Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Culture Shock a la 2009

Each week as I write this blog, I focus mostly about the culture shock that ensues as the result of my call to plant a church in north central Pennsylvania. This call required my moving from Denver to Wellsboro/Mansfield, Pennsylvania – city to very rural. As I complete my eighteenth month of this ministry, I look at the congregation and marvel at those who choose to spend a slice of their free time with this church family.

We are old and young: 88 and 8 months not a bad age difference considering the demographic that states our churches are all gray. We are a bit gray, but also towhead and red-haired (natural) and red-haired (not quite so natural anymore).

We are brilliant and differently-abled – and each participates in our worship and in our church community to some extent.

Some of us stand straight and tall, others are bent, still others need canes and walkers. Ah, don’t assume that all the cane users are old – they are not, but have life experiences that have made them more dependent on help than some of the older folk.

Some are black and others white – we try to honor these differences as well as the sameness and humanness of each. Last evening, I went to Kwanzaa – we lighted candles and remembered that the earth and its produce are part of the African heritage. I was reminded that some families trace their heritage only six generations – my mother’s Norwegian family goes back to the 1500s. My paternal “Smith” (Irish) can be traced to the late 1800s.

Some are gay and others very straight. We don’t look to condemn or say, “the Bible says …” rather, we affirm that God loves us all!

We are farmers and teachers and historians and business folk and a minister and a few aspiring toward ministry – I try to encourage this vocation – and car dealers and restaurant owners and just plain hardworking.

We have good music and are grateful for our wonderful gift of a talented piano player to help cover the notes we enthusiastically sing off key.

When I remember to really count my blessings – to focus on what I have to be thankful for, not what I plan for this congregation – I am amazed that this giving group allows me the privilege of serving them. They welcome me into their homes, they offer a shoulder if I need it, a hearty laugh when I forget part of the worship (never the sermon or communion, but occasionally the communion hymn or The Lord’s Prayer) and a meal during holidays when I would be alone. Most of all they honor me by accepting me, by following my lead, by gently questioning my most off-the-wall suggestions and just by loving me.

There is a huge “culture chasm” between Mansfield/Wellsboro and Denver – much of it felt but not seen. I miss Denver and Colorado with an ache; I am blessed to be in this area where acceptance and caring are part and parcel of my adopted community.

And the people of God said “AMEN!”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Changing skyline

I remember driving over bridges while descending into a new city at dusk or even dark and being awestruck by the skyline presently majestically in front of me. Still today, when I visit some cities, I buy a skyline view magnet and stick it on my refrigerator. When I move, the magnets and fond memories move with me.

Recently, I drove from Wellsboro, the mountainous borough where I live in north central Penna to Mansfield, the borough where my church building stands. On the way, I noticed, really noticed, what had been happening to our community over the last six months. Work crews have dramatically altered the night skyline!

Six months ago, work on gas lines for the Marcellus Shale drilling began in earnest. It was so quick that one day I could drive on any two-lane road and see farm country. Literally, the next day, the very next day, there would be a gas well blowing off excess gas through flames that were very tall. Derricks surrounded farmhouses while big red tanker trucks drove over our two-lane roads traveling at speeds only the very young would have driven the year before. Water fracking (basically, using water to explode shale) became part of the every day language of our community and talk of water shortage – in PENNSYLVANIA for goodness sakes! - is a concern as we begin to conserve water.

In the same six months, our communities joined the 21st century in another very important way – we got access to wind energy. Windmills – otherwise called wind turbines – sprouted like flowers on the mountain ridge. If I were to drive from Mansfield to Scranton (130 or so miles) I would pray for two things: no deer running down to the road and no truck carrying wind blades in front of me. Thus far, my angels have kept both from my path.

Last week, at dusk, I made the west to east road trip that comprises the 12 miles between Wellsboro and Mansfield. That night, for the very first time, I really saw the skyline as it has changed. The view is no longer merely replete with trees dormant, preparing to burst forth leaves in spring. Now it has derricks with night lights to keep low-flying air traffic (we do occasionally have a small plane here) from crashing and the wind turbines have red lights atop the blades that turn ever so slowly making and storing energy for later use.

This change has brought income to our community for many who often lived on the edge of poverty. One can only hope that local residents benefit as much from the gas exploration and wind power as have the companies that changed our skyline.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Who actually makes a difference?

This morning, I read a short sermon written by John Bell (of the Iona Community in Scotland) from his book States of BLISS and Yearning (2002). He takes the reader/listener through John's description of Jesus meeting a woman at the well including the problems inherent with talking to her, who she might be and ramifications of the conversation.

As I reflected on this essay, I was struck by my similarity to the woman -- not to Jesus . My life has, at times, been less than upright and wonderful. I have done things I regretted, even at the time I was doing them. I wish I could go back and change things, though I know that not even the gods can change has has been, to paraphrase Agathon 440 BCE. As I entered seminary I frequently asked "why me?" Me, raised Roman Catholic, who cannot quote scripture all that well. Me, who at various times in my life, has been alienated and seriously questioned whether there is a God. Me, who does not want to evangelize from the street corner. Why am I doing this? Why not some better suited?

Then in my more reflective time - perhaps when I am actually listening to the mystery I call God - I get this idea that not everyone who seeks God can quote scripture or even wants to. Most everyone who seeks - who has been alienated - who has huge doubts - wants something larger than themselves to believe in or to blame for ill-fortune at times or to pray to in times when everything seems impossible. And, these "spiritual but not religious folk" that I want to reach pass the street-corner evangelist with barely a glance. This outlook gives me hope that maybe I am in the right place at the right time -- for someone. Even if only one person were to find a link to the Divine because I was here, then I am in the right place.

Who knows what the link will be. For example, Sunday evening, I gave a ride to a student who spent most of our hour in the car telling me why there is not God (he is reading Ayn Rand). I spent time countering his rational argument by offering faith with about as much luck as the street-corner evangelist has with me. He did not listen any more than I do to the person crying out "REPENT!" But maybe, in the recesses of my mind, I did hear message - perhaps in the back of his mind, he did to. After I dropped him at his home, I was reflecting on my inability to get through to him and wondered why I should be this preacher-person when I realized that I am only the messenger. God does the work.

May the work that God does bless you and make you smile and keep you warm and offer you good and Godly things.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dickens of a Time

This past weekend was the designated weekend of our community Dickens Celebration. This fairy-tale event happens each year during the first weekend of December. The folk wisdom is that this weekend will be the coldest weather we will have had thus far in the year. I dressed for the weather – light snow – but not for the temperature and had to walk home mid-morning to change into warmer, less fashionable, clothes.

Cold means different things to each of us. The vendors standing outside on the sidewalk in freezing cold have one description of “cold” – many spent the year making their special craft to sell and this opportunity is one of the best to reach an appreciative audience. Cold to others, such as the Kiwanis Club to which I belong, means that more customers will want the clam chowder that we sell. A quick review of the fund-raising vendors showed that our soup was the best priced of all choices. We ran out by 1PM and disappointed those who came late. After waiting all year for the soup, they will have to wait until next year. One customer told me he will come to our stand first next year so he is sure to get a cup of the soup.

