An “Uncommon Union”

My dominant emotion tonight on the last day of vacation is a strong affection for the staff at Bethlehem. I have not seen them for almost five weeks. But I have prayed for them by name every day of my absence. I have come to see and feel on this vacation more than ever that we on the staff at Bethlehem enjoy a very “uncommon union” (like the marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards).

There is a reason for this. I saw it clearly tonight as I was opening my mail. Steve Roy had sent a letter to me and the other prospective 20:20 leaders. Along with the letter he enclosed a brief paper entitled “Theological Distinctives of the Staff at Bethlehem”. I sat down to read. In the next ten minutes as much joy flooded my heart as I have experienced in any worship service in the last five weeks. Here, out of Steve’s own heart and mind flowed the river of truth in which I swim, from which I drink, on which I navigate my life. Here was my life stated clearly and powerfully by another person. To read Steve’s paper is to know what makes me tick. That Steve could write it out of his own heart is the essence of our “uncommon union”.

I had the same experience when I read the statement of faith that Tom Steller wrote for his ordination two years ago. I have the same experience when I participate in a worship service designed by Dean Palermo with extraordinary sensitivity to where I was heading in my sermon, or when I hear him call us back again and again to the centrality of God in worship. My love for Dean and my esteem for his leadership among us in worship has risen with every church I have visited on this vacation (eight different churches).

Now Char Ransom is a part of this “uncommon union”. This is not merely or even primarily owing to her position on the staff. She stands with us on the staff because long before her call we had experienced with her in worship and study and work the same heartbeat for the glory of God that gives life to all our labors.

I could mention others. Let me just pick one. I doubt that there is another church in the country which has a more gifted secretary than Carol Steinbach. Though I value her extraordinary secretarial skills, what I cherish most deeply is that she is on the staff wavelength theologically. She can complete our sentences. Not only that, she is a remarkably gifted thinker and writer—a sort of Midwestern Flannery O’Conner, only Protestant.

What a staff! I could go on about Sue and Leah and Elsie and Roger and Rick and Rob and Phaitoon and Neal and Albert. Another time.

It’s good to be back. I feel humbled and happy that God would give me such a people and such a staff to serve.

Eager to see you all,

Pastor John

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