I had a bad experience, earlier in life, at the hands of the institutional church. This experience has left me with some post traumatic stress, when it comes to denominational entanglements. This is one part of my baggage that I carry around and it has grown into a general suspicion of institutionalism as a whole; especially as it pertains to church. In my career, I have never been the flag bearer of anything denominational. I like the overall connection of belonging to something bigger than myself. I like the personal and professional benefits that being a part of denomination afford me. Yet, I am not a denominational guy, because of my past experience. I am overly suspicious of anything and anyone on a denominational, institutional level.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I had a wonderful connection with a group called Bethany Fellowship, right after I graduated from seminary. This was a denominational gathering, from across the country, of people new to ministry. We spent the first five years or our individual ministry’s together. We took two retreats a year so that we could experience various successful church models from around the country. As a part of this group, my idea of church was expanded and my ceiling for the possibility of ministry was blown away. I came to know and love people with a myriad of backgrounds and theological perspectives. People, that would have never crossed my path without this opportunity. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t recall an experience, a lesson or a conversation from that first five years of my ministry. I wouldn’t be the follower of Jesus that I am today without this denominational group.
There was also a man named Darwin Collins. He probably wouldn’t remember me, but I will never forget him. He was the Regional Minister in Pennsylvania for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was a seminary student who recently had a very bad experience with the institutional church. I was floundering, not knowing what to do, where to go, who to trust or what in the world God was up to. I was “interviewing” different denominations to see which one I was going to bless with my presence. I had met several denominational bureaucrats, but nobody really pastored me, that is until I met Darwin. He didn’t see me as a new recruit. He saw me as a scared, lost and hurting young man, who simply wanted to live out his calling, but he didn’t know how. It is because of Darwin that I am a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Last, but not least, there is Betsy Goehrig. She is the current Regional Minister for the the state of Florida. I had served in this state for nineteen years and I, true to my baggage, had little to no contact with the larger denominational church. I was totally focused on the local congregations that I served, and I did just enough to stay active and in good standing. Last year, when I was admitted to Tampa General Hospital, awaiting a heart transplant, Betsy came to visit. I was very shocked and surprised, not thinking that my life would even be a blip on her radar, since she covered a great deal of territory in the state. I, at first, wrote it off as politically correct and her simply doing her job. After all, how bad would that look if the Regional Minister didn’t come and visit one of the pastors in her state that was facing a heart transplant. Yet, she came back again and again. She even sent her husband on the day after my surgery, when I was still out of it, because she couldn’t make it. She not only ministered to me, she ministered to my family. When everything was said and done, she kept in touch. She visited the church. She introduced my wife and I to her daughter and grandchildren. She was present in my life.
Now, I am still a child of God who has denominational baggage. Yet, as I look back over these years and these stories, I can see one thing very clearly. Compassion makes all the difference in the world. I experienced compassion from Bethany Fellowship. I experienced compassion from Darwin Collins and I am experiencing compassion from Betsy Goehrig. Not that my baggage will ever be erased, because it is, and will ever be, a part of my journey. But the compassion of others helps me to heal and to overcome my baggage. For that I am forever grateful.
How about you? Who has shown you compassion on your journey? Take some time today to thank God for them and to pray for them, for you never know what they are struggling with right now. Let’s face it, our world could use a whole lot more compassion. Maybe today, in your corner of God’s kingdom, you can show compassion to someone. Then that person can turn around and show compassion to someone else and then that person can turn around and show compassion to someone else…