Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No matter who you are, you are welcome here!

Last Sunday in worship, one of our new members helped with communion. Now this, in itself, is not unusual because I want people to help with church. I encourage them to work in church to make it successful. Ultimately, it is the congregation that makes church succeed. When (in my more delusional moments) I think it is me, I am reminded harshly – even gently – it is God and the congregation making us thrive.

Anyway, on Sunday, our new member, confined to a motorized wheelchair, with one arm that barely works, held the bread in his working hand for all the congregation to come forward to partake. As they came forward, I offered a healing blessing with oils at the back of the church. The two serving communion – one in a wheelchair, the other who works for Partners in Progress (PIP) a community organization for individual with special needs – were in themselves unusual. Even so, the most unusual part came toward the end of communion.

In our congregation, we serve those who cannot come forward in their seat. This being the custom, our new young member wheeled his chair to the pew where a 92-year-old woman waited for communion. As he got to her, he adjusted the chair so that she would not have to reach too far, and held out the bread as far as his arm could reach. She took her piece and then, from our PIP server, took the juice cup. After he finished serving this woman he wheeled back and she walked back to serve each other and wait for me to come back from anointing.

I, standing in the back of the church watched this, then continued watching as the communion serving played itself out. First, our wheelchair-bound young man held out the bread to his co-server, she took her piece and consumed her juice, then she took the bread and offered it to him. At that point, he needed more help to get the bread and juice so another congregation member that works at PIP came forward to help. I could only stare as these three helped each other with this sacred meal.

As a church planter when I came to north central Pennsylvania, I expected to attract the liberal-minded professors and their families to our new church. For the most part, they have stayed away in droves. What we have is the most diverse congregation in the county. We have diversity in race, education, income, ability, disability, age and singing ability (I am low here). We have the best musician you can find who seems – though he is going through a spiritual crisis – to really like our congregation.

I was relating my intention to write this blog to a friend this morning as we drove to Galeton and she reminded me of her favorite line: “If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.”

What I need to end with is this: our congregation is small – growing – but small. Yet, we have the biggest hearts of any congregation I have ever known. If church is about everything and everyone being part of God's place, then we ARE church. And I thank God that we are!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

“Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she?”

I used to read Molly Ivins columns faithfully – I loved it that she called a spade a spade and a Texan a tall-tales-Texan. She died way too young of breast cancer – she was 62 and younger than I. I do not have breast cancer – and I do not have a syndicated column, nor do I possess the wit she used in her writing though I wish I did.

Molly Ivins did have some help – for instance, she hired a fact checker. I wish I had a fact-checker to keep me from making some woefully common errors and an editor (Molly had one of these, too) to chop up my run-on sentences and to be sure I finish all my thoughts before sharing them. Most of all, (I don’t think Molly had one of these) I wish I had a button for “pause – reread – reconsider” before clicking send. That button (or the editor or fact checker) would have made my blunder on Facebook this morning less likely to happen. To help, I could have taken myself off Facebook like my friend Larry did. Several months ago, he sent a broadcast email saying “sayonara” “hasta la vista” and “so long” to this wacky communication tool.

Not me, I keep thinking I will sign off FB, but I am addicted. I really want to see what is going on with all my friends – I don’t have millions, not even thousands or hundreds but I do have 116. FB tells me I ought to have more – a friend of a friend would love to be my friend - even when they don’t know me. I say no to most “friend requests.” Sometimes I should say yes, who knows whom I might meet, but mostly “no” fits my life style.

Twitter is another tool for keeping in touch. On Twitter, many people follow me - I do not know one of them. If I wrote more comprehensively about what I do, I would be concerned about the anonymous people following me. They follow me in spite of the fact that once I signed in to Twitter, I never went back online again. Still every few days, I get an email saying “___ is following you on Twitter.” Must be they have drab lives since following my non-existent life is part of their daily routine.

