abby-norman-story2.jpgSometimes your ideas aren’t always the best ideas, and that is okay. If there is one thing I am learning as a pastor, this is it. I am learning to listen well to my people, those who have been in the community for years, who really know the people and place God has called me to. I am learning to take their lead.

I started pastoring New Hope United Methodist Church almost a year ago in February. By April we realized something major had to change. And in May, with the blessing of my District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Quincy Brown, we shut down the church for the summer in order to re-imagine.

Rev. Dr. Quincy Brown challenged me to walk the neighborhood and ask the people I was supposed to be serving what would actually be a "New Hope" to the neighborhood. Pretty quickly, themes emerged: The people wanted to get to know each other, they wanted a place to be together, and they wanted activities for their kids to do.

So that’s what we did. We threw block parties all summer with hotdogs and squirt guns and a slip n’ slide, that mostly the kids used…but we couldn’t let them have all the fun. We sat around and learned each other's names and laughed as the kids soaked themselves and kept us cool too.

When fall came and we were planning our official opening, I was looking for a way to recreate the community space. I cooked up a fancy plan with a bonfire, a list of questions to spark conversation, and invited some neighborhood partners. It was going to be a lot of hustling for me, but I thought it would be worth it.

I was telling Sherri, the mama bear to the whole neighborhood, my plan. “Pastor Abby,” she said “That all sounds nice, but what people really want is a movie. We got that big lawn. Maybe we could have some free popcorn? A lot of people in the neighborhood don’t have a T.V. I have some DVDs at home. What do you think?”

I discovered, I may have the license to preach, but Sherri knows the heart of her people, who are also my people. We ditched my plan and put up a sheet. We found some free popcorn and sent an invite out on Facebook.

The night of the movie, 40 people showed up, half of whom had never been to the church before. I was not totally prepared. My laptop spontaneously wouldn’t work. I forgot we didn’t have the ability to stream. I didn’t exactly have enough bowls for the popcorn. I forgot the ice. My dog, who I thought would be so fun to bring, was swiping popcorn from toddlers and we started an hour late. I was mortified.

Yet, the miraculous thing was, no one else cared. Someone went home and got a bigger sheet. Someone else offered the bluetooth speaker from their car. And one person set up a hotspot so we could stream the video. It all came together.

The people were gracious and wonderful. And the best part of all, they wanted to know when we were doing this again. We. When were WE doing this again. We are doing it again in December. We are playing a Christmas movie, serving hot cocoa, and I will definitely have enough cups this time.

This is community at its finest.

Sometimes your ideas aren’t always the best ideas, and that is okay. Sometimes your execution is not perfection. That is also okay. But love each other deeply and listen, that is what matters. “For love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Learn more about Candler's Teaching Parish program.

This piece was originally published in the re:Vision newsletter of the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.