The days of small beginnings

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Last Sunday I was in Greeneville, Tennessee preaching and celebrating Holy Eucharist at a church. There were six persons present and I was very excited and gratified to be with them. Why was I excited and gratified? Because a year ago there was no church of our denomination in Greene County. This is a pioneer church, a church plant, a mission congregation — whatever you wish to call it. It is a beginning.

Beginnings are joyful yet, often, there is a struggle. Think childbirth. Moms and dads, and other members of the family, anticipate the birth of a child for months, perhaps years, if they have been trying to have a baby. And then comes the day. There is pushing, grunting, grasping, sweat, tears, blood, and, generally, a nasty mess. And then the baby comes.

People in the delivery room say, “Oh, he/she is so beautiful!” Most kids, unless they come by C-section, look like they have been beaten with a hammer. It’s hard being born and it’s a struggle giving birth.

Yet, this is only the beginning. This little — and it IS little — bundle is embraced, kissed, held, caressed, and loved — even though this child is not what it is going to be in the days ahead.

It has to be nurtured, fed, cleaned, diapered, protected, encouraged, prayed over, and provided for. He or she will need to be taught, trained, corrected, and all that goes with raising a child. This all takes time … years even.

Then one day, when one least expects it, the child becomes a man or woman and is mature and the parents can breathe a sigh of relief and watch the progress that follows.

A church is like that. Any organization, really, is like that, too. Every person, every church, and every organization has a time of small beginnings. Every person began as a baby and every church was once a small group gathered together. Zachariah 4:10a says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin …” (New Living Translation).

In our community, Trinity Christian School, with some 1,500 students, began in some Sunday school rooms with 17 students, with 2 being added later. There were no extra-curricular activities, the school began with K-3 (with the 2nd and 3rd grades being one combined class), and the teachers made $8,000 a year.

Today, over 25 years later, TCS is K-12 and has a program, curriculum, facilities, athletic fields, and staff to rival any school, public or private, in the area. It, too, began as a fragile, tiny work with an uncertain future. “Do not despise these small beginnings …”

The church I serve began in a living room. In that first meeting, there were 11 people plus members of my family. Some of those 11 didn’t stick with it but others came. We met for over six years in a funeral home chapel. Today we have three buildings on 11.5 acres and, even through the 15 months of Covid-19, we never missed paying a bill and people are coming back.

We were the butt of not a few jokes while we were in the funeral home. But we laughed along with the jokesters and learned, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings …”

Even the vast majority of mega churches had only a few people in the beginning. What do these businesses all have in common: Amazon, Walt Disney Co., Hewlett-Packard, Google, Mattel, and Apple? They all began in a garage.

And Under Armour, Instagram, Etsy, and Groupon all began as side hustles, or part-time jobs, to supplement a main income.

Even the United States of American began with a few people willing to take a chance and every town, hamlet, and metropolis started with a family or a few families who put their spade in the hard, rough ground.

So, excited and gratified over a few people meeting together? You betcha. This small congregation, begun after the pandemic was raging, already has a building in which to meet (a classic church building built in 1870), a full service each Sunday, and an active counseling ministry already reaching out to the community.

Like the newborn baby, the members of this congregation will need to be nurtured, fed, cleaned (experience God’s forgiveness), protected, encouraged, prayed over, and provided for. The people will need to be taught, trained, corrected, and all that goes with raising up a new work. And, above all, loved.

It was Jesus who said,” For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV). He is excited and gratified to be with them in their small beginnings as well.

So, my affection and prayers are with Father Douglas and Colleen Gibson and the folks of In His Presence Chapel in Greeneville, Tennessee as they move in to their future. In many ways, the “days of small beginnings” are among the best days of all.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). The church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]