Why God broke our church windows
A tremendous hailstorm walloped the First Congregational-United Church of Christ in Harford, the oldest church in Susquehanna County, on May 15th. All eight windows on the church’s West side looked as if they’d been punched by grenades of ice. Shattered glass landed everywhere, including some thirty feet from the broken windows. The holes in the shades look like they have been through a battle and lost. The carpet remains wet some 16 hours after the rain finally moved through.
Judy Mitchell, our church secretary, was working in the office in the addition opposite the West windows when this all happened. Her first posted picture of the event did not prepare me for what I saw live.
In hindsight, I guess nothing could have prepared me for what I saw firsthand. As much as a sanctuary can be the source of a pastor’s gray hair at times (lighting, sound and siding issues really don’t thrill us on an ongoing basis, and yes, this is true), what I felt when I entered the sanctuary is what every pastor feels when he or she enters a holy place that had been suddenly shattered: we realize what we value, and that is God. Particularly, we appreciate God’s proximity.
Like Moses and the burning bush, I felt God’s physical proximity like I never have before. And God had a perfectly timed message for us. This past Sunday, May 20th, was Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter.
The descent of the Holy Spirit is upon us now as it was during that worship service where God presented God’s self through a mighty windstorm (Acts 2:1-13). Following this storm, which was similar to ours here last week, something amazing happened. Despite different languages being spoken, everyone understood everyone else in that sanctuary after the Holy Spirit blew through. For example, if you didn’t understand Hebrew being spoken, you could clearly understand that language that day.
That same multilingual Spirit is still blowing through today. Churches with this Spirit realize unintentional yet present compartmentalization—an “us” and “them” mentality. We don’t stay divided, or different. For instance, denominational lines that were once key during the Reformation are becoming thinner and thinner each year creating one ecumenical language, not dozens of them. This unified language isn’t sudden. It’s been happening for generations now says Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence. It’s only now that we are beginning to see it.
First Congregational-UCC isn’t the only church aware of other “languages” spoken; in the heart of every Christian is the awareness of all individuals, not just those who think, pray and respond as if in a club with monovision. It is not and will not always be easy to be radically inclusive of all, but Tickle, chronicles the struggles of church conflict since its inception, makes those who love Jesus also value the history lessons we are still learning from having 2,000 years of conflict resolution.
Loving out loud is never easy. It never will be. But that doesn’t mean we stop. Instead, we embrace scholarship from authors like Tickle and study our past so that we can love out loud even more intentionally everyone in every language out there.
God broke our church windows so that we could experience the same fresh wind of new change from a 2,000-year-old story. Let this wind find you, too.
This blog first appeared in The Susquehanna County Independent on May 21, 2018. That is not ice on the black top; that is broken glass.