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!