When the pastor of San Luis Obispo United Methodist church asks the pastor of Mt. Carmel Lutheran church if he can borrow some chairs, and the answer is “No,” there is something wrong.
Indeed there was: The hill our two congregations share was ablaze and the United Methodist church was completely engulfed. If you lived in San Luis Obispo in 2001, you may remember that fire!
When the United Methodist pastor called the Lutheran pastor, his request for chairs was met with an invitation. “Come worship with us.” And they accepted.
Their processional cross had survived the fire, so the congregation followed it and walked down the hill singing “Alleluia, Alleluia.” The sanctuary was overflowing with Methodists and Lutherans singing praise on Easter morning with the scent of smoke in the air.
That fire proved the flash point for a new relationship between these neighbors. The Methodists made a habit of borrowing chairs and tables and even the sanctuary while their Wesley building was being remodeled to hold worship.
United Methodist Pastor Nelson Stringer and Mt. Carmel Lutheran Pastor Russ Gordon have both moved on, but the warm feelings shared by Mt. Carmel Lutheran and San Luis Obispo United Methodist have continued to grow.
In fact, last spring when United Methodist leadership was planning for the grand opening of their new sanctuary, the first guests they wanted to welcome inside were their good neighbors, the Lutherans. The Sunday after Easter 2008, United Methodist Pastor Jane Voigts said, “Come and worship with us.”
And, as the pastor of Mt. Carmel, I accepted. We borrowed the old Methodist processional cross and followed it up the hill and into their new sanctuary singing “Alleluia, Alleluia.” That morning we relished being Luther-dists (or Meth-erans) in one place to praise God again.
What started out with a “No” that Easter of 2001, had turned into a resounding “Yes” in 2008.
I suspect some people drive past the Grand Avenue exit on Highway 101 and notice that there are two churches right next to each other.
Perhaps they assume we are competitive with each other, but actually we celebrate what we can do together and individually to further God’s work.
The friendship of these two congregations is just one example of the respect shared within the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association.
This group of congregational leaders from different faith traditions gathers once a month to share in conversation and support each other.
The highlight of our work together is the annual celebration of Thanksgiving. Join us and we will praise God in one place, not just as Lutherans and Method-ists, but as Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims, Presbyterians, Jews and many other spiritual traditions. Hope to see you there!
The San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association invites the public to join with them for “Our Cup Runneth Over,” an interfaith celebration of Thanksgiving on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. at Congregation Beth David, 10180 Los Osos Valley Road, San Luis Obispo.
Members of local faith communities will share in song, prayer and reflections as a way of expressing thanks for our many blessings and the richness and variety of the cultures and faith traditions in our community.
An offering of nonperishable food and money will be received benefitting the Prado Day Center, the Women’s Shelter and Loaves and Fishes.
Refreshments following the service.
For more information, contact Elaina Geltner at 805-458-7373 or Elaina@quietstar.com.
Rev. Marjorie Funk-Pihl is the Senior Pastor of Mt. Carmel Lutheran Church and a member of the Ministerial Association of San Luis Obispo.