I cannot believe I have finished my second year at Duke Divinity. Only one more to go! As the dust of another year in seminary settles around me, I find myself reflecting on events from the past year. One of the more vivid and unfortunate ones was the departure of Jason Darden from the FUMC church staff. Darden was one of our youth ministers, and has since moved on to become the Youth Director at North Raleigh UMC. While I was sad to see a good friend and amazing minister leave, I, and many others, are proud of Jason and excited about his new work in a new church, and wish him the absolute best.
On Darden’s final Sunday at FUMC Cary, he came over to 1st on Chatham campus to worship with us. After the service, I said goodbye to Darden, not knowing exactly when I would see him again, gave him a big hug and walked away. A few minutes later I came through the back hallway that Darden had exited through, and found him there leaning against the wall, crying. I asked him about it, and he said he didn’t want to say goodbye to my boss, Colin Snider. I have known Darden for a little over a year, which included a few moments of growth, ministry lessons, and constant laughing. Darden and Snider go back much further. They have experienced the ups and downs that come with a career in ministry. The days of light where the transformation of Christ can be seen and appreciated in the lives of those around you, days where it feels impossible to keep your eyes open outside because the sun is so high; as well as the days of darkness when one wonders in brutal honesty, “where is God in the midst of this dying world?” These guys have seen some stuff, and often times they have seen it together. I briefly left Darden to clear out my guitars from the backstage room, only to find Colin Snider crying for the same reason Darden was. And then it hit me: this type of camaraderie that exists between two grown men, a type of togetherness that causes them to cry when one of them has to leave, might be what the church is all about.
Jesus has this killer quote in the gospel of John when he says that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend (John 15:13). In this moment, in the midst of the exodus of Jason Darden, standing between two men grieving the loss of one another as office mates, lunch buddies, and partners in ministry, I was reminded of this love. These days the church at large offers a lot. Some offer light schemes and music equivalent to that of a rock show. Some offer world-renowned speakers that could inspire you to do anything. Some offer Starbucks coffee and pastries that are sold in the lobby of the worship center. But I find myself reminded in this moment of reflection that the good churches, the ones worth staying with, offer the type of love that I observed during Darden’s departure between he and Snider. It’s a love that allows God to show up in the form of a human, in order to save humanity. It’s a love that allows a group of individual churchgoers to walk through live together. It’s a love that makes grown men cry. This is the love of Christ, reflected and practiced by the church. It’s out there, and it’s real, and if you haven’t yet seen it or experienced it, then take my word: one day, you will. This love comes from God, and its coming for you.