The pastor at a nearby congregation had a good friend in Bill Seagren, who was pastoring at Marquam and Carus UMCs. Some members from my previous church in California were his parishioners. I wrote of that here.
The three of us met for prayer a few times. I always longed for those prayer times to feel like the prayer times had felt in California. But they didn’t. While I hungered for the past, God had given me the present! It is essential to only live in the present! We met and prayed.
In January 1997, 2.5 years after I arrived in Banks, Dexter and I went to a seminar on church growth and prayer led by Pastor Dee Duke and held at his church, the Jefferson Baptist Church. Dex fit into the story last week. Check it out. Glen and Ronda, who pastored in Cottage Grove, had told me about the conference. Glen and I and our families had been friends for over a decade since seminary. I’d told Bill about this event, so he too came with one of his parishioners.
We all met up at this conference. It was a great event filled with worship, teaching, small group interaction, and challenges to take steps to build disciples. The last aspect of the seminar dealt with every pastor’s need for a small accountability group. The one I had been in with Mark and David had ended a few months previously. I knew I needed others in my life.
After Pastor Dee had issued his challenge to not leave without committing to such a group, the conference ended. Bill, Glen, and I, sitting beside one another, began to put away our belongings. Ronda, eight months pregnant with their fourth child, had stood for most of the conference and was then standing behind us as we stowed our gear.
Ronda is richly gifted in the Holy Spirit. She is passionate about Jesus and has a deep sensitivity to His voice. She is also a clear, no-nonsense communicator. “Well?” she said over our heads. Again, she harrumphed, and said, “Well?”
We stopped gathering our things and looked up. She was looking down at the three of us as if we knew what she was thinking, while Dexter and the other friend looked on. She must have seen the dumb expressions on our faces, for she said, “Well, boys, when are you going to begin?”
“Begin what?” Glen asked. Then, caught her drift and said, “Oh. You are thinking we ought to begin meeting together?”
“Clearly, you cannot just hear such a challenge to the call for accountability and walk away?” She said, smiling. “So, when are you going to begin, men?”
We felt like we were boys caught stealing from the cookie jar. We were going to walk away saying “What a great conference,” without applying what we had heard. We looked at one another sheepishly.
“Right, guys,” Glen said, taking charge, “When can you meet?”
We agreed on a day in March since Glen and Ronda’s child was due in February. Dee had suggested using a simple format: share honestly and vulnerably about the good, the bad, and the ugly in life and pray for one another. So, in March we met at Bill’s church, an approximate halfway point, and began with a simple structure of worship, each of us taking time to share the highs and lows, and any points of confession. Then, we would pray with the one who had shared. We met monthly, taking a day apart at one of our church buildings.
Later, Rand joined us. This became our core group. As we shared in this life walk together, we grew. Patterns were exposed and changes made. We held one another accountable for decisions. We asked about points of struggle. We fasted, prayed, believed, and stood alongside one another through some incredibly tough times. These guys were then and still are rocks to me. As I encountered huge hurdles in life due to my own recovery and family challenges, they listened, counseled, and encouraged me. Mostly, they heartily loved me. It astounded and staggered me how much they loved me. Their hugs were sustaining.
None of us see ourselves as others see us. We live life not knowing what others encounter.
Even with facetime or zoom online communication, how we see ourselves is not how others see us. Through what these brothers shared with me, however, I caught who they saw and what they encountered in me. It was not what I thought of myself. Struggling with low esteem, deep heart grief, fears, and my own crisis in masculinity birthed by Sherwood’s abuse when I was a child, I needed these new relationships and male voices to reframe this self-image. They did this for me time and again. Whenever we met, I always left more in touch with myself and with Jesus.
One year, I hosted Larry and Audrey Eddings for their Holy Spirit Healing Retreat in Banks. The guys all came and brought parishioners with them. Having all practiced listening, prophetic prayer as part of the retreat, we changed our format. Before each of us began sharing, the others would take a few minutes of silent, listening prayer to seek a word from God for the one about to begin. This became so powerful. Often in the words spoken, God addressed a need in the one about to share. Sometimes the words spoken changed the direction of what one had planned to share, for God uncovered something unremembered. God used these experiences to shape us.
Over the years, we each changed pastoral appointments and continued to meet. After 17 years of meeting together, Glen and Ronda moved out of state to Texas to be near their children. For the next three years, we would pull Glen into our meeting times via phone call whenever he was available. He and Ronda continued to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, completed missionary training, and now serve as missionaries in Portugal. Bill and Jenny, his wife, left a few years later in 2017 for Prague to serve as missionaries as well. Our group had changed!
Rand and I continued to meet monthly after Bill’s departure. It had become more and more challenging to incorporate our internationally based brothers. With the pandemic, Glen organized us into a second Saturday Skype call, with Bruce joining us, who is another brother who had also spent years with us.
All of us are clear, without this group we would not have become who we are today. The steady rhythm of a monthly gathering, confession, vulnerability, prayer, support, and encouragement was lifegiving to each of us. Together we were a band of brothers we could count on. There was and still is love and support there unparalleled.
Who do you have in your life who puts skin on Jesus?