For fifteen years we've been gathering for worship in the 3rd Street neighborhood. We've believed from Sunday number 1 that there ought to be an overflow effect - all this worship in one place for all those years ought to make a difference in our community.
That's why it's always been extra special when we see our neighbors walking to church. And why there's always extra joy in working together to serve our neighborhood. Is our neighborhood better off because of Anchor after a decade and a half? I hope to God it is.
I could point to the Youth Center, our Community Connections Ministry, the 46808 Neighborhood Churches Partnership, the work with Associated Churches, NeighborLinkFW, Habitat for Humanity, A Hope Center, and Community Harvest Food Bank, our ministry with Redemption House, the years of VBS and Neighborhood Clean Up Days, the Halloween Maze, the meetings with Judge Charlie Pratt.
I could point to the baptisms of men, women, youth and children. Each one a sacred and special moment for our congregation and neighborhood. Each life consecrated to God and part of the Kingdom of God, sent into a big world way beyond the sidewalks of our neighborhood block.
I could point to the men and women who have been called into ministry while part of Anchor. Or the ministry opportunities we have provided for people where their faith and love has been stretched and then stretched some more.
Hundreds and hundreds of people have been part of our congregation for the past fifteen years. I suppose you could say it's a sign of failure that they all didn't stay. I look at it as an opportunity for blessing. God has had his plans for Anchor - and apparently it's included allowing a wide diversity of people to serve and lead, to be served and saved while part of this congregation.
In learning to submit to what God has been doing amongst us, it's included learning to graciously receive whomever He brings to our church - and then letting go when it's time for God to send them out into his Kingdom work elsewhere. Whether for a long time or short time - God has brought so many wonderful people into our congregation to bless them and us, to challenge and stretch our faith, to ask of us more than we thought we could give.
Being part of Anchor is not for the weak of heart. It takes a lot of faith and love to be part of Anchor. And hope. Whether it's God planting seeds of faith, hope and love - or asking you to pour it out into others - there is a unique challenge to being part of this church.
From field hospital to table of hospitality, we've learned to embrace as friends and family people who God brings our way for help and healing, and then let them turn around and out of their woundedness warmly welcome others who are hurting.
As difficult as this Gospelwork is, what else would I rather want to do with my life? To be part of a community where I need more faith then yesterday, where I am invited to give and receive more love then I thought capable, and to need more hope than ever.
When Anchor had it's first Sunday, Tara and I were a few years out of college, I was getting ready to celebrate my 24th birthday in about a week, no kids and the future in front of us. A lot has changed since then. A lot of life, a lot of death, a lot of growing up. And God has used Anchor as an anchor for our family. Our congregation has been a source of safety and security in the many storms that have come our way.
I've had to do a lot of maturing while pastoring Anchor. I know that the congregation poured out much grace and mercy upon me as their young pastor. Sometimes I shudder at the sermons and leadership decisions that Anchor had to endure while I did my growing up. But I've never felt like the congregation was "putting up with me." It's been mounds and mounds of generosity, graciousness, and gratefulness.
When I transitioned from my pastoral internship at Emmanuel Community Church to the lead pastor role at Anchor, I determined to serve for at least ten years. I figured I would need that kind of longevity to both learn how to pastor but also help Anchor establish it's ministry and make a difference in the neighborhood. Soon after we started I put together a 30 to 50 year plan, looking forward to what could be if God allowed us to stay with Anchor. We blew past the first decade, and now we're halfway through the next. Here's what I wrote in January 2001, a few years into our journey as Anchor:
* To be a true anchor for the neighborhood amidst the chaos of spiritual ignorance and indifference, broken families and friendships, educational apathy and isolated neighbors.
* To be an influential neighborhood church that is the hub of activities for the community in a 10 block radius.
* To be a church that faithfully and effectively encourages and equips more people to love God and to love people as they reach out to seekers and build up believers (become fully devoted followers of Christ).
* To be a great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent church that continually evolves and reinvents itself in order to faithfully and effectively fulfill the purpose of Anchor.
* To be a church where people can learn to live a life of grace and truth (love) and engage in activities that will enable them to leave a faith-full legacy.
* To be a church where many people regularly respond to the call to be missionaries, pastors, teachers and evangelists.
* To be an encourager and equipper to other residential neighborhood churches so that they too may become faithful and effective in fulfilling The Purpose.
While I might phrase it a bit different now, the arc of ministry is still the same. What we started way back then is still being played out, one way or another. Change happens so fast and often, it can be hard to stay on course. And it can be too easy to get discouraged. Pessimism sneaks in and questions everything. It's in moments like that which I remember our founding verse in Hebrews 6:19-20a
"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf."
Whatever kind of anchoring we are for the community, it is by him and for him. He casts us forth into the sands and reefs of our community amidst storms or in harbors at his will, we go as he sends us, knowing that is he is here.
I'll close my reminiscing with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it comes from a collection of his writings that my Dad gave to me a few Christmas' before his death. I'm thankful to my Dad and Dietrich for the words that point me to Christ, fueling faith, hope and love into the future.
"The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables people to hold their heads high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives them strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for themselves instead of abandoning it to their opponents.
It is true that there is a silly, cowardly kind of optimism, which we must condemn.
But the optimism that is will for the future should never be despised, even if it is proven wrong a hundred times; it is health and vitality, and the sick person has no business to impugn it.
There are people who regard it as frivolous, and some Christians think it impious for anyone to hope and prepare for a better earthly future.
They think that the meaning of present events is chaos, disorder, and catastrophe; and in resignation or pious escapism they surrender all responsibility for reconstruction and for future generations.
It may be that the day of judgment will dawn tomorrow; and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a better future."