by Becky Anderson
Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to speak with you this morning about my experiences with the spiritual formation groups I’ve attended at St. John.
After moving to Bellevue, I began to search for a church that was close to home. Since I pass St. John on an almost daily basis, I decided to visit the church’s website and find out more about the congregation. I was raised in the Methodist church, so the United Church of Christ was new to me. The first service I attended at St. John was on Christmas Eve and I was blown away by the inclusive spirit I witnessed that night. I like that the United Church of Christ strives to include everyone and that the church works for justice in a multitude of areas. Although I continued to attend services as my schedule permitted, I did not sign up for the church newsletter until a few months later. The newsletter seemed like the perfect tool to stay connected, along with the ability to download and listen to Pastor Keith’s sermon, if I couldn’t attend a Sunday morning service.
Well, I think it was no small irony that my first edition of the newsletter featured information concerning the Lenten small group study on forgiveness. I say irony because the years of 2005 to 2011 are what I refer to as my Ken Burns “When Your World Explodes: The Extra Long Director’s Cut” years. After my first marriage failed, the loss of my job and my home, a chronic illness diagnosis, the death of my father and my best friend, an extended legal battle and a multitude of other painful personal circumstances I realized that I had two choices:
One: I could roll the credits and title myself in past tense, or
Two: I could forgive not only those who had hurt me, but also forgive myself and begin to write a new story with God’s help.
Many years ago, as my ex-husband’s alcoholism came to full light, I asked God to shape me into who He wished me to become. Obviously God answered in a big way, and it was clear to me when I received the newsletter highlighting forgiveness that I had found a church ready to meet me where I was.
St. John’s mission reads, “Our caring congregation feeds the spiritual and physical needs of the community.” This small group study made it possible for me to connect with others while taking the time to listen to God’s word. It was a pleasure to meet others and discuss the most human and relevant topic of forgiveness. This group also let me know that St. John is a church filled with thinkers who strive to understand God’s word and apply it in a way that is personal, significant and relevant. Also, it didn’t hurt that there was some delicious soup involved.
I feel that many Americans today struggle with the church as an institution. That’s why I believe that small groups are such an important ministry. Although not every topic will appeal to everyone, simply opening the doors to people and giving them an opportunity to see that indeed, God is still speaking, makes the church less of an institution and more of a personal experience. St. John and the United Church of Christ strive to reach out to people on a personal level no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey. It’s obvious that in today’s world a message of goodwill and fellowship is extremely important.
I hope to attend more small groups in the future because they give me, and others who may have non-traditional schedules, or simply feel uncomfortable attending a worship service the chance to learn, grow and find fellowship. I’m happy to say that God has brought many blessings into my life and each day I feel more and more at peace. As a Christian, it’s important to know that the message of Christ is meaningful and accessible. The small groups that I’ve attended at St. John facilitate a deeper understanding of that message and make me eager to learn more.