In September of 2003, I signed up for what Duke Divinity School called “field education” eager to get some experience in a pastoral role. I had no idea where this placement would take me or how I would forge a relationship with a congregation that would continue to be a blessing to me for years to come, especially this weekend.
When I first arrived at New Sharon United Methodist Church in Hillsborough, NC, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d never regularly attended a Methodist church, nor had I ever been in a setting where I was called “pastor.” I was still adjusting to the rigor of the graduate school life being miles from home. It was a bit overwhelming at first on many levels. But, by Christmas, things were good. I found myself loving being a part of this faithful and loving congregation. I found them encouraging me in my studies. They were teaching me as much as I was serving them. It was a great partnership in the works.
Sadly, it officially ended in May of 2005 when I finished my second academic year placement there. The field education office sent me somewhere else. But, really my relationship with this church was not over.
I continued to stay in touch with several of the folks at the congregation. Two of them even came to be readers in my wedding. I have continued to think of them fondly.
Then, in January, one of the members of this congregation emailed me to tell me that the youth group and their leaders was thinking of coming to DC in the spring. They’d wanted to visit my church as a part of the trip. They were excited about all that was happening in my life and wanted to share in it. Would I help arrange for them service projects for Saturday morning and afternoon?
I was excited to hear about this possible reunion and had just the idea. . . . why don’t they come serve with us?
And, this is exactly what happened. The group arrived in Reston on Friday night and came to the church bright and early on Saturday morning. Several Washington Plaza folks got up early to make the group of 13 youth and adults a hot breakfast. And then we got to work, together.
It was a beautiful site for me to see. My beloved New Sharon folks raking leaves, cleaning tables and toys, and painting alongside my beloved Washington Plaza folks. 40 of us in all worked hard from 9-2 pm on Saturday getting the building and grounds in better shape. Some of my New Sharon friends told me as we worked, “I really like this place, Elizabeth. You are such a great match for each other. I am glad to see you here and so happy.”
Then, on Sunday morning, both the New Sharon group and the Washington Plaza adults shared in Bible Study led by current New Sharon student associate pastor (from Duke Divinity), Jesse. In worship, the Washington Plaza choir got a bit of a rest as the New Sharon group provided two pieces of special music complete with several instruments in accompaniment.
It was one of those weekends where all you could see was blessings. Blessings for the two churches sharing in fellowship. Blessings for inter-generational service, study and worship going on. Blessings for Washington Plaza to see once again what the worship would feel like with children and youth leading it. Blessings for New Sharon to see a multicultural multiracial congregation in action. Blessing for the pastor with the connections to these two churches, saying prayers of thanksgiving for God’s Spirit doing more than she could have ever asked or imagined.
New Sharon folks, you are welcome anytime– we were so glad you came. You encouraged all of our spirits and humbled us by your gifts of service and we hope your visit with us encouraged you to continue to dream big about God’s future for you too.