It’s been four-and-a-half years since we moved into the neighbourhood, looked at each other, and said “Where are we going to go to church?” After a discouraging couple of years trying to find a church in another city (without much luck), the task of starting the “church hunt” all over again seemed daunting. We could name a number of churches that we knew we might like, had connections at, could try out. When it came down to it, we decided to try the church that was closest to our house, and see how it went.
That first August Sunday, we walked east down Cannon Street, sun on our faces. Something about walking east into the sun felt holy, like I was joining with religious faithful who for centuries had turned to the east to worship. We walked in, found a seat, flipped through the bulletin which told us of drop in lunches, a free clothes closet, Bible studies, VBS, and wondered what to expect…
The worship leader was Spanish. People sang loud, with joy. A young, exuberant (dare I say peppy?) woman led the children’s time. During offering, an aged black man who had to cling to the pulpit to stand sang “The Old Rugged Cross.” One of the most beautiful communion services I had ever experienced was led by a retired missionary-pastor. The guy behind us left 3 times for a smoke break. There were children, seniors, a diversity of cultures. Almost everyone said hello and asked our names. We felt welcome, felt like this was a place that understood the gospel and tried to live it. I literally skipped home, thrilled that we had found a place that seemed right.
Wentworth, we fell in love with you that Sunday. You weren’t the most polished church we’d ever been in, but there was a vibrance and joy and authenticity about you that we were captivated by. Since that “first date” we have come to experience a rich community that seeks to love and live the gospel in tangible ways. You have given us more and more reasons to love you, and you have been a church we have been proud to be part of.
What have I been most proud of? I’ve been proud of the way that you welcome, everyone, anyone. The gospel is supposed to be the great equalizer, “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…” (Gal 3:28), and while I knew that was the ideal, I had never really seen or experienced it, was sceptical it could really happen in 21st century North America. Wentworth, you taught me that it was possible. I have looked around on Sunday mornings and watched Ph.D’s hug recovering addicts, seen refugees befriended by soccer moms, watched children dance without fear of being shushed or told to sit still. I have looked around on Sunday mornings, at potluck lunches, at Bible studies, and at the organic and natural connections that have developed, and I have thought “This is what Jesus was talking about when he said people would ‘know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’” (John 13:35). And I have been challenged to live it in my own life.
You know why I’m saying all this, right? You know that we’re leaving, getting ready to find our feet and our friends in a new church community. And you know what? While I’m excited about the opportunity this presents…I’m sad, and a bit scared too. I guess the real reason I’m saying all of this, is to thank you and encourage you to keep doing what you do so well – loving.
You have loved us, so well! You have shown us genuine care and affection. You have walked through life with us. You let us right in, right away, and allowed us to learn and grow among you. Thank you for the ways you have given us responsibilities and taken risks on us. Thank you for letting us try new things and develop new skills, for believing that we could do it, and showing us how when we weren’t so sure. That’s the part I’m sad about – leaving this community that has been so vital to us.
And here’s the part I’m scared about: I’m scared that I’ve loved you so much, been so proud of you, that our new church won’t stand a chance. I’m scared that I’ll forget that I didn’t even know the things you had to offer when I first came to you, and that I won’t give this new community a chance to win me over, simply because they’re not you. I’m scared that I’ll compare too much, and miss out on the unique blessings of this new community because I’m hung up on the fact that it’s different.
So, can I ask for a favour? Will you pray for us? Pray that this adjustment will go as well as it can. Pray that we will feel welcomed, and that we will find that this new place holds some of it’s own unique gems. Pray that I will be open and able to see those things, even if they’re different. Pray that Haydon will experience the same kind of welcome and care that you have shown him. Pray that James will be affirmed and supported in his new role.
Most of all Wentworth, I want you to be encouraged. Encouraged that you are living the gospel well. Be encouraged that you have challenged us and grown us, loved us and supported us. In many ways, it is the equipping that you have given us that enable us to take this new step, and we are so thankful. Be encouraged that your deep love and authentic community are not easy to leave.
Thanks, again, for loving us and teaching us about love. Know that you will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Rachel (and James and Haydon)