In the spring, Ken and I went out to St. Nazianz Christian Center, its new name. We toured some of the buildings, which Ken had never seen, with Jim and Linda. We talked a bit about their hopes for the place. We prayed with them briefly.
On the drive back home I asked Ken if he had any sense that we were supposed to volunteer or help in some way.
"Well, we will keep praying, and I hope things go well. But, no."
"Me neither." (I think, after the kitchen visitation, that I expected something profound.)
"But if there is something, you will know when the time is right. I can't do physical work, and that seems to be what they need most. I wish I could, but...."
That, it seemed, was that. I watched, waited, prayed, kept busy at work and at home and at church. I'm still busy at work and at home and at church...but something shifted. Conversations, circumstances, sermons, songs--all combined to make me aware that it was time to do something. I can't say how I knew, but I told Ken, "I am supposed to do something on a Saturday."
"I don't know. Some ministry. And it is supposed to be on Saturday."
"Okay." Always the stoic, that Ken.
Not long ago, a young man who had grown up in my former church died tragically. I was asked to do the funeral. Somehow in the midst of tears, wrenching conversations, loving people and trying to share some good news, I knew that the time was coming very soon. I began to feel a sense of urgency and decided that I needed to take some sort of action.
Not knowing what else to do, I talked with the Frasch's. I shared a little of my thoughts. They were gracious and open but said someone was already doing something on Saturday nights. There are only a few spots with electricity on the property. It gets cold in Wisconsin in the winter.
Jim asked me if Friday would be okay. I said I'd think about it, and I did. I thought and prayed for about a week. Nope. Not Friday. Saturday. But I had already told the Frasch's that I would meet with them on Sunday to take a look at the space and see what might work. In addition to the Saturday night group, a different group is meeting there on Sunday, starting a new church and using the space for a while.
I wondered if there could possibly be a different space to use. I wondered how to tell Jim that Friday would not do, that it had to be Saturday. That seemed unreasonable, but I couldn't shake it.
So a few Sundays ago I drove out to the property and entered the building that houses the thrift store and food pantry downstairs. Upstairs is the former gym, the place where, ten years ago, my friend and I had seen lights on but one one around. Now the space holds furniture and other large items for the thrift store.
In one corner were rows of chairs, a cross, a podium and other things for church. A few people were gathering, and I sat by Linda. Jim joined us and sat on my other side. After greeting me, Linda announced, "Well, the guy who was holding services here on Saturdays is gone."
"Yes. He told us yesterday that he wouldn't be back."
"Won't be back...period?"
Jim chimed in, "The group is relocating to Rhinelander."
"Rhinelander?" Maybe they were thinking, "Is there an echo in here?" I stared at Linda.
"Oh my! I was going to tell you guys that I really believe whatever I do is supposed to be on Saturday, and I was feeling unreasonable....oh my."
"Well, I guess that's that then." Like Ken, Jim is a man of few words, it seems.
After church we gathered in another spot in the gym, a small room in a back corner. It contains a stove and refrigerator, and room for about 40 chairs or so. It presently is holding a few tables and Jim and I sat with Jack, the man who is leading the church until they can locate a pastor.
"So, you are Dorcas. You used to pastor Jubilee AG, right?"
"Yes. How do you know that?"
"I'm a Gideon. We pray for all the churches and pastors in the area. I've prayed for you several time, so I remembered your name. It is unusual. So, Jim tells me you want to do something on Saturdays...." Interesting conversation followed about people he knew that wanted a Saturday night place to worship.
After church I sat with Jim and Linda on the flat roof of the boiler building. Now it is their front patio and overlooks a lake and woods. Linda told me that they like to sit where they can face away from the property with its battered and broken buildings and weight of responsibilithy. Like me, Linda loves the old church, even though she knows it doesn't make much sense to try to save it.
We talked about many things. Jim told me that if it were up to him he would just get rid of the church. "But," he said in his matter-of-fact way, "God said no."
"God said no? What do you mean?
"God said no. God said, 'Save the church.'" Jim sighed. "So we are. That is why we put a temporary roof on the church. To save it. I don't know if we will be the ones who do anything else with it. Maybe it will be us....maybe it will be future people. God knows."
I didn't ask Jim just how God spoke, but I wondered. He went on to share some very practical needs, some frustrations, some ideas about church and our country and the world.
On the visit I had mde there with Ken, Jim had shown us the miniature golf set up, the paintball area, the garden, and what will be two small lakes. He had spoken of camps, of places for churches to come, of ideas for the various buildings.
Now he began to tell me just a little bit about why he and Linda had come there in the first place.
"I'd rather be out on the water on a boat or something."
"Yes. It would be easier."
"Well...yeah. For sure."
"But a long time ago I had a vision of a place in the country. A large place with grass and trees, water and plenty of room. A place of safety and refuge. A place of peace. A place where people can come to be refreshed."
"Like...like an oasis?"
"Well, I think of it as an ark. A place of God's presence. A place for restoration and healing. A safe place in difficult times. Yeah, you say oasis, I say ark. Kind of the same, in a way."
We talked for a couple of hours.
I left knowing that the OASIS acrostic was about to be resurrected. A few days later I called Jubilee AG and inquired about the banner. Honey, still the church secretary, located it rolled up in a corner of a basement storage room. Not long after, I had the banner in my possession and the present minister, Pastor Jake, had said I could have it. I am not sure yet how I am going to cover the "Jubilee Assembly of God" part of the banner, but I'll find a way.
We are going to start meeting on September 8th at 6:30 PM in the corner of the former JFK Prep gymnasium. Maybe sometimes, before it gets cold and dark early, we will meet in the old church and do what we can to fill it with prayer and praise.
When winter comes we will meet in the small back room of the gym. I overheard Jim telling someone that he thinks he has a way to section off and enclose a larger portion of the gym so that if gatherings outgrow the smaller room they can heat part of it without trying to heat the entire large space.
After we get started, perhaps I will share about the people who are coming together, some of whom I don't even know. I don't have any idea what to expect. I do not have much of a plan. I know a few things. Only a few, for now.
This is the Oasis at Saint Nazianz, and I think perhaps we will be reading Isaiah 43 from time to time. (Smile.)
We are not competing with any church in our area. It is not church in the traditional sense, but it is church in the sense of people gathering together.
I believe it is supposed to be genuinely non-denominational. It needs to be a place where Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Pentecostals--and those who don't identify with any church at all--will feel loved and safe and welcome. It will sometimes be informal. It will sometimes be liturgical. Sometimes we will sing hymns. If one of the individuals who contacted me is able to help, we may have hymns played on a violin. Or on the old that sits in the gym. I hope we'll have guitars and drums and who knows what all.
About the only thing I know for sure right now, other than the fact that this gathering is to be on Saturday, is that every week we will share in Communion, or the Eucharist, or whatever the person leading wants to call it. We shall see. We may only continue this gathering for a short time. Or for a long time.
Do I know how to do this? No.
Jim Frash (Linda's husband) said to me, "We are here, and God is here, and life is here now, and that's what we care about." Later he added, "We've been waiting for you."
I'm still pondering what that might mean.
Interesting reflections from a photographer. Some of her impressions are much like my own.
More pics from the photographer's blog--the church as it looks now, the chapel, graveyard and more.