Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shane Claiborne on Church Planting

A great post: What Shane Claiborne Would Say to Church Planters, from Dave Ferguson's blog, Velocity. Good stuff. Definitely thought-provoking and challenging...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Day Four in Kansas City

Here it is almost midnight on Tuesday, and I can't believe how quickly our days in Kansas City have been flying by!

Over the weekend we celebrated worship with The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, First Light, Revolution, and Jacob's Well -- four very different worship gatherings, but each inspiring in its own way. I hope to have time to share reflections and observations more fully in the days ahead.

We also got to meet with Steven Blair, lead pastor at First Light, who was incredibly helpful in sharing his own experiences and insights as a church planter; and with five different staff persons from Church of the Resurrection, who shared their expertise around discipleship formation, leadership development, incorporation of newcomers, and community missions, among other topics.

The icing on the cake was going to be the opportunity to attend a dinner gathering of the "Leadership Community" (I just have to say, that is much cooler than a Church Council or an Administrative Board or even a Leadership Team!) at Jacob's Well, but we got there to find out that the meeting had been canceled. Major bummer. But no complaints -- we have found everyone to be so helpful and generous in sharing what they've learned, and for that we're grateful!

In between all these incredible experiences, we've been having a great time with our new friends Andrew & Nicole. Thanks, you two, for making this such an awesome trip for us!

Rachel hasn't completely adjusted to the time zone change, so she's been waking up at 4:30 most mornings. Anticipating that, I think I better head to bed!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rachel's first sentence

Here in our hotel in Kansas City, Rachel said her first full sentence, and what a wonderful sentence it is! She's been practicing it ever since, and it makes my heart sing every time...
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Saturday in Kansas City

We're having a great time in Kansas City!

Yesterday we spent some time with Nicole & Andrew Conard, our new friends who are both on the pastoral team at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. After lunch, they showed us around some cool parts of the city, then gave us the inside tour at COR before the 5:00 worship celebration. It was great to have this time to spend with them, and to learn more about the ministries through which thousands and thousands of members of this church grow and serve.

Some of the things that impressed us about COR:
  • amazing facilities... from the beautiful Wesley Covenant Chapel , which was the first sanctuary (with seating for about 350) to the current sanctuary (with seating for over 3,000); from the exciting, colorful children's wing with bright and engaging paintings on all the walls to the clean, open, spacious, and inviting gathering areas... everything was designed with attention to detail and intention to fulfill the church's mission
  • carefully designed childcare facilities and procedures: friendly volunteers helped us register Rachel, pointed us to the room for her age group, and gave us a brief orientation; by the time we arrived at the room, they had already received, electronically, a two-part sticker with Rachel's name (and a place to record allergies) -- one part to go on Rachel's back and the other part for us to keep as our "receipt" necessary to reclaim her at the end of worship
  • spaces for gathering, a coffee shop, a bookstore, prayer space, and a large "Connection Point" information center with flyers for dozens and dozens of ministrites and opportunities to sign up for study or service
  • excellent music and preaching
  • a culture of friendliness and welcoming
  • more than 200 staff members!
  • a commitment to the church's mission and vision that is both implicit in the church's ministries and explicit: clearly posted in huge letters across the top of the main lobby area as a constantly visible reminder of the church's reason to be
After worship at COR, we got together for dinner with a bunch of members of Jacob's Well at the home of Brian & Carol, members at Jacob's Well. This proved to be a great opportunity to talk one-on-one with several people, and to hear their stories. It definitely seems like relationships in the small-group context are the heartbeat of this community of faith. Over and over we heard people share that it was easy to get connected, and once connected with a small group, to find opportunities to serve. I suspect this is an intentional focus for Jacob's Well, such that it's become a deeply rooted part of the church's culture. One person told us Jacob's Well spends the least amount of its time and resources on its worship ministry, since worship is only an expression of everything else. We're looking forward to attending the 5:3o worship gathering tonight, and then to attending a leadership dinner on Tuesday night.

Our first full day in Kansas City was full... and informative and inspiring!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Here we are in Kansas City!

We arrived in Kansas City tonight -- Sara and Rachel and I and our friend Erica, who's a member of our New Light community.

