Ever hear people complain that "people no longer go to church anymore" and wonder what God is allowing the world to come to? Part of the problem well-meaning Christians run into is that we measure ourselves almost exclusively by Sunday, as if it was the only day that matters. I remember reading somewhere that the electricity in the air on Sunday comes from all the many wonderful interactions people have had throughout the week. God uses each day of the week to accomplish the mission of the church. If you want some inspiration about "what God has allowed to happen to churches these days", come check out Bethany Presbyterian on Castle Hayne Rd. in Wilmington, NC. When I arrived to film around 9am, many volunteers had been at work since 6AM and 7AM. I have rarely seen even large congregations provide a weekday event involving this number of people, hours and putting faith into such direct action. The sheer amount of food, volunteers and "pep" I encountered blew me away. I give thanks for what the Holy Spirit does through congregations of all sizes and through volunteers from all directions to create and sustain inspiring ministries such as this. My cup overflows!
God loves play. In the midst of primordial chaos (Gen. 2), God's Spirit is dancing over the waters. Despite the challenging times camp ministries face these days, Camp Kirkwood remains a special place where young people of all ages continue to experience God's creation in amazing and fun ways. Located in Watha, NC, the camp sees hundreds of campers each week streaming in from throughout various places in North Carolina. The documentary about the Holy Spirit at work here is a must see for people interested in the innovative ways church camps can find a way forward by partnering with many other groups including the YMCA to broaden the use of these sacred spaces. I guarantee that no child or adult can visit the place without wanting to hike the trails, pull themselves across on the river boats and camp out with new friends surrounded by God.
This past Sunday, July 9, I filmed a lot of tremendous testimony at Fayetteville Hispanic Ministries located in Galatia Presbyterian Church's lower floor. In Spanish the name is Mision Presbiteriana Hispana. The worship service was full of joy, song and spirited preaching. Men, women and children of all ages enjoyed bible study, worship and fellowship. I was touched to be "welcomed to the family" in worship as I was filming. I had gone there to record testimony of a miracle that I had heard happened. When I got ready to film people talking about "the" miracle, they asked "which one?" God had been doing many miracles for people in this congregation! Hear amazing stories about how God fully and miraculously healed a young girl who accidentally drank corrosive liquid. Hear about God answering other prayers about making a way for various people when there seemed to be no possible way forward. Also, remember the Holy Spirit happens in Spanish too...so I encouraged people to share their stories in Spanish and will see about trying to get some English subtitles. Two clips are already in English. Enjoy and share with others!
Thanks to Winter Park today for their very warm welcome as I filmed one of their ukulele practices. This particular practice session was geared toward ukulele players with kids. At 9 am, the children play in the background while the adults practice half a dozen songs in preparation for upcoming performances. My spouse and kids came with me, and they fit right in. It was amazing to see a ministry so child and family-friendly! The group sounded amazing and the stories they shared were as luminous as the sonic sunshine streaming from their small, bright instruments. If God has created any fail-safe instrument to bring uplifting joy into the world, it might be the ukulele, showcased in Wilmington, NC, at Winterpark Presbyterian Church. Learn how to play at their upcoming Ukulele Camp on August 15, 16 & 17, 2017.
Today I got up early to tape the sunrise at Ocean Isle Beach before the 8:30am morning worship. It was an absolutely beautiful morning. While I had not been 100% sure this sabbatical would be "relaxing" or "restful," I now am confident it will indeed be a breath of fresh air. Seeing so much of God's countryside and filming things like sunrises forces my nose out of books and into the beautiful creation around us. As I filmed the beach worship service Shallotte Presbyterian Church leads on Ocean Isle Beach, I realized that the scenery is not the most striking difference from traditional worship indoors. The ocean breeze, more than anything, transported my awareness to God's grace...followed by the sound of waves and gulls. God was pulling out all the stops and inviting me through each of my senses to be aware of the Almighty's presence and love today. John Causey and a dozen faithful volunteers assisted our Lord in making a beautiful worship service for countless families at Ocean Isle this morning.
Without intentionally planning it this way, today has been a very sentimental blast from the past. Ocean Isle Beach was "the beach" my family always visited when I grew up. My aunt and uncle had a beach house there and it was always special to go there. The second congregation I visited today was equally sentimental: Black River Presbyterian Church. My grandpa would always take my father and me fishing on the Black River growing up. "Fishing" had always meant black river and "beach" had always meant Ocean Isle. I thank God for the familiar sights, sounds and smells that my eight-year-old self has never forgotten.
I encourage everyone in the Presbytery to make a pilgrimage to Black River Presbyterian Church. George Washington was a wee eight-year-old when the church was established. Even if you are not a history buff, your travel will not be unrewarded. It's one of the most historical, interesting, environmentally-conscious churches in North Carolina and the level of home-cooked cooking will leave you wondering "when can I sneak back here." Wondering what Sunday you can catch a meal after church? Easy: every Sunday. I hope you will be as inspired as I am after hearing and seeing what the Holy Spirit is doing at Ocean Isle and Black River.
J. Evan Harrison
Evan is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) currently serving Sunnyside Presbyterian Church in Vander, NC. He is enjoying a sabbatical July of 2017 to capture what the Holy Spirit is doing in the presbytery of Coastal Carolina in miniature documentaries and hopes to provide a place online where more congregations can post and watch similar videos. Married to the love of his life, Emily, they have two children.