Monday, December 24, 2007
Tonight should be awesome!
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
In Search of Our Kneeling Places
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos,
let’s listen for the brush of angels’ wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
— Ann Weems, from Kneeling in Bethlehem
(Philadelpha: The Westminster Press, 1980)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Plans are coming along for our Christmas Eve celebrations... more on that once all the final details are in place... but it's very exciting!
Tomorrow our District Superintent, Mike Davis, is meeting with our Staff-Parish Relations Committee, and then he'll come over to our house to meet with us following. We're looking forward to sharing with him some of the progress we're making toward establishing this new community of faith, New Light! We're having lunch with a young couple -- both in seminary, newly married -- who are feeling called to church planting and co-pastoring. It'll be great to share experiences and ideas!
Ministry in this season and this setting is filling me with such joy!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
It's this interesting movie that someone told us about, playing right now at the little alternative theater in the Old Port, called "What Would Jesus Buy?" The movie tells the story of Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping.
Odd: I guess that's the best way to describe the flim. And it was even odder for us, because after the first half hour of the 90-minute movie, all of a sudden the picture was upside down and backward on the screen, and the voices were all speaking backward. Sara and I looked at each other with puzzled expressions, but the movie was odd enough that we initially thought this was just part of the oddity. Soon it became apparent to everyone, though, that something was very wrong. Then the lights came on, and someone stepped out of the projection room to state the obvious: one of the reels of the movie was backward. It would require some work to splice the reels together correctly, but that couldn't happen until the movie was ended. We had two choices: we could wait it out (15 minutes, he estimated) until that reel was finished, and then the rest of the movie would be okay, but we'd miss that 20 minutes or so... or they'd give us a free pass to come back another time. We decided to opt for the latter.
So we only saw the first third of the movie, and I'm not sure I'd rank it as a must-see, but there were some take-aways:
- For the first time since the Depression, the average household savings rate in the United States is below zero. In other words, not savings at all, but debt.
- 15 million Americans are clinically addicted to shopping.
- This year, Americans will spend a half trillion dollars on Christmas and we'll generate five million tons of waste.
I really appreciate the film's message about the dangers of consumerism -- it's a message I think our society needs to hear, and for that I applaud Rev. Billy and his "congregation," if that's what you can call them. But honestly, this guy is just so outrageous -- the stereotypical televangelist of the worst kind, complete with bleached blonde preacher's hair, the soapbox hell-and-damnation preaching style, and the theatrical "Stop Shopping Gospel Choir" -- that I don't know how anyone can take his message seriously.
It's too bad, because I think the movie's title asks an important question: What would Jesus buy? And why do we celebrate his birthday -- the birthday of one who said, "Take only one tunic for the road," and "Drop your nets and follow me" -- the one who was homeless but who offers the gift of abundant life -- with such excessive spending and overconsumption?
For me, though, the movie (at least the part we got to see) failed because it highlighted the sensational personality of a crazy nut with an important mission and a style that was more off-putting than convicting.
Have you seen this film? Am I missing something? Please tell me... I'm hoping the final 2/3 of the movie, right side up and forward, might have been a little less outrageous and a little more compelling...
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Santa Claus made a guest appearance, arriving by firetruck, and then after a countdown from 10, the tree was lit, officially marking the beginning of this holiday season. It's no small tree: a 50-foot blue spruce, according to the article in this morning's Portland Press Herald.
Afterward, we ducked into Subway with our friend Erica and her sister Amanda, for a bite to eat, and especially to warm up a bit!
We're really looking forward to our first Christmas season in Portland!
On Thanksgiving afternoon, my parents had an unusual visitor at their birdfeeder just outside the kitchen window.
I guess this one got pardoned! The one on our Thanksgiving table was a little plumper than this poor scrawny fellow.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Creator of the universe,
Giver of every good gift,
Author of life itself.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
who reminded us of the coming of God’s kingdom,
who commanded us to care for those in need,
who taught us to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth,
and who gave us the example of self-giving love.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
who inspires us to faithful stewardship of God’s gifts,
in whom we live and move and have our being,
by whom all things are possible.
We believe that God has given us gifts to be shared freely and generously,
in a spirit of love and joy.
We acknowledge that we are merely stewards of all that is God’s,
caretakers of God’s home.
We believe that faithful stewardship is an act of worship,
a means of praising God who has blessed us so abundantly.
We believe that God has great things in store for us,
for it is in giving that we receive.
(Allen & Sara Ewing-Merrill, 2004)
- The warehouse visit went remarkably well. In four hours, a good sized crew of people weeded through all five tons of stuff, sold some things to an appraiser, gave other things away, and selected some things that will be useful in our new space, wherever that happens to be. We consolidated seven large vaults down into two that we'll keep, one that's being delivered to someone's basement for further sorting, and three that are full now but will be empty as soon as we can find a home for the stuff. That's progress! And while it was hard for some folks to let go of the things that have such sentimental attachment, all in all it went smoothly, and we left the warehouse friends. God is good.
