On Easter Sunday, I attended a couple different churches in St. Louis with my family. What a delight and joy! We heard great music and wonderful stories and reflections about the meaning and power of Christ’s resurrection. We even shared in the launch of a new birth, the beginning of a congregation, “The Connection.” Tish did a great job, and there were more than 100 people present! It was a joyous morning, even with snow falling sporadically and sometimes quite heavily.
A couple days after Easter Sunday, the District Superintendents of the Missouri Conference gathered with me for a cabinet meeting, and one of them shared the great news about the overwhelming attendance at a small congregation. One thing led to another, and we began sharing stories of Easter services. LaCroix had 2,783 people, a record. Woods Chapel, 2,281. Manchester, over 3,600! The Gathering over 300, and this for a church that is just a year old and with outside Easter services while it was snowing! Arbela, 52. St. James, KC with over 2,000. Kimberling City with a whopping 801, and ready to mother a new congregation! St. Andrews in St. L, over 450. Union Memorial, 472. Grand Avenue Temple was packed. Plattwood had 1,800. Kearny was packed. Marceline had 140 while Clarence had an outstanding 187. Trinity, Brookfield inched toward 700. Wesley, Springfield had over 1,700, while Sedalia First had over 1,800 (more than 8% of the town’s population!) Palmyra had to add chairs, and Pacific opened its doors to an African-American congregation of another denomination that had been affected by the flooding. St. Paul, Joplin topped 1,500, and Mt. Vernon had about 200. Ashland had 673 and Wesley, St. Joseph had 361. Unity, SL had 103. Mt. Olive had 66 and five baptisms! Princeton topped 100 and Mercer received eight new people. Smithville had over 400 and Chillicothe over 800. Morningstar topped 2,400, up more than 500 from one year ago! Living Word (ever heard of it? It’s the new name for Ellisville in their new facility) had 1,200, and Church of the Shepherd just over 2,000. Pleasant Hope had 104 and Mt. Pleasant topped 90. Jefferson City, First, had more than 700 and Missouri UMC pushed toward 1,400. Schweitzer had over 1,800 and Christ UMC had 741. Liberty nearly reached 1,500, Faith: Grain Valley had 370, and New Hope was just shy of 100. Lee’s Summit had 2,450. All four services in Lebanon were packed!
Of course I could go on and on and on. For many of these, Easter 2008, set new records, and for many others, these are some of the highest numbers we’ve celebrated in recent years. I give God thanks for every one of our pastors and congregations for your great sharing of the gospel, and for all the work and preparation and follow-up that marked this Easter season.
(On a side note, I hope all of our congregationsÖ.those mentioned and all the others, will quickly catch up on entering your attendance numbers on the Signs of Fruitfulness project. We’d really like to see the numbers conference-wide, so that in the next couple weeks we can give an honest and accurate picture of our total attendance across the state for Easter Sunday. Don’t let your church be left out. Thank you.)
These numbers represent people – each is someone’s brother or sister, parent or child, neighbor or co-worker. Each brings a whole host of joys and sorrows, hopes and doubts, aspirations and temptations to worship. Each wants to join in the songs of the ages for Easter joy, and each harbors moments of despair, anguish, grief and anxiety. While it’s fun, interesting, and extraordinarily helpful in our planning to measure attendance, we also realize that the message we proclaim at Easter and every Sunday is one that goes beyond measure. In the meditations of our hearts, the words of our prayers, the rhythm of our music, the joy of our fellowship, the insights of our sermons, and the sustaining grace of our communities, there is a truth that is immeasurable, eternal, infinite, and unfathomable. We dare to speak of hope in times of despair, love in the face of violence, grace in the grip of guilt, and life in the midst of death. We dare to preach Christ risen, alive, present, and as the scripture says, “going ahead of us to Galilee,” to all the places where people need the Lord.
The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed!
Grace and Peace,