Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Two Hot Dogs and Faith Can Do...

I can't remember if it was two or three years ago, but I do remember I had a LOT of time off because construction died, so I built a church for our Mission. This picture was our first Pascha in our completed building.  It seemed the hand of God was blessing us.  Of course He would bless us. We were stepping out on faith. We gave sacrificially and then some. We endured all manners of setbacks and speedbumps and didn't give up. In the end we had built an Orthodox temple and had a solid core of faithful families. The whole story is HERE

I used to read the last line of that post now with a bit of ironic bitterness.  About two years after we built the Church the owner sold the property out from under us.  It would be easy to blame the owner (and we did for a while), but looking back, the reality is it was a harmonic convergence of bad decisions and gross negligence and just plain human failures by our Bishop, Dean of Missions, Priest, Parish Council and members at large (of which I was an integral part).  QT (a gas station/convenience market chain) had bought the property and we were forced to vacate.

This was the fate of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours of volunteer labor, all given "to the glory of God". 

The fate of St. John's building is a metaphor for life, of course.  "Why does God not seem to honor the sacrifices that people make for Him?"  WE think we're building a legacy to the glory of God then that same "God" permits it to be bulldozed and buried so the future generations we were hoping to bless cannot even recognize it nor remember it.

And of course the answer to that  question is, "Who knows?"  Our call is to be faithful, not prognosticators or soothsayers interpreting and discerning the will of God.

So today (Sunday) I finished my weekend construction job about one o'clock. I went to the new commercial office space our Mission just rented and decided I'd get a jump start on the remodeling.

I "kept the fast" even though I didn't go to Church because I had to finish the job this weekend.  By noon I was shaky. (I'm standing on the blog streetcorner, yes...) There was no way I was going to do demolition for the rest of the day on a "BLT without the B".  I stopped and ate two hot dogs at Circle K and went to the new office space St. John's rented.  There's a few walls that have to be removed to open it up for a sanctuary.  These were the first two that had to go.

It is office space, nothing fancy. There will be no dome, no arches, no park-like grounds for picnics and barbeques, just an asphalt parking lot in a non-descript office building on a main street.  But St. John's Mission will be there, just like we were in someone's living room, the funeral home chapel, the strip center behind the bar, the beautiful temple and the rented Coptic Church Chapel we've been in for the last year. 

The Mission has survived seven years of clerical delusion, neglect, abuse, and lay and clerical dysfunctional leadership.  But it still exists in spite of all of the issues and problems.  In the end there was no schism, everyone who left has returned and is looking forward.  That in itself is a miracle.

Moving to a commercial office space from a "real church building" may be a step backward by all measures of "progress", but a step forward by all measures of "faithfulness in the small things" by a community of people that love each other enough to wander in the wilderness together and endure the humanity of the Church and the severity of the hand of God that is preparing us for something we do not understand and cannot comprehend.

And yes, it has occurred to me that even the last line of this post will probably come back and bite me too.  Oh well. What else is new.


David said...

I'm so sorry to hear what happened to your parish. It is the sort of thing that I assume God will not allow to happen to my own parish, or in my own life. I have not yet experienced suffering of that kind.
On a large historical scale, things repeatedly happen that seem like the end of the world--events God would only allow if he were deliberately bringing the world to an end. Religious persecution in Soviet Russia comes to mind, where, incidentally, many churches, the result of people's faith and labor, were destroyed.
But, then, apocalypses are happening on a small scale all the time. The loss of your building must have seemed like an apocalypse for your community.
It occurs to me that the faith of the community that survives such disappointment might be very real--but I cannot pinpoint God's purposes any more than Job could. As you say, it simply may be beyond our understanding.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Brother, Steve...

I have survived three years of personal delusion, neglect, abuse, and dysfunctional self-leadership (caused by thinking I was the one in charge of me). But in spite of all of the issues and problems, I who left have returned for good and am looking forward. That in itself is a miracle.

On big scales like your parish, or very little ones like me, God is there, God is present, and no matter how it looks or feels sometimes, God cares for us and will never forget about us. He also never gives us on us, even when we feel like giving up ourselves.

Many, many blessings to the new parish, the new location, all those who have returned or stayed, and to you and yours.

B. Joanna

Emily said...

Just wanted to add my prayers and sympathy to the others. I echo David's belief that we simply can't say what God's purpose is in allowing horribly unfair things like that to happen (I actually gasped when I saw the demolition photo. Awful!)

However, I can say that I'm sure you've been an incredible blessing to your community, and I am inspired by your determination to keep trying in the face of such persecution on so many fronts. Praise God!

Anonymous said...

