A Day in the Life: Really a Microcosm

Alarm and two snoozes:

Got the paper, visited the bathroom

Started making school lunches–interrupted so I could make breakfasts

{NobleWife gets the kids up and dressed}

Continue making lunches.

Child #1 out the door to the bus.

Make my own breakfast and lunch.

Eat breakfast, get child #2 out the door.  Wait for bus.  … Wave goodbye

Take a shower…get dressed

Say goodbye as #3 gets driven to preschool by NobleWife

Head out the door preparing to meet a contractor to look at changes in church.

Get to church, to find out plans have been changed.

Walk to visitation at someone’s house.

Visit with the person for an hour.

Walk back to church.  (on the way back, I saw a beautiful sight: a tree root, which formed a small pool, in which there lay a little yellow maple leaf.  🙂   )

Back to church in time to prepare for a lunch meeting. Except return a call to General Presbyter (GP) asking me to take on a fairly large responsibility with the Presbytery {“NP,” says she by way of introduction, “the presbytery needs you to step up your service.”…..}

Attend meeting to disucss possible strategys for presbytery regarding its urban churches…

Afterward, discuss said opportunity from GP with the person who just retired from said position.  Hmmmm…sounds like an even bigger responsibility than I first thought…..

Meet up with a newly arrived colleague and go out for tea and a catch up about our life and work…

Depart for church to attend weekly Bible Study with folks…

Arrive at the same moment as one of the BibStud participants…which is fine, but little time for transition….

Check email (first time that day, and it’s 3:50) fortunately not a lot needed in response, but at least one bit of correspondence about an upcoming trip that will have to wait.

Bible Study

Direct transition into Preschool Support Team mtg

Commute

Home…dinner…

…kids rushing around…another having to go to soccer practice…

dog who has entered her last phase of life who isn’t sounding very good and needs some love and attention….

this journal entry….

…a quick computer game….

….bed time for kiddos (maybe pickup soccer kid first?)

maybe a conversation with NobleWife?

maybe 15 minutes of junk tv (if I’m lucky, sports)

crash and prepare for another day, not quite so hectic (maybe)……

Sunrise, Sunset

Friday, 28 March, started out like this:

{Some computers are having difficulty loading the video.  Trying navigating to google video by clicking here.}

An absolutely beautiful morning on the Atlantic.

We knew it would be a special day when we got the call from my brother to run—not walk—upstairs to their balcony that overlooked the ocean. Why the urgency? We asked. Usually when you’re hanging out on the beach, things tend to be taken a little easier. It’s this kind of pace we were appreciating in on this post-Easter vacation.

The ocean was fairly smooth, and when it’s like that, my brother likes to look for dolphins smoothly making their way north or south paralleling the shore. And indeed he pointed out the spray from a blowhole you might expect to see from dolphins; except this time the spray was a bit bigger. Instead of the dorsal fins you are used to seeing roll out of the water, their was a large back—sans fin.
Right Whale
That’s a Right Whale, my sister-in-law explained. You can tell by the fact that it doesn’t have a dorsal fin. They’ve been hunted into endangerment; there are only a few hundred of them left. We watched it move it’s way south—spray, backbone, and one showing of its fluke. I guess seeing a whale that s on the edge of extinction should be enough to let one know that it was going to be an extra-ordinary day.

It was our last day on Jacksonville Beach, before we were to head north to Atlanta to visit with two of my closest friends; one with whom I was looking forward to spending some quality time as he had just gone through a surprising and painful divorce. When we left Cleveland on Easter Sunday, we had just received word from one of the folks in the church I serve—hereafter referred to as, M—that some scans observing his progression through cancer treatments had come back showing the cancer was present and, in his words, “raging” throughout him.

A group gathered after church to set up pastoral care, my family piled into the van, and we headed south. Wednesday I learned that M had checked into the hospital to undergo a blood transfusion. Thursday I was told he had been moved to the palliative care unit. On Friday morning (the same day as the sunrise and whale sighting), I spoke with M’s partner–R–who told me that he didn’t believe M would make it through the weekend. Around 5:30 that afternoon, M drew his last breath.

