Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter stays in Welsboro

It is Thursday and I am way behind on this blog (and Sunday’s sermon, too). But the sun is shining and the world bright with new snow - a good time for writing.

I was away Monday through late Wednesday at a Disciples Clergy Convocation so getting back offers me a view that was different when I left. Today, I could do snow angels on my front lawn, something this lawn has not seen in years. I live on a street with just two kids - they play outside virtually every day, but mostly in the winter they slide down their hill on a round plastic sled. The frozen water is in keeping with the hose and water fights they had to stay cool last summer. It is nice hearing them laugh for the sheer joy of living - when their parents are out too, the chorus is of four voices laughing.

This family offers an example of what can be in families these years. They bike together in the summer. The boy, who just turned six, has his own bike and helmet and pedals hard to keep up with his dad. Mom generally has the girl, four, riding on the back, though she may be getting old enough to have her own bike this summer. Each of them wears a helmet selected to suit unique personalities.

Biking seems to be in the genes of this family. As a family, they bike to the town square to watch the town band play on alternate Wednesday evenings. They bike to our little downtown and do a bit of shopping - bringing home just what can be carried in baskets. And they bike to visit the (great) grandmother who has recently moved into assisted living just five or six blocks away.

Biking is not just a family affair - the dad goes for extreme biking early some Saturday mornings - waving to me as I head out for the gym -- in my car, I might add. Watching the father go for super workouts as I get into the car for drive to my exercise makes me feel sheepish. Since moving here, I have given up riding my bike because there are too many very steep hills.

There is positive news about my biking riding: I will be riding again as soon as the snow and ice is melted to train for a 15-mile ride. Some friends and I are doing our own triathlon on June 4th. We will swim 300 yards, bike 15 miles and run a 5K. After this feat of endurance, we plan to have lunch together. The triathlon will be fun - but what is more fun is “training” as a group. One morning a week, we swim for 30 minutes (6AM!) and on Saturday mornings when the outside temperature reaches double digits, we walk four miles. I just bought shoe tracks so that I won’t fall on the ice and snow. We are pretty impressed with ourselves as we push up hills and go through the town cemetery pausing only occasionally to read an inscription or two.

As we walk our four miles, sunscreen on, I can see why people call this “God’s Country” because it does have spectacular scenery and views that poke through trees. Many folk from New Jersey (called Flat-landers*) move here so they can always have the view, the clear air and the quiet when they want, and sedate excitement generated by Laurel Festival and Dickens Weekend, national off road car races while still having access to the city for smog, Broadway plays and hotdog vendors.

*PS - Coloradans are called “flat-landers” even though we come from the mountains. Natives are “ridge runners.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The church as welcoming

Church planting is difficult. Getting a message out that says we are a different kind of church sometimes sends a message that we are so different that people ought to stay away. That difference came home to me recently in a conversation that included this statement: “I know you are trying to build a gay church ... “

I think I stuttered or at the very least was speechless, because I am not trying to build a “gay church” rather, I am trying to raise up a church that welcomes EVERYONE. EVERYONE. EVERYONE. I know that many churches only want certain people. I know that those sitting in the pews who support the church only want certain people.

Long before I was ordained, I was a sociologist and I still think “sociologically.” In early sociology classes we learned that people like to be with people who look like them. For instance, when I enter a room with equal numbers of unknown people, males and females, I generally head straight to the females who are my age and who are standing either alone or in a group of females who are further distinguished by being dressed in similar clothing. That is just where my comfort zone is.

This seeking of like individuals goes on in church as well as in a gathering, which is why 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. We each attend the church that looks like us. So, when I invite all to worship on Sunday morning and those who come to visit see whites and African-Americans, college professors and unemployed workers, some dressed to the nines while others are wearing less formal clothes, only the very secure and determined will return.

I am having a crisis of church building - perhaps it is a crisis of faith. I always thought God accepted everyone and churches should welcome everyone. But when I learn that if we welcome and accept gays or those with physical and mental handicaps or those with wardrobes from Goodwill, then others are going to stay away, I am saddened and disheartened. At that time, I see no hope for this different, struggling congregation, or for religion in general. This may be the message that Americans who stay away from church are sending.

When I first moved to Mansfield, my new spiritual director told me that if the church plant did not succeed, that I should not think that seeds were not planted. God works in mysterious ways, said he. I hope so. Because we NEED to sit next to each other and learn each from other - our favorite food and our unique ways and our hopes and dreams. Otherwise, we might turn out to be in such disarray that we don’t recognize our brother or sister. Then we should wail, doubled over in grief.