Why those words? The previous two pastors had been asked to leave. Though the first one had been dismissed six years earlier there was still some residual pain lingering in some. The second dismissal was still fresh in everyone's mind and heart. There were the usual differences of opinion about his leaving - some thought it was right and others felt it was wrong or hadn't been handled right. The church body was divided. Mistrust had crept in. Some people had left the church and others were sitting on the fence. Many people were hurting. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting into. But God was more than gracious to this young pastor and the congregation he had been called to lead.
On that warm Sunday in July twenty-five years ago I never dreamed that I would still be here in 2010. That seemed like an eternity away back then. My vision for the church in those first months was pretty simple - the church needs to heal, people need to learn to trust each other again, we need to find our unity in Christ, and we can get through this if we choose, under God, to get through this together.
One of my goals for my first year of ministry was to visit every church family in their home. Part of my reason for visitation was to ask everyone how they were dealing with the past and how I could help them move on. Those visits taught me a lot about the church and the hurts, fears, and hopes that people carried. Time after time I realized after leaving a home that these people were good people, had tons of potential, and just needed someone to love and lead them.
One thing I clearly see now as I look back over the past twenty-five years is this - I believe God placed a love in my heart for these people. I didn't have to make it happen. I didn't have to pray for it. I didn't have to work at it. No matter how good or hard the times were, the love I felt in my heart for the church never waned. Even in my darkest moment ten years ago when I was swallowed by a season of depression, once I swept away the clouds I came face-to-face with this love. I can't separate this sense of love from my calling to Canby Alliance Church. The two go hand-in-hand together.