The weekend has been one of deep emotion which, I hope, none will mind my sharing in this space.
One year ago, today, I had the unexpected privilege of being installed as the pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida. This has been a wonderful placement for me, and I thank God repeatedly for the grace he has shown to me in giving me this call. It has been a wild year, one sprinkled with challenges, certainly, but as well one blessed with many precious new relationships.
The joy of this anniversary, though, is dampened by the somber reality that yesterday marked the final service of the congregation of Hope Presbyterian Church in Bradenton, Florida, the church I pastored for twenty-five years. My mind does not have a place for conceiving of Bradenton without HPC. And a lively debate could be held concerning the degree of my own culpability in its demise. I know. That debate rages in my mind often.
And yet I don’t want HPC to pass without a notice of its strength. The church was composed of men and women whose love for Jesus ran deep. Children were reared there who are continuing to serve Jesus around the world. Creative ways of bringing Jesus to the community were effected. The church had a genuine beauty that was an honor to Christ. The gospel was more than preached there, it was lived.
I am so grateful for the years that God gave me and my family there. Even now, the great longing of my ten-year old is for the friends and adult mentors he knew there. The impact, not just the memory, of Hope Church will live on in our lives and, we hope, in the lives of many others.
God in his mercy did not allow the impact of these corresponding events go without notice. On Saturday, as members of Covenant Church invested time in my son, playing basketball with him and forming new mentor relationships with him, we were blessed by a surprise visit from Andrea, a former member of Hope, now married and living in St. Louis, who through her years in Bradenton had been like a daughter to us. Both our worlds overlapped.
Then, on Sunday, we enjoyed a long and happy lunch with a few or our new friends from Covenant Church. Later that afternoon we headed off to help a friend from Bradenton, Doug, a med student moving to Orlando to finish his rotations, unload his U-Haul. We were joined in that by Tom and Sam and Pete and Sarah, all young people with Bradenton connections, some deep. Again, our worlds overlapped.
God was masterfully weaving the two parts of my life, the joy and the sorrow, the Bradenton and the Oviedo, together in a way designed to remind me that he is God and the he is good.
Each morning in Bradenton, while it was still dark, I would walk out of my east-facing front door to retrieve the newspaper. When the season was right and the sky was clear, I would look up and see bright and distinct the constellation Orion. That sight came to symbolize for me my life there, a life that has now past.
When I left, I saw it one last time from that place, and bid it farewell. It was hard, harder than I imagined.
I no longer see Orion on those clear and bright mornings. But what I cannot forget is that the God who put Orion in the sky is the God who put me in Bradenton for a time and and who has now put me in Oviedo. To grieve the past that is lost is normal and human. But I celebrate the God who is not lost, who is not past, who is ever present and loving and good, whose shepherdly instincts lead me, undeservedly, beside still waters and into green pastures, and has, beyond hope and imagination, placed me with another flock, who continue to bless me in ways that I will never completely understand.
My heart goes out to the now scattered flock that was Hope Presbyterian Church. I am comforted that we serve a God whose purposes never fail. Far more meaningful than greeting a constellation in the sky is this:
I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
my only trust and Savior of my heart,
who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.