We are fast approaching the end of another year which always causes me to look in the rear view mirror a bit. I think a healthy part of any person's life involves looking back and reflecting on all that has happened to bring us to this point. It allows us to appreciate some of the blessings of the past in order to maybe better appreciate those of the future.
At the same time, not all of our past year was necessarily positive and good, and as difficult as it is to dredge up those moments, I am a firm believer in the thinking that those moments make us better, more resilient humans. Some of my biggest moments of growth - paradigm shifting growth - have been in my moments of grief and loss. If you would have told me at the time I was journeying through these valleys that my outlook and character were being shifted for good, I wouldn't have believed it. But now, looking back, I see how these experiences are as shaping as moments of great blessing. The literary soul in me frames it as, "Sometimes on the road trip of life you get a flat tire." It makes the rest of the trip that much richer.
When I look back at what 2016 brought CollectiveMKE, I see some really cool developments. The biggest of these is personal in nature, namely the growth of some really great relationships in my life. I'm sure many others in our church would agree, that we are connecting in ways that maybe never happened in our previous church. The smallness and intimacy of home churches allows that - I dare say even forces it to happen. We share our lives over food and then share and deepen our faith journey during the weekly liturgy. Discussing God's word and applying it to our contemporary situations. This is what it's all about.
One of the bigger changes we saw in 2016 was the launch of two other house churches. I will never forget the meeting at the Klemowits' house where the driveway was jammed and a couple of vehicles were parked along the road as well. Someone said, "I think we're developing parking issues as a church." It was a watershed moment - one where we realized that we were experiencing the growing pains of a new church - the good kind of pains!
And so we branched out like a tree with new shoots. The first was the Barrett house with a small core that quickly grew. All of my concerns about how we would facilitate liturgy discussion while Brandon shared his time between groups was for naught. Everyone in our home church has shared beautiful stories of grace, pain, healing, struggle and service. Their lives have become wrapped into my daily prayer routine and it is rewarding to watch God's hand work through them in the Milwaukee and Suburban area.
A few months later, the Rode house branched out into the Brookfield area. This was a growth in response to the connection a few families with small children made at the Klemowits' house. And, while I miss these folks, we still connect at the social events, the monthly worship meetings, and the Town Hall forums. Furthermore, they continue to be in my prayers and I in theirs. They are doing great things as well.
We've also had a few really great events in 2016. The hikes at Retzer and the Milwaukee lakefront come to mind first. These events are interesting because as our group strings along and stretches snake-like on the trails, people come and go into many different conversations. I remember at Retzer I talked with Isaac and learned about his return to school and his current work situation. Then, on the Milwaukee hike, I got the chance to hear about Joel's travels to South America, which was fascinating. These and the many others are the conversations that might not have happened at house church. They might have, but I feel that changing contexts for conversation stimulates our interaction - I know it does mine. (Just ask my wife about the horseback ride in the Garden of the gods sometime.)
Looking back, 2016 was a year of continued searching for a place to hold our worship services. St. Matthias was a beautiful location, but just didn't "feel" right. I am sure we will find a location soon and look forward to those monthly re-connections.
I think for a number of reasons, 2016 was an especially tough year for many people. I personally am done with it and am looking forward to what 2017 will bring. I have a great network of support in Collective MKE and intend to try and bring salt and light into my sphere as a reflection of the beauty of the folks I see around me every Sunday. You all inspire me with the way you model the heart and love of Jesus. I can't wait to see what we do in the coming years!
Happy New Year, everyone.