- I spent part of Saturday and part of Sunday raking leaves. I've never lived in a neighborhood with so many leaves! There are giant, tall maple trees lining both sides of the road, and they create a wonderful canopy over this quiet street that's so beautiful... but this time of year, they are shedding like crazy! I find such satisfaction in raking leaves, though. Yes, it's a lot of work, but when it's done I feel such a sense of accomplishment -- and my accomplishment is easy to see and measure, unlike so much of what I do.
- Today a parishioner, whose playful spirit I enjoy so much, said, "I am just so excited about this adventure we're on... I'm all a-twitter!" That was music to my ears. And I'm excited, too.
- I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving with my family in Searsport. I love turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Not a big fan of turnip, though... What are your favorite Thanksgiving foods?
- I'm looking forward to meeting Rev. Mair Honan, who will be our guest preacher this coming Sunday, as well. Read about Grace Street Ministry, her ministry with those who are homeless in Portland, here.
- A shout out to my friend and fellow blogger, Rick McKinley, who jumped through a final hoop this past weekend, when he received the thumbs-up from the Board of Ordained Ministry to be ordained as an elder in the New England Conference of The United Methodist Church next spring. Woo-hoooooo!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The congregation sold its building about two years ago. It was a mammoth facility on the National Register of Historic Places: 44 rooms, a sanctuary with balconies on three sides and seating for 800, a full-sized gymnasium, and an office complex... all this in the center of the city, right next to City Hall, with a much coveted parking lot to boot. The problem was, like so many urban churches, the congregation had dwindled, over several decades, until there were only 25 or 30 people left. Yes, that's right: more rooms than people.
So they made the agonizing decision to sell their facility and re-envision themselves. For churches, and probably for most groups, identity and physical space are so intimately interconnected... This has forced the congregation to reimagine itself, to consider its identity apart from the facility that was its home for generations. We continue to work through the grief even as we anticipate a new future. Through all of this, we're discovering the incredible power of nostalgia to paralyze, and also the freedom and the opportunities that emerge when the albatross around the neck can be discarded. Now we're free to make decisions about the future based on visions for ministry rather than the never-ending maintenance needs of an enormous, historic facility. Oh, it's so tempting to see the scarcity, but there's also abundance in this -- like life, it's a complicated mix of both.
So tomorrow we'll visit the warehouse to make some deferred decisions. What to keep? What to discard? As they tell the story, they describe how, when they were preparing to sell the building two years ago, they filled the gymasium, literally, with furniture and filing cabinets and artwork, pews and dishes and boxes and boxes of records, much of which they sold or gave away to other churches and interested individuals. Some things they sold to an appraiser. Physically and emotionally, it was an overwhelming process. What was left, they loaded into moving vans and transported to a warehouse, where it's been stored all this time in four big vaults, in case we might need it someday. It's a bit fuzzy what's actually in there, and by all accounts, they've survived for two years without needing any of it, so tomorrow we'll open those vaults and decide what -- if anything -- we might want for our future ministry.
No criticisms here. Isn't letting go always a process? How many of us have closets and attics and basements and garages and storage units bulging with the "things" we've accumulated, much of which we're storing for the day when it might be useful? I'll confess when Sara and I moved here in July, we loaded our moving van with way too many things. Much of it still lies in unopened boxes that we'll someday need to sort through. How tempting it is to hold onto things, and how powerful is the force of nostalgia! Even more, how easy it is to be held captive to our things, most of which we know, in our heart of hearts, that we do not need.
Didn't Jesus caution us about this when he said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal"? And then these words, that represent a scandalous truth: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Five tons sounds like a lot. I'm curious to see what's in there, and a bit anxious about how it will go tomorrow as we gather with competing ideas about what's really important. But those words keep coming back to me: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I have a feeling God has a spiritual message for us in here somewhere -- perhaps a message about the spiritual consequences of holding on and the freedom of letting go. I hope we're open to receive it.
And who knows? Maybe when it's all said and done, it will be time to tackle some of those unopened boxes in our basement...
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The other day, Mark's post was called "10 Things I've Learned in 10 Years" -- a list he shared with a group at a recent workshop. Here's his list:
1) Pray ridiculous prayers
2) Be Yourself
3) Put Your Family First
4) Change of Pace + Change of Place = Change of Perspective
5) Leaders are Readers
6) Everything is an Experiment
7) 1% of What You Do Makes 99% of the Difference
8) Church is a tag-team sport
9) The Most Important and Most Difficult Job of a leader is creating culture
10) Market Internally
I'd love to have been part of the workshop, but even the list without the commentary is great!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
To Be a Great Poem
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul -- and your very flesh shall be a great poem.
- Walt Whitman: Preface to Leaves of Grass
- e3 - The School of Congregational Development for The United Methodist Church in New England - was awesome! Great music, great speakers, great workshops, great fellowship! But I'm so glad it's over... I slept until after 10:00 this morning. It was good to have some time to relax today.
- It was so great to have my friend David Abbott staying here over the weekend. We were up too late at night catching up, but it was great to have that time.
- All Saints Sunday worship was great. Folks came forward and lit candles to celebrate the saints in their lives. Indeed, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!
