The Parish News provides you with the latest news, information and inspiration about First Presbyterian Church and its ministries.
To read the July/August 2017 Parish News, please click here: July/August Parish News
“Learning to Sail”
It is sailing season, and one of the joys of my growing up years in New England was to serve as crew one summer with an experienced team of sailors moving a boat from its winter home in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay up to Camden, Maine. I was a novice and was eager for the adventure. We sailed all day and harbored early every evening at friendly ports of call along the shoreline.
We sailed for a week and enjoyed the freedom of the ocean while knowing that the comforts of dry land: a safe mooring, a hot shower and a good supper was never far from our reach. Some days we set course and we sailed with a sense of progress. Other days it was a long dull slog in the same direction, sunburns, and not much relief from the need to make better progress. Occasionally, becalmed, and still on the clock, we motored to the next port of call. It was both an experience of getting there, and a time to enjoy the being there. It was labor – but a labor of love.
Churches, when operating smoothly, when our worship looks effortless, and our mission outreach is most effective, can clip along like sailboats on a breezy day. But when we are impatient and self-focused, anxious or too destination driven, we stop feeling the joy of sailing along and exhaust ourselves from our own efforts. We forget about God’s intentions for our lives and begin to row like mad, and often wrong-headedly – in the direction of our own choosing. Rowing a boat in heavy weather across an ocean has none of the joy of sailing with the wind at our backs. Rowers are confined to moving only at the speed and with the energy that they can muster up among themselves. Sailors are blessed with an endless energy source and need only harness the wind to take them where they want to go.
It is this sailing metaphor and the image of the sailboat church, that has inspired this year’s training of our new elders and deacons, our focus on devotional readings and prayer for all congregants, and has tempered the pacing of our new beginnings transition from idea sharing to new ministry implementation. We are learning to sail, to feel for the Spirit, discerning the right tack and trim. We’ve retired tired ministries and initiated fledgling new ones. We’ve engaged with devotional books for Commissioners and Christian education for all adults. We have Bible studies for beginners. Through more community outreach, the synergy to fill our sails with the Spirit’s power moves us beyond our congregation and into the world at large.
In Joan Gray’s book, Sailboat Church, we are reminded of Christ’s words to his disciples: “I am the vine you are the branches, without me you can do nothing, but abide in me and you will bear much fruit.” Rev. Gray writes of Jesus : “Without me, you can give religious speeches, but you can’t preach the gospel. You can hold church services, but you can’t worship.” In other words, without Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, without the Holy Spirit in our sails, “we can put theological ideas and biblical information into people’s minds, but they won’t come to faith. We need the Spirit to inspire us because God’s work is not up to us. It’s up to God.” We’re just along for the ride – to serve and worship God by being God’s church in the world.
To become sailors in a sailboat church, we need to learn to sail – to acknowledge that the power for our movement comes from the Spirit, and we must learn how to follow it, harness it, and navigate by it. We cannot make the wind blow, but we can tap into spiritual resources beyond ourselves and reorient our efforts to catch the wind of the Spirit.
So this summer, find the Spirit at work in your life. As you rest and restore your spirits this July and August, listen for the Holy Spirit at work in your heart, and in the world around you. Practice prayer. Read Scripture. Reflect on the sunset. Walk along a quiet path. Imagine holding the line to the main sail or jib, full and taut with a strong wind. Consider how far it can take you, without an ounce of energy having to come from you. And thank God – for being the single self-sustaining Power in our lives.
Yours in Christ,