I am told that he was surrounded by—in the language of the church—a great cloud of witnesses; a few loving people who represent several aspects of M’s life. It’s hard to know what to do when you have a particular role in someone’s life (like, pastor) and you are unable to be there at such a moment of transition. M’s death was something for which many folks have been gearing for a while, as he had experienced peaks and valleys with his health for several years. But this happened so quickly.

As I concluded the conversation with R, he offered me one thing I could do from where I was: “Enjoy the sunset.” As I stood on the beach with my family, at dusk, I looked west and drew in the various shades of blues, oranges, yellows, and whites, and said a prayer of thanksgiving for a life that will sorely be missed. In my sadness, I prayed over the sunset of this life, but I had a faint smile somewhere within me over the sunrise that he must be seeing in the next one…….

An Open Letter to the Noble Road Congregation from Pastor Francis

Dear Friends:

I spent last the Friday and Saturday of January on retreat with 12 of our colleagues who are serving in churches in Cleveland or first-ring cities. These representatives were commissioned to this retreat by a larger group invested in working for a strategy within the presbytery that will address the specific needs of these urban and metropolitan churches. We were led by the Rev. Phil Tom who is staff associate for small church ministries for our denomination.

Our intent was to make a list of goals and objectives within this strategy and walk out of the retreat with individual responsibilities that we would bring back to our churches.

The strategy never materialized. I could go into the many reasons why, but I will cut to the chase and share with you one of the major issues on which we were stuck:

Triage v. long-term goals

1. Triage: We’ve already seen three metro/urban churches close in the past four years: Heights, Bosworth Rd., and Immanuel. Without some intervention, a couple more are looking at closure either within the year or not long after. {Let me add, if not for the rebounding of Discovery Preschool, we would likely be on that list.} The delegates from First Church, East Cleveland said straight out that unless they get a tenant in their building, they will close, therefore having no need for a long-range strategy. So, what do we do about the immediate needs of some of these churches, who feel like they are still providing relevant and needed ministry in their communities?

2. Long-term goals: How do we make our presbytery colleagues see that its urban churches are vital to its witness? How do we engage our suburban sisters and brothers in symbiotic partnerships? How do we discover beneficial community partners for each individual church? How do we write a strategy for the whole presbytery that will have some teeth—accountability—to it; ie. so it is not just rubber stamped only to be forgotten as each presbyter steps out into the parking lot following the meeting?

Added to this was the question of how any of us–clergy and lay–in urban/metro churches finds the energy and time to steer the presbytery along this strategy while trying to do what we are called to do in our own contexts.

I shared with my colleagues that I was going away from the meeting feeling both tired and adrift. Many spoke of being hopeful and encouraged by the relationship-building that was established throughout these frank and honest conversations; and that we were well on the way to creating something, but the time was not yet right.
As I have had some space away from that retreat, I have realized that I, tending to be an optimist, join alongside them in their hope. I believe that if God really wants us to be doing things in the Presbytery of the Western Reserve then God will equip us for the journey—urging us to evolve/change/transform in the process.

Alright, so how do these reflections serve as an annual report?
Our work together over the past four years has led us right into the middle of the tension that was revealed this weekend with this group of urban practitioners.
We went through the whole mapping process to help us internalize the general directions we need to be heading as we live into our vision of “transforming lives in Jesus Christ.” All signs point to the fact that the direction-setting responsibility has moved out of a small group of visioners and into the capable hands of the Session.

We literally bought into working with some of these same sibling churches in being equipped by the resource-rich Partners for Sacred Places organization. Through this we have begun to ask how our ministry in the community can be most enhanced in this facility? It has also encouraged us to seek out a variety of partners with whom to serve and find common grounding. As I listened this weekend, I was again reminded that these partnerships are the keys to a vital ministry as we move into the future.

In our engagement with the Justice Ministry’s offering of the Racial Diversity Assessment, we have been challenged to throw open the door to our understanding of Jesus’ call to embrace all of humanity—in its complexity—in hospitality, in action, in witness, in mission, in study, in worship, and, again, in partnership.

We have some hard work ahead of us.
On the Sunday following the retreat (27 January), the Rev. Phil Tom preached at our church. His message was about the need for changing one’s ways lest one suffer fatal consequences. He gave several examples of individuals needing to make life-changes in order to stay healthy and how hard it can be to change habits. Churches like ours, Phil added, are in similar situations; if we don’t take a fresh approach to ministry we will soon find ourselves closing our doors. He cited examples of ways people have changed life habits (diet, exercise regimen, etc) and suggested churches can do the same.

