In my sermon on January 19, I posed the question that Jesus posed to his first disciples in John, chapter 1.
“What are you looking for?”
Those disciples were looking for a teacher and found much more in the person of Jesus. Jesus issued the invitation to “come and see,” and the trajectory of these men’s lives was changed forever.
In my sermon, I asked everyone to write down what they were looking for in terms of coming to church and following Christ. The answers to this simple question were full of depth and richness, and I believe give us a tremendous insight into how St. Nicholas responds to the needs of our community.
There were all kinds of answers to this question and I was pleased that people played along and were honest about what they seek. There were two funny answers, of course written by my children. Bronwyn said she looks for “crafts” when she comes to church. Liam’s answer was “having the last song.” That’s a priest’s kid for you.
The overwhelming response to this question was “Peace.” Twenty-six people wrote some formulation of the word “peace,” “inner peace,” “mental peace,” or “peace from/with God.” This tells us a great deal. I interpret this to mean that people’s lives are decidedly not peaceful, and they find true peace here at St. Nicholas. Peace covers a great area, but it’s something that people are finding here (I hope) or they wouldn’t still be coming. How can we continue to promote peace to those who come and those who haven’t yet come?
The next most-recurring answer was “Forgiveness,” with seven responses. I think I take for granted that people are dealing with their own struggles with life and that the message of hope in God’s forgiveness is not overlooked by many in our congregation. This is why the confession and pronouncement of absolution is a regular part of our service. I would encourage those who wrote “forgiveness” that if you have not come to a peace about your forgiveness, that you come and talk to me. Perhaps the Rite of Reconciliation is what you need, where you can divest your soul of any burdens in a strictly confidential and non-judgmental environment.
Six people had some permutation of the concept of “Connection, Closeness, or Communion with God.” This is a place where they look for God to “show up.” When it feels like God may not be anywhere else, people count on God to be here in this place. That’s a significant realization, and one that we should never underestimate. How can we help people maintain that connection with God on a daily basis?
Five people noted that they are looking for “Worship.” Some added they seek worship as a way to gain closeness with God. Worship is the cornerstone of our common life together. It’s what we do best, I think, as Episcopalians, it’s what we have to share with the world. In what ways can we share our worship beyond the Sunday service? Another five mentioned they seek “Renewal,” which some clarified to mean renewal of their spirit or renewal of their faith. Much of this is connected to the above answers.
The next group of answers centered around “Fellowship.” Some appreciate the fellowship of people who are all seeking to live better lives. This is another reason why time spent outside of worship solely is important. The more we get to know each other, the better people we become. Tied with “fellowship” was “Comfort.” One person even stated that they look for “spiritual comfort of the likeminded.” This congregation is certainly not likeminded on everything, but I think it’s important that this person feels that there is likemindedness in the comfort of our spiritual lives. How can we offer that same fellowship and comfort to the world?
The topics with three responses included, “Community,” “Inspiration,” “Acceptance,” and “Spiritual Direction/Guidance.”
Topics with two responses included, “Love,” “Calm” (which may connect to “Peace”), “Praising Jesus/God,” and “Happiness/Joy.”
There were also a number of really thoughtful answers which bear noting:
To hear what God wants me to hear
A challenging message
For help to understand what the Lord wants from me
Designated time carved out of day to reflect & be thankful
The stillness or quiet to discern God’s call to me
Thank God for his Son
To have my outlook “reset”
Experience of Spirit
Find the teacher of Jesus in my life
To be a better Christian
God to move me
Many of these are variations of the answers above. I love the honest answer of “Not Sure.” It’s OK to not know exactly what you are looking for.
I hope that in seeing these responses, you will get a sense of what our shared ministry at St. Nicholas means. We certainly won’t achieve every one of these with every service, program, or event that we do, but it’s still important to know what our goals are. We can still cultivate an environment where people can find the ultimate source of their needs: God.
My last thought on these responses is the crux of my sermon. If those of us who come to St. Nicholas feel this way, it’s probably a sure bet that the people in our community are looking for these things as well. Who in your life is looking for any number of the things listed above? All you have to tell them, like Jesus told those disciples, is “Come and see.”