This year for my birthday, my husband gave me an Apple watch! A watch that does way more than tell time! I hadn’t been wearing this watch very long when an elderly friend of ours died after struggling a long time with Alzheimer’s disease. She was Japanese and came to the United States via marrying a soldier serving in WWII. Her faith was Japanese Buddhist. Her daughter is a Disciple and asked if I would do her mother’s service, plus would I be able to make it a Buddhist Christian service. Sure, I replied.
After some research and some prayer, I did, but not without a little anxiety. At the close of the service, right when I said, “Amen,” I heard my Apple watch beep and I felt it vibrate. I glanced at my watch and it displayed, “You did it! Great job!” I immediately thought that my husband or my friend sitting in the pews had texted this to me. But neither had. Then I thought maybe I completed some activity, but no activity ring had closed. So, I wondered . . . was that God or Buddha that sent me that message? “You did it! Great job!” Whoever it was or whatever it was, it was a moment that caught my full attention and “I believed!”, so much so that I didn’t wear that Apple watch for a few days!
I believe! Those are biblical words, especially in the season of Easter as disciples recognized the Risen Christ in their midst! As I have shared the story about my Apple watch renewing my faith, I have had many reactions. Some laugh and some try to explain it, rather than hear it as a faith story.
I have a friend who says that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) doesn’t have a “membership issue,” but that we have an issue with telling our stories about Jesus and our faith, mostly because people laugh at us, smirk, or try to explain it. I wonder if my friend is on to something.
There are many joys in the Region of Oklahoma and they certainly begin with you! Michael, Leslie and I travel this Region regularly to celebrate with you in worship, to help you connect with one another, to walk alongside you in your varied and wonderful ministries, and to capture a glimpse of the work of Jesus.
You all are very generous. The Pension Fund, the Christian Church Foundation, and the Oklahoma Disciples Foundation, our legacy organizations of the church, are in the strongest position they have ever been to support and under gird the Christian Church. This is because of your generosity of investing your money for long term, beyond your life, and because of your deep and abiding faith.
Your generosity is also remarkable with Week of Compassion and disaster relief. Your generosity allows Disciples to provide much needed help within 24 hours of a disaster around the world. Your giving in 2017 to the hurricanes in South Texas and in Florida and in Puerto Rico was astounding. In addition to special offerings, we asked and you all responded quickly to make clean up buckets. We collected about 400 clean up buckets, so many that Church World Service opened a drop off site in Oklahoma City. This is a remarkable and powerful expression of compassion beyond our doorsteps.
As generous as we are, we are experiencing congregations in our Region struggling to pay their bills and/or their pastor, or their spiritual leader. Some congregations are having conversations about selling their buildings or even closing, disbursing their assets to the larger church, and disbursing their communities. When your congregation struggles, the Regional Church struggles. I believe we can do better with our stewardship to care for one another as Oklahoma Disciples.
Over the last two years, the Regional Church has emphasized its ministry of Pro-Reconciliation Anti-Racism. The Faith in Action Commission has hosted a Regional workshop, trained a team, and is currently developing a strategy to teach us how to be more aware of and learn ways we can dismantle this systemic racism. The church should always be intentionally working on our relationships with one another, our sameness, our differences, and recognizing we are all God’s people.
Our culture has brought to our attention and awakened us over the past few years to Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the #Me Too women’s movement, our Youth’s profound statement about gun safety and violence, and Oklahoma’s school teachers. We have seen Disciples on the front lines standing with, speaking out, and advocating for justice.
We have also seen compassionate congregations opening their doors to provide safe places and meals for the thousands of children who were not in school during the teacher walkout. We have seen Disciples, trained by Oklahoma Council of Churches Spiritual and Disaster Teams, on the front lines of storm recovery and most recently the devastating Rhea Wild Fires in NW Oklahoma.
We have observed Disciples providing after school ministries where children come to eat and play and learn Bible stories, ministries serving hundreds of widows, providing meals for the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the grieving, creating safe space for LGBTQ college students, as well as mission work in the Congo and at Caminante. We have seen creativity in opportunities for fellowship, creating community, teaching and reteaching the stories of the Bible and how to love and serve like Jesus.
You all are not shy about stepping forward to invest in the camp and conference program to provide adult leadership and safe space for young people to explore their faith, ask questions, meet life-long friends, and even hear God’s call upon their life.
In all our work and ministry, we always wonder if we are making a difference. I believe that “yes, we are.” Absolutely we are, which is evidenced by two young people who have been embraced and empowered by Disciples in Oklahoma.
Kelsey Cobbs is a member of New Covenant Christian Church. I first heard her at the TCU/Brite Minister’s Week in February at the TCU luncheon where she was a featured speaker as the President of Disciples on Campus. She graduated from TCU with a BA in Religion and has accepted the invitation to further pursue religion studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is grateful for the opportunity to serve her congregation and the Regional Youth Council and attend camp and conference where she has made many friends and a deep and abiding relationship with God.
Colton Lott is a member of First Christian Church, Ada, and has served in the youth minister position in Sulphur. This region has equipped him and empowered him to achieve a Masters of Divinity at the Disciples Divinity House Chicago. He will be ordained in Ada on June 30th to serve vocationally in the life of the church that has formed him and shaped his faith.
The state of the region is we are making a difference. We are transforming lives, by investing in lives like Kelsey and Colton. We do not do this ministry by ourselves. None of us. We do this ministry together with the Grace of God with all of our varied gifts. We have a lot of work to do, and the mission field seems to be getting larger. Margaret Mead writes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, [faithful Disciples] can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We can be tired. We can be sad. But we cannot be done. I believe we have, we are, and we will continue to love and serve in the name of the God who creates life, in the name of the Savior who lives life, in the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life. It is too important.
I am, we are, deeply grateful for you, each of you and all of you, and your ministry, and give thanks every day for the opportunity to serve you, represent you, and love you on this journey.
Peace & God’s Grace,
Rev. Pamela Holt