Doubtless you are responding in a similar way as I: we’ve heard this song before, we’ve talked about change—and experimented with it so much—that we’re not even sure who we are anymore. As I continue to reflect and be challenged by this notion of change I have had one recent revelation: we have changed a lot of the programming we do, but we have not necessarily changed the program. Here’s what I mean:

Change in the way we function: For as long as I can think of, the “way of being church” has been defined as program- and worship-centered. We who have grown up in the church (irrespective of Christian background, I think), and I who was trained to serve the church, expect that we will engage one another through programs like Christian education (children’s and adult forums), bible studies, and more recent popularity of small groups. Also, a primary focus of our life will be centered around Sunday morning worship. These programs and events are the ways we traditionally measure our ministry: how many members or visitors show up for worship, study, or potluck supper? I might add that another yardstick this particular church has used was how many rallies, protests, support marches did we initiate and/or attend?

As our membership numbers decrease we become frustrated when any of these measurements fall short because of low attendance…. But, when we are dealing with a small church, and people are spread thin, this is an unfair expectation!

We are challenged to move away from centering our lives on worship and church programs, and to move into a model offered by Jesus, the disciples, and apostles…sharing life with folks one-by-one, two-by-two, sometimes peaking with groups of 4000 (i.e. loaves and fish story).

That’s why I believe we have some hard work ahead of us. The work will be hard, not because it is going to require that much more time than we are used to spending in, at, and for the church; although maybe it will, I don’t know?? But, rather, the work will be hard because we’re doing some things which we are not used to, and, for which we have not been trained…yet. Kind of like those fisherfolk Jesus met and had to change their perspective from catching fish, to catching human beings in the story of God’s grace-, justice-, and love-filled kin-dom.

So, what is our call, here at Noble Road?
That’s a good question, and one with which we have wrestled for a long, long time. I imagine each of us has our own understanding of it, and we’ve boiled it down to that oft-quoted and not real concrete vision of “transforming lives in Jesus Christ.” And that statement is true. Others we could use: to promote abundant life, to share the light we know in God’s love with the world, to live into the welcome we have come to understand in Jesus Christ, etc.

If you want to skip the preface above, here are some of my proposed actions steps:
But how do we put these wonderful creeds into action?? Here are a few suggestions I have discovered along the way:

I think we are called to find out what the community needs, and find ways of bringing people together in order for these needs to be met. We are in a position to use the bricks and mortar around us to offer a meeting place for folks; a place where short-, medium-, or long-lasting programs come to find hospitality and welcome. This is why we are engaged in discussions about renovating our building and grounds; so, in the process of discussing the needs of our neighbors we have a place that is ready to comfortably receive all who wish to use the space we hold in trust of our mission.

Bringing people together means using the connections and associations we already hold within our daily lives to be pulled together at appropriate times. Bringing people together means taking time to do research of existing programs/organizations that already do what we are looking to do. This doesn’t have to be painstaking work, nor does it have to be about recreating the wheel. This can also include any of our interests…we should be engaged in things that we enjoy and love and for which we have passion.

We need to be sharing with one another what we are doing out in the world. If worship is our main time to gather as community, then we need to use that time to tell stories, ask for support or to make invitation.

Most of all, we need to be in conversation—as a congregation. Session has been having plenty of conversations about the direction of the church. But we don’t have enough forums where critical mass of the church community is able to come together, and talk with one another in an open, frank, trusting, patient, non-critical, hopeful, yet realistic way.

As the Annual Meeting came to a close, we had a glimpse of how this type of sharing can be. About 15-20 folks—with some flow in and out of the room—shared and listened to thoughts about what we need to be doing concretely as a congregation, as well as some things people see we are currently doing. Like with the folks at the retreat I attended on Saturday, the NRPC folks on Sunday didn’t come away with a concrete plan. But, we named the fact that by engaging in the conversation we made a little bit of movement. And the momentum must continue! As we sang in the service on that Sunday (with a little bit of lyrical license thrown in):

Inch by inch, row by row,
we’re gonna make our ministry grow…

Let’s keep it up, good people of Noble Road Church. I welcome your feedback in whatever form you choose: with comments in my box at church, email, or leave a comment on this blog.