- I had lunch today with another pastor in the Portland area who reached out and suggested we get together. It's wonderful to be serving in this city where collegial relationships are abundant and so rich.
- Rachel and I raked leaves today, too. Okay, I raked, while she played around in them and giggled. She loves the way they sound underfoot. So do I.
- I went to a watercolor class sponsored by Spiral Arts tonight. I used to create art pretty regularly... even was an art major for one semester as a first-year college student... but it's been a long time. It was awesome!
- On Wednesday evening, we'll have our second gathering of those who are part of New Light. Please pray for this ministry!
- This coming weekend both my parents and Sara's Dad will be visiting. How cool is that?
- How did it get to be November already anyway?
Friday, November 02, 2007
In the busyness of this day
grant me a stillness of seeing, O God.
In the conflicting voices of my heart
grant me a calmness of hearing.
Let my seeing and hearing,
my words and my actions
be rooted in a silent certainty of your presence.
Let my passions for life
and the longings for justice that stir within me
be grounded in the experience of your stillness.
Let my life be rooted in the ground of your peace, O God,
Let me be rooted in the depths of your peace.
- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Can God breathe life into dry bones? Oh yes! God can do that! Seems to me someone said, "With God, ALL things are possible!"
I'm pumped, and looking forward to day two...
Tonight I picked up Matt Poole, director of New Church Development for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, who will be leading the pre-conference Church Planting Seminar tomorrow. Sara and I will participate in that from 10-4 tomorrow, while most of our design team will be setting up.
The weekend promises some wonderful opportunities: plenary sessions with Tod Bolsinger & Julia Kuhn Wallace, Scripture reflections with Larry Peacock, four workshop sessions with about 30 to choose from, wonderful times of worship with bands from local churches, an evening with Vance Ross, followed by a worship concert with Marty Magehee (formerly of the band 4Him), a Saturday afternoon servant evangelism project that we hope will create some buzz about New Light, and great fellowship with sisters and brothers from around New England. I think we have about 300 people registered. Very exciting!
Check out the event brochure if you're interested in learning more about what we're doing.
I didn't get a chance to reflect on the final chapters of our time in Baltimore. We had a very full Sunday, beginning with worship at Cedar Ridge Community Church, the church that Brian McLaren founded.
From there, we made a quick trip to D.C. and arrived with plenty of time for the 11:30 service at National Community Church, Union Station. Much of the service was a repeat of worship at Ebenezer's on Saturday night. Mark Batterson was preaching elsewhere, so the sermon was via video -- a recording of the sermon we heard live on Saturday night. It was my first experience with a sermon on video, and it was much more effective than I'd imagined. I kind of expected it to feel cheesy, or somehow not so authentic, but it was actually kind of cool seeing it on the big screen (in high definition, of course)!
Sara and I did find that the movie theater setting has some limitations: naturally, the space is designed for spectators. People expect when they walk into a theater that they'll be spectators, and the space naturally facilitates that, both physically and psychologically. The theater was dark, except for lights directed at the band and speakers at the front, further enhancing that feeling that we were there to watch something, rather than to be fully engaged. While those attending were certainly participating in the singing, there wasn't a strong feeling of community or of connectedness. There was no opportunity to interact, and with stadium seating, we didn't even feel very connected to the people around us. We noticed people left the theater at the end of the service like they would leave a movie: without any interaction with the people with whom they'd just shared worship. That was a little disappointing. The video sermon was effective, but people didn't laugh or respond in the same way as they had on Saturday night, when there was more of a feeling of personal connection between preacher and congregation.
One neat thing we did observe: there were several seemingly homeless persons in the congregation. One was there when we arrived, taking a nap in the back of the theater -- we suspected he might have been there during previous services, and perhaps finds it to be a place where he can take a nap uninterrupted on Sunday mornings. Another arrived midway through worship, came into the theater, and promptly sat directly between the two people in front of us. It was neat that this space afforded them the opportunity for a little comfort, and I pray that the experience of worship gave them a sense of hope and joy.
We spent the rest of Sunday doing some sightseeing around D.C., and finished with a Sunday evening service at a church in Arlington, VA that was not particularly noteworthy.
We headed home on Monday, opting for an earlier flight than we'd originally scheduled. Rachel was weary from all the traveling. We were glad to arrive home on Monday night!
Sunday, October 28, 2007
When you walk into Ebenezer's, it's like walking into Starbucks: young adults sitting at tables, milling in and out (and on this warm fall day, spilling out to the tables on the brick sidewalks, too)... people reading and hanging out, using their laptops, taking advantage of the free wireless... the wonderful smell of coffee and cappucino... They use all fair trade coffee -- "coffee with a cause," they call it -- and you can buy it in a cup or in a bag, ready to enjoy at home. There's the usual assortment of bagels, muffins, scones, and cookies, too. And all the proceeds benefit NCC's community outreach ministries. So how has Ebenezer's been received by the D.C. community? Well, it was voted the #2 coffeehouse in the D.C. metro area last year. It also won a Vision Award from the city, "for its demonstration of the potential for imagination and creative energy to give new life and purpose to a forlorn building by envisioning a community benefit where others saw blight." Not bad, huh?
