Moving Forward: When the Spirit Works Ahead of You

by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.                                                                                                         – Ephesians 2:10

Over the past year or so, a number of interactions – seemingly random connections – kept popping up.  And they have led to the repeated question – “do you think the Holy Spirit set us up to meet each other way back when knowing we’re going to work together to do this now…?”

It is not, my friends, an idle question. 

I’m not going to relate every single instance – the blog would be way too long – and after a while the stories all begin to sound the same.  And as you know since I call myself “The Accidental Presbyter”, it makes the Spirit-filled possibility all the more amazing, because none of the re-acquaintances would have occurred – or made any sense – otherwise.  So here are just 3 of them – all of which started, now that I really think about it, at about the same time period.  Which also happens to have been a time of some personal chaos.  Hmmm…

#1 – Last year I was doing a talk on the Lilly grant we’d been so fortunate to receive in 2020, and the work we’re doing in the Center for Learning.  After the talk – which was in a different Presbytery, in a different state – one of the audience came up and said “Oh, you’re working in that kind of space?  You must meet Jen!” and arranged a meeting.  Jen works with the Episcopal Diocese in Cincinnati, as it turns out in a building I could have hit with a baseball (and I’m a lousy thrower) from the original Presbytery building on Myrtle Avenue.  That was interesting enough, and so I contacted her and we got together so I could hear her story and see the very cool co-working space she’s created in one of the churches there.  As we were arranging the meeting, before I’d even stepped foot in the building, she replied to one of my texts with “Oh, and by the way – Jason says hello and is going to try and be there when we meet.”  Jason…?  Does Jason have a last name?  Yup he does – Jason was Meredith’s Bible studies teacher when she was in 8th, 9th and 10th grade at CHCA.  That would have been 2006-2009.  I was on the CHCA Board then.  Of course I knew Jason; along with two other teachers – we called them the Three Musketeers – they were the most fun teachers with which to have a parent-teacher meeting.  But I but hadn’t kept up – Jason left CHCA a few years later, became an Episcopal priest, and is now using his considerable skills as the Canon for Formation and New Communities within the Diocese.  So after the meeting Jason and I caught up over lunch, ending up by laughing at each other that our paths had taken such different turns and – wait – do you think the Holy Spirit put us together in 2006 and knew this was going to happen?

We’re now conspiring on another Lilly grant application and potential ecumenical partnership.

#2 – at about the same time, 2005 or so, the guy who was the Youth Spiritual Director at the Presbyterian Church I was at during that time, with Meredith, was – well, a little counter-cultural, but incredibly insightful about the Bible and so much fun with the kids.  I loved how genuinely authentic he was about who he was in God, and how he worked so closely with the kids, guiding them into an understanding of who they were in God. Honestly, because Meredith was at CHCA and got Christian ed all week long, I didn’t make her do a lot with the Youth group, but she had some friends there and so went to a lot of the social gatherings.  I got to know Jason and his wife (yup, another but different Jason) since I was on Session and he attended our long-established adult Sunday School class (we’d been meeting, a core of about 12 of us, for several years).  Jason left that church to go do other things, and Meredith and I transferred to another Presbyterian Church, at about the same time.  But every once in a while Jason’s name would pop up; I knew he’d become ordained and had started his own church in Oakley, and that it was doing well.  Everyone seemed to know Jason. A year ago, beginning to work with Eastminster on next steps for their dwindling congregation, I learned that Jason’s church had moved to Madisonville, right down the street.  I don’t even remember how we reconnected, but we met one afternoon at MadTree and – well, if you read last week’s blog you’ll have figured it out.  Jason’s church, Legend Community Church, is the one now providing worship leadership at the newly revamped Eastminster Presbyterian Church.  I was gone for their first worship session but attended for Easter this year – it’s SO COOL to see such a revitalized presence in the sanctuary and the Eastminster congregation back in literally full swing, leaning into what God has obviously dreamt for them.  And Jason and his wife and I have all wondered out loud, laughingly, and – wait – do you think the Holy Spirit put us together in 2005 and knew this was going to happen?

We’re now conspiring on how to take the new arrangement even further.

#3 – there was, at one of the churches I attended back in 2013, a newly installed Associate Pastor.  For some reason I didn’t interact with this person all that much, and transferred soon after anyway – as a matter of fact, I think I only introduced myself to her once.  Well, that person is now a Presbyter in another Presbytery and guess what – we’ve been in two work groups and a committee together, and regularly call to check in on one another.  Even though that initial meeting wasn’t as deep as with the two Jasons (J) it has served to be a great connection in both our roles, and we’ve become good friends, and – wait – do you think the Holy Spirit put us together in 2013, even for a  minute or two, and knew this was going to happen?

Honestly, I have so many stories about looking backwards, at a series of events in my life – over a period of years, some of them – and only later does the lightbulb of understanding go off and I can say, “Ok, God, I see what You did there. You pulled me out of that situation You knew was going to blow up, because it was also going to go sideways here, and put me in a safe place – a place I went under protest – and then when it was all clear You put me back where I was safe again and could grow.” Or “Ok, God, I see what You did there.  You knew that person was going to be important to me in the future, so You made a way for me to get to know them so that trust was deep enough that 15 or 20 years later we not only would be working together – and in very different roles than we were in at the time – but we would be doing it for You, and for Your people, and for Your Kingdom.  I see it now.” Or “Ok, God, I see what You did there.  You made me take that job because that skill that I developed that I wouldn’t have been able to develop anywhere else was going to be useful to me here. And that led me to meet that person, who let me take it even farther.  I get it.”

I told Meredith, after relating the Two Jasons story to her, that it was clear to me that everything I have ever done – all the jobs, all the Boards, all the work – all the skills I had developed – even the fact that I live alone now – led me to today, to be able to do this crazy Accidental Presbyter role I have.  And if I believe that – and I do – then I had better be prayerful and intentional about what I do today, because it is going to lead me to tomorrow.

Pope John Paul published a book in which he said “Fear not – God works every day in your lives.” I have lived through so many places, so many events, so many people, in my life that have come together for Him that I know He does.  And because of that, I have learned to stay as open to people – all people, all interactions – as I possibly can.  Because while I can’t see it going forward, I’m pretty sure God will do something with it.

Fear Not – God works every day in your lives.