This weekend we'll be taking in worship and connecting with folks at four different churches:
We've arranged to meet with pastors and staff persons from these churches on Monday and Tuesday. We're really excited to learn about their ministries and to hear about some of the innovative things these churches are doing to share the hope of Christ in their communities! Especially, we can't wait to see how these experiences will impact our own ministry in Portland, Maine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ready for a Wellness Exam?

This week I went to my new primary care physician for a wellness exam, also known as a physical. It was my first time meeting this new doctor, so of course there were lots of questions about family history, about my allergies and asthma, about diet and exercise, and all the rest. The nurse took my blood pressure, height, and weight and asked me about the medications I take. The doctor listened to my lungs, looked at my eyes and ears and throat, poked and prodded here and there... refilled some prescriptions for asthma medications... and made a referral to an allergist. I came away feeling good that I'm being proactive about my health and good about establishing a relationship with a doctor who will provide care should I be sick in the future.

I wonder... do we give our spiritual health the same weight of importance? Are we as intentional about assessing our own spiritual health from time to time? What would a spiritual wellness exam look like?

I can imagine questions like these...
  • How is your prayer life?
  • What other spiritual practices nurture your faith?
  • What habits, practices, or patterns stand between you and a deeper faith in God?
  • Who are your spiritual mentors, role models, or companions in Christ?
  • What have you been reading from Scripture, and what new insights have led you deeper in faith?
  • How have you used the gifts God has given you in service to God and God's people?
  • How are you remaining faithful to the practice of worship?
  • How have you engaged in works of compassion and mercy, helping people in need?
  • How has your faith led you to works of justice?
  • When and how have you shared your faith with others?
  • How have you encouraged others in their own walk of faith?
  • How have you shown Christian hospitality to those whom God sends your way?
  • What are you doing to grow deeper in your practice of Christian stewardship and generosity?
  • When have you felt closest to God? most distant from God?
  • What "prescriptions" do you need to fill (or fulfill or refill) to treat symptoms of spiritual dis-ease?

What questions would you add to the list? Are you willing to undertake a spiritual wellness exam?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Words to serve by...

Thanks to Inward/Outward for this great quote...

A Gospel That Unsettles

A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed -- what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don't bother anyone, that's the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.

~ Oscar Romero: The Violence of Love

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The newcomer's experience

Sara and I have been visiting some area churches when we have a chance, mostly on Sunday evenings, to experience worship (it's such a gift, when you're a worship leader, to be able to worship in the pews like everyone else now and then!) and to learn what other churches in our area are doing.

So tonight we took a member of our New Light community with us, and we visited a church we'd heard good things about, for their Sunday evening service. It's a very traditional church in a mainline denomination -- not known for innovation or creativity, but known for embracing the richness of tradition and liturgy. We like that kind of worship now and then... It connects us with the mystery of a God who's the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We arrived a few minutes early and headed toward the main entrance. A couple of people were doing something outside in a dark spot to our left, and noticing our hesitation, one of them asked, "Are you here for the service?" When we said yes, he pointed us toward the door toward which we were walking: "Just go in there and around to the left and you'll see the chapel. We'll be in in a minute."

The only problem was, the narthex of the church was pitch dark. Weird, we thought. With some uncertainty, we found our way through this unfamiliar space in total darkness, and into a sanctuary which was also completely dark except for a few mostly dimmed lights in the chancel area at the far end of the room. We walked slowly through the shadowy sanctuary and into the well lit chapel at the opposite end of the sanctuary from the chancel, where two or three people had gathered waiting for the service to begin.

No one spoke, and the room was cold and silent. We sat in a pew near the door and spent a few minutes enjoying the beauty of the architecture all around us. The service followed traditional liturgy, but there were no books available in our pew, and it wasn't clear where to find them. We mostly listened, and Sara and I took turns with Rachel out in the main sanctuary (still dark), since the service wasn't particularly child friendly, and it was impossible to keep our 17-month-old quiet and still.

What would have helped to make this a more meaningful experience for us? A few simple things: lights in the narthex and sanctuary... perhaps a greeter to welcome us and make sure we had the bulletin and book necessary to experience worship fully... a few friendly words from those around us... a brief orientation to the liturgy... ideally a comfortable space for children with a childcare attendant (and I recognize this isn't possible for every service)...

