivers of difficulty, and fires of an uncertain future. “We are the Great River Region, a movement that empowers Disciples congregations to transform the world through the gospel, of Jesus Christ. We reach, teach, and transform lives through the love of Jesus Christ.” This is our story, this is our song, praising our Savior, all the day long.”