Rev. Carla Sunberg (‘04) l NTS Alumni Association President
Co-District Superintendent, East Ohio Church of the Nazarene
Raised as a missionary kid I never had much time to be around grandparents or aunts and uncles. The church family became my extended family and the community that helped to raise me. As a little girl my parents had a “German Grandma” for me and my brother Kurt. We each had to sit with our Grandma during church on Sundays because Dad was preaching and Mom was leading the music. I still remember the pew we used to sit in every Sunday. My sweet Grandma would snuggle up next to me and love on me, making me feel at home. She nearly always had a chocolate bar with her and I recall trying to unwrap the bar without making noise during the service. I knew that if I made too much noise, Mom would notice. But it was there in that pew with my Grandma Katusha that I knew I was in a safe place. My spiritual formation was beginning early.
It has always been the community around me that has helped to shape me. Of course my nuclear family community was important in my formation. It was my mother that taught me the importance of a prayer life. She didn’t talk to me about it — I just knew she did it! Every Thursday she fasted and prayed through the lunch hour. Every day after we went to school I knew that she knelt down at the couch and prayed for all of her children. She didn’t have to teach us to be children of prayer; we saw what it meant to be a people of prayer by the way my mom lived her life each and every single day.
My Russian friends taught me even more about community. While Russians tend to seem rather rough and crusty on the outside, once you are invited into their lives you will be their friends forever. There is nothing better in life than being invited into a friend’s home on a cold and snowy winter night and sitting around the kitchen table sipping a cup of tea and talking about life. Conversations are rich as we contemplate Jesus and what it means to live a life totally dedicated to him. They taught me what it meant to lose everything materially and yet to gain everything relationally.
Finally the spiritual formation that occurred in the Russian worship community could never have happened in isolation. Awaiting midnight sundown on summer nights in the youth center outside of Moscow we would gather with our instruments and for hours sing and praise the Lord. Somehow time seemed to disappear as the gathered community of faith ushered us into the presence of God.
Too often we think that spiritual formation is something that we do on our own. Even with the development of new technologies that are supposed to bring us closer, it seems that we may be creating more barriers. Young people sitting in a restaurant are no longer conversing with those physically present but continually texting on their smartphones. That’s not to say that spiritual formation can’t occur through the use of technology but could it be that we are missing something when we are not intentional about the need for community life. For many of us we will be, or will not be formed spiritually by the communities in which we engage. As the world continues to change we will need to be intentional about finding communities that will help to shape us, as well as develop communities in which formation can occur.
The relationship with the Holy Trinity, the community found within the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit beckons us to come and join in the fellowship. God is our model. God is a community and in his community, both above and below we will find our formation. Jump in, join the community and be formed.