Aside from the cold, this weekend offers friends from years past opportunity to reconnect – greet with hugs (a bit of additional warmth of just for a second), laugh, catch up on recent family happenings. Even though this was just my second year, I had people to talk to that I had not visited with during the year and several stories collected over the year to share. I saw Marcy and we talked of having lunch together; I will call her after the beginning of the year and make the lunch happen. There was a peace march, led by Quakers; a tree lighting ceremony in the town square – the lights having been replaced after vandals cut all electric lines during a night “prank;” and local churches offered hymn sings. The light covering of snow capped off the storybook images.

Reflecting on this weekend, I think we yearn for times when life was easier. Cold, shared stories and an old town atmosphere are inviting. So very inviting that visitors drive from New Jersey, Canada, Vermont, Maryland and Pittsburgh to spend this weekend in the mountain town. Visions of sugarplums dancing in our collective heads epitomize this experience. This event lives in the memories of those who organize and those planning a weekend retreat to Wellsboro Penna next year.

Reality intruded on Sunday morning when I drove to church through gray slush and cold and saw the fairy-tale town littered with trash as our borough turned back to real life struggles faced by our community and members of my own congregation where too many do not have sufficient warmth or a job or transportation to get to a job if there was one.

Life is harsh in this community for some, a fairy tale retirement for others. At this time of realized dreams, may the peace march be effective and the jobs program be reworked so more can be employed and may the government home financing programs reach those who only want a home of their own for Christmas this year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Going into Advent

Good morning, Friends

This week is the first week of Advent, 2009. Sunday was designated as "Hope" Sunday. I barely had any hope as I drove to worship. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and tears started to come, just from the sheer tiredness of being solo pastor in this church. Ministering to the growing congregation and beginning the new church seems overwhelming at times. The bright spot of that drive was that I would go to a church in Elmira, NY that afternoon. Just to sit and be washed in grace. And, I did and I was.

The congregation in Elmira is not huge, but, like my own, it is filled with spirit and hope and joy. This congregation is where I "borrowed" the idea of having the children's band at the conclusion of our service - the 2- 3- and 4-year old children (and older, too) play a percussion instrument to accompany our amazing Charles.

As I sat in this Catholic (not "Roman") mass, the tiredness and feelings of the world on my shoulders left and I was at peace with myself and the world. For that time I found what I think people seek when they dare to come to a church after years of absence. I think they are seeking the experience that I have in this holy place. Offering that experience is my duty as a minister. The grace-feeling cannot come from a secular society no matter how many activities are offered.

My prayer and hope this week of Advent? when visitors come to our congregation, they find the same grace and peace and love and acceptance that I find in this worship comprised of Catholics wanting a new church in a changing age.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tree hugging in any event?

Our local 63-bed hospital announced plans to expand! It is adding a state-of-the-art emergency room. Many in our community are upset. These are generally not folk who are hostile to change but they are averse to changing beautiful landscape. I have been the recipient of several “stop this growth” emails. As a self-identified liberal - a tree hugger - people automatically identify me as one who will protest cutting down trees on our town’s main street to retain the stately nature of the main thoroughfare.

I live two blocks from the hospital and drive by the trees and manicured grounds daily. I would love to be part of saving these trees. Since they are part of my new home community, I have taken pictures of them for my kids and others so they could better see what my community is like. The trees are an awesome tribute to those who planned our community more than 100 years ago -- these may have been citizens who sought beauty in what might have been Pennsylvania coal country. They do offer that promised beauty and a park-like atmosphere for those of us who walk around the community. These trees nourish my soul on bleak days, offer shade from the unrelenting summer sun even as they provide a place of quiet solitude for the family suffering a long wait for news of how loved ones are faring inside the walls. For these reasons, I love the trees and the park atmosphere.

On the other hand, the addition of an emergency rooms equipped to care for a dying child or the stroke of a father or the gun-shot accident that happened while cleaning one of the ubiquitous guns I see perched on the back window of pickup trucks cannot be all bad. The addition of this new technology offers hope to individuals who otherwise might have had to be air lifted to a hospital one to two to three hours away from those who love them. The addition of this emergency room will provide a room for children to use as they sit through long waits and it will provide sufficient accommodations for adults who too sit long hours. In this new addition, I do not see my soul being fed – I see my soul being saved. What I also see is my health being guarded, my life being protected.

One hundred years from now when this addition has more than served its purpose and plans are announced to remove it, I hope that a blogger will write about how this emergency room addition offered solace and comfort and life-saving to a community that had vision enough to go ahead and build despite some opposition. Speaking as a sociologist, I understand that society does not like change. Speaking now as a Theologist, I remember that Moses led a people who did not want change into change. I always remember that that community grew into the change it so feared. I expect we will, too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Taking care of me has been on the top of my mind for several weeks. I guard my one day off each week with the fierce pride of a mother guarding her cub. And woe to anyone who has the audacity to plan a meeting for that day – well, this is mostly true. But, seeing one day as the only day off is somehow disheartening. The day is filled with washing, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming, grocery shopping, cutting grass in summer – I am exhausted writing the list. It is not relaxing.

I have been fighting to find ways to have a bit more time off – without just cramming the work I do in six days into five – that would mean five very long days. So I hit on the idea – work not more than ten hours a day for four days and take off two afternoons or two mornings making those days four to five hour-days. The first week I tried this new system, I failed miserably and felt dismal. The second, I was somewhat more successful. Ah, the third is showing promise!

Here is what I learned:
* not everything needs to be done perfectly;
* sermon helps are there for just that "helping: I purchased books that are designed as sermon-writing helps. Using these resources is not cheating and saves four hours each week;
* finally, some things can be done later

The solution is not perfect – but it is better. What was looking and feeling like burnout is feeling more like tired but with potential – I know that I can adjust, do a bit less, demand less of myself. Solo pastoring – even as a church planter – can wipe one out, make one stronger or make one think smarter. I hope I am ending up in the smarter category.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Velvet Hammer

I frequently charge my congregation to be Jesus People in our world. Being Jesus People is not easy. It is my challenge to them – and myself – to do what Jesus would do if he were here, now, in this corner of the world.

Being a Jesus person includes keeping our eyes, ears and hearts open to all whom we meet as we go the grocery store, or as we walk through a neighborhood or as we talk to a sales person on the phone [this last is particularly difficult, as you know :-)]. Being a Jesus person forces us to see God in everything and it forces us to not allow hurt or poverty or want go unnoticed. It means that we feed the hungry whatever food they need for their journeys. It means that we listen even when we don’t want to hear the sadness being voiced. It also means that we talk less about ourselves and more about others as we go through our day. And, it means seeing God in ourselves. Jesus did all of this – more – as he proclaimed the gospel of God. Even when he was tired, he put others first. When he got short-tempered, he remembered to care for others. When he was in the company of his disciples and they did not live up to his expectations, he understood and went on with his mission of proclaiming God through his actions. Even alone, we are told that he kept God in the forefront.

Proclaiming myself a Jesus person seems counter to my liberal Christian stance. For my actions, being a Jesus person means not allowing suffering stand, not letting laws meant for the Ancients rule our contemporary life. It also means going quietly – hoping that those I meet will see that I don’t hammer them over the head with God and judgment – rather, what I do is a testimony to what I believe. I fail too frequently often leaving a person wishing I had said or done something else. We all have those moments. The good news is that being a Jesus person offers me forgiveness for what I failed to do or for things I did and gives me an opportunity to try again.

Dear Readers, I challenge you to be Jesus People in your corner of the world. You, like I, won’t get it right every time, but mostly, your actions and words will say that you are not only Jesus People, but God People, spreading the reign of God with a velvet hammer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will the “real” preacher please stand?

Life in rural Pennsylvania is more conservative than I ever imagined. Discriminations that had been tested in Colorado continue to be part of my life here. Being female is one example. In Colorado, I was a member of a service club that had just admitted females --- much against their collective wills. (There were no racial minorities even though Hispanics are the majority ethnic group.) The club allowed me in and rarely made comments in my hearing about females. I was not only the only female member, but also probably the only Democrat; their comments ridiculed my politics and our President. Often the brunt of disparaging comments, they always made loud enough for me to hear. Sometimes, my friends in the club stood up for me, but they to be careful who they went against. Eventually, it was time for me to leave that club because their meeting day no longer worked for me. I resigned and joined another club that met on a different day. The new club had many women, as well as a variety of political and social views all of which reminded me that bigotry in any form can be situational.

My association with the new Colorado club was delightful and made me want to repeat the experience here. One of the first organizations I joined was the local branch of this service club. It took awhile to be invited to join.

Last week at my new service club, I overheard the following posed to the visiting pastor of a local church “If you join, then we will have a real pastor as part of this club.” I was sitting three seats away and don’t know if the comment was made so that I would overhear. I do know that the speaker knows I am a pastor because (I recently learned) there was a question when my name was considered for membership -- some in the club were worried that as a new member, a liberal pastor, I would be too (fill in a word here: liberal … female … self-assured … independent … pick you own word). The club members had to have a lengthy discussion about my desire to join the club without having met me or talked with me. I had to write and submit an essay about myself to a committee, who circulated it around the club. Not one new member since has circulated such a statement. There are other females in the group, so my gender is not the issue – could only be my occupation: New Church Planter.

Sometimes when things get tough, I am tempted to quit, to leave here, to go back home. But not this time. Right now, I am determined to stay and be more than they think. Let them get to know that I am ethical, keep my word and pull my weight. When I have them all convinced that the real preacher is keeping on and keeping up, then I can collect my pride and leave if I choose. We will see what happens when that time comes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caring for self and others

Good morning friends -

My first “blog” journaled my experiences as a seminary student at 60, telling of my experiences as I entered my third career – years after I had earned the terminal degree in my field – Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sociology. At 60, I responded to a call to the ministry – some might say I was always in the ministry as I worked in the nonprofit field for many years. Six years later, “Tuesday Thoughts” continues a journey: it is my response to a friend’s query: Do I journal my experiences as a pastor out of my element – new to rural Penna, new to church planting (but not new to starting organizations), in fact, relatively new to ministry? The nonprofit field shares many things in common with ministry: many hours, relatively low pay, high community involvement, as sense of call and, in my case, focused work with those living on the fringes of middle class society.

This day’s thoughts concern self-care issues: I don’t generally put self, exercise, health in my day planner although I try being mindful about this care of me. After this new church is planted, a “me” will continue sharing my life. How will my future self and me be our best?

In September when I did not get to go “home” for vacation some of my time here was spent soul-searching. I understood that if I were to remain in this call – in this church – it would be necessary to take better care of Sharon. September brought more purposeful early day prayer and meditation time. October offers one lunch hour each week for a yoga practice. I have long been a yoga practitioner but had let my practice go when I moved to this area. It feels good to have that hour and a quarter of focusing on my inner self. October also offers the opportunity to say yes to my son’s invitation to spend Thanksgiving with he and his wife in North Carolina. Weather permitting, I will drive the 10 hours each way to bask in family for 48 hours at their home. Still in October, but not the end of my self-care, on Sunday I discovered a Catholic Church in Elmira NY that welcomed me, an ordained UCC/DOC pastor, into their church family. During worship, grace washed over me. I sang, took communion, was blessed and listened as the youth band (three 2- and 3-year olds) played triangle, xylophone and marimba accompanying the congregation gathered as they sang the sending forth song. Since I work Sundays, I can only join this congregation one or two times each month; but it is worth the 1 1/4 hour drive to be ministered to. This opportunity also reminds me of what I need to do for my congregation to assure they are spiritually fed as they attend worship in Pennsylvania. God is indeed good!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Growth by spurts

Yesterday in worship, our attendance was 22. Paltry by most standards; awesome by ours. We are a congregation – a church - where a year ago, four to six could be counted on to worship. Today, in addition to the 22 in our pews, I could count eight regulars who were either away or at home or had company or were recuperating. In addition to the 30 regulars, we have a few who come, try us and then either come back or leave. Even if they leave, they have experienced a 21st Century progressive church.

The 22 in worship encourages me no end! The congregants who were missing but remain committed encourage me as well. The encouragement is critical because this past week, I emailed my coach with “I want to quit” this impossible task. He strongly encouraged me to look beyond myself – no wallowing in self pity allowed. At a similar low point, a priest I know told me that it does not matter whether this church is successful or not – what will have happened is that some will have been offered God in a way they had not before. A longing they experience for the Holy will have a new avenue for expression.

Church planting takes far more guts than I ever expected. I thought the congregation would grow just based on my enthusiasm and my continual marketing. A build-it-and- they-will-come outlook. How naïve. When I start thinking that church planting is merely a matter of offering God in a new way, I need to remember the Gallop online test I took, the phone interviews I participated in, the in-person interviews I enjoyed. This church planting is not for wimps. Nor is it for people who measure success by the hundreds of worshipers filling Sunday pews. Nor frankly, does the number of different weekly opportunities we offer measure it. Nope, church planting is a partnership between God and my advisory committee and my two denominations and the congregation who is always willing to step up and help. Church planting is a result of planning, patience and prayers. Lots of prayers.

I thank God for the 22 in worship, for their dedication and willingness to join this endeavor. I imagine I will find other days when I plan how get away from this impossible task; and days I will thank the Holy One for this incredible opportunity of offering a progressive expression to infinite love.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Laramie Project

This week and last, Hamilton-Gibson Productions offered The Laramie Project, alternating with Our Town, to community theatre audiences in our area. Both plays were exceptionally well-done and poignant bringing tears to the eyes of some I spoke with. This day's thoughts are not intended to be theatrical review - others do that far better than I. It is, however, a response to The Laramie Project post-production opportunity to "talk back" to the actors, the play and the sponsors. Soul Link United Church of Christ/Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was privileged and excited to co-sponsor the The Laramie Project and I attended opening night joining others for the talk back.

