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.