Is joy possible during Lent? You bet it is! Just come to Destin, Florida, and Fort Walton Beach, Florida, for joy is abounding. Gregg Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and St. Andrew's By-the-Sea Episcopal Church began a partnership this Lent which will continue and hopefully grow by leaps and bounds.
The partnership began by a telephone call a few months ago expressing an interest for the two parishes to worship together and work together. The two churches in the same general area met together, first, at St. Andrew's By-the-Sea in Destin on Wednesday evening, March 22. Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Gregg Chapel, shared with us from 1 John 4:7-11, expounding on loving one another as love is from God. He preached mightily about God's love, demonstrated on the cross, being perfected in us. He spoke on tearing down walls; and as Jesus shows us how to love, we - all of us - should also love, and be an example of love to the whole world.
Brother Cecil brought with him his magnificent choir, musicians, and liturgical dance team, and the evening was an evening of joy and celebration. The rafters of St. Andrew's lifted with songs of praise, joy, and thanksgiving. Our service ended as we came to our Lord's table and celebrated the Holy Eucharist together - One Bread, One Body, One Lord.
On Wednesday evening, March 29th, St. Andrew's was hosted by Gregg Chapel in Fort Walton Beach. Gregg Chapel welcomed our magnificent choir and organist and sang with us. Gregg Chapel's musicians and liturgical dance team once again blessed us with their offerings. What more may I say? It was another great evening of uplifting singing, joy, liturgical dance, and praise. I was honored to share God's word from Psalm 133, wherein the Psalmist speaks about how good it is for brethren to dwell in unity. Again, I spoke about love for our neighbors, regardless of whom they are or how they look and about tearing down walls. We shared Holy Communion, as Brother Cecil celebrated this time - One Bread, One Body, One Lord.
Yes! Two churches, different in experience and culture and varied in expression, came together in unity amid the diversity and found a richness which we offered to our Lord in worship and had a fantastic time doing so! We also discovered common ground. Our communion liturgies are very similar. I believe a bond formed through our coming together and worshiping together. That bond is love in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
These two weeks will never be forgotten by me, and I'm sure they will not be forgotten by many others for the rich gifts and expressions of love we gave and received. For not only were we blessed by our local AME Church in Fort Walton Beach, but also by Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. The Rev. William (Bill) H. Lamar IV was our guest preacher at St. Andrew's on Sunday, March 26th at 10:00 a.m. What a joy, and what a blessing to have him share with us about asking the wrong questions, and the answers we may expect when we do so! Bill also challenged us to take note and beware when God plays in the dirt, because something is about to happen.
What a privilege to share pulpits with Rev. Cecil Williams and Rev. William H. Lamar IV! These are two fine men of God and two fine preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with both of them and with their loving congregations.
Thanks be to God for them and for their love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
R. Barry Crow+
Rector, St. Andrew's By-the-Sea Episcopal Church