By Rev. Kellie Anderson-Picallo
It’s the phone call nobody wants to receive. The words “the building is on fire” can barely be heard against the sirens in the background. And when the building is a 150-year old church and the sirens represent dozens of fire trucks and police responding to a 3-alarm fire, there’s no way to prepare yourself for the devastation a spark of flame can create. The Fire Marshall informed us we may never know what caused the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood NJ historic sanctuary and surrounding rooms to burn.
But here’s the thing: Sometimes a fire can spark hope and bridge a divide.
The initial phone calls and texts arrived in those first moments while Senior Pastor Rich Hong and I met the firefighters on the sidewalk across from the building. The texts and calls said things like “I’m the Rabbi at the Synagogue just down the street, what do you need?” And, “I’m with the Islamic Center just a mile away. How can we help?” Each outreach offered compassion – and action. Dozens of invitations poured in to offer space at synagogues, Catholic churches, Protestant churches, civic organizations, Islamic centers and on and on. On the night of the fire, all religious divides disappeared on that sidewalk.
As pastors we know how to bring the people to the pulpit. Through social media, the pulpit is brought to the people. Our FPC church yard sign proudly shares that we are worshipping down the street at Temple Sinai. When a synagogue member posted a snapshot of that sign on their Facebook page it was shared and liked more than 8,000 times in the first week alone. And it doesn’t matter if a worshipping community is in New Jersey or across the globe, the power of social media to connect is a pulpit like no other. A pastor in Norway just reached out to ask how they could help. Sometimes a fire can spark the reminder that God knows exactly how to keep all of God’s children looking out for each other.
We’re now approaching our first full month as a mobile and portable Christian worshipping community. For anyone who follows the rhythm of the church scripture cycle known as the Lectionary, you’ll note that we are right on target with the stories of the early church. They too didn’t have a building and had to rely on listening to God to direct all the next steps. We’ve grown fond of the word “portable.” Maybe because we’re comfortable with what it really means – that we are homeless. That the tables have been turned and instead of being the church that twice a year hosts Family Promise to shelter homeless families, it is now our turn to learn how to accept help. We have found shelter in the pews of a synagogue that is preaching as loud as any sermon that kindness, compassion, and willingness to lend a hand trumps any doctrine.
Last week the Rabbi Millstein joined us for our Sunday children’s sermon. He taught our kids what a mitvah was and opened the Temple’s Ark to show the kids the Torahs. The gasps of admiration were audible.
God can do that to you every time.
Rev. Kellie Anderson-Picallo is the Director of Mission Strategy at First Presbyterian Church of Englewood and an Auburn Media Senior Trainer.
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