Peace,
Francis

Vote for BRC

You’ll note the badge on the left that supports the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow standing for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I would urge you to click on it and check out what Bruce has to say.

Bruce and I were in graduate school together at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He and I worked together for a year in campus ministry at UNITAS Presbyterian House on the campus of Cal-Berkeley. We have also staffed college and youth events, as well as shared in groups supporting the work of young presbyterian pastors and pastors who work in urban settings.

I have come to regard Bruce not only as a trusted and valued friend, but as a pastoral colleague in whom I have the utmost respect. I have appreciated Bruce’s ability to be a forerunner in the movement of pastors who aren’t interested in maintaining the church as it has been throughout the 20th Century. Bruce had the grace to realize early in his pastorate that a typical church wasn’t going to nurture him and his gifts for ministry. Instead, he challenged himself to look deeply within and fashion a ministry that would have great integrity within who he is. In the process, he has discovered that not only are there other clergy people who are looking to emerge into a different way of engaging the gospel, but that there are a whole lot of people searching for meaning who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t going to find it in the church as we’ve known it.

Even while Bruce has been testing the waters for new expressions of ministry and mission, he is deeply committed to the Presbyterian Church. You will find as you engage him in conversation, that his faith and witness are steeped in the reformed faith. He will be an excellent leader to bring people of divergent beliefs together. As I’ve spoken with him about his hopes as Moderator, Bruce has spoken with great energy about wanting to find a variety of forums for promoting constructive conversations in order to unite the denomination in its interface with the world.

It is without hesitation and with great expectation that I endorse the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow as Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) .

Liturgical Year: How Shall We Greet Thee?

I am currently working with a group of folks who serve urban churches–both clergy and lay–who are preparing to raise the cause of churches in the city to a higher profile in our region. It’s a hopeful project in the midst of the current rough reality for many metropolitan churches, whose hey-days have long since past.

Last month we were trying to schedule a next meeting, and our moderator asked if it made sense to plan one during the second week of December, smack in the middle of the church season of Advent. The general feeling in the group was energetic and were gaining some momentum in our strategizing. I, riding that forward-moving wave, spoke up and said sardonically, “Who gives a crap about Advent?? In a couple of months it is conceivable that one or two of the churches represented around this table may not be opening its doors anymore.” There was some cautious laughter in the room, and a few nodding of heads, and we went on to schedule our next meeting on the appointed December date.

Since then, I’ve noticed a couple of other things. One was the exasperating energy used by the chair of our church’s Discipleship Ministry. She was looking all over the church for the advent wreath she had purchased just the year before. Everything was turned upside down throughout the church and the d@^n wreath never presented itself. In a flurry, she set out to order a new one, so that we could at least get it on the second Sunday of Advent (we’d have to use the old one for one week!). Then the prodigal wreath was found–where it was believed to have been in the first place–in a mis-marked box. Hallelujah!

Don’t get me wrong–I really enjoy the lighting of candles during the season of Advent. It is an invitation for multiple generations of folks to share in the liturgy of the church. Each candlelighting marks the slow march towards Christmas Day; we’re given the opportunity to ponder a fourfold set of gifts of the season: peace, love, joy, hope, or, angels, shepherds, magi, child, or, ????. The candles, the colors, the themes all add texture to our service.

But is it worth the anxiety it causes? Especially as we add to the mix, the pageants, parties, decorating, and other traditions of the season. So much time; so much effort goes into these special events that are linked to the seasons–I haven’t even mentioned what happens at Lent/Easter, or the lesser celebrated seasonal high-point, Pentecost. Each of these are firmly entrenched into the cycles of the church seasons.

There is definitely a place for them in telling the story of God, Christ, and Spirit. But I wonder if we sometimes focus on them too much. For all of the planning and executing of seasonal events, we can lose momentum on our mission. Especially in a small church (<90) like the one I serve, the people resources are already thin. Except for a participation in a few gift-giving programs for at-risk families, December is almost a lost month. the same is true in the weeks leading up to, and especially the one following, Easter. We turn inward towards our liturgical movements and away from our involvement with the community.

