Several years ago my mother gave me an old newspaper. It was yellowed, worn, faded and dated August 14, 1945. At the top of the paper in large bold letters was the word “PEACE.” She’d kept the paper as a momento to the end of WWII. The large-lettered declaration captured the feelings of people around the world; while a few world leaders wanted war, what most people really wanted was peace.
The Old Testament term for peace is shalom. It is a term used to describe happiness, well-being, prosperity, friendship and kindness. It is the way God’s created order is supposed to be. Unfortunately, our human nature moves us to disrupt the peace of God, often through neglect of our relationship with God and others. For God’s covenant people, Israel, that disruption often meant experiencing God’s judgment. God would use difficult life circumstances to move his people to reflect on their lives and repent of their sin so that they would return to him. The formal meeting that captured this reflection and repentance became known as a Sacred Assembly (Joel 1-2).
Our reTurn team creates pathways of hope and reconciliation for churches that find themselves in some kind of transition or crisis. Often these transitions come about because of the disruption of God’s Shalom. Our ministry is called reTurn because we call people to return to a place of intimacy with God and community with each other.
One example of this was our recent work at Langley Alliance Church in the Seattle area. I was called there to be the intentional interim pastor in February 2010 after a reTurn team assessment uncovered extensive conflict and distrust of leadership in the church.
One of the diagnostic team’s recommendations was that the church conduct a Sacred Assembly. The Sacred Assembly flows out of our theology of intervention and revitalization. In short, It’s a congregation’s corporate reflection of its willingness to reconcile with God and man. After months of teaching, modeling, fasting, praying and reconciling with others, the church was ready for the solemn occasion. Our prayers for the event were summed up in the words of Zechariah:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you.’” (Zech 1:3)
If we want God’s blessing, we must choose God’s ways. The Sacred Assembly was Langley Alliance’s time to say “Yes, Lord, we want what you want!”
On that cool autumn evening, after a time of worship and reflection, congregants at the assembly were given a chance to publicly confess their part of the problem and ask forgiveness. The former pastor confessed his failures as a leader. The elder board confessed to deceiving the congregation. The denomination confessed to not supporting the church the way it should have, and one couple confessed their adultery. Others asked forgiveness for offensive behavior, even towards those who no longer attended the church.
After it was over, we took communion. One gentleman, confined to a wheel chair, waited patiently up front so he could take the Lord’s Supper with a man he’d formerly been at odds with. Another man, who no longer attended the church and had refused to forgive an offense against him that occurred years earlier, called the next day and forgave those he’d harbored bitterness towards after hearing of the public confession and request for forgiveness. He emailed me several days later and said, “Dave, I forgive!” The results of that night were significant and continue on to this day.
As intentional interim pastor, I address a lot of issues quickly. Its exhausting and consequently take a significant emotional toll on me. But frankly, I meet God in the midst of it. I love to give people the opportunity to experience true redemptive Trinitarian community and the peace of Christ. These interim pastorates and intervention settings allow that to happen.