A Christmas Reflection December 25, 2011 by Martha Phillips
My husband is the pastor of the Caroline Valley Community Church in Brooktondale , NY part of the UCC
For the last month I have been debilitated by vertigo that has kept me from being able to read, write or even watch television so I have had a lot of time to reflect on some important things in my life. Missing the Holy Christmas Services this season has made me appreciate even more may connections to “The Church” and our need for corporate worship. I sure there are not many of us that can say that at some point the church has not failed us. Half of all marriages today end in divorce but for most of us that has not resulted in us giving up on the institute of marriage. “The Church” is flawed be goes we are human but it is still the place for us to come together in corporate worship. I am very much a solitary person and often do not feel the need for a lot of connections to other people but I know that God knew what he was saying when he commanded us to not forsake the gather together with other Christians. Yes, we can worship by ourselves and nature is certainly inspires us to that but It is only half of the relationship that makes us unique as Christians. We need the individual relationship with Christ and the horizontal relationship with fellow Christians to be complete in our worship. In our relationship to the church we are part of an unbroken tradition that stretches back over 2,000 years. In spite of the brokenness of our own lives and that of our churches we still carry on throughout our corporate institutions the healing of the sick, the feeding of the poor, the encouragement of the downhearted, advocacy against prejudice, the acknowledgement of something beyond ourselves and the mundane things such as marriage, burial and providing worship. Church has always been part of my community. I have always chosen to worship in a place that is part of my local community because whoever they might be these are my people while I am living there. Today we often shop for the ideal church but I have found that we that just as we can worship God in nature we can also worship God in whatever church we find ourselves in because our first and foremost goal in going to church is to worship God. If we put that first we can God there even if we do not agree with doctrines, other individuals or ways of doing business. My first church from the age of 2 until I was 15 was The Sidney Center Baptist Church in Sidney Center, NY where my Dad was the pastor. As a pastor’s child I had many “parents,” some critical and harsh but most loving and nurturing and will to give time to a child whose parents were always busy in the church. Most of my Christmas traditions come out of that church. It was such an exciting time of year, the Christmas pageant, the Christmas Cantata, the special foods, caroling, sledding and skating parties, the hanging of the greens, visiting the nursing homes, making gifts and my father’s telling of the age old story of a young woman giving birth to our Savior. It was here was I was baptized in a candle light service and became a member of the church. From the age of 15-21 I was part of the Bible Baptist Church in Bangor, ME where my father was also the pastor. This was a great place to be during my teen years. It was an urban church instead of a country church and was what I needed to keep me in the church during those years. There I was given my first responsibilities in the church: helping with the Children’s Sunday School, playing the piano when needed, learning public speaking and going with my dad on visitation. The “Maniacs” were different people but when you are a teenager different is good. We had wonderful summer camps there, where we learned about “bean hole beans”, black flies and swimming in ice cold weather. My husband and I were married in that church on Dec 20th, 1969 during a big Nor’easter that coated the city with a sheet of ice that turned it into a winter wonderland. I loved that church and those people because they helped a very awkward teenager become a woman that could fall in love and be loved.
Our first years as a married couple found us in Prum, Germany attending the tiny post chapel at a small Army installation. They didn’t even have a Chaplin. They contracted with a local German pastor to provide us with services. It was at that chapel that I first had to struggle with what I believed. We were a group of people from all denominations, creeds and races and it was amazing to me that instead of being separated by our differences we came together in our need to worship and our need to be together that we could over look many things that we had thought were important. Most of us were young couples or singles that were away from home other then college for the first time. We still maintain a bond with many of these people. We worshipped a God not bound by human constraints.
As a young struggling young family with 2 small children we were welcomed by a community of believes at Belle View Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA. The people there became the extended family that our children were missing out on. Here as a couple were became very active in the leadership of the church and are grateful for the experience and direction they gave to our life. We also learned that “liberals” can be good Christians too.
After our children were grown and we moved to Arlington, VA we became involved with the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and the Church of the Savior in Washington DC. This served as our formative years in our quest to become pastors ourselves. Mt. Vernon Baptist Church was like many urban churches in the area a church in decline with many elderly members and a huge a huge building to maintain. A church in transition with many problems but a great church to initiate budding pastors. We were also involved at this time with a unique church in the District of Columbia called “Seekers Church.” They had a School of Christian Learning and we attended many of the classes there. They were unique in that they did not have any professional clergy; anyone who felt called to bring a sermon could present themselves to the Worship group to be put on the schedule. The worship was planned by this group, always very meaningful with response from the congregation. There meeting place was an old Victorian House, they were an inclusive, and intentional community of believers who took church very seriously but also celebrated their Christianity. I was here where my talents as an artist were allowed to blossom. They are a small group shoes outreach in the community goes way beyond that of many large churches that I know. They live what they preach. It is a community of many gifted, talented and generous people. I loved being a part of them. Alas, I was called to seminary training and called to the leadership of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church and the many problems and challenges there. I remember often going into the beautiful sanctuary there and looking up at the large brass cross hanging on the church wall and saying to myself, “God, these are my people, the sheep of my pasture, help me to nurture their growth. "Now, I was in the position of leadership and had to accept the criticisms as well as the praise that goes along with such as trust. We worked very hard to keep the church from dying and turning it around so that it could grow into something else. Danny started going to seminary during this time and also became a vital part of the ministry. Together along with the loyal people of that church we became a people that opened up to the international community in our area and reach out to them. In doing this we again had to but prejudices’ aside to include traditions and worship ideas from other cultures.
Now, as a retired pastor I am fortunate to be part of the church my husband now pastors at Caroline Valley Community Church in Brooktondale, NY. I feel like I have come full circle and am back home where I started at real community church, in a real town worshipping, a real God that does not let us down. We are learning to love this people just like the ones before. Praise God for his Blessings on this last Sunday of 2011. I am excited about were God leads us this year.