One Year In: Narrative in Church and Family History

 It was exactly one year ago that I posted Thinking and Praying about Church-Planting – announcing that Mike  and I were praying about planting a church in Squirrel Hill. One year since that day, we’ll be having worship at my house at 7:30 tonight.  Mike and I will be preaching together, our friend SeungJin will be leading music, and anywhere between a dozen and two dozen people will gather in my living room to sing, pray, and take communion together.  The vision of The Upper Room is moving forward, becoming more of a reality every day. 

 And this has me thinking about the idea of narrative.  Our lives are stories, placed within the larger story of God’s action in redeeming the world through Jesus.  The story of The Upper Room is not one of it popping into existence, but a story of numerous prayer-walks through Pittsburgh’s streets on cold mornings last winter, conversations with churches and presbyteries, grant applications, times of fear and confusion, and countless prayers from people all around this country (thank you supporters!!).  And that led to the day last  summer when Eileen and left our community in Garfield to move to Squirrel Hill.  By August a group of seven people had committed to being the team that planted this church together, and we began meeting on Thursday nights at our home.  We fasted then celebrated together on the day when we were officially approved as a church-plant of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Later in September we took communion together for the first time as the team who would plant this church.  October, November, and December were filled with a series of prayer services at Greenfield Presbyterian, Pittsburgh Mennonite, and Waverly Presbyterian.  Our seed-group took a retreat together in November and there decided that we wanted to being some Sunday evening house-church worship services beginning in January.  And that’s led to tonight.

That’s the story of The Upper Room.  Somehow my personal story, connected to the stories of God at work in my life and my family history, fits into the story of what God’s doing through The Upper Room.  Which leads to this observation:  Today would also have been my grandmother Catherine’s 102nd birthday.  She passed away at the age of 95 when I was a sophomore in college.  Her life had been so much a part of my personal story, that I can honestly say I would not be where I am in ministry today without her prayers and influence.   My story, and The Upper Room’s story, is in turn part of her story of being the daughter of a church-planter in Colorado in the 1910’s.  This past week, my other grandmother, Helen, passed away also.  Our time with my mom’s family this week opened my eyes to more of the ways in which her family history has shaped and molded me. 

Narratives, the stories in which we all exist, are like moving water.  Story is a force that we’re caught up in, carried along and formed by the currents.  Sometimes it’s painful, like water carving out a canyon, and sometimes we glide along in smooth waters.  Though this week has been one of the more painful time of carving, I’m finding hope and joy in the fact that all of these rivers – our family stories and church stories – flow together in the river of life: “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1).

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