Forward Through The Ages - August 17, 2014

I Kings 8:27-30
Acts 15:22-35

On December 21, 1876, seven people met in the old Maguire schoolhouse three miles south of Moscow to organize the Moscow Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Milton Anderson was the first pastor. In the early years, the fledgling church met on the upper floor of a building at the corner of 4th and Main, and then for a while at the Baptist Church.
Our church history does not specify whether Rev. Anderson was sent here by the Annual Conference to start a church or if those seven lay people had begun to organize one on their own. The 1876 date is listed as the start of Rev. Anderson's tenure, so my guess is that he had done initial work prior to the December 21 meeting.
However it came about, the church began then and the rest, as we say, is history.

Over the last 138 years it is hard to say how many lives have been touched, how many disciples of Jesus Christ have been made, and how the world has been transformed, all because of this church. The written history does tell of refugees from war torn countries who were sponsored by the church; of students from the University of Idaho who came here by the dozens, some from other countries; of Sunday School classes which met and women's groups who worked on behalf of the church and the community.
The legacy continues. I've been meeting for the last couple of weeks with four adults who are exploring membership in our church. Next Sunday I meet with youth and their parents about a youth membership class I'll teach this fall. I'm not sure how many will choose to be in the class. I can say I have thirteen on my list.
The legacy continues. A few weeks ago we hosted Family Promise for the fourth time. We welcomed two homeless families, in this case, two single dads, each with one child. Another housing ministry, Habitat for Humanity, runs, as their director says, on Methodist energy. Donations of garden produce continue to come in twice a month on Bring Your Garden to Church Sundays. It is then distributed to area food banks so that low income people have access to fresh produce. The world continues to be transformed through this church.
The planting of the Moscow Methodist Episcopal Church through Rev. Anderson and those seven lay people was actually a continuation of the work of visionary and faithful people over the millennia in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and building the church. Rev. Anderson was here for only two years. He also served other charges at the same time, including Colfax and Palouse. He went on to build the first Methodist Church in Spokane.
Such work goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. We read earlier from the fifteenth chapter of Acts, continuing on from where we left off last week. Chapter 15 is a pivotal chapter in Acts. It marks the moment when the earliest Christians recognized they were not an adaptation of Judaism but a brand new thing.
In our reading today we heard how the apostles and elders sent people to Antioch to carry the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul and Barnabus, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, went to Antioch. Then they were, "sent off in peace." The rest of Acts is the story of how Paul, in cooperation with others, established churches throughout Asia Minor and into Europe. We know from Paul's letter to the Romans that his ultimate goal was to go to Spain, which if it wasn't the end of the world, you could see it from there.
Not every place Paul went was receptive to his work, though many were. Along the way he built deep relationships. Like Rev. Anderson Paul didn't stay in any one place very long. Once a church was established he went on to a new place. Then he went back to the churches he had founded to ask for their support both for the Mother Church in Jerusalem, which had fallen on hard times, and their spiritual support for his new endeavors. He even wrote to the church in Rome, which he had not founded, hoping to gain their support for a mission to Spain. Sadly he died in Rome and never made it to Spain.
Now the opportunity to send leaders off in peace comes to us. Just as Rev. Anderson came to Moscow 138 years ago, most likely with the backing of what was then the Oregon Conference, so now the Pacific Northwest Conference sends pastors to start new churches in places not already served by a United Methodist Church, or often any church. These days it is not a matter of going into a frontier several days ride on a horse from much of anywhere. Today it may be going into a new suburb or housing development going up on the outskirts of an existing city. Other times it is an ethnic population which has moved into an area previously populated by other people. Sometimes it is a new style of ministry – a cyber church, theology pub, or something else that reaches people who have no interest in coming to a traditional church.
One new church forming in our conference means a lot to me. From 1997-2003 I served the Toppenish United Methodist Church. It was a Caucasian church in a town that had become increasingly Hispanic. When I was there the public schools were 75% Hispanic. Former migrant workers have become full time residents, and often citizens. In the years I lived in Toppenish the church had little interest in reaching out to the Hispanic population. The congregation was also aging. There are still a couple of dozen of those people left, and several times a year I hear of someone I knew and loved who has died. It is clear that congregation will not last much longer.
Our Annual Conference has now appointed a Hispanic couple as co-pastors. They minister to the dying English speaking congregation, and to a growing Spanish speaking congregation. A new church is being born which reflects the community in which the building sits.
The Sky Prairie church in Post Falls was planted five years ago. Rev. John Weston began by knocking on doors – thousands of them, and the church was born.
This year our Conference started four new congregations: The Begin Again Church in Lake Washington, the New Harvest Church I mentioned in Toppenish, another Hispanic Church in Mt. Vernon, and The Well, a new church in the Queen Anne area of Seattle.
It takes several years for a new church to become self sufficient. The Toppenish New Harvest Hispanic Ministry already has a building. And it reaches out to a population which does not have a lot of money. While Caucasians are the minority in town, they still have most of the money and most of the power. To support a pastor and the other ongoing expenses of a church is beyond them at present. Sky Prairie does not have a building. They are renting space. Maybe they'll never own a building, or maybe they will. They are reaching out to new believers. For now they still need our support.
New faith communities are the Research and Development arm of the church. They are more willing to try new things than existing churches. Some will fail, and they'll learn from them. Some will succeed beyond their wildest dreams, and they'll learn from them. In fact, all of us will learn from them.
I know there are questions about this endeavor. Every year our Conference retires more pastors than we ordain. Some of you wonder how we can start new churches when there aren't enough pastors for the existing ones. The answer is that there ARE enough pastors because we recruit pastors from other places. People want to come to the northwest – they have family ties here, like the area, or are attracted by the open attitudes of the northwest.
Others have commented why start new churches when others are struggling. I'll talk next week about the Ministry Fund Drive's efforts on behalf of struggling churches. For now let me just say that these new churches may be the ones your kids or grandkids are attracted to.
New churches tend to reach new believers. They continue the work begun by Paul and Silas, by Priscilla and Aquila, by Milton Anderson and those seven lay people who founded Moscow Methodist Episcopal Church. They live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
They need our prayers. And they need our financial support. Our Church Council has set a goal of raising a minimum of $10,000 for the Ministry Fund Drive. Some of that will start new churches. Some will revitalize existing ones. Some will go into the world to Imagine No Malaria. Watch for word about auctions, Pie Sunday and other ways we can meet and exceed our goal. Together with Milton Anderson, those seven lay people, and the Apostle Paul, we will go forward through the ages, building new faith communities and more importantly new disciples of Jesus Christ.

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