A CULTURE OF WELCOME AT BETHEL
About 20 people attended a special meeting held at Bethel last Wednesday evening. The meeting was all about deepening the culture of welcome at Bethel Church. These 20 or so people were being recruited to be “fire-spreaders.” Their job is to reach out to those who need to be welcomed and to get us all to do the same.
The initiative has come about because of something really good that his already happening at Bethel. We have been hearing encouraging reports from people who have felt warmly welcomed when they visited Bethel on a Sunday morning. Many others have said that they have experienced Bethel to be a “welcoming church.”
It is wonderful to hear these things said; yet still, there are Sundays when I will notice guests, or even, fellow church members standing alone in the foyer after church or during connect time, excluded from the cheerful circles of conversation all around them.
The approximately 20 people who gathered last week were challenged with this simple goal: no one is to stand alone. They have committed to keeping a look out for anyone relegated to the sidelines. They are to welcome them, but they are to do something more and this is where you come in. They are to involve us all in the welcoming process.
They may do this by introducing us to a guest with whom they have been speaking (perhaps because they have discovered a common interest we share with that guest). Or, they may give us a friendly reminder—if they find that we have fallen into comfortable conversation without noticing that there is someone standing nearby us who is alone.
Our goal of being a welcoming church is very counter cultural and very Christ-like. It is counter cultural because we are not leaving the welcoming process to a trained few, and also because there is no ulterior motive behind our efforts. Our aim is simply to help people feel at home. (We are not trying to sell them anything.) It is Christ-like, because Christ died for all people, and we reflect His love when our welcome is as all-encompassing as his.
So will you join in this effort by making sure that those around you feel welcome? I am confident you will, so let me thank you in advance! Let’s deepen the culture of welcome at Bethel till it can truly be said of us that we are a church where no one stands alone. -- Pastor Tom
BETHEL STEPS UP
One of the great joys of my life is watching the Holy Spirit working through members of the church. If we are prayerful and seeking to be led by the Spirit, we can expect to witness Him regularly at work in quiet but powerful ways through individual members of the body. The results of His moving in people’s hearts can often be startling. An instance of what I am talking about happened just this week.
For the last several months we have been hearing about the “Make Tax Time Pay” initiative. The E4C, a local nonprofit agency, knowing of Bethel reputation as a church that cares for the Bannerman Community, approached us to see if we would sponsor a Make Tax Time Pay site at our church. After months of advertising the request to the congregation, only three volunteers had stepped forward to staff the ministry.
The potential benefits of this program for people in poverty are enormous. It can quickly boost their incomes by enabling them to easily file their taxes and to access the government benefits to which they are entitled. However, the anemic response made it seem increasingly unlikely that the program would launch at Bethel.
Then one of our church members felt stirred by the Holy Spirit. Randall Huisman, Bethel’s Council Chair, announced at a meeting of our Managing Elders that he felt that it was unacceptable that we would not staff this program. God had called us to the Bannerman neighborhood, he said, and he believed God wanted us to take on the initiative as requested. A week or so later he shared his passion from the pulpit at both services.
The congregation heard Randall’s heart (and also learned that they did not have to be chartered accountants to play a part in the program.) People started signing up. In just a few days seventeen people had stepped forward, bringing the total number of volunteers to twenty—well beyond the 12 -14 minimally required to staff the program.
I was moved when I heard this good news, and shared it at a meeting of local Bannerman Leaders on Wednesday morning. It was met with expressions of happiness by those present. Suddenly, two other local organizations then asked if they could funnel volunteers into the program. We connected them with the E4C to get plugged in.
This is how the Spirit works in the church. The Spirit gifts church members in individual, unique ways. He lays a burden one member’s heart. That person steps up in obedience. Others follow his or her lead and obey the Spirit’s call in their own lives. These little acts of obedience add up sending out a ripple that causes a significant and sometimes unexpected impact.
