To Witness

To Witness April 4, 2013

I’ve got a testimony.

That’s a word we don’t throw around in mainline progressive circles very often. Nor do we say things like ‘give a witness,’ ‘get saved,’ or ‘invoke the Holy Spirit.’ Sure, we may affirm/believe/enact those words, but we don’t say them. They are icky, fundy words that reek of proselytizing evangelism and a judgmental language of faith. Think tri-fold brochures with comic-book drawings of non-believers…going down a fire-y staircase and straight to hell.

In the effort to differentiate a progressive message from ‘thosekinds of Christians,” we often forget that the power of the Holy Spirit is not confined to certain kinds of churches. No one tradition can claim the authority to share the faith, to testify, to transform lives. When we fail to claim this authority–for fear of being associated with judgment-bearing, woman-fearing, gay-hating kinds of folks–we lose something vital. Our worship lacks energy, and our brand of gospel goes over in the community like yesterday’s lukewarm coffee. There’s got to be a better way.

Jesus calls all his followers–regardless of ‘brand of faith– to bear witness to his love; to ‘testify’ to the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in the world. I read way too many books, articles and blog posts asserting that most mainline Christians cannot even tell you why they’re Christians. I don’t think that’s true. I think a great many of us could share why we are followers of Jesus. That is, if anybody ever asked us…

Our problem is that we wait to be asked. It’s high time we got less polite about living the gospel, and learned something from other, less inhibited traditions. I’m going to start here with my own answer to that question–why are you a Christian? The short answer is this: because God does amazing, powerful, miraculous, transforming work in the world, every single day. If we’re paying attention, we might get to witness it. And if we walk in the way of Jesus, we might even get to take part in that work. Some days.

I serve a church that, not very long ago, was in the same slump that many mainliners are seeing. No new faces, no new ministries, no new money…no old money, for that matter! I’ve shared in other posts what I think helped us turn that boat around. But long story short, we are now a growing and vital church, and an all-around exciting place to be.

In the midst of this transforming journey, we have worked, in fits and spurts, to update our worship space. We want our facilities to reflect the growth and movement happening within, but you know…life happens. Money needs to go elsewhere. You couldn’t make an HGTV special out of us, because that requires a 2-hour-turnover. But a new floor finish here, a new coat of paint there, some old furniture out the door…it came together. Slowly but surely, our space started to mirror the fresh spirit of the congregation.

Right before Christmas, a friend of the church–who is a very gifted wood worker–made us a gorgeous new communion table and pulpit. (Our old one was ‘custom made’ in the 90’s, but somehow designed in the mid-70s. Only in the mainline church is that even possible…)

The beautiful new pieces added a wonderful vitality to the sanctuary. The warmth of the wood, the shine of the finish, the rustic/authentic look it brought to the chancel…we could not have asked for a better Christmas gift. That welcome table embodied a new life that we knew was here all along.

The question remained–what to do with the old stuff? Nobodybuys used church furniture, really. There’s no section for that on Craigslist. We listed it anyway, and for months the stuff gathered dust in fellowship hall.

Isn’t this always the way? We finally let go of some old stuff and make room for the new, but well…we just don’t know what to DO with that which we’ve outgrown. It’s always sitting around…haunting us, taking up space, tempting us into the past.

We got a few half-hearted inquiries about the pieces, but they were mostly people wanting to use them for furniture (ick) or buy just one piece, or re-sell/re-purpose them. I mean…we are Disciples. A communion table–even one we don’t want anymore–is a sacred business.

Fast forward to today. A guy named Omar called, wanting to take the pieces–all 3 pieces–to a new Hispanic church in downtown Phoenix. Omar has a church, but this is not the one he goes to. He just knows somebody who goes there, knows they have a need. He’s seen their worship space and how sparsely equipped it is. So he came with a truck, gave us a generous donation, did the heavy lifting, and took the stuff downtown himself. Right about now, he is delivering them to the door to an unsuspecting pastor. I hope that she (yes, she!) receives them with the joy and love with which we give them.

Because stuff dies all the time. It’s not every day that something comes back to life.

A patron saint of my church once accused me, after a certain sermon, of being “a little bit Pentecostal.” In spite of his own leftist, progressive, and even ‘liberal’ leanings, he meant it as a compliment. And I took it as such. If being ‘a little bit Pentecostal’ means being able to articulate the whys and wherefores of faith, then I can only hope to live into that sacred calling. Until we can claim the language of ‘witness’ as an outward-reaching, life changing, joyful and spirit-filled enterprise, we will see plenty of stuff die. We will find plenty of things to stick in a corner, and dust on occasion. But ultimately, we will find ourselves gathered round an empty table.

I am a Christian because, every now and then, I glimpse God’s capacity to bring something back to life. An out-of-fashion communion table; a dusty and dying congregation; a person once lost to community, found and brought home again. Every now and then, following Jesus means we get to take some small part in these miracles of grace and hospitality; and yes, we witness the goodness of God’s creative word, made flesh among us.

Omar, with Andrew, our Associate Pastor; and Kelli, our Community Ministry person who made the initial connection.


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  • Ain’t nothin’ wrong with being a little Pentecostal. You ARE from the South, after all.
    Also, that sounds like something my dad would say. Heck, it sounds like something I would say.

    • Erin Wathen

      actually, jim, it was the other jim.

  • Carol

    Biblical witness is proclamation, in word and deed (Ezekiel 33;1-9).

    Unfortunately, too many fundamentalists driven by fear and political self-interest, rather than unconditional, kenotic Love, have gone beyond the calling to witness and have usurped the Divine prerogative by aggressively attempting to convict and convert.

    Although it is still acceptable to present oneself as “a person of faith” in our secular society, presenting a a Christian person of faith often evokes a very negative reaction now that “Christianity” is considered be many to have become a de facto civil religion where “God’s Will” looks less like the biblical Gospel ethic than a 50’s political agenda [Conservatives/Traditionalists] or a 60’s political agenda [Liberals/Progressives].

    Reformation of ecclesiastical structures will amount to more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic without the transformation of its members.

    “To be redeemed is not merely to be absolved of guilt before God, it is also to live in Christ, to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, to be in Him a new creature, to live in the Spirit.” ~Thomas Merton

    Clericalism is difficult to define, but it certainly involves an inequality of responsibility and status in the church. I would describe it as a kind of unspoken contract whereby ordained clergy take leadership responsibility, and lay people defer to that arrangement, too often in a childlike way. ~Sean O’Conaill, Voice of the Faithful [Ireland affiliate] organizer

    “Reforming Church governance is not about shared power but about mutual empowerment in the Holy Spirit.” –Fr. Patrick Collins, from his essay on “Thomas Merton on Ecclesial Reform and Renewal” in Commentary.

  • Rachel Rev

    What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing.

    By the way, I have worked hard to reclaim “pentecostal” and “evangelical” and (most days) I can proudly wear both labels – even as the unorthodox, heretical, skeptic, doubting, leftist, to the left of most mainliners, progressive, liberal, universalist, Christian minister I am. It’s always good to know I am not alone. 😉