Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bras in Church!


Our head trustee making an
announcement with the pink bra
We’ve all done food drives and sock drives and collected school supplies for under-privileged kids, and all those are well and good. Once a great parishioner came to me asking if we could be involved in a mission project her friend was involved with.  Free The Girls (www.freethegirls.org) collects gently used bras and sends them to Africa where they have established shops that are run by women rescued by sex trafficking. They learn job skills and earn money for their families while working in a safe, women only business. Could we collect bras? 

After I finished laughing (because it was one of the most awesome ideas for church I'd ever heard), I said yes, but she had to head it up. A few Sundays later she paraded down the center aisle waving a hot pink bra over her head, which she hung on the microphone after explaining the project. People went nuts. Women cleaned out their collections, we made fliers that men hung up on their work bulletin boards (women just talked to their co-workers, but men felt more comfortable with this approach), and one woman went door to door in her neighborhood ‘trick-or-treating’ for bras. As we collected them, we hung them along the windows that separated the narthex from the sanctuary and put them on the altar. We ended up with nearly 200 bras, repeated it yearly, and talked about it all the time. 

The best ideas come from parishioners, who are bringing you a peek at where their heart is. A few people (mostly clergy) questioned me about the appropriateness of bras in church or talking about something as distasteful as sex trafficking in worship. Women have breasts and most women wears bras. Sex trafficking is sadly a reality in our world. Should we ignore the realities because some people might be uncomfortable? And what makes them more uncomfortable: the bras or the sex trafficking? (Hint: the bras)

Church should not be sanitized for anyones protection. Mission work should not be limited to projects that make everyone comfortable. If an idea is brought to you and your first thought is “what will be people think if we do this?” maybe you should ask yourself “what will God think if we don’t?”. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Duet with His Child Self

A step beyond special music and the importance of collaborative worship

It was possibly one of the most touching musical events I have ever seen in a church (and I’ve been to a lot of church). My husband (also UMC clergy) is doing a Marcia McFee (WorshipDesignStudio.com) sermon series entitled “You’ve Got To Be Kidding” centered around Matthew 18: 1-9 and seeing the scriptures through the eyes of children. He shares his sermon plans and thoughts far ahead of time with staff and relevant volunteers to give people time to dream up ideas and put plans into action. 

After learning of the sermon series, a member of the choir shared that he had a recording of himself singing a solo in church when he was nine years old. The music staff and tech staff were able to work with the recording so that a few weeks ago, the gentleman sang a duet with his kid self in worship. Him live one verse, his kid self the next verse and both voices together on the choruses. 

It was a tear-jerker. It was a powerful reminder that the child that we all once were is still inside us. And this captivating musical event was only possible because the pastor shared openly the worship plans, invited others to collaborate and has worked hard to create a safe space for people to share. The weight of powerful worship experiences does not fall on you alone, so long as you welcome others into the process of creating worship. 






Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Holy Humor Sunday

The Sunday after Easter is celebrated by many churches as Holy Humor Sunday.    Churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead.

The observance of Humor Sunday was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were having too much fun.  But starting in the 1990’s, the tradition began making a comeback. We need humor and joy in our world, and today we will celebrate the humor in the church, and about the church.  This year I have the pleasure of guest preaching for Holy Humor Sunday and thought I’d share of a few of my favorite jokes for the morning. I spread them throughout the service, each relevant to the moment we are celebrating in worship.  The sermon will be on John 20: 19-31, the ‘Doubting Thomas’ story. The story the disciples told to Thomas of seeing the risen Christ was so unbelievable they must have been playing some terrible joke on him. Is it really so wrong to seek proof sometimes? 

Some of my favorite jokes for Holy Humor Sunday: 

An old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his banker and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home.

When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled, and stared at the ceiling. For a time, no one said anything.

Both the banker and lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons about greed, coveting, and materialistic behavior that made them squirm in their seats.

Finally, the banker said, "Preacher, why did you ask us to come?"


The old preacher mustered up his strength and then said weakly, "Jesus died between two thieves, and that's how I want to go.”

