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Friday, January 14, 2011

Memorials and Memory and Martin

I do believe that the hardest work and the best work I do is centered on pastoral care at death and presiding at memorial services.  For some reason, God seems to think I'm up for the task, as I've had 5 of these since the end of September.  That is a bit much for any pastor and congregation, but especially when the church is only 150 members to begin with! 

The longer I'm in ministry, the more I realize how complicated death and dying really are.  The impact is broad and it effects much more than just the immediate family and loved ones.  Grief is sneaky.  Last Saturday when I got word that one of our members had died, I wasn't prepared for my own reaction.  It hit me hard and fast.  The timing of the news was complicated by the fact that we were in the middle of a Session (governing body of the church) retreat day.  This person was known and loved by nearly everyone gathered.   Pardon my flippant nature, but it was one of those "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" sort of moments.  I waited until lunch time and tried to gather everyone around the table at once to share the news.  It was a bit like herding cats.

This is the WORST part of my job.  I really don't like to deliver what is labeled as bad news.  We pastors are supposed to be in the business of GOOD news.  I believe that the avoidance, the ADD nature and the inability to get everyone to settle down to the table was no accident.  As much as I detest delivering an undesirable message, the people don't really want to hear one either.  So people were inside, outside, in the bathroom,  in the kitchen, etc etc.  Finally, everyone was seated and I could do what I had to do.   One of the Elders told me later that she knew, and that's why she didn't come quickly.  She didn't want to hear it.  And maybe if she didn't hear it, then it wouldn't be real.  The news would cease to exist.

Of course, over the last week, we know that ignoring news, keeping our head in the sand, failing to know what is happening, doesn't prevent it from being real.   Although I was only 5 years old in 1964, I have to imagine that a lot of people were doing the same thing with regard to Birmingham, Memphis, Washington, D.C. and the news that kept coming about a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  People didn't want to hear about de-segregation.  People stayed in the kitchen while there were marches and protests and the like.  People failed to hear the news....the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

We don't always get to choose our news.  Probably not ever, really.  But what we get to do is respond.  We mourn, grieve, stand up, sit down, write, pray, keep silent, shout aloud and remember, always remember.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Another wild and wacky week in the world of ministry

My mother used to say there'd be weeks like this!  Well, not really, as I don't think she has a clue what I do.  Most people don't.  There are lots of folks who are even regulars in the church who think we sit in our ivory mini-cubicle offices and study scripture and write a sermon for the one hour of the week that we actually really do any work, though many would not call what we do on Sunday morning work.  This is not at all what I did this last week.  My week went more like this:
I make every effort to keep my Monday as a Sabbath day, a day set aside for loving God and enjoying God forever (metaphorically speaking).  I would actually probably do better if I turned off every electronic device, did not ever answer my phone, shut off all brain waves and put myself in some sort of flat line state or secluded myself in a sound proof room.  Nonetheless, I did try to take Monday as my day off.  Tuesday always starts with one of my favorite parts of the week, which is supervising the Pastoral Intern.  We have taken to doing our supervision while walking.  It is good to get out into the community and keeps us from being completely sedentary, which is a job risk in pastoral ministry.  The rest of the day was spent doing my favorite part of ministry:  administrivia.  Oh how I love it! 
Wednesday was a typical day of the unscheduled but very important interruption.  One of our deacons sent a message that prompted me to abort my arrival at the office and to detour to one of the local skilled nursing facilities.  Rather than arriving at the office at 10, I got in closer to noon.  The visit was important.   Then someone who would have been waiting for me while I was at my  interruption, didn't show up til after I arrived in the office.  We rescheduled.
Next was some lunch and walking to local businesses asking if we could put up posters publicizing the upcoming John McCutcheon concert.  All in a day's work!
Thursday looked to be a mellow day with some meetings in the community.  We were looking forward to where we might be connecting as a church with the life of the community. work of the Rainbow Community Center.   This was the highlight of my week.  Probably partially at the expense of the pastoral intern, who was amazed and exhausted by the "visioning" work that we were doing.  How is it that having conversations, being relational and simply hearing what someone is excited about in their work, is considered work?  There was no agenda.  There was no desired outcome.  We did not emerge with a ten point plan of execution.  We just connected.  And while we were there, we ran into a member of our church who is a member of the Putnam Clubhouse (they're housed in the same building as the RCC) and we got an impromptu tour of the facility and heard more about their work as well.  Score!
So, no, my mother never said there'd be days or weeks like this.    And if she had, I'd never have believed her!

Monday, January 3, 2011

a new start

I do not do new year's resolutions, but I am forever and a day trying to restart my blogging efforts.  I tried to move over to wordpress, but it just wasn't working for me.  So, here I am, back on blogspot but under a different title.  Writestuff.  That's what I intend to do:  write stuff.

For starters, I will share with you the introduction to our church's annual report:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ – Ezekiel 37: 1-3
Upon getting to the task of writing the annual report, I posed the question to some people and asked “Does anyone ever read these reports?”  If you’re answering this in the affirmative, then I know that you are sitting down and reading this right now.  If you don’t read these reports, well, then I’m writing to thin air and the persons for whom that applies have no idea I have posed the question. 
Several of my friends responded and said that they read every word of their church’s annual report, and even go through the financial report line by line.  One of my friends said they no longer do one at her church (idea!) and yet another suggested that I write it in the style of a Christmas letter.   But the one response I got that caused me to pause was this one:  “You are simply documenting the work of the Spirit for another year in another place!”
So instead of obsessing on the budget numbers, the new members received, pledging units increased, number of new programs or classes or concerts held, how would I document the work of the Holy Spirit in this place over the past year?  Wow, that is a challenge.  I’m not sure I can do it for the church, but I know when my own heart was moved and the times when I felt a quickening that could only be attributed to the Divine, the Holy or something other than myself….
....celebrating the 50th year of music with Dale Scovill and friends
….installing officers for the class of 2012
….seeing the sanctuary full of joyous concert goers
…..knowing that the Women’s Support group walked the labyrinth in December
….witnessing the steady, unwavering and skillful staff of this church
….hearing the joyous laughter and even a supportive tear of the quilters on Wednesday morning
….celebrating the life of Craig Lyon, Phyllis Oetting, Jim McCombs, Carol Oetting, Dick Day
….walking the hallowed grounds of hospital and nursing home
….struggling prayerfully with the tough questions around the table at a Session meeting
….hearing the boisterous, dancing worship of Casa de Gozo on a Sunday afternoon and evening
…learning and teaching and being blessed by the unique gifts of pastoral intern, Lindsey Reed
…children, I always find something redeeming and Spirit-filled in the children of the church and of the Children’s Center
…intellectually and theologically challenging conversations
There are so many more ways that I saw the Spirit alive and at work that even though I thought it might be a struggle to name more than two or three, I now realize I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. It is one of my jobs to notice the breath of the Spirit enlivening and quickening all around, and to name them for you.  The other challenge is for you to do the same, give thanks for what you've noticed, name them for each other and share them with the community so that indeed, these bones shall live!