Sharing Space

I attend worship services alone every week, sometimes more than once a week.  My family attends our Sunday service and most of our special services, and yet I still feel alone each Sunday because they do not sit with me.  Most Sundays I do not talk to my family members until we are walking home after all the Sunday tasks are finished.  I am no different than clergy all over the world.  In fact, a whole lot of people who are single, widowed, or are the lone person in their family who attends religious services attend services alone.  It is because I attend services alone that the act of sitting next to someone during a worship service is such a profound experience.

Rarely do I get to enjoy the restlessness of a child in a pew, or feel another person lean into me to reach a hymnal.  Almost never do I have someone reach for my hand when a prayer, hymn, reading, or sermon moves them.  I do not share whispered words, elbows in the side, or pieces of hard candy with my spouse or children.  I do not know what my children’s singing voices sound like when blended with the voices in front or behind me, and I have no idea when my oldest child stopped singing in worship.

I am a leader of worship which means I sit alone, sing alone, and never feel the comfort of an arm around me on the back of a pew.  I get to watch the people in worship to make sure the details are happening as they need to, but I do not have the privilege of holding the hand of someone as they sit beside me.

Worship is a communal experience, which means we gather together, we sit together, and we learn together.  Worship as a communal experience means you know what the sigh from the person behind you means, or when the person in front of you is praying or nodding off.  Worship as a communal experience means there is joy in sharing space with others as you build memories and habits.

I rarely get to share space with my family in worship.  I have only a few memories of sitting with my children as they have grown up in the church.  I do not know which hymns make them tremble with emotion.  I do not know what their hands feel like clasped in mine.  I do not know what it feels like to have them squashed between my husband and I in a pew where people know to look for us.

20181216_094526

Sitting with my oldest child.

But today was one of those rare occasions when I did not sit alone.  Though we were not all together in the pew, three of us were, much like a typical Sunday.  On my left was my oldest, on my right my husband.  At one point he sighed, leaned into me, shifted and put his arm around me on the back of the pew and my tears were instantly at the surface.

I was not alone in worship.  I was between my child who no longer sings and my husband who sings with a confidence grown over years of communal worship.  For me today, this was an illustration of joy and goodness, the themes for this third week of Advent.  I hope as you share space in this world, whether it is in worship spaces or other places, you take a moment to appreciate the people surrounding you.  Pay attention to their sighs, their voices, their whispered words, and how it feels to have them lean into you.

Pay attention and give thanks.

 

A Radical Community

20181204_082455[1]I know when people describe our congregation, radical is not the first adjective that comes to mind.  We pride ourselves on being simple people who strive to live showing kindness and respect.  However, the first stories I heard about our congregation when I was making reference calls all those years ago was that the congregation in question was a radical one.

This congregation was radical from its beginning.  Two congregations, one Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the other United Methodist, had leaders in their thirties who saw a bigger vision for the future of the congregations.  They were not the only leaders, leaders with more age and wisdom also saw this vision, but the younger leaders were the ones who filled in the story when I accepted the call to serve.  The radical decision was made to unite the congregations as one and become a brand new congregation.  The leaders made decisions about property, pastoral leadership, and denominational status and the congregations followed those leaders.  I have been told there was much to be afraid of and some struggles in the beginning, but the radical vision of a vibrant congregation kept them going.

The second radical story I was told in the beginning that has been re-told many times, is the decision the congregation made to spend their money to hire a full-time pastor instead of yoking with another congregation or hiring a part-time pastor.  This might not seem radical to you but for a rural congregation living in an area with a diminishing population, the decision to spend money that has been saved for decades is a huge leap of faith.  I was told that the congregation decided the only way to continue to grow into their vibrant vision was to use the resources they had been given.  It was some of those original leaders, now forty years older, who filled in the details of that story for me.

A third, and by no means final, characteristic of their radical nature is that I am the sixth female pastor to serve with them.  This is radical because there are still congregations in our denomination (PCUSA) who have not had a female pastor.

I share this radical nature of our congregation because today they made a new radical decision, they agreed to enter into a sabbatical in 2019.  Sabbaticals, spending money, uniting small congregations (or consolidating businesses), and hiring women may not seem radical to some of you, as in many fields these are normal practices.  But for a rural congregation a sabbatical is typically a brand new experience.

Today we had an honest and heartfelt discussion as a congregation about our concerns and dreams for taking a new radical step into the future.  We decided we would use this tool we have been offered to nurture our pastor-congregation partnership and dream of that vibrant future we have been living and want to continue to live.

Tonight one of our oldest members said to me that a sabbatical is such a good idea and is exciting not only for the pastor but also the congregation.  I heard in their words that same radical nature that has kept this congregation serving God and the community all these forty-nine years.

I am inspired by their faith and thankful I get to learn how to live simply and radically with them.

If the Way Be Clear

Resized_20181201_164344

Looking out the windshield. 

In Presbyterian Church U.S.A. vocabulary the phrase “if the way be clear” is used to acknowledge though we plan, dream, and hope, sometimes the way forward is not what we imagined.  I was thinking of this phrase yesterday afternoon while I drove my family home through a massive thunderstorm complete with a tornado warning.  We arrived home safely thanks in part to smartphones, internet access, and my husband’s use of those tools to give me guidance about when to get off on an exit to wait out a portion of the storm.

Yesterday I could not see more than a few feet in front of me, I had to trust my knowledge of the road, the tools I had at hand, and the rules of the road.  I could see the yellow dotted line on my left, and the white solid line on my right, that was about all.  I knew stopping would likely result in a crash.  I knew going forward meant I had to trust what I could not control.  I am not the first person, or pastor, to find the act of driving to be a powerful metaphor for life.

I am thinking about that drive home because I feel stuck in the storm.  About two years ago I reached my tenth anniversary of ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  I was elated to reach this milestone and thrilled to be celebrating it with the congregation I had been partnered with for those ten years.  It is not all that common for fresh out of seminary (first-call) pastors to stay with their first congregation that long.  We celebrated and looked forward to the future.

In the two years since that milestone a fair number of difficult experiences have taken place, making me feel stuck in a storm and surrounded by fog.  Each one has taught me a new lesson and helped grow the Fruits of the Spirit in me, but they have left me feeling as if I cannot see more than a step in front of me.  I have the yellow dotted line of my faith, the white solid line of my partnership in ministry with colleagues and the congregation, the tools or spiritual practices of my faith tradition, and my trust that God is in control.  So I keep putting one foot in front of the other confident one day the storm will cease and the fog will lift.  But as driving in a storm sometimes requires a chance to rest, so does life as a pastor.

Our polity as members of the PCUSA states the elected elders serving on the session (governing board) and pastor are partners in ministry.  The congregation takes a vow to support and care for the pastor and family, and the session vows to help lead the congregation with the pastor.  As I have put one foot in front of the other I have shared my experiences with the elders and they have prayed with and for me, they have walked with me through these struggles, they have helped me find joy, and they have reminded me we are partners. Even as I have felt stretched thin as I care for our congregation and community, they have joined me in carrying out our worship and work.

It is from the elders that the idea for us to take a sabbatical came.  In the past year and a half we have prayed, studied, discussed, met with others, and dreamed of what a sabbatical could mean for our congregation and for me.  The dream of a time of rest, reflection, and renewal fills me with hope.  The idea that others would care for me and my family in this way fills my heart.  My family and I have spent over twelve years loving this community and congregation and we have sunk our roots deep here.  Yet, right now, even though I know the road forward is there, the fog of weariness makes it difficult to see.  So, like yesterday while I was driving, it is time to pull off for a bit and rest, to wait out the storm, and trust once I have rested the fog will have lifted.

