Photo Credit: Ryan Klinck The 2018  Anam Cara  Cohort in the newly remodeled Bethesda UMC sanctuary.

Photo Credit: Ryan Klinck
The 2018 Anam Cara Cohort in the newly remodeled Bethesda UMC sanctuary.

The Bethesda UMC congregation in East Asheville, North Carolina, recently returned to their sanctuary after being located next door in the retreat house/parsonage for over two years. The newly remodeled space, now available for a variety of uses throughout the week through Haw Creek Commons, went through several unexpected delays, otherwise the small congregation would have sought temporary arrangements elsewhere. But, I am so glad we didn’t, because in the small parsonage space, where chairs were lined up in rows in the living room and the dining area set up for the altar and music personnel, our worship and trust of God grew among the many unknowns. It was in this space that we, a small but growing group, with new attendees (who amazingly walked into a house) alongside long-standing worshippers, were left with no other option but to relax. We were called to encounter many unknowns, where the answer to every question was often, “Well, I just don’t know.” In the midst of many emotions and situational challenges, the community was gifted a time and place to begin making a cultural shift.    

Within these limited and unique circumstances, natural and normal conflict emerged across the church body. For example, we had to revisit the worship order, proclamation style, and how to manage the close quarters of the living room. Sitting in this awkward space, led one attendee to reflect and say, “There were no places to hide!”  Additionally, we had to look at ownership issues and, over time, through struggle, came to see that less is more—giving attention to mission and care for the community. Rearranging couches and chairs showed us how to be adaptable and it opened the way to be flexible to the needs to one another in the room. This often occasioned someone sitting in the front hallway wall in order for others to join the community space.
    
After a while, we let go of seeking to produce perfect worship and began to find joy in what was being offered. We are growing to see that each other’s offering of love is valued for just what it is, and give those offerings as collective celebrations. We viewed each celebration as a gift to God and the community that day. As we grew less dependent on the building, we grew less anxious and more free to be vulnerable which continues to bring greater intimacy within our community.

Our move into the parsonage enabled us to see that conflict could be worked through, and, as we grew to be uncomfortable in unknown outcomes, we began to shift, no longer trying to lead God in our direction, but crying out to see God. We began to see the Holy Spirit working within our midst. We were, at times, lost and often unsure, but grew in willingness to walk through unknowns as a community. Our gathering mantra became the simple but diverse: “Here we are God.”

We thank God for renewal being breathed into the small parsonage and in giving us the strength to walk with less anxiety and greater trust.
 
In John 13:3, Jesus knelt down to wash the disciples' feet and “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table.” He then, in a vulnerable position, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around himself. He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel. Jesus knew that the disciples did not understand everything but that if they would trust, they eventually would. Jesus was creating a culture of servanthood and grace. In the midst of humble deferment to the other, the disciples were shown a new way to live that was not yet known to them.

It was a gift that Bethesda had no choice but to watch, wait, and believe that God would “do something” as we were called to rely on grace and to accept unknowns. The time in the parsonage/retreat house began cultivating period in which our culture could allow more creativity in our expression of and reception of God’s love. It is leading us to be disciples who are adaptable to God’s movement, and to frame our conversations as places to experience Christ in our midst. We now love a bit easier, and, although conflict remains present, the journey can afford new places of imaginative expression, and conflict provide ripe occasions for grace to be discovered.   

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