Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Scams on the Internet

This is not my general blog - but important.

Last week my Yahoo email account was hacked and lots of people (more than 300 were  part of emails in that account) thought I was in Scotland - stranded, with no money, no passport, no cell phone, no way to get home and no person that I could call to help me out of the mess I apparently found myself in. Now, lest anyone think that I was in Scotland, please be assured that I was at home. Working. Going to Scotland would be nice - Iona calls me in my dreams - but I don’t have time or money to travel.

But there are parts that worry me:

Quite a few people emailed me to be sure that it was not me - I am happy for their concern. Thank you. Some, though, may have sent money - a dollar or two or five thinking that if I needed it, then they were helping.

This scam revitalizes itself every few (days, months or years) so there must be those who help out. Bless them for their love and concern, but if you read about me being stranded someplace, you would want to hear my voice in your ear before you considered helping in any way. And, then you would have to be family or very close friend before you would get such a call. So ignore any pleas from me. Someone even said my picture was in a photo in Scotland (n a pub? or in a monastery?). Remember, photoshop is available even to those who have nefarious schemes up their collective sleeves.

Another thing that concerns me: all of the email addresses that I had associated with that email account are wiped out (by Yahoo, I am told) so I won’t be able to contact those folk, even with happy news. Telephone still works, so I will use that. But it is interesting that when Yahoo wiped out my online email addresses that also affected email addresses on my iPhone. So those email addresses really are gone.

Another thing: I cannot count all the time that I spent assuring people that I am OK - perhaps this should be in the first concern, but I choose to count it separately. I value the relationships and friendships I have so when an email is sent or a question asked, I take the time to respond. Monday and Tuesday of last week were pretty much a total loss.

To sum this up - I remember being told as a child that if one spent as much time doing something worthwhile as the time invested in doing something shady, the world would be a better place. And it would.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A horse of another color - or, this is not your mama's worship

     In seminary, I took a couple of classes on worship and got to practice putting unusual services together. Out of seminary, one finds that those in the pews like worship the same way each week. No surprises. Once I tried to move us from the sanctuary to the video area using "We Are Marching In the Light of God." The congregation was tolerant and some definitely approved of our change. Then I let it go for two months so people would not be alarmed that we would always march into see a youtube presentation.
     But it was time to try again, so yesterday morning, I moved our whole worship service from the sanctuary to the Great Room (aka Fellowship Hall, we are trying to use inclusive language) so that we could view and discuss a video. The video was on current slave trade in India, though we know it is about current slave trade in the US as well. My purpose, since I could have preached on this, was to invite people to see the video as it defines the problem and then discuss it. Our discussion was lively and engaging and led us to the point of asking what we, a small progressive congregation, can do to make change. (We will contact the governmental agency in New Mexico that is responsible for investigating these abuses.)
     This was the first step - both in terms of addressing a current problem and in terms of using a less formal venue for worship. I think both worked well. I know that two people did not like using the Great Room for this worship though every part of the service was the same as it would have been in the sanctuary. We had fifty-some in worship. A good turnout. Something I noticed: when we sang, choir and congregation, our voices were not lost in the too-large-for-our-congregation sanctuary. Also noticed: I deliberately invited everyone to get coffee and fruit/cookies during our worship service and some did. People told me after that they really enjoyed this service. People smiled, were engaged and stayed to talk about the video for quite awhile after. The extra work of putting this together was worth the effort.
     We will not worship this way every week, but I expect that until we can use video in the sanctuary (there is too much natural light to do it) we will try it once a month or so. Over time, we might grow to like the closeness of the table seating so much that people will ask to come.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The book and its cover

