The Supportive Community

November 13, 2013

The days getting ready for my cancer treatments have been amazingly busy. Because I will be undergoing both radiation and chemotherapy, I am engaged in two tracks of testing and preparation. Today, for instance, I will go in for a dress rehearsal of my custom-designed radiation treatment. During this procedure the technicians, the physicist, and the doctor all sign off on the mapping of high-energy x-rays that will converge on the Beast. Yesterday it was a bone-marrow biopsy to set a baseline for measuring side effects of chemotherapy.

Another kind of preparation is happening at home. Because the disease itself has already made me feel sick and tired, it is apparent to me that I will need help here at home “for the duration.” And so, using a task-coordination website, my local friends are signing up to give me rides to and from treatment, to keep an eye on me afterwards until my husband gets home from work, and to bring meals in. It is heartening and moving to see where those volunteers are coming from: members of three churches I have served, old friends, current students, and even my daughter’s pals I haven’t seen since their college days.

Truly, “it takes a village” to heal a person. In so many instances of healing we read about in the gospels, the healing encounter ultimately is between Jesus and the one who is sick. But quite often, there is a third party (the Centurian in Matthew 8, the mother in Matthew 15) requesting the help.

One of the best illustrations of this is the coordination of four friends to get a paralyzed man to the feet of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). The crowds are so thick around the Teacher /Healer, who is at home in Capernaum, that four friends of a paralyzed man get creative. The object is to draw Jesus’ attention to the patient’s needs. Since they can’t get in the front door, they devise a Plan B. [I am greatly amused by the resourcefulness, patience, and determination of these friends.] They climb up onto the roof and somehow get the supine guy up there, too, and start pulling away at the roof tiles to gain entry from above. There’s a bit of harrumphing going on inside, I imagine—Whose going to pay for the damage to the roof?—but Jesus is very impressed with the friends’ faith and persistence, and addresses the sick one directly. Their plan works! The man is healed, spiritually and physically, right before their eyes!

Four friends gathered around me last night to pray for my healing. Their tenderness, persistence in prayer, and their faith in the power of God lifted me up. The prayer warriors of our church are alert and interceding for me, and I am aware that there are other saints throughout the country and even around the world who are carrying me and my family to the throne of grace. I am finding great comfort in this dynamic, and trust that God has heard the cries of his people and will act according to his purposes for me, the church, and the Kingdom of God. What a great feeling!

But now, O Church, how are we doing creating a healing, gracious village for the saints? In some cases, not too well. Just this weekend, I presided at the ordination of a friend, a former student of mine, who originally came under care of his mainline denomination and was nurtured for several years by pastors and friends. Mid-stream in his seminary experience, he came to the heart-wrenching realization that he could not fulfill the requirements of his denomination to be educated in its own seminary. He transferred to Fuller (the largest multi-denominational seminary in the world), where I met and taught him, and he graduated last summer. Making this transfer was costly; he was rejected by his denomination (though certainly not his home church), and he moved his care to a new denomination (much like ECO is to the PC[USA]). Joyfully, he has just accepted a call in another state, and his mainline nurturing community is thrilled for him. But not the ecclesiastical officials of the mainline, who, when they heard the ordination was going to take place in his home church, forbid any of its clergy (who had mentored him for years) to participate in the service of ordination. That’s why this lowly Presbyterian was the worship leader.

This is a case where ecclesiastical perfectionism stands in the way of flourishing ministry. Churches in the PC(USA) that feel they do not fit in anymore often have experienced red tape or non-cooperation from their judicatories to expand their ministry. I think specifically of instances in which flourishing congregations want to plant so-called daughter churches to multiply their impact in a community. Around here, presbytery doesn’t go for that idea, because its ecclesiastical perfectionism requires it to sponsor churches that are seeded by members of two or three theologically contrasting congregations. No, no, we can’t enfranchise an evangelical/orthodox church to make more congregations like itself in our presbytery! This lack of support has happened at least three times in the last twenty years within my presbytery, while during the same time frame at least two attempts at church-planting by the presbytery’s method have failed.

If the denomination is suffering—and every observable indicator demonstrates it is—we need to figure out a new way of being a supportive network to one another and get ourselves into the hands of the Great Physician. The patient is ill, a reflection of the spiritual illness overtaking our society, so how are we going to cooperate in faith in order to lift this ailing church into the healing arms of our Savior? The methods required may take down a few roof tiles or be pegged “unconventional.” So be it. But now is the time to think creatively about how to get the PC(USA) patient in for treatment, before it is too late. The solution is not to go to another “savior,” nor is it to rely on human ingenuity. We will find our healing when we submit to the Word and will of Jesus Christ our Lord and stop relying on ecclesiastical loyalty to pull us through.



4 Responses to “The Supportive Community”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Dear Mary,

    The personal, relational, Biblical, theological and ecclesiastical tapestry you’ve woven here is downright faithfully awesome. May it be brought to bear upon a wide audience. Amen and keep ’em comin’.

    Praying on with gratitude,

  2. Bruce Becker Says:

    Mary, I replied on the LAYMAN website because I thought that I had already clicked the link. My goof. Bruce Becker

  3. Dear Mary,

    Hope you’re coming through your treatments well, with at least your spirits intact. Do get plenty of rest.

    But let me understand this: You mean your presbytery won’t allow a new church to be planted unless it has theological factions in it from the start? I mean, really?

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