by Rev. Margaret Smart-Wheaton
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you.
He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
There are a lot of emotions running in my house right now. After 16 years at First Baptist Church here in St Marys my ministry has come to its completion and we are preparing to leave and set up our home in Stratford. When Merley and I arrived here we were newly married, freshly graduated from McMaster Divinity College and excited about all that the future held. In the last 16 years we have learned so much about ourselves and what it means to hold on to and live out the commitments we made to one another and to God. We have welcomed three beautiful daughters and been refined in the trenches of marriage, work, parenting and life. Throughout all of this growth and change our church family has provided a safe and loving place to struggle and grow and see God’s hand upon us. The community of St Marys has been such a beautiful home and we have been blessed daily by the people here. So, there is a house full of people who are sad to be stepping away from such beauty and yet excited to step out in faith trusting that God is preparing an equally wonderful adventure down the road.
As this is my last article for the Independent I would like to say a few things to the community that has been my home these last 16 years:
First of all, “thank you so very much.” You have been a community where I have felt welcomed with warmth and kindness. Thank you for inviting me to meetings, ceremonies and gatherings of so many shapes to share words of faith and encouragement. I have been honored to participate on committees, in groups and to work alongside amazing people. My family and I have so many wonderful memories of playing in beautiful parks, enjoying carnivals, festivals, theater productions and many walks to the ice cream store. For wonderful schools, down town shops that delight, a faith community that works together and most of all for so many people who have blessed our days – thank you.
Secondly, “you are loved. “ It is not uncommon for people to start confessing how long it has been since they were in church the minute they find out that I am a pastor. The mere presence of a minister in a room can make people start feeling guilty – even if they are not sure what for! But the reason that I do this work has nothing to do with guilt and everything to do with love. The life of faith entails many things which I have written about here, but this living starts with and flows from knowing and receiving the love of God. I have known and trust in the incredible love and forgiveness of God which has never failed me. I want every person to know this love. So, I pray that you will know you are loved.
Finally, I want to encourage you with these words, “Don’t be afraid.” There is much to be afraid of in our world but when we focus on and live from fear it is difficult to take risks, to love well, to live light. As I step out in faith to an unknown future there is much that I am afraid of. I worry about finding meaningful work, I am concerned about finances, about my kids adjusting to new schools and most of all about what life will look like without my church and community. I have fear but what I cling to is God’s assurance, “Be not afraid I go before you always come follow me and I will give you rest.” Even though I know fear I remember that 16 years ago God blessed us greatly by bringing Merley and me here to St Marys. I know and trust that God goes before me now preparing the next step on my journey. So, please hear me when I say, “don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid to make a change, to step out into the unknown, to take a risk, to welcome a stranger. Most of all don’t be afraid to trust that the Lord who loves you goes before you – do whatever you need to in order to know and follow Him.