*******

A man passing through town came along a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeded to walk down into the water and stand next to the Preacher, curious about what was going on. 
The minister turns and notices the stranger and says, "Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?"
The man looks back and says, "Yessss, Preacher..I sure am."
The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asked.
"Nooo, I didn't!" said the man.
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?"
"Noooo, I did not pastor."
The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, "My Good man, have you found Jesus yet?"
The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher... "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"

***********

A minister told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17." The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17. Every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, "Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying." 


*******

The minister was preoccupied with thoughts of how he was going to ask the congregation to come up with more money than they were expecting for repairs to the church building. 
Therefore, he was annoyed to find that the regular organist was sick and a substitute had been brought in at the last minute. The substitute wanted to know what to play. 
"Here's a copy of the service," he said impatiently. "But you'll have to think of something to play after I make the announcement about the finances." 
During the service, the minister paused and said, "Brothers and Sisters, we are in great difficulty; the roof repairs cost twice as much as we expected, and we need $4,000 more. Any of you who can pledge $100 or more, please stand up." 
At that moment, the substitute organist played the National Anthem ... 

**********

A preacher was completing a temperance sermon: with great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river." With even greater emphasis he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

And then finally, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river."

He sat down. The song leader then stood very cautiously and announced with a smile, "For our closing song, let us sing Hymn # 365: "Shall We Gather at the River." 

************

A man and a women who had been friends for many years died and went to heaven. They told St. Peter that they wanted to be married.

“Take your time and think about it,” said St. Peter, “you have eternity so take fifty years and see me then.”

Fifty years later, the couple returned and again told St. Peter they wanted to be married. “Well,” said St. Peter, “take another fifty years and really think about it….”

But the couple was insistent, “We know we want to be married now….”
St. Peter replied, “Well, take another fifty years and if we don’t have a preacher up here by then, I’ll marry you myself.”

Some additional resources: 



Sermon on Acts 11: 1-18

Sermon thoughts on Acts 11: 1-18

History is a fascinating subject to share with your congregation. It connects us to the past and places Biblical events in a context they can identify with.  When you tell a scriptural story, correlate it with world history, set the story so they can see the picture. The same is true for stories of United Methodist History. The origins of the United Methodist Church in America (then just the Methodist movement within the Church of England) is typically placed in March of 1736 when both Wesley brothers, John and Charles, arrived in Georgia. The United Methodist Church formally came into being on April 23, 1968 with the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church. It was not a smooth process, and took several General Conferences to work out all the details. You’d almost think the folks that develop the lectionary had this in mind when they selected Acts: 11: 1-18 as our scripture for this week.      

Peter has gone to Jerusalem, bringing with him the good news of the Gentiles who have accepted Christ and are following his path. Unfortunately, the Jews are not so excited about this news. The way of Christ is only for Jews. These Gentiles must first become Jews before they can become Christians. Not only has Peter welcomed these dirty Gentiles into the fold, he has stayed in their homes and eaten their food. Gasp! 

Share with your congregation the history that makes this such as stunning act on Peter’s part. The Torah is unapologetically anti-Gentile, requiring the Hebrews to engage in genocide and to expel the Canaanites without mercy (Deuteronomy 6, 20). It forbids inter-marriage between Jews and Gentiles and forbids them from adopting heathen Gentile customs, including their food preferences. 

Jesus was raised to believe the most horrible things about the Gentiles, and yet he often engaged in positive ways with the Gentiles, including Mark 5 when he drove the demons out of the Gerasene man. 

Peter was being inclusive in the way of Jesus, and yet the Jews in Jerusalem struggled to accept that Gentiles could be a part of the Jesus movement without being Jews first, which would involve circumcision and adapting all of the Jewish customs, including dietary laws. 

Peter shares his dream with them, of God offering all types of animals for him to kill and eat. Peter protests: “Lord, I can’t do that! I’ve never taken a bite of anything that is unclean and not fit to eat.”

The voice from heaven spoke to him again, “When God says that something can be used for food, don’t say it isn’t fit to eat.”

