Friday, February 26, 2016

What's NEXT Church?

Last week I attended the NEXT Church National Gathering
Created during worship at NEXT Church
at First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA. The event is filled with keynotes, testimonies, presentations, workshops and tremendous worship! (Full disclosure: I am on the Strategy Team for NEXT Church).

I had many 'take-aways' but here are my top 3:

1) Rejuvenating and Reconnecting
Colleagues of mine are spread throughout the nation. Facebook, Twitter and the occasional email keeps us connected, but to be able to see one another face-to-face and break bread with one another, hug one another, and talk about our challenges and our joys is a tremendous gift.

2) Learning
Like any event, some speakers strike harder than others, but on the whole this conference was an absolute abundance of riches. Folks shared what is working in their context, the hard work they are doing in the name of justice and reconciliation, and where they see the church being the church. The three workshops I attended were about game theory and how that can apply to churches, innovative ministry and time management. Each was a gift, but the last one really challenged me to put spiritual things first, something that I need a perpetual reminder on.

3) Worship, worship, worship
At MPC we worship well - VERY well. The blessing of worship at NEXT Church is the sounds of 500+ people singing the hymns, diversity in the liturgy and leaders and (maybe most importantly) I don't have to plan it! The picture at the top was painted during two of the worship services. I LOVE this idea, it added another dimension to worshiping together.

NEXT Church offers the National Gathering and also Regional Gatherings, plus their website is filled with great content. Check it out!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Toil and Spin

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin... ~ Matthew 6:28

The other day Will and I realized that Teddy (the 1 year old lab mix) was being quiet... too
How do you get mad at this dog?
quiet. Fortunately we were able to track Teddy down. Unfortunately... it was Will's winter hat that had been keeping him so busy. The hat was no longer, and as we looked for a new one we found out that according to the stores, winter is no longer either. Everything is cleared out for spring clothing.

By now, we're used to retail looking ahead (Christmas decorations in August anyone?), but what about us? Sometimes I feel like I am trying to keep pace with a frenetic mechanical rabbit that I can't quite see, but I know is up there... and I'm doing all I can to catch it.

"Consider the lilies of the field," Jesus said, "they neither toil nor spin..."
Sure... but they didn't have a gymnastics meet and a birthday party and a church committee and an overtime commitment at work booked all at the same time, either.

When I think of the phrase 'toil and spin' I think of a spinning top. At first, if done well, the top turns with ease and perfect balance, but eventually things start to wobble a bit and the top has to toil to stay spinning, eventually falling down on its side. It then gets picked back up and is spun again, hopefully in a way that once again gives it balance.

Only you know what the right spin is for you and your family to keep its balance. My hope is that it includes keeping in a relationship with God and your church family. My hope is that it includes times when your family is together and paying attention to one another. My hope is that it includes times when you are able to be comfortable with time spent by yourself.

My hope, for all of us, is less toil and spin, and more balance.

Peace be with you,

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Do Presbyterians Have to Observe Lent?

It's been a fascinating exercise the last few days to read what my clergy colleagues are writing on their Facebook walls and blogs about Ash Wednesday and Lent. Admittedly 'Facebook Advice" always sets my teeth on edge a bit anyway and my colleagues are legendary for it. Ash Wednesday/Lent has not been a part of most of our entire lives unlike Advent, Christmas and Easter so there's a sense that everyone's still kind of trying it on for size.

This year I've seen suggestions to take on weekly fasting, another idea to give up feeling guilty and another one that suggests you put one item of clothing you don't wear any more into a garbage bag and at the end of the 40 days donate it. 

There's nothing wrong with giving something up for Lent, or adding something in, or giving away things... but when we are doing these things, where are our hearts? When we're about to take a sip of the forbidden soda do we catch ourselves by saying, "Oh, I gave up soda for Lent!" or are we saying, "I want to get closer to God."

Why would giving up soda get us closer to God?


I don't have the answer here. I always feel like I could be doing Lent better and I think remaining in communication with God is hard any time of the year. I am always on the look out for things that can help with that. Fortunately, during Lent there are additional resources out there.

Whether you mark Lent diligently every day, just consider it a countdown to Easter and spring or anywhere in between - blessings on your Lenten journey.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let the little children come to me....

 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. ~ Mark 10:13-16

Beloved Children of God,
After decades of ministry together, Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church and New Hope Ministries have entered into a new partnership. On February 1st one of their after school programs began to meet in our facilities. The program is for Elmwood students and it follows the MASD schedule. The elementary students are with us from around 2:45 to 5pm. Once a month their parents join them for pizza and everyone meets together until 7.