The former owner of the "manufactured home display" let you renovate a mountain chalet. You turned it into a beautiful church building. So why not buy a piece of land, truck in a similar manufactured chalet, and redo what you did? You've already shown what you could build out of a manufactured home.

s-p said...

Anon, Our Mission is not financially able to purchase anything. The owner gave us the Church but we could not afford to buy land, do the moving and site work required. Hopefully the new priest coming this year sometime will be the kind of person who can move the Mission forward and I'll still be young enough to able to build by the time it grows into what it can become.

Sean+ said...

First, I want to say that the original story made me cry. It had the same effect on me as reading a story about somebody's dog dying. I don't think I would read it again.

Second, I have been there, I have done that. Too many times, way more than I ought to have had to. I know the feelings.

But listen to this: You did what you did, not "for the glory of God," but for the glory of God. Ditch the scare quotes. You did the work, you made your offering, you gave your sacrifice, you did your part. What happens next is not yours to decide.

When the Old Testament Jews sacrificed their lamb, it was taken from them, killed, burnt. They gave it to God and lost the use of it. That is what a sacrifice is: you lose the use of something valuable. You gave your time, money, energy, love, and you lost the use of them for other things. They are gone no matter what happens. You gave them for the glory of God (in part; you are human so there are mixed motives, of course; no big deal). What God chooses to do with the gift is his to decide.

It's rather like giving $5 to the guy on the street. It is not your decision whether he buys a sandwich or a bottle of beer with it. You gave the gift, you did your part, and you are out the $5 no matter what happens. "Give to whoever asks," says our Lord. God and your church asked, you gave.

If you gave all that you gave so that you would have the outcome you desired--a lasting legacy or whatever--then you didn't give to God but to your own desires.

Anonymous said...

A wise lady told me when I got married that if I stopped seeing some level of struggle in my marriage, it was time to figure out what was wrong. I've found her advice to be pertinent many times over several years of marriage, and I know I'll find it helpful again in the future. I've found that when we're at least a little at odds, that is when we're really striving together, because when we're not, nothing is there to be worked on.
If I know anything from being Orthodox, and looking closely at the Bride of Christ, I've already realized that if it feels like things are going perfectly it's usually just my pride and delusion. It's when the sh** really hits the fan that reality is happening. It's cleaning off the mess and being full of praise because what's underneath is realized again as a steady and sure thing.

John said...

Thanks for sharing this. I am so sorry for all that has happened in the short life of your mission. I offer no insightor wisdom as to why things happen the way they do, but it sounds to me like y'all are doing the only thing one can do--moving forward in faith, a day at a time. I almost feel guilty that our mission has not had such troubles. Sure, we're on our 3 re-write of our building plans, but we live in an area of markedly lower real estate and building prices, and we have free use of a facility. The fact that we haven't suffered any major setbacks is actually worrisome. I will say this--I hope I live long enough to visit your mission and stand in worship with you in the storefront, or wherever.

Anam Cara said...

Sean said, "That is what a sacrifice is: you lose the use of something valuable. You gave your time, money, energy, love, and you lost the use of them for other things. They are gone no matter what happens. You gave them for the glory of God (in part; you are human so there are mixed motives, of course; no big deal). What God chooses to do with the gift is his to decide."

I can tell you how comforting that thought is right now for me.....

Katherine said...

Dear Anam Cara -
I also found Sean's words comforting given what our Anglican friends, family and co-workers are going through right now.
- Gair De

Sid said...

Best of luck with your new place. On business travel once, I attended your mission in the "strip mall behind a bar" location, and saw how, even there, one steps off the street and into a different world of icons, prayer and faithfulness. In some ways, it was a place closer to God than a "real" church building. I hope the time has come for your congregation to move from strength to strength.

s-p said...

Thanks, Sid. There is something about "slumming" that appeals to me too, however "Church growth" experts say it is not a formula for success. I think the real strength is in weakness and the wilderness wanderings have kept us there. This new space is not elegant but functional, somewhere between the bar parking lot and the Temple. The true beauty of our Church is in the community, not our buildings.

Anonymous said...

You didn't have anything else to do, so you built a church...

That strikes me as funny for some reason. We moved out of the strip mall, but then we lost the family who built the new beautiful new church. As much as I love the building, and appreciate that family's huge sacrifice, I would rather have the strip mall and that family still with us.

Yes, there is something in the story that reminds me of Father Seraphim Rose's warning that persecution would affect America, but differently than Russia under the Soviet system. It is a combination of things I guess, the craziness, lawlessness, shortsightedness, within the Church as well as without, that we are allowed to suffer from time to time.

I noticed no one has commented on the hot dogs yet.