The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on: Genesis 11: 1-9 and 1Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Opening Prayer:  God of grace and God of glory, may the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.

 Some of you may remember how a few weeks ago, I spoke about some common characteristics at work in smaller churches, smaller churches being those that function with a total membership of less than 100 members. 

 The information I quoted comes from an article entitled ‘Thirty Common Characteristics of Smaller Churches’ found in a book written by David Ray entitled “The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches”.

 In case you missed that service or you are drawing a blank on 10 of the 30 characteristics covered on that occasion, let’s do a quick recap of some of the characteristics, then re-visit, and add a few more. 

 In a church family of less than 100 regular participants

  • almost everyone knows almost everyone else
  • people are relationship centered and oriented
  • people understand and respond to mission in personal and immediate terms
  • the children belong to the whole community
  • lay people are more important than the pastor
  • worship and eating are favourite activities! 
  • prefer their minister to be a pastor, friend, and generalist as opposed to being a professional, specialist, or chief executive officer

 For anyone counting, that makes 7 characteristics of how small churches function mentioned in worship just a few weeks ago.

 However, as I reflected again on our readings from scripture from this morning and re-visited our prayers and hymns chosen in honour of the festival of Pentecost, and, as we anticipate Part Two of our annual congregational meeting on governance immediately after our worship service this morning,

I want to add a few more characteristics to that list. 

 To recap three of the characteristics we looked at briefly on the fourth Sunday in the season of Easter, you may recall that

  • Small churches prefer an organizational structure that is simple rather than complex
  • Small churches are places where almost everyone feels and is important and needed
  • Small churches are more likely to be rooted in their history and nervous about their future

 Adding a couple of more characteristics to the mix, we know from experience here at Knox, small churches are a culture carrying people. 

That means they are people with stories they need and want to share as a way not only of honouring and celebrating the hard work of their forebears but also of creating a legacy from which leaders can springboard to the future.  Sometimes that can mean that small church families can become so attached to how things have always been done that they forget to notice what it is needed now for effective functioning in the present moment and to carry the community into the future.

 Small churches are tough and tenacious-that is, they know how to weather a storm.  They know where to find water in the desert and because of this they are willing to be led into more faithful living. 

  Small churches often look and feel like those gathered communities we heard read about in our stories from scripture this morning who, when things go awry, are quick to rectify the situation and not make the same mistakes again!

 And last but never least,

  While small churches are better and more practised at meeting immediate needs of the present than on planning for the long term, they are also able to recognize that living well today will give them more confidence about what tomorrow will hold.

 Thinking again on this morning’s readings from scripture we are reminded that we, the people of Knox United Church serving God through the United Church of Canada, are not the first to be invited into finding new ways of saying ‘yes’ to the grace of God’s unfolding purpose for humanity though faith, hope, and love and in the sharing of its spiritual gifts. 

 Our readings from Genesis and 1 Corinthians this morning remind us, too, that saying ‘yes’ to learning to celebrate unity in the midst of difference, fear, and uncertainty has always been a challenge for communities of faith throughout time and requires tenacity, courage, faith, and trust in a yet to be determined and seemingly elusive future shot through with the need to keep the common good at the centre. 

The apostle Paul says it well when he reminds his followers at Corinth that the individual bestowing of spiritual gifts is not about personal glory but rather about the building up of the community as a whole. 

For all this and more on this festive day of Pentecost we are thankful and remember that God’s Holy Spirit comes to us not to sooth and keep things as they have always been but rather to disturb our complacency clarifying for us what is needed for effective functioning as the body of Christ in this time and in this place. 

The good news for today? 

 In the midst of the muddle of confusion and chaos, in the midst of our fear of change and uncertainty about the future, the same steadfast, nurturing, and supportive God, who was there for our ancient brothers and sisters in faith, is the same God who accompanies us this day and always.

 May it be so.  Amen.