george hancockstefanIn November 2014, I was invited to give the sermon for the 100th Anniversary of the First Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago.  I was one of the 10 pastors that served the church and I have known 8 of them, myself included.  I served there only 7 years, in comparison with others who served 17 and 26 years.  Out of the pastors that served, 5 are still living and preaching the gospel in various parts of the United States.

While I was thinking of the pastors that impacted the lives of the thousands that have been members of the congregation, I was also thinking of the many people in that congregation that impacted my life and the life of my family in ways that they were not even aware.

An old couple in their 80’s used to come to church every Sunday.  Their family brought them to church, but as they would climb the stairs of the church and participate in worship service, they would hold hands.  They were married in the old country when both of them were sixteen and now, over sixty years later, they were still in love with one another.

We were blessed to have some great musicians. Some of them grew up in the church and now they play in international orchestras or are ministers of music in large churches.  Some continue to be musicians in small churches because God is worthy to be praised.  One such musician was our pianist, who was crippled with arthritis, but pleaded with us to allow her to play as long as she was able. We knew that every note was played with pain, but we loved to hear her play, for in her playing she weaved her physical plain with praise to the Lord who gave her the gift of music.

We were blessed to have some wise deacons. I arrived to the church in my thirties after serving in an American church, and they knew that while I was ethnically Romanian, there were things that I forgot, such as allowing my elders to always speak first in our meetings.  I learned to honor my brothers and they have learned to honor their pastor.  While in my current congregation, almost everyone calls me Pastor George, in the Romanian church, I always addressed my elders by their last names.  In our American setting, it is understood that when a Pastor retires, he stays away from the church for at least two years so that the new pastor assumes his full leadership, while in our ethnic churches, he receives the title of honorary pastor and is always present in the worship service.

My family was blessed to live on Sundays in a holy community that reflected the apostolic community.  Because we lived in the environs of Chicago and because we had two services – one in morning preceded by the prayer hour and Sunday school classes and one in the evening preceded by choir rehearsal and youth service, we stayed the whole day in the church building.  What created the holy community, in addition to the various spiritual activities, were the extensive tables set with lots of food prepared by the custodial family that lived in the church parsonage. When the evening service was finished at 8:00 PM, most of the guys would stay for another hour and play ping pong.

I was invited to speak at the Anniversary because many of the members felt that I brought new energy, vitality, and sometimes I stretched them beyond their comfort zones.  They invited me back because they felt that I made an impact on their lives. However, as I was reflecting on that, I could see how much they have impacted me.  I was thinking of a line that I have heard and used often, of a deacon praying at the installation of a pastor in a new church, “Dear Lord, thank you for giving us a good pastor.  Now, we pray and promise you that we will make him better.”  I praise God that when I left the First Romanian Baptist Church, I left a better pastor because of what the congregation had done for my life.