Friday, November 06, 2009

Celebration Church

The night of November 11th, 1989 was one of the longest in my life. Twice in the night, I had to get up and run to the local YMCA to hit the over-ride switch on the heating system. As I would lie in bed, sleepless, I worried about the events of the next day.

  • Would anybody come?
  • Would anybody stay?
  • What in the world had Nancy and I (and one year old Jessica) gotten ourselves into?
My clearest memory of that weekend, however is not about the smelly tarp the Y made us put down to protect their gym floor; nor about the people we met on the phone who volunteered to help that first Sunday by bringing cookies or helping welcome people or work in the nursery. My clearest memory is of leaving the Y, the evening of the 11th, after a downpour and seeing in the sky a beautiful rainbow. It was if God was saying; quit worrying, everything is going to be OK.

We made lots of mistakes right off the bat, but somehow, we eventually got it right. We stopped trying to be “a traditional church that reached young people,” and instead, for United Methodists at the time, became a rather unique church. So much so, that Church Growth Expert Lyle Schaller came to visit, and wrote about Celebration Church in one of his books. Divorce Recovery Workshops, Rock and Roll music, and a weird Coffee Break, all became signature items at Celebration Church.

It is interesting to look back 14 years removed from the experience. Without a doubt, the experience of starting Celebration Church transformed me, and began the journey that continues to this day of experiencing and sharing a God who is not only there, but a God who is real.

It was at Celebration Church that I began allowing my “progressive theology” to openly come to the surface. It was through leading dozens of divorce recovery workshops, that I was forced to wrestle with much of the traditional theology of Christianity regarding broken people. And I will never forget, when we made the transition from being a “traditional” church to a more progressive one, and we used a modern version of the Lord’s Prayer and someone complained by saying to me: “If it, (the King James Version of the prayer) was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for her.” I hadn’t realized that Jesus spoke King James English!

I learned quickly, that I could not please everyone, and that the vision, was what had to be held at the center --- not our own individual desires or wishes. That was a tough lesson, but one that has served me well over the years. As I have often said: “It’s not about you,” I learned that it also was “Not about me!” I may have been responsible for the vision, but it could never be my vision, it had to be God’s!

Creating a church that spoke to “young people”, and remain in the rubric of the United Methodist Church was a challenge in 1989 (it still is today), but I am proud when I think of all the young lives that came to know God through the experience of Celebration Church.

I have come a long way since those heady days of my youth. My children are mostly grown and soon will be on their own. I have learned to be even more comfortable in my skin and with my relationship with God. I am more passionate about the radical love that Jesus modeled for the world, and well aware of the costs of following that radical love.

As Celebration Church celebrates their 20th birthday this weekend, I wish them well, and pray for continued success in the future.


Pastor Cindy said...

Steve: I appreciate your memories and the vision you set for Celebration. It is interesting how God works and sets his vision for us in spite of ourselves. Thank you for allowing God to work through you at Celebration. It is evident from your website that he continues to work through you even though you are no longer young. As a church Celebration continues to bring the transforming grace of Christ to others, and each of us that have been changed owe a great debt to you for your vision. And that rainbow....the hope and the promise of God continues to live on in our church.

非凡 said...

I'm appreciate your writing skill.Please keep on working hard.^^