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Rethinking What We’ve Always Done

Last night, I took Ben to his first football game. No, it wasn’t college or an NFL team. It was the game between two of the youth who and another youth who was cheering. He loved it!  As I sat there in the bleachers with families from our church, I realized it was Wednesday night. I, as a pastor, should be at church. These families should be at church, right? Isn’t that the way we’ve always done it?

The almost five years I have served as a pastor has been unconventional, to say the least. It’s part of being a bi-vocational minister and part of being a pastor to relatively young churches that started out as church starts. We’ve had Maundy Thursday services on Wednesday and Ash Wednesday services on Tuesday. There is a flexibility and an understanding that schedules don’t always match up with the church calendar.

I know churches are struggling to rethink how to bring people, especially young families, into the church, but what if we started rethinking church? What if instead of always trying to bring people in, we sent ministers out to football games, to cheerleading competitions on Saturday mornings, to violin recitals? What if we rethought what it means to be a minister of a church?

I know the pressure is great to bring people into the buildings we are paying for. I know it comforting to have ministers in the offices we have decorated, but the model we’ve used for over fifty years doesn’t fit the lives and the experiences of the community in 2017

Church membership is declining, church attendance is declining, what will it take to rethink what we’ve always done? When will we allow space and conversations to dream about the future of the church? The future of the church that is meaningful and relevant to families and individuals who are living right now.

 

Eastertide

I didn’t grow up in a community of faith that observed the church calendar, so the different seasons we celebrate throughout the year are still fascinating to me. Right now we are in the season called Eastertide. I love the image of riding the wave of the joy and resurrection throughout the next fifty days.

As I’ve thought more about it, the realization has washed over me that the joy of the Resurrection wouldn’t be quite as joyful without the deep grief of the Crucifixion. And so the life of the disciple is the ebb and flow of grief and joy, doubt and hope, peace and uncertainty. Back and forth, ebbing and flowing, as we follow Jesus Christ.

In those times of low tide when joy and resurrection seem but a damp, dim line far upon the shore, may we remember this. In the times of high tide when the pull of grief and doubt into the ocean seem impossible, may we remember this.

May we not teach only the high tide of Christianity, but recognize that grief and doubt and uncertainty are part of the Easter story, too. Pain and suffering, joy and hope, all wound up together in Eastertide washing over us over the next fifty days.

A New Hope

Yesterday, New Hope Christian Fellowship called me to be their pastor and I said a wholehearted YES!

A New Hope…started a journey and ongoing battle between the dark side and the Jedi. A journey that has continued onto this generation in the form of new characters, missing story pieces, and a bond of love for Star Wars between parents and children. Perhaps new hope does just this, unites us, challenges us, and invites us to participate in a greater story.

Anew hope…If there has ever been a time that our world and our church needs anew hope, doesn’t it seem like now? As a millennial, I have certainly found myself in periods of church hopping and church knocking and church blocking. All of these stages and phases indications of my desire to find a place to serve where my experiences match the need surrounding a community, but I know so many other people who are looking for communities of faith to belong to. People to gather to worship with. People to gather around the table and eat with. People to call when life is so overwhelming that you know you can’t do it on your own.

People looking for a new hope. Thanks be to God for the community of faith called New Hope Christian Fellowship who are dedicated to learning, growing, and ministering to the community together. What a joy it is to be called Pastor by you!

 

But, Is There Childcare?

Ben’s no longer an infant. He’s not quite a toddler. We’re in this strange phase of development some have termed pre-toddler for the ages of 12-18. He just moved up classes at his drop-in nursery where there are ramps to run up and slides to slide down. There are toy doors to open and close and close and open and open and close, perhaps one of his favorite past times right now.

As a mother, I’ve hit the stage where I don’t have a baby. I don’t have an infant. There’s a stark difference in the conversations I have in passing. It’s no longer, “Is he sleeping? Are y’all sleeping?” Instead it’s “Is he walking? Is he talking?” The questions indicating that no more and more each day he is developing characteristics that will last him into adulthood. But the strange phenomenon is that the more adult-like his characteristics become, the less people think about his needs.

“As I am invited to participate in communities desiring to shape and mold the future of the church, my question still remain. “Is there childcare?” A shocking question that reveals assumptions that childcare is something for parents to “take care of” not something to plan for in order to ensure that the voices of young parents and young professionals are wanted. We inherently understand that the future of the church lies in the hands and feet of these young professionals and their children. We just don’t understand their needs enough to care to meet those needs instead we criticize these young families saying, “They just don’t come,” or “You can’t count on them.” 

Perhaps this missing demographic is missing because your community of faith isn’t considering how to set the table, provide the infrastructure for the lives they lead. The day in and day out routine of changing diapers, filling sippy cups, and finding high chairs. The strain and pull asking all they have. Perhaps what these families need is someone to think ahead for them, someone to want them at the table so strongly that they have already planned to take care of their children.

Are we planning for a church that has been or a church that will be?

