“I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Jeremiah 32:41
The city of Jerusalem is crumbling. King Nebuchadnezzar has taken notice of the tiny, but strategically placed, kingdom of Israel and the armies of Babylon are encroaching. The best and the brightest are being carted away to foreign lands, soon the temple will be no more than a pile of rubble and a dream. ‘For sale’ signs are popping up all over the place, as people pack up and flee.
But God speaks to Jeremiah and tells him to go and do something unusual. A field has gone up for sale, and God tells Jeremiah to go and buy it. Why? Because, God says, I have not abandoned you or my people. I am with you and you will be restored to this place. The field stands as a powerful symbol of God’s promise of presence and restoration and Jeremiah’s trust in and hope for God’s future.
While we may not be under siege, Presbyterians denominationally are facing their own set of challenges. Declining membership, shrinking budgets, and conflicts concerning the nature and purpose of the church have all contributed to some wondering if the church has a future at all. Some churches are choosing to pull up stakes and move to new areas, others are facing the decision to close.
In 2003, First Presbyterian chose to do neither of those things, but instead “bought a field” and made the commitment to being a downtown church by engaging in the first half of an extensive building renovation. Because of that commitment, we have been able to continue to serve the city through programs such as SEMP, the Linn County Food Bank, Family Promise, the New to You Shoppe, as well as the many groups that use our space. We have been able to be a part of the hub of support for the city’s flood recovery efforts. We have been able to continue to be a place for growth in faith as people of all ages are encouraged to explore and engage their beliefs in an open-minded and respectful way. We have been able to continue to connect people across the generations and most importantly to provide a way to connect with God and make space for the holy through our beautiful traditional worship. Now our congregation is faced with another momentous decision. The second half of our building, the Christian Education wing and parking lot entryway, needs the same careful attention that was given to the sanctuary and Gathering Space.
On June 4th, we will be holding the first of several congregational meetings as we determine the best way to “tend our field.” At that June meeting, we will be making a decision concerning moving forward with a whole-church capital campaign that will help shape the extent of our work in ‘Phase 2.’ All of those who have been working to bring us to this place, the Building Task Force, the Capital Campaign Committee, the Session and myself, are aware of the significant challenge that this entails for our congregation. However, as we look at the energy in our church family, the new and diverse faces that are choosing to join us, the blossoming of children and youth programming, the continued strength of our outreach in the community and world, I cannot help but trust in God’s presence with us and that we will continue to be God’s heart in the midst of our city. God, indeed, has planted us in this place, and we will continue to blossom as we tend to our field and bear witness to God’s love.
I’ll see you on June 4th!