The Legacy of Jack Harbison // M-Note 12.4.2020

Gathering,

Ten years ago, The Gathering had one site, was packed with three services, and was trying to figure out how to continue to welcome new people.  We began exploring the idea of a second site. I was invited by the Clayton United Methodist Church to speak with their leadership team about this idea. It was an intimidating proposal. This church had a long history in downtown Clayton but had recently determined that they needed to pursue a more creative approach to ministry if they wanted to stay viable and reach new people. I arrived and shared with them my idea for a second location of The Gathering. It would require their church to formally close and become part of ours. I knew this proposition would raise a number of questions, and more than likely, quite a few objections. But, what happened next was something I never could have expected.
 
After fielding a number of questions, the 84-year-old chairperson of the board (who until this point had been fairly quiet) said, “I believe this is the answer to what we have been praying for”. That man’s name was Jack Harbison. He and his wife Dawn had been lifelong United Methodists, served in leadership since their youth, and had been through the closing of at least two other churches that had dwindled in size over the years. Yet, they had a deep faith in Christ and a passion for the church as a place that could offer hospitality and healing to people. They wanted to see Clayton UMC thrive--not merely survive--and at age 84, Jack was willing to do something a lot of church folks would never do – get creative.
 
That decision changed the course of The Gathering and was a catalyst for the growth of our ministry. The Gathering’s Clayton site now has 3 worship services (pre-pandemic of course), is growing with people of all ages (including children), and has welcomed hundreds of new people to Jesus over the past decade. It is a vital, growing presence for Christ in Clayton. And nearly every week, Jack and Dawn would be sitting together on the right side of the sanctuary, about 3 rows back.
 
Dawn died two years ago, leaving Jack at age 94 to continue their tradition of committed leadership to the church. This past week, Jack went home to be with Jesus. He died peacefully in his sleep, after nearly a century of faithfully following Jesus. I do not say this lightly, nor often, but Jack and Dawn were saints of the church, titans of faith, and some of the kindest, most committed, and forward-thinking Christians I have ever had the opportunity to pastor. I told Jack numerous times that my sincere hope is that I might run my course of faith in the same way he did and arrive at the finish line with just a fraction of the maturity in Christ that he has. I loved Jack, and to be his pastor is one of the great honors of my ministry.
 
Everyone who calls The Gathering home has a debt to pay to Jack Harbison. We wouldn’t be the church we are without him.
 
I last saw Jack at one of our outdoor worship services over the summer. He smiled and was amazed that people turned out on a hot day for worship in a parking lot. I was worried about him being in the heat, but he told me that in 94 years he had never gone so long without being in worship. He wouldn’t be anywhere else. Jack, rest in peace my friend. The Gathering, and the thousands of us that call this church home, are deeply grateful to God for your witness and leadership. May each of us, surrounded by your witness, run our race with the same faithfulness, perseverance, and joy.
 
Peace,
 
Matt
 
P.S. If you have not yet done it, I encourage you to sign up for our daily Advent Devotional. Also, check out The Gathering’s Advent calendar which has events and opportunities for you to participate in all season long. While Christmas Eve this year will be online, I am incredibly excited about what we have in store. I hope that you will invite someone in your life to worship with The Gathering this December, and especially on Christmas Eve. You can share The Gathering’s Christmas opportunities with others and find the Devotional, Advent calendar, and all things Gathering Christmas here.


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