     Recently, I took a walk around my new neighborhood. The day was glorious, as New Mexico days tend to be and after I finished oogling at the cloudless, azure sky, I took notice of the homes in the neighborhood. Interesting to look at these houses with new-ish eyes.
     Here is what I noticed about the homes I passed: virtually every one was adobe-like; many of them had flat roofs - that is common around New Mexico though a few others had red-tiled pitched roofs, which is a bit less common. Some homes had an overhang that gave shade from the winter midday sun. I imagine in the summer, the shade is welcomed. In my previous experience, many windows had adornment around them to set them off - show them off - displaying decoration reflecting the owners taste, but what I saw were windows that we rather plain. Yard decorations and plantings, on the other hand, were expressive, different and inviting. I was jealous that I only have a balcony to adorn, but I returned home determined to make my balcony my own.
     This walk reminded me that I never saw the inside of any one of those homes. From the outside, they looked common but shortly I visited one of my congregation members and was amazed at the individuality and the beauty I saw there. As one who has moved far too many times, I feel a huge loss that I am not able to create such a space for myself. Maybe soon.
     This sameness and surprising individuality reminds me of the UCC churches in Albuquerque. There are four of us and each may seem the same from the outside: Open and Affirming (ONA), Extravagant Welcome, Faith that is 2,000 years old with thinking that is current. We all subscribe to the same set of doctrines but we express them individually. In one congregation, the people who attend may be more formal, in another more spontaneous and in yet another, more Spanish speaking.
     If you were visiting St. Paul's UCC in Rio Rancho on a Sunday morning, you would find a graying congregation (surprise about that) who is struggling to see what "revitalization" means to them. They are asking themselves and each other how clawing their way up from the brink of death will change their church family. Already, we have more contemporary music. In attempting to break a lifetime of referring to God as "he" we stumble on the pronoun and sometimes just go back to the old way of thinking of God as a man in the sky. At least then we knew what God was, now as we refer to "the mystery we call God" the issue confronting us may be "are stones God's being as well?" Sometimes we meet in our coffee room to view and discuss youtube videos. Even a regular Sunday sermon might challenge us to respond to issues the come through the preaching.
     From our "UCC" identity, our "ONA" stance, from our challenge to think of scripture with our 21st Century vocabulary, we all look the same. Inside, we are truly individual. Just looking at architecture you would never know! If you are int he neighborhood, stop in and say Hi!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

O, What a Beautiful Mornin' O, What a Beautiful Day

YESTERDAY WAS A DAY OFF - MLK Day - and I spent it
  • Listening to the radio station that replayed King’s speeches 
  • Exercising some 
  • Being lazy some 
  • At the eye doctor - 20 minutes and 
  • Trading my way-too-big car in on a smaller car - 4 hours. 
  • The CX7 Mazda was a good car for the winter road in Pennsylvania. It has engine assets that made driving on snowy or icy (or snowy and icy) roads possible. Once, when I had to pull over to let an emergency vehicle go past me, I was able to go up hill, out of the ice and get back on the road with no problem. This was something that my beloved New Beetle, 8 years old when she died, would have strained to do. 
  • When driving at night, I never worried that I would hit a deer or a bear as I was driving because the SUV was big enough to take the hit, sez she. 
  • As I prepared to travel from PA to New Mexico, I knew the cats would have sufficient room to move around a bit. They had been cramped when in the VW we drove from Colorado to Pennsylvania. 
     THE MAZDA WAS STURDY, it was safe, it was UGLY. And so big that I felt lost in it. So I have been doing some shopping to see what would replace this vehicle - miles per gallon were prime consideration right up there with safety. Gotta have both.

     A FRIEND’S ADVICE? Pick fun over sturdy.

     PRE-PURCHASE WORK - I had looked online at other cars suitable for someone my age, and they were not exciting. But do-able. I went to a Honda dealer last week, and the salesperson was uninspiring and must have decided I was not a viable purchaser, though I was dressed in work clothes, because he dismissed me.

      YESTERDAY morning, on my way back from the eye doctor, I stopped at a Nissan dealer to look at what they had and drove out with a
     One year old, and cute as a bug. Fun to drive, great gas mileage, lots of airbags. Lifted my spirits right away.
     Often, rather than spend money, I look to God (FREE) to lift my spirits - it is what ministers do.
     SOME PEOPLE ARE NOT SO FORTUNATE. Nothing - not a car, not God, not a kind voice - lifts their spirits. A member of my congregation just brought me a book for our church library: Wound 328 by Sue Lynch. The book is the story of a woman who lived with misdiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. She eventually committed suicide. I did not know the woman, but I do know others who live a sad life overshadowed by depression. My heart breaks for those who must face darkness so much of their lives. In my optimistic youth, I used to think that anyone could just change their outlook, jump out of bed, feel good and get on with it. Experience with friends has taught me otherwise.