Life as a pastor is unique and amazing because not only do you get help others be their best self but they get to help you be your best self, and together you get to make the world a better place.  That means sometimes as a pastor you have to let others take care of you and your family, even though that does not come naturally.  I do not know if the way will be clear for a sabbatical, there are more details to work out, but the simple fact that the elders, who I have met in their own storms, are meeting me in mine and are willing to guide me with the tools we have, fills my heart to overflowing.

Food Allergies Are Real

20180925_110859I have a severe allergy peanut and tree allergy.  I carry epi-pens with me everywhere.  I ask questions about the food I am being offered.  I avoid certain restaurants, skip food offered, pack my own food, and often go hungry to avoid ingesting something that could lead to my death.  I did not always have to take these precautions.

Eighteen years ago when my allergies were first discovered my doctor told me as I got older my allergies would get worse.  This meant that while I might be able to eat something processed with nuts at the time, there would come a time when what I was eating would kill me.  I was also warned about kissing my husband if he had eaten something I was allergic to, even a peck could be deadly.

So for a few years I was sort of careful and nothing bad happened.  I went to a new doctor when we moved to a new state and they repeated all the same warnings.  I started to be a little bit more careful.  A few years later I mistakenly ate something made of walnuts (I forgot to ask) and I had a severe reaction.  At the advice of my friends who are nurses and my doctor I started carrying epi-pens in my bag.  A couple years after that I mistakenly ate something made of pecans (again I forgot to ask) and had another similar reaction.

Three weeks ago I mistakenly ate something cooked in peanut oil, again I forgot to ask.  Two epi-pens and an emergency room visit later and I was on the mend, though not healed.  Three days ago I mistakenly ate something that had come in contact with nuts (again I did not ask) and though not as bad as the peanut oil reaction I have felt like an elephant is on my chest since.  Because that is what happens to me, my throat and mouth swell up, my chest feels heavy and it is hard to breathe.  The peanut oil incident resulted in my face looking sunburned for three days.

I share this story because I believe it is important for others to know how deadly food allergies can be.  Some allergies will manifest the way mine did.  Some will manifest in other ways.  All allergies make the person suffer.  Too often I have encountered people who think food allergies are made up because someone is a picky eater.  In my case this has made me reluctant to ask how something was made, which a pharmacist once told me would be the death of me.

I know I am to blame for not asking before I put food in my mouth.  I also know how important it is for me as a host to ask about allergies and to provide safe food for the people I am hosting.  As always I see a connection between my experience and life in a congregation.  We talk in our worshipping community about being a safe place for people to gather.  We put windows in doors, develop habits of supervision, we learn histories and remember important dates so we can offer care during difficult times, and a hundred other little actions to let others know they are important enough for us to remember the details.

Remembering the details is the lesson I take from my food allergy experiences.  When I remember the details no one has to be worried that they have accidentally killed me or made me suffer.  When I remember the details no one has to worry about eating the food I make.  As a community when we remember the details we provide a safe and hospitable place for each other, which means we are answering our call to be God’s hands and feet in a specific place.

Details are important.

 

 

One Sunday Morning

20180722_142146

From the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

One Sunday afternoon I read an article in  The Christian Century about the newly opened Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to  Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

One Sunday morning halfway through our summer vacation traveling through Alabama we had a discussion with our children about foregoing a usual worship service to be confronted with our sins as a country.  My explanation resulted in comments about how even away from the pulpit I could not stop teaching them.  There were a few John Calvin jokes shared before we pulled into Montgomery.

Arriving in Montgomery we parked by a sign that told us Montgomery was the center of the Domestic Slave Trade and that the place we were parked used to be a place where humans were sold.  As we read the sign silence began to descend.  It was an odd silence because the city sounds did not cease, but the other noise of our lives ceased.

The museum is housed in a building that used to hold humans as they awaited the moment they would be auctioned.  The day we visited, the museum was packed.  We slowly made our way to each exhibit between two families.  We never spoke more than the usual whispered “excuse me” and “sorry” of museum goers, yet I was completely aware of their presence.  We were staring at evil laid bare, and my skin color, which was different than theirs, connected me more with the evil than with the good.