I wonder what some of the emerging churches are doing with church seasons. Assuming that many of the folks they are drawing are previously “unchurched”–lacking any previous Christian affiliation– I wonder if the seasons of the church year are engaging, meaningful, or relevant? I hope that some of my sisters and brothers serving such expressions of the body of Christ will share their thoughts and experiences.calendrier.jpg

I need to sign off now, it is time to concentrate on week 3 of Advent. This Sunday we will be lighting the candle representing a theme of love; I pray it will spark us to share acts of that theme with the world, during–and outside of(!)–this season of the church year.

Peace.

A Good Day in the Life of a Pastor

Recently my friend Bruce (link in the Blogroll) blogged about one of those Sundays that attacks the ego of an ordained clergyperson. What happened to him, happens to all of us: as your sermon starts to develop (or not), you start to make what you thought was a good point (or not), and then you start to support what you thought was a good thought (or not), and the sermon is totally convoluted, confusing, and all you get back are blank stares and the sound of a chirping cricket. Bruce sums it up nicely in his blog; it s*%ks!

But today was not one of those days!! Today was a dream day in my vocational life. One of the most amazing aspects of our position is that we are invited into the heights and depths of the human condition. They are not always happy places; but they are amazing nonetheless.

One of the folks from the church I serve has just been given his last diagnosis of lymphoma; last because there are no more treatments for him. He may not be able to see it yet, but he has been heroic in his quest to embrace life in the midst of his body being invaded from inside. Because of his insistence to claim life, this terminal prognosis has him reeling.

He invited me to his apartment this morning to discuss how I can be one of his partners through this walk towards death. To honor the sacredness of our time together, I won’t go into specifics of the conversation, but in the moment I had no doubt that God held us both.

I left his apartment to process the time we spent, and drove to a local cemetery. This may sound maudlin, but this particular cemetery is no simple graveyard. It is huge, park-like, and over looks the city of Cleveland and Lake Erie. While today was blustery and overcast with a snow-squall here and there, the place was resplendent with fall colors.

I moved on from there to a lunch appointment with a colleague who is new to our area and new to ministry; she is serving her first church. I’ve blogged a little about how I’m beginning to see the changes in myself from young adulthood to middle adulthood (see “Sir” below). In meeting with my friend, I’m reflecting upon how I am approaching potential mentorhood. Nothing formal, but it is interesting to be able to reflect upon experience when talking with someone who has just officiated her first wedding and her first funeral (not at the same event, thank goodness!?!) And, I must say, for once it is nice to NOT be the youngest pastor on the block anymore!!

Earlier in the week, my sister-in-law had asked if I could pick up my nephews from the elementary school that’s two doors down from the church and walk them to a friends house. So, after lunch this is what I did. When I got to the friend’s house, I started talking to his mother–someone I had met before but don’t know very well. Somehow the conversation moved to the fact that she didn’t grow up going to church because her parents didn’t go to church. But she’s had occasions when her 3rd grade son has asked her questions about God, about which she felt she wasn’t equipped to answer. She said it would be kind of cool to have a one-day event where parents and kids could get together with someone like me and just have an opened-ended conversation about such issues. I told her I crave doing something like that, and we both said we’d think about whether or not we’d follow up on it. Definitely a very cool conversation!

Once that was done, I went back to the church for a weekly Bible study with a group of folks who are really fun to be with. Per usual it was a lively discussion; intelligent, irreverent, and at times irrelevant, but a nice bit of icing on a pretty cool day.

Peace…

Distributing Light

A network of peacemaking folks has asked if churches are willing to hold weekly prayer vigils to pray for an end to the War in Iraq. Our church (I’d link to the website, but we are woefully disorganized) has committed to praying throughout the day on Monday. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program offers a yearlong Biblical Witness to Peacemaking, wherein a text from the Bible is given for each day of the year. I have chosen to use this each Monday to help focus my prayer for peace.