May the light of Christ shine through this effort so that people will see just how wonderful is the One who inspires our efforts!--Pastor Tom
The Importance of This Moment in Your Life
How important is this moment in your life (or any moment, for that matter)? Life with its demands has a way draining the sense of meaning from our day to day activities. We are pulled in so many directions. We can get tired or distracted or bored or numbed, and all of these things can causes us to miss the importance of now.
For a Christ follower, every ordinary moment is a significant moment. At each and every point in our day God is inviting us to cooperate with him in His great Kingdom purposes.
I was reminded of this just this week at—of all places—a hospital bedside. I had come to visit 81 year old Ruth Groves who had undergone major surgery less than 24 hours before I arrived at the Royal Alex Hospital to see her. As I was searching for her room, I was wondering if she would be awake and clear minded enough to have even a brief visit.
What actually happened was not what I expected, and it was unlike any other hospital visit I have ever done in my ministry career. Ruth's face lit up the moment she saw me. She began to speak enthusiastically about her stay at the hospital. As I listened and she spoke, I had to wonder who was visiting whom.
Ruth explained how a group of medical personnel had gathered at the foot of her bed, after her operation. They inquired about her condition. She assured them all that she was in the hands of the Great Physician--the greatest doctor of them all—Jesus—and that having His salvation and provision, she was well covered.
After she had spoken, several brief but meaningful interchanges occurred with members of the medical team. These healthcare professionals referenced things like forgiveness and redemption. One even asked Ruth to pray for her health!
Ruth commented enthusiastically that she knew she was exactly where the Lord wanted her to be to accomplish His purposes. Her words impressed me and caused me to reflect on just how aware I was, in that moment that I was in exactly where God wanted me to be. I was thankful and encouraged by Ruth’s words.
Anywhere we find ourselves—even if that is in a hospital bed—is God’s “now” in our lives. Your circumstances in this moment are not an accident. How aware are you that you are living God’s now? --Pastor Tom
CHANGES TO THE LORD’S SUPPER
I really like the way we conduct the Lord’s Supper at Bethel Church. I love its “hands-on” character—the way we move to the front of the sanctuary and participate with words and actions before returning to our seats. I love the sense of community I experience when we are gathered in small circles. I love looking into the eyes of my brothers and sisters to assure them that the body/blood of Christ was given for them.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that not everyone one likes our current approach to the Lord’s Supper as much as I do. I have learned that it can be uncomfortable for some of our less extroverted members and can be a significant barrier to people unfamiliar with our church’s traditions—notably guests who are exploring the Christian faith.
In the last years, the Worship Arts Team, the Church Renewal Lab Team, and the staff have all discussed the matter. We have even received some unsolicited feedback. So, the Worship Arts Team has decided to experiment with how we conduct communion to find the way that best suits our church.
On the last Sunday of this month, we will do the Lord’s Supper the way it was once done at Bethel, and is often done in other churches, by passing the elements down the rows one at a time. Then, in February we will return to circles at the front of the sanctuary. We will alternate between these two approaches for several months. We may even a try different format altogether, at some point. Before summer arrives we will attempt to discern which format, or combination of formats, best serves our members and mission.
Ultimately, it is not how we do the Lord’s Supper but who and what we are celebrating that matters. Nonetheless, we do want to adopt the approach that is most enjoyable for us and most effective for our mission. As we pursue this time of discernment in a spirit of unity, extending grace to one another, we are confident that we will find the format that is right for us.
One other small change to the Lord’s Supper is that we will not be celebrating it each Sunday in Lent—the six weeks leading up to Easter. Rather, we will observe it on only the last Sunday of the month, as we do during the rest of the year, and, of course, on Good Friday.
We invite your feedback. You can contact Kevin Rietema, Pastor Tom, Pastor Ryan or another member of the Worship Arts Team (Robyn Dubbeldam, Michele Huisman, Jessica Rietema, or Melissa Scharfenberg). –Pastor Tom
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