A Vow to Create

The spiritual practice of engaging in a vow of silence is a discipline that comes to us from the monastic tradition. It’s a spiritual practice that is centuries old. The idea being that that silence “is a means to access the deity, to develop self-knowledge, or to live more harmoniously.” Silent retreats have been opened to people seeking a re-centering and a renewed focus.

But at this time and place, a vow of silence is not what I need. I need a vow to create. I need to engage in the holy work of trying to create order out of chaos; beauty out of pain; joy out of grief.

I vow to create sanctuary: safe places to explore what God is calling you to do and who God is calling you to become.

I vow to create time and space for reading, research, and reflection pursuing this journey of becoming.

I vow to create table fellowship sharing the body of Christ and the cup of salvation with those gathered around God’s table.

I vow to create journal entries, blog posts, poetry, and, yes, maybe even a book to share stories, ideas, hopes, and dreams.

I vow to create chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin muffins, banana bread, potato soup, and broccoli and cheese soup to offer nourishment to body and soul.

I vow to create towers of cups and blocks that most certainly will be knocked down by a 14 month old accompanied by cackles and giggles.

I vow to create new recipes, not knowing if they will be good or bad.

I vow to create bathtub explorations that involve pipes transformed into snorkeling gear in underwater adventures.

I vow to create french braids that will probably fall out and have to be re-created.

I vow to co-create alongside the people of God using their God-given gifts to change the world.

I vow to co-create alongside Creator God, working and striving, however slowly, towards….

And it was good.

I Just Want You to be….Kind

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I admit it, I teared up as Handy Manny and his tools delivered gifts to the major for kids whose parents couldn’t afford presents this year. Maybe it was because Ben and I had just returned from Florence where we dropped off presents and bags of food for children who lost their homes or whose parents lost work during Hurricane Matthew. Maybe it was because I am overwhelmed by Santa pictures and Santa Christmas lists and am wondering how as a parent you teach your children to think of the people who don’t have food or toys during Christmas before they rattle off their own lists of wants.

Gross-Loh in her book Parenting Without Borders explains:

In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005 it was to become comfortably rich.

This is disturbing because it means our children are thinking first of their own comforts and seeking those comforts whatever the costs. This lack of empathy is part of our culture now and engaging in some of the cultural practices especially around this time of year may just be teaching our children that this is what life is about.

Gross-Loh explains:

[A] survey of high school students from five different U.S. schools asked them to rank what they wanted in life. Did they want to be happy? Did they want to be good, caring for others? Two-thirds of the students ranked happiness above goodness, and said they believed their parents held the same goal for them.

Wow.

Perhaps as a parent, I need to revisit my own rhetoric and refrain from saying I want you to be happy or asking what would make you happy and instead ask what would be the kind response? What could you do to show you care for someone? Perhaps as a parent, offering the invitation for our children to choose between thinking about themselves first and thinking of other first would open up conversations and truths within our children we haven’t seen before. Perhaps it’s within this next generation that hope, love, joy, and peace reside if we but offer the space and place to let them be who they are rather than who we want them to be.

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“I Have Plenty”

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As I sat in the middle of a tarp filled with donations of men’s short-sleeved T-shirts and collared shirts on Saturday morning with our 11-month old, I was overwhelmed with the way a community can make a difference. There were so many winter items gathered in order to help those who might not have enough to stay warm through the cold. I was already overwhelmed by the generosity of the two communities of faith with whom ministrieslab had partnered in order to collect and sort items for the distribution. This, I thought, is church. Individuals, nonprofits, and communities of faith all coming together to help those in their own community who needed items to help them stay warm. This is the gospel.

And I was feeling good about the work we had done to create partnerships to have a bigger impact by joining together. And I was feeling good about being there in the midst of need and being able to hand someone exactly what they were asking for.

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“Do you have a black XL T-shirt?”

“Sure thing!”

“Would you like a collared XL shirt as well?”

“No, I have plenty. Thank you!”

“Are you sure? These are all XL.”

“No, thank you. I’ve got more than I need already and there are other people who need those.”

I looked in his hands and saw two pairs of socks, one pair of jeans, the black T-shirt, and a coat. More than he needs? He has plenty? My mind reeled as I took in what he was saying and what my privilege had assumed. I wanted to give him more, but he wanted to make sure that the people who would use and wear the collared shirts would be able to have those. He knew he wouldn’t use them, so he left them for someone else.

And I thought about how much I have, about how many times I’ve not even thought about other people who might need something I have more than me. And I was confronted with my privilege again.

As a woman who has pursued ministry, in particular preaching and pastoring ministry, I have fought against privilege and systemic discrimination. And as I have confronted and challenged that privilege by simply trying to answer my call, I have often thought there was no way I could have privilege, no way I could not understand those who are fighting the same battle I am fighting in different realms.

I was wrong.

The work we have done with the homeless has humbled me, challenged me, and made me confront the reality that I have privilege that makes me want to give more to someone who thinks more about the community surrounding him than he does about how many clothes he has.

