Bristol United Church of Christ     "The Church on the Hill"
Bristol United Church of Christ         "The Church on the Hill"  

Pastor's Corner


The Pastor’s Pen


What Could Possibly Be


          Is the above title a question or a statement? I guess it depends on our mindset. I’ve been intrigued by some of our Sunday Bible readings lately and how the texts and themes are

overlapping with the Adult Education classes.

Our Bible Study classes have been reading the Acts of Apostles this spring. Our guide has been, “Acts: Catching Up with the Spirit,” by Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. That title gives us a clue as to how we might read and understand Acts of Apostles: it is about the Holy Spirit repeatedly moving ahead to where the church and its leaders need to go next. The earliest followers of Jesus knew that who he was was important, but they didn’t necessarily have a plan for how to spread the gospel. So, God, through the Holy Spirit, kept showing them the way to new people and places. And all these new people and places were to be included when they believed in Jesus, were baptized, and received the Holy Spirit. Samaritans, Ethiopian eunuchs, Jewish persecutors of the new Way, non-Jewish worshipers of the Hebrew God, Roman officers in charge of occupying armies, and just plain old people from anywhere (even Athens and Rome) could be included.

Those early followers were always trying to catch up with what the Spirit was doing in the world. The gospel and the Way of Jesus was spreading far and wide at the Spirit’s behest, not at the church’s behest. The followers and Apostles went here and there to meet new people, or spoke the message to whomever they encountered, and learned that Spirit had already prepared a way ahead. Sometimes, when new things and new believers were coming into the faith, it took the early leaders time to figure out that it was the because of the Spirit’s working ahead of them. But eventually they figure it out and all who want in are welcomed.

The church in Bristol and the church in NH are at moments where they need to figure out what the Spirit might be doing among our us. The seven Associations of the New Hampshire UCC are studying and moving into a new way to do what Associations are meant to do: 1) Credential, authorize, ordain, sustain, train, and, if necessary, discipline ministers (bring into line if possible); and 2) bring local churches together in fellowship and in ministry together. For more on this, check in with me. Here at Bristol United Church of Christ, our Council has formed a working group to look at how we might better organize ourselves to do the ministries we doing here and now, and into the future. Just as the Conference and Association structure had been set up in the 1950s, so also was the industry-based committee organizational model of most local churches, including Bristol UCC. What has served well, most of the time, for seven decades has become less effective in some areas of ministry and may be an obstacle to new ways of ministering within and beyond our church.

With regard to the church in the days of Acts, the wider church of Associations and the Conference in NH, and our local Bristol UCC, it seems that “We’ve never done it this way before,” might just be what the Holy Spirit in the church is all about. I am excited by these movements to try new things and be the church in new ways. I hope you will be too. May there be some fear or hesitation? Certainly, but remember Jesus’ promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20 NRSV) Stay tuned and keep your eyes open for the Spirit AND for what COULD possibly be!