We need to have difficult conversations

This is the offering meditation given by Elizabeth Evans on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017

Tall Oaks is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Greater Kansas City to provide a natural sanctuary for its constituents where life-changing and enriching encounters with God and a belief in Jesus Christ are sought. 

Reflecting the ecumenical spirit of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Center also provides facilities for outside groups to host meetings, camps, and conferences that promote a subtle, harmonious encounter with the natural environment in a retreat setting.

Church camps all over the U.S. are closing for financial reasons or lack of support.  Tall Oaks has been around for a very long time and is an amazing and important ministry.  Many of us have been there for different events and some of our regional ministers received their call to ministry in that space. 

Tall Oaks started worrying about how to be able to support themselves and be prepared for their future.  So they got to work, defining their goals and beginning the hard work of doing what needed to be done.  Here are their goals:

•    Support the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Greater Kansas City, its affiliated congregations, and their programs.
•    Serve people of all ages.
•    Meet the needs of guests in a courteous and timely manner while reflecting the love of Christ.
•    Maintain a secluded atmosphere that promotes preservation of our natural environment.
•    Provide clean, well-maintained, attractive facilities and grounds.
•    Offer well-prepared nutritious meals with ample amounts of food.
•    Supply well-trained staff for programs offered by Tall Oaks.
•    Strive to be operationally self-supporting while delivering facilities/services at a reasonable cost to guests.

To accomplish these goals, they began thinking outside the box, even outside the “church” box.  They started identifying partnerships with various organizations such as MDA, American Diabetes Association, sickle cell anemia, autism groups, and many others who may be interested in offering camp opportunities to their constituents.

They worked with the Christian Church Foundation to set up permanent endowment funds and let people know that Tall Oaks could be included in their estate planning to continue to grow their permanent funds.  The regional Disciples Women’s Ministry set up a fund to which contributions are made at multiple events including our semi-annual women’s retreats at Tall Oaks.  They established a “wish list” of things to help them improve their accessibility and overall camp experiences for those who have never had that opportunity.

On Aug 15 2017 Lowe's Home Improvement Stores came to Tall Oaks and spent the day.  Store managers, marketing staff and Loew’s contractors came from Arkansas to North Dakota and performed exterior makeovers for the buildings, landscaped the grounds, installed new furniture and fixtures (including ADA sink fixtures in all bathrooms), painted bunk beds, built fire pits on newly installed paver patios, added a deck to the dining hall emergency exit to make it easier for wheelchairs to quickly exit the building, and provided perennial plants for the entire camp. 

Over $250,000 in supplies, tools and equipment were invested in Tall Oaks that weekend and those donations will continue as Lowe’s now gives Tall Oaks first right of refusal for equipment to be donated from the local stores.  Valspar and Sherwin Williams donated all of their supplies for the weekend work.  There were more than 220 people – store staff and managers, contractors and marketing people who traveled to Linwood KS to make this happen for Tall Oaks.

I was at the women’s retreat a month later and it was amazing!  There was a large wedding coming in right after us and there are 36 events planned during the 31 days of October.  [By the way, if you would like to support Tall Oaks, the annual gala at Arrowhead Stadium is on Friday, Oct 13th]

We too have a mission and things to do in our community.  This congregation has a long history in this city of doing God’s work and being a witness to our faith. 

There is an amazing clothes closet for the entire Independence School District because of this church!  Salvation Army’s Crossroads receives regular support of food, supplies and Friday night meals from this church! 

Our special offerings will continue to provide significant relief in hurricane disaster areas!  And the list goes on.  But it is not enough to sit in a pew and put money in our collection plate and hope that things continue. 

It is time to have difficult conversations, define our goals, figure out what we are still called to do, and then get to work to ensure we will have what we need.  This building is paid for and yes it could use a lot of long-term improvements to be more energy-efficient or green (and we’ve started on that path), but it is a fantastic place with lots of space for lots of people and lots of uses. 

Yes, we are an older congregation who may not be as physically active as we once were.  But we have a lot of heart and wisdom and Christian spirit in this congregation, even if it sometimes gets buried in our infirmities and fussing. 

So I challenge us to put our money and our hearts into the collection plate, open our hearts to the Holy Spirit to not only sustain us for a little while, but to give us the courage to step out of our comfort zone and do the work it will take to be the body of Christ in our community. 

Think about what part you are willing to play in our preparation for our future as witnesses to the Glory of God in Independence, MO.  Then let’s get busy conversing and planning.