Dear RSNY Church Family and Friends,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message Version)
During APCE (Association of Partnering Christian Educators] 2023 Annual Conference, January 22-28, I wrestled with APCE Conference’s theme, “Unforced Rhythms of Grace” as we gathered at the 60th Anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of God’s Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Just being present at the 60th Anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church stirred feelings of uneasiness and sadness over the slow progress of dismantling racism. It was truly an emotional week as hundreds of Christian Educators and pastors gathered. As I wondered how the group of educators would embrace the sacred space of the 16th Street Baptist Church, I also wondered about how our RSNY family in our Classes and Consistories had moved from COVID TO Post COVID; Lamenting – Rejoicing; Grieving and Restoration – and what impact the RCA Vision 2020 report – Restructuring after a season of hardship in the life of God’s Church in America was having.
As your Executive Minister, I have learned how to listen and be willing to take people in our Classes and Consistories as they are. As I listen to their pains, hurts and frustration, I pray that God’s spirit will allow me to live with them where they are and not imposed on them my will and beliefs. For me, “Unforced Rhythms of Grace” refines my understanding that God deals with people in different ways, especially in a diverse Synod with a true affirmation of Races, Cultural norms, disabilities and gender identifications; and that God can perform wonders of new beginning in people’s lives, especially in their faith journey.
As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, serving faithfully can present challenges in recognizing life’s rhythms for self-care. How often do we listen to the rhythms of our hearts? Our behavioral practices? Our Mental actions? Our Spirits? Our Families? Or Perhaps a Stranger? And especially our calling to become successful in our work for God? For instance, I often resist my tiredness in my busyness in the church when I need to rest, and I organize my schedule around what I’d like to see happen in God’s Church, instead of what is happening in the Christian Ministry. Or perhaps attending all meetings in person and on Zoom instead of not meeting – Zoom out of unresolve discussion. Perhaps the Rhythms of Service is not glorifying God’s Heart!
APCE 2023 Plenary speaker on “Unforced Rhythms of Grace”, Rev. John Pavlovitz said, “many people come to me in that barren spiritual dryness, and they almost always carry the crushing guilt of failure. They are grieving deeply, feeling helpless to get back what they’ve lost, and angry at themselves for not being faithful enough to conjure up belief that used to come as a simple given”. In our Synod, there are those who are grieving in their ministries and mission programs. I just want to say, it’s okay to fail or have a feeling of disconnect – just seek Rest in the Spirit of God for a moment. Our RCA President, Rev. Dwayne Jackson at an annual MLK Worship service, called the church of Jesus Christ “to seek Restoration Healing”.
As an African American Minister – RCA homegrown, my journey has been to allow the Grace of God’s rhythm transform me in the likeness of God’s Son… When this transformation become restored by God’s grace in my relationship at the Cross of Christ, I will be connected to the presence, guidance, direction, and power of the Holy Spirit to become restored by being Reformed in a New Rhythm of Prayer, Praise and Worship. Most importantly, once I am restored by Rest in the Lord, I will be able to serve and work for Justice, Community Outreach Service, Peace, and Dismantling Racism in a spirit of God’s gracious presence locally and globally.
What is your Rhythm? What is your Rest?
Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards