From the Clutch of Death to Life

Last Sunday I watched The Rev. Marsha Brown pour water into the baptismal font, reminding us of our forgiveness of sin that is ours in baptism. Water serves as a powerful image. Always life-generating and restoring, water can also be terrifying and destructive. The floods during the early part of this year are an example. Affected people have a long recovery ahead of them. We cannot live without water, but water can be a threatening force. While participating in a mission trip in El Salvador, I almost drowned.
On the last day of our tour, we debriefed our experiences with our companion travelers, reviewing the people we had met and the work of our PCUSA Coworker. And then, we relaxed on a welcoming beach. I swam out far from the shore to catch the breaking waves and body-surf. Until that day, I had considered myself a strong swimmer. As I child swimming with the local team, I had competed with and defeated my challengers. While living in Southern California, I exercised in outdoor pools year round. That day we learned that the Pacific (calm) Ocean was not always what it appeared to be. Unknown to us, the calmness of the Pacific Ocean was deceptive that day. Later, searching the internet to understand what happened, I discovered that a dangerous rip tide had claimed the life of a woman not far up the coast a few days earlier.
Reaching the place where waves were breaking, I tried to ride the waves to shore. Every time I tried to catch a wave, I was dragged backward toward the ocean. After several minutes of trying, I began to realize that I was continually being dragged backward and under. Remembering my life-saving course, I tried swimming diagonally toward the shore, but was exhausting my energy, being pulled underwater with every stroke. I realized (with a sinking feeling) that I was caught in an undertow.
About 100 yards away toward the shore, I saw one of my fellow travelers. A tall and substantial guy, Bruce was the closest one to me, but he had been smart enough to stay where he could still touch bottom. He was about 80 yards closer to shore. Between spurts of sea water, I began shouting, “Help! Help!” as loud as I could as water filled and refilled my mouth. My trained self was observing my panicking self! “O God, O God… HELP ME!” I repeated in desperation. I knew that God and Bruce combined were my only hope. Shortly before Bruce grabbed my flailing arm, I remember thinking with a sense of surrender… “in life and in death, we belong to God.”
But my baptism was not complete that day in the Pacific Ocean. While I was ready to accept transition from this earthly (and watery) existence to life in the presence of the One who loves us forever, I lived… I lived to continue to bear witness to God’s amazing grace.
In the early days of the church and still in many Christian traditions, catechumens prepared during Lent for baptism during the Easter Vigil. In baptism, we die to the old life (going under the water), and rise from the water to new life in Christ. Every Easter offers an opportunity to embrace the new life God gives in Christ who lived and died for us, claiming us as God’s own. In Jesus, God reaches out to save us!
The women went to the tomb, expecting death. Instead they found it empty, and angels directed them to go and tell the disciples, “He is Risen.” In Jesus Christ, God reaches out to rescue us. Thanks be to God!

New Mission Design– New Opportunities to Dream, Connect, Serve

Dear Colleagues and Friends in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy,

The Presbytery adopted a new Organizational Plan for Mission at our last Gathering. When requested, many currently serving in leadership have agreed to carry on their work through the transition to the new framework for our mission together. The Committee on Representation/ Nominations is busy calling and inviting members of the Presbytery to serve on new teams: Vision, Congregational Vibrancy, Dynamic Leaders, Mission and Outreach, and Administration and Support. In addition, COR/NOM is identifying those willing to be elected to lead teams and serve on administrative commissions. If you receive a call from a member of the hard-working Committee on Representation/Nominations, please prayerfully consider saying “yes.” If you have suggestions or would like to volunteer, please contact Rob Cardwell, Chair of COR/NOM . The Committee would appreciate nominations of men and women of diverse ages and various racial/ethnic identities willing to join in this exciting new venture.

The new design we have created together for our mission in Giddings-Lovejoy will allow us to become more nimble as we adapt to our rapidly changing world. We realize that the church must learn new ways in order to thrive in our current context. As we embrace mission opportunities and encourage transformation of existing congregations and ministries, let us pray together for the encouragement of Vibrant Congregations and Dynamic Leaders.

While church attendance in North America and Europe has been declining since the latter quarter of the 20th Century, it has been exploding in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Fortunately for us in the United States, people from these areas of the world are immigrating to the United States, bringing new life to our tired denominations. In worshiping with fifty of our congregations since I began ministry in Giddings-Lovejoy, I have experienced some of the most enthusiastic, Spirit-filled worship in our immigrant congregations. What can we learn about developing vibrant congregations from our recently arrived neighbors?

Being missional means drawing closer to God and closer to others. The growth of the Church is about neighbors meeting neighbors and building relationships, caring about those who live around us, and loving them with the love of Christ. Jesus told his disciples to go into the world and make other disciples. How’s that going for us? How are we connecting with people in our neighborhoods and cultivating physical, social, and spiritual wellness?

Let’s tell our stories about the adaptive changes we are making in our churches and the new life we are witnessing in our congregations and communities. God forms us in gatherings of believers so that we may learn from and support one another as we bear witness to God’s love and work for justice and wholeness. We are a changing church discovering how to witness to our faith in an increasingly complex world. Spanish author, Antonio Machado, wrote “…there is no road, the road is made by walking.” As we move forward in our mission may we place our trust in God who encourages us along the journey with the power and presence of the guiding Spirit.

Anita Hendrix, Presbytery Leader