Eight years is a long time to be somewhere. Those years represent your life, your time and the changes you’ve been through. Eight are the years I spent in a community of people who came from different cultures, life experiences and even heartaches. People who merged together weekly to learn more about God and share our journeys of faith. People who helped me grow and discover the young woman I was becoming.
This community is my church home in Orlando. I landed on the doorsteps of Discovery Church in February 2005 after moving to central Florida for a new position with my job. I grew up in a black southern Baptist experience and my connection to church goes back to my childhood beginnings: memories of Sunday School lessons with the late Mrs. Maxine Tucker, singing in the children’s choir at First Baptist off Gresham Road, being dressed to the nines for Easter Sunday and feeling the humidity of those hot Georgia summers during Vacation Bible School. I know a little something about the church.
Being connected to a community of people who desire relationship with God has always been a part of how I experience the world. Moving to Orlando meant that along with all the other new things I needed to do – find a doctor, change my car tag, get a new license – I wanted to find a church to call home and start new relationships.
I didn’t want to church shop. I wanted to go to a place that felt welcoming and God’s truth was being shared and would know “this is where I should be.” On my first visit to Discovery, I knew “this is where I should be.” The sermon messages constantly spoke right to my soul and truth was being preached. I was all of 26 years old and started building relationships and developing community in a church that wasn’t quite mega in its size but wasn’t mini either.
I joined a diverse group of 25 college and post-college folks who were in our early to mid-20s. The church offered several groups like this one, designed around similar seasons of life and interests of people to help them grow spiritually. Our group learned about community as we unpacked the truths of the Bible and understood more of God’s plans for our lives. My group leaders were Peter and Lynn and we all had one heck of a time together.
Desiring to learn more about nutrition and good body weight management, I also connected with a small group of women, led by the incredible encourager Deb and built more relationships in my church. Fall of 2005 brought with it the unexpected death of my father James that devastated me to my core.
Pastor Berry, our church’s care pastor, joined me in my loss, providing resources to help me put words to this shocking grief and understanding how to mourn. Several months later I became a part of the church’s first-ever Grief Share group, which met over 10 weeks and walked through messages that helped us process and heal from the deaths of those we deeply loved.
Months would merge into years at Discovery that included more connections in deep ways through more small groups and Bible studies I joined: a “9 to 5” group for professional young women navigating the twists and turns of life as we pursued God and a creative group for photographers, writers and filmmakers who set out to document stories of hope, justice and faith locally in Orlando.
I regularly attended Status, our 20-something weekly gathering for young people at Discovery. Status was full of real good music, real good people and real good messages that challenged me to grow and commit more of myself to the faith I believed in. Status was also a place where I worked through a cute crush on a cute guy. The experience helped me learn more about myself, relationships and the value of being in community with others.
More years zoomed by and I committed more of myself to Discovery, a gathering of people in a simple building who illustrated the family of God to me and his heart for his church. It’s not just a church, it’s my church and it’s part of my identity and it’s place that’s safe and invites me to learn and serve. I began serving with the hospitality team, offering my warm smiles and soft hellos as a church greeter for a couple of years. I then followed a passion to encourage others and joined the prayer team for a season. I provided a listening ear to those who needed someone to talk to after our Sunday services and pray for them.
My heart soon led me to invest in Discovery’s children’s ministry and I became a teacher for the orange and green room aka the 5 and 6 year-olds. What an adventure those years were! Kids are just hilarious. Investing in their lives and seeing them respond constantly to God’s love with their beautiful faith overwhelmed me. They reminded me that goodness still thrives in this very fallen and broken world.
While serving the kids I also connected with a new group of women at the church and started attending a new small group for 20 and 30-something women. We were a little group at first and over time more women have come into our gathering and it’s been exhilarating and full of many hot mess moments, i.e. intentionally holding backwards socials where we wear clothes backwards and eat dessert before dinner, enjoying our version of “The Hunger Games” and karaoke adventures that will go down in history.
I became a co-leader of the group and have deeply enjoyed building into the lives of other women. We do life together, share our challenges and put our hope in Jesus for better days to come.
Eight years in this community known as Discovery Church was rich and meaningful.
Eight years of growing, losing and living through the cups of pain and cups of joy that comes with being alive.
Eight years of feeling that you belong to something and you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
And then one day, everything changed.
In May 2013, on a typical Sunday like so many others, I sat in the auditorium ready for Pastor David’s message. After the welcome and music, two members of our church’s leadership team entered the stage and began to share words I never anticipated hearing.
They said something had taken place involving our pastor and he would not be at church today. At first I thought he had been hurt in an accident and was injured. But then they shared that he had given his immediate resignation that week following the disclosure of an immoral relationship outside of his marriage.
It didn’t feel real hearing those words. I felt stunned. Speechless. I was in shock. Many seated around me echoed my feelings, as people began to cry and weep and express the tremendous loss that the news brought. It felt like someone had died.
Many tears. Incredible disappointment. Great pain. Discovery is a family. And on the heels of this news, we were hurting very much and very deeply.
Our pastor, our shepherd had left us. He’d said goodbye and we didn’t know what all of this would mean for us and the future of our church.
This post is part one of three where I will share more of my experiences through this loss and what I’ve learned about God, his church and his people.
I’m curious: have you experienced the pain of seeing a leader in your life, like a pastor, mentor or someone you look up to, fall from their position of influence? How did that experience make you feel?
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