Man’s laws (and at the time it was man’s laws, women were not involved) were not to take precedence over God’s laws, and God also has the freedom to change sacred laws. The merger of Jews and Gentiles into the community of Jesus was a struggle because of the history and traditions of both. No matter how deeply these traditions were held, they were secondary to doing the work of God. 

The merger between the Brethren and the Methodists, finalized in 1968, was pretty difficult too. I’ve heard it best described as Ford ‘merging’ with Walt’s Garage.  There were only 800,000 EUB’s trying to maintain their traditions and have an equal merger with the 10 million Methodists. The roles of Bishop and District Superintendent were treated differently in substantial ways,  including how they came into position and how long they served. The rules pertaining to women as clergy were different. In 1946, women were denied ordination in the EUB but in 1958,  the Methodist Church granted full clergy rights to women. In the merger, women would maintain their ordination rights, but how many churches would refuse to accept the lowly woman as their pastoral authority?  There were differences in theology as well. The Methodists were rooted in Anglicanism, while the EUB’s tended more towards the holiness moment. The EUB’s were firmly against the racial segregation of Conferences practiced by the Methodist Church, and prevailed in their demand that those be dissolved. What happens in a small town with both churches? Who decides which one closes, which pastor stays, whose Bible sits on the altar? 

Issues of:
Gender
Race
Polity 
Doctrine 
Logistics
Physical Property 
Money
Traditions

And yet, with time and an intentional goal of building a stronger, united church to do God’s work, these issues were resolved and the two organizations became one.   

As we look to General Conference 2016, we are looking at a merger of a different kind. Liberal vs. Conservative is one way to describe it. Perhaps those who believe the cannon of Methodism is closed vs. those who believe God is still moving in our doctrine and polity might be another way to describe it. This time it is not a merger of separate groups, it is a merger of ideologies, and without merger there will be division. 

We have the United Methodist Church because differing groups came together to find a common cause. The Christian church exists because vital issues of tradition and law came secondary to carrying out the mission of the church. Distinctions between Jew and Gentile were not nearly as important as unity in God.  

Sometimes doing the work of God means changing our traditions, recognizing that there was a time and place for everything, but times change. “We’ve always done it this way” are the 6 most deadly words to any organization. 

We all face mergers. Marriage is a merger, welcoming children into the family is a merger, a new boss or employee is a merger. Somewhere along the way competition became more important than connection. Merger has become about conquering when it should be about connecting. What will be the theme of General Conference 2016: competition or connection? 


The early Christians set a model for merger, for finding connection, for discerning essential from non-essential and coming together for a greater good. It takes humility and a willingness to not always be right, a willingness to put the voice of God above our own voices. It is not easy and it is not peaceful, but imagine what could be achieved?  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly, Wrong

Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety by Kelly G. Wilson and Troy Dufrene 

Anxiety. Panic attacks. Mind won’t stop spinning. Worry. Fear. More than 5% of the general population struggles with anxiety and clergy rates are closer to 9% at any given time.* For all we are told and we tell people to “let go and let God”, that is not always the most practical advice. Just how do we let go and let God, and should we always take this route? 

Anxiety has historic roots and is literally genetically programed into us. Think back to the cave people. One cave person looks out of the cave at night sees something in the woods. Worried it might be a bear, his anxiety keeps him in the cave until daylight and he lives to pass on his anxiety gene to another generation. The cave person who goes bounding out into the dark woods, unafraid of things that go bump in the night, is eaten by the bear, his non-anxious genes lost forever to the sands of time. (Page 28-31) Anxiety is literally in our DNA so we better figure out how to work with it. 

Perhaps you are struggling to maintain control over your anxiety or have a parishioner needing a resource to help with anxiety. Maybe the issues is bigger, and your church is suffering from Congregational Anxiety due to financial issues, leadership transition or just a long-standing tradition of being an anxious congregation. 

This is a great resource to better understand anxiety and redirect it into productive, problem solving emotions. This is achieved through light-hearted banter about a tough subject and exercises that can be easily adapted to a group setting. After all, things might go terribly, horribly wrong, and the more tools you have to deal with it, the less likely you are to want to move to Australia. 

