This week I mailed a letter to the church where I attended while I was away at college more than twenty years ago. Although I attended Ohio Northern University for six years, I attended Sugar Grove United Methodist Church for only two or three. I tried other churches and I tried not going to church at all for a while. Nothing felt right. Some churches were just cold and no one talked to me. The big Methodist church downtown was friendly enough but the pastor was a pacifist and I was in the military so it was often awkward. Finally, I found Sugar Grove. My welcome there was a little unexpected. Sugar Grove was several miles outside of town in the middle of miles and miles of wheat and corn. No students attended Sugar Grove nor did any professors or university staff... just farmers and local folks. Nevertheless, that is where I was made to feel right at home and a part of the family. Even though I haven't had any contact with the good folks from Sugar Grove for a very long time, I wanted to let them know that I will be ordained in June and that they had a part in God's unfolding plan. Below are some excerpts from my letter.
Sugar Grove United Methodist Church
Ada, Ohio 45810
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, from John Partridge, a student you might remember from long ago.
Many years ago, sometime around 1986, I first visited your church at Sugar Grove. I had been a student since 1982 and, although I had attended many of the churches in town, I had never felt particularly at home in any of them. I don’t remember whether I came just to give it a try or at the invitation of Don Spar, but the latter is more likely. In any case, I remember Don telling me that if I wasn’t going home for Easter that year, his mother insisted that I come to church with them, and then follow them home for Easter dinner. I also clearly remember, after church, seeing an older man, make eye contact from me from the other side of the sanctuary and make his way to me, weaving his way through the maze of pews, just so he could shake my hand and welcome me to Sugar Grove. I knew that I was, finally, at home.
Whenever I share my call to ministry story, or tell others of what the church has meant to me in my journey, I often share stories about Sugar Grove. Sugar Grove has always been a part of my story and a part of my call to ministry. I thought I would write to let you know about my upcoming ordination, because chances are, none of you knew.
I am not sure that there is anyone at Sugar Grove that remembers me, and that’s okay, but I know who you are and what you have meant to me. Your faithfulness to the message of Jesus Christ is, and always will be, a part of my story. May God richly bless each one of you and your ministry. I hope that you will remember that no matter your size, every day you are a part of a thousand stories that you might never hear on this side of eternity. Never forget that every day you are making a difference in the lives of others just like you made a difference to me.
I hope that Sugar Grove United Methodist Church will always continue to love like Jesus.
Sugar Grove isn't unique. I have known other small country churches that were more loving and more welcoming than other, larger, urban and suburban churches. There's a lesson in that for all of us.
No matter who you are...
Love like Jesus.