As background I offer this. When I was asked if our church would like to be a co-sponsor, I jumped at the chance and then last spring, I attended a community reading designed to give a flavor of this play to community members. Many showed up and read various parts. That was gratifying. It was also gratifying that some whom I know believe homosexuality is a sin against God were cast as members of the play.

When at the talk-back, I listened (talking just once, no small feat for me). These are my comments about the talk-back: Most of those who convened after the play were proud that Hamilton-Gibson staged the play thereby opening this touchy subject for community discussion. Most of the comments were innocuous and talked about how this community is open and welcoming to all and how we would not have hate crimes.

When I spoke I just said my church was pleased to have the opportunity to participate and that our congregation is an "open and affirming" congregation, meaning that all, gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered, are welcome to participate in every aspect of our faith whether by sitting in the pews or by leading worship as an ordained minister. What I wish had happened was that one (or more) openly gay man or lesbian woman had either been there to speak or, if they were there, had self-identified and spoken up. I cannot speak for the GLBT community but people who are part of the community do talk to me. This is what they say:
  • this north central Pennsylvania community is not as open and welcoming as they feel they are;
  • many from the GLBT community are fearful of being out in this community;
  • my friends also tell me that they must leave the area if they seek a relationship.
Obviously, that is not how they would live in an accepting community. Nor, is it how I think God would weigh in on the subject. My God accepts all, no matter who they are or where they are on life's journey (UCC tag line).

There is an additional opportunity in our area (well, 75 miles south) to again talk about issues that plague the GLBT community. The following is from an email I received from a colleague:

Out in silence

"LEWISBURG, PA – September 16, 2009 - A screening of OUT IN THE SILENCE, "a stunning new documentary" (Philadelphia Inquirer) by Oil City native Joe Wilson is scheduled for Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 2:30pm at the Campus Theatre, Lewisburg, PA. The showing is sponsored by the Bucknell University Office of LGBT Awareness and FLAG&BT, Central Susquehanna ACLU Chapter in collaboration with the Campus Theatre. The screening will be followed by a discussion featuring film makers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer aimed at engaging the audience in a dynamic conversation about the rights of LGBT persons in Pennsylvania and across the country.

OUT IN THE SILENCE is an uplifting film about courageous local residents confronting homophobia and the limitations of religion, tradition and the status quo in their conservative small town in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania. The aim of the film and associated community engagement campaign is to expand public awareness about the struggles gay people continue to face in rural and small town America and to promote dialogue and action in communities around the country that will help people on all sides of the issues find common ground. "

Back to me, and the blog. I hope for this community we all begin to realize that the talk back opportunity should be the beginning of our talk, not the end.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The blogger is on vacation - not writing but still thinking. Back first Tuesday in October

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Second Commandment: "Love one another."

This coming Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary suggests Chapter 2:8-13 from Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) as the scripture reading; this is the only time in the three-year rotation where this book is preached. The reading is all about love. Church should be filled with love, but many will not preach this passage because it seems, somehow, to be erotic.

I imagine that my sermon will be rather short, not because I don't know how to preach about love, but because I expect my congregation already knows and practices love. This is how they know and practice: While I was gone, this tiny congregation in north central Penna hosted a supper for any person who is hungry for food or fellowship in the (broadly speaking) county. This was our third Sunday supper. In June, perhaps eight people read the ad in the paper, saw the flyers or heard about the supper and joined us to eat. Last month, July, we had about 25 guests; this month (August) more than 60 guests came. Sixty people ate this meal. Sixty people shared this interesting type of communion. Sixty people left with full bellies. Thirty people - just about the whole congregation - rejoiced at the smashing success of our efforts to be Jesus-people in and for our community.

I was on vacation and am so sorry to have missed the enthusiasm and the love of all who participated, from the young guitar player I invited to the oldest couple who came to eat to the college student who was so excited about the idea of actually helping people who needed help that she gave up her Sunday afternoon. (She was on her way back to grad school, but promised to come back to help at Christmas.) Tables were set with real dishes and real tablewear - no plastic for these guests - all were served as they arrived. There was no preaching, no proselytizing, no means test, no donation, no fee. Just nourishment for body and soul.

I cannot say enough for the love this congregation offers. Perhaps this paraphrased prayer helps: "May the work of their hands and the love in their hearts be pleasing to you O Lord." Amen!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Advance Prep

This week, tomorrow actually, I am going to Chicago for a week to a relative's wedding. I am honored to go, even more honored to perform the ceremony. Getting ready to go, on the other hand, has been a challenge. Part of the challenge is that when I return, I am here for a few days, then go again for three weeks. That, for those not actually counting, is four weeks of missing church - but four weeks of having to prepare. It has been a marathon and I am very tired. I am reminded of my first, but not last, triathlon last Saturday.

In June I was asked to be the swimming component of Team Gustafson - three clergy women out for fun. Some part of me really wanted to be in this competition, so I agreed and trained. I was unsure about the swimming distance so trained to swim more than twice as far as necessary. Good for me; good for my arms and legs. When I was asked to submit my time, I offered the time I was swimming in an Olympic pool. Turns out the competition pool is quite a bit smaller so I was placed toward the end of the 370+ entrants. Too late to change, I realized my mistake. I was in the line with the non-swimmers or the barely swimmers - people who bike or run but are challenged at the swimming part. Many 30-40 year olds! What I remember most about the swim is that first, people where yelling my name when I came up for air (THANKS Y'ALL) and second, the swimmer I wanted to pass was set on remaining in front of me. Each time I signaled I would pass, he frog-kicked me out of the way. Not very fair. I did finally pass him, swimming twice as fast to get by. I made it out of the water, ran to the transition area, passed the magnet to the biker and still managed to be standing. (Almost forgot: my time was respectable.)

So how does this experience remind me of vacation from church? In this small new church plant, we have no administrative help, so, wanting an informative bulletin, I fill it with news and information, then type and print it. With four supply pastors coming, I have prepared four weeks of bulletins including appropriate hymns, have arranged worship leaders to help the pastors, even as I have tried to keep up with regular work. I am relating, not complaining. Just exhausted! Church planting consumes much energy even before I double the work load.

The lessons learned? Next year, I will give a more realistic time for the swimming component of the clergy team. And next year, I will take vacations in two-week increments.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Growing into prayer

Ah, Tuesday. Tuesday morning. Some asleep, some awake, some blogging.

During my morning prayer time recently, I decided that I too often spend time thinking and not investing that time in prayer. I drink coffee, sit in the dark, listen to birds. But maybe not "pray" in any sense of the word. This is contrasted to the time when I was engrossed in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and my prayers followed set scripture and became a lively interchange between my imagination and the scripture. Without this guidance, I quickly sink back into my own thoughts, but not prayer. To help, I need a focus; yesterday, I decided to reread Matthew Fox's Prayer: A Radical Response to Life."