Then there is “Linked-In” – a professional networking site, good for job hunting. Every few days, a headhunter tells me that a job paying BIG BUCKS awaits me. I don’t answer these come-on emails. If I were job hunting, I would contact my Linked-In buddies.

Linked-In sounds the most like it fits my line of work – preaching. According to some sources, the Bible for instance, no one has ever seen God and if we were to, we would have to die, so Facebook is not a really good tool for my work. A liberal, progressive pastor working with twitter-ing might be mistaken for a very conservative preacher and I don't want that confusion. But, Linked-In. I like that. I think I will use that for the title of Sunday’s sermon: “Linked-In – Emerging Church in Pennsylvania.” Linked-in infers that we have others to communicate with. I like that, since I am always looking for someone to tell about church. If I had a sign out front of church where I could put the sermon title in big black letters, I might use “Linked-In: Networking with God.” I could use “Facebook: Networking with God” but that loses some punch.

Linked-In. I like that.

And, gosh, in case you were “Linked-In” to me this morning when I wrote (on FB) that I am sorry to have a round-trip ticket to Colorado, will you please read the part (30 seconds later) where I said that I would be sad leaving my family and friends when I return here – and I should have added “coming home to my new friends.”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Church planter cultivates relationships

Interesting week, this.

This afternoon, We are scheduled to rehearse “The Three Pigs,” a reader’s theatre offering through Hamilton-Gibson, our community theatre. I read the part of Bambi, the pig who wants a wood house. I say that last, because I don’t think that the pigs were named in the original story. My “costume” is a straw hat with really bright pink ears that I made from pink construction paper. Then this evening, we rehearse a 10-minute play about a Christmas tree. I am co-director.

Some might question how community theatre relates to planting a new church and the skeptic might not like my answer. The answer, from my perspective, is that I have to be involved in as many aspects of community life as possible to get my name and the name and our new congregation into the public domain. Looking through my Daytimer, any person who is totally “left-brained” that is, logical, sequential, rational and analytical would certainly doubt the value of my week: play rehearsal (two plays), Kiwanis, Rotary, University community group, Tioga County Community Health Partnership, Friday Club, Art group, dream group are part of what I am scheduled to do. This more linear person might wonder how this builds a church. This linear person would think I am not going forth and offering God to people. But I am doing just that.

Last week, as part of what I receive from this community involvement, I was invited to give the invocation and benediction for a new community group that invited me to become a member. at such event, the prayers are inclusive and I try to be sensitive (see the blog about Interfaith from a week or so ago) to those in the room, that is, to “preach” not to the choir, but to those gathered. After the invocation and the benediction/grace, several people – most of whom I did not know – complimented me on the wording and the sensitivity of these public prayers. Several days later, a companion on the bus trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, Canada did the same.

My activities this week that are evangelical include the same variety as my community presence does. On Wednesday, I write the Midweek Message for the Wellsboro/Mansfield Gazette, our local paper. I will meet with colleagues for a lectionary group to sort out Sunday’s sermon, I will meet with our newly formed pastoral relations committee (Friday evening) and write a sermon and produce the weekly bulletin for Sunday. In addition, I will spend at least one hour a day responding to emails that I receive – many of which are about global activities in which our two denominations participate. I will send positive thoughts to our newly formed prayer quad. Among the less –pleasant pastoral tasks was this: early this morning, I had to tell a man who is traveling from Massachusetts to New Mexico that I have no funds to help with gas, bus ticket, lodging or food. What a terrible thing – denying help. I feel terrible not to help. Yet, there are so many who are in need and our already limited resources dwindle as more and more of our congregation feels the pressure of the recession.

Sometimes I imagine that God is watching - trying to find out what I am going around in these circles for. Why don't I just walk up to people and invite them to join our congregaion on Sunday. I wonder, too. But I understand that not everyone appreciates my progressive stance on living as a 21st Century Christian. I hope that my actions will show how we live as progressive Christians and maybe then some of the unchurched community will come.

Interesting work, this.