By Mike Clemmer, LEADership Minister and Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church
“What a great year for dahlias,” I said softly and proudly as I stood in the midst of my dahlia garden last week. The plants had grown to heights of 6 feet tall and each of them were filled with beautiful flowers and buds. I reflected on all of the hard work that I had put into them – digging up all the tubers (the thickened underground part of the stems) at the end of last year and storing them for the winter, preparing the soil for them to be planted, putting up stakes to support the main stalks as they were growing, tying up any new shoots that needed support, watching out for bugs or disease on the plants – and now, these beautiful dahlias are in full bloom! However, despite my enthusiasm, deep down inside, I knew that although my intentional care for the dahlias was important to their current condition, God’s provision of nearly perfect growing weather was the most important part of all.
Almost immediately, my thoughts went to the recent hurricanes that created great havoc and destruction both here in the United States as well as in many places around the world. Families have lost all of their physical belongings, homes are in need of repair, and personal businesses will need to be rebuilt without the support of a thriving economy around them. It didn’t seem fair that I was reveling in the beauty of my dahlias while these folks were struggling to survive –all because of the weather!
Certainly, in these times of disaster, we gain a new appreciation for the work of agencies such as Mennonite Disaster Service, who have the ability to bring direct and immediate help to these communities who are in desperate need of support and encouragement. Rebuilding these communities will take an intentional commitment of time and resources over a long period of time. The process itself can be both overwhelming and exhausting. But in the end, though the storms have torn down and broken much of what was in their path, the intentional effort to the rebuilding process often leads to a deeper ownership and togetherness of the community.
As I think about the opposite scenarios of my garden and the hurricanes, I cannot help but reflect on the church. Churches do not always exist in perfect climates – in fact, they are susceptible to all forms of weather. At times, gentle rains come and add the perfect amount of moisture for optimal growth to take place. In those conditions, the church produces beautiful flower bouquets of service and love that extend out to many in the community around them. Yet at other times, hurricane winds blow through our churches wreaking havoc in the form of disagreements, pride, and apathy. The strong winds rip apart places that we thought were secure and break down relationships that we were certain were firm and sure. In the aftermath of the storm, there often seems to be nothing left but rubble and hopelessness. However, despite the pain and struggle, when a congregation journeys through these times, it can also spur a renewed focus on vision and mission and draw the congregation closer to each other and to God.
We should not be surprised by weather changes. In fact, we all realize that at some time and some place in the church, we will experience some harsh weather. In the Mennonite Confession of Faith’s description of the church, we are reminded that no church is perfect, but we are still to be “committed followers of Jesus Christ and to be accountable to one another and to God” – no matter what the circumstance (Mennonite Confession of Faith, 35). Any type of storm damage repair requires the church to come together and look for ways to seek help from each other, mutual care from outside of the church, and to be intentional about rebuilding. In other words, rebuilding from a storm calls for us to confess our own imperfections as a church and be intentional about strengthening up the only firm foundation which is in Jesus Christ.
As I look around at our Conference churches today, we are all at different stages of growth or rebuilding and are experiencing a variety of weather. As a result, there are beautiful flowers and there are seedlings, there is evidence of drought in places and refreshing rain in others, there is both planting and harvesting taking place – and there are signs of sunshine as well as remnants left from hurricanes. The weather will come – and it will come in God’s perfect timing. “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:7)
For other ways to help with Hurricane Relief visit Houston Mennonite Church here.