When I pray, I am aware that I don't do prayers of "petition" - I don't ask God for things. Mostly that is because I don't believe in a God in the sky who grants wishes. When I pray with people, I pray for them to receive strength to get through the happenings and events that we encounter in our every day lives. I ask for God to be with them as a source of hope and light. But I don't do "please God" prayers. At least when I am thinking. Sometimes when I am not thinking, the "please God" does come through - those old habits are difficult to unlearn.

Prayers of all types may be needed, as this shows: A minister in a congregation that I belonged to prayed in this way: "God, we ask you to make ____ well - cure the cancer that is killing her. We know you can do that. Instead of hospice, give her back her life. ..." I remember feeling shocked at this prayer. To be more broad-minded, perhaps this is the prayer that person needed. Just as a priest whom I know has performed exorcisms - telling me, when I asked, that "some people just need them." Perhaps some people just need these "please God" prayers. It offers a way to hope in hopeless times.

I am guilty of what I don't want. When in CPE and when I visit the sick in hospitals, I petition - ask God - to give strength to those suffering, the families as well as the ill. For some reason, while I don't ask for miraculous healing, I seem to think that I am not saying a prayer of petition. Yet asking for strength is just that. Petitioning.

I preached on prayer a couple of weeks ago, trying to meet the individual needs of each member of the listening congregation. That means I watered down the message and did not say all of what I think about praying. Even at the beginning of his book on prayer, Fox reminds me that prayer is not changing God, but being changed by God. I wish I had said that when I preached. My congregation has quite a few who don't believe in religion, but who do think and feel spiritual. Perhaps what they really needed was Matthew Fox's take on prayer. For my own prayer life, I need to grow beyond the asking. I can hardly wait to reread the rest of the book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Music in the Mountains

Today and the first sixteen days of August, the hills are alive with the sounds of music: the Endless Mountain Music Festival brings artists from many places to our corner of the world to play incredible music. Not only do the musicians come from all over - I am privileged to host a horn player from South Carolina in my extra bedroom for this several weeks - but I am learning that the festival draws music lovers from many places. I plan to soak up as much of this as I can; maybe memories of beautiful music will get me through cold winter mornings.

The importance of music is never more real than in church. Three weeks ago, our organist resigned - with no notice - to play at her home church. I understand her leaving and wish her and the home church the best. All the same, I could not help but be panic-stricken. Doing church without a musician is next to impossible. Seems people come to church to experience community and music. Our community is growing and reaching more people. Our music has needed attention. But without any music, can community be a strong enough draw to help us continue to grow? I don't think so.

This is the second time that I have lost a musician without notice. The first was in Denver on a Sunday when the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve coincided. Advent music in the morning, Christmas music in the evening. And no musician. He never came back. I learned then that CD music simply won't do. We struggled, singing without music, for several months until the day David Brussel, horn player for the Colorado Symphony, came to us. With his arrival, the congregation realized how blessed we were to experience this awesome musician.

Now, with no music for Sunday mornings, I put a "Musician Needed" sign up in front of the church with one member's phone number to call. She had three musicians express interest and screened them for me. I have spoken with all three. One man and I decided our theology was way too different for us to even try to work together. That leaves two, both of whom came to church on Sunday morning to check us out. I had expected to meet them both this afternoon, but the piano player with a suspended driver's license, asked if he could play while he was still there. He had walked several miles, in the rain, to get to church. So I listened to him play. Wow! The other, guitar player, auditions today at 5:30. I saw him looking through our hymnal - determining that he could play our music.

One pianist; one guitarist. Broad musical potential. I am greedy and want both, but don't know how we would pay two musicians each week. Whomever comes to our church, I think we are at a tipping point - the point where the excellence of music will help attract the spiritual but not religious - the seekers - this church is intended to draw.

God is always in charge of this church. However, each Monday, I take the day off and let God take total charge (as opposed my "helping" ). I have felt that we are at that crucial tipping point and I think God's total responsibility yesterday will bring the right blend of music to our congregation and spur new growth. I am excited for the future of this church.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Engaging Men in Worship

The more I progress as an emerging worship leader, the more I see the distant and not-so-distant past converge. Drumming is the most recent example of this merging of past and present.

As a new church planter, I am constantly looking for ways to engage men in this congregation. One man I spoke with talked about the late night barbecues he has attended that attracts men. The men who attend do so during hunting season - they bring some of their - is catch the right word or maybe just animals? cook them over an open fire and celebrate fellowship outside in late October or early November. This seems to be one way to offer men a worship experience. The trouble is that late-October-early-November only comes once a year.

As I write this, I am visiting a friend who showed me her healing drum kit. In Penna, she joins an occasional group and drums - more, she drums at home, alone, as a way to relieve stress. Before Penna, in Colorado, there was a drumming group that met weekly as part of the men's participation in our United Church of Christ group. My late husband was an occasional part of that group. As a non-believer, he may have felt that drumming was not excatly worshiping. The interesting thing is that this group appealed to men (women were not invited) who might not ordinarily come to Sunday morning church. The rafters never fell in when they came to drum but not to worship. To broaden opportunities for men, I have thought of asking one of the men who does attend worship to begin a drumming group. I buy some drums and give him license to make this group what it will. If I step back, perhaps men will feel more welcome.

I cannot help but think that church is not just for women - Christ's official disciples were men. Women played an important role in the early church, but those who left their homes and livelihood and travelled with Jesus were men.

I invite comments and suggestions from readers about the drumming circles, the barbecue dinners or other ways to offer men a worship opportunity. In order to post a comment, you must sign in using one of the search engine options (e.g. "gmail" or "yahoo"). Creating one is free. I use both yahoo and gmail and on a computer that is not mine, I signed in using my yahoo email address.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Relationships: new and eons old

Baby robins reside on my front porch - the very same porch where I have carefully tended flowers all summer. The porch is theirs until they fly away. I do hope some of the plants are still living by then.

It seems as though we make choices: have flowers or baby birds. My cats and I have enjoyed watching the birds. I will be happy to have a place to sit outside while we still have summer. Another choice: Last Friday, I joined a group of people from the local communities on a forest walk - it was guided by knowledgeable folk, biologists and forestry people and such. We visited four stations learning about clear cutting and tree management, the economics of our beautiful forest and most amazingly, about the world beneath the land we walked on. Seems there is a symbiotic relationship between what we see above ground and the huge subterranean growth. I can only liken it to the vast underground ocean mountains and aquatic life that never surfaces. The take away from the day? For me, that this pristine (some of it never cut) land needs care even as we manage visitors looking to share our experiences. The Tioga County Visitor's Bureau director was right in reminding us that some people who come on buses want to see the forest and visit gift shops and we must have a place for them while others want primitive hiking. The two can coexist. Much like the birds on my porch and me.

Another choice: At the same time as I wander the forest, I drive by new derricks from gas wells that have begun to "grow" all over our area. Gas has been found - a huge amount of natural gas and the gas companies have bought the rights to some of it, leased the rights to some of it and are still negotiating the rights to other pockets of gas. There is a huge environmental discussion about how good this gas drilling is for the earth. This is especially poignant for an area that was coal mined years ago. On the one hand, I want the area to remain pristine; on the other, we see that people who have lived without many amenities have a chance to have what some consider basic requirements. For instance, one of my congregation members will have a new kitchen in her house. "New" not being an $80,000 kitchen; new, meaning appliances that replace a 30-year old range, or adding a dishwasher. She tells me they may just get the shell done and the appliances - finish it as times goes by. Not luxury. Basic to me. The gas and the forest and the land and all the people will negotiate a way to live that gives each a chance to survive and even live better.

Now, you may be wondering how these experiences fit into the work of a new church planter. Sometimes, so do I. I think in the long run, it makes me a better pastor - more able to understand the people in my congregation on Sunday morning and those I meet who I invite to this new church. As I network, I never know if/how my efforts will bear fruit (as it were). Wheter they do or not - I cannot help but be a better steward of all my environments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


This morning I picked blueberries with several members of the congregation - we picked and talked, then went to breakfast and talked. the blueberries offered an excuse to create community and bond. Later this afternoon, I will go the neighbor's garden, pick as much lettuce as possible and take it to the food pantry in the morning. Create community. Two ways, each offering opportunity.

As I write, Judge Sotomayor is being questioned about the one thing that can be seen as divisive - her public identification with her community: Latina, female, member of the nontraditional workforce that generally defines women. Her community, her bonding, her identification. Luckily, people don't always hold my comments against me - even the public ones. I would not want a justice of the Supreme Court of this land to be selected without being vetted. I would only wish that more of her judicial (that is the official position) be publicly discussed. She has been on the bench for years and surely has been a force in the road our justice system has taken. Yet the focus of the hearings seems so narrow (I am 5 hours from DC - but viewed from Endless Mountains to the beltway, it is a very long way). Which of us leaves behind our heritage? She brings a viewpoint shaped by her communities. When I bond with congregation members or take food to the food pantry, I have my own baggage and issues: bonding with anyone when I am a transplant to this community is suspect. Fortunately, no one grills me on my intentions, what I meant to say, what I would say in the future.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Endless Mountains Summer

Over the weekend I participated with the Rinky Dink and Precision Marching Chairs Band (maybe they have an official other name, but this describes it). What a fun time. For two weeks we had practiced playing and marching - there were four practices in all. Then on Saturday morning at 10AM we gathered in Mansfield to get ready to march. I practiced clarinet on my own, something I was to learn is forbidden since no one else practiced their instruments. People come from all over the area for the parade - traditionally, the Rinky Dinks march last - we had a great time saying "hi" to those we knew along the parade route. We were even judged, but I don't know how that turned out. On Sunday evening, we gathered again and played and sang patriotic songs prior to the fireworks display. Rural America certainly knows how to celebrate a holiday!

On a more serious note, I received a letter encouraging the local churches to preach about "Take back America for God" - the Christian god, I am sure. The organizers mentioned in their call to preach this sermon that our President said this is "no longer a Christian nation" the rest of the quote was omitted. We are not a Christian nation, we are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, many others, all following their own God, a god who is generally benevolent and loving. I preached that I was concerned about this increasingly narrow view of who God is and should be and the danger of having our nation be limited to only one view. We were founded by people who wanted their own religious convictions to be part of their lives and our founders, I believe, did not want a state religion. I rarely preach such directive sermons, believing that the pulpit has much power that can be abused. This week, I needed to at least alert my congregation to this movement that is happening in their communities.

The UCC part of me is proud of our tag line: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here" and I really want that to be heard in this rural new church start.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Late on Tuesday

My week at Lancaster Theological Seminary ended as we rushed back and in the space of four hours left city life behind and rejoined the differently-paced society we call home.

Before I close this portion of my thoughts, I'd like to share a story. At the Penn Central Conference Annual Meeting in mid-June, I shared a 3-bedroom suite with two other UCC folk - one was a man. We had one bathroom, and I did not bring a robe, so any time I left my bedroom, I had to be fully dressed, just in case I met him (my only sighting was as he went from bathroom into his bedroom wearing walking shorts). When I returned home, I emailed the seminary to see if I would again share a suite/bathroom with a man. They said no, so I did not bring a robe only to be awakened at 6:10AM on Monday morning by a real fire alarm. In place of the robe I left home, I grabbed a sheet and left my room (with purse, but no clothes or room key). Gosh darn, that robe would have been more security than the sheet.

Serious business: Several weeks ago I wrote about a meeting that was held in our community where 84 people gathered to take back the US for God. Several days later, we received a mass mailing at church from the organizers of the take back America for the church group. In it they say "we are no longer a Christian nation." To bring us back to being a Christian nation, they ask that we preach this coming Sunday (July 5) calling "people to take America back to God." I could never preach on that; rather, my sermon will be on inclusion, reminding each of us that while we worship a Christian God, others worship the same God, though called by other names (H'Shem or Mohamed). The letterhead is "Kingdom Communities," headquartered in Mansfield PA. Historically, the United States really has never been a Christian nation - it has always been a nation that valued a government not tied to religion as well as the ability to have religion without government interference or regulation. I do not want to be contrary - just remind us on this day after our nation's birthday that we value separation of church and state as we value diversity and inclusion of all in our communities.

A personal note: yesterday on my way back from swimming, I thought that those who could not find things to do in this community are not looking. I swam to get in shape for my portion of a triathlon in August, went to band practice to march in the Rinky Dink band and chair brigade on July 4th. This morning I joined several women and went to the Bath National Cemetery in Bath NY, then finally after I returned from NY, I went to a friend's garden (he is out of town) and picked Romain lettuce that threatened to go to seed. I picked enough heads to thin out the garden and give several heads to every neighbor I know by name. When I left Colorado, I wanted church and community (and other things) but these two mostly. I have them in abundance! God is indeed good !

Monday, June 22, 2009

Continuing Education

This posting comes from Lancaster Theological Seminary where I am immersing myself in Emerging Church classes and culture. A full week - Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning - of thinking creatively about how to do church. Wondering what changes might be made in our traditional worship that would encourage more participation by the people who call me to see if we are what they seek.

It would be even better if I really knew what they want - to say different is to fall short of the needed vision. I understand they do not want church as usual and the do Jesus, God, Holy Spirit offered in 21st Century form. I feel that offering a Saturday evening worship as alternative gives us much leeway for that time and the group who attend.

This new church plant is a work in progress. I always need to be aware of what God is doing. Behold, I do a New Thing is more than just a catchy line or book title. Behold! I do a New Thing in the Endless Mountains where tradition is strong but there is a need for this new voice.

The venture in continuing education is not only time in class - it is the continuing education of Sharon as new church planter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Watchman

I recently heard of a family who, living in Texas, became discouraged with environmental blight and moved to the pristine Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania only to find that the property they now owned was part of an environmental disaster. I have a parallel story: When I left my home in Colorado Springs, Colorado I grieved in many ways at the loss of home, friends, church, support, stability, but one thing I did not grieve was the new “meanness” I found in the community that was home to hundreds of religious institutions.

Funny how things and events move from one part of the country to another; I am now concerned about the future of my new home. In our local weekly paper last Thursday, a major story talked about conservative Christians – 84 strong – assembled by a "few Christian entrepreneurs ... to unite local leaders, provide them with resources and grow a nationwide movement. The speakers said the nation is in a weakened state, financially and morally, and there is an urgent need for Christians to do something about it.” (Wellsboro Gazette, June 10, 2009, The Marketplace, p 1)To me, this sounds like Colorado Springs.

REACTIONS: At first, I wanted to write a letter to the editor, expressing my feelings of sadness and alarm that a conservative few would speak for all of us - the conservative Christians in Colorado Springs are the most vocal of the religious community. Next, I thought to coalesce some of my denominational clergy to let them know what to expect - that appeared to be premature. Finally, I determined to write this blog. I am afraid that this new area of the country I now call home will become like the old place I left and I will be a clone of the Texas family who traded one horror for another.

I think Henri Nouwen says what I need to remember:

Your unique presence in your community is the way God wants you to be present to others. Different people have different ways of being present. You have to know and claim your way. That is why discernment is so important. Once you have an inner knowledge of your true vocation, you have a point of orientation. That will help you decide what to do and what to let go of, what to say and what to remain silent about, when to go out and when to stay home, who to be with and who to avoid.
Henri Nouwen “The Inner Voice of Love”

Following Nouwen's advice, I need to find and speak with like minded individuals, I need to avoid those who would take me down a road that is counter to my own Christian beliefs to be Jesus-like by supporting the weakest in our community, and I need to avoid the dissidents just as I must be vocal when I can make a difference.

It is difficult not to write letters or shout from roof-tops, to watch and wait. But I will, alert to what longer-term effects come from the “few Christian entrepreneurs” who started the ball rolling on this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Short Straw

One of my favorite images comes from Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits (2005: 77) Here are the lines that stick with me from "Incarnation" when the Holy Ones were discussing how they could help humanity that was going in circles:

And so we did
what families do
when confronted
with calamity.
We drew straws.
Shorty lost.
He came to share
your plight,
your fight,
your might,
and point you
toward tomorrow.

If I could attach an image, it would be a short straw; short straws have pervaded some of my time these past weeks. Here's how.

Two weeks ago our community ministerium was responsible for Baccalaureate at the local high school. It was my first time to participate and one thing the three of us with "short straws" agreed upon was that we wanted something unusual involving active participation by the graduates while offering them something to remember. I groused a couple of times, wishing I did not have to work on Sunday afternoon especially since I did not know even one student/parent/family present. Of course, you know what happened - the event turned out to be fun because the students and audience were willing to try something different. They even sang that childhood song, Old McDonald. We ended up having a good time. That short straw became a blessing!

The following week was graduation of the same high school class - 10AM on Saturday morning. I had a 9AM meeting and a second at noon both on my calendar for at least a month, so when not one member of the ministerium could attend at 10AM except me, I felt stressed. It would mean spending a hour or two writing prayers for Invocation and Benediction. How tough is that? and what ever did I think ministry was all about, anyway? As I wrote the prayers, paying particular attention to the inclusiveness, I sought words that would be meaningful to the graduates. Another short straw. Another positive experience.

This week, I have been asked to do the Invocation for a dinner hosting Mansfield's "Woman of the Year." She is an inspiring woman, one I hope to emulate as I age. Another short straw. Funny how the idea of "short straw" has changed over two weeks. From drudgery to honor. Or, is it me? Have I changed, grown more into the minister-in-residence rather than the church planter always working with an agenda? Perhaps this growth will help me remember that doing for others is the Jesus-like activity I preach Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gremlins and Holy Spirit

I started out calling this post "Technology and Evangelizing" which don't appear to have much to do with each other. But, they must share some common elements - both cause unexpected (gremlin/spirit) events. To wit:

This morning, the gremlins/spirits have been at my computer. Actually, they must have worked into the night because it seems that no matter how I tried to start "Tuesday Thoughts" the blog-o-sphere was having (gremlin? spirit?) interference. I absolutely could not sign in to create this blog. This followed as software gremlin from last evening: I paid for a Webinar and minutes before it was to begin, learned that my computer's software is too outdated for me to actually participate in the conversation. So I dialed up the phone number (the old fashioned way, on my way too sophisticated cell phone) and listened while watching a nice screen saver (OK, I worked a jigsaw puzzle or two, just to keep my interest up ) and took notes. I sympathize with people who get tired of trying to keep up. But, on the other hand, I refuse to give in to 21st Century technology. I will continue participating in Facebook conversations, keep writing this blog and be sure my cell phone upgraded so that it takes videos. O, and try to be kind to the gods so that the computer software can be updated .

Another sign of spirits working: This is the season of Pentecost! The season of celebrating the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Christian Church. My monthly report to the New Church Start Committee and my conference minister ask how much evangelism I do each month. I have a stock answer, sometimes told to my congregation: I rarely (haven't yet) stand on a street corner with Bible in hand shouting "Repent." That could leave them wondering how I do do evangelism. I try to evangelize softly. For instance, I used to avoid telling people that I am a pastor - not because I am ashamed, but because they treat me differently. Now, I say it right up front: "I am a pastor, starting a new church in this area for unchurched, liberal folk ..." My conversations are low-key, quiet and (from my view) nonthreatening. So, I wonder and my committee may, is this evangelism? The answer is finally coming: yes, it is. After months of talking softly, people are beginning to ask me how to participate in the new church! In the past week no fewer than six adults and two children I have been talking to have either joined worship or have indicated concrete interest in a study group. This is the season of Pentecost! and the Holy Spirit continues to be active.

Another sign of the Holy Spirit: the congregation I pastor twenty-five percent of my time, including Sunday morning, is growing too. Now when we sing, we really sound like a group of people - perhaps off key, but full of spirit and enthusiasm. And we have as many as eight children - they sing too. Our sanctuary sways with renewed life.

Bring on more gremlins and more Holy Spirit! We are ready!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Old fashioned summer

This past Sunday, my congregation participated in a camp and VBS worship. Throughout the service, we told silly jokes - the kids had great fun with this part: remember how a 4- or 5-year old tells a "knock knock" joke? The kids of all ages sang songs we loved as youngsters. We clapped and drummed and eyes twinkled.

More seriously, the sermon consisted of several snippets that I thought remind us why summer camping is so valuable: self-esteem increases as kids experience self-reliance; tolerance and acceptance increase as new friends who may be different colors or ethnicity become our "best friend" and camp sermons focus on care of the earth. All of these are foundational to the denominations of which I am a part: United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Because I thought it appropriate, I brought my Jesus doll to join our worship. During a children's sermon snippet the kids learned about the buttons the Jesus doll wears: "eracism" "Jesus was a low wage earner" a comma. I don't think I can get them to understand and then reject bigotry, hate, self-centeredness, narrow view of the world too soon.

