From Pastor Caroline Smith (09.13.21)

“In order to be true to God and to ourselves we must break with the familiar, established and secure norms and go off into the unknown.” 
–Thomas Merton

Our church family, and my family, are “off into the unknown.” When I wrote last, we were saying our goodbyes and see you laters. Wilton Baptist Church is now sacred history and a cherished part of my past. Parkway Baptist Church is where God has led us, and we are on the path to join you. The kids and I arrived early to get the kids started in school, and Josh will join us as soon as he can. We are sad to have “left daddy behind”, but we are managing!

You may recall from my last letter that I am utilizing William Bridges’ descriptive phases of transitions. He defines the phases of transition as “the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning.” Today our family is in the neutral zone!

The neutral zone is a “wilderness” space. We are detached now from all that is familiar and moving toward something that is new and largely unknown. We are on a journey physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually toward a new calling. We enter the wilderness without any real idea of what will happen…but knowing the providential hand of God is leading! Robert L. Cohn points out in The Shape of Sacred Space, that “The wilderness is used most often in the Old Testament in reference to the forty years that the people of Israel spent between leaving Egypt and arriving in the promised land of Canaan. When the Israelites were later exiled in Babylon, they again saw themselves in a kind of wilderness. In both cases they were a people on the move, awaiting the fulfillment of divine promises. They were being purged of the old and primed for the new.” Right now I resonate totally with that assessment! 

It is important to learn what the Biblical record teaches about the wilderness. Although it can be a scary place because we are on the move, out of control of the old patterns, which are comfortable and provided familiar faces and places, it is an opportune place where we become more aware of God’s care and protection. Israel experienced God’s care and protection by the presence of the cloud by day, the fire by night and the manna God provided for them to eat. The message is clear: God provides for us in the wilderness. 

Check out the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the wilderness and you will discover that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness and ministered to him there. The chaotic middle phase of transition is precisely where we are most aware of our dependence upon the Lord and His provision. It is in the wandering wilderness that God speaks most clearly to us. God appeared to Moses at Sinai in the middle of the wilderness and gave the covenant that became central to Israel’s identity and relationship to God. So, the wilderness time is a very important time in our journey toward one another. 

Parkway Baptist Church has been on a wilderness journey as well during this transition phase. You have had some incredible people come and share God’s word for you in this transition. Your trust in God, and past experiences, have provided the basis for facing and moving through the inevitable chaos of change. Now is the time to redefine, renew, and recommit to the purpose and mission of those who envisioned a dynamic ministry at PBC. I want to commend you for the foundation of faith laid here and its past leadership that has established deep roots of Christian service in this community. God has done wonderful miraculous things in your midst. You have prevailed and in the wilderness you have discovered that God is leading you onward! Now together we must move from the wilderness to a dynamic new beginning of ministry and outreach. You and I together with God’s help are near the end of the wilderness experience. God is bringing us to a new promised land. 

Perhaps the most important attitude during the wilderness times is a basic faith that we can count on God to bring us through and to establish us again in His plan. 

 God says, “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert’ (Isaiah 43:19)

As we find one another in the wilderness and enter a covenant of trust in God, we both know that we will feel His steady radiance and are able to relax and focus on what we need to learn and what we need to do in this time. So, here we both are, at the end of the wilderness journey with the Promised land beckoning us together to enter. Here is what I have discovered about the wilderness experience: The wilderness quickens our dependence upon God and provides an aliveness and incentive to move that is in sharp contrast to the deadness and feeling of being stuck that often is felt before we begin the wilderness journey. The exhilaration of living and struggling in a vital life process brings us to greater purpose. In this way, our time of wandering toward God’s desire and our finding one another in community will yield a creativity and growth that both respects our heritage, deepens further our roots and produces fresh fruit.

Soon we will be looking at the last phase of transition, the new beginning. I can’t wait!

Until then…may the face of Christ shine through your actions and your being.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Caroline Smith