I CLEANED OUT our study today. It’s a task that I’ve been meaning to do for some time now but never really got around to doing it. You could say this year has been something of a whirlwind for me, but I poured through each piece of paper on my desk and went through it. Most of the paper went in the trash. Other treasures, I found were tax documents I’ve been looking for since last tax season, bills that still need to be paid (Public theology can be quite feast and famine for our family) and finally something that I think I’ll treasure most: Church bulletins.
There’s the bulletin from Madison Avenue Baptist Church and The Church of the Epiphany in Tempe, Arizona. (Who would of thought that Tempe would have a rocking Episcopal community?) There’s the MLK bulletin from the King Center and the bulletin from a friend’s wedding whom I love dearly. But I came across the bulletin that haunts me most: the bulletin from the Sunday after Charlottesville, where I preached at the church of my childhood. It gained national attention and eventually led to my resignation at a parish in North Carolina. Who would have thought that a sermon titled “The Providence of a Silent God” would garner such attention?
We live our lives by these bulletins, at least preachers do. We spend our time and effort making sure there are NO errors in grammar, spacing, and hymn numbers. We spend countless dollars on ink and paper to make sure the people of God in a gathered community have the opportunity to worship faithfully and effectively with the bulletin as our guides. Quite literally you can chart a church’s history by their bulletins. You can see what potluck was up on the calendar, or who the rose on the altar was dedicated to that day. It made me wonder what in the world am I going to do with these bulletins.
I think I’ll hold onto them for a while, I’ll put them in a box and put them away. I’ll pull them out and show my future children and grandchildren that their father/grandfather was a public theologian who had the opportunity to preach from some pretty incredible places, but most importantly he learned the value of trusting in a God who inspired authentic worship across the North American continent and beyond. I will tell that old, old story of Jesus and his love with these bulletins. I will tell everyone that will listen that God was our help in ages past and is in fact our hope for years to come, and I will hold nothing back.
These days have been hard, but by the grace of God I came out on the other side with my wife and poodle intact and found God there in the daylight. I was in the belly of the whale and found that the altar of God is found in these pages of bulletin paper, some are well done, some well… could use some work. But ultimately, I have found in these pages that the people of God are a restless and rambunctious bunch, ready for the hope of tomorrow, ready for the next bulletin to hastily discard on their way out of worship. Perhaps now you’ll appreciate a bulletin, perhaps now you might hold onto one that means something to you. They are, after all, the record of God’s people working in the world. Thanks be to God that by that incredible grace we are still working.