I made my second visit over to Newberg Sunday, to Zion Lutheran Church. Headed by Pastor Chuck Sabin, I had once participated in a Lenten Service there some years ago, preaching a sermon. Pastor Chuck had called me this year to stand in for him on March 4, when he would be away, so I was going to his services in the month of February so that I could watch and conform to the pattern of the worship service conducted there. All churches do things at least slightly differently.
Zion is a nice church centrally located and well attended. Last year apparently 16 members of the congregation had passed away, some ten percent of the church’s population, I gather — a momentous loss for the people. So last week I attended the first occurrence of a grief workshop where members gathered an hour before the start of the church service, using several texts on grief as ways to center dialog and discussion. Pastor Chuck had told us a devastating personal story from his early childhood about a death close to him to illustrate for us how we might dialog between us to explore our own reactions, pain and response to these events. He used a religious text from the writer Henri Nouwen to provide most of our “homework.”
I remembered that when I was still in the lay community of my former church, Christ Lutheran in Aurora on Second Street, and was in the early days of my pastoral training, we had a similar flurry of death among the congregation. I suggested to my pastor at the time, Pr. Craig Johnson, that I start a regular meeting to deal with those grieving at the church. It was assented to – and a regular meeting began to process out of church where people wanted to share these very intimate stories.
I was surprised that in these first meetings, our grief group actually began very strongly – and of course there were a great many tears and memories that came.
The meeting grew in strength, like a snowball in midwinter. In fact our meeting went on for in excess of a year, until it was noticed that the participants were no longer talking of their loved ones, but had moved on and discussion was now located more in the present and about new issues. There was even occasional laughter and rejoicing. God was in this, I had no doubt.
I have found it refreshing to be on the receiving end of Pastor Chuck’s sermons in Newberg, particularly because of his combination service including the grief workshop. Also, because I received a blessing from hearing his own exposition of the word. I had really not realized that each of us are such different musical instruments for God’s word, and we must listen well to each other’s own music of faith.
I must admit that I have resisted grieving my own loss of my health last year when I nearly died during my heart surgery. Two people under two surgeries had taken place that day, and I made it out again and back into a renewed life. I will write more about those reflections this year when I have my surgical anniversary in March. There are some additional stories to tell that are a little unusual.
I do long to get back into the full rhythm of church life again. I have two more cardio rehab appointments scheduled for this month (and, of course, I must keep exercising to keep the system working). I have not yet applied for another full church role again. I am just doing the usual activities of my craft as an information technologist, which I have been doing since I have been 21 years of age and have worked all over the world. I have also been a journalist for Knight-Ridder and wrote for them for some while. In the high desert I covered a landing of a space shuttle for ValleyWide Newspapers in Victorville and took photos of the astronauts when they got out. I was also the editor of a magazine called Technical Consultant. But I think 40 years is a biblically significant number to end on for that worldly activity.
I have not yet submitted my application to the North Dakota church I wrote about recently as I do not yet feel fully called to serve there yet and something else is brewing in me that is still unspoken. I feel that I am being called strongly to serve John’s mission in the Church, for the church, and am praying pretty hard about that right now.
God bless you my friends! Amen.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.
Preparing for Zion