Shrinking the Darkness

January 3, 2020 | | GNJ News, Bishop's Relay Column

Isn’t light the enemy of light and not darkness? When you shine a flashlight during a bright sunny day, it loses its ability to shine a light on things. Lighting a candle in the darkness is always more powerful than lighting it during the day.

And isn’t it the church whose light, its witness, is diminished when our congregations focus most of their activity and gatherings in our churches rather than in the world.

I am using light and darkness as a metaphor much like the Bible has used it. I find sometimes there is more light in the world than in our churches. Sometimes there are more people doing the ministry of Jesus found in Matthew 25:31-46 in the world than through our churches.

I want to share with you several churches whose light is shining bright by being in the world.

The St. Andrew congregation in Toms River, NJ, who when they discovered that their zip code had one of the highest populations of autistic children in GNJ asked, what can we do to make our ministries autistic friendly. They trained Sunday school teachers and leaders and created space for autistic students and their families. After a recent program that invited community families with autistic students to a cookie making and cake decorating event, one family member said this is a place where my child feels loved and accepted. The light of Christ shrinking the darkness!

The Maker’s Place in Trenton does not have a building. Its congregation is the people of Trenton, particularly underserved children and their families. They have used diapers, yes diapers as a way of organizing people and resources to gather and connect with people in the community to focus on infant health and mortality. Diapers have helped them to expand to food, food for the body and food for the soul. The light of Christ is shrinking the darkness!

The Asbury UMC congregation has taken to the streets to meet the homeless where they are. They have found older women living in their car in a Walmart parking lot. They have connected not by only providing housing and services but by being in relationship. The light of Christ is shrinking the darkness!

The Island Heights UMC congregation organizes people and a box of care for immigrants and those seeking asylum through its new program, “Hope & Hospitality.” The congregation is broadening its outreach by focusing on those impacted in New Jersey. The light of Christ is shrinking the darkness!

Dinner churches and messy churches are popping up everywhere. These fresh expressions of being a church focus on smaller gatherings; although some are now attracting 50 or more people, which is a blend of church people and people from the community around tables experiencing a new expression of Jesus Christ and the church through a meal together. These new expressions are being led by clergy and laity. The light of Christ is shrinking the darkness!

Marianne Williamson in her “Reflections on Miracles” wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” Or God.

Former President Nelson Mandela found this so profound that he quoted it during his inaugural address to the South African people.

What does it look like for us to stop playing small church? You may worship with a small congregation, but you can think large. It’s about attitude. Thinking large does not require more people, but faith. What does it look like for your congregation to be the light in the world rather than hanging with the light in our church buildings? What would it look like for your congregation to look out into your community and see who is there that is often made to feel unwelcome not just in the church but in most places they go? What would it look like to train your people, change your worship and create ministries that are welcoming them rather than welcoming only those who are already in the light and already made to feel welcome?

Advent is a season of shorter days and longer nights, waiting for the light of Christ to unfold. What would it look like for you to shrink the darkness, to be bold with the light that is already in you? It is happening in churches and people all around us. Embrace it!