Letter to the Congregation

Letter to the Congregation

October 6, 2019

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 

(Psalm 85:8-11, NRSV)

Dear Colonial Church,

I have long held to the maxim, “Pastors have shelf lives.” Our calling as ministers is for a season, and when the seasons change, as they always do, the church benefits from fresh air and new perspectives. My season at Colonial Church as your Senior Minister is coming to a close. I will conclude my ministry among you this Christmas, my tenth.

Your gracious call to me and my family in 2010 was fresh air for us. I felt gratitude and eagerness for all that laid ahead. Having served Jesus in my previous congregation in Boston 23 years, I valued the long road of discipleship, deep relationships, and patient waiting for the wind of the Holy Spirit. Our ten years together here have yielded good fruit: two rounds of social entrepreneurship funding through Innové, welcoming Upper Room, pilgrimages to Israel and confirmation trips to Colombia, two Guelich Lectures on science and politics respectively, a four-year partnership in Burundi, beehives and honey and gardens and fried chicken, the stewardship of a windfall of resources, as well as the week in and week out devotion to worship and learning and growing and serving amidst sorrow and joy. I am very blessed.

At the same time, Colonial faces its challenges. Our Reforming initiative in 2017 began strong yet now struggles. The larger cultural shifts around faith and religion press against traditional church programming and Sunday worship. Key members moved on and staff transitioned. Worship attendance wobbles and giving ebbs even as our financial cups runneth over. As Senior Minister, the responsibility for this falls to my leadership. 

And then my beloved Dawn suffered cancer and died.

Through it all, the existence of Colonial as church proved undeniable. Not only did you carry my family and our grief in your arms, but you do so over and over with each other lovingly and tenderly and with godly fear.

As humans, we all suffer and experience loss and die—our bodies, our species, and now, fearfully, our planet. And yet the gospel is relentless in its transcendent hope. Our calling, I believe, is to proclaim this hope as we follow the way of Christ wherever he leads, even unto death, trusting our souls and our congregations to the One who raises the dead. 

Life must go on faithfully and insistently, but for me, it goes on differently now. It is customary when one undergoes the loss of a loved one to experience a shift in perspective and a crystallization of priorities. What’s most important surges to the surface. Jesus saves us from our sins, but not from suffering and dying. He doesn’t even save himself. The way of Christ is the way of the cross. How else would we ever see the true and the beautiful and the good with such clarity?

In January, I will become Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, a 70-year-old media endeavor founded by Billy Graham and devoted to beautiful orthodoxy and irenic engagement with culture for the sake of the gospel. Millions engage its content worldwide. I will oversee a staff of brilliant editors and writers and creatives who serve as both sages and storytellers of Christ’s church for the world. This opportunity was as unexpected as it is a wonderful fit for my gifts and passions. Violet and I will move to Chicagoland next summer once she completes sixth grade.

My truest heartfelt gratitude pours out to all the pastors and staff who have been my pastors and colleagues and friends through these years. For the Moderators I’ve been privileged to work alongside, the leaders and Council members and innumerable others who served with such joy. For the worship and music, the time spent over coffee and beer and in prayer and the companionship through the mournful shadows of the valley of death where the rod and staff of Christ was genuine comfort. For all who so deeply loved Dawn and have nurtured Violet, I am humbled by your kindness and grace.

From the Puritans: “Thou art my divine treasury in whom all fullness dwells, my life, hope, joy, peace, glory, end; May I be daily more and more conformed to thee, with the meekness and calmness of the Lamb in my soul, and a feeling sense of the felicity of heaven… I am not afraid to look the king of terrors in the face, for I know I shall be drawn, not driven, out of the world. Let me continually glow and burn out for thee, until the last great change shall come and I awake in thy likeness.” 

For Christ’s sake,

Daniel Harrell, Senior Minister, Colonial Church