Sunday was an exciting day for Oskaloosa! Not the kind of exciting most of us would like, rather, the kind of exciting that upsets our usual routines and asks more of us than we are used to offering in the slow moments of Sunday morning.
As many of you are aware, in the wee hours of this past Sunday morning, a large water main break left most of Oskaloosa without water--including the church building. As the morning went on and the severity of the situation became more clear, we made the decision to cancel worship and, instead, cobbled together what water we could and handed it out to our neighbors and friends. If someone needed water, we didn't want cost or not having a ride or the strength to go the store to get water to be prohibitive in having clean, safe water for drinking and basic human needs.
Calls were made to congregants with offers to deliver water to those who needed it. One of us delivered water to those at home. Another of us stayed at the church to hand out water to those who came by. Parishioners who live out of town brought water in from outside of Oskaloosa and stayed to help hand some of it out. The small handful of folx who came to the church building unaware that worship had been cancelled for a water main break were gracious in their discovery, and offered concern, support, and understanding.
Did we actually have to cancel worship services and all Sunday activities? No, we didn't. In fact, many churches chose this option with some modifications to their worship schedules and bathroom availability. But as I weighed the decision with other church leadership, I kept coming back to one thing I know to be true: Jesus never said "Worship me." He only over said, "Follow me."
And we tried. On Sunday morning we tried to follow the Way of Jesus. By offering water to anyone in need. Without hoops. Without strings. Without discrimination. Without stopping to inquire first if they were worthy. Without asking first how they voted in the last election or whom they love. Without having to worship with us first. We called upon some of the most vulnerable among us and tended to a most basic need of all living things: Water. Clean, safe, water.
By almost 11 AM - about the time we would have been getting done with our worship service, we ran out of water. We didn't try to scramble for more. By then we had heard Hy-Vee trucks were on the way to town. We simply offered what we could, how we could, when we could, trusting that just who we are and what we could offer was enough.
It was, most definitely, an exciting Sunday, and one that I will not soon forget. It was a day when, for me at least, the gospel came alive--jumped off the page, ran through our hearts, and opened our arms to our neighbors in the most basic of ways: Water. Clean, safe, water...for ALL who were thirsty.
Being church with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.