     This morning at the end of my prayer time, I asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit and have that Holy Spirit energize me for the day. I know that almost every day is bright as I live with the outlook of a glass-half-full. Then I came to church and the women in the craft group lifted my spirits. Later, it is sermon prep time and that is always a positive experience. Then two cats welcome me home. So much positive in my life, so much to be thankful for. May I always remember and thank God for all my graces and blessings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Doing What Comes Naturally

Whoever said that ministry was an easy job – I know people who think it is – need to walk in my shoes for a few days. Ministry, especially a specialized ministry such as church planting and church revitalization is tough. Not a job for the feint of heart. I think I heard that from some people when I chose this path, but somehow knew that I could succeed where others had not. After four years of this life, here is what I have learned: First, the selection tests that ask over and over if I can take rejection need to put me (the candidate) out in a field, make it a driving rain that is cold and wet, take away all food, shelter and supports, leave me there for two weeks and then ask me to volunteer to go back out for a few more days. If I say yes, I will go then perhaps – maybe - I have the stuff it takes to face the adversities that are inherent whenever a church is built from the ground up or when long-time members of a church have (knowingly) voted to go for revitalization. Second: building from the ground up is far easier, because the only person that has to be pleased is the church planter. All who join the church as it is taking root and growing are coming because they like what the planting pastor has to offer. Coming to a church that has been hurt and split more times than the members can count is tough. Rather than listen to my own good sense about what to do and when to do it, I listen to the tired members who have lost hope as they try to go backwards. There was comfort in the way things “used to be” though when these good folk look around and don’t see their friends, they do realize that change has already taken place. Three: Change is unpleasant. The change that has occurred in the church was unpleasant – good friends died, others moved to warmer climates to be with children, still others found comfort in a church that offered a choir that was wonderful (leaving the choir behind they had belonged to) or found a new preacher who seemed to talk directly to them. Whatever the reason, some dear friends left while others stuck it out and continue to stay even if there appears to be little hope of new growth. That is when they call me: When there appears to be no hope. They want me to bring them back to life – to re-vitalize WITHOUT CHANGE because change is uncomfortable, scary, it may not work and we may fail. Darn, I know that. It is scary for me too. I too wish that things could be as they were before. Here is a contemporary example: I approach each new cell phone the same way. It is scary – I knew the old phone and what worked on it and what did not. I knew that I could not text on that phone because it was not “smart” and now church gurus want all of us in the church building field to text a lot – to Twitter – to FB and there are a couple of new terms. I liked it when I was as smart as the phone – somewhat like my congregation liked it when they were in the church of the 1950s. But neither the not-so-smart phone nor the old-time religion is viable. So I lead us forward with only theory to guide me. And God above me, God beside me, God below me, God to my right and God to my left and most of all God in front of me. I could say heaven help us, but I know that heaven already is.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A wedding of sorts

This afternoon, I was installed as Pastor of the congregation I am called to serve. This is huge, at least for me. In order to be installed, we dated, had an engagement, an engagement party, a shower and finally a wedding. In church pastor terms, it went like this The dating -- we danced a bit together when I was one of the candidates invited to pursue the application process. The committee charged with selecting a candidate to present to the congregation sent me an email: please respond to the following 20 questions - submit your answers on a DVD (in order to do that, I had to purchase a DVD recorder and record myself talking). So, I did and sent it off - within days, I was invited to send a sample sermon. I believe sample sermons should be current and was able to send a copy of one I did at a pulpit exchange the following week. It was not the best recording, but was as good as I could do in the time frame. Then came the Skype interview - this was my favorite part because I got to meet and know some of the committee for the first time. They were earnest, articulate and asked intelligent questions. Most of all, they were enthusiastic about revitalizing this church - which was what drew me to them in the first place since I believe we need to revitalize church if church is to survive. The engagement - The committee liked what I had to say, and I liked them - I was invited to come to NM to preach a candidating sermon, to be shown around and to meet the people in the Skype window, the Church Council and the congregation at three separate times. They were wonderful and I could see that a marriage between us could work. Sunday's sermon went well, and I was voted in. The engagement party - started on my first day as pastor pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Rio Rancho NM. I was not installed, but called, that is hired but only as a temp since at the denomination level my credentials had been examined but the denomination wanted to know more about me before giving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. A good thing in this day of clergy misconduct. The shower - I guess the shower is when the Conference Minister tells me that my previous Conference had good things to say about me and that, if I passed one more committee, COCAM, I would be vetted. The gift is the Seal of Approval. a good gift since it means I am approved to work in the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ. Finally, the wedding. Today was the wedding. The final vows, as it were. We celebrated this with a service and a dinner (churches are known for worship and eating, right?) this afternoon. Earlier in the day, people asked me if I was excited - I was not. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility I was assuming. I am to take this congregation from a slow death to a congregation with a viable future. This is heady This is frightening. People look to me with hope of growth, but they also look to me as a pastor who won't make them uncomfortable. I almost did not go through with the wedding ceremony. My feeling about marriage and divorce is that marriage should be at least as difficult to obtain as a divorce would be. If I fail to inspire the congregation, if I fail in the attempt to bring us from slow death to slow life, if I lead us off a cliff many will be disappointed. I look in the mirror and tremble. Even before this marriage began, I knew that the would ask me to do things that will not lead them out of the downward spiral. And they have already: please don't change anything. Don't ask us to sing different music; don't ask us to pray differently; do sermons like the pastor we had in the 9160s did. Give us a good message but don't challenge us. My challenge every week is for them to find ways to be Jesus people in this world. It is pretty scary especially if you have been in a church for forty or fifty years that only asked you to give money. It is easier to give money than to give yourself. In my most hopeful moments, I feel God is calling this congregation to be around in ten years and longer - becoming vital, enthusiastic, engaging the Bible and working to be Jesus folk in our communities. We have hard work ahead. The honeymoon is about to begin!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back Seat To God

