When purchasing or renting a new location to live in, several factors come into play. Not the least of these is the neighborhood or surrounding community in which the home is located. It's not enough to merely find a good house, for it could possibly sit on a dangerous street or be bordered by graveyards. The area could be a place where angels (or police) fear to tread, or be prone to frequent flooding, tornadoes or meteor strikes. The residence is placed within a neighborhood, which is positioned in a city, that holds a particularly place in a county, that is part of a state. You don't just live where you live. You live in a system of places that are intertwined together.
It is because of this that our family wails, with resounding lamentations, the necessity to move away from our beloved Fate, Texas. It's not merely that we have never been this involved in a community, we have never dreamed of being this involved in a community before.
It all started when I became the senior pastor of what was then called Genesis Community Church (later renamed Woodcreek Bible Church). Because the church needed a serious shift in community involvement to revitalize, I had an eye for whatever opportunities might arise. I began immediately to preach on "exterior ministry" so that congregation members would develop an instinct for blessing the surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, when the fire chief approached me at the National Night Out event for the City of Fate in fall of 2007, I was very open to serving as the chaplain for Fate Fire Rescue, though I did not know yet what I had gotten into. I am so glad that the chief approached me, and that I entered into that ministry to the fire department.
I was a pastor, but now also a chaplain. These are distinct realities. Some of the pastor nature comes out in chaplaincy, but it is much more characterized by being "present" with the members of your department, living life with them and being available for them to glean from you what they need - not to preach to them what they need. Being the fire chaplain also gave the opportunity to be part of both of the larger "families" of the brotherhood of the fire service" and the Federation of Fire Chaplains. The City of Fate even funded for me to receive FFC training at their annual conference last fall. There my wife and I not only developed a greater understanding of the "calling" of a fire chaplain, but also made life-long friends there who also served their departments in this way. It was a dream come true to serve my local community as a spiritual comforter, guide and helper; all the while being part of a larger guild of fire chaplains with a rich heritage and deep sense of conviction for "serving those who serve." The Federation left me with a severe desire to, hopefully, serve in such a capacity again in the future.
Because my role as fire chaplain allowed me to get to the know city leaders as well, this network had the unlikely effect of creating a good relationship with city council members and city staff. This was such a delight - to walk down Main Street and wave at most cars driving by. I became one who any personnel associated with the city could wave to with a friendly greeting. Sheriff's officers, city workers, fire dept personnel, city office staff, it didn't matter. This had become "my" town. Not that I "owned" it, but truly it had come to "own" me, and that was a wonderful feeling. All of these sentiments are embedded in the compact term "community."
I had been the fire chaplain for approximately six months when the newly elected mayor asked me to consistently offer the invocation at city council meetings when it convened. His desire was to simply entrust that responsibility to someone who would make sure it occurred, so that he would not have to concern himself with it again. It would just be taken care of. I agreed to perform this duty and privilege. As a result, I prayed for the City of Fate whenever city business called for an invocation (this meant council meetings, but also included park dedications and Chamber of Commerce luncheons as well). There is a sense in which I became the "city chaplain." Not to overplay my importance, but the town is small enough that this is how it "felt." I cannot say enough about how wonderful a feeling it is to minister to a city in the manner I had the privilege to do in Fate. I can't imagine such a scenario playing out in the same way elsewhere ever again. Fate, Texas was the "system" we became integrated into, and it worked its way into us.
It is this "system" paradigm that makes us so curious about what will happen in Houston. In what "system" will we find a new home? Will it present opportunities to know the local community well? Will the local fire department welcome our supportive involvement? Do they need a chaplain?
When you buy a new home (actually we're trying to rent a house until we get established in the community - then we'll look to buy a house), you buy a system. You don't merely acquire a new home, you acquire a neighborhood that's in a community, that occupies a particular place in a city, that has a distinctive place in the state, that contributes something unique to the country, that has a unique effect on the world. For this reason, one should enter into a new home with the understanding that you're acquiring a new "system" that may very well be the conduit of your impact on the world. These things go through our mind as we search for a new home in the Houston area. Indeed what "system" will we acquire there, and what will be our place in it.
Surely the Lord has fashioned our family to look for such "system" experiences wherever we go, and our beloved Fate has been the expression of it here.