The memorial is a sacred place.  We walked through the memorial reading the names and dates of our fellow humans who had been murdered because of the color of their skin.  More than 4,000 names were displayed.  I walked through the memorial reading of the lynchings in towns I have walked the streets, in years people I know were alive.  I wondered if I would learn someone I loved was a murderer.  I wondered how anyone I was walking beside could ever look at me and not hate me on sight for what white Christians had done.

As I came to the last corner of the hanging display section of the memorial I could hear water, realizing I had heard it all along.  I stopped to read the wall featured in the photograph, and the tears could no longer be held inside.  I took a photograph because it was allowed and turned toward the source of the water, a long wall pouring water down like a righteous stream.

I approached the water hearing in my head the words of baptism I say when I baptize babies, teenagers, and adults.  I heard these words and my tears fell as I touched the water.

. . . we set this water apart to be the waters of baptism may the person who now passes through these waters be delivered from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to righteousness.  Grant that they will grow in compassion and humility. . . 

I wanted to put my whole body in the water.  I wanted someone to make the sign of the cross on my forehead and say the words of baptism to me.  I wanted to be reminded that grace and forgiveness is ours to have.  I wanted to know we could still have hope.  I wanted to know evil would not win for one more day.

I reluctantly left the water and walked through the graveyard portion of the memorial holding my daughter’s hand.  I read the invocation at the end of the memorial, wiped at my falling tears, and left with my family.

In the weeks since we visited that morning has never been far from my thoughts.  One of the lessons the creators shared was their belief that With Hope we could change the world, with a determination to never forget and a belief we could be better, we could bring healing, and that evil could be stopped.

I am left with this conviction.  We cannot change our past, but we can change the present and the future.  In order to do that we have to know our history.  We have to admit our sins, the ways the sins of others have benefited us, and our lack of commitment to working for healing.  We have to admit where we have been and are if we ever expect to change, and we must change.

We cannot be who we have been.

We cannot let evil win one more day.

We must change ourselves and the world.

We must remember, have hope, be courageous, be persistent, and have faith.

One Sunday morning the Holy Spirit held me tight and forced me to see.

 

 

Sitting in the Bleachers

20171206_192653

During my high school years I remember only attending sporting events when I was required for Marching and Pep Band, or when my cousin dragged me to a game on a Friday night. I was not a big fan of sitting in the bleachers. In college until my work schedule prohibited my attendance I spent many hours sitting in the bleachers cheering on my friends. As a pastor in our rural community where having a school building in town is a privilege, I have spent many hours sitting in the bleachers cheering on students I know, and checking in with the adults in my care. As a parent and spouse of a coach, I have spent more hours than I ever dreamed as a high school student sitting in the bleachers.

Sitting in the bleachers is different than sitting in the sanctuary, even though many of the same people are present. In the bleachers insults are in abundance, while in the sanctuary words of forgiveness are in abundance. In the bleachers anticipation is in abundance, while in the sanctuary expectation is in abundance.

Sitting in the bleachers is also similar to sitting in the sanctuary, even though many of the people do not sit in the same sanctuary on a Sunday morning. In the sanctuary the monetary offerings are shared for the purpose of caring for others; and in the bleachers folded dollar bills are quietly handed over to hungry children. In the sanctuary conversations about life are shared before and after the service, sometimes even in whispers and notes passed during the service; and in the bleachers conversations about life are continued from event to event, like an ongoing dialogue, picking up where they ended when the buzzer sounded.

It seems we try to separate the bleachers and the sanctuary; compartmentalizing who we are in the bleachers so we are not the same in the sanctuary.  Yet, for some of us the community does not allow that compartmentalization so we see the impossible beauty of what our community would be if the anticipation of the bleachers, forgiveness of the sanctuary, and generosity found in both was shared with abundance in both places.

Imagine the joy if those holy moments of the sanctuary were also looked for in the bleachers.  Imagine the joy if those moments of camaraderie in the bleachers were shared in the sanctuary.  Imagine who we would be and how the world would change. . .

