At its annual banquet on Thursday, April 24, the Abington Community Taskforce honored New Life with its Citizens That Care Recognition Award for “Phenomenal Community Outreach.”  We also received at the same time certificates of commendation from the Abington Township Commissioners and from the Montgomery County Commissioners, as well as a citation from the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Abington Township certificate commends New Life for “extraordinary and dedicated service to Abington Township and its youth.”  The citation from the House of Representatives reads in part:
“The New Life Presbyterian Church was incorporated in 1974 and purchased the building at its current location on August 1, 1987.  To support its mission and vision, the church remains deeply involved with the Abington and Rockledge communities.  It sponsors an addiction support group and hosts American Red Cross blood drives, and it also created youth groups at Abington Junior and Senior High Schools, a car ministry for single parents, a nursery school and the New Life Thrift Store.  The New Life Presbyterian Church has been blessed with ministers and laypeople who strive to live in a manner that gives testimony to their spiritual beliefs.  Their faith, determination, generosity and stewardship have enabled the church to become a vital and inspiring presence in their community.”

Acts 2:47 tells of how the early church in Jerusalem “enjoy[ed] the favor of all the people.”  I believe we’re enjoying something of that kind now, an appropriate favor that flows from a recognition of the goodness of the fruit that the gospel has borne among us.

These were my comments at the banquet when I received the awards on behalf of the church:

We want to thank you for this award.  It is genuinely encouraging to us as a church community, for you to recognize us in this way, particularly because it comes for us as an affirmation, actually, of a course correction that we made fairly self-consciously about six or seven years ago.  Though New Life has a longer history of seeking to serve the community—our Thrift Store and Food Cupboard both had their beginnings in the early 90s—we as a church became increasingly convicted several years ago that we were really not involved in our community, seeking actively to bless our community, in the way that God would call us to do.  We had good partnerships in place with people doing good work in the City of Philadelphia and overseas, but that good work came somewhat at the neglect of our more immediate community.  So we were convicted, and as a result a number of New Life folks began to seek to function in a fresh way with our eyes open and our ears open to the needs of the wider community, and to combine prayers for the community with service and involvement in whatever ways presented themselves.  And that has been such a healthy thing for us as a church and for many of us as individuals—I can speak myself as someone who was born in Abington and graduated from Abington High School, that it’s easy to become blasé about a community that you know really well, especially if you’re a Generation Xer from the Northeast!  And that was something we needed to be rescued from, and I’m so grateful to have a fresh thankfulness for this place and determination to be part of blessing it.

There is a tension in the Christian church that you may or not be aware of, a tension between those who would emphasize the message of Christ and those who would emphasize acts of mercy.  And in fact I believe that it’s possible to fall off the horse on either side, to emphasize either one to the neglect of the other.   In true Christianity, the historic Christianity of the apostles, the two go together; the two need each other.  The message of Christ requires illustration in acts of mercy; Christian mercy requires explanation with words that give it meaning and foundation.  The message of Christianity in a nutshell is that Christ restores rebellious, broken people to a relationship with God.  But that newly restored relationship must always without exception express itself in a life of love and service.  The New Testament teaches that if Christians don’t love people, they’re probably not Christians—which is really humbling.  The Book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.”  On the other hand, for people like us, certainly for a person like me, external human activity apart from internal transformation can be just another way for us to be self-important and self-congratulatory.  The external life only has power if it flows from an internal life that’s been put right by God.

We at New Life are struggling to do both, to integrate the message with mercy, to put together actions with words.  We are doing this really, really imperfectly, and we have a long ways to go.  But we sincerely thank you for your encouragement to us as we try to walk down this road with integrity.  Thank you so very much.