Rev. Dr. Chandra Soans
I am glad you are here to know about me. Thank you.
As an ordained minister of the Church of the South India (CSI), I have had the opportunity to understand the positive and negative aspects of the episcopal system and model of the church. One of the drawbacks of the CSI is the ladder of power in which power trickles down from the top to the bottom. At the very bottom of the ladder are the laity and common people. Absolute power is vested in the hands of the Bishop at the top. Yet, I dreamed of a true church modeled after the Apostolic Church of the New Testament. The Church of the New Testament was always a democratic church. In it there was no hierarchy; everyone was equal and there was no distinction of haves and have nots. It was a beautiful church that always looked for the welfare of others where all members were equal stakeholders. I am deeply thankful to God for allowing me to achieve my dream. Grace-Trinity UCC is a model church for others to follow. I am not simply bragging about my church. It is really one of a kind. At Grace-Trinity, every member shares the ownership of the church and everyone gladly partakes in the activities of the church.
The Pennsylvania Southeast Conference (PSEC) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) call Grace-Trinity ‘A Small Wonder’ in Philadelphia. For me, the 22 years of Grace-Trinity is not a small wonder. It is a big wonder. When God does it, God does it big. Therefore, my friends, today we are celebrating 22 years of God’s ‘Amazing Grace’; we are celebrating 22 years of God’s faithfulness. Out of nothing God created Grace-Trinity. Out of chaos God has brought forth something that is beautiful. Can anyone take credit for the success of Grace-Trinity? Paul, a celebrated apostle and a theologian, says in Galatians 6:14 boast only in the Cross of Christ. Hence we boast only in God’s faithfulness. We are all simply partners in God’s mission. Therefore, this anniversary celebration is nothing but thanksgiving service, remembering God’s goodness and kindness to this wonderful church.
When the Israelites crossed the river Jordan and when they reached the promised land, God commanded them to pick up 12 stones from the river and set them up to be a memorial unto the people of Israel forever (Joshua 4: 1-9). Bible says that these stones are there even to this day (Joshua 4:9). Behind those stones exists a long history of God’s goodness and faithfulness. It also reminded them to live a life of gratitude and thankfulness. Grace-Trinity in its 22 years of faithful journeying has picked up many stones.
It is not enough to live in the nostalgia of the past, but we have to move forward with much vigor and strength to achieve greater things for God in the future. William Carey, the Father of modern mission, once said, “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” Since God is the one who will be giving us the result, our job is keep attempting things for the kingdom of God.
Where do we go from here? As a church we have achieved a lot in 22 years. My wife always reminds me saying,” Whenever you start something new, you end up getting overworked until it stabilizes. You are not getting any younger!” She is right. However, to bring something new into its existence is not something easy and we have to work hard. But my philosophy of ministry is something different. For me, qualitative growth and quantitative growth should keep happening all the time in ministry. When we reach the point of stagnation, we are heading towards death. In ministry this must not happen. The church exists only to bless people, and thus we should attempt to bless as many people as possible at all times. Is it enough to have a beautiful church, five Pre-School Centers with 500 children, and a Housing Ministry? Is it enough to have 80 people being well employed by this church? Is it enough to provide green cards to only 3-4 families of the church? Is it enough to transform only the Frankford neighborhood? Don’t we have the dream of founding similar beautiful Grace-Trinity-like churches on other cities? Don’t we have the dream to reach out to 1000 families with high quality early childhood education? Don’t we have the dream to help other Philadelphians achieve their own American Dream by making them homeowners? Don’t we have the dream to create more sustainable jobs with benefits to another 200 people? Don’t we have to transform other neighborhoods in Philadelphia as well?
We have to expand our tent to accommodate more people and to bless more people; we have to expand our sphere of influence. We heard very clearly from Rev. Geneva Butz on July 3rd, the command of Jesus telling us, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out more laborers into the harvest field (Luke 10:2). I sincerely hope that what we have achieved so far is just the beginning and we have a long way to go. We can go a long way only if we believe with Paul that it is Christ who has begun the good work in us, Christ who will carry it on, and Christ who will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).
If we truly believe we are doing God’s ministry, it should keep going and we should keep growing – God’s work has no end point. But in all of our ministry attempts, the highest truth and values should guide us and we should live up to those expectations that demand a high standard in everything we do. We should not attempt anything with selfish ambition, but do it for the good of all and for the glory of God. Long live Grace-Trinity and its ministry. May God be our constant helper.
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God Bless You!