The impossible beauty of that image is what keeps me sitting in the bleachers and standing in the pulpit.

A Newsletter Article

20170228_123249One of my tasks as pastor is to write an article for the monthly newsletter.  The following is the newsletter article published in our March 2018 newsletter.  It is the third installment in a series reflecting on our eleven years together as pastor and congregation.  Each month this year I am sharing a memory and connecting it to what we are learning today.  This article is longer and a whole lot more personal than usual.  I share it with the wider internet world to add depth to the conversation about caring for the members of our society.  This is a glimpse for you, the reader, into conversations around my dinner table.  I welcome you to come visit, share your story with us, and help us find a way to care for each other.  Thank you for reading.

_______

In March of 2008 we were in the middle of a long season of saying goodbye-for-now to loved ones.  In a year there were sixteen Witness to the Life and Resurrection Services, two of them were my family members.  In March I did not know the season would continue for months, I was simply a person grieving the death of two family members, who seemed to be spending my time leading others through the first days after death.  I would sit with families, hear stories, pick Scripture and hymns, and then stand before the community and remind everyone of the promises of our faith.

Each Lent I am reminded of that first season of funerals, and the ones that followed.  I sit with the stories of those who have died.  I remember the conversations with families.  I remember the ways our community came together to take care of all of those who were mourning.  I remember the fatigue that I felt deep in my bones and spirit as I tried to be compassionate when yet another family needed me to help them proclaim the promises of our faith.

This month when we are reeling from yet another act of gun violence against our children I find myself thinking back to the fatigue I felt in 2008.  I remember in 2008 some hurtful comments directed my way by people who thought I was not being the pastor they thought I should be.  I remember rumors reaching my ears of the supposed atrocious things I was to have said.  I remember my tears that were always close to the surface that year.  I remember questioning deeply my call to pastoral ministry.  That season was a difficult season for me, and yet there were moments of grace that still shine brightly in my memory as others reminded me of the promises of our faith.

As I write this article my heart is broken with the pain of yet round of senseless deaths, and the truth of the number of gun violence episodes of this year.  I am afraid of the funerals I will have to do if ever there is a tragic act of violence in our community.  I am trying to work for change, to help others see the truth we learn in the Gospel: that there are times when we set aside our own freedoms for the sake of the safety of another.  I am trying to comfort my own children as they talk through their anxiety at the possibility of an active shooter coming into their school, and their firm belief if that happened they would be the ones standing at the graveside crying as their dad’s casket was lowered into the ground.  Because for my children, there is no doubt their dad would die for them, or for his students, or for his colleagues.  My children remind me of the promises their dad has made them, which I know come from his understanding of the promises of our faith.

As adults we know what we would do in a stressful situation cannot be determined until that time.  We know enough to think about it, to talk about it, to prepare with training, and to leave behind the words we want said in the event the worst happens.  But we also know we are responsible for the safety of our children, even at the setting aside of our own freedom.  Because isn’t that what we do when we hold that baby (our own child or a child of our family) in our arms?  Do we not look at that baby and promise we will do everything in our power to keep that baby safe and protected?  Do we not look at our own choices and begin to change them so that that baby would be safe, from even us?  Do we not stand before God and the community and baptize that baby in the promises of our faith?

I know the intersection of gun violence and the freedom to own guns is not an easy conversation.  I grew up with guns, my step-father was a gun dealer, and I know people who hunt and those who enjoy shooting a rifle just for fun.   I can recall conversations about gun safety, and times when there was legitimate fear someone would use a gun in a fit of drunken rage.  The end result of all of those conversations was the belief that the safety of the children and the community were more important than the right to own a gun.  Unknown to my agnostic and atheist family members they were living the Gospel in a way that would make it easier for me to one day recognize the promises of our faith.

