The Rev. Keith Gunter remembers what the first year of starting a new worshiping community was like. He’d moved from Georgia to Tennessee with his wife and one year old child to start, from scratch, what is now New Creation Church.
“We had two chairs in the living room,” said Gunter. “I’d be praying, look up and see my wife crying. Nothing seemed to be working that first year.”
Preaching from Mark 4:35-41, Gunter told the opening night crowd at the 1001 National New Worshiping Communities Conference that, like the disciples on the boat who thought they were going to drown, he would often cry out “Lord, don’t you care? Why am I hurting so right now?”
As Gunter worked harder and faster, his frustration and stress was overwhelming. “I forgot who was in the boat with me,” he said referencing the story of Jesus taking his to disciples to the other side, and then having to calm a great storm before they got there.
“Jesus was ready to expand his ministry, to meet new people on the margins whom he hadn’t met yet,” said Gunter. “To go to the edges where there is danger, discomfort, even anger and frustration, and yet this is where life happens.”
This kind of “other side” ministry with all of the unexplainable storms “impacts all of us,” he added. “This week remember you are not alone. God walks with us. So pursue relationships with others, as God has pursued you, in grace and love.”
Vera White, coordinator for 1001, thanked the more than 200 conference attendees for their faithfulness to God through the new worshiping communities movement. “Your work is being heard around the world,” she said, announcing that she had just been asked to speak at a church planting conference in Cape Town, South Africa, because organizers there had heard stories of what was happening through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) movement.
White said she was walking on the beach Monday morning when God reminded her of the passage in Romans 1 where apostle Paul is talking to the Romans. He hadn’t met most of them face to face, yet he thanked God for them every day.
“So many of the relationships that I have with you have been long distance,” she said. “What’s gotten me through an incredibly challenging year—my husband had an accident, my son was hospitalized—is the hope of what God has been doing through all these worshiping communities. Share your stories with each other so that we all may be encouraged in these days ahead.”