We have a saying in my family that comes about whenever we are disappointed with how something turns out: “It’s not what I expected.” It comes from some past moments when my mom declared it about an entrée she ordered at a restaurant – sometimes reality is not in line with what we envisioned.
This first year of ministry has tempted me to say, on more than one occasion, “it’s not what I expected.” It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent almost the same amount of time ministering during a global pandemic (8-months) as I have ministering in a non-pandemic setting. Never did I consider, upon being appointed to University, that my first year would include a total reconfiguring of my preconceptions when it came to being a pastor. “It’s not what I expected.”
In fact, I bet we’ve all said, at some time or another, that 2020 is “not what I expected.” And yet, as I was reminded recently by one of you, Jesus is in the boat with us. We might be making the path by walking it, but we’ve got a pretty good compass in the Holy Spirit.
University has been a source of blessing in many ways, but one of the more evident examples would be the way you have continued to stay connected to the needs of our community. Take, for example, our education partnerships. We have always had a passion for our public schools, but we have had to reconfigure how to be in relationship with them in lieu of tutoring, mentoring, and in-person activities. What do effective school partnerships look like in 2020? They look like building picnic tables for students and teachers to have a safer meeting space. They look like buying teachers snacks and providing children with appropriately-sized face masks. Again, things that none of us anticipated doing, but we have adapted and continued to listen. By the way, we will be building picnic tables again this Saturday, October 24, from 9am-2pm, in an effort to bless even more schools and show them the love of Jesus Christ in tangible ways. You are invited, of course, to be involved and can sign up here.
We have also been on the receiving end of unexpected blessings. Our partnership with our sister church, Westlawn UMC, has only been strengthened since March, as we have been invited to help feed and support their immediate neighbors with food, laundry equipment, and other essential services. Having been involved in numerous service opportunities, I want to personally express how fortunate our congregation is to be sitting at the feet of people like Rev. Liliana Padilla and her congregation’s leaders – they teach us more about our city every time we get together and show us what it means to be Jesus’ hands and feet. The work we are doing together right now is an investment in both of our churches’ futures. You are invited to learn more about this partnership and our future in this city by listening to Pastor Ben and Rev. Padilla at tonight’s Traces of Grace conversation at 6:30pm. Feel free to join virtually by live stream or signing up to attend in-person.
I am reminded that, in life’s more difficult and uncertain moments, of the words of John Wesley, our Methodist forefather – “The best of all, God is with us.” God is with us, Church. May we follow wherever God might lead us, even if it’s not what we expected, knowing that blessing can come from even the hardest of times.