Early Friday afternoon I received an e-mail from one of the deacons of our congregation inviting me to The Dalles to give the inaugural sermonette there. I had spoken in Hood River on numerous occasions , and so it was not surprising that I was thought of as someone to speak in a pinch. What was perhaps surprising was that I had not typed out my next sermonette message yet, so I took that as an invitation to type out what I had been thinking about for a couple of months to write and found it to be just long to be a somewhat ambitious scope for the small amount of time alotted to sermonette messages, and was generally pleased. Meanwhile, there was a misunderstanding about doing backup for a son of one of our elders in the congregation who has been quite busy on new father duty, and with a newly prepared message in hand it did not strike me as something to worry about. After a fairly relaxing remainder of the evening, I got at least a few hours sleep and then got ready to meet the deacon and carpool up to the Dalles.
After having been informed that he was immensely sleepy after a crazy experience traveling from Florida to Portland after giving a presentation–which I had the chance to hear–we chatted and traveled up to the site of the new congregation, which met in the Deschutes Room of a bingo hall not far from where some of the members of the congregation live. This prompted some serious reflection from us later on. After all, the congregation in Hood River was a site where no one actually lived, but where people traveled to who happened to live in other parts of the Gorge area. This particular new site is located just a short distance from the house of a large family, and that gives the pater familias a sense of ownership over the new place, since he found the location. It is a question of just how this will work out given the complicated history involved. As someone who enjoys complicated histories and interesting mysteries, it is certainly a matter that will have at least some of my attention.
Although the new congregation is considered as a monthly Bible Study group, the format itself was a familiar one. The host of the congregation led songs and gave the closing prayer, I gave the opening prayer and the sermonette, and the visiting deacon gave the announcements and sermon despite being on only a couple hours of sleep. I had heard the sermon a couple of weeks ago and taken notes, and it turns out that he had given the same sermon last week in Salem as well, which makes the message a chestnut by this point. After services I had the chance to talk for quite a bit with him and we pondered the question of the appeal of Judaism for many people and the lack of in-depth Bible study on the part of many people and what can be done to encourage speakers to have more focus and depth in their own messages, and how to adopt a more conversational style with others as well. Humorously enough, the deacon’s wife commented that some of us (myself included as well as her husband and some others) have a style of speaking that is like our own conversations but not necessarily like the conversations most people have.
Although I was quite tired by the time I was back in the Portland area after being in the Dalles, I had much to ponder. What was it that makes a small congregation like La Grande work? To be sure, it is a very small congregation, but it has a very loyal core of membership that I have had the chance to meet personally and speak to, and that counts for a lot. The congregation in the Dalles is a new beginning, but it is a new beginning after the end of Hood River after some nearly four decades as a congregation. In his closing prayer, the host of the congregation prayed for the same length of time in his city, and we will see how it works. There are many scattered people among the Church of God, but a great many of them do not want to be gathered up into organizations and are quite embittered about their experience with organizations and institutions. We live in an age where a great many people want to teach, but few want to be taught, where a great many want to speak and few want to listen. Being part of the solution and not part of the problem is not an easy or straightforward matter at all.
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