10 sept 2015: spicy black bean burgers.

Yeah, yeah, pulled pork sandwiches, too. But spicy black bean burgers! And I’m looking forward to a Woodside’s Rally Day. (Thanks, Church & Ministry!) 

Hey, remember the Big Chill? A 1980s film about a group of friends from the University of Michigan who, 10 years after graduation, get together in South Carolina for the funeral of a friend and spend a weekend reconnecting? Great soundtrack, and some stellar performances by one of the best ensemble casts ever? 

There’s this scene when someone asks, rhetorically, I suppose, if “that” is how a happy person looks. And another responds: I guess I don’t know that many happy people. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with Larry Greenfield, our denominational exec in the American Baptist Churches. (Woodside, you may know, is part of two denominations — the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.) Larry expressed his enthusiasm for Woodside’s progress and growth over the past 18 months, and he asked me what I thought the reasons were. 

I replied quickly, almost automatically, repeating what I’ve been telling you – Woodside has discovered anew its wonderful spirit of hospitality, and can help strangers feel like old friends very quickly; and what you’ve been telling me – we have a solid worship life, with good energy and consistently meaningful messages. 

After Larry and I hung up, I thought more about this, and all the factors that have gone into our early successes. 

It hasn’t been by accident. And it hasn’t been without some angst. We’ve made some changes in our education program; we’ve stepped up our marketing to more clearly define our community identity; we’ve made key changes in our music, in our sanctuary, in our staffing. We’ll make more changes, as we continue to seek God’s call and respond strategically. Growth is about change. (Just ask any parent who is shopping for back-to-school clothes!) But we began to see visions. 

I keep thinking about it, and I thought about it after worship this past Sunday. We had 9 brand-new first time worshippers, and probably half the congregation that morning was new within the past 6 months, and folks were laughing and talking and it was so, so delightful. And here’s what I’ve come to: 

Woodside is happy. Not happy, like in denial or putting on a brave face, but happy, like enjoying one another and worship and lemonade and meeting new people and pondering God. People filled with joy. Which, I’m here to tell you, is not an automatic thing in churches. Woodside is happy. 

And now we are gearing up for another school year, a “program” year, here at Woodside. This edition of Woodside World has a info about a lot of things: the education folks have new classes ready; Outreach & Social Action has a powerful agenda; music is starting fresh; the fall community festival is coming. You don’t have to be a member to join in much of anything here. Just find what makes you happy, what most inspires you or best uses your gifts, and show up or sign up. 

Our finance and stewardship folks are beginning to make our financial plans for 2016; the board is doing its work, too, and will be on retreat together later this month, which will almost certainly include taking a closer look at all our resources and how to make the most of the bounty. Trust fund. Facilities. People power. Governance. 

And none of that is divorced from Flint, from Michigan, from the pain and joy and need around us. We know we still have challenges at Woodside, but we have good and smart people working on them. And even that makes us happy. 

Life can be difficult. We know that. Days bring the unexpected. But we’ll gather again this Sunday as God’s people, and we’ll find joy in the reassuring company. It’s a wonderful feeling. 

The spicy black bean burgers are just a bonus. 

With you on the journey, — pastor deb