Archive for February 2015

Ash Wednesday

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     This is the first year in a long time, that I didn't attend or preside over an Ash Wednesday service. It was a little odd, after years of having that be part of the cadence of life.

      I'd like to say there is some big theological reason why we didn't host one at the church, but it's purely practical. We have 6 weeks until we launch on Easter Sunday, and everything is torn apart. Plus, I'm still figuring out this whole balance thing with work, home, and church. Adding another service seemed exhausting, and a challenge I wasn't up for. Mac also started a new job, so that added into it as well.

       Despite not having a service, I chose to use the day to reflect and prepare for these 40 days, which are marked even more closely by the fact that they coincide with when we want to have the church ready for the public.

         I spent most of the day cleaning, listening to music, reading, and cooking. Because I am a pastor, I had to think through these acts, and try to link them in some sort of meaningful way to Ash Wednesday. I don't know if I did that, but it did cause me to think and to reflect, which isn't a bad thing.

       Ash Wednesday is all about recognizing our mortality and our dependency on Christ. This year I've felt mortality and my dependency on Christ in ways I haven't before.

       I cared for Mac's grandmother in her last days, which really brought me to this point of understanding of mortality in ways I don't know I had before. We lost Mac's uncle just a few weeks later. It seems in many ways that this year was surrounded in a cloud of death, in a way more concrete than the grittiness of Ash Wednesday ashes could have conveyed to me.

      Added to the passing of loved ones, planting a church in an old church building in an urban area has conveyed death and mortality as well. The hopelessness of people around us at times, the desire for more, the dust and dirt we have cleaned in each room of an old and beautiful building. These things all convey a sense of things coming to an end.

      Life, since moving here, in some ways, seems like a very long season of Lent, or advent.... or maybe a bit of both. I don't know if Lent and advent are all that different in some regards, both have longing, both looking forward to something, hoping for something.

       This is why we've decided to launch services on Easter Sunday, because our whole story is about life coming in the midst of death, in spite of death, conquering it. Telling death it has no place here, that life is to reside within these walls, within this community, within our hearts.

     So, we didn't have ash Wednesday services, but in some ways, this ash Wednesday held more meaning than those that came before. Because I've looked at death in more profound ways than in years past. I sat close to it, and breathed it in. It scared me, and gripped me, and lingers on the edges. It ran it's icy cold fingers against my arm, and I was fully aware of it's presence. I saw it's evidence, in the news, in our family, in the dust on windowsills, and the stench of rooms closed up like tombs. I've seen it in the healed over cigarette burns on the arms of an elementary school student, and in the eyes of high school students who have seen their childhood die too soon. I see it in the cash for gold store windows, and the door fronts of payday loan establishments, with the promise of relief and comfort, only leaving those who enter more empty and struggling than before.  I've seen it on the street corners, and behind dumpsters. I hear him in the stories of abuse and alcoholism, and how this time she really will leave.  He is there. Always lingering, always pressing close, always threatening to have the last word. Death. Cold and unforgiving.

      But.... in the midst of acknowledging this mortality, of acknowledging that I too one day will die, there is this glimmer just on the edges. Death's icy grip is felt keenly, but there is something else on the horizon, and it is warmth, beauty, and love. It whispers too, in a still small voice, hope, love, peace, and grace. It shows up in those same corners, in those same rooms, behind those same dumpsters. It shows  up in the laughter and tears of women attending Al-Anon, praying for another day of peace and grace. It shows up in toilitries for the homeless, in the love and care of a teacher towards her student. It shows up in laying tile, in sanding walls, in weeding flower beds. It's there too, whispering, it's warm sweet breath, just waiting for the right moment to come forth. Like the crocus of early spring, it's waiting to break through.


         So for these 40 days, we prepare our hearts. We look for those dead places. The places where we've chosen to see death, where we've chosen to speak death, embrace death, and we confess them. We repent of them and we turn away from his icy grasp, and we move in small ways, and in big ways, towards the warmth of life.

           38 more days. I hope this community is ready. I pray my heart is. 

The Gospel of Snow Shoveling

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     I grew up in small churches. I say churches, but really there were only 2. We weren't church hoppers, or shoppers. My family instilled in me the importance of the Church being family, you don't bail when it gets hard, but you stay and work things out, no matter what. We used that no matter what more than once, sometimes through tears and heartache, always with a lot of prayer.
     When I moved to college, it's a little odd that I didn't plug into a small church, but a large one. Part of it was because I didn't want to church hop, so I just started going to one church and stayed there, volunteered there, and found a home there.
     In some ways I loved my time away from the small church scene. It gave me some perspective I didn't have before, and it prepared me for ministry as associate staff. Mostly because small churches don't hire associate staff, they usually have the need, but not the funds. Despite what some of the churches I worked at may think, they weren't small.
     Over half the churches in the United States have less than 75 people. I am now, again, part of the majority of churches. Our average attendance runs around 10.
       Leaving the small church for larger churches and coming back to a small church again (this time as Pastor) has given me a new found love and appreciation for my small church heritage. I appreciate many things about the small church life, and the churches I grew up in, but one of the biggest things I've grown to value is how much work my pastors put in.

