There’s no denying it…there is a colossal storm wrecking havoc in The United Methodist Church right now. Battle lines have been drawn, political maneuvering abounds. Folks on every side feel disenfranchised, tired, and battle-bruised. And that includes me. If you’ve read blog posts I’ve made before, you know that I have been a constant voice of hope for the only denomination I’ve ever known. I have dreamt that there would be a way out of the gridlock we are currently caught up in, but now I’m not nearly as certain or hopeful.
The politics all across the Church have distracted us from our mission of making disciples so much that I am more and more convinced that the only way out of this storm is for a negotiated, amicable separation. And that pains me to say, it really does. I have considered myself a centrist who tends to get along with just about everybody, so the idea of schism hurts to even verbalize. But, I’m tired. This storm has taken a toll all over the denomination and it’s taking a toll on me.
And the idea of something new is exciting but terrifying all at the same time. I’ve asked myself several times, and I’ve heard other colleagues ask the same “What will we do after the storm is over?” Another way of putting it is “Where will we find ourselves after the dust has settled?”
I woke up really early this morning–whether it was a racing brain or a 4 year old knee in my back I can’t be sure–but I started rehearsing these same questions again. As I laid in bed questioning and praying, God reminded me of a storm story from my past.
In 2006, I spent my spring break doing hurricane recovery in New Orleans. I remember that we went in kind of blind, we didn’t know where we would even be sleeping, we just knew we wanted to help. The first night we slept on cots in the abandoned freezer of a meat locker.
The next day, we met Pastor Randy and did he ever have a storm story! His local church had just purchased and remodeled a former grocery store to be their new campus. The church was growing, everyone was excited about the new location, things were on the up and up. Then the storm came. The building was ruined, the congregation dispersed through evacuation and some of them would never return to rebuild their lives in New Orleans. Before the storm, Pastor Randy and his wife had just purchased their dream home. They were told that they did not need flood insurance since they were outside the danger zone. Then the storm came. The levees broke and all of St. Bernard’s Parish (even those outside the “danger zone”) flooded. Their dream home was destroyed.
Pastor Randy’s story was not uncommon as we met people throughout New Orleans. Their stories represented so many broken dreams because of the storm. It seemed like the storm had taken everything from them. And, I admit, it was really easy to feel sorry for them, especially our new friend Pastor Randy. I remember sitting on the floor in what was once his dream house, eating pizza, hearing his story. After the storm he found himself living in a van (his family evacuated and he stayed to shepherd his flock….whole different story) in the parking lot of an abandoned Wal-Mart. I remember holding back tears as he told us his story. Then, he told us that he was crying out to God (understandably) “Lord, what am I going to do now? Everything is gone. The storm took everything. What am I going to do?” Then he said what I didn’t expect to hear. He said that he heard the Lord ask him right back, “Son, what were you doing before the storm?” He answered “I was preaching your word, I was building your Kingdom, I was reaching out.” And he heard God’s reply “Why would it be any different after the storm?”
Pastor Randy was quite convicted by his conversation with God, but it motivated him. “Why should I be doing anything differently than I was before the storm?” Somehow he acquired a propane camp stove and started serving soup outside his van right there in the Wal-Mart parking lot. When other organizations began to gain access to the area, they saw what a good little operation Pastor Randy had going and they started setting up camp in the parking lot, too. By the time we arrived, there was a large circus tent supplied by Operation Blessing filled with food and clothing, trailers containing medical clinics, a food line, and a full blown worshipping community. We had Sunday worship right there in the middle of that parking lot. We filled boxes with food and gave out clothing. We went out from the parking lot and gutted houses, trying to help people rebuild some of the dreams that were broken by the storm. In so many ways, the entire operation happened because Pastor Randy asked “What do I do after the storm?” After his moment of licking his wounds, he got right back to the important work he was doing before the storm: building God’s Kingdom, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reaching out to those who were lost and hurting and broken.
I had nearly forgotten this story, or at least forgotten its significance. But as I laid in bed this morning I rehearsed all that I had experienced in New Orleans. And then I felt God ask me the same that God had asked Pastor Randy “What were you doing before the storm?” UGH, I hate it when God tries to shake me out of my comfortable whininess.
I don’t know what it will look like for the people called Methodist when the storm passes. I’m confident the landscape is about to permanently change, but I’m not at all sure what it will look like. Here’s what I do know, when the storm is over…I’ll still be preaching the Gospel. I’ll still be joining God in the advancement of His Kingdom. I’ll still be reaching out. I’ll still be on the frontlines somewhere. Because why would it be any different after the storm?