I do not have all the answers for how our society needs to change so our children do not fear going to school, our teachers and school staff do not wrestle with what they would do when faced with their life or the life of another, our medical and emergency personnel do not have to be prepared for mass shootings, and our clergy of all faiths wonder about funeral sermons that would have to be preached.  I do know one of the best ways to make change happen is to actually listen to each other, to share our experiences and our fears.  I know it is not to spread atrocious rumors about others, or to call each other names, or to make demands that our freedoms are more important than the freedom of others.  I know we can be the kind of community that has these kind of conversations because we have already had hard conversations.  We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death with each other before and we have been changed.  We have lived the promises of our faith.

Our faith is one that requires action, it is one that is all about setting aside ourselves for the sake of God.  Our faith is about setting aside our own freedom so that we can be of service to another, just as Jesus was when he walked this earth.  The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to give up our freedom for the sake of others.  Our faith requires that we love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with our Lord.  Our faith is one full of promises of forgiveness, grace, love, joy, and peace.  Our faith is one full of promises of a community that recognizes they are only as strong as the weakest member and therefore works together to strengthen that weak one.  I remain confident we can become the kind of community eager to learn from each other, eager to protect others, and eager to demonstrate the promises of our faith.

May we be bold enough to work together to insure that never again will we have to hear the cries of our children because they had to watch their classmates and teachers die.  Let our efforts be pleasing to God until the time Christ comes again and fulfills the promises of our faith.

 

Speaking Grace

20171106_213617

My record book of funerals, weddings, baptisms, and ordinations.

A few weeks ago I was at a concert for our family’s favorite artist and writer, Andrew Peterson.  His shows are my favorite kind of concert because he talks to the audience about the creation of his songs, which come from his life and the many people he has encountered.  At this show he was talking about his dad who retired after fifty years of parish ministry.  Andrew shared a conversation in which he had asked his dad about the number of weddings and funerals he had officiated.  The number of weddings seemed reasonable for the fifty years, so reasonable I did not even remember it.  But it was his dad’s response to the number of funerals that caught my attention.  His dad’s response was that he ceased counting at 300.  The crowd murmured lovingly in response.  I nodded and let the tears fall freely down my cheeks.

Death has been a regular part of my time as pastor in this community.  In my first years there were so many people I did not know who I stood next to their casket and proclaimed words of God’s grace and eternal life.  Now however, there are so few people I do not know.  Even when I do not know the person directly, I know their family a circle or two out.  I know their friends.  I know how they fit in the community and I know the hole they leave behind.  Now when the funeral home announcements come, even if it is not a funeral I am officiating, I know the hole left behind with that person’s death.

I still stand and say words of God’s grace.  I talk about the next life.  I talk about the healing to come, of pain that will change, and of the ways we come together as a community to remember and continue that person’s legacy.  I talk and I sit, I remember and I mourn.

I have not yet reached 300 funerals, but I am well on my way.  I still recall each person’s name, the faces of their loved ones as we sat and planned the service together.  I recall the families who have sat with me more than once, a little less confused, a little less overwhelmed each successive time.  I want to believe it is because the first time I faithfully spoke of God’s grace in a way that was instrumental in their healing.  I want to believe in this time of pain I did my job in a way that glorified the God I believe in by bringing comfort to those in need.  But I always feel as if I am bumbling through a minefield one mistake away from making their pain worse.

It keeps me sane to know there are others who are bumbling through these times the same as I am, trying their best to speak words of grace when heartache is so visceral.  I wonder if I ever make it to fifty years of parish ministry if the stories I will leave behind will be stories of grace.

I sure hope so.

 

 

Pastor Appreciation Month

 

20170921_131725

One of my work spaces. 

For those of you not on Facebook, this year at the encouragement of a seminary classmate I shared an item of appreciation for ministry each day of the month.  The following are my posts from Pastor Appreciation Month, also known as October.

Day 1: I appreciate the volunteer who on Sunday presented a new mission project in partnership with another congregation. I am thankful for new ideas, courage to try them, and a willingness to expand our relationships.

Day 2: I appreciate the volunteers who serve Home Communion to our members. Today a visit was full of appreciation for the team who served yesterday. I enjoy hearing stories of how the members of our community are caring for each other.

