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. Becoming 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.
We live in the megalopolis- the swath of concrete dominated land that stretches from Washington DC all the way up to Boston. In my neck of this urban and suburban mass of human concentration, the boundaries slip and slide like hikers boots on wet, mossy rocks. One minute you’re in Haddon Township, the next minute you’re in Haddon Heights, cross the street and you’re in Haddonfield. I can say now, after 3 months on the job (Monday was my 3 month-a-versary as Pastor of Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent- woot!) that I’m getting the hang of how these municipalities work. I’m probably more attuned to the boundaries then most people who have lived here all their lives. It’s kind of like when I learned English grammar by learning Spanish. All the grammatical rules which I had intuited in my mother tongue needed a name and a category when I had to memorize them in a second language. Folks who aren’t so new to the area are often not as interested in where exactly all the borders are. Their lives have their beaten paths and it’s not really important that the coffee shop is in Pennsauken and the Wegman’s is in Cherry Hill. I’m taking a lesson from this indifference to boundary lines when it comes to Circle of Hope.
Circle of Hope exists over and across a lot of different borders. The one I am most attuned to in my new role is the Delaware River that is a state line and major psychological boundary for a lot of people. Living on the Eastern banks of the Delaware means I do not live on the Western banks; this is an inescapable fact. But Circle of Hope as a movement scoffed at the mighty Delaware’s capacity to divide us when we planted a church in South Jersey 7 years ago. And this is really great.
A friend of Circle of Hope creates cool maps and I bought the one pictured above last week because I was inspired by the Delaware River. I had this fun thought. We’re all part of the same movement, AND we’re all part of the same watershed! The Delaware drains our creeks and gutters to the sea. We share a vital resource and the earth channels us together. We have three congregations in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey, but we have 4 in the Delaware watershed!
This excited me enough to trace the path of the Delaware up to Delaware County, New York where the Eastern Branch of the Delaware and Western Branch of the Delaware flow together to form OUR Delaware River. What if we, as Circle of Hope set our sights on expanding throughout the Delaware Watershed. The Megalopolis is too big and it’s borders are arbitrary. The Delaware has changed but it takes her a lot longer. There’s a stability in her flow that seems more substantial than any of the other borders I know. And if we see her as a point of unity for our movement we could be directed by her. Maybe I’m just geeking out on my new map, but if we want to spread the love of Jesus throughout our watershed, it would take Circle of Hope to Reading and Allentown, and Trenton. It takes us not to New York City but Binghamton, New York. Then Philadelphia is our biggest city (as it should be!) and Circle of Hope in most of the other towns we make it to looks a lot like what we’re trying to do in Pennsauken- draw people together for Jesus sake across a lot of dividing lines. I think our united watershed would be another fun way to bring us together for our common cause, and to spur us forward in our ambition to see God’s redemption project advancing.
We really got ourselves into a mess recently at Circle of Hope. God afflicted us with this surprising idea to shift our church planting staff around. Nate Hulfish is moving into an Adminstrator/Communicator role for the whole church and I am moving into the role of Pastor of Marlton and Crescent. I never would have expected this for myself, but the strange attraction to this region–this new territory where I would go as pilgrim and stranger–is sticking with me as we move forward with the plan. It’s poetic to experience the conception of such a strange and wonderful idea when we remember the strangeness and wonder of Jesus’ conception and the mess into which he was born. I was dreaming a week or so ago about what it might be like. So I went as a stranger and a pilgrim to the land of jug handles and a hundred little towns–South Jersey within 20 minutes of our outpost at Marlton and Crescent, and I found a welcome sign for each of those towns (40!). Welcome, Jesus, to the world and to South Jersey. Welcome, me, too. I’m coming with Him. Check out the slideshow of my adventurous day below.
Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent
(In South Jersey)
I went over to Pennsauken last night to be with Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent. I was sharing with them some of my experience in finding freedom in being limited. They’re working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians which is all about freedom. I brought up these verses from Galatians 6.
“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” The insight I had was that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to the image we have of ourselves–which is sort of a composite of comparisons of others (which are odious). The American definition of freedom is to have our desires unhindered by any impediment. Sprint is spending millions to convince us that we ought to be unlimited.
I admit, I can be seduced by being unlimited, but then my church planting mission depends on my being supremely capable and so charismatic as to win everyone I meet over to Christ by sheer force of personality. This isn’t reality and the desire for it to be true actually makes me more limited than I really am. If I cling to this image of myself, I deceive myself and my experience has been that that deception saps my energy in a cycle of disappointment.
I’m choosing to receive the freedom that Christ gives me to be my self as I really am–limited me. This Lent, Circle of Hope’s daily prayer blog was instructing us to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to get to the heart of who we really are in Christ. Following the lead of a 4th Century Monk named Evagrius we were rediscovering “an important secret to help us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We can only grow to our fullness in Christ if we do the spiritual work of examining our thoughts so that we can know that our thoughts, feelings, and even our behaviors are not the sum of us; they are not our essence.” I thought this sounded a lot like the testing that Paul is exhorting us too in Galatians 6:4.
I have been encouraged through this practice to offer myself as I am to the mission, today. No need to wait until I’ve got it “figured out” or I’ve achieved some semblance of the self I think I ought to be. I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and what effect my efforts have is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s action. I am not responsible for how other’s respond to me and my message. I am responsible as one of Christ’s witnesses to be an opportunity for someone to respond to God in a new way.
The congregation at Marlton and Crescent is trying a new thing that is akin with this sort of freedom. They’re throwing a party at the 7 pm in hope’s of meeting some new friends. Last night was wiffle ball and the Sand Lot. As if to make the blessing explicit, there was a full rainbow for the first pitch. Here’s a picture of God’s symbol of promise as it faded and the game got going. Let’s keep leaning into that promise.