Beloved Church-in-the-Garden Family and Friends,
As I was putting the finishing touches on this month’s Garden Time on Sunday afternoon, the breaking news alerts from Sutherland Springs, Texas bombarded my phone. That familiar feeling of angst and sorrow began to well-up inside of me. Not again, I thought. My God, not again! Since that time I have been thinking and praying on what to write. What can I say? What can be said? What should I write? The clear answer for me at this time is to remain silent. While there is much for me to say and there is much for me to write, I need to have a talk with God. My silence is not a lack of activity. It is an affirmation of my anger and righteous indignation. It is an acknowledgement of my sincere need to sit with this in silence. It is recognition that I need to take some time to listen and talk to God about these recurring incidents in this country. I must seek inspiration from the Holy Spirit to use my platform as a microphone to trumpet words of truth, love, justice, comfort, and compassion. Please know that in due time I will have something to write. I pray, by God’s grace, that it will be a spirit-filled word that is relevant and convicting. In the meantime, while I sit and talk with the Lord, please find the original Garden Time that I penned for this month.
As November begins and time falls back on us, I look back on the month of October to recap a challenging and productive preaching month and transformative worship experiences. Our Church-in-the-Garden singers lifted us up in worship with their harmonies and melodious singing. Led by our Minister of Music, Jonathan Powell, the atmosphere for worship has changed and the Spirit of the Lord is manifesting itself in our songs and singers. As pastor, I take great joy in seeing the Spirit in our services be elevated to such levels. Our congregation is experiencing transformative worship and I am delighted to be a witness and part of what God is doing in our church. Praise God for our singers! If you or someone you know wants to sing with us, please feel free to come out to the church on Thursday evenings at 7:00 pm for rehearsal. We would be glad to add your voice to our group. You don’t have to be a Grammy award winning artist (it’s ok if you are); you just have to love the Lord and want to carry a tune!
October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month and became a month for us to rally around the fight to end sexual harassment and rape culture. It was a month of challenge to preach an empowering word to those who suffer from cancer and breast cancer in particular. We also took a hard look at the text in Genesis 34. We were challenged to confront the rape of Dinah and be left with a messy and unresolved ending; a woman given no agency and silenced, while men made her injustice their own cause and platform. We had to confront the patriarchy and misogyny of those Biblical times and see the parallels today in the 21st century. The sobering and shocking truth is that we have not progressed much. The church (universal) must come to terms with this reality and deal with the messiness of the Bible. As your pastor, if I do not confront these issues in the Bible as well as in society, how then can I look at our female members, visitors, guests, and friends and say this truly is a sanctuary for sin-sick souls and those who have been oppressed and hurt by this society? How do I speak about our texts and their application in our lives if those texts do not promote the relevant and needed voice of women and continues to silence them? The church has to do better. Our church is trying to do just that. I welcome any help that women would like to offer. I lean on my female colleagues in ministry to continue to expand my awareness and knowledge on these issues, help me be a better advocate for women, and further the usage of theological language that is inclusive and affirming of women.
We also looked holistically at a God who consoles (comforts) and a God who can help us in our distress and devastation. These sermons buttressed our life events with the greater action of God’s involvement in our lives. It is important for us to accept that we cannot know or understand everything that happens to us, but we serve a God who is willing to enter in to our story and circumstances.
We were also blessed with two special people being in the midst of our worship service. The Reverend Paul and Winnie Dodge showed up at service and immensely blessed the congregation and this pastor. For those who do not know, Reverend Dodge was the seventh pastor called to the Church-in-the-Garden. He and his wife served this congregation faithfully for nearly ten years and tremendous growth was ushered in by his pastoral leadership. I was ecstatic to meet them in person and have an opportunity to learn about their time at CITG. We were able to fellowship together with some long time members of the church later that afternoon. Sitting in the dining room of Sister Joyce Herold’s home (who has hosted dinner for all of the pastors of CITG), surrounded by the living history of congregants and a past pastor and his wife was a total delight. I am grateful that I have the privilege to serve this congregation and to continue to deepen the ties that bind our church family past and present.
This month holds promise as we move into the season of giving and being thankful. I commend to all who read this to come and worship with us. This month I will be focusing the sermonic spotlight on gratefulness and redefining our understanding of giving. No, this will not be a series that focuses solely on money and treasures. Rather, these sermons will focus on giving our talents and time in service to others and creating the atmosphere of gratitude in our lives.
At the end of the month, we will hopefully be blessed to have Rabbi Steve Goodman of the Garden City Jewish Center in our pulpit to preach for our ecumenical service. I am delighted that I can call on my colleague and friend to speak to our congregation and show the closeness of our respective religions and the common goals we share for our society. I am excited that he will join us. I am looking forward to seeing you all this month too. Please share this with friends and loved ones, co-workers and colleagues, and even share it with those who you do not particularly like. The Garden is Open to All!
Rev. Earl Y. Thorpe Jr.