       I can remember all of their names. How they knew mine. The way they would ask about my week, the way they prayed and care for me and my family. They weren't perfect, but they were there. They had an incredibly hard job, that often went criticized and undervalued. They were lucky to get one month out of the year (October) set aside to be appreciated, but a lot of the time, they worked long hours, expected to be there each week with a sermon that took hours to prepare, expected to show up during every family crisis despite what may be going on in their own lives. They may have gotten to choose their day off, or go home for lunch (perks of the trade), but those were often set aside if something more pressing came to them. They didn't have a staff to do pulpit supply if they wanted a Sunday off, or were sick. They didn't have secretaries to take phone calls. I also know, that some went years without pay raises, and some took pay cuts, living off the health insurance of spouses (or none at all, praying nothing happened), just to keep the church lights on.
         Why do I bring this up in conjunction with snow days? Because it hasn't snowed that much this winter over all, yet I am out there shoveling snow at the church. Making sure the sidewalks are clear so no one falls. Spreading ice melt on the icy spots. Checking anytime I walk into the office that people won't slip, and memories flooded back to me of seeing my pastors shoveling the parking lot and walk way of my small churches. Covered in snow over their best suits (my pastors were all men). During the time they usually would be sitting in their office praying over their sermon one last time, or sitting at home with their own families, they were out there shoveling so we could get into church.
        Being from Michigan, I only remember a handful of times our church services were cancelled due to the weather, which means there were lots of snowy services. Which means, there were lots of Sundays they were up, super early, to get the sidewalk and parking lot ready for service.

         In the scheme of things, maybe it's not a huge thing. I know that most pastors I know wouldn't think twice about shoveling the snow. One of my pastors told me that being a pastor means there are no tasks too big or too small for you to do, and you must be willing to do them all, including cleaning toilets. This sentiment was later restated by professors as I was studying to become a pastor myself.
        Sometimes my head gets big, about my ability to communicate through sermons and writing, but I can remember only a few sermons. What I do remember, what is forever cemented in my mind, are pastors with snow shovels in hand, snowflakes covering their best suits, asking me how my week was, despite their cold feet and the knowledge of the immense tasks of the day yet to come.
        Maybe it isn't the sermon or the pastoral prayer that communicates our love for the people God has given us the task of caring for. Maybe sometimes the way we best communicate God's love to the world, is in the simple, yet profound, act of shoveling snow.

Work Days

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   This weekend we are hammering out (literally in some regards) some projects around the church. We are doing our big launch Sunday service on Easter. While we've been holding services, and we are trying to develop relationships organically, it has been very helpful to have a goal day in mind. It gives us a day to shoot for, and something to invite people too. It wasn't in our original plan to have a big launch (and I don't know how "big" this launch will be), but we are learning to go with the flow and find our own rhythm. Every church plant is different. Cultures are different, circumstances are different, finances are different, leadership teams are different, etc. and every one of those factor plays a part in how corporate church worship and community works and is built.
     All of that background to say, we set aside this weekend to get some bigger projects done.
     The mens' restroom faucets have been leaking since we got here. Mac worked hard at replacing them. 

         It works! This update also made the bathroom look much nicer. It's amazing how small and simple details make such a big difference.
          We also are starting to redo the sanctuary. We took the baffles (which were doing nothing) down. Since they were put up with gorilla glue, a lot of work is involved getting the walls ready for painting. The teens this summer have fond memories of scraping this glue off of other areas of the church. That being said, don't use it, unless you want whatever you are gluing to stay there forever. 
        Cyndi was a big help scraping glue. It was not an easy job, but it is satisfying to see things coming together.
          Our Christmas decorations also got taken down. It looks empty now, but it'll be transformed over the next few weeks.

         The parents' room is also getting a makeover with new tile floors. The old carpet was tore up, the toys were sorted and disinfected. We'll be putting in new floors soon, and then moving furniture in for the finishing touches. 
          Here are some pictures of our faithful church helper. She guards the church well, but she needs to work on chasing the mice out.

       Paint colors for the sanctuary are chosen. We have some art pieces to put in. Things are looking great, and we are so excited that in just a couple of months, we'll be sharing this space with our friends, family, and neighbors!