I'm someone who experiences deep soul refreshment and lightness of being when I come into a clearing such as when walking through the woods and suddenly happening upon a meadow or a lake where the sun fills the space, and I can see across the expanse and well up to the sky. It's always been that way for me.
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of my favorite short trips was to travel by car up the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains to the Sandia Crest at the top (almost 11,000 feet) and gaze for miles to the west or north to Santa Fe, or south toward Socorro. I would feel a bright sensation of having my spirit open and feel fully alive, almost joyous; a kind of a soaring of the heart experience. I was in no way Christian yet, but such an experience would open me easily to a sense of the unseen, gracious REAL I now recognize as Jesus Christ.
For those of you who've been following along with my my last 4-5 posts, you might remember they've been about challenging chaos, moving toward hope, grace trumping stress, leaving Northampton, finding a new rhythm, etc. I've attempted to express what the changes and pressures in our lives have felt like as we journeyed with God through all of it. In my last post, I wrote of waiting. Well, it appears some of what we've been waiting for has arrived.
Last week, after our Sunday meeting time we had a bite to eat together. LT member Kevin Williams gave everyone the lowdown on changer which need to be made in order for imagine to sustain its life together.
First, and foremost, the high cost of having a space on Main Street in Northampton (even though our landlord offered to lower the rent by $350/month) was not doable for us anymore. We'd fallen behind in rent and understood it was not fair to him, or OK with God to keep the space and not be able to pay for it. As it is, we've worked a plan to pay him back over time. So our path forward means giving up our worship space, counseling offices, and the imagineART Gallery. For Tricia and I there is sadness in having to do so, but we're also very weary of the stress attached to falling and being behind. If you've not been there for any substantial length of time, you can't appreciate what that feels like and being our age doesn't make it easier.
(In later posts, I'll write more about what being in Northampton at all has meant to me. I will have much to emotionally and spiritually sort through. I promise I'll not be maudlin about it.)
After Kevin talked and made a clear case for leaving, we had a good discussion. People were in support of the move and we talked of how we wanted to continue a presence in Northampton by perhaps renting less costly spaces for worship or events we might offer in the future. The energy in the room was about continuing to be imagine and imagine in Northampton in some way. We also talked of meeting in our homes and deepening our community, including with the Smith students we've gotten to know and love.
At the same time, none of us want what used to be termed the "holy huddle"; the idea that everything is about our little community and we like it that way, thank you very much! We came here to walk the missional Kingdom way of being church. We've made some progress and had a modest impact in that regard, but we know we have a ways to go. We all want to continue heading down that path.
With the pending move, there are challenges for Tricia and I, one of which is (as I mentioned) we lose a centrally-located office for counseling. As of the end of September, the only office we have available is on the lower floor of where we're living in Shutesbury. While it should open access to folks in that part of Massachusetts where we're told there's a dearth of Christian counseling, we'll more than likely lose most of our clients from CT and south central MA where most of them have come, especially south central MA. There is a possibility of having an office in a church in Sunderland, or an office in Agawam, but the details have not been worked out. So unless God brings this part of the path into view we'll lose a substantial portion of our income.
Second, the way imagine will function as a church community is about to change - we think for the better. I won't say much about that in this post because I will flesh it out tomorrow at imagine worship, then blog about it. I can say we'll have a presence in Northampton, but not exclusively so. Our small band of believers will not call itself imagine/Northampton once we move from the office at 70 Main Street.
Lastly, those of us who came here in 2008-9 have learned there seem no tried-and-true formulas to doing what we've tried to do. Church planting is not plug and play. While any enterprise needs plans, values and structures to exist, a good bit of what we envisioned has not coalesced like we envisioned. There have been many surprises (not all of them negative by any means), disappointments (some excruciating), even desolating turns of events (especially regarding relationships). There've been some sorrowful days, but also many happy days because of wonderful new relationships (and some life-giving enduring relationships) with lovely people, and the continuing support of friends who've not given up on us. For instance, the imagineART Gallery wasn't on the radar screen when we sat dreaming, conceiving, praying about and dialoguing over in Simsbury what imagine would be and become. In my opinion, it's been the most effective means of connecting with folks here. We've met so many interesting and gracious people through that work. We've made real friends through it as well.
In reality we've stretched and grown because of necessity. Our faith has become enduring and more resilient (especially mine, never been a strong suit) because God held us near while he's put us to it. I cannot recall being tested this severely in my Christian life as I've been, particularly in 2014.
But gladly, tomorrow I will get up and talk to our small band of imagineers about how we'll regroup and work to continue the mission we were called to here. Yes, as I said, Tricia and I are sad about leaving this way, but our story is not finished, nor is imagine's.
Hope lingers. Grace abides.
Similar to standing on Sandia Crest and beholding the expanse of Albuquerque over to the West Mesa I've experienced moments of the lightness of being I mentioned because a path appears to be slowly coming into view and I can see out of the struggle. It's not solidly so from one day to the next, but it lingers too.
More after tomorrow.