One of the most profound blessings of our lives was the 28 years we spent at this congregation. They are #1 numerically on our quest to visit 100 churches, but more profoundly, they are #1 in our hearts. In some ways, we still felt like we were in our honeymoon stage with this group, because we know how good we had it here.
Mark has been asked “What’s the secret to longevity with a congregation?” So I thought I’d take the time to share some things that enriched our relationship with the church here and what has made the 5th Street church of Christ still #1 in our hearts, even when we realized it was time to move on. Perhaps sharing the following perspectives can add some peace, unity and joy to the relationships between preacher’s families and the congregations they serve.
1. First things first. What I have appreciated more than anything else is this congregation’s willingness to suffering alongside me. I can relate to feeling like I'm on the battleground panting for breath from "the tares" God warned us all about (Mt. 13:24-30) that existed among us, but are not "of us". The kinds of betrayals we have experienced these 40 years were profound, but the mature members that still surrounded us experienced these losses and hurt as much as we did over them all. They are the heroes whose faithfulness has helped me keep going after each and every heart trampling, devastating loss these 28 years. They know, like I do, that those who broke our hearts by shipwrecking their own lives were really betraying Christ, not us. This whole faithful congregation was just "in the line of fire" so to speak to get our hearts broken. Jesus Himself explains though that this is actually a privilege--- this suffering alongside Him (1 Peter 4:13). Everyone in this world suffers, and I praise God that my suffering has been for the most worthy cause on the planet. So while the honest thing to do is acknowledge treachery, I’m certainly not going to complain, because, for starters, complaining is against the Law (James 5:9). Suffering alongside me was what I appreciate most about my people and though we’ve suffered a lot, but we’re no victims. We’re privileged.
2. The quality that is my second favorite about this congregation is their humbleness. This humbleness expresses itself in these ways: It’s a safe place to be vulnerable, acknowledge weaknesses and show emotion here. We confess our sins to each other. There is no competition. There exists no contests to rank who has dominance. Despite the fact it is composed of every level of education, with perhaps an above average number of members with high degrees of education, everyone from every socio-economic level is treasured and interacts with everyone else. Also, not having a pride problem means no one has a pet doctrine they are pushing to prove how exceptionally intelligent or learned they are. No one is harping on a “special campaign” that repetitively finds its way into their comments in Bible class. They just keep humbly doing God’s will and let the truth of who we really are and how well we love each other speak for itself.
3. After humbleness, I’d say I loved best how there was no pedestal to stand on at the 5th Street church of Christ. I’m no “Queenie McBear”, if you know what I mean, and Mark holds no free passes and certainly is not the ultimate authority on any decision. Since we are not in charge, no one waits around to find out “what’s our next move”, but instead are generally self-motivated and thus self-starters who have great ideas and enlist each other’s talents to carry them out. Everyone LOVES when everyone else has a great idea and supports it. I may write and teach a ladies’ class one year, or someone else might. One person may start a Meetup or plan a workshop. Another may organize a fundraiser, or a baby shower or wedding shower. Still another may plan a game night or host a social event annually. This ego-less equality is a great source of joy for one and all.
4. Kindness runs thick in these parts. We never once asked for a raise, but they gave them anyway. They never micromanaged where or how long Mark had to study, or even tracked his hours, but could tell by the quality of the massive amounts of material he put out, that he had a good work ethic.
I’ll never forget how they helped me bury my mother, were supportive when our children, like theirs, struggled with sin, when they sent appreciative cards and letters and came and one even cleaned my wounds when we crashed our motorcycle.
They never forbid Mark to teach a Bible topic just because it was controversial --- but felt our congregational tightness to God and each other could bear the weight of figuring out God’s will together even on the hardest questions. It was also an act of kindness for them to meet with potential members to let them know where we stand on the more controversial Bible topics and what they would be expected of them as members, so that there would be no surprises --- surprises that can lead to high drama later on. They were never desperate for numbers any way they could get them, over unity based on truth.
They never asked anything of me as the preacher’s wife beyond what is expected of any other member. There was never the high-school level drama of “you didn’t say ‘hi’ to me today!” If anyone wanted to talk to me, they’d come stand near me, but otherwise understood I’d most likely invest post-worship time in visitors or members who are going through the most difficult circumstances and the outliers. They know that after the closing "Amen", we’d best all lift our eyes to the room full of wonderful people then introduce ourselves first to those we don't yet know, engage in conversation, then when others arrive to do the same, give them a chance too, moving to those we know less, then finally to those we know best.
Morally neutral differences are generally well- tolerated. Misunderstandings get talked out. Perceived slights forgiven. Grace abounds. If someone thought we could benefit from some advice, we got it. Often it would be humbly worded something along the lines of…“You might want to think about…” We’ve not taken for granted the wide variety of experts whose brains we could pick on all kinds of practicalities.
5. They were fun. We went camping, had dinner clubs, retreats, took annual shopping trips, enjoyed every 4th of July and Valentine’s Day dinners together. We took hikes, played volleyball, gathered in small study groups, celebrated special birthdays and anniversaries, helped each other move, graduations, volunteered for work parties cleaning or gardening for other members, took the elderly out for breakfast and created a vast and ongoing repertoire of inside jokes.
6. As I finish, I’ll mention a few things that I think Mark and I brought that led to our peace-filled 28 year-long relationships here. We came into the work with a healthy level of confidence and self-worth, free from the social dependence or looking to others to make us feel valued. This made us SO THANKFUL that when we’d hear of a group going off to do things without us. Yea! They’re tight! This is what we worked for!
We had friends outside the congregation we had met through our Harley group, my volunteer work at two police departments, or we had sold them some of the furniture we up-cycle on Craigslist. We think it’s healthy to not be exclusively dependent on the congregation to entertain us.
When we finally land in Florida after our Nomad Quest, we’ll fill our lives with a combination of these kinds of connections with non-Christians and getting out the church directory and dedicating a night each week to having Christians over, that way we can introduce the non-Christians we meet, to the Christians with which they would click.
It’s not been an easy 40 years as a preacher’s wife, but it could not have been more worthwhile. And who knows, there could be another 40 years in His service. I only know this decision in my youth to live in what some call "a glass house" was my own, and it is one of the most life-enhancing, fruit-producing decisions I've made.
Location: 11775 5th Street, Beaverton, OR 97005 (503)644-9017