I've never been to a Solemn Assembly. I just knew we needed to participate. It felt important and obedient for Tricia and I, as well as some other imagine/Northampton folks to be there. I still had a cold and felt rheumy, and could have opted out with some integrity, but we were summoned.
On the drive down to Plymouth, yesterday, I was a bit anxious, nothing new for an introvert going to a situation packed with people. I also had thoughts of what I'd experienced in Norwalk a few weekends back and did not want that again. I gave the thoughts no quarter, so after getting lost because of bad Mapquest directions we arrived at Memorial Hall smack dab in the middle of Plymouth and on time. We got situated and held seats for our mates, Nate and Ash, Steve and Vicki, and Jess (her mom joined us as well, a nice surprise).
The event in toto lasted 4 hours. However, the folks in charge kept things flowing and I was grateful. There looked to be 5-600 in attendance, and as soon as worship began the room was filled with energy and praise. I have to admit, I miss that.
The day flowed with many speakers, some attention-keeping, others not so much. Shofars were blown announcing the Solemn Assembly. We heard about covenant, sang more than once, shared Communion, had a time of small group prayer, were guided in prayers of confession and repentance, and witnessed all manner of testimony over the centrality of New England in the redemptive Kingdom mission of Christ. It began at Plymouth. In the Hall, there was a sincere desire that the awakenings occurring here in the 17th and 18th centuries would happen again and soon. The speakers spoke of urgency, and the need for a remnant to rise to pray constantly, earnestly seeking God, and calling the Church and nation to repentance and revival. We were also entreated to examine our own hearts to see where they had grown cold because of sin and spiritual malaise. I was moved by the examination of my own heart and felt a renewed longing in me to pick up my cross, die completely to self and follow Christ no matter the cost. My confession and prayer to him was real. I want more of Jesus and less of me.
Something happened, though, which framed the entire event, and answered a prayer. What happened was hoped for, and I was stunned with gratitude when it did. We all were, I think.
About a third of the way into the Assembly, the speakers began to call us to repent for the sins of our people against the First Peoples of America. Because God has graciously opened a wonderful relationship with someone in our church who is Native American, and we've had talks about some of the shameful episodes between our peoples' in the founding of the nation, I hoped someone would address the issue. I was utterly taken by surprise when they did. It began with a prayer and general confession. It was poignant and heartfelt, but what happened next brought tears and a roaring thanksgiving from everyone.
A middle-aged gentleman was called up who is Mohawk and a Jesus follower. He spoke of the pain Native Americans have experienced over the centuries in the taking of their country, and the pitiful legacy of broken treaties - almost 500. At the same time, he humbly extended peace and identified himself as a brother in Christ. Some of the leaders addressed him on behalf of the Church and he graciously received it on behalf of Native Americans. Then, a young, Russian immigrant pastor gave him a gift signifying healing and unity. No one expected what our Mohawk brother did next, including the pastor. Around his neck was what looked like a "necklace" of straw-colored reeds he said he'd made. He said it was wampum. He took it from his neck and gave it to the young pastor as a sign of forgiveness, peace and unity. The silence in the room was thick. This simple gesture signified the power of the Gospel to heal and break down walls. It was sober and profoundly meaningful.
What a gift God gave.
At the very end of the event, the pastor who seemed to be the lead guy, called all the pastor's and leaders to come down to the floor in front of the stage so they could be prayed for. Our mates, on either side of Tricia and I turned and looked at me with a "so, you're going, right?" look. Tricia had gone to the bathroom, but she was returning to her seat at that moment.
I mention it because I've not been willing to call myself a pastor even though I am a leader in planting imagine/Northampton and fulfill a pastoral role - even people on the street call me pastor. I think my reticence has been because I'm one of three on the Leadership Team. By design, we've not formally designated anyone as Lead Pastor. Tricia, Jim and I all have distinct roles to play, and each has a pastoral component to it. Also, I'm a layman. All the ministry I've done in the last 20+ years has been as a layman: counselor, coach, spiritual director, retreat leader, ordained elder, teacher, and now pastor. Also, I've always seen pastors as seminary-trained specialists far more equipped and skilled than I to perform pastoral duties.I still do.
When we went down to the floor to join the other pastors, I asked God's forgiveness for quietly refusing the mantle he's given since I have been up in Massachusetts. Standing there with other pastors, it felt curiously fitting and I gave myself permission to accept the role. I am still one of three, but I'll not hide the fact I'm a pastor.
May God be glorified in this simple gesture of obedience.
So the day was a gift on many levels. I'm grateful God gave us the opportunity to attend with friends and to experience a piece of what he is doing in New England. May what was prayed for all through the Solemn Assembly yesterday become reality in my lifetime, and may I do every bit of what God has given me to do with:
a fierce heart . . . a sound mind . . . a fertile imagination . . . a stubborn faith . . . an uncommon courage . . .
a spontaneous ability to laugh and cry . . . and abounding love for Jesus and all he loves . . .
until my last breath drifts peacefully heavenward.
Maranatha, King Jesus!