The Fourth Week of Advent 2022

This week’s theme is love. I have been watching this Advent a stray kitten be welcomed into our home by our 11 year old dog and 2 year old cat. Both our pets were happy enough together, and we had no plan to welcome a new pet. But the kitten’s litter arrived on a friend’s porch a couple of weeks before the freezing weather arrived. After much work, all but one kitten was claimed and freezing temperatures were predicted that week. Advent brought us a kitten who needed a home.

I knew there would be a bit of tension as the pets adjusted to sharing space, but to my delight they were smitten within two days. Now as Advent turns into Christmas the three of them are a wonderful example of love. Both the dog and cat have taken to training the kitten, who is a fast learner. Both the dog and the cat have given up some of their comfort and ease to welcome an energetic kitten who naps often, but not nearly as long as they would prefer. All three of them are a reminder each day of the importance of having loved ones to share your days.

This week we approach Christmas to tell again the story of how God, who is love, embodied our human nature to show us how much love matters. I am thinking of how examples of love are all over the place, and if we open ourselves up we will recognize them. For me it was this simple moment in the kitchen when the dog moved so the cats could drink from his bowl, then the older cat showed the kitten which was the water bowl. This is not a monumental moment, but it was a reminder that loves comes in many quiet ways; and love shared will nurture us so that we can thrive in the place we have found ourselves.

Hopefully, as we recall the story of Christmas we will find evidence of the love we have been given, and we will continue to be nurtured by the communities we have been given, and we will thrive as we grow closer to God and closer to each other. . . and maybe we will get a few longer naps along the way.

The Third Week of Advent 2022

Our focus for this week was peace. Somewhere in all of this I realized I had switched the themes of the week from some of the liturgies, but it fit the services we were hosting and I did not mind so much that our themes were a bit out of order. I have found when I put things out of order pay I bit more attention. I spent the week thinking about peace in my life.

There was a time I would have cited peace as that elusive “world peace” concept. But as I have grown in experience and age, I find my definition of peace has expanded. Now peace includes being able to have conversations that do not result in arguments or the silent treatment. Peace includes being able to lay my head down at the end of the day knowing I did my best that day to demonstrate gratitude. Peace includes knowing if this were my last day I have left behind people who know I love them deeply, and my love is a fraction of the love God has for them.

I used to think people who were peacemakers were the kind of people who waded into conflict and made everyone talk it out. For sure, some peacemakers do that work. But most of the peacemakers I know spend their days making others feel valued, included, and loved. These peacemakers do this work in a million ways, by laughing with others, cooking, cleaning, providing safe spaces, by asking after loved ones, by sharing memes or reels, mostly by being present with the people who populate their days in a way that makes it known they are thankful for the opportunity to share that moment.

I am struck again this season that the peace I find in my days is because people take time to see me, and I think when that can be duplicated on a larger scale we create peace in our families, organizations, countries, and hopefully some day the world. I still long for world peace, but I recognize that will not be achieved until all of us are willing to see the value each of us holds. May we be willing to work toward that goal this season and always.

The Second Week of Advent 2022

The second week of Advent my prayers were for all of us to find some joy in our days. This pray was answered in many different ways. As we reach the end of the second week and begin the third week of Advent I am looking back at the evidence of the joy I encountered and decided to share this photo of lemon trees growing. Two of us in my crew have been trying to grow lemon trees from seeds for most of a year. Finally in the second week of Advent we found our seedlings strong enough to transplant.

The First Week of Advent 2022

Last night I had dinner with a friend who has known me since my last year of seminary. We had no idea when we met this friendship would grow or that our professional lives would weave together. As I drove home from dinner, along city streets I rarely drive, surrounded by more vehicles than I see in a normal week in my own town, I was thinking about how valuable these friendships we are given prove to be over time.

The reason this came to mind was the question my friend asked and then her response. She asked me, “How are you doing with your grief?” I replied, “I am sad.” She replied, “Yes.”

For those of you readers not aware we are in a season of funerals. A season of funerals is the name I have given to those times when we have a number of funerals in a shortened time frame. Sometimes we reach double digits in the course of a few months, sometimes we have a handful in the course of a month or two. Always, these seasons seem to catch us by surprise.

