Departures & Arrivals
Genesis 12:1-4a (MSG)
The second church I served—the Ogden Baptist Church—is a small church located in the town of Ogden, west of Rochester but still in Monroe County. The center of the town of Ogden is the village of Spencerport. Spencerport sits on the Erie Canal, a lovely little village that has everything anyone could need: a couple of restaurants, a good grocery store, lots of churches and a Tim Horton’s.
The Ogden Baptist Church, however, seems to exist in its own bubble. The village of Spencerport and the Ogden Baptist Church are separated by about three miles, but to look at the church, you wouldn’t know it. This lovely, New England-like church sits on a fairly large piece of relatively untouched land—a corner lot—just a couple of parcels down the street from the church’s small cemetery, and across the street from a small, beautiful county park.
Not long before I arrived in Ogden as pastor of this Baptist Church, a multi-lane highway was built nearby, Rt. 531. This route was meant to be a connection between the heavily traveled state route, 490, and Brockport to the west. Rt. 531 was to become the saving grace for anyone traveling from the city of Rochester to Brockport who was sick and tired of traveling on either of the other main roads, Route 104 or Route 31, both of them only two lanes wide.
I remember that as I interviewed with the folks at Ogden Baptist Church, they talked with excitement about how the presence of Rt. 531, just ½ mile away from the church, was going to bring a lot more traffic into the vicinity of the church, and their attendance and membership was bound to increase. A great time of opportunity and change had landed in the lap of the small, rural church I came to serve and love.
After about a year as pastor of the church, I began to notice something that had not changed. When we would have an opportunity to attend an ecumenical event, a worship service, concert, or some kind of meeting in the village of Spencerport—3 miles away, remember—folks from Ogden Baptist said they weren’t going to be able to go. It was too far away. What?!
And I heard it from folks in the village, too. It was hard to get church community events held at Ogden Baptist because the Spencerport “villagers” claimed they didn’t want to drive “out into the country.” Did I mention they were 3 miles apart? With a brand new four lane highway sitting ½ mile from Ogden Baptist? To me, it was a no-brainer. To some others, the distance was a “deal breaker.”
Today, in our Scripture from Genesis, we take just a peek into the story of Abraham and Sarah, and I am struck by the distance they are called to travel in order to be faithful to God’s call.
In the opening verses of chapter 12, God promised Abram his name would be blessed, and through him God would make a great nation, but Abraham still faced a tremendous amount of pressure and unknowns. He needed constant reassurance from God. And God, as God always does, provided Abraham with exactly what he needed.
On this journey, along with his wife, Abraham took all the possessions—including servants and slaves—he had gathered in Haran. Lot brought his family as well, and all his possessions, so Abraham's travel party would have been large. The trek to Canaan from Haran was approximately a 400-mile journey to the southwest. Though Abraham knew generally where he was heading, he knew no specifics. 400 miles.
As people of faith, what do we do when we discover that what God calls us to do is move from where we are to some unknown place “over there?” As the church of Jesus Christ in this place, what is the physical distance God is calling us to travel? What about the emotional distance? The spiritual distance? Abraham learned that to be faithful, he could not stay where he was. He had to travel. He had to move. He had to trust. He had to follow.
Amherst Community Church knows about having to travel the journey from here to there. This church has done it multiple times throughout its history. Think about what it took to travel from here to a greater place of inclusion when the church voted to become Open and Affirming, publicly declaring that “no matter who you are or where you are on your journey, you are welcome here.” Think about what it took to travel from here to a greater place of financial security for this church every time you voted to have a cell tower installed in your steeple. Think about what it took to travel from here to a new way of being God’s people in this place every time you called a new pastor. And think about all the smaller ways you have moved from here to there…every time you have a hard conversation and come out with greater respect for the other. Every time you make sure that no one is left behind or left out. Every time you try something new in worship because you understand that every one of us is drawn to God in a different way. Every time you lose someone you love, and still get out of bed the next morning. Every time a project or plan doesn’t go the way you thought it would in your head, and you learn from it.
According to Beverly and George Thompson, “Although we church folks seldom consider it, we are a people on an amazing journey. Like Abram and so many other biblical ancestors who followed the Spirit’s leading to a new place of promise and hope, each of us is traveling a path God has set before us. Like any journey, our path includes twists and turns, high roads and low places that we must learn to navigate.
“A congregation’s life is no different. When you decide to join a community, your own faith journey takes another turn. You are no longer traveling alone; you have united your personal journey with the journeys of others. Your life will begin to change as you travel with others, even if you assumed your pathway would remain exactly what it was when you climbed on board.
“Most of us join churches that seem to have a clear direction, only to discover sooner or later that the roads we travel by faith rarely are smooth. Every congregation faces times in their life together when a blind turn or unexpected shift takes them down a different road. Suddenly, the church finds itself in an unfamiliar and uncertain place. You try to make sense of your surroundings, to figure out where to go from here. Going back is not an option, but it’s not easy deciding where to turn next.”
Like Abram, called out of Haran to travel to Canaan, I believe we are being called to something new as well. This new thing may require us to get outside of these walls. This new thing may leave us dealing with a new reality inside these walls. No matter what, God has a purpose for us as his church.
Today, with the story of Abraham and Sarah being called from their home, we are reminded that God calls us to keep moving. As the church of Jesus Christ, we are not meant to be comfortable, or bored, or satisfied. There is always someplace else God is leading us.
And as we all know, like Abraham, we do not always know where we are going. What we do know is this: God promises to show us the way. Our work, our purpose is to trust, and to follow. Amen.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale
March 5, 2023