Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,… (Matthew 28:19)
Most of you know that on the last Sunday of June Grace Church will be hosting a memorial service for Ardys Soules. Frank and Ardy (as most people knew her) served Grace Church from 1974 to 1984. Prior to their coming to Pittsfield they had served as missionaries to Brazil with the Presbyterian Church for seventeen years. Frank finished his ministry at Grace in December of 1984 and they began working as missionaries again, only this time here in the US, with International Students Incorporated (ISI) in New York City. About a year later, Frank was diagnosed with a brain tumor and went home to be with the Lord in 1986. He spent his last few months convalescing in Pittsfield and is buried here. Ardy continued on with ISI after Frank’s death in the Chattanooga area even up until fairly recently.
Anyone who knew Frank, knew that his strength and passion for ministry was discipleship, particularly discipling younger men in whom he intentionally invested time. It’s what he did in Brazil, and it was his vision in Pittsfield, and I’m sure it would have been his focus with ISI if he had lived long enough. There were a number of young men, primarily in their 20’s at Grace Church in the 1970’s and early 80’s who were recipients of his ministry, myself included.
With Ardy’s memorial service we see once again a shift in generations. Frank and Ardy’s daughter and son-in-law will be here for the service along with all of Shelley’s siblings as well as others whose lives have been impacted by their ministry. Dieter and Shelly have been serving the Lord in Japan for some 25 years now.
Last Sunday we celebrated the wedding of a young couple here at Grace Church- Emily Graham and Brian Coughlin- both in their 20’s and believers in Christ. Emily and my daughter, Rachel, have been friends since they were not much more than toddlers. (Rachel even flew out from Nevada to attend the wedding) It was a gorgeous, sunny June day, and reminded me of a similar day thirty eight years ago when Charleen and I got married here too. Like Emily and Brian, we had a picnic on the lawn of the church for our reception, only we didn’t have a tent or a DJ. Charleen has had an ongoing relationship with Emily for the past few years (yes, discipling), and even refers to Emily as her “other daughter”. I don’t know Brian well enough to have that level of relationship with him.
I was mentioning to Charleen the other day that in one more year I will have served Grace Church as Pastor for twice as long as any previous Pastor of Grace Church. That thought is absolutely staggering to me. Frank was here for 10 years. A few weeks will mark 19 for me. Who would have ever thought? I also realize that I am exactly the same age now that both my dad and my father in-law were when they retired from GE. (63) I really don’t intend to retire soon. I guess I’m hoping to get another 10 years, unless, of course, Grace Church decides it’s in the best interest of the church to have someone younger- of the next generation. Really, I’d like to keep on serving the Lord in some capacity as long as I have the energy.
Do you get the picture?
I believe we have two besetting problems in the Western church; really I think it is endemic to all of Christendom, but is especially pronounced in the American church. One is that we tend to think in terms of immediate success. We are “Now” oriented. The other is that we place an undue amount of reliance on humanly manufactured programs in order to accomplish that success. In doing so, we by-pass the real and often harder work of ministry. The work of the church is people, with all their weaknesses and immaturities. Isn’t that what discipleship is all about? I know it was in my case.
But what about us, now? What about the next generation of Grace Church? What about the younger generation that the Lord brings our way? I trust that our burden is: what contribution can I make in the life of some young person to prepare them for a life of service for Christ and his church?
Pastor Tom Bridgman