This past week, some of us gathered to distill the essence of our church into a mission statement. One of the words that people kept using to describe the church was faithful.
I wondered: What does it mean to be faithful?
As I pondered this question, I thought of one of the first stories I heard when I started pastoring FBC in Essex. In 1989, members of this church had been hearing stories of people in the area that were in need. One church member knew of an elderly couple that was picking garbage out of a dumpster.
“What could we do?” They wondered.
The people of FBC in Essex began to dream about the possibility of a soup kitchen. They decided to serve one meal as an experiment.
On March 25, 1989, the fellowship hall was opened for dinner. Volunteers prepared hot food and visitors were welcomed.
A woman walked in and handed a $50 gift certificate for a local grocery store and began to leave. The volunteers called out after her, “We don’t know if this will really work … we don’t know if anyone will really come.”
The woman responded, “Oh ye of little faith.”
The first night that they opened eleven people came. After a second trial run, it was decided that we would serve meals every week.
The first year had its ups and downs. Volunteers quit saying it wasn’t worth their time. Members questioned whether or not they would have enough funds to continue.
They never closed. They kept saying “O ye of little faith” and hung in there.
Today, the soup kitchen has grown into a non-profit comprised of eight soup kitchens and four food pantries in an eleven-town area.
This story teaches me that faithfulness is about remaining steadfast to God’s vision of peace and justice, even when it is hard. Claiming our identity as a faithful people does not mean that we have it all together or always get it right. Claiming our identity as faithful people means that even in places of hunger, addiction or pain, we don’t give up because God never gives up on us.
This is the Good News of the Gospel, and so:
Even when it is a struggle,
we show up; we worship; we pray; we open our hearts.
We trust in God’s transformative power,
And, in the process, bit by bit,
we discover joy and healing and new life.
This is what it means to be faithful.
Thank you FBC in Essex for teaching me that.