It's always interesting to be the newcomer, isn't it? We see things so clearly as the newcomer -- things we fail to see in our own settings, when familiarity renders us essentially blind. I certainly don't mean to condemn or criticize -- only to share my own experience, which helps me to imagine how newcomers to the church I serve might experience their first visit. I know there are many things our own church can do to more effectively welcome the newcomer. Perhaps the things we're overlooking are different, but no less mystifying to the newcomer in our midst.

It has to begin, I think, with awareness... self-reflection... an intentional effort to anticipate the newcomer's experience... which begins with an expectation that there will be guests at worship. I wonder if this particular church even expected any newcomers. How would it change things if they did?

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Root Cellar

This morning our Site Team visited The Root Cellar located here in Portland, Maine, just a couple of miles from our home, in the Munjoy Hill/ Bayside/ Kennedy Park neighborhood. What an amazing organization!

The Root Cellar began in 1984 in the renovated dirt-floor basement of a local church with a handful of volunteers trying to create a safe place for teens. Today it's a thriving non-profit ministry led by 9 full-time staff, a couple of part-timers, and over 200 active volunteers, housed in a 16,800 square foot facility, offering over 50 ministry programs throughout the week to meet the physical and spiritual needs of children, youth, and adults in this particular neighborhood of Portland.

Here's a list of just some of the ministries The Root Cellar offers, all free:
  • Citizenship classes for immigrants and refugees
  • Free dental clinic on Thursdays (with a year-long waiting list) and free medical clinic on Fridays -- all with volunteer medical practitioners. (Incidentally, these are the only ministries open to any Portland resident... all others are limited to those within the Munjoy Hill/ Bayside/ Kennedy Park neighborhood.)
  • Friday & Saturday night drop-in center for teens
  • After-school programs five days a week -- at least three different programs for different age groups each day
  • Homework help for school-age children, Monday-Thursday afternoons
  • Thursday night dinners for families, provided by local churches and prepared in a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen
  • Clothing distribution on Thursdays -- along with some small furniture, toys, etc... They get so much donated each week, that at the end of the day each Thursday they get rid of whatever's left over and start the collection all over again on Monday for the following week.
  • Food distribution on Fridays -- fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, the works
  • Bible studies for different age groups
  • School vacation and summer activities for kids, like trips to theme parks, barbecues, etc.

A few things that struck me:

  • The heartbeat of this organization is its volunteers. When you walk in, there's a wall covered with an enormous painting of a tree with branches heading in every direction, and taped to the branches are little photos of some of the 200 volunteers who make the ministry happen. The staffpersons at The Root Cellar are, to a large extent, volunteer coordinators. Our tour guide explained that ministries are added and expanded as volunteers come forward with passions and skills and interests. Imagine how much more this organization can do because, as it has grown from its humble beginnings, it's kept its focus and identity as a volunteer-led ministry, with volunteers leading hands-on ministry and professional staff providing administrative structure and fulfilling training, recruitment, and development functions.
  • It's sad, but certainly understandable, that The Root Cellar needs to turn away people in need who do not live within very specifically defined neighborhood boundaries. Clearly there are needs in other parts of Portland which The Root Cellar cannot meet. That's a challenge -- and an opportunity.
  • The neighborhoods in Portland -- and every city -- are changing. Today the neighborhood served by The Root Cellar contains many immigrants, a large number of them Sudanese and Somali. I'm sure the founders of The Root Cellar couldn't have imagined that in 1984. And our tour guide shared the sorrow that even within the last six months, violence in this neighborhood has increased dramatically, with gang activity, a store across the street held at gunpoint, and a couple of murders. Violence hits close to home.
  • All of this ministry is intentionally interdenominational -- not led by any particular denomination, but with a clear focus on serving Christ. The goal is life transformation. The method is love. The instrument is relationships with caring adults.
  • Leadership, leadership, leadership... There are thousands of small, volunteer-led ministries designed to care for children and teens in need, around the country, and they're making a difference in their communities. It takes the vision and passion of a gifted leader, though -- plus the power of the Holy Spirit! -- to transform one into a ministry with the scope and magnitude of influence that this one has.
  • The generosity of people when they catch the vision and see themselves as partners in ministry... I mentioned over 200 volunteers -- real people who give their valuable time! But we also learned that financially, 73% of the $650,000+ annual budget comes from individual donors, with only 9% coming from churches, 9% from foundations, 8% from businesses, 1% from civic groups, and not a penny from state or federal sources. I think that's incredible.

