It was January of 1987. I had just finished my studies at the Alliance Theological Seminary by managing to squeeze three years into nearly four. Stephanie and I both had decent jobs, were happily involved in our church, had made some good friends and had a nice apartment. The idea of staying in Rockland County, New York for a little while was appealing.
But one day my phone rang, and on the other end was the jolly voice of an old friend named Jerry Palmquist. Jerry was the New England District Church Growth Director. He wanted to chat with me about an opportunity to start a church in Connecticut. I had gotten the bug for church planting in seminary, so I was interested. It was to be an Easter 100 church.
In 1987 the Christian and Missionary Alliance was celebrating its 100th Anniversary, and someone in the National Office came up with the clever idea to start 100 churches on Easter Sunday of 1987. A procedure was established, and each church was to receive $5,000. I had heard about Easter 100 while at seminary but was not that interested because it sounded kind of gimmicky. So when Jerry called, I was hesitant. One of the seminary faculty members and long time friend suggested that if I was really interested in church planting, this would be a good opportunity since it was a priority for the C&MA.
I ran the idea by Stephanie who responded by questioning my sanity. How could I think that moving into a community where we didn't know a soul and trying to start a church was a good idea? I didn't have a good answer except that I felt it was right, but I told her that I was willing to say no and to stay in Rockland until she was ready to move on. That offer must have meant something to her because she ultimately agreed, and we moved to Woodbury, Connecticut - to a road with an entertaining name, "Weekeepeemee" - which even thirty years later is never not funny.
When Jerry Palmquist was recruiting me, he told me that the key to successful ministry in New England was longevity. He had served nearly thirty years in the same church in Massachusetts, so he had first-hand experience. We moved to Connecticut on April 11, 1987, and on April 19 after following the prescribed procedure, we started "a long obedience in the same direction" called The Community Chapel.
Through the years we as a church have had success and failure; we have tried new things and have found comfort in the familiar; we have made many new friends and had to say goodbye to others. We have endured incredibly lean years - times when we didn't know if our church was going to survive, and we have also experienced God's rich blessings.
During those thirty years, I became "twitchy" a few times and thought about moving on, but Stephanie always kept me anchored. Although times of discouragement have been a part of the journey, a sense of God's call sustained us. Personally in those thirty years, Stephanie and I welcomed our daughters Abigail and Emma to our family and said goodbye to all four of our parents. Finally, I had to say good bye to Stephanie.
Thirty years later, I don't feel thirty years older, despite all of the notches on my belt. I feel like Caleb who after having to wait forty-five years to claim the land that God had promised him said, So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. (Joshua 14:10-12)
So to answer the question of my title "Where did all the years go?" They went into forming this church into the caring, Christ-centered community that I feel privileged to pastor. They went into growing me as its pastor, and they went into giving us a vision for our future.