Primavera: Springtime Lessons from a Small Mission Church
It’s almost September and it’s spring!
The sun is out, it is around 18 degrees Celsius (yup that’s right, I just used Celsius…but sadly still with the help of google), the snow is melting way too fast from the Andes Mountains, and the flowers are blooming. This weekend I was able to facetime my sister sitting on our hammock in our yard as the white flowers from our plum tree fell all around me. Spring looks good on Chile!
I have recently been getting a lot of questions about what the church here looks/feels like and I am excited to share!
It is hard to put into words how truly wonderful the Linares church members are which is why I started to do the “Personas de Chile” blogs. I want to highlight each of them! From Nelson, who I know speaks slower and clearer just for us… to Erica who makes sure to check in weekly about our visa paperwork or teaching experiences… to Fran who always welcomes us each Sunday with big hugs and a smile… the Linares members are truly incredibly kind and are quickly becoming like family to us.
After worshiping in Linares for several Sundays, I’ve realized that a lot can be learned from a small mission congregation.
Here they are.
Three lessons to learn from a small mission church.
1. Time is fluid. Reserve ALL of Sunday for church!
Apart from the buses that thankfully always run on time (except for when there is a strike), time in Chile seems to be a very fluid concept. Meetings are scheduled for “in the morning” which really means very very late morning. If someone invites you over for “once” that typically means that you are meeting them for a snack around 5ish in the afternoon. BEWARE! We have come to realize that “Once” really means that you literary stay till “Once” or 11 o’clock at night.
Church times here are also pretty fluid. Although bible class and the Sunday church service both have specific starting times, they normally actually begin only after the people arrive.
I personally LOVE this setup because my husband will quickly tell you that I am slow to rise and even slower to get going in the morning. I have found out that Chile-time is about the same as the island-time that I grew up on, and I am in heaven!
I also have grown to love Chile-fluid-time on Sundays because it forces you to keep your Sundays unplanned. Sometimes church is over quickly. Sometimes it starts late. Sometimes we hang out for an hour after church just talking. Sometimes we stay at church till 5 in the afternoon because there is a surprise birthday party. No matter the case, it feels WONDERFUL to not be rushing around on Sunday. It is, after all, “SON-day” and supposed to be a day of rest and worship.
I challenge you to keep your Sunday’s open, and you will be shocked to realize how the LORD blesses your day with fellowship, relaxation, and fun.
2. Your church and pastor are UNIQUE blessings
One summer, my family was visiting a church while we were on vacation. I don’t remember how young I was, but I remember thinking and sharing with my mom how bad I thought the pastor was. When I was done with my little rant, my mom turned to me and said, “It’s not about the man or the style. It’s about the Word, and the Word today was perfect.”
I think it is easy to ignore or even forget that simply having a church and a pastor is SUCH a unique blessing, especially in the United States when it seems that there are four ELS/WELS churches within 20 minutes of everywhere. With quickly accessible churches, it is easy to fall into the temptation of judging or even ranking the style of services and pastors.
Next time that temptation arises, stop and think, “What if there wasn’t a church nearby?” or “What if there was not a pastor available to be in church on Sunday?”
Currently, our church in Linares does not have an official pastor.
There are four ELS churches in Chile; three are in Santiago, and one is here in Linares. Right now, Pastor Tim is training three Chilean vicars in Santiago. The goal is, God willing, for the vicars to graduate in 2017! Every Sunday, Pastor and the vicars rotate so that each church is visited by one of them. Since the vicars have fulltime jobs, they also rotate who writes the sermon each week. Pastor reviews the sermon and then it is preached at all four churches on Sunday.
Since Pastor and the vicars live in Santiago, it is not always possible for someone to visit Linares (four hours south) each Sunday. On those days, different men in the Linares church step up to read the sermon.
The situation here is unique, but it also emphasizes how special it is to have a place to worship every Sunday and a Pastor to lead the worship! The Linares congregation is always excited to welcome each vicar and Pastor Tim on differing Sundays.
3. Participate in ACTIVE Membership
I always used to think that active membership in church meant teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or going to bible class. Don’t get me wrong, those certainly all are ways to be active in your church! However, the congregation here opened my eyes to many more ways to take ownership of your church and the members of your church family.
Because there is no pastor right now in Linares, the congregation has developed a unique culture of working together in order to organize church services every Sunday.
Right now, Nelson (the church president) is leading us through the book of Santiago (James) in bible class. Following bible class there is a break before church during which everyone pitches in. A handful of people usually hold and hand out the bulletins. Someone takes down the small white board from the front of the church and updates which songs and bible passages will be used that Sunday. Others walk around to find male volunteers to read the scripture readings.
Some Sundays we have keyboard music, some Sundays someone plays the guitar, and other Sundays we sing acapella. Nelson’s little daughter collects the offering and takes church attendance in a little pink notebook. At the end of the service, members usually hang around to talk about upcoming events, finances, or about the progress on the church remodeling.
As a whole, the church in Linares is such a wonderful reminder of the blessings of having the opportunity to worship with others! The members are happy to step up to run their own church services and are simply thankful for the opportunity to worship. It reminds me of maybe how the early disciples worshiped.
They [the believers] broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
If you couldn’t tell, we are beyond thankful to be here to support and to grow with the church members in Linares! We have already been able to be apart of a lot of church activities and are starting to meet with some church members to talk about starting a youth group. It has also been exciting to share news about our church with our faculties in our Longavi schools. Many fellow teachers are asking questions like, “What is Lutheran?” and “Where is your church again?”
Next time you are in church and are saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the Song of Simeon, remember that there is a small congregation in southern Chile singing and praying the exact same thing.
There is a lot to learn from God’s people in our small mission churches!
Here are a couple pictures from our big Spring Cleaning Day at the church
True or False: I might have pulled up some “weeds” only to discover that they were medicinal herbs that a church member had planted… whoops