I don't remember learning about hate as a child, but I surely must have. I do remember my father making derogatory remarks about certain groups of people and I knew then he was intolerant and wrong. It took a few years and experience for me to tell him he was wrong. He died when I was 34. I like to think if he had lived, he would have evolved into a tolerant man.

Everyone showed tolerance toward me when we learned that the ice cream I had gotten for the ice cream social that followed worship had melted because I forgot to be sure the freezer door was closed. We had whipped cream and cherries and chocolate sauce on soft-serve ice cream that was intended to be scooped ice cream. No matter. We had a great time - grins and laughter abounded. For most of us, life is good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


This morning, in north central Penna we woke to a late spring frost - to be expected because I planted flowers yesterday on my sabbath. This frost is almost like bringing on a rain/dust storm the day after your car is washed. My hope is that no one blames me for the frost. Our spring is awesome - outside: birds chirp, hummingbirds drink and amuse, deer wander through and amaze me; inside, the cats purr.

Sunday evening a friend told me that I must be energized and enthused about the day (actually, she said I must feel wonderful about the day). This is what Sunday was like. First, before worship, our adult class discussed the beginning chapters of Jim and Casper Go To Church - an atheist and a pentecostal go to church together and talk about what is good and not so good. The book is their journey through ten churches. It is interesting and relevant to me, a church planter. I want my congregation to consider the goods and bads and see what they think they are or can become.

Second, at worship we prayed about how our church would be known as "Christian" on the outside looking in. After worship we discussed four suggestions that would show how we are Jesus-people to others in the community. The four suggestions submitted by the congregation were: start a diaper ministry; begin some school program; look into how we can help families in subsidized housing; serve a meal at the end of the month to people whose money runs out before month or who need to be around others in a community that cares. We chose the latter. To me, the best part of the discussion and decision was the sparkling eyes and enthusiasm of this group who six months ago thought they were going down a road to death. There are logistics (NO means testing, NO committees, please) to iron out, but we will serve our first meal on the fourth Sunday of June.

Third, in the afternoon, nine of us gathered to talk about the new church - how it fits into two denominations, what each denomination stands for (the United Church of Christ is the new part of church here) and to understand next steps. The discussion was excellent - thoughtful and frank. For me, what stood out was the first time visitor, a 21-year-old man, who asked when he could come be part of this church and discussions like these again. He asked if he came to our building on Sunday morning, would he be able to worship (YES) and if he came to Wednesday Theology for Supper, would our conversation be stimulating (YES). There is an interesting side bar to his participation: He has attended Quaker meeting sporadically for years - the Quaker meeting he attends meets in our building at the same time we do on Sunday morning. Sometimes we miss telling those closest to home about this new church.

Planting a new church - one that seeks to offer a different version of Christianity to those turned off by God-as-judge and routine preachy sermons - takes me in lots of directions. I strive for a day when sermons are mere suggestions that launch us into congregational discussions. This church already has thinking folk - they just don't always get to express those thoughts with others.

There are lots of blogs to read - does this one offer something to bring you here? I invite your comments. Should I write more challenging comments (I could); or are my muses sufficient?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Promises of spring

Yesterday - my official "day off" - I found work infringing in every aspect of the day. The good news (besides God, of course) is that I was able to ignore the church work even as I addressed the house work. I do feel refreshed, knowing that SoulLink UCC/DOC was in good (God) hands even as I refused to be drawn into the fray. This day, the first of my week, starts out cold with a promise of spring later in the afternoon.

As I peruse Facebook, keeping up with friends across the country, I see that Amanda Gail, in West Virginia, lives in a community that has been flooded (with more rain forecast). The residents who live by the raging river face huge loss of even meager possessions. In Amanda Gail's pictures, the destruction is heart-wrenching - mobile homes broken, bedding thrown outside for safety, but now sodden from swollen rivers. I vow to mobilize resources in this county and somehow get them to her. She has already said they will need bottled drinking water. I can load up my VW Beetle and take some down - West Virginia is about 6 hours drive, not all that far - though perhaps a collection of money would be more practical. I will ask my congregation and others to contribute. And maybe I will drive down with water in a week.

The new church start seems to be hitting a valley (perhaps it is me that is hitting the valley?). In being profiled for this "career within a career" I was asked how I face rejection and disappointment and I replied that I just get up the next day and start over. And, I do. But it is not easy - rejection of God-in-the-sky and the church is taken personally by me, even as I know that those we seek to reach don't want "church as usual" - they want a way to touch God that leaves out the pejorative God we all so often hear about. At the same time, I (we have to underline "I") don't think they seek a god who rewards "right behavior" with material goods. On a semi-regular basis, I offer a nontraditional worship experience where readings (scripture and other Godly-thoughts) are read and discussed. The few who attend like this format.

The real problem, I think, is that I don't know how many people to expect. How many people even want church in this post-post-modern time? Even church done differently. Can we really worship God in the back yard? Should we? Isn't this something that is richer with community of the like-minded? I welcome comments - any input will help me address this conundrum.

Until next Tuesday, may you walk in God's grace.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Getting the word out

This is the first day of my new life as a blogger. My biggest complaint about blogging has been that not even I could find my blog. I think I may be there. This time, I wrote it down. And, after I find it will publish it on my business card.

To recap about myself: I am a new church planter for a two denominational congregation (UCC and DOC) in Tioga County, Penna. Twenty-five percent of my time is as pastor of a 175 year old Disciples of Christ congregation called Canoe Camp Church. I was "parachuted" into this beautiful area in August 2008 - parachuted means that I did not know a living soul here. I now have about 80 people that I email when there is something I think they might enjoy. My charge: care for the tiny Canoe Camp congregation and find people who are not interested in church as usual.

The Canoe Camp connection reminds me that I am an ordained minister since, as a new church planter, it seems that all I ever do is network. I attend as many meetings as I am invited to attend, I talk to people even when I feel the need to retire into my introverted shell and I explain, when asked, about the difference between this church in north central Penna and others in the same community. Our difference? you ask: SoulLink UCC/DOC is progressive (I am trying not to say the "L" word), inclusive, ONA (open and affirming), and is for seekers whom I define as people totally turned off by traditional approaches to religion but who still think there is something larger than themselves. I try not to lose sight of these, though sometimes maintaining focus is a challenge.

I am going to post this - will I ever find it again? I hope so as I know people who would not just come to church will read it.

Getting up and going out into the world each day keeps me thinking. Who can I meet today, and will they want to hear about this new church? A few of those I talk with ask me when there worship is and then I have to explain that the new church does not have a regular worship time (and won't for about one year) though there is a "nontraditional" worship experience about once a month. Last month, it was a Celtic-style (taken from Iona) worship and the month before Taize. We also have a DVD opportunity and theology discussions at two local restaurants monthly.