Today’s text is from Job 38:19-38. I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in Job, but I know enough to get a piece of the content. Job and God are in the midst of a dialogue about the justice of life; a “why do bad things happen to good people” sort of conversation. At this point in the narrative, it is God’s turn to speak. God asks of Job a whole lot of question that can be summed up with the familiar query: “Who do you think you are?” You can read the text for yourself to get into it a little deeper, because I’m more interested in one particular question which God asks. It is found in 38:24:

What is the way to the place where light is distributed?

Light is such an amazing concept, covering so many aspects of life. It is that which is needed when a child is afraid of monsters under the bed. It is that which philosophers spend most of their existence chasing. It is that which the Evangelist John identifies about Jesus in the opening lines of his gospel (John 1:1-5) It exposes injustice, gives hope, warms that which is cold. You can probably offer directions to places where light is distributed.

As I was writing this piece, someone from my church emailed me about the following video; an example today of one who has become a distributer of light: Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie-Mellon University.

Peace,

NP

Voting Rights

Did you know, the form of government for the United States is based on that of the Presbyterian Church (USA)??? Indeed it is. The idea for a representative, connectional form of government comes right out of the Presbyterian tradition.

In June of next year, Presbyterians will exercise their right to make decisions when they come together in San Jose, CA for the 218th General Assembly (GA). At GA, representatives from all over the country, will be voting on a variety of issues affecting the life, ministry, and witness of our denomination. We will be having two key elections to name our most “out front” leadership: the Stated Clerk and Moderator.

I have put my name in as a candidate for commissioner from the Presbytery of the Western Reserve. Perhaps there is some interest in reading my application. You can access the pdf here: fmillergaapplication.pdf

Let me know what you think.

Peace!

Pebble in the Pool

{Actually, this was started at @5:30am, Thursday, 4 October}

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. Psalm 42:11

I woke up this morning much earlier than I wanted.  I’ve been sick, I need my rest, but my mind(?) wouldn’t let me go back to sleep.

The thing keeping me awake is the search for a vision for the church I serve.  I respect the broadness of the current stated vision: “Transforming Lives in Jesus Christ.”  For it is not for us to decide when, how, and by whom transformation happens; surely that is up to the Triune God.

But our church needs focus.  And we’ve yet to find a way to get the vast majority of the membership of the church to care enough to have the conversation—together.   I think I’m the pebble in the pool that has to get that care started.  At least, that’s why these folks called me; to lead and focus their ministry.

Hence the disquieting of my soul.  I’m tired of looking for trends.  I’m tired of figuring out how to market the church for postmoderns.  I’m tired of trying to figure out how a white pastor in a roughly 50/50 Black/White neighborhood helps show the church out to the neighbors.  I’m tired of trying to figure out the RIGHT way to share the gospel with the so-called unchurched.  I’m tired of trying to jump-start folks already in the church who are tired.  And, at this point, I’m tired of whining about it.

At a meeting yesterday, one of the pastors with whom I am quite close, shared her vision…quite vociferously.  I don’t know if she was over-caffienated, or sufficiently Christ-inated, or if I was too low energy because of my cold, or a combination of all these things, but I felt like I was being yelled at.  And, her vision included that same old-time religion process of determining one’s level of discipleship is about “how many people you’ve brought to Christ.”   Man, she was fired up.  But that dog wasn’t huntin’ for me.  It was the wrong kind of energy for where I am.

Which circles me back to the disquieting of my soul.   What does it take to get us engaged in being the church, in ministry, in discipleship, in being the body of Christ in the world today?  I have a partial list of answers hunches starting points:

  • It’s contextual.  What is needed in one place, is not the same thing that is needed in another, unless you’re talking about the basics of loving neighbors, then that’s universal;
  • For Noble Road, the understanding is that Jesus welcomed folk, with a particular affinity towards the ______ minority (fill in the blank: sexual, racial, gender, type of wellness, etc);
  • It takes recognizing that each one of us is on a unique spiritual journey with that aforementioned Triune God. And in recognition of this journey, we are called to nourish it, be challenged by it, and be embraced by it: this means practicing disciplines that keep up open to the movement of the Spirit in our lives (Inward journey), and this means doing something in the world to share that grace with others (Outward journey)

Hence, I have come up with the seeds of a vision/mission for the church I would like to see us moving towards. (Disclaimer: This is a work in progress from the movement of the Spirit within me (NoblePastor). This reflects no programmatic direction for the church–at this time. This text is up for kicking about, discussing, striking out, forging ahead, whatever!, I just had to get it out of my head.) So here it goes:

A New Vision for the Church:

Noble Road Presbyterian Church understands itself to be a portion of the body of Jesus Christ in the world.  While this Body is witnessed in a variety of ways across the Earth, this church has caught the vision of being a place of welcome for the diversity of God’s people.

