This a bittersweet time for me. I am preparing to leave my loving church here to take a call to ministry at a loving church in Ohio.
While I look forward to my future ministry, I also feel deep sorrow at leaving. My sorrow is not just because I am leaving the amazing and wonderful people at Riviera United Church of Christ, but because I am also leaving behind the amazing and wonderful places and people I have encountered in Brevard County.
I have found God's presence in so many places and people here. I wish I could list them all, but it'd take up this entire newspaper. Here are, however, a few examples.
To begin, our beaches are the best-kept secret in the world, if you do nothing else spiritual this month, go to the beach and listen to God's breath in the heaving waves and see God's handiwork in the hues on the blue-green sea. Or take a canoe out on Crane Creek and be surrounded by manatees old and young and see God in their adorable faces. Or just look up at the vast sky and take in the sight the tufts of white and gray hanging in a blanket as blue as God's eyes. Creation in Brevard County abounds with God.
So, too, does humankind in Brevard County. I've encountered the divine in places we tend to not think about God.
For example, there's divineness in the way "Sharon" at the Palm Bay Applebee's lovingly greets each customer and how "Phil" serves customers with kindness. There's also the way "Lou" and "Luke" at Lou's Auto fairly treat and care for you, as they care for your car and wave each time you walk by. Not unlike how "Liz" and the vet and the rest of staff at Rebecca Columbo's veterinary practice provide great care and sincere compassion to pets and their people alike. And honestly, in all my years here, I've yet to go to the Sun Shoppe and not receive kind and competent care by each employee there.
Finally there's a recent discovery of mine, Phil's Hair Studio. Phil is not only a great stylist, but one heck of a fine, funny and thoughtful person.
I've experienced God's presence in all these folks and businesses numerous times. And perhaps the most remarkable non-church places I've found God at work, are Brevard Family Partnership and Children's Hunger Project. Those folks are working hard for children and families, and I've felt God's presence soaking through and through their efforts.
This is by my reckoning the 61st God Matters column that I have written.
I started way back in October of 2008. So it seems fitting that, as I complete five years of writing God Matters, I am also completing the column.
Of course, a part of my sadness will be setting aside this little part of my life, too. I did not get paid for these columns, but I did get back lots of positive responses; it's been humbling.
Naturally, in the course of presenting progressive theology, there were some responses expressing dismay and concern and perhaps what, at times, could have been called loathing and hate.
I do regret that some have been offended by these columns, however, it comes with the territory.
I appreciate that progressive theology's primary focus on Jesus' supreme commandments to love everyone all the time clashes with other theological foci. I do not mean that derisively. There are other perspectives on God and Christianity; I get that. It's too bad that we seem to be unable to discuss and debate without disrespectful lambast and hateful dismissal of points of view that do not mesh with ours.
My hope is that this column over the years has presented God's call, and Jesus' primary teaching, for us to love one another.
Whether or not what I have written, or what others have responded with, has been experienced as love-centered is how I hope God's been heard through this column.
It is my belief that when we all follow love (God), then love (God) prevails and heaven breaks in. This is my understanding of Jesus' teachings, reflected succinctly in the prayer he taught, i.e., "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
In my final paragraph of this column I want to say good-bye and thank you, dear readers. I also want to leave you all with the benediction I say at the end of every church service.
Please know that I mean these words with all my heart for all of you: "Go in peace, knowing that YOU are loved and that YOU matter much." Amen.
The Rev. Scott Elliott is the pastor at Riviera United Church of Christ in Palm Bay. Visit Riviera UCC's website at rivieraucc.org. and his vlog at http://www.youtube.com/user/AGodVlog?feature=guide.