Day 3: I appreciate the steadfastness of those around me in the face of our personal and communal pain. In this inter-generational community the strength of those older than me, hope of those younger than me, and energy of those of my age teaches me daily how we are to work for peace as an answer to the call of Christ.

Day 4: I appreciate the joy shared in the stands as we adults watch the children of our community learn new skills. Watching the children who light the candles on Sunday morning pass a basketball, guard another player, and encourage each other while being cheered on by the members of the congregation they helped lead in worship makes me (as those kids tell me) feel all the good feels.

Day 5: I appreciate the act of having coffee. I appreciate all the time and stories shared that build our life together.

Day 6: I appreciate the connections made with others through seminary, conferences, meetings, and other events that allow me to grow in understanding of the vastness of this world and God’s action. I appreciate the advances in technology which allow me to keep those connections.

Day 7: I appreciate the prayers shared for my family. In particular the prayers from yesterday of a 90+ year old mother for my almost 16 year old new driver. The words and prayers that build up my children are powerful and appreciated.

Day 8: I appreciate the Parish Nurse Program and those who began and sustain that program in our community. I appreciate how our nurses worked to include an anointing prayer each month for those community members in need.

Day 9: I appreciate the work of the volunteers who lead our youth group. These volunteers are many and change from time to time but always they work to provide opportunities for our youth to grow in faith and understanding. I am thankful I get to work alongside them.

Day 10: I appreciate the harvest season scenes as I drive.

Day 11: I appreciate the opportunity to join others in committee meetings. I enjoy the exchange of ideas and the excitement of dreaming and planning shared work.

Day 12: I appreciate the childhood given to me by my parents and the US Military. A childhood which showed me a diverse world full of unique individuals all doing the best they could to make this world more inclusive, free, and peaceful. My understanding of freedom and unity in Christ comes from those early years when I learned about the reality of racism through the experiences of my friends, classmates, and neighbors. It is thanks to those years that I know about the privileges I have been given, and my responsibility to work to eradicate injustice. That knowledge makes all the difference as I answer the call to ministry.

Day 13: I appreciate head thrown back, deep laughter and the many opportunities I have in a week to share those kind of moments.

Day 14: I appreciate how inviting conversation results in connection and understanding. I appreciate the many people who have engaged in conversation with me over the years and the manner in which their stories have broadened my knowledge, and taught me compassion.

Day 15: I appreciate the time and effort our elected representatives of UCW (aka elders on Session) have put into studying the PCUSA’s “Book of Confessions” and Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” this year. Their willingness to read and discuss these resources has been life-giving to this pastor who sometimes misses classroom discussions. 

Day 16: I appreciate that I get to be a part of some of the big moments in the lives of the children under our care. I get to see them shortly after birth, at baptism, at confirmation, at graduations, at ordination, at their wedding, and upon the birth of their own children, to name a few. It is one of the most precious gifts of this call to ministry to be the pastor who speaks words of grace and love at all those moments.

Day 17: I appreciate the students (and the adults who come with them) who get on the school bus at the church building. I enjoy listening to their chatter and watching them grow taller.

Day 18: I appreciate the creators in our community.  I have witnessed the creation of books, quilts, artwork, buildings, gardens, fields, and music to name a few. I am thankful for the opportunity to see the talents of others bring beauty and function to this world.

Day 19: I appreciate all of the people who make Sunday mornings happen. Attempting to not double count a person, and checking my math with the math teacher, a typical Sunday takes approximately 50 people to make sure we have Sunday School classes and a worship service. Add in the choir, Communion servers, any people needed for a special event, and the number climbs even higher. Thank you all.

Day 20: I appreciate the parents who recognize being a pastor does not mean God gave me perfect parenting skills or children. I am thankful to share the realities of raising compassionate and responsible human beings with these wise and hilarious parents.