We checked out the coffee house, then headed downstairs for "Connection" -- their Saturday night worship celebration. Actually, it's so popular, they have two: 5:00 and 6:30 pm. We were there for 5:00, and there must have been 150 or more crowded into a fairly small space. The music was excellent, and Mark Batterson's preaching, as always, was uplifting and inspiring and challenging. NCC is getting ready to launch its fourth site, at a movie theater in Georgetown, so Mark spent time reviewing the importance of making disciples, which drives everything they do at NCC. At the conclusion of the service we celebrated Communion. All in all, it was a really powerful worship experience.
And before we left, of course, we had to grab a mocha for the ride home.
For us, this was a great follow-up to our visit to The Potter's House on Friday afternoon. The two are similar in their basic philosophy: ministry in the marketplace. That's the hallmark of NCC: worship in movie theaters, where people naturally gather, and now in the coffeehouse, too. It was the vision of George & Mary Cosby, too, way back in 1947 when they imagined The Potter's House.
They're different in other ways: The Potter's House congregation is intentionally small, with a membership covenant that demands much of its members; National Community Church, in three sites, had a combined average weekly worship attendance of 1,100 last year. Small groups are the lifeblood of this congregation, though: they have almost 150 small group leaders and every kind of group you can imagine. 72% of NCCers are singe 20-somethings. The Potters House places a stronger emphasis on ministries of mercy and justice, but far less focus on being culturally relevant.
There's a lot to process as we reflect upon these juxtaposing visits. It sure seems like God is working through these experiences. We are praying for God's vision to emerge...
We started with worship at New Hope Adventist Church, where our new friend Kumar is one of the pastors. I've never been to a Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was awesome! The worship was contemporary and lively and filled with the Spirit. We enjoyed a tour of their new facility, including an introduction to some of the technology they use, a visit to their children's ministry rooms, and a behind-the-scenes look at their administrative offices suite. Good stuff! God is blessing this church! (And I felt like it was Sunday all day after starting the day that way!)
We spent a couple of hours at the Smithsonian National Zoo, where we got to see the giant pandas, lots of flamingos, and a bunch of other animals. I love the zoo -- seeing such beautiful and diverse living creatures always reminds me how creative our Creator really is!
From there we went to Ebenezer's Coffee House, a ministry of National Community Church, for worship at 5:00 pm. Awesome, awesome, awesome! I'll write a full post about that experience tomorrow...
By the end of the day, Rachel was wiped (and so were her parents!)...
And a full day awaits for tomorrow as well, so it's time to catch some Zzzz's...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Unfortunately, the person with whom we had set up a time to meet was delayed in a meeting offsite, so our visit ended up being a bit more informal. We really enjoyed perusing the excellent book selection and checking out the art exhibit on one wall. We spent an hour or so with Sam, a member of The Potter's House who happened to be there, and he gave us a pretty good introduction to their ministry.
Here are a few things that impressed us the most:
The trailblazing nature of this ministry... When it began back in 1947, The Potter's House was ahead of its time. A coffee house church seems like a 21st century idea, but that was the vision of Gordon & Mary Cosby 60 years ago! Their question was, "Could Christ be served in a coffeehouse in Washington, D.C.?" Here's what Gordon says of their vision:
"The idea first came to Mary and me after a disapointing out of town speaking engagement in a church which felt as though there was no life in it. We stopped for the night at a motel which had only one vacant room, which was above a tavern. The noise from below kept us awake most of the night. As we drove home the next morning and thought of the contrast between the camaraderie we had heard in the tavern and the somber mood in the church we had visited, the idea of a coffee house began to emerge -- it could be a church in the marketplace which would say to the city: We will serve you, we will be with you in the way in which you naturally gather: We will live a little chunk of our life where you can watch what is going on… see whether we know anything about the mercy of God, whether or not there is a quality of being here which is different from what you have found elsewhere."
The Membership Covenant: Membership in The Potter's House, or in any of the church communities associated with The Church of the Saviour, means something. Those who join commit to a covenant which includes tithing; study (participating in their School of Christian Living, as well as independent study); spiritual disciplines(an hour a day of prayer and meditation, retreats, etc.); regular participation in worship; and attendance at a mission group - a weekly small group.
In her book Call to Commitment, which chronicles the story of The Church of the Saviour, church member and author Elizabeth O'Connor (since deceased) writes, "We understand the Christian Church as the gathering of those who are committed to Christ and to one another in the living of a common life. We are to be pioneers, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, and prophets -- representatives of the new humanity. The proclamation of the gospel is not alone for a little official group of people which is called clergy. It is for all who have met the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, who know that Christ is on the march. The world may be fearful and anxious and weary, but we are not weighted by that world. We are following One who has unfathomable resources and One who makes them available to us and who says, 'You must set new norms of life so that people can see what life can be. This is your task. Your primary vocation is to enter into covenant relationships with others who have also met this Christ -- to be that new society into which others can be drawn.' ... Surely entrance into the Christian Church presupposes total commitment to Christ as the Lord of the church. A surrender to Christ is a surrender to his people -- total involvement in the life of the church and the awareness that participation in this community of forgiveness and love means that we must offer it to all people."