There is too much in our contemporary society that aims to divide the people of this world.  This community is committed to working towards that which brings unity in the human experience.

We are a church that fixes its vision through the teaching and modeled love of God’s Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.  We celebrate that the ethic of love demonstrated by God through Jesus is one found throughout many of the world’s religious traditions.  We base our activity in the world on this common ground of love for God, love for all that God has created, with special attention to love of all who are neighbor (stranger and friend alike).

We recognize that we will not always be faithful to this mission, which is why we rely on the grace of God’s steadfast love to claim us and re-form us, and challenge us to plunge anew into God’s vision for the world.

That’s the vision (or is it the mission?…I get mixed up on the difference of these). In the next installment, I’ll present some ideas for how we apply this vision, as an intentionally multi-cultural congregation. Stay tuned, and in the meantime embrace our hope in God 🙂

Do Not Linger

Today, the bible-studying clergy group with whom I meet weekly, celebrated the retirement of one of our colleagues. It was a chance for me, in the early summer of my ministry, to listen to the reflections of those who have traveled a similar path as I, at least when it comes to being a pastor. I think I’ve gained enough wisdom in this lifetime to know when it is time to pay attention to the sharing of those who have stored up life experience.

teapot2anarrow.jpgAfter studying scripture and reminiscing a bit, we headed off to a fabulous restaurant called The Monastery. Everything there is tea-based. A huge selection of hot and cold teas, as well as tea-enhanced food on the menu. It was a great setting for the celebration!

I had already decided before going out to eat, that I wanted to walk the labyrinth that is across the street from the church where we had our meeting. Upon coming back from the meal, that is exactly what I did.

A couple of words about this labyrinth: it was created by a group of neighborhood folks, and not the church! (Indeed spirituality abounds outside of church walls); it is in a small park, on the corner of two streets–very easy to drive or walk past–and yet, there it is, quietly inviting; and finally, before heading across the street, my retiring friend, told me that it’s not a typical labyrinth, and asked if I wanted a sheet about what labyrinths are about. “No,” I told him, “I know exactly what to do.” Walking a labyrinth

During the early part of this week, my feet have been revolting against the shoes I’ve put on them. I spent all of last week on the beach and the only shoes my feet felt were flip-flops. So, entering the labyrinth, I kicked off my sandals and tread the small-gravelly path before me. The pebbles felt great on my feet; it was a comfortable path–especially with calloused summer-feet. As I usually do in a labyrinth, I stopped to look around and reflect. What I discovered though, is that when I paused, as my feet began to heat up, I realized that pebbles baking in the sun are pretty hot. Lingering on the path today was going to be uncomfortable, and downright painful.

It occurred to me, that this was the gift of the labyrinth this time around. It’s easy to linger in the church: linger around the same type of worship; linger around the same types of ministries; linger around our understanding of what the church is about; a pastor can often linger too long in one particular church. Sometimes the affects of lingering are not as obvious as hot pebbles on bare feet, and yet the time-exposed consequences can be just as painful.

There’s a story in the gospels about three of the disciples witnessing Jesus having a holy mountaintop encounter with two other pillars of the faith–Moses and Elijah. Peter, transfigurationtents.jpgdecided the meeting was so awesome he wanted to build a tent and linger in that sacred space. As the story unfolds, he is sternly told that his plan is flawed, and it was time to get on with whatever was next. That “whatever” happened to be attending to the needs of people hungering and thirsting for compassion.

Some of the insights I gained from two of the retiring pastors–each of whom served their respective church for 18 years–is that as long as they (and the congregations with whom they worked) didn’t linger on one aspect of ministry too long, their vocations remained fresh and their calls had life and vitality in them.

Lingering upon successes or failures, I learned on this day, only amounts to something like the scorching of feet, and there are times when we are called to keep moving and find a fresh perspective.

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