This is Thanksgiving Week. Tonight at dinner, a fellow resident called out to me as Molly and I were leaving the dining room: "Is there a Pilgrim Thanksgiving Service at your church again this year? I want to be sure to receive my five kernels of corn."
He had been before, and heard the Pilgrim drums beaten as they were to call Plimoth Colony to church as in those earliest days on New England's forbidding coast. Churches down the years since 1621 have given worshippers each five kernels of corn, to remind them of the starvation of that first terrible winter when half their company died, and to remember that feast of Thanksgiving the next fall when they reaped a harvest thanks to Squanto and other Indian friends who had helped them plant and receive from God the blessing of a crop that saved the lives of their remaining numbers.
It's a grand tradition we have tried to keep through these last 55 years of Colonial Church's life. It's one of the reasons for Colonial's name within the history in America, of the Congregational churches.
These were the churches of the Pilgrims - those 102 young people, who separated from the Church of England to found a free way of church life led by the Holy Spirit among the people gathered together as "the two or three in Jesus' Name," to live solely by the Spirit's guidance. They braved a wild ocean to cross to a wilderness land they didn't know, in order to plant a new way, a faith way on what would be America's soil.
It is a great story, and America and these churches of the Pilgrims keep the feast each year to gather with prayers of thanks for what God has given them in this good land.
We have precious freedom for which to thank Him. We have life. We have love. We have an absolutely democratic way of government - unique in the world - to shine as a light of hope for all the world.
You would be welcome to come to this wonderful celebration service this Thanksgiving Day, Thursday of this week - 10:00 in the morning at 6200 Colonial Way, in Edina, MN, just west of the firehouse at Tracy and the Crosstown.
Bless you, and all your dear ones, in these important days.
The church I love and was privileged to serve for three tumultuous and wonderful decades, in admittedly a very different day from these early 21st-Century days, is deep in a creative, Spirit-led process of visioning its future. "To what is God calling us now?" is their question.
I join the process through speaking to myself and perhaps, through this blog, to a small company of friends, many of those part of the present "diaspora" of that same Christian company. My appeal in writing this is for their prayers and their own sense of vision for that great company that is daring to lay itself open before God, asking honestly and humbly, what He wants of them now, and for the long future.
Several observations and hopes rise in my heart for that great company as they look to their future.
One is the IMPORTANCE OF OUR HISTORY - of who we have been and what we were led to undertake in the first decade and a half from 1946 to 1960, and then from 1962 - 1994. And the 20+ years since then.
We were a church of the community, responding to critical needs in the community of Edina - for its children and youth, its needs of housing, etc.
But also a church of Minneapolis and the Twin Cities, and ultimately of Africa and the world. We were part of a major ecumenical adventure of five churches venturing out to fight the famine of the 1980's in Africa. God blessed our efforts for those countries and people, and for Christian unity among the churches of Edina.
Mercifully God fashioned us to be a true "company of love" - in our service to people, in our spirit as a church, and in our dealing with people individually. Love "worked" with that Christian company, bringing rich healing to wounded people, and a deep togetherness in Christ.
We were, in our own way, part of the Holy Spirit revival of the 1970's and 1980's in the Twin Cities. There is evidence in the interest of a small number of people in a renewal of the Spirit for this church. They are serious, if possibly unlikely people. This would be a wonderful time to reclaim the Spirit for this great company's life in active visible ways. Like public prayers for receiving the Holy Spirit. Like gatherings to offer Christian healing to those who need it. Making room for, and not being afraid of "the Spirit."
Theologically we may be at a time when a new understanding of our Pilgrim and Puritan heritage could reveal to us how profoundly that unique Pilgrim way is a way of the Spirit. That is, we are, as Congregationalists, a Holy Spirit tradition, committed to governance to Christ the Holy Spirit who said "when two or three gather together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them." He will respond to a regular "Church Meeting" humbly open to Him and asking His guidance. And, He will show us the many wonderful surprises He has for us.
Deep within all this, is the acknowledgement in our day, that "RECONCILIATION" through forgiveness, is the very heart of the Gospel for our day - and all days. We have something profound to offer out of Jesus' reconciliation teaching, to our hurt country and world.
There is a seriousness in our church's life and history and evangelical and spiritual and Biblical commitment, that many young people are seeking and already finding in our Senior Minister's leadership of our church company today.
Seriousness of prayer, commitment to small groups (both in deepening life, and for personal needs) could increase in our life.
This is a ripe and wonderful day for the renewal and reformation of us all and of our churches - and especially our church of the Pilgrim Way which has given so much and so deeply to us all "in the years of our life."
Would you lend prayer for this company that nurtured us and sent us out into the world, and hold her high in your hearts in these days ahead?
My book, "The Free Church Today: New Life for the Whole Church" has a contribution to make to us in this new time. I humbly commend it to you. It has just been republished. It is not in our store yet, but you can request a copy ahead by dropping us an email. The price is $13.00 plus shipping.
By the way...
Check out our upcoming events on our Events page - an annual Advent Bible Study, a journey to visit our Native American friends, and the annual Pilgrim Center Christmas Party. Also, I will be preaching at Colonial Church on Christmas morning at 9:30 am. I hope to see you there!
An interesting article came to me the other day. It was titled, "After Weinstein, Why Not Try Chastity?" It went on to say, "One path leads to bigger rule books. The other leads to a revival of chastity."
Returning to a practice of chastity for all of us would seem an almost laughable impossibility in our sex-drenched culture.
Yet our temptation will be instead to develop an increasingly multiplying set of "politically correct" rules to govern our behavior and conversation between the sexes in the work place and everywhere else that men and women come together.
