I have some questions about that first Sunday morning, 51 years ago.
What was the first song that the congregation sang?
What was the sermon about on that first Sunday together?
Did the preacher stand behind a podium or just out in front of the people?
How much money was placed in the offering plate?
Actually, what did they use for offering plates?
How many children and teenagers were present?
How many first-time visitors returned the next week?
How long before the first person was baptized?
What were the people most excited about?
Could they have ever dreamed what they started on that day would end up here?
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd captured our imaginations in the 1985 movie, Back to the Future. Fox's character goes back and nearly alters the future, forever. In this Homecoming week, my reason for going back with these questions is more educational and much less gripping than that Hollywood classic. Wouldn't you love to travel back in time and see what the people were doing and learn about what they were thinking? What unique personalities, spiritual forces, and acts of God's grace must have all come together for a band of forty-nine people to gather in a home on Rosemont one Sunday, and then three years later gather for worship in their own building with five times number on roll? It did not stop there; Epworth saw 75 people join by Profession of Faith in the five years that their second pastor, Rev. Don Kea, served. It is amazing to think about it.
This much I do know. It took hard work. It took lots of forgiveness. It require leadership, on both sides of the pulpit - whenever it was they finally got around to having one of those. It took vision. Vision for ministry is the aspect I have dwelt upon for the better part of seven months now. I think I'm on my eighth book specifically on the topic of shaping and casting vision, but more importantly have had twice that many conversations with folks within the church about what it might look like. Churches do not get started without vision. Churches do not continue and thrive without it, either.
On this Homecoming weekend, 51 years after Epworth was first started in this very neighborhood, I am reminded of Paul's prayers to the first churches. Like Paul, my prayers are saturated with thanksgiving. I am thankful for those who came before us and for those who are with us now. My highest prayer is that the One True God who was worshiped on that first Sunday might be present and glorified on this and every Sunday we gather.
Grace and Peace, Scott