It's been cool to see how the Spirit has been moving in a church that so many think is out of energy and spent. I've seen the Spirit in little kids, young parents and elderly grandmothers. I've seen the Spirit in a Sunday School class with three little kids, a Wednesday night bible study where two 60-something women learn the Bible anew, a from an 80-something woman who decided to start a new ministry.
I was reminded of how the Holy Spirit works in a recent blog post I found at the Christian Century. Written by Steve Wooley, a retired Episcopal priest who goes by the name Country Parson, he writes about the endurance of small, rural congregations. The last paragraph of this post could also apply to small, urban congregations as well:
It requires an openness to a subtle indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By subtle presence I mean an atmosphere of the Spirit’s presence, unseen and unheard, yet there. I don’t think you can make that happen whether by loud proclamation or through sophisticated consulting. A small rural congregation without that subtle presence may indeed be declining and dying, and we have all seen that happen. One with that subtle presence will probably continue from generation to generation as long as there are generations to be had.Wooley is saying that what sustains a congregation, what makes it grow (not simply in numbers, but in faith) is that indwelling of the Spirit. But the thing is, it doesn't happen in a loud way. It doesn't happen in a way that anyone can see. It also doesn't happen because of a special method that some transformation consultant is selling. It happens in quiet and unbecoming ways that are not easy to see, but if someone has a heart that is willing, will see the Spirit and a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
I know that Wooley was talking about rural congregations, but I can see how this could apply to congregations like First Christian. I've had to learn to put aside expectations for big numbers and just let the Spirit work and I have seen it work.
I think sometimes we can get so wrapped up in numbers, so wanting to find some program or path to change that will make the church what it once was, that we forget God. In doing that, we miss out on the wonderful journey of God and we miss seeing how God's Spirit is still powering the church after all these years.
The gathered community called church is alive with the Spirit, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.