My friend’s question and response acknowledge three things: one, that I am grieving the death of people I love; two, that it is okay I am sad; and three, I am known and loved. Often I hear from others that pastors do not really love the people they serve, and that a good pastor will be able to move quickly through the emotions surrounding a death in the community. I have always disagreed with this idea. I think this is a misunderstanding of the reality of sharing life and ministry with others.

The reality is pastors are people who come to love the community God has called them to serve. Pastors grieve along with the community when someone dies, but they also grieve themselves. The longer you live in a community, the more life you share with the community, the more friendships you grow, the more your lives are woven together. The death of someone in that community pulls on a thread, changes the way the tapestry looks, and makes it more noticeable someone else is missing.

My faith assures me I will see those people again, and one day when I can look back on the tapestry of my life I will be able to see how all the people I have encountered, all those threads, have been woven together to create something beautiful and unique. I hold on to that hopeful promise and look forward to that day.

It is that promise that allows me to acknowledge I am sad. To be honest that my tears are on the surface during this season. It seems to me being able to name my sadness and cry my tears allows me to honor the love I have been given by those no longer here with us, while also honoring the love I have with all the other people who have been woven into my life.

Last night my friend stood beside me, literally and figuratively, in my grief. She did not push me to share or even ask me to explain, she let me name my sadness and she held that space for me. That moment walking down a city street, surrounded by buildings, people, vehicles, and noise, felt holy.

This morning reflecting back on that moment I am struck by how the theme of the first week of Advent met me on a city street. The theme from our liturgy last Sunday was hope, and we were encouraged to recognize the moments of hope we encounter in our days. In all the good moments of this first week, it was that holy moment last night that broke open my heart. There was much around us on that sidewalk to fill me with hopelessness, yet on an unfamiliar street the Holy Spirit moved in my heart and filled me with hope.

As this first week of Advent draws to a close, I am mindful of all the threads of friendship woven into my life. I am astonished I have known so many people who continue to demonstrate to me what it means to love, to be a friend, to be human, and to share this life with others. I am thankful for the lessons I continue to learn and a faith that continues to deepen. I am eager for the coming holy moments in which my hope will be renewed and grow. I live in anticipation of the day when all our sadness will be no more, and in its place will be a knowledge of how deeply we are loved and connected.

Onward I go stumbling toward that promised day. May your journey this Advent season break open your heart to an eternal love that is beyond measure, and fill you with hope, even in your sadness. Remember you are a valuable thread in many tapestries.

A Joyful Tradition

Nativity SetIn the fellowship hall (large dining room with the kitchen) in our church building there is an old Communion Table (table used in a worship service for the sacrament of Communion) upon which a plastic nativity set lives during Advent (four weeks before Christmas) and Christmas.  Each year we bring this set out, try to remember to place the step stool in front of the table and a sign that says “please play with this set.”  Some years we forget all but the set.

Then the fun begins.  The custodian and I take turns moving the pieces all around the table and creating a jumble of all the pieces.  The next time a child comes in the room they put it all back together.  On a Sunday morning this can go on for the whole time the building is occupied.  I will walk by the table and mix up the pieces only to come back five minutes later and there are no children around but the pieces are back in an order.  I do what any good humored person would do, I mix them up again.

This year I took baby Jesus from the pieces and hid him in my office mailbox.  When the children seemed too fearful to remove him I handed him off to one of our youngest children and asked him to hold on to Jesus until the older kids came looking for him.  His sparkling joyful eyes were a gift that morning.

This tradition of ours is one I look forward to each year.  It is simple, makes me laugh, and the continued participation of our teenagers in the game fills my heart.  Yes, we talk about the Christmas Story.  Yes, the children lead worship with a program each year.  Those are meaningful parts of the season too.  But it is this simple game played with our children that ushers in the season for me.

The season begins for me with the laughter I overhear when little hands are trying to rush to put the pieces back in the stable as I come around the corner, being sure to make noise so they know it is me; with the questions about a missing pieces asked in the all-knowing voice of a child who has played this game with me before; with the whisper of the teenage voices telling me they mixed the pieces up this time while a little one was taking off their coat; and with the laughter shared with the custodian as we think about what to do next time. Nativity Set 2

As we approach the end of Advent and welcome the joy of Christmas morning I am thankful for the children who remind me of the joy of life that is best when shared with others.

Merry Christmas.


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.


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.