The justice ministries that The Potter's House has spawned: We need to learn more about this, but so many ministries... at least one clinic, a jobs training program, low-income housing, advocacy ministries for minority populations, and lots more. It's clear that seeking justice is central.
The focus on "inward-outward" mission: a strong emphasis on spiritual disciplines that foster personal holiness and ministries of justice and mercy which foster social holiness. It seems very Wesleyan!
The concept of ministry in the marketplace: This was Gordon & Mary Cosby's great experiment, but it's happening now 60 years later... The Potter's House is at once a bookstore, a coffee shop; an art gallery; a hospitality center where those who are homeless come in out of the rain, or to use the restroom, or to take a nap uninterrupted; a Friday night coffee house; an afternoon feeding program for those who need a free meal; and worship space for Monday night Taize worship -- all in this storefront on bustling Columbia Road in the heart of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood.
Our visit left us with a few questions as well:
- Has The Potter's House sufficiently adapted to a changing society? The space seemed somewhat outdated, in need of a facelift to attract today's young adults. The environment wasn't unwelcoming, but the space didn't have the ambience of the coffee houses that are booming in every neighborhood of D.C. and every urban area in our country.
- Are the members of The Potter's House invitational? If so, how? We were surprised to learn that currently the church has only six members, and while the congregation orginated with young people, today most of them are middle aged. We don't know how many others regularly participate in worship or small groups who have not taken the membership covenant, but the person with whom we spoke lamented the fact that they are no longer attracting young adults.
- How do you successfully integrate what seem like competing aspects of a ministry like this: a viable restaurant/ coffee house/ bookstore and a ministry with the unhoused like the feeding program/ hospitality center? The person with whom we spoke articulated this challenge: many professionals have said they do not feel comfortable coming in to buy coffee or meet with associates or clients when there are homeless persons hanging out or coming in for meals. The feeding program is a tremendously expensive enterprise, which could be offset by a successful business with strong support from a paying clientele -- but how could this work more effectively?
Friday, October 26, 2007
I'm really excited because today we're going to visit The Potter's House in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. Their ministry, since 1960, is social justice and hospitality, but they express that in so many ways. In their own words, "The Potter’s House is a coffeehouse, bookstore, art gallery and gift shop. We offer community, hospitality, and a listening ear to all who enter. We are thankful for all of the wonderful people with whom God has blessed us through the years. We want to consistently share the vision that we are all clay in the Potter's hands."
I'm not sure exactly how the relationships work (more later), but The Potter's House is one community in a network called The Church of the Saviour. It sounds like an interesting model! They also run a Friday night coffee house, which we may visit tonight if Rachel will tolerate it.
I'll blog more after we've had a chance to visit and talk with the folks at The Potter's House! I am so excited!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
UMCOR Responds to California Wildfires
Wildfires fueled by the hot Santa Ana winds continue to consume large portions of Southern California, particularly heavily-populated areas surrounding San Diego and Los Angeles. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is in close contact with Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
“In addition to an emergency grant to support the conference in its initial efforts, disaster response consultants are at the ready to provide the conference with their presence and guidance as needed,” says the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, head of UMCOR’s domestic disaster response.
Safety concerns have spurred the largest evacuation since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005... some seeking shelter in the Qualcomm stadium in San Diego. Pastors and congregations of five United Methodist Churches are among the evacuees, according to the San Diego District website. Several other United Methodist congregations remain closely affected although no known United Methodist Churches have been damaged by the fires as of yet.
“As always UMCOR offers its prayers and support to those in need,” says Sam Dixon, UMCOR’s chief executive. “We ask for your generous donations to the domestic disaster response advance as recent emergencies have depleted the funds we use to provide relief and support in disasters such as these.”
Please uphold the people of Southern California in your prayers in the coming days as no relief from the Santa Ana winds is in sight. Cash gifts will help provide for recovery. Checks can be made out to your local church. Local churches can send donations to the Office of Administrative Ministries of the New England Conference, PO Box 249, Lawrence, MA 01842. Please use the Conference Fund #513 and UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response,” when submitting checks. One hundred percent of every donation to any appeal, including appeals for California wildfires, goes to support the designated program.
Let's surround all those affected by the California fires in our hearts and prayers, and let's share generously from our resources to support this effort.
Hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has composed a hymn in response to the devastation, during which over 1,000,000 people, more people than at any time since the US Civil War, were moved and evacuated. Called O God of Mighty Wind and Flame, her words are set to the familiar tune of Ellacombe ("O Church of God, United"). It is made available here for use in congregational worship with the request that churches and individuals using it also financially support the relief efforts in response to the California fires. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is co-pastor with her husband Bruce of the Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
This prayer caught my eye: in red magic marker, the letters of a young child...
"Please make my Dad say YES to Baskin Robbins." - Felicity
Now that's a sincere prayer!
