I’d like to share with you a typical Sunday morning in the life of the Grand Rapids District. As I left home a week ago for Parmelee United Methodist Church, east of Middleville, I prayed my usual morning prayer, “I rise from my bed of sleep to adore your holy name, to live for you this day, to work with you in the building of your kingdom, and to find in you eternal life. Grant me grace to walk in health and wholeness, and, most of all, thank you that I can live this day as your beloved. I am open to the leading of your Spirit. Speak to me today.”
It was a very cold but gorgeous morning, the sun glistening off the pure white snow. As I turned east off M-37, there it was. A brilliant rainbow, rising vertically from the ground to the left of the sun. My jaw dropped, and all I could utter was, “Wow! Thank you, Jesus.” It was a sign of God’s covenant, surely meant for me. As I attempted to keep my eyes on the road and catch glimpses of the rainbow, I noticed another rainbow to the right of the sun. Again, it rose straight up from the ground, then stopped. I’d never seen anything like it.
Pulling into the church, I walked in with a couple who commented on the beauty of the unusual rainbows. When I asked why the man wasn’t wearing an overcoat, he said, “I was just here shoveling off the entryway, so I’m already warmed up.” Inside the front door, a young family greeted me, the 2 year old handing me a bulletin. An elderly man asked if he could hang up my coat.
Everyone greeted me warmly. The woman next to me asked jokingly, “What do you think the average age is here?” As she pointed out all the 90 year olds, I counted 33 adults and 3 children in the sanctuary, every one expectant and prepared for worship. A lovely arrangement of evergreens graced the chancel.
The mission statement, “Helping others through God’s loving grace,” was in the bulletin. Pastor Lee Zachman introduced the service with a few announcements, then invited others to share. One man said, “Did you see the rainbows on the way in? How can a person not believe in God after seeing something like that? It’s a reminder that we always need to be aware of and alive to God’s presence in our world.”
3 children, ages 16 months, 2 and 9, came forward for the “Time Mostly for Children.” Pastor Lee talked about birthdays as an example of how there are no ordinary days in our lives. Each day is precious and special and must be lived fully and faithfully.
Of the 33 adults, 9 came forward to sing in the choir. It felt as if “God Will Take Care of You” and “I Love to Tell the Story” were sung directly to me. One of the scriptures was Psalm 19, “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” a reminder of the rainbows we had just witnessed.
It wasn’t until we sang the 4th hymn of the morning that I noticed: we were using the old Methodist hymnal from the 60’s! I hadn’t seen that hymnal in years, but it didn’t matter. The words of poet S. Ralph Harlow are timeless: “O Young and Fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee, thy life is still a summons to serve humanity; to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd, to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.”
As the offering was taken, I watched as person after person placed their check in the plate, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The usher held the offering plate in one hand and the hand of his 2 year old grandson in the other. As they walked forward during the doxology to present the offering, I couldn’t help but think, “A new generation is being taught how to give and how to serve.”
Pastor Lee preached on Philippians 3:12-21, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal. But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” His words about how to make the most of our journey through life spoke to my heart, encouraged my spirit and inspired me to continue to live out my call during the coming week.
After worship we all went downstairs to the fellowship hall for refreshments and a church conference. The congregation voted to purchase property from their neighbor in order to improve the septic system and drain field in preparation for building handicapped restrooms and installing an elevator in the church. After the vote, one member pulled me aside and explained the history of the project. There had been some difficulties between the neighbors and the church, but church leaders patiently and lovingly kept in dialogue, and the door finally opened. He said, “Maybe the most important part of this process was not the property we gained but the fact that our congregation learned a lot about the power of God’s love.”
So goes a Sunday morning in the life of the Grand Rapids District. Parmelee UMC is one of the smallest churches in the district, but the presence of the Lord was surely in that place. I was on holy ground on that Sunday. There are 69 other patches of holy ground in our district, churches where, every week, lives are changed, prayers are raised, pastors faithfully preach the gospel, congregations are challenged to deepen their spiritual life, broken spirits are ministered to, and Jesus beckons us to follow him. I don’t expect that a rainbow will lead me every Sunday like the pillar of cloud and fire led the Israelites by day and night. But I do know this: it is a joy to be a small part of God’s mighty work in West Michigan making disciples, loving neighbors and transforming the world. May this new week summon you to be aware of and alive to God’s presence each day.