Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tossing the Tassel

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from Penn Hills High School.  The ceremony was held in the cool of the evening, under the football stadium lights.   A lot has changed since then.  In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers financed a new $200,000 football field for Penn Hills.  Just last year, an entirely new high school building opened on the same campus where I attended.

My senior class was a large one, with a little more than 1,000 graduates, and yet I never felt lost or like I was a faceless student in the crowd.  Funny thing is, even when I was hustling down the hallways to class, I felt I actually knew everyone! I don’t know which is better, to have graduated from a huge high school or a smaller one. I confess that I often envy those who were a part of a graduation class of 100 or so, where everyone truly knew each other and has stayed connected over the years. Of course, those folks may envy me for the opportunities present in a very large school.

All of this makes me think about “finding” one’s place, whether in school or in church.  Most Presbyterian churches are well under 250 members and shrinking. On the other hand, Sardis is about ten times that size.  Are churches like schools, challenging as they grow larger?  Or are they filled with greater opportunities as they grow larger?

 I remember Dr. Frank Harrington when he was the Senior Pastor of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, the largest church in our denomination.  He always believed that when you came to worship in a large church, you needed to recognize at least eleven other worshippers by name. If you did, then you felt right at home!

Maybe I didn’t really know all 999 of my fellow graduates, but I did know at least eleven by name.  Perhaps that is reason I too felt at home. I hope all of us feel at home at Sardis; it is the best feeling in the entire world.  I hope we all will take the time each Sunday to greet and meet at least eleven others as we come to worship. Everyone needs to feel like they belong. I also hope that we will use the many other chances Sardis gives us to be connected with our church family members in personal and profound ways. 

I do not have an answer to the merits of large schools versus small. And I cannot say that large or small churches are to be preferred. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:9 (NRSV) “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”  So maybe it is not the new field or the new building (whatever the size) but rather the servants within them that make all the difference.  In churches large or small, we all have a place and a mission.

One more thought as we celebrate this graduation season, let’s remember this special time in the lives of so many of our Sardis youth.  HAPPY GRADUATION TO THE CLASS OF 2014!

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