The entire program is run by New Hope Ministries. They were in a different local church, but in order to expand the program to those on the waiting list they needed a church that is within walking distance to the school. That's where we come in. This week only they are meeting in the Youth Center, but they will move into Lower Fellowship Hall beginning Monday.

We are grateful for this opportunity to live out our faith by giving back to the community. If you would like to become directly involved with this program, please contact New Hope Ministries.

Have a great weekend, I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Peace be with you,

Friday, January 29, 2016

Snow Day

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

On Sunday morning the dog and I made our usual trek around the neighborhood. Of course, the streets looked a lot different than I've ever seen them. The snow that had been plowed was twice as tall as I am in some places and sidewalks and driveways were only just beginning to be revealed from under their thick white blankets.

By that time on Sunday the sun was shining bright and a lot of folks were out taking care of their own sidewalks and driveways, and also helping others around them do the same. I've never seen so many people outside at once; talking, drinking coffee, leaning on shovels, working together to clear paths and almost all of them waving, "Good morning!"

From the stories I've heard there have been a lot of these glimpses of what God wants for us. Of course there's been some of the more frustrating stuff too... I'm pretty sure that when John Calvin spoke of the total depravity of humanity, he didn't mean that guy who parked in the spot you just spent 7 hours clearing... but he'd definitely count it! 

I'm grateful for the glimpses of grace I hope we have all seen these last few days, and I pray that we can embody that grace as we move through the days and weeks and snow piles ahead.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Sacred and the Profane

My guess is every profession when mixed with the personal can get a bit surreal.

I can only speak for mine - clergy - and this past week had its definite moments of surreal. The Boy had a project due for school and so the week was peppered with time spent on that. I tried to do that parent dance where you suggest things for the project, but don't push things on the project (admittedly his decision to skip my suggestion of a 3d addition to his poster was a wise one).

In the middle of picking out pictures and printing them out the phone rang. It was the niece of a beloved parishioner - he had been admitted to hospice. I found out the details, hung up the phone... found the glue and the scissors and kept the project going.


My wife has been balancing parish and editing a book and running an organization and parenting... I don't know how she does it.

I'm exhausted by the sacred.
And the profane.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm Just Here for the Papers

“I’m just here for the papers.”

I said that to my cohort group at one of our early gatherings. We began in 2008 based on an existing model. A group of pastors from around the country gather together once a year bringing with them two papers each. These papers are based on the Sunday lectionary readings for the upcoming year. A finely tuned schedule through the week guides the group as the papers are presented and discussed in 20 minute segments with the benefit of everyone going home with a huge stash of resources for the upcoming preaching year.

But that’s not all…

Our group began with the instigators inviting one person each and then having that person invite someone else. I was on the outer layer of invitees and so when I arrived at our first gathering I knew only one person. That was hard. Our first evening together was spent at someone’s home and folks naturally split into those who knew one another from one seminary in the south in one room and folks who knew one another from another seminary in the south in another room. I was the only one from the seminary in the northeast.

It was awkward.

I didn’t blame them. We all know how much we miss those seminary connections once we get out into the cold, cruel world of ministry. The cohort group is a great way to have your continuing education budget legitimately pay for a reunion. And this group was incredibly welcoming. I remember how surprised I was when I had slept through dinner and everyone had made sure there was food left for me.

But still… the main reason we were together was to work on the lectionary texts for the upcoming year. And so as we were having one of our logistics meetings about where we would meet the following year and whether we should create more free time and who else should be invited to join us I found the opportunity to say, “I’m just here for the papers.”

And it’s true. The papers – the work – are both the ticket in every year and the glue that holds us together. But we are so much more. We sustain each other through the year in both the sacred and the profane. We create safe space for frustrations with the greater church, our individual churches, our communities and we create safe space for celebrations too. We challenge one another, we question one another, we pray for one another, we support one another.

As for me, this group has been there through numerous family transitions including a divorce and remarriage. They have heard stories about my Dad and respected my tears when he died. They embraced me when I came out as gay and prayed and supported me when I came out to the congregation I serve. They rallied around this Session and congregation as we all moved forward together in ministry.

So yes, it is still about the papers. But it is also about camaraderie and collegiality; it is about the deep, rich relationship that comes in the walking through valleys and over mountaintops together; it is about the yoke of trust when we put our relationships above the Calls we are trying to discern often to the same churches.

It is about Christian fellowship and friendship in its purest and most Holy of forms – and I am blessed and a better person for it.

But I still want the papers.

crossposted at the NEXTChurch blog