The Summer of 2013 was dramatic for our congregation, and even more so for me and my family. In mid-July our friend and pastor Rev Neil Baxter was admitted to hospital in high fever, delirium and convulsions. It was meningitis, and it was his 60th wedding anniversary. (Later when things settled down, Lise joked that Neil would do anything to get out of going dancing.) I was already returning from vacation travel, and was able to see Neil in ICU, and join the congregation in prayer over this.
Erica and I arrived home from vacation to news that her job was redundant: she is laid off. Two weeks later, on our way to visit family in Guelph, our 15 year old dog died at a rest stop in Trenton. During that visit we were told that a wind storm had toppled a tree through the church roof. Our caretakers were also on vacation at the time. (Does it make you wonder if we should all just stay home?)
Neil was not the only one to fall ill this summer. Another dearly loved congregation member spent a night in emergency, other families had to care for parents in distress; in other words, "life goes on."
I must admit that I was taken aback by this string of problems, and I've had to spend some of my prayer time confessing my lack of trust. But over these weeks, I've seen amazing signs of God's hand in the midst of all these things.
On the Sunday following Neil's illness it was members of the congregation who organized an after-service prayer time, and had the assistance of guest speaker, Jill Wilson (Urban Christian Outreach) as they lifted up Neil for healing. I saw 18 (out of a congregation of 40) gather the next day for additional prayer, and heard numerous testimonies to how God had blessed his people through Neil's ministry. I was there the first day Neil was out of his coma, and experienced how his entire bearing changed when he had the opportunity to pray - as he thanked God for his family, his friends and "his beautiful congregation." I saw the congregation organize itself to get Lise to the Hospital, to visit Neil when his health permitted, and I saw the love and talent put into cards and encouragements for Neil. Beautiful congregation indeed!
We had great summer preachers again and in spite of all, or because of all things, we worshipped , prayed and grew in fellowship. When I had to preach in Neil's place, I found others offering to help with the services: and that's going to continue this fall.
When the roof was damaged, Paul and his son organized the clean up, temporary repairs, and has worked with a very helpful insurance company ever since. No damage has been seen inside the building, despite missing sheeting and damaged trusses on the roof!
As always, summer income for the church has sagged a little, but we started the summer in better financial shape than we had budgeted for. (Still, as always a deficit, but progress is being made.)
Personally, I'm still wondering how ends are going to meet, with Erica waiting on EI and searching for a new job in Early Childhood Education. My hope to leave School Bus driving behind to focus on ministry will have to wait for another year. That hope has been replaced by a new, higher paid bus route, with another load of great students. My worries about how to manage without Neil's help are supplanted by the strong hope that Neil will be up and around soon, while at the same time seeing more willing hands and hearts in the congregation ready to step up and help.
If you're reading this as a member of the congregation, you probably have your own struggles to add to the account of what we've been through this summer, and you probably have your own testimony about the prayers that have been answered, and the ones that are still waiting for a reply.
If you're reading this as a stranger to St Andrew's I hope you realize that being a part of a Christian church doesn't mean we're shielded from life's ups and downs. It means that we are reminded, in the midst of all the good and bad, that God is with us. It means we are learning to notice that He's helping out - "Sometimes He calms the storm / And other times He calms His child"
Join us for worship - for the celebration of His goodness; join us for fellowship - blessing each other as he has blessed each; join us in small groups - learning to walk in the good ways he's given.
God has been good to us, in the summer that was.