So today I joined the group on a field trip to Cedar Ridge Community Church, the church Brian McLaren founded. It was really interesting to be there. The church facility is smaller than I expected. In stark contrast to churches like Saddleback or Willow Creek or the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection - all enormous mega-churches with high profile pastors - Cedar Ridge is kind of an average facility: a large gathering space/ lobby with a big, multi-purpose worship space in the center; rows of classrooms lining both sides. There was nothing flashy or particularly innovative about the space - just very functional, not unlike hundreds of thousands of other churches in rural communities, suburbs, and cities around the country.
Brian met with us in the back of the sanctuary in a circle of chairs while some other staff people were meeting in another section of the sanctuary. He was very relaxed - just kicked back on a couch, sharing conversation like it was his living room. I only sat in on part of the conversation, because Rachel woke up from her nap in the stroller and was getting a little distracting, so I took her out to find some toys in the infant room.
The first person to pose a question asked Brian what he thought about the emerging church conversation as it relates to mainline denominations - can the two co-exist? Brian's response was really interesting: he said he's more hopeful, actually, for mainline denominations than for evangelical non-denominational churches, for two reasons: (1) mainline churches know they're in trouble, while evangelical churches do not; and (2) within mainline churches there's more room for theological disagreement and discourse, which makes them more pliable. On the flip side, though, he notes that mainline churches have a "fundamentalism" about structure - a fundamentalism that is as rigid as the theological fundamentalism on the other side. Both are deadly, he says.
Brian talked for a bit about the recently released research conducted by Willow Creek that has determined that there is no correlation between increased activity and increased spiritual growth. Prior to this research, everyone sort of assumed that the more active a person became in the programs of the church, the deeper that person grew spiritually. In fact, that is not true - which shouldn't be a huge surprise, it seems to me... Being "busy" with church activities doesn't necessarily make one more spiritually centered - in fact, doesn't church busy-ness often keep us distracted from the inner work of the Spirit? Willow Creek is learning, as Diana Butler Bass and others have been saying, that spiritual practices, and not increased activity, lead to deeper spiritual lives, and so the church needs to focus on teaching and encouraging spiritual practices. This will be important as we develop a discipleship program for new light.
We're staying through the weekend, and we're hoping to visit Cedar Ridge for worship on Sunday, as well as National Community Church which meets at the movie theater at Union Station in D.C., to experience their worship and learn what others are doing. We feel so blessed to have this opportunity!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
When we first started planning, it seemed eons away, but now it's just around the corner, and I'm getting excited.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I'm reading Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything.
McLaren begins with these troubling, hopeful questions: "What if Jesus of Nazareth was right -- more right, and right in different ways, than we have ever realized? What if Jesus had a message that truly could change the world, but we're prone to miss the point of it? What if we have developed a religion that makes reverent and honoring statements about Jesus but doesn't teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it? What if the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus?"
Examining deeply Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, which he calls "Jesus' kingdom manifesto," McLaren contends that the kingdom of God is "a revolutionary, countercultural movement -- proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against the tryrannical trinity of money, sex, and power."
Here's how he summarizes Jesus' manifesto:
- Be poor in spirit, mourn, be meek, hunger and thirst for true righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, be a peacemaker, be willing to joyfully suffer persecution and insult for doing what is right.
- Be salt and light in the world -- by doing good works.
- Do not hate or indulge in anger, but instead seek to reconcile.
- Do not lust or be sexually unfaithful in your heart.
- Do not presume to make vows, but have simple speech, where yes means yes and no, no.
- Do not get revenge, but find creative and nonviolent ways to overcome evil done to you.
- Love your enemies, as God does, and be generous to everyone, as God is.
- Give to the poor, pray, and fast secretly.
- Don't let greed cloud your outlook, but store up treasure in heaven through generosity.
- Don't worry about your own daily needs, but instead trust yourself to God's care, and seek God's kingdom first and foremost.
- Don't judge others, but instead first work on your own blindness.
- Go to God with all your needs, knowing that God is a caring Father.
- Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Don't be misled by religious talk; what counts is actually living by Jesus' teaching.
Okay, so we've got all that covered in our everyday lives, right?!
Or, maybe not so much. McLaren wonders: "What would happen in our world if increasing numbers of us were to practice living in this way? What would happen in our individual lives if we didn't just hear Jesus' words, if we didn't simply say, 'Lord, Lord!' but rather heard his words and acted on them? And what future might we predict for ourselves, our nation, and our planet if we reject Jesus' ethical manifesto in practice (even if we pay lip service to it in theory.)?"
What do you think?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
One funny story... The groom's nephew, Chase, maybe 2-1/2 years old, was the ring bearer, and at the rehearsal it was clear to everyone that he might or might not complete the assigned task. I assured his nervous parents -- both of them in the wedding party -- that whatever happened, it would be perfectly okay. Before the ceremony this afternoon, his parents and others coached him, helped him practice walking down the aisle, gave him instructions, and even demonstrated the proper technique for holding the pillow straight... but he's not even three years old, and he's an active little guy, and it was clear that this was a longshot.
So all the groomsmen take their places, and the bridesmaids walk down the aisle, and now it's time for Chase to make his grand entrance. He walks tentatively for the first third of the aisle, then freezes. One of the guys who'd been coaching him earlier stepped up, gave him a gentle nudge, and pointed him toward his father waiting in the front... even walked a few steps with him. That got him closer to the front, but when he was about 3/4 of the way down the aisle, he took the pillow and chucked it like a frisbee to his father, then turned around and ran as fast as he could back down the aisle. Of course, the congregation burst into laughter, and no one harder than the groom, his uncle. That definitely broke the ice, and the bride -- my cousin, Sarah -- entered to a congregation that was already experiencing the joy of this day!
And what a joyful day it was!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Tomorrow my cousin Sarah will be married, and I have the joy of officiating as she and Chris pledge vows of love and faithfulness to one another.
Tonight I'm feeling the blessings of love, and of family, and of going home again... and of my Mom's chocolate chip cookies, which were waiting when we arrived tonight. So as the clock strikes midnight, I'll go upstairs in this log home that really is home in the truest sense, and I'll crawl into a bed covered with quilts in the room that used to be my sister's, and I'll listen to the rain on the roof, and I'll whisper a prayer of thanks for all that was, and all that is, and all that is yet to be.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Tonight we had our first gathering of people who have expressed an interest in being part of this new church we're planting. It was an informal kind of gathering at our house, around the dining room table. There were eight adults -- fewer than we'd hoped, but there are several others who have expressed an interest who ended up not being able to be with us -- plus two kids. We're trusting that the people who were supposed to be with us were there; that there were no accidents or coincidences; that it's all part of God's vision.
And the energy was good! We shared great fellowship and laughter around the table as we chowed down on Latin cuisine from La Familia, a new restaurant that just opened in our neighborhood. These people didn't know each other, so there was a nice extended period of conversation to begin to get acquainted.
Then between dinner and dessert (a deeeee-licious apple-cranberry-currant pie that we got from the Rosemont Market in our neighborhood, with ice-cream, of course, plus peanut butter cookies that Cally made) Sara and I shared our vision for the community of faith we hope to develop. The Holy Spirit was alive, and it was clear that those in the room shared our vision, were excited about the core values we described, and are committed to be part of this movement! Several shared how the time was perfect for them for various reasons, and nearly everyone shared their excitement, in one way or another, to be part of this community, as well as their sense of connecting with the core values we're proposing.
We will get together again for another one of these dinner & conversation gatherings, and then very soon we'll be starting a weekly small group focusing on discipleship, leadership development, evangelism, and visioning. Over time, we hope these small groups will multiply, with leaders emerging from this first group, until we have around 12 small groups meeting in various locations around the greater Portland area.
Here are some of the early thoughts that we shared on a handout... These are by no means formal statements. It's not our official mission statement or vision statement, and nothing here is carved in stone... maybe carved in Jello, but definitely not stone. These are just some early descriptive statements. Feel free to share observations, questions, feedback... whatever you got, let us have it!
Our Desire: to follow Christ faithfully, individually and in our life together
Our Goal: to create a new United Methodist community of faith in Portland, Maine to reach out to non-Christians and nominal Christians, those with doubts and those with faith, those who’ve had a bad experience with church, and those who have never experienced Christian community, with a particular desire to reach the younger generations noticeably absent from most mainline churches.
Our Name: new light - a United Methodist community of faith
Tagline: rethinking what it means to follow Christ
Rationale for name:
popular expression: “seeing things in a new light”
- “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19)
- Jesus: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
- And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ (Revelation 21:5)
- “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
- “What has come into being in [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1: 3-5)
- “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”(John 8:12)
- Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16)
- “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
· community: deepening relationships
· authenticity: being real
· inclusivity and hospitality: all are welcome
· grace: God’s free gift of love and forgiveness which we do nothing to earn or deserve
· creativity: the arts, music, dance, and more!
· service: caring for those in need in Portland and beyond
· Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God, with a strong focus on peace and justice
· transformation: of ourselves, of the world
· everyone in ministry: God has given each of us different gifts, and God calls each of us to use these gifts in ministry
· stewardship of the earth: God’s Creation
· generous stewardship of our resources
Our Focus: loving God, loving our neighbors, making disciples as we go (Jesus’ words in The Great Commandment and The Great Commission)
Matthew 22: 34-40 The Great Commandment
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 28: 16-20 The Great Commission
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
How can you be part of this?
· participate in the first small group forming this fall
· pray for this ministry, for our life together, for our leaders, and for God’s guidance in your own life
· invest in relationships – with people you already know and with people you meet
· invite friends to join you – pray about whom God is calling you to invite
So... these are our humble beginnings! Sara and I are so excited to see where this journey will lead. We have a strong sense that God is doing something big, and we're just making ourselves available. Will you pray for us?
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Dear ONE Member,
Today is our day—the Global Day of Action Against Poverty—the day for the billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty.
Today, ONE members and activists from partner organizations are walking the halls of Congress delivering tens of thousands of letters—most of them from members like you—about the Jubilee Act.
Today, Reverend David Duncombe is eating for his first full day after his 40 day fast.
Today, by making thousands of phone calls to Congress asking them to cosponsor the Jubilee Act, we can make the difference between passage and failure for this crucial piece of legislation.
