I spent the morning stacking firewood with the Woodchucks yesterday. It was fun to get back to the easy banter and joy of shared work. It is amazing how much the group has accomplished in the time that I was away. It is one sign that the church carries on and its ministries continue in our absence. Two of the key leaders in the program will be traveling to visit family in another country soon and the work will carry on in their absence as well. There are many things in the church that are the result of many people working together and not dependent upon a single individual. It is good to know that the work of faith continues beyond our personal participation.

I’ve been getting plenty of exercise and the feel of work was natural. It is one of the things about our particular sabbatical that we continued to be physically active. We did a lot of walking, but also a fir amount of physical labor during our break.

Then, last evening, we lingered on our deck after eating supper outside and just enjoyed the beautiful place where we live. three deer wandered into our back yard. They are sleek and good looking after a summer of abundant feed. We missed the time of new fawns this year and are eager to see the fawns in our neighborhood. As we sat outside in the nearly perfect weather with the smell of the pine trees and the beauty of the evening, I was once again reminded of how fortunate we are to have been called to live in this place. Chicago was too big of a city for me. North Dakota was a bit short on trees. Boise was too dray and had almost no wind. Rapid City is nearly a perfect climate for one with my sensibilities. In the night we had a rain shower, the second since our return. It was a joy to lie in bed and listen to the rain coming down the downspouts. Indeed we are blessed.

During our sabbatical we visited churches. That isn’t the same thing as belonging to a church. Our observations of people during our break led us to believe that there are many who are seeking the experience of genuine community. We have always had a built-in community wherever we have lived. We haven’t had to stop and think about which church we would join. We were called to churches and joining was among the first things we did each time we moved. We had a ready-made intergenerational community of folks who were used to working together, supporting one another and accomplishing big tasks together. There are many people, however, who have not yet found such a community. Beyond the theology, a church is a community and we have generations of experience with being community. Of course we also have generations of experience with the perils and conflicts that come from living in close proximity to others. The Bible has a lot of stories of the successes and failures of community. We know that Moses became exasperated with the people of Israel and there were times when they grumbled about his leadership. We know that the Apostle Paul was sometimes frustrated with how his beloved congregations behaved when he was traveling away from them. You can read about it in the Epistles.

Community is not about being perfect. It is about being human and understanding that we thrive when we live with others. Solitude can be a meaningful spiritual discipline, but it almost always leads one back into community. I’m a person who enjoys time alone. I become antsy when I don’t have enough time of heading off on my own to walk or paddle or just be alone. But I also am a person who needs community.

So it will be good to worship with our congregation this morning. It is a real homecoming for us. No longer strangers and sojourners as we were during the sabbatical, we are returning to a place where we are known and where we belong. Our sabbatical has taught us the importance of this community. It has also taught us the importance of making this community available to others. Most close-knit communities have a resistance to change and they project biases which are hidden to them, but visible to visitors. They enjoy being with one another so much that they are ambivalent about having to do the hard work of getting to know new people and having those new people change the community. But welcoming guests and strangers is an important part of our calling. And no community can long survive which doesn’t develop a capacity to include new members.A quick look around our congregation makes it evident that the church of the future hinges on more than just our own birthrate.

Community is found in many places in the church. Worship is primary, but not exclusive. People also find community in fellowship hours, in the quiet conversation of the church parlor, in service groups, in the church school, in volunteer activities, and in the meetings of departments boards and committees. Being aware of the process of building and nurturing community in all that we do is critical to the future of the church.

Still, I am looking forward to this morning’s worship service with high hopes and great expectations. It will mark a milestone in our ministry. Going on sabbatical was meaningful. Reunion is an important part of that process. A quick glance at the attendance sheets from our time of sabbatical reveals that we aren’t the only ones who have been away from the community. I am a realist. I know that Labor Day Weekend is a time away for many families. And our weather is just right for a last weekend in the hills. But I also know that September is a tine of returning to routines after summer’s adventures. The next couple of weeks will be times of reunion for many in the congregation.

I’m not the only one who has missed this community. Perhaps our absence and reunion will result in a renewed dedication to the care of the community.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!