Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Month: June 2017

South Jersey is Different

My Newjerzaversary

Yesterday was the one year mark of my New Jersey home ownership. July 9th will be my residential anniversary (my newjerzaversary). I moved to Haddon Township to get deeper into the region that God called me to as the pastor of Circle of Hope’s South Jersey Congregation. A lot has changed for me and my family in the last two and a half years (since I became pastor)! Our life is very different, because South Jersey is very different from Philly.

One of the things I love about God sending me to South Jersey is that my wife and I are really rather rabid Philadelphians. Moving out of our beloved city of brotherly love reminds us every day that we did something pretty huge for God. It was hard, and how God has brought us through that hardness puts a wondrous grin on my face every time that change hits me.

It hit me again this morning when I read a philly.com article about Philadelphia area fireworks displays. The South Jersey towns were included way down at the bottom of the article below several ads. Pennsylvania was first with a whole bunch of Pennsylvania suburbs listed. Some of them were up to 45 minutes outside of the city, but Jersey was separate, below the digital fold. Audubon, Barrington, Haddon Township, Collingswood, Gloucester City, and more all have pretty decent fireworks displays. You can see a fireworks show in South Jersey within 10 minutes of Philly every night through next Tuesday starting tomorrow. Check out the kids activities blog Kim writes for if you really love fireworks, seriously. After I read the philly.com article I had to call her to commiserate with a South Jersey native to say, “Wow, they really don’t care about us at all, do they?” I have become part of the “us” that is South Jersey. I am Circle of Hope in a very symbolic way. Our “we” crosses the Delaware. We are not respecters of divisions and categories that separate us.

How did the love grow?

This love for South Jersey did not happen because I love jug handles, or tiny municipalities piled on top of each other, or high property taxes, or even a great neighborhood school for my kindergartner. It happened because I love the people. I love Circle fo Hope and I love the people to whom God has called us to express his love. ┬áBecoming a “we” and maintaining the “we-ness” is a big part of what I do as the pastor of Circle of Hope because we really think that it’s how we love each other that best shows the world who Jesus is and what his life among us does. I am grateful to God that he has included me in a “we” even bigger than our expression of the Church. The contrast is still very stark for my Philly-boy eyes and I’d rather it never fade, because it motivates me to get out there into all these tiny towns and the intricacies of the beautiful lives of the people who live there.

Circle of Hope’s Sunday meeting in Pensauken is moving too (in August)

We’re on the move as a congregation too. We’re still meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike on Sundays but soon we will be meeting at two different times. 10:30 am and 5pm. We think that more of those lovely people will be able to connect with these opportunities than two evening meetings like Circle of Hope’s Philly congregations have always done. The dry run of the newly designed evening meeting was this past Sunday. I was so excited to see a group of people who are mostly younger than 25 getting serious about how to make church something in which their friends actually want to participate. Take it from me, the change ends up to be very fun, even if it doesn’t seem like it will be at the outset. God moves with us when we move and we see him in new ways when our routines and daily routes change. Moving our meeting to 10:30 am and making way for a new group gathering at 5 :00 is an opportunity for God to move in a bunch of new ways among us. I’m praying that in the near future we will look back together on the hardness of this big change with a wondrous smile.

Time for Problems

At 3800 Marlton Pike, we’ve decided to move our current Sunday meeting from the evening to the morning. This is causing a lot of problems. I love problems and I think some people find this a little annoying. If there’s a problem, at least then we know for sure what needs to be done! If you know me (and most of the people reading this know me) I like to DO stuff; so having a ton of stuff to do is comforting to me. But not everyone is like me (thank God!), and thus there are a lot of different ways we are responding to the problem of starting a second Sunday meeting.

Some are ambivalent, we haven’t talked about it enough yet for them to have an opinion. Some don’t like it at all because they have shaped their life around an evening meeting for years and changing is a lot of work. Some are enthusiastic, they’ve been trying for years to get that one friend to come to a meeting but they can’t make it work with their schedule. Some are worried, we don’t have enough people on the teams that pull off the existing meeting. Some are suspicious, what makes you so sure changing the meetings will make room for new people?

All these responses are totally legit. We don’t need to have our feelings validated because they are inherently valid, but I want to acknowledge them just the same. I want to acknowledge these feelings I’ve mentioned, the ones that I am aware of through conversations with you, but also the ones of which I am unaware. This change is arbitrary. it’s mostly an excuse to have some new problems instead of our old ones, and an excuse to be new in how we are expressing what God has given us to give to the world. I think this will be very good for us and our plan to be an environment where people can know God and act for redemption.

Here’s an adorable grumpy toddler

The biggest problem that we solve with a morning meeting is the proliferation of grumpy toddlers in South Jersey. I just don’t think the world needs any more of those. But there are tons of them in all the parks I go to and all the preschools that are everywhere around here. Their parents might want to know Jesus and we’re a really good place fo them to do that. But no one I know is going to mess up their toddler’s bed time routine to check out a Sunday meeting. The reasons the parents of toddlers among us are a part of our Sunday meetings is because A) they were part of us before said toddlers existed or B) they were looking for a church just like Circle of Hope for a long time and then they made it work. Our evening time frame screens out any casually interested people. You have to really want to do it to do it at 5 if you have young kids.

Fortunately we will still be doing it at 5, just also at 10 (or 10:30- what do you think?). Dan and Pat McGowan are leading a team of folks who want to connect a whole new group of people to our Sunday meetings. They have an innovative plan that they are going to try out this Sunday (June 25th at 7pm). Invite your friends to it. It’s an open meeting even if it’s a dry run. Everyone who shows up is a founder! If you won’t be there, pray for them (I guess you should pray for them if/while you’re there too).

Prayer is the best thing to do with your problems in general (that sounds like a cliche and it is) but a common byproduct of my prayers is dialogue. If I talk to God about them, I’m more likely to talk to others about them. Once I articulate them to myself and to God I can better work them out on the team or with the person who might be the source of the problem. We’re not making this big change yet. We’re thinking August, so we have time to face all the problems. Let’s sort them out together with God and each other.