Just returned from lovely weekend in beautiful Chattanooga, Tennessee with my friend Paul Rebelo, and his family. A big "thank you" to Christine, Paul's lovely wife and (in my opinion) a living saint, for being such a gracious hostess. I enjoyed seeing how much the Rebelo kids have all grown, and especially liked meeting, for the first time, little Rachel who is (Thank God!) the mirror image of her mother (the alternative is unthinkable).
I mixed a little business with pleasure as Paul invited me to come preach at his installation service (for those who don't know what this is.... the worship service where Paul is officially made the Senior Pastor of the church) at the First Christian Church of Chattanooga (F3C). Thanks to the congregation for suffering my words, and congrats on the wonderful job you did welcoming Paul and his family into your fold.
This is the culmination of a journey Paul and I started together in back in 1992 as students at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. His odyssey to be used by God in the ministry of Jesus has taken him in and out of the United Methodist Church from Ostrander Ohio, to Ducktown Tennessee, Charleston and Fairmont West Virginia, and ultimately into the Disciples of Christ Denomination as the Senior Pastor of F3C.
Like most of us who have been doing this awhile, when Paul started engaging in the call process a number of months ago, he was looking for place where he could not only use what he had learned, but a nice town to raise a family. As the various church opportunities presented themselves, all along as he sought my advice, I'd try to steer him to the contemporary churches in the suburbs, for the reason that since he's a fairly young (he's a year older than me, so let's make that VERY young) Caucasian, white-collar, middle-class educated married professional with kids, that he'd fit in pretty well.
And besides, all the "Doctor-Reverend-Mister-Sunday-Schools" out there who make their living consulting in churches and conducting all of big church conferences would tell you that the burbs are the place to go. That's where the MegaChurches are growing, complete with video screens and coffee bars that appeal to the particular demographic they are designed to attract. Lord knows I'm happy at Shawnee, and while it's a challenge, I feel like I've arrived home, and it couldn't be more suburban. After a number of questionable appointments, and a starter position in a new denomination, I just thought this would be the "sure thing" Paul would need to help him find some fulfillment in his professional and personal life.
But in the end, though he had ample opportunity, Paul didn't take the "sure thing". Instead, he took the "right challenge"... a church located in the heart of a diverse, re-developing urban community, in the center of a growing college campus, near a large number of impoverish persons struggling to get by. Dormitories, condos, and cardboard boxes... all less than five minutes away from this old, tall-steeple, mainline denominational church. It's the opportunity to do some truly dynamic ministry, but the odds of everything coming together aren't exactly a "sure thing". Far from it, in fact.
But, I remember another Paul, who gave up a "sure thing" life of prestige and position as a religious leader in an established faith, for the "right challenge" of spreading the teachings and stories of a man who had gathered a fairly small, insignificant number of followers only to be put to death by the Roman authorities.... and although his life was difficult, he ended up writing a pretty important chapter in the life of Jesus' church.
Here's to hoping my Paul and his people, do the same.