The abrupt and tragic termination of the 17-year ministry of our organist and 10-year ministry of our minister of music and worship broke the heart of our church in February of 1994. It was like a grenade exploding in the midst of the sanctuary. The cost of such sin cannot be calculated in this life. To try would trivialize the devastation. The shrapnel for some has been removed and the wound fairly healed. For others there are too many shards and they are too deep. The flesh will grow over and the jagged pieces will remain permanently.
Controversy over the termination of the long-planned major pipe organ added to the travail, and resulted in a significant number of our members leaving the church. Numerous good and upright members could not countenance the decision of the elders and staff to indict so forcefully and graphically the entanglement of the organ's origin with the sins of the music staff. For the pastoral staff and elders it was the naming of horrors lest they return as secrets to haunt and destroy; for others it seemed like gratuitous revenge and needless injury. Feelings and convictions fall along a complex continuum between endorsement and denunciation.
Unnoticed by me until the end of the year was the quiet work of God, under the faithful shepherding of David Livingston, to bring more new members into the church in 1994 than in any of the previous 13 + years (see Esther Flaten's Church Clerk's report). And perhaps even more significant was the inconspicuous sending of more new long-term missionary families to the field than in any year in the history of this church (see Tom Steller's report). I mention these two works as evidence of God's abiding grace on our imperfect church.
In view of this beneath-the-tumult grace, it is perhaps not surprising that, in spite of the loss of some 10% of our morning attendance, the Lord supplied all our financial need in the last weeks of the year.
We have been humbled as a church and as leadership. Though I cannot confess as sins what some would wish, I do confess (among many other shortcomings) my failure in not watching over the staff with more vigilance so as to spare the church such deeply rooted infection and disease. I have been, I pray, forever emboldened to search my heart with unsparing rigor, and the heart of every partner in ministry. I have learned that short-term tolerance and leniency can make for long-term misery; while short-term pain may, I still believe, make for long-term joy and peace and health, with all the hundreds of blessings that come with it.
For me personally it has been a year of marvelous sustaining grace. I wish I could tell you the ways. Perhaps someday I will. My father warned me 15 years ago that leaving the lecture hall for the pastorate would be a painful move. He did not understate the price. Nor did I underestimate it. I have no regrets. "It was good for me that I was afflicted." Where else could I find such a school of sanctifying grace? What my grades are in the school-year which has just gone by, I leave with the Headmaster. He keeps his books. I have done my best. And the best must always be washed in the blood.
Karsten began graduate school in Boston College in literature and plans to be married this May to Shelly Orvis of Warroad, Minnesota. Benjamin finished Roosevelt High and is now attending Griffen Technological Institute in Griffen, Georgia and living with Noël's mother. Abraham and Barnabas attend Bethany Academy in Bloomington. They have borne the battle well. They love Bethlehem.
What shall I say about my wife Noël in the explosions of the year? What a rock! What a refuge! What a steadying hand on my trembling shoulder! She has helped me again and again to find the firm path in the sinking swamp of unholy emotions. Lord, what a gift you have given me! I thank you with all my heart.
And finally, thanks to you all for your prayer and your unfailing encouragements. I am happy in this work because you have prayed. What a privilege to be here! There are fresh breezes blowing. My sails are up. The sky is clearing. The Lord is aboard and tells me there is good man-fishing not far out to sea.