There is just no way around it. First Presbyterian is not normal.
Other churches are scrambling to recruit people because they need money to preserve their buildings. We have money to transform our building in order to transform our community. We hope to attract more people because we think they will be transformed by being a part of the transformation–plus, we just think people need Jesus.
Many churches in our denomination have women’s groups that are aging out of existence, while our women’s group is comprised primarily of 30-somethings and is growing every week.
Churches often start Sunday School programs in order to attract children, while we are trying to figure out how to start a Sunday School program because we have so many children.
Are you aware that outside of our congregation there are people still arguing about the roles of women and gay people in the church? It’s kind of hard to imagine when you are part of a community where those conversations ended years ago.
On any given day in our church there are people studying the Bible, gathering for fellowship, recording music, creating art, teaching drama, attending support groups and (all-too-often) repairing something that is broken.
Our 110-year-old church has a screen in the sanctuary and a coffee bar in the narthex. We have what is probably the most expensive piano in any church in Arkansas, and one of (if not THE) best pianists in the greater Little Rock area to play it.
This is not to say that everything is or has been perfect. There are people who spent their lives at this church who have gone because First Presbyterian is no longer the church they knew. There are people who came at the beginning of the transformation who decided to leave because it hasn’t turned into what they thought it would. There has been some ugliness, and there has been some reconciliation. Not all of the brokenness has been made whole, but much has been repaired.
Clearly God is at work at First Presbyterian. There are many changes still ahead. Soon half of our empty lot will be transformed into a garden where we hope to help our neighbors engage in growing and eating healthier foods. We have received money to overhaul our kitchen so that we can be a community center for creating, processing, accessing and learning about better food choices. New (and more comfortable) chairs for the fellowship hall are in the works so that it becomes a more inviting gathering place for ourselves and our neighbors.
We will continue to grow and change and evolve. May we love each other and the Lord through it all. May we each find the place God is calling us to minister–because we are all called to be ministers.
Make no mistake about it. We are not normal–and that just might be what saves us and the people we serve.
Rev. Anne Russ