To correspond with our Spring Books issue, we asked our bloggers to share books that have influenced their ministry.
Sometimes I find myself thinking that this job is impossible. Oh I know what you’re thinking: with God all things are possible. And it’s not that I don’t believe that, it’s just that sometimes it feels like it really would be easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle than to do the work that it seems like God is calling our congregation to do. See, the church that I serve is trying to strengthen our ties with the neighborhoods surrounding us. Not surprisingly, the demographics of the church and the demographics of our broader community don’t look all that similar. We’re 90% white and our immediate neighborhood probably is too. But two blocks away on both sides, our neighbors are 90% African American.
Though I haven’t lived in Baltimore all that long, I’ve learned from those far more knowledgeable than I that issues of race and class still run deep here – and even in my short time as a resident I’ve already seen how those issues can create serious tension between one neighborhood and the next. There are significant challenges to building trusting relationships across communities and I wonder, sometimes, if there is enough desire on both sides to overcome those challenges. I wonder, sometimes, if there is enough desire on both sides to work towards reconciliation and healing. Leaders from both our neighborhood and those next to us have been honest in saying that it will be an uphill struggle if it happens at all.
There are enough voices saying that reconciliation is impossible for me, in my more pessimistic moments, to be swayed. I was in one of these pessimistic-this-work-is-impossible states not long ago when I happened to have the good fortune of hearing Brian Blount preach. His text was the first ending of Mark’s gospel – Mark 16:8 – which most scholars believe was the original ending. It’s not all that uplifting of a close to the good news. The disciples are scattered. The women go to the tomb and find it empty, but run away terrified, and they don’t tell anyone about what they saw.
With this ending, Dr. Blount said, Mark invites the readers to pick up where the disciples and the women left off; Mark invites the readers to write the end of the story with their own lives and their own witness to the good news of the resurrection. And then he exhorted us not to let the world write the ending of our story for us. He reminded us that no matter what circumstance we face, we – with God’s help – get to decide whether or not our story testifies to the abundant life we have in Christ.
His words reminded me that as impossible as this work may sometimes seem, to give up would be to let the world write the end of the story. Even if our efforts to reach out to our neighbors don’t end in reconciliation or healing or trust, our actions can still bear witness to good news of the resurrection. Indeed, our actions can still point to the kingdom that God has promised. And this proclamation through word and deed to the transformative power of the resurrection – to the new life that we have in Christ – is, as I understand it, central to our call as the church.
Though I haven’t yet finished it, Dr. Blount writes on these themes in his book, “Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrection.” And I am certain that this is one of those books that will have a lasting impact on my ministry.
Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.