All Aboard

Stewardship 4 – 2022

Michael Swartz

As a Gospel train rolling down the tracks we welcome passengers onto the train.  All Aboard!  A train is public transit, so on one level it is open to everyone.  Most trains ask for tickets.  You get on a particular train because you want to go where the train is going.  If I am at Galesburg, I can go to either Chicago or St Louis – both are possible.  But not on the same day.  I need to get on the right train.

A few weeks back I offered an analysis of eras of Church of Peace identity: 

  • One could say that we were an “ethnic/language” church from about the first third of our existence;
  • then a neighborhood and family church for the second third,
  • and then for this most recent third a “mission outreach church.”

Each of these has a slightly different “ticket to ride.”

  • In the first era you were probably a German speaking person, or at least had some German speakers in the household. And your family came from a German speaking part of Europe.
  • In the second era you could probably walk to church from your home. Your family likely as not had some German ancestry, but folks from other backgrounds in the neighborhood came as well and it was good.  And your friends from school may have come as well.  And the families who were already here were having children and they were getting baptized – and many of those were going to school with the other families.
  • As a mission outreach church we continue to have family members from the neighborhood, and many of those families trace local German roots, but the key ticket is a desire to participate in the mission of the church – which is based on grass roots community organizing and manifests itself in the food pantry, the ministry with incarcerated folks, the ELL program and the Community Caring Conference.

When a church is up to it’s ears in a big mission effort we need help, and actually, asking for help when it is legitimately needed, and when it is to do something good for others is a winning strategy to welcome folks on the train.  All aboard!

I have been thinking about this.

A couple of weeks back was when we had the service for Ed Johnson at the funeral home and then we were hosting a luncheon for family and friends here at the church.  Mary O mentioned a dilemma to a woman who volunteers for the ELL program nursery care during the week that we needed to have the building open so folks could drop off food but the members wanted to be at the service over at Wheelan’s.  This woman graciously offered to sit at the church to accommodate those dropping off dishes for the luncheon.  Happy to do it.

Yesterday I was down in Petersburg Illinois for the funeral for Nancy’s aunt Gerrie.  I was putting on my robe and stole at the funeral home and could not get the neck to lay down flat.  I approached the nearest familiar face and asked her to help me get this thing to lay flat.  “Oh, you are part of the family,” she said.  And helped me.

There are two elements to this “ask for help in mission” approach to welcoming folks on board the train.  They are hard for middle class Americans;

  • Be willing to be a little vulnerable. Be willing to express need.
  • Let people help in mission BEFORE letting them know that they are welcome to board/join – and also if they have some reason not to get on board/join, that is OK too. This is sometimes called the Action/Reflection model.  Instead of explaining it first and then doing it, rather we do it first, and then together seek to understand it.  A slogan of this model is “We make the path by walking.”

In Luke there is what is known as the sending out of the 70 to “aid in the harvest.”  They are to go two-by-two, not carry a purse or extra clothes, and to welcome and receive whatever hospitality is offered.  I take this to mean that they were to be vulnerable and not act like big shots or that they have it all together.  It is hard to let ourselves be vulnerable, and the irony is the more vulnerable we actually are, the less we want to acknowledge it.

We all enjoy assisting those who have need – that is part of why we even do funeral luncheons, because we want to do SOMETHING to show we care, and this is structured.  (There was a lovely luncheon served by Methodist church members yesterday in Petersburg.  It is what is done to show loving care.)  We are a blessing to our church when we are willing to receive assistance; but sometimes that is hard.

So I overdid it this week.  I drove up to Chicago for a face-to-face event with folks involved in Central America.  Old friends and folks who travel together.  Fortunately I did not drive alone.

At the event a woman was being honored with a plaque for 20 years of service and financial support.  And she gave a little speech – and she was about my age or even a little older.  She said, “I was invited to go on a trip to Cuba, and I went and I fell in love.”  Well, it turned out she fell in love with Cuba and she also fell in love with a man whom she married.  And she said she continued to work, and she was blessed, and she has more “fire in the belly” now for the work than even before.  I say, “praise God.”

She went, she experienced the work of mission, which caused her join with organization that had invited her.  And get deeply involved.

So after the program I was sitting my friend, Martha, having the Mexican dinner that was served, – and we have travelled together to Guatemala and Chiapas over the years, – and she was worrying, as do folks our age, about the future of the Chicago organization.  How do we welcome new folks aboard?

“We saw the Action/Reflection model in the award,” I said.  (And this idea is explicitly key to the organization.)  Then I observed, “That is how it worked for you.  Paula asked you to do a job (25 years ago) because she was moving away and she needed you to do it.  And you said “yes,” and you are still here.  And more involved than ever.”

Martha gave some “aw shucks” sort of response.  And a few minutes later said, “Yes, we need to keep accompanying people to go on delegations, and see for themselves, and experience the need.”


Getting into the mission is both a way of welcoming others on board, and also a way to deepen the blessing to those who have been here right along.  Together we structure the mission and organize it into bite-sized portions where we can serve and not be overwhelmed.

Mission helps us gain a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, and it is genuine meaning because it is God’s mission, and we fall in love.  And I am telling my own story as well; I am part of God’s church and this local church, and it is an honor and a privilege, I am happy to help and do as I am able.  It is a blessing.  It is what life is genuinely about.  I am happy to be aboard and going someplace, together with you.

Amen and Amen.

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