“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. “ (Romans 15:5-7, NRSV)
This past Sunday was another glorious Sunday of celebration for our 150 years as a congregation. Hearing the Children sing, experiencing some of the Youth contributing to the worship music, and watching the video of Susan Wilborn, Celia Smyly, and Ralph Yeilding served as a reminder of the importance of our ministry to Children and Youth. And then we saw the message shared by Rev. Keith Thompson, a favorite son of Canterbury, who now serves as the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Birmingham. His personal story of becoming involved at Canterbury as a Youth and his parents joining later was both inspirational and empowering.
Through our planning for the 150th, we have heard the stories of a large number of people whose lives have been positively impacted by Canterbury. It’s been a privilege to collect the stories of your parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents and learn about the role they played in this church as well as in the lives of many who are still a part of this church. In Hebrews, we read about the “cloud of witnesses” who are the saints of the church and who encourage us to be faithful in this season of the church. It’s a continuous line of disciple after disciple following faithfully after Jesus Christ. We've been able to celebrate the saints of Canterbury these past two Sundays!
Next week (November 5th), the Rev. Dr. Charles Gattis will be with us to preach in New Traditions and Traditional Worship as we observe All Saints’ Sunday. We will remember those of our community of faith who have died in the past year. All Saints' Sunday is always a meaningful service that memorializes the most recent “saints” of the church. We are grateful for their witness and for their lives that punctuate our responsibility to serve Jesus Christ in this age.
Paul’s reminder in Romans is that we are to strive for unity and harmony under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Together, we lift up the person of Jesus Christ to honor God before all people. Then Paul adds a unique way that the church speaks with one voice in glorifying God—that is, through welcoming one another. The church is a place of belonging where all are welcome—not just all who are like us—or just all who think like us—or just all who believe like us—but "all" means "all."
Throughout the last 150 years, Canterbury has been drawing the circle wider and inviting others to join us. Widening the circle is only possible when we allow Jesus to be at the center of our church. May our next 150 years be a season of growth and renewal as a church. For this to come about, each of us must reach out to someone we think could benefit from belonging to a place like Canterbury and extend an invitation. We grow God's church through inviting one person at a time and helping them find a place to belong. Let's get busy!
Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church