Day 21: I appreciate how some of our youngest members in town recognize my face and associate it with happy times even when they do not remember my name. I am thankful for the exclamations of, “I know you! Do you remember me?” Yes, I remember you and I am thankful to know you.

Day 22: I appreciate the people from all parts of my life who traveled to Woodhull in body and spirit eleven years ago to join the community here in worship. Eleven years ago I was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament/Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and installed as pastor at United Church of Woodhull in a crowded sanctuary full of singing, laughter, and prayers. I knew it was a life-altering day in the moment, and I know it still. As those wiser than me have said before, “This is not a job, this is a life.” Thank you to those who led worship that day, who saw in me what I could not see myself. I am thankful for you.

Day 23: I appreciate the storytellers who lay bare my heart through word and song. They inspire me to live with eyes, heart, and mind wide open eagerly searching for Light in darkness.

Day 24: I appreciate my cell phone and how it has contributed to my ability to serve this community.

Day 25: I appreciate study days and learning something new.

Day 26: I appreciate the rhythm of this life.

Day 27: I appreciate the act of sitting around a table with my colleagues and praying together.

Day 28: I appreciate all the people who produce our monthly newsletter, Sunday bulletin, congregation and garden Facebook pages, website, and YouTube channel. I am thankful for all the work done to share our stories.

Day 29: I appreciate that I have the freedom to serve in ordained office.

Day 30: I appreciate the peaceful silence of the church building early in the morning.

Day 31: I appreciate the shared hope for things to come. I am thankful there are always people in the community able to hold hope for those unable to find it.

Thank you once again UCW for letting me be your partner in ministry.

 

 

Perspective

20170530_200228

Our fence with trumpet vine and tiger lilies not yet in bloom. 

Next to our manse (PCUSA term for pastor’s house provided by the congregation) is a large empty lot.  This lot was the location of the old Presbyterian church building before the building was torn down.  Now it serves as a beautiful green space for children and animals alike.  On the back of the lot is a fence that still has portions of the hitching post from a century ago.

The hitching post is not easy to see because the trumpet vine our neighbor planted decades ago and the lilies we planted nine years ago have grown beautifully to create a privacy hedge.  Though it is hard to see the hitching post unless you are right upon it, I look for the post each time I walk the fence.  This practice fills me with a sense of deep connection to the people who walked that route in years past, the ones who lived all the parts of life, the ones who gathered together to create a life together even when it was hard.  I feel connected to the pastors who have served in this community (not just in our congregation) who must have stood before that post themselves wondering all the things I wonder.

I love this messy fence-line because it is a bit of history about the community I serve.  I also love it because of a bit of my history.  My maternal grandma had a flowerbed of tiger lilies (the name she told me) that she worked hard to grow in the sandy soil of her home.  Her lilies were pale imitations to the ones I see each year, but they were her labor of love and no matter where I have roamed the sight of a tiger lily reminds me of her and my grandpa.  My grandma also loves trumpet vine and tried for years to get one to grow with little success.  She even buried my childhood cat under her vine when Princess died while I was away at college.  The fact that I live in a place were we mow down the trumpet vine each week to keep it contained does not cease to delight me.

I have learned in my time here that the beautiful tiger lilies I adore are often referred to with some disdain as “ditch lilies” because they tend to be a bit invasive in the rich soil of our area.  Trumpet vine is also considered invasive and my devotion to ours has caused more than a few heads to shake in disbelief.

But then I share my stories and perspectives change and no longer is our messy fence-line considered a nuisance; instead my stories become the stories others share.  Stories of the hitching post, of baseballs lost (much like the ivy at Wrigley Field), of hummingbirds spotted, and of how far out a sprout of trumpet vine erupted in the yard become our stories, no longer my stories, but our stories.

When our perspective changes and our individual stories become shared stories the world becomes a little bit more peaceful, a little bit better.  This is not easy work, it is messy and sometimes looks as bad as a dormant trumpet vine and wilted, winter tiger lilies.  But when we pause to wonder, to look, to listen, and to share, something beautiful grows.