It is time for me to stand up and say out loud that I am a member of St. Paul’s Rio Rancho United Church of Christ. This is the first step of a couple that lead to my installation as pastor of this congregation. Reflecting on this step, I am aware that joining anything except Facebook in this current social climate is iff-y if not downright suspicious. Joining often means that the joiner will receive emails from an automatic email generator and will never be free of too many emails that arrive each day. In Pennsylvania I shopped online when I found it difficult to go car-shopping since each small town around the county and in towns located in PA and NY sported one dealer. If I wanted to try a Ford, I needed to travel to Wellsboro; if I wanted a Subaru, to Mansfield, a Madza to Montoursville, a Toyota in Ithaca or a Nissan in some other city in New York. After much searching, I purchased a car last January and moved in the summer to New Mexico. Although I remembered to unsubscribe before leaving PA, I still receive automatically generated emails letting me know that if I just drive a bit, I can see a car in Syracuse or Baltimore! Joining seems to mean that tentacles of an octopus wrap around me and threaten to squeeze me like a boa constrictor if I try to get away. Several weeks ago, I looked at a home to purchase. Here is how I went about it. Prior to my purchase, I spent much time driving around looking at neighborhoods. And I spent much time online looking at homes for sale, condos for sale, townhouses for sale. Before I decided to buy, I looked at rentals all over this area. Close to the mountains - south of Rio Rancho but north of 40. Places I can afford and places I cannot afford. In the long run, I narrowed it down to a neighborhood. As I was online, looking, I received an email from a realtor saying I was looking at her site so why not make an appointment and let her show some of these homes. After thinking a week, I decided to let her show me homes. At this point, this is what she knew about me I had a first name, and an email address (not the one I use here at church). I told her I would meet her but she insisted I come to her office. I arrived at the appointed time. We looked at four condos and I made an offer on one. On returning to the office to write the offer, the agent said “You realize you have to give me your last name so I can write the contract.” Fear of joining runs deep. Somehow, however, I have come to think like Paul: if I don’t join, then I lose much. My soul. So on Sunday this past Sunday I joined St. Paul’s United Church of Christ as its new pastor. I am called to lead this congregation through a scary process of revitalization. In my darkest moments, I remember that Paul started churches and Jesus was merely trying to revitalize the zealots of his. I have started a church and am now revitalizing - revitalization is more challenging. As new church planter, I had all leeway to do what I thought best. As revitalizer, I have 78 opinions to consider. Actually, there may not still be 78 as a few have left, not liking where we are going. I tell them I read my job description, but that does not change the movement out-of-comfort-zone-to-uncharted-territory. Some know if there is no change, the church will close, but it would be a couple years from now and there could, quite possibly, be a miracle that saves the church. If the congregation pursues change, it could lead to the closing of the church, but then we are not leaving room for the people who used to fill the pews to return. I empathize. But press forward. I take heart in the fact that at least two-thirds of the congregation supports the direction chosen by the whole congregation. As new member, I have as much to loose as the longest term member. My church. I feel so strongly that if we do nothing, we lose everything, that I am willing to take the chance of uncharted change and growth. One hopes. And prays. A friend reminded me to always consider God in my blog. Here is my consideration: each day, I pray for guidance, for help, for kindness and understanding, and courage to lead this congregation forward. When people tell me they want to talk to God, I try to remind them that after talking, the next part - the hardest part - is listening. I listen and hope the thoughts that come into my head are what God is saying. Even as revitalizer, I take a back seat to God.