Not Here by Chance


This is the covenant that guides the wildly vital life of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. (You can read it at http://www.oakhurstbaptist.org) Written in 1977 by a number of mostly laypeople some of whom are still finding their life on the corner where the “covenant stone” now rests. Karen and I joined only a year after it was written and born and raised both daughters in its light. The covenant continues to be living body of thought for sons, daughters, rising and setting stars, recovering and revolutionizing people ever since. It was amended in 1997 to broaden Galatians 3:28 to exclude distinctions in sexual orientation and mental ability. God only knows what other distinctions will be excluded next, but I would note that my golden retriever, Jessie, once walked the aisle on a snowy day to join and was accepted. ( I believe that even the Apostle Paul would have recognized Jessie’s faithful heart.)

The covenant invites, not contains, reminding me of the the way the banks of a delta river guide, more than hold, the vital flow. And like a river, you can never visit the same Oakhurst twice.


John Shippee offered up the prayers of the world this day (those prayers being pretty much the only constant in the order of service for the past 30 years). John’s language is usually the superabundant eruption of Old Faithful. But today–on his 67th birthday– all of us could hear that the cancer is back. He asked for our grace as he read his prayer. I can’t remember a single syllable, but I am sure God took good notes and got to work on them. But you could feel the depth, ache and reach as he prayed, not for himself, but for the green and glorious, bloody and lonely world.

Curt Armstrong, the leader of the local l’arche community, spoke to the last line we pledged, “with God’s help and the help of my sisters and brothers in this fellowship, I make this covenant.” Echoing Jean Vanier, he distinguished between productive and fruitful fellowships and the way that our blended vulnerabilities lead us to healing as they pull us toward relationships. Incompleteness is a grace, when experienced in fellowship. So is the ache of never-to-be-completedness.


I thought of other days when we stood by the stone and read the covenant.
One sunday I even preached and said that the test of a covenant is that it would not be fulfilled in ones life, but would be found valuable enough to be picked up when we laid our lives down. I had no idea what I was talking about, of course, assuming I would always have time. Now I see that my very best thoughts and visions call me far beyond my little self for I will not see them complete.

The Congregational Health Network also has a “covenant” that calls us beyond ourselves to the beloved dream of a Memphis that looks more like what God had in mind when he made the river flow just beneath the bluffs and across the rich delta. This is a baby covenant, alive only three years and living among only the first 311 congregations. What will it be in 2045 when it will be 34 years old like Oakhurst’s is this day? Will it still stir the heart of young and old and call out prayers by the sick on behalf of the well? Will it still feel young, wild and possible only with God’s help and the help of the sisters and brothers in the fellowship?

May it be, Lord, please may it be.

– Posted on the journey

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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