Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
Earlier this month I visited southern California to talk with church leaders about why they might make a greater commitment to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I attended presbytery meetings and met with New Worshiping Community leaders, potential donors, presbytery evangelism committees, and some leaders with questions about recent transitions within the ministry. It was all very enlivening, but the most inspiring contact reminded me that John 1:14 (“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood,” the Message) is still true.
The neighborhood in question in this case is an RV Park in Huntington Beach, CA. Many of their RVs are very nice, but the circumstances which led many of them to live in the park are not. Among the residents are folks who have lost their homes, are going through a divorce, are sick and need to be close to a nearby hospital, or find themselves in a difficult emotional situation. The residents think of themselves as living there temporarily, but a five-to-six year stay is not uncommon.
Many of them are unchurched or dechurched. It seems unlikely that most of them would feel at home in a typical upper-middle-class Presbyterian Church.
This is where the miracle of the Incarnation—that God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood—has come true again. The Rev. Tamara John (pictured left with me), upon her graduation from Fuller Seminary, felt called by the Holy Spirit to buy a custom-fitted RV and seek to serve as Christ’s hands and feet (God in the flesh, if you will) for the residents.
The ministry includes weekly worship services with meals to follow, an evening Bible study and Alpha course, First Friday Fun Nights, and Saturday morning prayer and exercise. Sometimes as many as 30-35 residents attend an event, which is extraordinary given that the 99-space park is rarely full of RVs. Residents often stop by for pastoral care and counseling, as well as to cuddle up with Jobie, the dog evangelist.
Miraculously, the Word that is becoming flesh has moved beyond Tamara into the RV Ministry team, a group of ten residents who have joined God’s mission to build a thriving New Worshiping Community. Like the best missionaries, Tamara is helping the ministry to grow from external to home-grown leadership.
At a dessert with potential donors, Tamara extolled the strengths of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (which supports New Worshiping Community leaders) in encouraging her ministry. The financial grants have been critical, but so have the opportunities for greater training, for networking opportunities, and for coaching. I know that she joins me in praying that these resources, as well as assessments and internships, will bear fruit as other leaders join her in moving into the neighborhood where God is calling them.
I can’t preach well enough.
And neither can you, or your preacher.
Those are two thoughts that came through my mind when I read a recent column by the Presbyterian Outlook’s new editor/publisher Jill Duffield entitled “This is the Word of the Lord.” It’s a wonderful reflection about moving from the pastorate into other kinds of church work as Duffield has done recently (and I did about four years ago). She marvels about all of the work that has to go into the worship service and the preaching…and laments that sometimes the sermon falls short in its proclamation of the Gospel.
While I was in Hong Kong recently, I got to know the youth director at the Union Church of Hong Kong. Brenna Dykman is a recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and I had a great conversation with her about why she is leaving her former denomination in order to become Presbyterian Church (USA). I started to tell her, “Come on in; the water’s fine!”, but she was already convinced.
I was so grateful to spend time with the leaders of Union Church in Hong Kong recently, and especially for the chance to preach. You can find a video of my sermon, "Here Comes the Groom!" (based on Matthew 25:1-13, the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids) by clicking here.
Last week I had the chance to visit the annual conference for the Fellowship Community in San Diego. During this gathering I was reminded that Philippians 1:6 is no doubt true: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This passage has meant a lot to me since my youth pastor, Greg Anderson, wrote it in my 9th grade yearbook the spring after I had put my faith in Christ.