During my husband’s first year of seminary, I led a chapel service that I called A Letter to Seminarians based on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-2:8. In those days before social media, we all loved snail mail, and I would join the daily crowd around the seminary mailboxes and hope for a letter from someone back home. So for chapel, I read an imaginary letter to seminarians from our home churches based on the Thessalonians text.
I invited all of us in chapel to think about our home congregations–about the one, two or more people, or perhaps the whole church–who had contributed to our spiritual growth, to think about them as I read this letter. Here is an updated version, based on the Common English Bible.
We, your home congregations, always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers. This is because we remember your work that comes from faith, your effort that comes from love, and your perseverance that comes from hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.
We know that you are loved by God, and that in leading you to seminary, God has chosen you. We know this because our good news didn’t come to you only in the words of sermons and Sunday school lessons and Bible studies, but with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were living life together with you–in prayer, in serving together, in sharing meals, and in many other ways. You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy, even when it meant suffering for you–when you sometimes felt left out among your high school peers, when you struggled to understand your faith as you met new ideas at college and at work.
As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Kansas, in Manitoba, in Switzerland, in Nigeria, and elsewhere among the churches. The message about the Lord rang out from you, not only in your home congregations but in every place. The news about your faithfulness to God has spread so that we don’t even need to mention it. People tell us about how you grew into faith and how you turned to God from living your own way.
You know, of course, that our life together in the church has been precious, even though it hasn’t always been easy. We have had a history of opposition. We have known suffering and even public insult. Our appeal isn’t based on false information, wrong motives, or deception. Rather, we try to speak as those who have been examined and approved by God to be trusted with the good news. We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts.
We could have thrown our weight around, but instead, we were gentle with you, like a nursing mother caring for her own children. We were glad to share not only God’s good news with you but also our very lives because we cared for you so much.
We send this letter to you with that same love,
From your Home Congregations.
Of course, this wasn’t originally a letter to seminarians, but as I read the text at that time, Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonians reminded me of the relationship between our home congregations and us. Paul and his co-workers had nurtured the Thessalonians in their commitment to God. Our home congregations had nurtured us. Paul and his colleagues had taught the Thessalonians, as our home churches had taught us. At their best, our home churches had shown us what it meant to love God and to love each other. They shared themselves with us.
At the same time, we knew that our home congregations were not perfect. They were not always consistent in showing love for God and for each other. They had their pain. They had their scars from the past. Yet even so, our home congregations had given us a great deal. As we studied, as many of us prepared for further ministry in the church, it was good to reflect on how our churches had first ministered to us.
I then invited everyone in chapel to remember our home congregations by naming them as we prayed together:
O God, who loves and sustains us,
we thank you for our home congregations,
who have formed our faith and continue to pray for us.
We thank you for the opportunities of service
that we have experienced in them:
for the first time we taught Sunday school,
the first time we preached,
for opportunities to visit one another during illness,
to cry with one another in times of grief,
to laugh with one another at times of celebration.
Thank you for the rich experience of local church life.
We pray for our home congregations
as they continue to call others to faith and nurture them.
May each of our churches catch fresh vision
for your work and will in the world,
as we name them before you and before each other:
We gather all of these congregations to you, O God,
knowing that you have been with them in the past,
you are with them today,
and you lead them into the future.
We offer our thanks for their ministry,
and pray for their good health and strength,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the head of the church. Amen.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Write a letter to a seminarian or other student that you know. What encouragement would you want to offer? What reminder? Send your letter by email or snail mail to let your student know you care.
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