To my brothers and sisters in the ARC,
Recently I met with the MMC (Missions and Ministry Council) in Ohio, The MMC is fundamentally the governing arm of the ARC. Tom Kelby, the incoming president of the ARC was also present. We had fruitful talks especially regarding the upcoming annual conference and the way that Tom’s gift of teaching and writing will lead the way. Really, I think this will be an outstanding time together that will be focused on the book of Revelation. The MMC was sincerely energized by the potential of our time together in April.
We also discussed a few difficult church situations and though I am not at liberty to share a lot of details, I can share some. Tom has been asked to be the interim pastor at St. Paul Fellowship in Minnesota. He has embraced that and I would simply appeal that you join with us to pray for grace and peace and wisdom for Tom, the elders and the congregation at St. Paul Fellowship. Again, without going into a lot of detail, I’d ask you to also include Grace Fellowship Church in Mansfield, Ohio, in your prayers. Both churches are undergoing transitional trials as they head into the next season. Thanks for your prayers.
Finally, as of February 1, I will officially take my leave of the presidency of the ARC. The more formal exchange will occur at the conference in April, but the MMC felt that the February date would be a better time for the transfer as Tom has already assumed a very central place with the conference preparations and with the situation in St. Paul. And I fully concur.
Consequently, this will be the last monthly note that I send out as the ARC “torchbearer”. And I simply wanted to say “thanks” for the privilege of doing this for the past 16 years.
I remember first meeting Ray Nethery in Ypsilanti, Michigan in June of 1985 when both of us and our groups were entering a relationship with the Sword of the Spirit, an ecumenical outfit from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were largely Roman Catholic and it was a more reassuring feeling that this large evangelical man was on the same path. Neither Ray nor I have had any regrets regarding our relationship with these folks. We have learned an immense amount from these brothers and sisters on worship and community building and leadership development. But that group went through a very difficult time in 1990 and some lines of fellowship had to be redrawn,
I also went through my own time of challenge in 1991 and the man I reached out to for help was Ray Nethery. And it was after that when Ray became my pastor/mentor and I began to visit Ohio and meet the rest of the ARC leaders and learn a bit more about the ARC. That began at the annual conference in 1991. Ray also invited me to sit in with the ARC leaders in the pre-conference leadership meetings.
Here are a few things that caught my attention and watered my spirit during that time.
*I was quite taken with “The Common Concerns” of the ARC. To me, it simply went beyond the traditional approach to doctrinal statements. Some folks had clearly thought about this and put down a biblical and human expression of how these folks wanted to do church. And as I read it for the first time, I thought, “Me too!” Not terribly profound on my part, but it expressed a clarity that I simply had not seen before. It was far more than a theological litmus test, and much more akin to a very thoughtful path as to how a people would seek to live out the life of Jesus in a broken world. And 26 years later, I am exactly in the same disposition.
*Secondly, I was deeply encouraged as I heard these ARC pastors sharing at their pre-conference meetings. In a very homely way, completely devoid of all ecclesial braggadocio, these guys rehearsed how they had navigated the past year. And they were both dead honest with the challenges they had faced and genuinely hopeful that they would carry on in the path that Jesus had called them to walk. This was deeply encouraging for a specific reason.
I had become a pastor in 1975 at the ripe old age of 26 and I was beyond fired up to do the will of God on the face of the earth. But my first pastor gathering in St Paul, Minnesota was disheartening. My only suit (in those days, pastors wore suits, a lot!) was a blue corduroy deal with a vest, a little number that I purchased for a wedding as the best man. The day of my first pastor’s meeting was in mid-July, and though Minnesota can be quite brisk in the winter, it can be brutally hot and humid in mid-July. Such was that day of my “coming out” as an official pastor. So, before anything very spiritual occurred, I was doing a lot of sweating. My blue corduroy suit and vest were utterly oppressive and there was no AC at the location of the meeting. But what could I do? I was learning the basics of true pastoral suffering.
But things got stickier, so to speak.
One of the first pastors to greet me was probably in his 40’s and he had on a much more appropriate suit for the occasion. (but literally everyone wore a suit). And here’s how the conversation unfolded.
Pastor Jones: Well. hello, brother. we’re so delighted to have you on board with us. Pastor Hugo Jones’s my name. And yours?
Me: My name is Pastor Ned Berube (That may have been the first time I ever used that moniker–Pastor. I don’t think it easily rolled off my tongue)
Pastor Jones: Well, praise the Lord, brother, I’ve been doing the Lord’s work for the past 20 years here in the twin cities. How about you?
Me: Uh, (I actually was 26 but I think I looked a bit more like 18) Uh, actually I just started last month, so I guess next week it’ll officially be a month.
Pastor Jones: Well, praise the Lord, brother .How many are you runnin’ so far?
Me: (I have to insert a pause here because I wasn’t really up on official pastor language. How many am I runnin’? But I’m also a pretty sharp tack, so I quickly discerned that he wanted to know how many people came to my church. So, I lied) 60! (The actual number was closer to 15 but I think once 20 people came. But I know that in that split second I justified the lie this way—-though we only had about 15 regular folks presently attending, I knew my family was coming to visit from Connecticut, and we have a big family. And other people said they would be coming to visit and I just knew others would want to come in a short time. So, the number 60 escaped my lips)
Pastor Jones: Well, praise the Lord, brother, we’re runnin’ about 700 in Sunday School and we’re planning to build a new wing on the church.
Me: Oh, well, praise the Lord. (I wasn’t very good at pastor language but I was learning that saying “praise the Lord” a lot was an appropriate insertion to the conversation just about anywhere and for any reason)
But back to these ARC guys, they didn’t say “praise the Lord” very often and it didn’t appear that they were trying very hard to impress each other. They actually talked and acted like they genuinely liked each other. It might even be called “love”.
And I was hooked. I thought, “I could be part of a group like this. In fact, I want to be part of a group like this. No, no, I NEED to be part of a group like this.
And in fact, I have been part of this group for 26 years and actually giving a level of leadership to this group for the past 16. And I hope to be part of this group for the duration in whatever context that might be.
This is my “tribe”. And I am so grateful for the kindness of Jesus to lead me here and allow me to do his ministry with all of you.
Thank you for the grace you have extended me over these years. And I sincerely commend Tom Kelby to you for this next season. He loves Jesus and his Word deeply and he will help all of us to grow in those same paths.
I can’t wait to see all of you in April in Toledo as Tom leads us all deeper into the book of Revelation. I got a sneak preview of this last weekend at the MMC meetings. I am sure you do not want to miss this!
With deep gratitude