OK, I am sheepishly now going to admit something to you: I got Advent wrong! Usually, the first Sunday in Advent falls after Thanksgiving and we went about our sermon planning and prep as if that were so. Only it wasn’t! We were early by one week. You’d think a “religious professional” would get that right but…well…I didn’t. So we jumped into our Advent theme of “Inviting God” a little early. But I enjoyed the first strains of Christmas music last week and was blessed by Pastor Megan’s look at Mary’s life…and the hilarious videos about interruption. (I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in church in a long time!)
I have a number of things to share with you this week, so buckle up and hang on!
FIRST: One cool initiative that we launched (a week early) was a weekly newcomers’ table in the back where the pastors can welcome first-timers every week of Advent. And we did so by “mugging” them.
We presented newcomers with a beautiful Chapel Hill mug and then followed up with a pastoral phone call that day. We had nine first-time visitors; amazingly, five of the nine were from the 6:30 pm Saturday night worship service in the chapel, which is really starting to grow! (Don’t forget that option in case you can’t come on Sunday morning!) Of those nine first-timers, three wanted to become members,three wanted to join LifeGroups, one wanted to serve, and, best of all, one wanted to find out about following Jesus. And that was just one weekend!
Just know that if you take the risk of inviting your friend to Chapel Hill during Advent, they will receive a very hospitable welcome! (And by the way, our choir’s “When Hope Came Down” Christmas concert next weekend (Saturday, December 9, at 7:00 pm with an encore performance Sunday, December 10, at 1:30 pm) would be a great, low-risk way to invite an unchurched friend to experience Christmas at Chapel Hill.)
SECOND: We also had our first Beyond These Walls Session Update between services last Sunday. It was standing room only as we heard the report that our giving to eliminate our debt is about $500,000 ahead of schedule! We also heard about the foundational steps we are taking in preparing for the day when all our debt is gone and we can redirect $500,000+ annually to things “beyond these walls.” Good questions were asked and answered. And it looks like we will be close to eliminating another $500,000 of debt by the end of December. Thanks for your faithfulness! It’s very exciting.
THIRD: So many of you have been praying for Pastor Ellis and the White family; thank you! On Monday, our local Congressman, Derek Kilmer, sent a letter to the U.S. Consulate in London asking that the denial of the Whites’ visa be reconsidered. We appreciate the quick action on the part of his office, which continues to be very responsive. Unfortunately, the Consulate responded that the decision can’t be reviewed or appealed, so the Whites will submit another visa application with the help of an immigration attorney.
Please continue praying for the Whites and the Consular officials in London, who will soon be considering the new application and may conduct another interview with the Whites. In addition to working with Congressman Kilmer’s office, our “bring-Ellis-and-Rachel-back-home” team is reaching out to other government officials in Washington, D.C. who might be able to help. We hope to have more positive news to share soon. In the meantime, thanks for your prayers and offers of help.
NOW…I can confidently say that this weekend we (officially) kick off the season of Advent. O come, all ye faithful…come and worship Christ the king!