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From the Desert to Community

by Thomas Baerg posted November 2016
This story was also told during a sermon on October 16, 2016

Psalm 37:4
“Delight yourself in God, and God will give you the desires of your heart”.

Allow me to give you an example of how the truth of that Bible verse was demonstrated to me in my life.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents attended and were members of a Mennonite Brethren Church in Abbotsford. While the church itself was quite conservative; my family: not so much.

This meant that we as a family had a lot to do with what we called the “English speaking” community. My parents, in fact, sent me to the local United Church for some sort of Bible classes qhich, if my memory doesn’t fail me, they also called Catechism.

I was active in the Mennonite Brethren church from a very early age. I have always loved to sing. So I first began singing in the church Children’s choir, then the youth choir, then school choirs and at the age of 16 I was old enough to sing in the church senior choir which I did for many years.

Besides the choirs I was also involved in other ministry areas like teaching Sunday school, children’s church, adult Sunday school classes, working on the church catering committee, being on the church board and being chair of the church board for a number of years.

And then it all crashed, I burned out. I was no longer able to be involved in anything. I pulled away from attending church altogether.

The next period of my life I refer to as my “sojourn in the desert”. Fortunately it didn’t last for 40 years but for 10 years I wandered with God. I learned things during that time and I attribute that to a prayer I prayed which went something like this: “God, there has to be more. So apart from everything I have been taught, apart from everything that I have learned in church or school (I went to a Christian High school), I really want to learn to know who you are”.

Although I will always be grateful for the valuable upbringing I had in my church, I soon came to realize that I would not be able to go back to the church of my upbringing. I no longer agreed with some of the church teachings. During my “time in the desert” God taught me to embrace those from the LGBTQ community. God showed me how to love everyone without exception; no strings attached! I always believed in equality when it came to women in church & leadership. Neither of these qualities are teachings of my former church. And so I was without a church.

We were living here in the West End towards the end of the “desert Wanderings” and it was then that my wife Lucy said she missed going and worshiping in a church community. She announced that she was going to go out and start looking for a church. I gave her my blessing but I wasn’t interested. She tried most churches in and around the downtown core of every existing denomination. Each Sunday she would come home after the service and say things like “Well I can cross that one off the list” or “Nope, not going back”.

She gave up for a number of weeks and then one Sunday she said “I haven’t tried that big United Church across from the Wall Center“. So the following week she came to StAW. (Not me, because after all I didn’t need it!) She came home after the service and when I asked how it had gone she broke down in tears. I immediately assumed: “OK, another dud!”. But then she began to describe how amazing the service had been. She had been warmly welcomed and it seemed like the service had been structured for exactly what she needed to hear. She felt it probably was a “One Of” type situation but said she was willing to go back again the following week.

Week two went even better than week one. She said she felt like she had come home to a safe place.

Well, curious as to what this might all be about, I decided I would go with her the next week. Just to see for myself but make no further commitment. It was late 2010.

It was a Sunday when the Gospel Choir was singing. And of course I wept through the whole service. So I continued to attended a couple of more weeks. I was impressed with all the church and community programs that the church was involved with. I was impressed with how the people embraced a newcomer. I was impressed with the majesty and holiness of the physical surroundings. I was impressed with the singing, the teaching and the organ music! I appreciated how much thought went into each service. The Sundays’ theme was evident starting with the welcome and on through the music, the children’s time, the readings, the sermon, the prayer time and the closing. I was impressed with how inclusive the church was.

How refreshing it was to be able to worship with a group of people without all the guilt, shaming & condemnation language. To be able to worship along side people from ALL walks of life, where it doesn’t matter your age, orientation, social status or skin colour. To be able to enter this sacred, safe place to worship, regardless of what kind of week I had.

I decided that I would join the Gospel Choir but no other involvement. I’d been there and done all that!…

But it didn’t end there.

By the spring of 2011 we decided that we would become members and so joined the church on the 12th of June 2011. The amazing verse on the baptism certificate said it all for me:
From Isaiah 43 – “Thus says God:
You are precious in my eyes!
You are honoured and I love you!
Do not be afraid for I am with you!
I have called you by your name, You are mine!

I am involved in a number of different areas of ministry here at the church. And to my shock I am even on a committee. (never say never)… It has been my pleasure and honour to serve on the Ministry and Personnel Committee for the past couple of years. I pray that I will be able to continue to make a positive contribution to the work of our committee.

So that brings me back to my opening statement. One doesn’t always know what the desire the heart is. God knew what I needed to experience in “the desert”. God also knew where I needed to be in order to best use the gifts that I was given. God also knew what I needed regarding a church family. God knew the desire of my heart even though I was fighting it.

So thank you St. Andrew’s Wesley for being the healing, spiritual balm that I needed. I feel like I’ve come home! And for that I am truly grateful to all of you. I love you!

Thank you!

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