October 15, 2017
First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa was full this morning; full of worshipers and full of faith. The members of Christ United Methodist Church also joined them. Using words from the Book of Job, Pastor Blake Busick gave witness to his dependence on and faith in God even in the worst of circumstances. He and his family lost their home and all their possessions in this week’s fires, but with tender love for his flock he guided the congregation to trust in God and to pray and support each other. He reminded all of us, of those less fortunate whose future is in extreme jeopardy – care givers, gardeners, hotel workers, and others who have no insurance, and now no jobs. They are in need of our support as well.
Associate Pastor Lindsey Kerr held up the story of Paul in prison who calls us to hope in God; real hope, the kind that waits for God for that which we cannot yet see. She encouraged us to believe in the hope of one like Paul, imprisoned and suffering yet never losing hope in what God would do to save him and will do to save us.
Choirs from the Fijian language community of faith and Christ UMC stirred our hearts. When I asked the children what we should pray for they named the need to pray for those who died, those who were hurt, those who lost their homes, the fire fighters and police officers, and the animals. They lifted up the prayers that were upon all our hearts.
First Santa Rosa church has a second campus in the Stoney Point community. They too gathered for worship and filled their worship space as well. Tears flowed in this second service. One woman could no longer contain the trauma of having had to search for her missing sister over several days. Her sister was found alive and well but the trauma of a loved one lost in the path of powerful fires is horribly cruel.
Holy Communion at both services reminded us of the love of God and the presence of Christ Jesus, our Redeemer who feeds us at his table and strengthens us. Never has it felt more meaningful for me to serve God’s people at our Lord’s table than it did this morning.
A feast awaited us after the worship services. Persons who were staying at the church because they had been evacuated and could not yet go home were there, joined by church members and volunteers. A neighbor who had sent his three young daughters to help at the church shelter, was there to extend his support and appreciation for the church’s work.
Persons had so much to share about their experience. How quickly the fires came. Pastor Sekove Veisa, one of the pastors at First UMC Santa Rosa and our Conference Fijian ministry coordinator shared that he learned about the fires when his son called him at 3 in the morning this past Monday all the way from Fiji and told him that Santa Rosa was being consumed by fires. Others grieved the loss of their homes and neighborhoods, and not knowing where their neighbors are today. All agreed, however, that their experience has been one of neighbors saving neighbors. They are all thankful to God to be alive.
A young doctor from Russia with her mother who had moved to Santa Rosa to join the medical staff of a local hospital later this month has been at the church’s shelter all week as one left homeless. She is a psychiatrist and is preparing to serve in this community that will need much support to address the emotional impact of the destruction that has been inflicted upon them. Those who have come to know this young doctor and her mother admire the care and love they share between them, speaking of their mutual care and love as a model for others.
One Anglo woman all alone at the shelter told me that one night she asked if she could sleep with the Fijian women. They welcomed her into their circle. She was amazed at their sense of sisterhood. She wanted to be a part of that sisterhood. They have included her in their night singing, story-telling, and back rubs. But she really felt that she had made it into the sisterhood when in the morning they gave her work to do in the shelter.
As we shared the bountiful meal before us, and listened to the stories of life and faith, some of our Fijian brothers and sisters began to sing at a corner table. In full harmony, they sang in a way that comforted all of us. At the end of the last song, I asked what the song was about. A Fijian woman said, the title of the song is, “God’s Love is Enough.”
God’s love is always enough. What I experienced today was God’s love through pastors, church volunteers, those who have been left with nothing but who are by their own account, more ready today to love than ever before because they have experienced God’s love in their moment of great suffering.
As Rev. Linda Caldwell, our Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration and our disaster response leader, and I left our church in Santa Rosa, a team from Epworth UMC in Berkley was arriving, full of love ready to relieve the local volunteer team. On Tuesday, the Epworth volunteers will be relieved by a team from Loomis UMC. It is amazing what God can do when we allow the fullness of God’s own love to fall upon us and flow through us.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño