We’ve come over 3,000 miles to settle into our new home on the Atlantic Coast of New England and the contrasts to San Diego are startling. The sun sets over the Pacific, but it rises over the Atlantic. Someone described Southern California as a “parking lot that moves at 70 miles per hour.” Rush hour on route 12 which runs in front of the church in Groton, Connecticut and our home, means four cars at the stop light turning into the Navy base. There are some obvious differences: San Diego rarely (if ever) sees snow. In fact, people there are startled by rain. Just after we unloaded the U-Haul truck into the parsonage, we had over a foot of snow to celebrate our arrival. Perhaps it’s the contrast to the dazzling, white, blanket of snow, but I’ve never seen such blue skies as those we have seen in the past two weeks in Connecticut.
On the other hand, some things remain the same. That’s the beauty of being a part of God’s Family. Wherever you go in the world, you are home. I remember many years ago when I was a young soldier away from home for the first time. I was stationed in Berlin, Germany and the first thing I did when I arrived was search out the church. It was different. Instead of calling themselves the “Church of Christ,” they chose to call themselves the “Gemeinde Kristi.” (The German word for “Church” is too formal and cold to describe the fellowship we enjoy.) Likewise, the little group of believers met in a large, two-story home instead of a formal building surrounded by a parking lot.
On that first Saturday, when I nervously knocked on the door, I was met by a wonderful, round-faced, white-haired woman, Marianne, who didn’t speak a word of English. That was okay because I didn’t speak nearly enough German to carry on a conversation. All she knew was that I was an American believer and that made me family. She welcomed me into her home, served me cookies and tea and showed me the family photo albums chatting away (in German) as if I was a long- lost cousin – and I was!
Jan and Dixie and I have come to work with the church in Groton, Connecticut. It’s much, much smaller than the church in San Diego and they don’t have nearly the staff (just me) or the finances that Canyon View enjoyed, but what impresses us isn’t what they lack – it’s what they have!
Our truck was met by Sue who had stocked the pantry and the fridge and even gave us enough home-made chicken noodle soup to eat on for a week! The next morning people just kept coming and coming and coming and carrying in our boxes and belongings. The woodshed in back was packed with firewood for the stove and Wednesday night after services (which consisted of a delightful meal accompanied by stories and songs and prayer) the men packed into our living room to demonstrate their fire-building skills in our wood stove. Everyone had advice and suggestions on how to get the most heat and survive a New England winter. Then right on cue, the snow began to fall.
Can you imagine what it felt like to sit in my chair in the living room with my feet propped up on an ottoman with a hot cup of coffee and a good book by the fire? Outside the bay window everything was buried under new fallen snow, but we were snug and even Phoebe our old cat was curled up by the warmth of the woodstove.
So, what does this little dynamo of a congregation have? First, leadership. I believe “A congregation is no stronger than her leaders” and we have two amazing Shepherds. Notice I didn’t say “managers” or “visionaries” (although they are that too.) Biblical leaders – call them elders or overseers, presbyters or pastors – are first concerned about people and their souls. Deacons can take care of the physical stuff, budgets and buildings, but Shepherds are called to care for souls. On the Judgment Day, the Shepherds won’t be questioned about paint chips and carpet samples. The Great Shepherd will want to know what happened to His lambs.
Murray and Dorothea are retired after serving twenty-years with East European Mission in Vienna. Murray’s ancestors helped settle Connecticut and their love for this area is obvious. We don’t say much about the role of an elder’s wife, but Dorothea is exemplary. She and Murray work together in a beautiful way as a team.
Our other elder, Jim and his wife Denise, are perfect for the mission of this congregation. We are located just across the street from the main entrance to the Navy’s submarine base and Jim is a former submarine officer. He shares the responsibilities for leading singing and teaches the Sunday morning Adult Bible School class. I’ve never known an elder more loved by the children than Jim. Likewise, I’ve known churches where Paul’s admonition that elders be “able to teach” is brushed aside, but both Jim and Murray are excellent teachers.
There is one more imperative quality for an elder in my opinion and that’s having a heart for hospitality. Elders who open their homes understand how important that virtue is for church growth. Again, it’s an easy quality to dismiss, but damnable when it is lacking. I know it sounds trivial, but Jan and I were truly impressed when Jim and Denise opened their home to the entire congregation for their fourteenth Super Bowl party! There were TVs everywhere and food and drink and laughter and stories and Jan and I knew we had found a new home in Connecticut.
It takes more than just good leaders to have a dynamic congregation. It takes brothers and sisters with Nehemiah’s “will to work” and judging by how our new family welcomed us, Groton feels like home!
Leaders, family, and a love of the Lord: I’m excited about our future together.