Flying back to Michigan a few weeks ago, I discovered that one of the primary means of entertainment on a 12 hour flight is climbing over others in order to use the restroom. Shortly after the flight took off, I made my way to one of 2 banks of 4 restrooms each and stood in line. There were 2 restrooms on either side of the plane, but nothing was moving on our side. Not one person came out of these 2 restrooms in 10 minutes. Eventually, the people waiting on the other side motioned for us to join their line, and I forgot about it.
3½ half hours later, after I’d watched a movie, ate dinner, and took a nap, I got up to stretch and use the bathroom again. Once more, no one was coming out of the restrooms on our side, and the line grew bigger by the minute. It really makes a difference when 400 passengers only have the use of 6 restrooms instead of 8! Hmm, I thought. This is very strange. So I approached a flight attendant and said, “I’m wondering what’s up with these restrooms. 3½ hours ago I couldn’t get in, and I still can’t get in. Could you check it out?” She could and did.
Sheepishly, the flight attendant admitted that she had locked the restrooms before take-off, which is standard operating procedure. But she forgot to unlock them. Dozens of people, including me, waited in line for up to 20 minutes, and not one person was bold enough to voice a simple question. I suspect they were all waiting for someone else to do it, so I finally did. At least I had a very clean restroom to use.
It reminds me of 17 years ago, when Gary and I first moved to Grand Rapids. We drove through Allendale one day on the way to Lake Michigan, and I asked Gary, “Why isn’t there a United Methodist Church in Allendale? There are no other UM churches nearby, and it’s a growing community with a great university.” I kept asking myself the question periodically for years as I watched one new church after another locate in Allendale. But I never did anything more than wonder.
I was ecstatic when the Cabinet, upon recommendation of the New Church Committee, finally took the plunge last year and appointed Matt Bistayi as the new church start pastor at ValleyChurchin Allendale. As I walked into Valley Church yesterday for their first morning worship service, I didn’t see a bank building, I saw a sacred space that was friendly, welcoming, and ready for visitors.
Rev. Joe Bistayi, Matt’s father, opened the door for me with a great big smile. Can you imagine how proud Joe and Cheryl are of their son? The welcoming area was filled with young families registering their children for child care in Valley Kids, a fun room complete with a tree house and slide! I was even given the opportunity to sign up to make chili for the community chili cook-off next Saturday atAllendaleHigh School.
I was definitely among the oldest people there and was probably the most overdressed, although I really did try to tone it down. 103 adults and 29 children packed the space as Matt opened worship by saying, “We’re gonna rock and roll this morning and talk about spending time with God.” An edgy band brought us to our feet, and the Allendale new church became a worshipping community.
Yesterday was the first of 4 “exhibition” worship services. They are designed for Matt, the musicians, and the tech people to become accustomed to the worship space, the greeters to practice their hospitality, and the kids ministry volunteers to refine their procedures. In the coming weeks, a marketing and advertising blitz will invite the community to check outValleyChurchwhen it officially goes public.
Here are a few things you should know about Valley Church.
- Change is part of the DNA of Valley Church. The vision of Valley Church is: “for God. for People. for a Change.” Valley Church is all about change: change of heart, change of attitudes, change of habits, change of priorities.
- What might happen in our established churches if we could risk asking the question, “Is God calling us to change?” and then be willing to listen to God’s answer.
- Valley Church is all about inviting others into relationship with Christ and into a community of faith. Matt was upfront during worship by challenging the congregation, “Are we for others? Will we invite others to join us, or will we just settle in as we are?”
- Does your local church put those who are not yet part of the church first? Or do you insist, “We’re happy just as we are.”
- How does your local church provide opportunities for people to be part of a small group for Bible study, service, and mutual support?
- How does intentional spiritual formation take place in your local church?
- The heart of Valley Church is found in house churches, which could also be called small groups. Valley Church literature states, “A house church is simply a group of 8-10 people who get together once a week to talk about life, hang out together, and be a part of mission and outreach activities.” Matt announced yesterday that 10% of every offering taken at Valley Church will go toward the outreach and mission of the house churches. He’s already teaching tithing!
- For Valley Church, spiritual growth begins with our relationship with God. It’s no coincidence that Matt’s first official sermon at Valley Church was about spending consistent and devoted time with God. Claiming that the point of our life is to simply and powerfully point it to God, Matt challenged us to practice the presence of God in our everyday life.
Valley Church is a sign of hope for the West Michigan Conference as well as for the town of Allendale. Countless studies have shown that the best way to grow The United Methodist Church is to start new churches.
- Matt Bistayi asked the question, “God, will you send me?” and took a risk to make known his call to start a new church.
- The New Church Committee asked the question, “Is this the place, God?” and took a risk to startValleyChurch.
- The West Michigan Conference asked the question, “Is now the time, God?” and voted to direct financial resources toValleyChurch.
- 100 adults have already asked the question, “God, are you calling me to make a commitment to be a part of a church that is for God. for People. for a Change?” They responded with their presence yesterday.
What questions might you need to ask as you take a fresh look at your own commitment to Christ and to the church? Will you risk voicing those questions even if it means change – on your part or on the part of the church? And if the answers aren’t yet clear, are you willing to hold the questions close to your heart as you journey?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Ranier Maria Rilke
P.S. The restrooms at Valley Church were not locked. I checked.