Letter from Pastor Stephanie – June 22, 2023
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward
each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as
you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
--From Romans 15
A year ago, I wrote to you from a hospital waiting for the first of three surgeries Soren would have on his jaw. The first step was a week-long hospital visit. He came home with pins in the internal and external area of his jaw. He had been able to achieve 10 millimeters of growth in the hospital by me turning his pins every six hours. He endured a week of being semi-sedated (intubated) and then the turning of pins continued for a week when we returned home. The turning pulled bone forward while being “grounded” by a metal system like a watch in your mouth. The pins stayed in for six weeks and then we returned for a second surgery. This time the area around one of the pins was wanting to close with granulation tissue. Soren endured a summer of me silver nitrating the site twice a day. His third surgery in October removed the internal hardware and was the “easiest” of the three. We left the hospital unsure if the area would now grow the bone it needed to stay open. The body’s amazing ability to want to heal itself meant that there was a risk that the growth we achieved would not be able to be
We went through all of that for space. We put Soren through all of that for space. Specifically, to create space in his jaw to allow for more growth. The “to allow” meant that there was a possibility that bone would not grow, and the surgeries would then be deemed unsuccessful. Praise be to God that the space in Soren’s mouth, along with time and healing, allowed for
new bone to grow. His jaw is now, permanently, ten millimeters longer. But, before the bone could grow in and make a permanent change, we first had to make space.
I’ve been struck of late by how important space is for things to grow. Not enough in the garden, and plants get crowded. Not enough in the day of a human, and we don’t get to process the world around us. Putting space in our lives allows for growth. We chose to give Soren the surgery so that he would have a chance at growing, which he has over the last year.
Then the most amazing thing happened: Soren grew intellectually. The gene Soren carries is so rare that we have very little data on his overall quality of life and life span. There is no reason to suggest that Soren is in any way cognitively delayed, but we had no idea what potential there was because of so little data. Suddenly, all the concepts he had been studying for seven
years clicked into place. He was able to navigate seamlessly between a world that signs and a world that speaks. He can read in English and interpret into ASL. He can do math (his favorite) with fractions and equations using his modifications for the deaf so that he can “see” the concepts with a different numerical system (ASL counts differently). He was hanging out
with friends more. Teaching his peers sign language for morning meetings. He ice-skates, runs, bikes, plays soccer, T-ball, and plays the guitar, drums, and loves to paint and sculpt. He now teaches Rowan how to sign. He loves to bake and “conduct” his music as he listens to jazz. He knows how to work his g-tube and has lovingly taught his aid at school how to feed him. He
has more confidence. He takes more risks. He grew physically because he was sleeping and breathing better due to the surgery, but why academically and socially?
There are times when we make space in order to grow (like plants), then there are times when we make space because we already have grown and to not make space would be detrimental for our own personal growth. We have been at the later place at Memorial Baptist Church for a long time. The physical structure of our building, though modified tremendously, has a
limited and confining blueprint. We have added, restructured, and remodeled as much as we can over the last ten years. Currently, we need to be able to have multiple adult Sunday school classes running on Sunday morning. We tried last summer (2022) into the fall of this year to run multiple tables, groups and/or classes. The acoustics in the Fellowship Hall made hearing almost impossible. People dropped out. It was frustrating. What was especially frustrating was the fact that some people had made that leap for the first time in a long time to come into our church to study the Word of God and then had to leave because they couldn’t hear. What struck me so profoundly this year was that we were actually holding people back.
We advertise discipleship, we pray for people to attend and take part, we pray and plan the classes and then we don’t have the space to hold those who come. We focus so much on doing things to get people to grow that we often overlook the things we are doing to keep them from growing. In the time that I have been here (almost 10 years), we have looked into the various
options to allow for more classes without having to make a major renovation of the church. At this point, we are limited in options of physical growth to an addition. Meaning that we can’t rent space to have classes, no space is available within walking distance of the church and though online works for many, we have a rich tradition at MBC of having Sunday morning
discipleship classes for all ages. Which leaves us in a place of a scary decision to add space to our building.
I want to be crystal clear that this is not to “make our church body bigger” in the proverbial “build them and they will come”, rather, we need to prayerfully ask ourselves “are we holding growth in our own body back because we have run out of room”?
The Trustees and Deacons have begun a conversation and intense time of prayer to contemplate that question and then what to do if we need space to sustain our own body’s growth. We have contacted an architect to give us some ideas we can present to you as the congregation as far as what is even possible for space with our building’s existing blueprint.
Currently, we have asked if anyone who is interested in serving on a building committee would contact Dutton or Lou. We have not made any decisions about a physical building addition. Real movement in that direction would come by a congregational vote. Now, we are doing nothing more or less than giving God this in space and prayer so that we can hear His plan for our future.
In full disclosure, I don’t want to build a building onto the church. I don’t want to sit through hours and hours of extra meetings, time with the architect, Building Committee, Trustees, Deacons, and the congregation at large. I don’t want to have to navigate the delicate terrain of fear and anxiety that happens when we talk large amounts of money and large change. I don’t want the church to be a construction zone. I don’t want people to feel left out or on the “in”. I don’t want any arguments or drama. And, for me the most important: I do not want anything that takes our eyes off Jesus. But I didn’t want Soren’s surgery either. I don’t ever want us to make any decision to “get us to grow”, but we need to be asking God “are we holding our own growth back”?
Martin Rolfs Massaglia, my former teacher/pastor/boss, ended every benediction with the words from Paul in the book of Romans from the beginning of this letter at the end of every worship service. I preached this passage at his funeral. At that time, Mitch suggested we immortalize Martin’s use of the words on a banner that still hangs behind the pulpit at First
Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland. What Martin was leaving us with every week as we left worship was to hold onto the knowledge that God was moving in a dark world and to live into that hope.
Paul’s words on hope are not a pipe dream or some fantastical, utopian society. He is telling us that we are to have hope for God is moving in the fog. Those times when you can’t see anything but about two feet in front of you. You follow God’s voice not robotically, but in faith. One foot in front of the other. That is what we are trying to do this year specifically regarding allowing for, and making room for, space in our church.
Pray with me. Pray for God’s wisdom and leading. I don’t want us to do anything that is not God’s will. Pray that we will be of one accord – not one mind but unified in the will of the Lord. Pray that wherever God leads us we will have the faith to follow “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
As I graciously reflect upon you every year, I am awed by how much you love Jesus. Thank you for trusting me to lead you. Thank you for loving me and my family.
In Christ’s Name,