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RECOLLECTIONS OF A UNIFYING PASTOR
Rev. Dr. John Carter - March 2015
The 1975 phone call from the District Superintendent is unforgettable. "Jon, the Bishop would like to appoint you to the ministry of two Churches in Lebanon that held The Celebration of Union service on March 2, 1975." What a challenge - serving a unified congregation's growing faith, develop relationsihps, make decisions for a new ministry! That's how the Carter Family arrived to minister in Lebanon - a county that attributed it's name to Biblical times.
The parents of this newly birthed congregation were (1) Centenary whose roots went back to 1772 with a visit from the Rev. Richard Pilmore, missionary sent to America by John Wesley and (2) Trinity who had been a part of Salem United Brethren serving the Pennsylvania German community but in 1840 the demand for an English speaking Church became a reality. In 1975 a new challenge for a unified Church arose. All of us felt a warm fellowship searching under God's guidance the future envisioned for the new Trinity. We centered on producing individuals who are in Jesus Christ. We dug in and discovered previous and formed newer innovated programs.
Can we ever forget sharing our personal ideas that we wanted for the new church? Eleven different age groups and two intergenerational age groups met separately. The result - 292 ideas emerged (some duplicates). These were narrowed to "Six Priority Ideas" and formulated into "Six Goals for Trinity!" We wrestled to bring alive the goals. After Palm Sunday worship a Church Conference was held...decision...no renovation of either edifice; no selection of any one of the new sites proposed by the building committee - build a new structure on the corner of Eighth and Willow Streets.
An architect was selected and challenged to design a building to facilitate our ministry. Stewardship drives were conducted to strengthen our many talents and financial desires. No problems ever arose - just "loving concerns" to work through successfully. Forty years later we have a continuing ministry.
One remaining "loving concerns" will soon be eradicated. The completion of a visible well-lit parking lot expansion near an entrance for the congregation to enter for the activities of an energized downtown church. The challenge to reach the commuting community will always be an ongoing process. However, in the near future, the three vital church needs will be a reality for a growing church - provide facilities, programs and adequate parking.
Yes, these "Three Vital Church Needs" are not sufficient. As the unification solidified we continue focusing on the most important issue...as this illustration reveals...a missionary to China found it necessary to be gone from his family for an extended time. Aware that his youngest daughter wouldn't understand his leaving, he placed in his coat pocket a rare treat in that part of China, a bright red apple, to give her as he boarded the train. The moment came for him to leave. He kissed his wife and each of his older children. Then it was his little girl's turn. Picking her up in his arms, he pressed the apple into her hand, hoping that this personal gift would soften the impact of his leaving. But instead, as he looked back from the train, he saw the apple slip from her hand and roll away. Tears streaming down her face, she ran alongside the train sobbing, "Daddy, I don't want what you give - I want you!" Trinity focuses on individuals. We know God's love is such that God doesn't simply give us things, He gives us Jesus. Trinity, above everything else, gives Jesus!
Have you ever tried to describe a daffodil bulb? How about this - "a daffodil bulb looks like a retired onion." When the bulb meets the irresistible pull of the sun, there is something in the flower that says: "This is what I was made for." As we center on Jesus and Trinity's mission, the irresistible pull of God is felt! We will be amazed what God can do through Christ. No once but many times. Not only way back when, but now.
There was a building in England that blew up. It was sometime before the wrecking crew could remove the rubble. Then a strange thing was discovered. From the soil beneath the debris, flowers grew. What was the explanation? The seeds, years ago, fell on the soil or were planted. And later upon this land, buildings were built, torn down, and rebuilt. But after the explosion, when the sun touched the earth, out of it came the beauty of these flowers.
"So it is in Trinity's life. God has invested, He has deposited the wealth of His own personality within us. If we let His soul touch our lives, new life comes forth. Our inner lives produce flowers of patience, kindness, truth, love, mercy, hope and faith, which may not have been detected or allowed to grow properly.
The Hebrews of the Old Testament, the Christians of the New Testament, and we today have an implied covenant relationship with God that sustains each day. This source of energy is ours to keep alive and to share in love, forgiveness and ability through positive victorious living. Paul wrote to the struggling Christians at Corinth: 'Consider your call, brethren: not many of you are wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth' (Corinthians 1:26 RSV). Yet, they survived and with God's guidance, the Church became a reality.
We are part of a heritage. We live in the present. We are not pessimistic. We question, discuss and grow together into the future...'You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are all saints, and part of God's household.' Thus, with eyes open or closed in prayer, view one another and amazingly proclaim; 'See how Christ holds us together!' Feel His presence unraveling misunderstandings. Look how His presence gives purpose and power to us to transform individuals and gatherings. Now, we shall continue onward, forward and upward in the power of Almighty God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit."*
Rev. Dr. John S. Carter, Pastor
Trinity United Methodist Church
(* Excerpt from the sermon, "Launch Pad - Heritage," Scripture Ephesians 2:13-22, August 24, 1975, Trinity United Methodist Church, Lebanon, Pennsylvania.)