By Scott Nedrow
While sitting at our District Conference in 2011, I turned to my pastor and whispered that I suddenly felt a need to visit all 44 congregations in our district. His look of question probably matched my confused feeling, for even as the words left my mouth I had no idea why I had the need to do this. I wasn’t sure I had the time, or the energy, to carry it through. Up to this point, I had only visited a few other congregations outside of Mechanicsburg, which I have been part of since birth. All I knew for sure was that I was being nudged for some unknown reason to take this venture.
Over the next few weeks and months, that nudging became a forceful push. With God’s grace, blessings, and guidance, and the encouragement and support from my pastor and many others, I made my first visit to Huntsdale in November 2011 and concluded this journey with my 44th visit to Farmer’s Grove in June 2013. During this almost two-year journey I traveled a few thousand miles, ate dozens of Sheetz hotdogs for Sunday lunch, took more than 2,200 pictures, and spoke with hundreds of brothers and sisters from around the district.
With each and every visit, blessings arrived in ways that I could not have begun to imagine when the idea (I believe calling) was first laid upon me. With no goal or agenda from start to finish, I allowed God to take control. I always like to be in control so to just let go was something entirely new for me, but it didn’t take long to realize that He knew exactly what He was doing. Oh how wonderful it felt to sit back and allow His blessings and bounty to unfold. In doing so, the journey for me has been nothing short of riveting and revealing–and I would do it all over again.
The highlights and blessings are too numerous to list, but I want to share a few examples of what I encountered and learned along the way.
I was amazed at how widespread the congregations are as far as distance. For example, Hanover to Sugar Valley is approximately 135 miles apart, or roughly three hours driving time.
I soon realized how rural many of the locations are, some even having my GPS scratch its electronic head.
Although we are in the same district and we all have Brethren ties and values, I learned quickly that we are also very diverse. Some worship with traditional services while others have praise services or a combination of both. Our members dress in plain and contemporary clothing. Many congregations humbly pray on their knees, while others just humbly bow their heads. We sing to the accompaniment of drums and guitars, organs and uprights, and a capella. There are US flags in the front of some of our sanctuaries, while many others do not have flags.
I found that we are a very welcoming people. We welcome visitors and each other as members in a variety of different ways, but always with similar Christian attitudes and intentions. There were some congregations; however, that seemed to go the extra mile with their sincerity and their comforting way of making me feel right at home from the moment I arrived. A few congregations have figured out how to ensure that no visitor is lost in the Sunday rush, and that visitors are acknowledged and given the opportunity to learn more about the congregation if they so desire.
While some congregations do not choose to use a lot of signs, I did become aware of how important signs can be. I saw whimsical eye-catching outdoor signs that “Welcome Everyone,” and I saw bright and cheery indoor signs that directed newcomers easily to their destinations. On the other side, however, there were outdoor signs in need of repair or hidden by bushes and hard for motorists to see. I did not set out on these visits giving signs any thought, but as time went by, God seemed to make this an important focus.
Many congregations use overheads and electronics in their services, while others do not. While the debate continues over the value of using overheads, I personally enjoyed all of our Brethren services. I did have a closed mind on this issue, but now I understand the value and rational from both positions. I respect and appreciate the opinions of all.
With so many of our congregations struggling with attendance, it was refreshing to see several congregations growing, with many new families and young families with children becoming part of the church. Also, it was uplifting to see one congregation have more than 80 percent of worshipers attend Sunday school!
I feel I have a better appreciation of our variance in understanding of what it means to be a part of the church. I am hoping this knowledge will benefit me as I have been called to serve on the District Board and on the Church Development and Revitalization Commission.
As an open invitation, if you or your congregation would like to know more about what I have learned on the journey, please contact me at 717-796-6035 or firstname.lastname@example.org . It has been quite a journey for me as a lay person, and I would love to share my experience with those interested in hearing more.
— Scott Nedrow is a member of Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. This reflection was published in March in the Southern Pennsylvania District newsletter.