Upon reflection of this weekend’s activities, it is amazing how seemingly random events are so interconnected. First was the Saturday night Christmas party for the English Ministry of our church. It was a gathering of current and former members of all ages. At the midpoint of our get together, as we were contemplating the true meaning of Christmas, I asked those present to share stories of hope or joy. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked that question, but it turned out to be a wonderful time of sharing that lasted much into the night. People began to share their experiences of this church, of who invited them, who welcomed them, their painful and joyous times, and of meeting their spouses at this particular church or walking into the church office to find their pastor handcuffed to the file cabinet by those who took all of the Sunday’s offering. And finally we heard stories about the history of this church. Though First United Presbyterian Church was founded in the mid-1800’s, it moved to its current location in 1953. It was a mostly Caucasian congregation and it was busting at the seams with almost 500 children and youth participating each weekend. Then as it often happens with many churches, the membership began to shrink and age and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the church viable. It was at this moment when the Taiwanese congregation was welcomed into the church and it was this congregation that continued the ministry of First United PC. It was a new birth and the former members of the church told stories of their thankfulness to this congregation for carrying on the ministry of the church. It was a moment of turning sorrow into joy.
Just this morning, the Advent candle that was lit and my message during the service happened to also touch on the topic of turning sorrow into joy. The scripture was from John 16:16-22 where Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection and turning sorrow, mourning and pain into joy. Jesus uses the metaphor of a woman who endures labor pains, but soon forgets about the anguish and feels the joy of bringing a baby into the world. I know that we would like to think of Jesus as being empathetic and equal to both sexes but when I read this, I know he is speaking from a very male point of view. I know many women, my wife included, who may forget the pain for awhile; however, I do not think it is completely forgotten. One thing that was clear to me is that all of the tears and the screams of childbirth did turn into joy when my wife held our baby in her arms. The tears of pain immediately turned into tears of joy.
This evening, I attended a different kind of birth. It couldn’t have happened at a better time when we are in the Advent season and especially on a Sunday when we celebrate “Joy”. Today was the day when Mission Bay Community Church was finally birthed as an official church of the Presbyterian Church USA. It certainly was not an easy process. Its conception and labor pains lasted 9 years. I was privileged to be part of the pastoral staff for five of its beginning years. And now that this community has been joyously birthed, yes, I still remember the birthing pains.
I remember times when we would work blood, sweat and tears to put a great worship service together week after week to only see 5 or 6 people in the congregation. For more than a year, the members of the small band, the pastoral team and a few worship leaders would outnumber those sitting in the pews, or I should say, sitting on IKEA chairs. I remember the 100’s of trips to our favorite store IKEA to fill our worship/office space. I remember all of the moves and the pains of boxing and hauling and painting and redecorating and reorganizing. My mind aches to think of all of the disappointment that we would feel when we would not see the fruits of our hard labor, knowing that we would have to pick ourselves up to work just as diligently the following week, knowing the results might be the same. I remember agonizing over the budget and having to take major salary cuts. I remember losing hope and faith at times. And yes, there were tears and fears and gnashing of teeth along the way. And I remember all of the former and current “as of today” members of this congregation, who began with the church or soon after its conception who gave time, energy and sacrifice to make today’s celebration possible.
But as I was laying hands on the new members, elders and pastoral staff, who would lead this congregation, I did for a moment forget the pain. I was at one with all those in the room to celebrate the joy of the moment and prayed that God would continue to bless and lead them in very special ways. And though I do remember all of my pains and sorrows in this place, I felt joy that this congregation has come so far and that I was privileged to have served in a small way to make this birthing possible.
May God continue to work through Mission Bay Community Church to transform, heal and touch the lives in the San Francisco community and the world.