Visiting The Root Cellar this morning as part of our research into the needs and resources within the City of Portland was a valuable learning experience. I found our visit to be incredibly inspiring. I know God will use some of the new insights we have gained as we discern our place in ministry here in Portland.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Covenant Renewal

Last night, as part of our New Light gathering, we spent some time in reflection using a modified version of the Covenant Renewal Service in the Wesleyan tradition - a service that calls participants to renew their covenant with God. The climax of the service is this powerful prayer for Covenant Renewal:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside by you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty;
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield
all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the Covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.


You know that old expression, "Be careful what you pray for!"? It definitely applies in this situation, because when we pray, "I am no longer my own but yours..." -- when we pray, "I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal..." -- that's a prayer of surrender. The act of surrendering, it seems to me, isn't to be entered into lightly... but when we're able to truly surrender, that's a pretty powerful (powerless!) thing! I wonder what God might do with me -- how God might use me -- if I were able to truly surrender all things, yield all things, give myself completely to God. I hope I can find out.

Here at the beginning of a brand new year, we're challenging everyone in the New Light community -- and on Sunday, everyone in the Chestnut UMC congregation as well -- to pray this prayer daily. We've printed up bookmarks with the words so everyone can keep them at their fingertips, and we're providing a weekly guide to daily devotions. We hope people will be intentional about spiritual practices using these resources, and we can't wait to see the transformation God can accomplish in us through our faithfulness to these daily practices.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Prayer for the New Year

A beautiful prayer for the new year, written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a pastor in our Conference, who's also part of the group Montana Logging & Ballet Company and a gifted hymn writer... with thanks to Rolling Ridge, whose e-newsletter contained this prayer; and especially to Steve, without whose permission I'm copying it here...

I thank you for this past year.
For every day—
pleasant and unpleasant,
easy and difficult,
with all their gifts and struggles,
good decisions and bad—
I thank you.
I do not presume to judge
days I should or should not have had.
I thank you for them all.
Each one was a step on my journey,
which has brought me to this day;
and on each you accompanied me.
Each moment was a gift of your Presence,
and from them I may still receive grace.
I thank you.

For the year to come, God, I thank you,
and I entrust myself to you.
I trust that you will accompany me
each day, each moment, each experience,
whether relaxing or challenging,
familiar or new.
Whatever shall befall me,
you will be with me,
and it will be good.
I thank you; I look forward with hope,
and I open my heart to your blessing.

Bless me each day of this new year:
that I may receive your blessings,
be ever mindful of your presence,
and listen for your voice;
that with courage I may trust your deep desire for me,
and that I may live in harmony with your grace.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes

HaPpY nEw YeAr!

Oh man! How blessed I am! We have just returned from our post-Christmas travels. We got to spend some quality time with both sides of the family - first with my extended family in Searsport, Maine, and then with Sara's, both the Ewing and the Turkington sides, in Lake Junaluska, NC. Rachel got to celebrate Christmas with all four grandparents, and with all five of her living great-grandparents, and with a whole assortment of aunts, uncles, and cousins. If I counted it right, we got to see 37 different family members over this past week! We are feeling so grateful for the gift of extended family - for these relationships which keep us grounded and which nurture us so deeply.

I have lots to reflect upon here at the beginning of a brand new year, but first I'm anxious to get some good sleep in my own bed, so I'll begin with just these few things for which I'm thankful:
  • that the trip home went smoothly, and especially that our plane landed safely even in the middle of a snowstorm
  • that Rachel slept the entire way home, through two flights and all the transitions in and out of her stroller, on and off planes, and even into a car once we'd landed the final time
  • that our friend Oliver came in his four-wheel drive to pick us up at the airport and delivered us to our door
  • that even though we've apparently had several significant snow "events" while we've been away, some kind and generous neighbor has kept our driveway and walks shoveled, saving me lots of time and frustration tomorrow

How much better does it get?

Happy New Year! I'll get back in blogging mode soon!