 

      

“I’m Following the Bread”

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Yesterday as we worshipped at Transitions Homeless Shelter, we had more new people who had never worshipped with us than we’ve ever had. When someone new joins our community, there are always questions about who can or can’t take communion and since communion is a part of every service it is a point of discussion almost every week.

Again and again I’ve heard reflections from our community of their experiences being denied communion. The justification was they were not worthy, not in good standing with God, or had unconfessed sin before God. In most cases, the person denying communion was a minister who had judged their life to not be in good standing with God. This has happened so often that it has driven me to research the theological interpretations and traditions surrounding partaking of communion.

Certainly, part of the communion conversation has to include the Catholic tradition of not having people who are not Catholic partake in the Body and Blood. This belief stems from doctrine in the Catholic church that indicates that one who is conscious of grave sin should not partake in the Body and Blood of Christ nor those who are non-Christian or non-Catholic.

In the Protestant church, there are a variety of different beliefs and traditions associated with whom can partake of communion and how often communion is administered. Lutherans, Disciples or Christ, UCC, and Episcopalians all partake in communion weekly following the tradition found in the Catholic Church while Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians vary in how often they participate in the Lord’s Table. Just as some Protestants have taken on the traidtion in the Catholic church to partake in weekly communion so to have some denominations taken on the belief that no one who is engaged in grave sin or unconfessed sin should partake in communion. These grave sins are interpreted and expounded upon by church leadership creating a closed communion experience in these communities of faith. Other denominations who are welcoming and affirming of women, all races, members of the LGTBQ community, and to those who are seekers of faith and have not yet defined their faith identity, engage in open community meaning that all are welcome to God’s table regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.

As someone who was raised in a closed communion community of faith, it is important to me to specify in our worship with ministrieslab that God’s table is open to God’s people and God’s people are all who are created in the image of God. My sincere belief in open communion reflects my belief that my role as a minister is not to judge, classify, or exclude anyone who is seeking fellowship with God, but rather to encourage, challenge, and journey with God’s people.

I’ve seen too many people like the woman yesterday who said, “I’m following that bread around. Wherever that bread goes, I go,” who are hungry for the sustenance of fellowship, community, and yes the broken body of Christ to deny anyone a seat at God’s table.

May we all consider more deeply how our practices and traditions in our communities of faith have lasting impact on people who worship with even just once.

When Church Walls Prevent Us From Being the Church

As Ben and I were enjoying our afternoon Panera coffee break (he just had water), we met an Assembly of God minister who was interested in what we were doing at ministrieslab. He explained that church starting had started to be a conversation in the AG church and church starters were encouraged to find a theater or a school to meet in. Then he asked, “Where are ya’ll going to meet?”

I responded, “We’re not going to have a place. We’re going to be the church and pop up in the midst of need.”

He considered that for a minute and then drew the connection to the early church movement. I smiled as he continued to reflect on the changes in church and the emphasis on having bigger and bigger congregations and buildings. He concluded his reflection by saying, “But a lot of those churches don’t have missions as their center. They just want to have more people.”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Whether we like to admit it or not, having church walls has changed our perception of church. Most people believe church is a place to go to and not a way to live your life.”

In working with the homeless population in Columbia, I’ve heard numerous stories of people who have invited the clients to church, but they can’t go to church because of their limited mobility. It made me think of the number of times I have been invited to church and these invitations have always been to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day, but didn’t Jesus command us to go?

Church walls confine our ability to dream about the future of the church. Church walls ask us to label and separate children, youth, and adults into age-based Sunday School classes. Church walls confine our ministers to office and office hours limiting their ability and mobility in the community.

Church walls limit our creativity in thinking about the future of the church. Perhaps it’s time to break down some of those walls that exclude and label and dream of what we could do if we were the church instead of if we went to church.

Because ministrieslab doesn’t have a building, Ben and I met a fellow minister at a coffeeshop. A fellow minister with whom we got to fellowship and who also provided a donation to the work we are doing.

Want to join us in our mission to pop up in the midst of need? We’ll come to you.

When Ministry Is Hard

 

Ministry is hard when you have to stand beside and pray on behalf of a mom who has lost her 7 and a half week old reminding her that she still has to take care of her postpartum body that hasn’t even healed yet.

Ministry is hard in a political climate that is divisive, filled with name calling, and high stakes.

Ministry is hard in the midst of decline church membership, declining budgets, and increased expectations on time and responsibilities.

Ministry is hard when you feel called to serve, but can’t find a place to call you to serve.

Ministry is hard when you see over and over again the hurt and pain the church has caused so many people.

Ministry is hard when you are ministering to the homeless and hear people remark about how people who are homeless are just lazy because there are jobs available everywhere and you know it’s not true.

Ministry is hard when you find your privilege exposed and your assumptions revealed.

Ministry is hard as our culture looks to our churches for guidance on how to interpret the violence we experience much too often.

Ministry is hard as you navigate what it means to be someone who is called God’s word to God’s people.

Thanks be to God for those men and women who are ministers, especially when ministry is hard.