Yesterday, I had the opportunity to bring the message at The Barn for their Sunday Worship services. I've not done that since 2008, or 2009 when we moved up here. More importantly, I was able to catch-up and reconnect with folks I'd not seen in a while. As I was speaking, and when I had the chance to talk with folks before and after each service, I experienced the always curious feeling of "we shared so much life together," in varying degrees of familiarity, closeness, and intensity. The kaleidoscope of relationships Tricia and I had there were quite complex, from the most spiritually intimate to just seeing one another at Sunday Service. Given the fact Tricia and I counseled many of these people, or led them on retreat, we also touched their lives deeply and they ours. Some were mentors. Some were partners in ministry. Some were folks we shared projects with, worked with on ministry teams, or leadership responsibilities together. Some were as close as family.
So, as I was thinking about it early this morning, I was playing with the reality that we always do bring with us where we came from. The experiences, struggles, sensibilities, conversations, prayers and accomplishments which flow from 20 years of living and working with many of the same folks remain with you. In such remaining, as you move into a new environment with a different culture, and differing sensibilities you find yourself bringing and mixing the past with the new present.
For instance, one of the sensibilities Tricia and I bring to imagine/Northampton is contemplative spirituality, especially, listening to God, learning to discern His Presence in daily life, or encouraging reflection on what it means to live in a spiritually intimate relationship with Jesus as a broken, but deeply loved and known disciple. We do it all the time, whether it's spiritual direction, the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Workshop and Cohort, or just in sharing life together.
Reality is, we learned or matured at The Barn much of what we do here. The church has always had a commitment to prayer. They are a praying people with many spiritually mature leaders who model and teach that to others. They had a retreat ministry before we came and took the helm. They assumed Jesus was alive and present with His people, so intimacy was (and still is) the normal Christian life. The Holy Spirit was a loving, teaching Presence to draw near. Even a large portion of the property is set up to facilitate a deeper spiritual life with Him who abides.
Life at The Barn was never lived perfectly, of course, but we were welcomed with our contemplative practices. Tricia had been listening to God and knew a profound intimacy with Jesus since she was a teenager. I learned later, and we learned together how to do Listening in Christ Retreats by being thrown into the deep end of the pool and just doing them as we were led by the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual sensibilities blended well with the spiritual culture of the Barn.
I wonder what my church planting experience would've been like for me had I not brought the way I live with Jesus to how I serve His Kingdom mission in Northampton? I'm rather sure I'd not be very attuned to how intimacy with Christ and the redemptive Kingdom mission the Church has been given are supposed to work together. I'd probably be more technique-oriented, more driven by a model than the Spirit in the moment. The fact I was so shaped by Christ, the relationships I had with His people at The Barn with their complementary Christian spirituality, and the spiritual ministry we were able to have there for 20 years planted in me a perspective which colors all my efforts here.
My environment, focus, and location changed for sure. I went from serene and pastoral (the church is called The Barn because it is housed on a 40 acre, dairy farm), to small-city urban and culturally diverse on Main Street. Nevertheless, I still bring with me where I came from. But having lived here for almost 5 years, I know I'm also acquiring sensibilities which are shaping my spiritual life with Jesus and the people now in my life. The experiences, struggles, sensibilities, conversations, prayers and accomplishments I'm living with folks now add to what I might bring if or when the next major chapter of my journey opens. It accumulates.
Perhaps I'm writing this because I noticed that even though almost 5 years had passed, yesterday I felt simply still connected with and a part of these folks, as if I just walked over from the Center For Renewal Retreat House. And I realize the people I'm now connected to in Northampton are influencing me in ways I might not be able to see or appreciate until I find myself in a new setting with more new folks. I'll "bring with me" the imagine/Northampton community, and others living in this unique place who intersected and shaped my life.
That's a lovely thought to me and I'll close with the following invitation:
Give yourself a spiritual pause for the next few minutes, and ask Jesus to show you where the relationships and community you're living in now will be the "where you come from, " to bring to the other relationships or another community you might be headed toward.