Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Growth and its financial counterpart

Today I drive 9 hours south of Wellsboro to Burke’s Garden VA to spend time with my friend who is Lutheran pastor for two congregations. I left myself plenty of time to get down to Virginia, mostly so I can stop in one of those malls that I know I will pass on the way. Today I plan a tourist route because who knows when I will get back to Virginia again?

I needed this time off. As I look at myself, I see a tired woman, struggling to keep up with the schedule she set for herself. Thursday through Sunday were horrendous 12+ hour days each. Thursday, I was the unpaid staff for Olan Mills photos at church. It was a positive experience as I had a bit of time to talk to each member of our congregation as they came in for their photos. It was awesome, too, in that we have sufficient numbers to more than meet the minimum number of photos needed to put a book together. The last time the photos were taken, two churches got together to compete one book. This photo directory is tangible proof that the congregation is growing. We are not flourishing and financially, we are floundering.

To help with the financial part, I enlisted six members of the congregation asking each to raise funds to keep us going. I gave them packets containing a letter and a brochure and asked them to send ten letters to friends they know who support our progressive church but who either don’t go to church at all or who attend another congregation. The letter asks for financial support. To a person, the six were horrified and though we brainstormed names, I am not confident they will send the letters.

I am doing my part. As I put together packets of letters, brochure and a business card, I too was hesitant to send out this fund raising appeal. It is so reminiscent of heading a nonprofit organization where this time of year many fund raising letters reach out to supporters pleading: “Please help keep us going.” I sent the letter to 15 people I think will support this church - most of them live out of state. After Thanksgiving, I will send out 15 more. But not to pastors as I assume they, like I, already tithe to their own congregations.

In the religious sphere, we don’t think the church should do this fund development. Group think is: “God will provide” if we are faithful. At the risk of offending some of my congregation who may read this or offending other pastors, the counterpart is “God helps those who help themselves.” This applies to raising sufficient money to run a church.

In order for Soul Link to survive, we need those who our support a progressive congregation to help us. Our congregation IS church (I got that from Sharon Watkins, President and General Minister of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) when I heard her preach several times. She starts out “Good morning CHURCH” to remind us that we are). Soul Link, too, is church - we are diverse and not at all the most segregated hour of the week. We include those with some money, those with lots and those with none. Each contributes weekly. But, frankly, there is not sufficient money in the annual offering to pay a pastor, to print a bulletin, to turn on the lights.

Many pastors don’t talk about financial support of their church - we segregate ourselves into old thinking: the Stewardship committee takes care of finances and pastors take care of souls. Well, if this church is to survive, we need a different model. This pastor will do stewardship and do it by reaching beyond the walls of our church.

A comment on Facebook by Diana Butler Bass included a quote from Sharon Watkins (see above) "God never told the world to go to church; but God did tell the church to go to the world." We strive to go to the world - that is my (almost) weekly message. Like everything else, going forth requires money. If you are reading this and can support us, please contact me through Facebook and I will tell you where to send your tax-deductible contribution. If you cannot support us with funds, please keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living Without

My experiment of living without buying things is about half-way through. I have failed in so many ways, though I have succeeded in others. Here is how this experiment stands:

Promise to self: don’t spend money except on food.

First “lapse:”
bought a new couch. It is not here yet, but I could not sit on the other one because it was too deep and too soft and too big and too ... My plan was to (first) sell it then I was told no one would buy it, so then (second) I planned to give it to a nonprofit that could use it and then (finally, three) what I actually did is sell it to a neighbor who has two foster kids. The kids can sit on it, sleep on it, tussle on it. So, if I bought a new one to replace the one that will be well used, does that mean I have failed? I think not.

Second “lapse:”
I get way too many clothing (and other) catalogs in my mail. Many of them are showing longer sweaters and light coats. I did not have one but I resisted the many colorful ads until I was in a local shop (notice I said local, not mall, not online-shopping) and found one that fit. I like it. It is brown (one of the two great colors for next year, the other being gray-green). It can be dressed up or down, it can go to the malls or the theatre or church. WOW! A great investment for less than $85. Having it last for two years - might it last for four years - is actually a better investment than the mutual funds I have that are losing money even as I type.

Third “lapse:”
though it is difficult to call this a lapse since I am doing home improvement. I am having my front porch repaired where the wood is rotting replacing the stair railing in wood rather than the mismatched wrought iron that was there. That is the investment. While the contractor is here, I sked him to do a few more things so here comes the spending part: the new faucet in my bathroom sink. I needed to change the handles and they would have cost about $25. For a mere few dollars more I have an up-to-date spigot. Taller, shiny and fits in with the bathroom more than the one that was in the house when I bought it. So now, I need towels, especially hand towels. Do I need matchy-matchy all new towels or just hand towels? Probably not today, but soon.

I don’t think it is a lapse to spend money on these items. My mother used to tell me there were excuses (not too important from her perspective) and reasons (ah, yes, more real and truthful). This is more an excuse, if I am truthful. Reminds me of the things we tell ourselves when we don’t go to Sunday church. We justify with excuses or reasons things done and things left undone.

When I talk to folks about church, I hear lots of excuses about why people don’t go. Some say they we can’t prove there is a God, so why bother? On the other hand, there is Pascal’s wager: if you have to bet, bet on God. In the end, you can’t lose. Ultimately, since science - seeking proof - is so different from faith - belief - it is not fair to look to science to prove faith. Other folk tell me that there are ball games and television programs and sleeping late and can’t get around and too tired. I sometimes, too, want to just turn over and go back to sleep.

In the post-modern world of Christianity, we don’t think too much about the Mystery-we-call-God (not referred to just plain “God” anymore). We certainly don’t think about being judged, though in the Hebrew Scriptures, God both judges and protects. According to progressive Christian thinking, judgment is not from the outside though it may be internal.

How do I judge myself? On the issue of consuming, leniently. When I spend, no one is doing without. When I do actually turn over and go back to sleep (it is not only Sunday mornings that tempt me), I judge myself more stringently. I feel guilty all day and vow to do better tomorrow.

The real issue is: If I were being judged, how then? If you judge yourself on an action or issue, how do you fare? If you were being judged by another (God?) how would you fare?

As I prepare myself and my congregation for the Christmas season I want to do better not because there is a Santa Claus God rewarding my actions by checking off a list, but because I am “God Dependent” and I want to feel right with God. God is the one thing I cannot live without.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gifting myself this Advent

We are approaching the beginning of the Christian liturgical year. In 2010, the first season, Advent, begins the last Sunday of November and takes us through Christmas. After Advent, we have Lent, then Easter, then Pentecost, then ordinary time (or numbered Sundays Pentecost), then back to Advent of the next Christian year. To get through the Bible in an orderly fashion, Christians focus on scripture readings that many mainline denominations have agreed to read at the same time throughout the year. This year, we begin Cycle “A,” having just completed Cycle “C.”

Commencing a new year is an especially good time to make resolution. Mostly, our resolutions - made on January 1st - are past history by January 31. However, as we begin our Christian year, we do not give up or take on a resolution although many mark Lent with a special effort of letting go of a named pleasure. Then, as Easter approaches, many quickly return to eating chocolate. In-the-know-Christians remember that Sundays do not count in the 40 days of Lent, so they can indulge that day.

Why offer this information? As Advent and the new Christian year approach, it seems a good time to rethink our religious practices. Maybe we can give something up for a year. Perhaps it would be a good time to add a practice. I have read that it takes 30 days to make or break a habit. Now is a good time to start. Can’t think of any? Here are a few to consider:

Join a religious book discussion group, make it one that is accessible to all of
your family.

Take a Sabbath break to attend a religious service. I know many do; many more do

Spend a few minutes each day in prayer that focuses on thanking God for the gifts
you receive. Gifts include health, recovery, peace, family, a wonderful place to
live. You name it, just frame it in a “thanks” format.

Do prayer walking, that is, walk and pray at the same time. I do not mean walking
past someone’s house and praying that that person will change, but being
deliberate in prayer as you walk from one place to another during your day.
Places where this is appropriate? Going from house to car. On the way to the
grocery store. As you walk through the house to straighten it up. On the way to
the soccer field. I often say a prayer as I drive between Wellsboro and Mansfield.

Visit one person who lives out of home beginning November 29 until she/he returns
home, or until the end of the year. In this way, you may become a friend to
someone who is lonely.

Find the labyrinth in Coudersport and go walk it. Then see how many labyrinths
there are in our area and visit them.

Say the rosary.

Volunteer for a nonprofit organization in our community. Do whatever job needs
to be done. Bring a friend or your kids to help. And do this volunteer work with
love throughout the year.

There are so many things you can do that enhance your spiritual life. They take just a bit of time but bring huge rewards in your own well-being and sense of peace. For me, I need reminding that these are just what I need this time of the year - and, if I am honest, all through the year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Making Friends

In the United Church of Christ this Sunday is “Bring a Friend to Church” Sunday. In some ways, that sounds hokey. Bring a friend to church - some say that if their friends wanted to be in church, they would be. Sometimes, they say their friends are in other churches. Both of these are certainly true statements. However, there is another true statement: Asking a friend to come to church seems like “evangelism” and we don’t do evangelism in our (liberal) circles.

When I think of evangelism as such, inviting a friend to church may sound uncomfortable. It may sound preachy, too. When I think of the mega churches, however, I see that these pastors and members are not hesitant to invite friends to church. They do it frequently and nicely. Friends are invited to worship, but they are just as likely to be invited to a dinner, a game night, a movie or a kids' play. The hope is that when the friend comes, what is offered will be received positively. Since they are raising friends, the design of the event is to engender positive feelings.

As I look at our rural but progressive congregation, I see the potential for a mega- church, right here in north central Pennsylvania. That vision requires defining “mega” not in the thousands - our county is only about 15,000 - but in the hundreds. Yesterday I wrote my monthly report for the New Church Start committee of our conference. In it, I said I am happy that when we have thirty-five in attendance on a Sunday we are approaching the norm for the county. Lord, I should have said “I dream in hundreds” so thirty-five is this month’s starting point.

I am happy to report that we have grown to thirty-five. I will be happier to report that we have grown to forty-five, then even one hundred. “Mega” is all a matter of perspective. We can do it. Our enthusiasm is contagious and our message gives hope to all.

If you live in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, I invite you to attend this week’s service at 10AM on Sunday (in Mansfield, by WalMart) to see what it offers you. If you live out of the area, but know of folk who live here, I invite you to pass this blog on to them. If you don’t live here and don’t know anyone who does, I invite you to join many others who are praying for this fledgling church. A growing church with a big heart with arms that embrace all who come through the door.

May the peace of God be with you this week.