This morning Shannon and I attended the Methodist Church in Elgin, Oregon. We had driven past it while we were in town and Shannon looked it up on the Conference website. It is a small church, average attendance 11 people, led by two lay ministers. There are several other Methodist churches in neighboring towns, all about the same size. Since 2013, the churches in LaGrande, Cove, Elgin, North Powder and Union have joined together to form the North East Oregon Circuit.
This circuit is similar to the circuits of old in that a single Elder will make the rounds of the congregations, providing preaching, sacraments and administration. But, instead of each congregation functioning as a lonely mission outpost, the five churches will provide worship, ministry and music in a partnership of laity, Lay Persons Assigned, Certified Lay Servants, a retired elder and an active elder in full connection.
–Oregon-Idaho Conference website
My initial impression (judgement) of this system was one of hospice for dying churches. There were 15 in attendance, and the Children’s message was renamed “Time with the Child in Us All.” Shannon was the youngest in attendance and I daresay I was close to the second youngest. I was thinking that by the time a congregation loses two generations, the party’s over. I don’t have any ideas for a fix, just being negative here.
This morning the church was pastored by Rev. Lisa Peyton, an Elder from the Methodist Church in Baker City, who supports the North East Oregon Circuit. The service was opened with Psalm 139, and Rev. Peyton spoke in the Children’s Message about the part of that psalm that we don’t usually talk about, and my thoughts diverted to how we parse the Bible, selectively quoting only those parts that support certain points of view. But that’s another blog.
Rev. Peyton’s sermon was based on the parable of the sower, Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23. I love it when I get a different take on a parable. First she spoke about how Jesus preached this parable from a boat a little way off shore, so that everyone in the huge crowd could see him and hear his message. (I had been talking to the lady sitting next to me about avoiding the total eclipse this summer because I hate big crowds. I would have totally missed hearing Jesus speak in person. What else am I missing?)
Then the parable itself, how when we hear this parable we think we are the gravel, the thorns, the hard path or the fertile soil that is the receiver of the seed. How are we receiving the news of the Kingdom of God? But here’s the deal. . .what if we are the farmers, and God wants us to cast the seed like God spreads his good news, his grace and his blessings, not in little tidy rows or five seeds to a hill, but generously, by the handful. What if God doesn’t care if the seed thrown on hard or rocky or thorny soil is wasted, there is so much seed that God wants us just to keep throwing it everywhere, to never stop. We have so much of God’s love and grace and blessings that He wants us to spread it around, not worry about wasting it, not judge the kind of soil we are planting in.
So, judgement. I’m really good at it. I have had a lot of practice. I struggle daily with judging the people God puts in front of me. But it is not for me to judge. Even though this church is small and the congregation is elderly, they are still actively involved in their community. Who am I to judge how God will use these servants to spread the news of His Kingdom?
This (the circuit) is not a last chance option for any of these churches. This is a next chance model for how to do church everywhere.
–Oregon-Idaho Conference website