Sunday, June 1 was Pastor Tom’s last Sunday. After 41 years of ministry he has decided to retire. We, as the family of TUMC, will dearly miss him, but we also wish him the best in his retirement years. Although it is the end of his active ministry within the church, it is just a beginning of something new for him.
On Sunday, we also recognized our high school, college and “Companions in Christ” Bible-study graduates. It is this topic I want to write about. Last fall, 4 small groups (approximately 27 people) took a leap of faith and joined the “Companions in Christ” Bible study. Believe me, it was not for the faint of heart. It was 26 weeks of doing daily readings, journaling and then meeting in a small group to discuss the teachings of the week. I had the privilege of facilitating one of those small groups. Although we began with almost 12 in our group, we ended up with a faithful 8 that not only studied together, but laughed and cried together. During breaks in the study, we stayed together and studied other things and went to movies and out to eat. We truly embodied what not only a small group represents, but what the fellowship of a church represents.
But my heart also aches for those who did not participate, for whatever reason. You see, when we are called to be children of Christ, we are not meant to stand still. We are instructed to grow, to climb and to share life together.
This morning, I picked up my “In-Touch” devotional by pastor and author, Charles Stanley. The main article was entitled “Made for the Mountain”. In it, Stanley writes, “God’s purpose for our lives is discovered and fulfilled only as we climb higher with Him.” I immediately thought of my Companions group and how, over 26+ weeks, we climbed a mountain. We not only grew in our learning of God’s word, but we climbed higher in getting to know each other deeper and truly being a part of each other’s lives. In fact, this Sunday, several of my “companions” came to me to say how they missed our getting together on Tuesday and even missed having to do their “homework”.
Stanley shared a story about 40 adventurers who were on a journey. Twenty-six of those decided to climb a mountain together, the rest staying in the valley. The hikers started to climb. At the first rest area, 22 of the climbers said “enough”. These 22 hikers stayed and rested. This left only 4 to journey on. Stanley writes that when the last 4 reached the summit, “the dry landscape was replaced by refreshing snow.” They laughed, threw snowballs and took great pictures. Upon return to the rest area and the valley to join the rest of the group, Stanley describes the “resting” climbers as having showed no enthusiasm for the journey. How could they? They hadn’t experienced the journey together. Again, I thought how this story related to those who “began the Companions journey”, but failed to complete it. The eight who finished our journey together may not have taken pictures with a camera along the way, or at the top of the mountain when the course was completed, but the memories are etched in our hearts and minds.
Several women in my group said they hadn’t decided to attend our group until 2 days before the start of the journey, but they were sure glad they had made the commitment. On several occasions, they indicated that if they knew the work and time commitment ahead of time they probably would not have joined the group. But, boy, not halfway through the series, each of these women said they were glad they were there. They had formed new friendships. And believe me, as facilitator, these women grew through this study and the experience of the small group.
Recently, two of the women emailed me something about their experience and I’d like to share it here:
When I’m in church on Sunday morning and the sermon touches my heart (it inspires me) there is a strong desire to talk about it with someone, anyone. Leaving the service with a child-like enthusiasm, with a new idea to share and with nobody that has the time to listen (even those who also heard the same sermon) can be disheartening. Companions in Christ has changed this for me. These past eight months there has been several “someone’s” to listen to the way I feel about what I’ve learned in church and in my Companions class. We not only shared what we learned about ourselves but we learned about each other. It’s not surprising that we all shared similar thoughts and feelings. MJ
Our Companions in Christ Bible Study met on Tuesday mornings. After our weekly reading at the end of each chapter there were questions relating to Bible passages which we personally answered and shared with the group. We were all at different levels from some that were in Bible Study groups for many years to ones who have been in some Bible Study and to Newcomers. To me it meant we were safe on our own level, whatever that was for each of us. It gave me the chance to explore spiritual exercises and Bible verses with a different view. I believe it was perfect for each of us, in our spiritual walk. It described different facets of Christian life and brought about a deeper relationship among the people who participated. KP
Our journey as a group is not over. It is just the beginning. I think also about the life of our church at this time as well. It’s true that the decade era of Pastor Tom is finished; but it’s a beginning with Pastor Mark. There are still mountains to climb and journeys to take together. God is continuing to call us forward and upward. Yes, we will face struggles, we will have doubts and want to rest and not go forward or upward, but just like my companions who made the commitment to be part of a group, the outcome was worth it and so it will be as we journey together in this new era.