You can make a call in just one minute by:
Looking over this set of talking points
Going here to register your call—this helps us keep track of which offices need to receive more calls.
The Jubilee Act calls for debt relief for some of the world's poorest nations. Experience proves that debt relief for countries committed to investing in their people's future is one of the most effective ways to fight extreme poverty. And it's easy to see why.
Haiti spends twice as much repaying debt as it does on health care. Eliminating this debt would allow Haiti to spend more on programs that would help the extremely poor like Tanzania did in 2000. When Tanzania's debt was canceled, that government was able to eliminate school fees, sending 1.6 million children to school almost overnight.
Since we started taking action on the Jubilee Act last week, key Senators introduced a companion bill, a critical step in the process. That's just the beginning. If we make our voices heard on Capitol Hill, if we get the phones ringing off the hook, we can put momentum behind the Jubilee Act. And it all starts with you.
Please dial 1-800-786-2663 and ask your elected officials to co-sponsor the Jubilee Act.
A billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. They don't have a voice in Congress. Let's lend them ours. On this Global Day of Action Against Poverty, take a minute, make a call, and help to save their lives.
Susan McCue, ONE.org
Is it not a means of practicing our faith to seek justice for the oppressed? Is it okay that a billion people -- a billion human beings created in God's image -- a billion people whom God loves as much as God loves you and me -- suffer in extreme poverty while you and I have more than we need? Sobering thoughts as I, who have so much power and privilege, sit here in my comfortable home...
So that makes this a pretty busy week. We're also up to our necks in the details of planning e3, The School of Congregational Development for The United Methodist Church in New England coming up November 1-3 here in Portland. We have some nationally known speakers and about 30 workshops, plus great worship and opportunities to connect with brothers and sisters from other churches. Sara and I are on the design team, and also the worship planning team. Sara's coordinating the catering for Friday lunch and snack breaks. I've done a lot of the publicity, and now I'm coordinating tickets for the Friday night worship concert with Marty Magehee. All the details have to come together, because Friday and Saturday we'll be out of town for my cousin's wedding (I'll have the joy of officiating!), and next week we're off to Baltimore for six days. Yes, it is a busy week...
So this afternoon, Sara left for a gathering of her women clergy spirituality group, which meant it was my turn to spend one-on-one time with Rachel. She's been a little fragile lately: getting over a cold and a slight fever, and demanding more attention than usual. We played on the floor and read books, and I chased her around as she zipped from one thing to another. I had a project, though, that I really wanted to complete and get in the mail before 5:00... and it wasn't looking good. While Rachel was content playing by herself, I snuck to my laptop and began to work... which lasted a few minutes until I heard the sobbing coming from the living room. When I looked to see what was happening, there stood Rachel, holding our engagement photo, which she'd found on the bookshelf, and she was wailing, "Mooooommmmmmmyyy!"
So I took her in my arms, and we went to the sunroom to the glider rocker. I'll confess, I turned on Curious George -- we rarely turn on the television with Rachel, but we reserve it for just these moments when nothing else will distract her -- and we rocked, and we cuddled, and we watched Curious George until the sobs had ceased and the tears had dried... and soon she was sound asleep in my arms.
I didn't get the project done before 5:00. It will have to wait to go out in tomorrow's mail. But I know I was where I needed to be. Do you have those moments, when the priorities shift, and maybe you have fewer checkmarks on the task list at the end of the day, but you know it was right and good, and that completed tasks or not, God was glorified?
Mark Batterson, in his blog often says, "I absolutely refuse to sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry." That's a conviction I hope I can keep, too.
For starters, Sara and I are the obnoxiously proud parents of Rachel, pretty much the most beautiful little girl on the planet, who is now almost 15 months old. It's hard to remember what life was like pre-Rachel. No doubt readers of this blog will grow tired of Rachel stories and pictures. I'll confess, I'm hopelessly in love with this little daughter.
Secondly, after 7 years in Hudson, MA (for me, anyway), we've moved to Portland, Maine. We love Portland! With its alternative culture, farmer's markets, museums, art galleries, beautiful parks, great restaurants (second only to San Francisco for most restaurants per capita - who knew?), diverse neighborhoods, progressive political climate, and even the beautiful Maine coast - plus close proximity to family - what's not to love? I'm sure I'll reflect now and then on life in Portland as well.
And finally, perhaps the biggest change of all... after serving separate churches for several years, Sara and I are now co-pastoring, sharing one appointment, which is to serve a very small existing church as they envision a new future following the sale of their beautiful, old facility (44 rooms, a gymnasium, and a sanctuary with seating for 800, right next to City Hall in the heart of this city); and also to plant a brand new church! It's all quite exciting... and sometimes a bit overwhelming, but mostly exciting! I'll use this blog to reflect on the progress and the challenges as we continue this journey.
So... changes! But what fun would life be if it were just more of the same?
There's that old expression, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." The problem with perfectionism is, sometimes our desire to do something perfectly (and by whose standards do we measure that?!) freezes us into total paralysis.
So this time I'm just going to learn as I go along. I'll get better. I'll experiment along the way. But at least I've started.