Yesterday my congregation held its final services in our beloved church in Newport Beach where we have worshiped for over 70 years. With all my heart, I longed to attend at least one of the morning three services, but my recovering body wouldn’t let me. So I sat in my recovery chair and prayed throughout the morning until I knew that the final song for the final service was concluded and the final dismissal had been given.
During the hours of worship, I got marvelous little text messages from some of our parishioners with pictures and short videos from the services. Especially compelling was the video that showed our rector, the Rev. Richard Crocker, leading the congregation out of the church with a shepherd’s crook in one hand and a Bible in the other. Then the Church standing together on that lovely patio and singing together,
“O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that He who made all nations is not willing,
one soul should fail to know His love and might.
Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace, tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.”
I know it wasn’t an easy day for anyone — saying goodbye is so painful. It was a tough day for many and yes, it was a tough day for me. Tears were appropriate, but not despair. Sadness was called for, but not defeat. And the pictures and videos I received showed me exactly that — tears, sadness, but not despair and not defeat!
So as I prayed through yesterday, even into this morning, I once again remembered how this cancer storm of mine has had so many parallels for me with the experience of our church being taken from us. With the cancer and the church, though I/we are experiencing loss … WE ARE NOT LOST. We are entirely secure in Christ Jesus.
Paul speaks of this dichotomy (a contrast between two things as being opposed or entirely different) especially in 2 Corinthians 4 as he describes the Christian experience when he says,
“8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.”
Eugene Peterson in The Message renders it this way,
“We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken … While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!”
That’s what cancer has been for me — a crazy-wonderful dichotomy of being battered, terrorized, thrown down and going through the worst! Yet in the midst of that “awful-ness”, Prince Philip and I are surprisingly not demoralized or broken. In fact, it has been for us the BEST TIME OF OUR LIVES.
Crazy-wonderful dichotomy. Crazy-wonderful God.
And that is what it will be for St. James Anglican Church as with so many other faithful Anglicans who have had to leave their beloved property. It won’t be easy and we will be a bit battered, thrown about, and we will have to go through some tough days! But if we surrender to God’s perfect will, keep our eyes on Jesus, and do what we’ve been given to do in the power of the Spirit, Paul promises that while we go through the worst of times, we will actually be experiencing the BEST TIME OF OUR LIVES.
So here’s to the next chapter for St. James Anglican Church! Here’s to the best time of our 70+ year history. And here’s to crazy-wonderful dichotomies and the crazy-wonderful God who makes them to be for us the way of Christian living!
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.