For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations (Isaiah 61:11).

Something has been growing in our county. Sure the annual Tomato Festival is right around the corner, but something much more important is at work. Christ’s church has been growing in grace. I see signs of this all around us, and I am not alone.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes coordinator at our county high schools recently noted, “What does heaven on earth look like? Churches from various denominations coming together to make God known.”

He was excited by so many of our congregations coming together after recent shootings involving local students. Despite any historic or current differences, we have come together as one to try to better meet the needs of our youth and nurture their growth. As a result, a new ecumenical youth program will be starting this fall on our high school campuses. It will be providing much needed mentors to our students and volunteers for our school staff.

This effort will help facilitate students being the body of Christ in our schools; seeking to bring the miracle of God’s mercy and justice into daily life through ordinary lives in relationship. Now, I doubt paradise will be fully restored, but imagine the lives that will be touched and hope shared. It will surely provide our youth a glimpse of heaven.

My own congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Mechanicsville, Va., is used to working with others. For over 35 years, the local food bank we helped start with two Episcopal and Roman Catholic congregations has grown and thrived. Today many of our neighbors are provided not only with much needed food but also assistance with clothing and other practical needs such as their utilities.

This year our frequent partner in ministry, All Souls Episcopal Church, has invited Messiah members to start a community garden initiative on their property. The hope is to provide fresh vegetables to area food banks like our own, which often have only canned goods. We long for this garden to become a truly community initiative — joining members of the food bank’s (now 37 and growing) congregations and recipient volunteers hand-in-hand in the field as we harvest the crop together.

Closer to home, Messiah announced on the Feast of Joseph, Guardian of Jesus, that we are a partnering church with the Change Who Waits program in Richmond. Remembering that we are adopted by God, we will study and talk about the adoption and foster-care system in Virginia.

Along with a growing number of local congregations, we will be invited to gather on May 5 to reflect upon the biblical mandate to care for orphans in our midst. Joining together in partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services (which is the legal guardian of the children in Virginia), foster care agencies (such as Lutheran Family Services, which recruits and trains potential adopting and foster parents) and participating churches, we hope to help find many children new forever homes.

Yes, spring has sprung all around us as evidenced by the flowering trees on our church property and in our neighborhoods but so has the Spirit — and it seems the Spirit is doing something spectacularly beautiful. I hope you will come and see for yourself!

Originally posted March 28, 2012, at 2pennyblog. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Lou Florio’s entry on the blog 2pennyblog at Lutheran Blogs.

Lou Florio
Lou Florio is the pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Mechanicsville, Va. Find a link to Lou Florio’s 2pennyblog at Lutheran Blogs.

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