Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:23-24 NRSV
I attended the Fox Valley Association’s Fall Meeting last weekend, which was the first one held in-person since the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. I’ll confess that I’ve approached these meetings with some cynicism in the past; wondering if a lengthy, early-morning drive to participate in what is often a combination of formalities amid a general atmosphere of decline is really how best to spend my Saturday. I’m sure that none of you have ever felt that way about a church meeting before! I mostly registered out of a sense of obligation to comprise a quorum of churches represented so that the association could legally complete its business, but I decided that I would go and represent CPC, albeit a bit grudgingly.
Upon arriving at the historic and attractive church in Wayne where the meeting was held, I was a little surprised to find my cynicism melt away as I encountered and reconnected with the wider church family that I’ve come to know over the past 17 years. While saddened by the absence of some of that family who have passed on to their eternal reward (Rev. Ken and Sarah Press among them), there have been new additions to the family, like newly-called Associate Conference Minister Rev. Shernell Edney Stilley, who bring with them their love for Christ’s Church, their skills and gifts for the furtherance of its ministries, and the contagious enthusiasm that often comes with new roles and relationships. I left that meeting feeling new senses of hope, solidarity in purpose and mission, and confidence in God’s continued provision. In a word, I felt renewed.
Jesus was frequently sending his disciples ‘out.’ As I continue to reflect on the difference between my meeting expectations and my meeting experience, I think I’m starting to see why. My world shrunk during the pandemic, as it did for many. Isolation had magnified the perceived size of my challenges while also obscuring my ability to see and celebrate those places where God was able to work through my ministry. Who knew that meetings could be redemptive?
The author of the biblical book of Hebrews apparently knew. In it we’re explicitly told not to neglect meeting together; as doing so ‘provokes’ one another to love and good deeds and ‘encourages’ one another. I love those verbs because that’s exactly what I encountered from gathering with others who have committed to following Jesus, come what may. Friends, “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”