It began as the feminist movement and other all too willing focuses of advertising, entertainment, and business promoted sexual association with all kinds of relationships to grab interest by loosening all restraints on sexual expression.
Pornography went from back rooms of magazine and book stores to the Internet, invading the worlds of people of all ages and stages.
The church discovered its couples coming for pre-wedding counseling, were already having live-in or otherly-arranged intercourse. They had no idea they were training themselves for extra-marital adulterous relationships later on that would threaten or destroy their marriages.
It was an awkward enterprise to engage them in the honest, respectful, and loving conversation that would lead them to think about the meaning of this thing called marriage into which they were petitioning the church to lead them.
Their first response was incredulity that the church could presume to know things about marriage that they as couples in love did not know.
And those who dared to pursue this conversation with their minister came to find that the Church, and a Christian theology of marriage with an understanding of sexual intercourse as a holy and God-given gift to humankind, was a thing of wonder, with inherent guidance and understanding toward building marriage as a committed relationship, intended to last the lifetime of those who entered faithfully into it.
We know of course that good gifts can be lost - even gifts from God - in a host of ways. And many who married and later divorced, wish dearly that that relationship could have been protected and saved.
Faith in God, the giver of marriage, is a cornerstone of that institution. And chastity, the commitment to no sex before marriage is another cornerstone. Implied in this is a vow, a promise, "to keep thee only unto each other" as a guard against any violation of the committed relationship, resulting in adultery.
These protections around marriage, as sacred before God, and each other, create a world-view of human relationship at its most intimate that offers the grounds for a moral view we call chastity. This view understands human relationships as sacred and precious to God and humankind alike, that fosters a high order of moral regard and care for all speech and action between human beings, and between the sexes.
These all seemed to me to be eminently worth thinking about for people of faith especially, in these precarious and threatening days.
A young man from the Minnesota Health Department addressed the local Rotary Club last week. Rotarians world-wide are working hard to end polio. Locally, they send teams off to pack food for "Feed My Starving Children." They do good in all directions.
The young man gave an uncomfortable, inspiring talk about the real concerns of the State Health Dept. Nothing about doctors, hospitals, or clinics. But other, often unspoken concerns. Like the obesity epidemic in Minnesota, leading to varieties of diseases.
But also, the current opioid epidemic that is killing 175 people a day, in Minnesota, due to overdoses.
And then, he showed us his graphs. "Here is one we don't talk about," he said. "It is the graph on deaths caused by alcohol. It is right up there beside the opioid overdose deaths."
I asked, "Why don't we talk about that one?" He demurred, "Well, we're embarrassed," he seemed to imply. "We are all involved. It is widely accepted by our culture." But, it is still killing people. It is part of the drug crisis in our state.
This has been a concern of mine ever since I was a young minister starting out as pastor of a country church in western Massachusetts. My wife and I, realizing much of our life's work in ministry could be with young people, we committed ourselves to abstinence from alcohol use in our home, our life, our work. While we talked about it and I lifted it up in sermons in all three of my churches, it was not a constant subject. We simply made clear it was not something we would do anywhere, so that our life and service would be an example of an abstaining life without alcohol. We particularly tried to make it an example in our home and in the life of our churches through the years.
I bring it up now, in this indirect way, to the many friends I care about, as a way of drawing their attention to the close connection between the use of alcohol and drugs, hoping they can quietly look at that connection and danger to their own lives, but also to realize the power their own life and example has in its influence on others.
Here is something concrete and significant we can do to affect both alcohol and drug use in our homes, circles of friends, neighborhoods, churches, and our state of Minnesota and American society in our days.
Let's get off the addiction path ourselves and help all whom we care about, to do the same.
The month of October 2017, marks the 500th year since the simple Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, in Germany, protested what he saw as the heresies of the church of his day. He posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. What happened, from his bold step, laid the foundation for the faith and culture and basic understandings of the Western world.
A wonderful teacher, Professor Lois Malcolm, of Luther Seminary, came to Colonial Church's Reformation Banquet Friday night to teach us the way of freedom and love that grew out of the stunning truth of Paul's great affirmation to the Roman Church (Romans 1:17), "The just shall live by faith." Not by the good works they do but by the gift of salvation that God gave in Christ's life through His death upon the cross and His resurrection life. There it was: "BY FAITH ALONE." A stunning assertion, direct from Scripture.
The next day sermon by the young on-fire professor, was "Living by Faith, Serving in Love." A wonderful word that helped us all.
In the Hearth Room after, she came around to the heart of our need in our angry, divided land today, is for the church, out of its faith and practice, to pioneer a pathway for peace through reconciliation by the daring act of forgiveness. Acknowledge there are ways that the church knows through experiences like those retreats the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation has had - and continue to have - of opening the way for love to come and vanquish hate and revenge and bring people together, miraculously, by humble acts of forgiveness and completely new relationships.
It was exciting for me. In the meantime, PCR was having a deeply moving Training Retreat that was bringing willing people to deep places out at Koinonia Retreat Center.
It was a formative, challenging weekend for me. At this time wonderfully diverse and willing people were being trained to expand the number of retreats we can do at a time, and here was an influential leader in the theological world, saying essentially - Colonial, through the Pilgrim Center's work - as its extended mission - is already doing the one thing needed for the healing of our land, in our time.
I hope you'll offer to come, be trained, and will pray for and encourage this vital work to live on, love on, and bring the healing that our time so desperately needs.
- Transforming, revolutionary work. FOR OUR TIME.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES