By Jorden Meyers
It seems the world is filled with constant transitions and adjustments in this season and the offices at ECC are changing too. It is with sadness and anticipation that we announce that Carol Smith will be concluding her time on staff here at ECC this month. Will you join us in celebrating Carol's ministry here at ECC and join us in wishing her well in this next exciting chapter of life. Use the comments of this blog post to celebrate Carol with a memory, prayer, or piece of advice.
Let us pray this prayer together:
God, you have called us into being through love. You have joined us to one another in love. How good and pleasant it is when you people dwell together in unity.
Shine your light upon your people that we can see the glory of eternal life. Grant Carol Smith the strength to carry your blessing from this place to the next. May she be at home in any land, for all the earth is yours. And, with her hopes set on your coming glory in the world, live also as an alien in all lands. May the lamp of your word guide her feet on the unsure paths of life.
Grant Carol a deeper fullness of being and spirit, by carrying our memory with her in the coming journey. May her face be fuller in glory and joy, now bearing new shape, as our faces transform and supplement one another.
We pray for Carol to go in the peace of Christ to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God! Amen
Read Carol's letter of resignation below.
Carol's Exit Letter
By Carol Smith
Dear ECC Attenders,
I want to start by saying that ECC has been my church for my entire adult life and I owe much of my spiritual growth to the leadership and the people of the church. My journey started 21 years ago as a young single mother. I was welcomed with open arms. Justin, Dave (my soon to be husband) and I were accepted even though we did not look like a typical family. 18 years ago, I started serving the youth through VBS skits, teaching Sunday School, and eventually serving as a youth leader. After Ara Koliantz began his journey in Detroit as lead pastor, I stepped in as the youth director.
About a year ago I began to sense a restlessness and began to pray about what that was. I sought counsel from a spiritual coach, prayer warriors, and my family. I asked them to hear me and pray alongside me on what to do with this restlessness. God showed up in my prayers and my trusted counsel. It has become clear that it is time for me to move on from youth ministry at ECC. I am moving into starting a new path in my life that serves not only my gifts but my family, as well. I believe because God has made this very clear to me that it is also what is best for ECC.
Please know that this was not an easy decision nor was it a decision that was taken lightly. My heart grieves over this ending but know that God also has given me peace about the decision. I imagine, many of you will have questions about the why, the when, and what is next for ECC Youth. The leadership is working hard to develop the plan to move forward. I am not moving out of the area as my family is still connected to school and work here. I would be honored to answer any questions you might have. Please reach out for clarity.
Thank you for loving my family and I for so many years. I would appreciate your prayers as we listen to the Spirit and God’s direction in our lives.
By Carol Smith
We have all had to pivot in this season. We have worked from home, schooled from home, and canceled events left and right. In the midst of the all that, we have had to reimagine the Young Adult Retreat, originally designed as a one weekend get-away, to learn how we are created uniquely and with a purpose. While so many events were canceled, many went online. And so we decided to attempt an online cohort instead of a retreat.
Nine young adults, ages 17-21, participated in a Young Adult Cohort online for four weeks. April Diaz and I coached these young adults during a pandemic, activism and division over racial injustice, and their whole worlds looking different than they could have ever imagined. Many older adults who have gone through a lot in life were having a hard time and here are 9 young adults having to navigate the unknown with people who have never had to navigate it either. We asked a lot of them: to be present, to be vulnerable, and to participate fully. AND THEY SHOWED UP! They dug deep in a short time and I was energized by them.
You might be asking what is a cohort? Well, that was the question the young adults were asking as well. I am not sure how many knew what they signed up for when saying yes.
The Cohort was based on a coaching model. Coaching is being honest about where you are and where you want to go. Each young adult wrote their own mandate based on what they wanted to have accomplished in the 6 weeks from start to finish. They were creative and dreamed big. We had everything from wanting to write a song to complete all the tasks needed to start school in the fall.
We ended our time with the retreat we originally planned but it looked much differently than anything we could have imagined at the beginning of the process of dreaming up what we could do for and with our young adults. What would have been a jam-packed weekend, we transformed into a celebration and relaxing time.
It is not often we choose to get away with people who are not our family and without a ton of stuff planned. The option to go on the lake, sleep in, stay up late was left up to the individual. On an early morning kayak trip around the lake, a young adult said to me “I feel really loved by God right now.” It was not because we were answering Bible questions in a study or doing a “spiritual” thing but because we were connected to a part of God’s creation at that moment. So much of what the Bible describes life as is through water. That morning, God was visible. This is what it means to connect with God and to know God.
The weekend was filled with tears, laughter, rest, and recovery. But if I could tell you one thing about our time, it would be this: these young people gave me hope and energy for our future.
They care deeply.
They think deeply.
And they are willing to be vulnerable and present and dream about a future that seems unsure.
We could all do well to learn from them. Learn to care for the “others” and care for each other. Learn to take ownership and inventory of your lives to be a more whole version of yourselves. When we listen to our young peoples’ hearts, their hurts, and their perspectives, they benefit, but just as important, we ALL benefit. I could not be more excited about what is to come for these individuals! I invite you to do what they have done over the last couple months.
Be participants in your own life.
God has created you; the way you look, the way you laugh, the way you experience this world. He knows the direction your hair grows and the things that make you angry and what gives you great joy.
By Pastor Jorden Meyers
For the month of June, the movie Just Mercy is free on many streaming platforms. As we continue to wrestle with the complexity of race and justice in our country, I have invited my friend and colleague Pastor Dominique Gilliard to lead us in a discussion on this movie. Rev. Gilliard is the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for our denomination as well as the author of the 2018 reader’s choice award-winning book, Rethinking Incarceration.
Rev. Gilliard is a trusted and well-researched voice in the history of the racialized incarceration system in the United States. In his book, he builds on the work of Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy), and Christopher D. Marshall (Compassionate Justice) to create a readable narrative of this racialized history. Gilliard provides a survey on the history of mass incarceration, including “black codes” (restrictive laws passed in the late 19th century), convict leasing, and modern prison labor. He also takes the church to task for failing to “reckon with the reality that ever since black people were stolen from Africa and trafficked to this land, they have been dehumanized, abused, criminalized, incarcerated, exploited for profit, and governed in distinctively sinister ways."
One part of Rev. Gilliard's job with the denomination is planning and implementing a journey to understanding racial righteousness called Sankofa. Sankofa is an invitation to understand race as a critical component of our Christian discipleship. It is an interactive, spiritual formation, pilgrimage that equips Christians to pursue racial righteousness inside and outside the church. This relational journey traces the history of race in the U.S., and tangibly equips believers to begin living into the church’s mission to be ambassadors of reconciliation. I was blessed to participate in this journey last August, and you can read about that experience here. If you are interested in attending a Sankofa Journey, registration is now open for the October trip - more information can be found here.
Please join us for an online discussion of the movie "Just Mercy" on June 28 starting at 7:oo p.m. The cost will be $10.00/participant. Five dollars will be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative and $5.00 will be given to Dominique Gilliard for facilitating. The movie is free to watch on several platforms. Click here to receive more information and a link to see how you can watch the movie.
By: Kristin Devine Mueller
Our Summer XPerience was unlike any other we’ve had as kids from our church, our neighborhoods, and our community gathered online! We learned to Focus on God and to keep our eyes open for how God works in the world around us. We saw God in creation, we looked for God as he revealed himself in Jesus, we encouraged our kids to talk to God in prayer, and we challenged our kids to live for God by loving others. We put together 80 kits for kids to use, and we encouraged all those who had registered to take a kit to share with a friend. Our kids did an amazing job of spreading God’s love in their neighborhoods! We took kits to our after school JAM kids, and we had 29 kids register through ECC. Those two groups of kids received and distributed 78 kits for Summer XP!
From Monday-Thursday, we had kids watch videos online and participate in Zoom small groups. Each night at 6:30, we premiered a video with the lesson for the day. Our worship team recorded 4 songs, including an original song by Meghan Gobrogge, both on location at ECC and on location at Miller Elementary. The lively motions, fun cheers, and oversized glasses made these music videos an interactive and fun way for our kids to worship God together online.
Each night, our video host Kristin Mueller would invite our video host Greg Louk to join the kids in a challenge for the next day. If enough of the kids participated in the challenge, Mr. Louk would fulfill his end of the deal, which always involved some sort of gross and messy task. When we posted enough pictures of how we saw God in creation, Mr. Louk let his dog lick peanut butter off his face! When we shared our sidewalk chalk art, Mr. Louk got covered in color run powder! Each night, we encouraged interaction with our online content by promising that Mr. Louk would fulfill his end of the messy deal. This helped add the element of fun that is always present when we gather together in person with Mr. Louk at Miller Elementary!
While we weren’t able to play games and do craft activities in person, we had a team of people who created supplementary videos for each evening of Summer XP. As kids finished the online videos and Zoom groups, they were invited to watch a series of videos that we posted in a playlist. The videos demonstrated different games that kids could play at home, with things they already had around the house. The videos also gave instructions on how to do the craft projects that each child had in his or her kit for the week. We even incorporated instructions for making your own bubble mix and ideas for using sidewalk chalk to connect with your neighbors!
As many churches have shifted to different models of Vacation Bible School in this season, we were grateful that curriculum writers shifted as well. We had story video content from the Orange curriculum to share each night, and we had small group guides for how to facilitate an online experience like the time we spent in Zoom. Each night, we would gather all together in one Zoom call, and then split into 3 groups based on age. Our Zoom meetings were lively and fun, and we were able to use the advantages of Zoom (such as the mute button) to give our teachers time to share the message of God’s love with our kids.
On Thursday night we joined the team who distributes meals at Bauer Community Center each week. Summer XP families were invited to come and pick up a meal as well as a celebration of our time together! We handed out t-shirts to kids who had participated with us, and we handed out sunglasses with our logo to all the kids who came through the line. Everyone who came through was also treated to Gibson’s Shaved Ice on a hot summer night! Greeting people as they drove through gave us an opportunity to share the sadness that we couldn’t gather in person this year but to also name the hope that we’d be back at Miller for Summer XP again next year.
Our hope and prayer is that this was a starting point for many of our kids and the kids in our neighborhoods to connect with others at ECC. We pray that these video and online experiences gave kids a glimpse into the children’ ministry that we do at ECC so that we can continue to invite our friends to in-person gatherings in the future.
We’re so thankful for all of you who prayed for us, created amazing content to share with our community, and spent time with our kids online!
We will resume worship gatherings on ECC’s campus on Sunday, June 14 at 10:30 a.m. You need to pre-register to reserve your place. There will be measures in place to protect everyone's health and watching the video below will give you a brief walkthrough to show you some of these measures.
Pastor Stacey's email from last week details the saftey measures in place. Below is a list of those procedures but you may also read Pastor Stacey's letter for more information.
If you wish to pre-register for the service, click the button below!
By: Pastor Jorden Meyers
It has been 86 days since we have worshipped together physically in our sanctuary at ECC. Who would have guessed that when we gathered together on Sunday, March 8, 2020 that we would not step inside our sanctuary for the next three months? Over these last three months that we have been separated physically, God has still been at work in and through our community. We are blessed at ECC to have an incredible team of ministry leaders, that when faced with the challenges that physical distancing presented, responded with innovation.
We have seen amazing things happen through the innovations that have taken place in all of our ministry areas from Sunday morning worship to our outreach ministry in the Bauer/Miller neighborhood.
God is good, God is faithful, and God is present.
On March 15, 2020 we began the new adventure of streaming our Sunday morning services. This has been something that we have talked about doing for years but the bandwidth and resources weren’t there. When in-person gatherings were no longer an option, we called up Greg Louk and asked if he would help us worship with our congregation in their homes. Greg has been instrumental in our ability to bring Sunday morning worship into each one of our homes every Sunday morning! We are very grateful for the way Greg has used his gifting to help the church.
Since beginning our online services, we have seen new faces, and we celebrate that the message of Jesus Christ is being spread far and wide from the ministry happening here at ECC of Lafayette. In the last twelve weeks of online services, more than 2,000 hours of worship have been consumed on Facebook. The good news is, now that we are further along in our knowledge and skill of streaming our worship services, we will continue streaming from now on. This will be a great blessing for our community!
Over the last few weeks, we have worked with JNE Productions to get our sanctuary set up for continued success streaming our worship services. We have purchased and installed new state of the art PTZ cameras, new lighting to help illuminate the front of the sanctuary, and a lot of new electronics in the sound booth to accomplish this. We are blessed to be a church in the state of Indiana because we were able to apply for a $5,000 grant from the Center for Congregations to help pay for some of these enhancements.
This past Sunday, we were able to start using this new technology. Pastor Stacey’s sermon was live from the sanctuary. We will try to transition more elements of the worship service to being live this Sunday as we prepare for our first in-person service on June 14.
Another worship related blessing that has materialized out of this COVID-19 season is a greater partnership with Riverside Covenant Church. Our congregations partnered together for our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and every Sunday since then Meghan Gobrogge and Mike Tetrault have partnered to record the worship music to help lead both of our congregations into worship. This has been a beautiful partnership sharing our collective resources and spaces.
When we can’t gather together physically, we have become a “zooming” congregation. Most of our ministries here at ECC have met virtually over the past three months so that we can stay connected. Our children have met together for Sunday school, our youth have gathered together for youth group, our women and men have gathered together for Bible studies and fellowship, and our Senior Adult Ministry has gathered together as well. Although these virtual gatherings cannot replace our in-person community, they have provided some connection along the way.
In addition to our regular weekly ministries, we have been innovating how to transition our Summer Vacation Bible School online as well. Last night we started a four-day Virtual Summer XPerience for our community to engage in and grow in their relationship with Jesus. Please join us in praying that this year’s Summer XP would be impactful and would bring children closer to Jesus.
We are excited for our children and youth to be able to gather together again in the future. We are still navigating when that might be, but we have also been working in the Life Center Auditorium (LCA) in anticipation of that day. Over the past three months that LCA has been repainted and remodeled. The new color pallet is a fresh light gray with darker gray borders and we have built a new projection screen wall. The older retractable screen was taken down and a new smooth wall was built to help increase the size of our projection. This will bless not only our children and youth but our whole church for congregation meetings, as well as all of the ministries that we partner with that use the LCA. In addition to renovating the auditorium, we have also painted some of the class rooms and deep cleaned many carpets around our campus. Our custodial team wants to ensure that ECC is as safe as possible when we return to our regular activities.
Finally, our outreach ministry has been hard at work to ensure that ECC is still providing for those in need in our community. For over a decade ECC has been providing a weekly meal at Bauer Community Center every Thursday night. When the restrictions were put into place that public gatherings could not happen, Ronda Ooms and her team innovated and created an accessible drive-thru meal option.
Every Thursday night a team from ECC has handed out meals in a drive-thru model from the Bauer Community Center. The number of people being fed through this Thursday evening ministry has increased during this season and because of the innovation and heart of Ronda Ooms, ECC has been able to show up and serve. Another very cool Outreach Ministry event that happened a few weeks ago was a surprise phone call from Panera Bread. Ronda Ooms was called by Food Finders, because of our known impact and ministry in the city, and was asked if she would be able to hand out meals that have been donated by Panera Bread. Ronda agreed that we could facilitate this and agreed to take Wednesdays for 4 weeks. For four weeks Ronda was given 400 meals each week from Panera, and we were able to bless the community. This Thursday, our outreach ministry will be partnering with our Children’s ministry once again to provide drive-thru meals for every Summer XP participant.
God is good, God is faithful, and God is present.
Although it has been 86 days since we have been able to gather physically in our church building we have seen the church at work in big ways! Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed and discouraged because of this massive disruption to our world, but we wanted to share some encouraging news about how we have seen God at work in and through ECC! Thank you for faithfully praying for our ministries. Thank you for faithfully giving to ECC. Thank you for faithfully serving at ECC. God is doing big things and we continue to follow the spirit’s leading! We know with confidence the Kingdom of God is not in danger and that we can further the Kingdom even now.
During this season of social distancing and self-isolation, Covenant Communications is making the Covenant Home Altar available online at no cost beginning the week of March 29. A devotional guide, the Home Altar, invites us to take time for God’s word, quiet meditation, and prayer. The daily reflections are written by Covenant pastors, laypersons, and administrators, representing a variety of experiences and contexts. In a few weeks, the featured devotional will be written by Pastor Jorden. In addition to this daily devotional, our denomination has a number of rich resources available. According to the Associated Church Press and the Evangelical Press Association, the Evangelical Covenant Church has the best denomination magazine! Click here to see all of those resources available to you.
By Ronda Ooms
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for His own ends…..In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Proverbs 16:3, 4a and 9
These verses have been ones that have continually come to mind during this season that we find ourselves in. We had plans for what outreach would look like this Spring. We were gearing up for our Spring Carnival and pancake breakfast at Miller. I was working with Bauer on who would take care of what events on April 4. The pancake guy was secured for our breakfast, and the Easter eggs had been mostly stuffed for the Easter egg hunt. March 13 everything changed. We quickly realized that our Spring outreach would not look anything like what we had planned.
What would God have us do? It was obvious that God had put us in the Miller/Bauer neighborhood and that they needed us now more than ever! It was an easy decision to continue the Thursday night meal at Bauer Community Center that we have hosted for the past 12 years. What could that look like, and how could everyone keep safe? We’d always created a sense of community during our meals. It was/is very important that each person that attends our meals feel loved and cared for and is able to eat home cooked food with others from the community. Because of the restrictions we knew that we could not allow anyone to come into Bauer to be served a meal. We set up a drive through in the alley by Bauer and have been serving take out style since March 19. The first few weeks, we served 175 meals and every week after we have served between 240 and 280 meals. That amount of meals is 3 times (plus) what was our normal previous to the virus issues. We work hard to be sure that each person that comes through to pick up meals or that walks up feels loved and cared for. Each week we have bags of groceries and various bonus items that they can have. Some weeks, it’s toilet paper, some weeks it’s cleaning products, and once a month we have homemade cookies lovingly baked by some of our ECC attenders.
ECC preparing to handout meals in the alley behind Bauer
I’ve been blessed by the desire of our ECC congregants to serve and to be at this meal each week. Colleen Schornstein cooks all the food with Reba Kinder filling in once a month. Reba and Fran Nance work with Colleen weekly to get the food prepped and ready for the meal. They are such a blessing and are so humble about what they do. Between 20 and 33 volunteers have helped each week with various aspects of getting the meal distributed. Each person wears a mask, and we try to abide by the 6 foot distancing rule with those outside of our families. It looks like we will need to continue to serve in this fashion throughout summer 2020.
Over the past weeks, we have partnered with Miller School to deliver 200 bags of food every 2 weeks as a part of the Backpack Program that we are a part of during the school year. Miller staff and ECC volunteers deliver the bags to the homes of families in need as determined by principals Deb Patterson and Greg Louk. Eight ECC couples/families have regularly been involved in this effort.
This year we have decided to continue the backpack program throughout the summer because of the economic situation that many of “our families” are in. Because this is outside of the school year, ECC will need to come up with the funds to pay for the food that we will give out. If you would be interested in helping to fund this effort we ask that your donation would be above your regular tithe. Checks can be made out to ECC with Community Outreach in the memo portion.
Outreach statistics since the stay at home orders began:
How Can You Help
It never ceases to amaze me how God takes a situation and uses it to bring glory to himself. As we maneuver through this season of the unknown, let's look to see where God is at work. I can tell you that God is there on Thursday evenings when we distribute meals. He’s there when we deliver bags of food to Miller families. He’s there when I contact our Afterschool JAM families. It’s nothing like what we thought we’d be doing this Spring, but in typical God fashion, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 He can do amazing things in situations that have us grasping for control. Thank you God for guiding and caring for us in this time of the unknown.
By Kristin Devine Mueller
Almost two months after we were first given the direction to begin social distancing and stay at home, our plans for Summer XP look much different than we ever would have imagined! Ministry groups all around the country are working to figure out what Vacation Bible School might look like as we move out of a full quarantine into a world where we still attempt to stay 6 feet away from each other. Everyone involved in these conversations knows that it’s impossible to keep a group of children 6 feet apart! Like many other churches around the country, ECC has been working to figure out what a new type of summer experience for children might be.
We’re sticking with our plan of an online Summer XP, but as we get closer, some different things are becoming clearer. We’ll have a video set to premier each night at a set time. We have a music team working on songs for the week to bring the message of God’s love and light to children in a memorable, screen-based way. We’ve ordered our giant sunglasses because we know that Mr. Louk and our team will still be working hard to incorporate the element of silliness and fun!
In the midst of these changing plans, we still want the children in our community to experience the love and care of a relationship with a real, live person who asks and listens to what is happening in their lives. We’ve got a two-fold plan to achieve this, and it’s a plan where both adults and children can get involved.
First, we want to continue to offer a small-group experience as part of our Summer XP. In early June, we know it’s not the right time to safely meet with a group of children in person. We’ll continue to use the technology available to us so that we can meet online in small groups. Our hope is to have Zoom groups set up for groups of 5-10 children, with 2 adults, and also possibly a teen. These groups will spend 4 nights together on Zoom, so by the end of the week we pray that they know each other deeper, that new friends have been connected, and that these people will have a foundation to build on when they are able to see each other in person again. Pray with us for both leaders and children to sign up and participate fully in this experience.
Second, we want our children to invite friends from their neighborhood to join with them in this online, virtual week of Summer XP. Prior to Summer XP, each child who is registered for the event will receive a kit with the resources and activities that they will need for the week. This kit will also have a second set of supplies, so that children can go out into their neighborhood and invite a friend to participate with them. Since we will be online, friends can log in from their own homes and participate along with us. These friends will have the option of joining a Zoom group with their neighbor, but our kids will also have the option of talking about the activities and doing them together at home, if their families are comfortable with their kids being in the same space together. Pray with us that our children will have hearts for sharing this experience, and for sharing God’s love, with the children on their very own block.
Since many of our volunteers will also be able to participate from home, we encourage you to get involved in the ways that you are able. To register as a volunteer, or to register a child so that the child receives a kit and is assigned to a Zoom group, follow the link at www.ecclife.net/xp. This summer isn’t shaping up to look like anything we expected, but pray with us that God will shape this experience into more than we would have asked or imagined!
By Pastor Kurt Kincanon
I hear the word “Pivot” quite a bit these days. From a business or organization standpoint, a pivot is a fundamental change in the product or service or perhaps in the way that product or service is delivered. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last two months all organizations, including business, schools, non-profits, and churches, are pivoting. We are changing the way we deliver our products and services. Some organizations are making new things like ventilators and hand sanitizer. Many non-profits and churches are pivoting how we go about our mission.
As we at ECC explore the book of Acts in our current series, we see that the concept of pivoting isn’t new to the church at all. In fact, it was part of God’s original intent for the church in Acts. In his introductory sermon in our Acts series, Pastor Stacey identified the six panels and summary passage in the book of Acts. These six passages are connected to one another by five brief summary verses of the spread of the gospel message and the growth of the Church. Those summary passages are found in Acts 6.7; 9.31; 12.24; 16.5; and 19.20. In one sense, these six panels follow the outline Jesus gives us in Acts 1.8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As Stacey stated, that outline and those six panels are a model for our ministry as the Church still today. When you think about that verse and the context of the first century church, how can the disciples accomplish such a thing without some significant pivots?
The book of Acts is loaded with preachable content, and there are more important stories than we can preach over the Sundays available this summer, so we must jump over some. One of the events we are jumping over this week is Stephen’s sermon and his subsequent martyrdom. It is one of the pivotal points in Acts. As you may recall, as the Jerusalem church grew, it was necessary that overseers were chosen to care for and feed widows. One of these, Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, performed great wonders and signs, which in turn created opposition from Hellenistic Jews from outlying areas. Events unfolded leading to a trial. And not unlike Jesus’ trial, false witnesses were drummed up, and Stephen is accused of “blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
All this leads to Stephen being seized and brought before the Sanhedrin. Side note, since Jesus' trial in front of the Sanhedrin back in Mark 14, the Sanhedrin has been quite busy dealing with Peter, John, and the apostles on at least two recorded occasions so far in the book of Acts, and their frustration must be mounting. People are repenting and believing the gospel, the apostles continue to preach despite threats, and even jail cells will not hold these disciples. Now for the fourth time since Jesus paraded into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Sanhedrin are confronted once again with another follower of “The Way” who is disrupting their world.
Stephen delivers the longest recorded sermon or speech in the book of Acts which is captured in chapter 7. This speech is a history of Israel that encompasses Abraham's call and God’s covenant promise to create a great nation of people, the patriarchs including Joseph saving his people from the famine, and Moses and his call to lead the Israelites out of slavery including Moses's prediction that God would some day raise up a prophet like Moses from His own people. At the end of the lengthy speech, Stephen turns the tables on his accusers demonstrating that they are the “stiffed necked” people just like their ancestors who have killed prophets and now they have killed the “Righteous One.”
Well, that did it. Those word pushed the mob over the edge. The mob act as judge, juror, and executioner, and Stephen is stoned. He cries out to Jesus to receive his spirit, and in true Christlike fashion, forgives his persecutors, and…the church pivots. The young Greek speaking, Roman citizen, self-proclaimed “Pharisee of Pharisees” Saul watches the cloaks of those who do the dirty work. Saul, who was also possibly a member of the Synagogue of the Freedmen mentioned in chapter 6, that drummed up the false charges and killed Stephen, is empowered by this event and goes on a rampage as a great persecution breaks out.
But what looks like a pivot in the favor of the Sanhedrin is actually the pivot necessary for Acts 1:8 to be fulfilled. From this point, Luke, the author of Acts, will write very little about the activity of the church in Jerusalem. Instead in the subsequent chapters, he turns his attention briefly to one of the other servants, Phillip, who we will look at the next two Sundays, and then ultimately to Paul (Saul) and his mission. This is a major pivot. A pivot Jesus predicted. A pivot for which we are all thankful because the gospel has reached us. What was the catalyst for this pivot? Persecution, hard times, seemingly unexpected opposition, and obstacles.
Sound familiar? Perhaps there is no better time for us as a church to be walking through this fantastic book of Acts. We as a church have already had to pivot in terms of how we conduct corporate worship, how we minister to our children and youth, how we care for those in need, and how we make and deepen disciples to name a few. We aren’t done pivoting yet. As we look to the future for what reentry looks like, it is clear to me that we will not be the same. Much of my and my colleague’s thoughts are currently focused on what worship and church will look like when we start to open back up and return. Some of the things we have added are here to stay. Some things we aren’t currently doing may not come back. We will pivot again. Just like our first century brothers and sisters did. Just like the church has done in the years that have followed. We pivot…for the sake of the gospel.