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Things-Might-Terribly-Horribly-Wrong/dp/1572247118/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457471555&sr=1-1&keywords=things+might+go+terribly+horribly+wrong 


*http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10935-013-0321-4

The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus' Final Days In Jerusalem 

Two brilliant theologians walking us through the last week of Jesus’ life? Bingo! The Christian faith is based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and two of those three events took place during Holy Week, making that an important week to study and share with our congregations. As you are planning Lent activities and Holy Week, consider using this book as your basis. 

Taking us through each day of Holy Week by following the Gospel of Mark, The Last Week places us in the midst of important moments. Using historical information, extra-Biblical sources for event and persona information and personal theological reflections, Borg and Crossan paint a full picture of the spiritual, political and cultural realities of the final week of Jesus’ life.   

This resource will help you to better understand the last week of Jesus’ life and provide inspiration to teach your congregation. Consider a daily email during Holy Week so your people can walk through that week with you. Perhaps adapt the worship schedule so you study one day of the week during each Sunday in Lent, leading up to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship services.  

This book is everything they should have taught you in seminary but didn’t. Using this book as a basis for Lent and using it for a congregational book study provided some of the most positive feedback I received for educating that congregation. 

Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Week-Gospels-Jerusalem/dp/0060872608 




Monday, March 7, 2016

Maundy Thursday Worship 1st Corinthians 11: 23-26 Don’t Pass Over Passover

The foot washing text of John 13: 1-35 is our lectionary Gospel text for Maundy Thursday this year, but I still love focusing this special service on the ritual of the first communion, which is our Epistle text of 1st Corinthians 11: 23-26. Because we have moved so far from the Jewish roots of Jesus, communion is still quite the ‘Holy Mystery’ to our congregations. Your Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday sermon is the perfect opportunity to de-mystify it.  

Jesus and the disciples (and probably their families and other friends) had gathered for the Passover feast. It was a ritualistic dinner, filled with traditions that included participants of all ages, which helped to ensure that these traditions were carried on from generation to generation. The Passover festival was instituted by God following the release of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. It was the last plague: the Hebrews were to place lamb’s blood above their door so that when God came through the land, killing the first born of every family, God would know to ‘pass over’ the homes of the Hebrews, sparing the first born of their families. 

The Passover was a celebration of liberation from oppression, a remembrance of God’s presence in the story of the Jews. These themes play out in the liturgy that was used during the Passover supper. At each place setting would have been a cup with enough wine for three drinks, one for each of God’s promises (like a toast in three parts). One extra place would be set that would not be used. It was for Elijah, who did not die but was taken up to heaven alive in a chariot of fire. During the supper, a young child is sent to look out the front door to see if Elijah has returned.  We can imagine little Jesus running to the door as he celebrated this ritual with his family. 

Did you ever wonder why, at the end of the meal, there would have still been a full cup of wine for Jesus to bless and share? It was the Elijah cup, the sacred cup, that he picked up, leading some to believe that he was Elijah, returned. Who else would dare pick up the Elijah cup but Elijah? 

After picking up the cup for Elijah and breaking the bread, Jesus goes to the Garden at Gethsemane to pray.  This is one of the most important moments to share with your congregation: Jesus didn’t flee. Jesus got down on his knees to pray, and then he got up and surrendered. But it was the dark of night, before Facebook and BOLO’s and calling references for jobs. Jesus could have gotten up off his knees and walked right off into the night, never to be seen again. He could have just kept on walking until he hit a town where he was unknown, changed his name and started a new life. He could have vanished, but he didn’t. We take for granted that he allowed himself to be taken and put on trial, but he had other options. Ask your congregation to put themselves in his shoes. Having done right by God, but being persecuted by the authorities, facing jail time or even death, what would they do in the darkness of the night? 

Jesus chose to create a powerful moment with those closest to him and then chose to accept the fate that came with his radical fight for liberation from worldly powers. Because of this, millions of people in hundreds of languages in ways culturally appropriate to them have shared in the ritual of communion, joining them with Jesus and with us. If you are in a historic church, remind your congregation of the historic times in which they shared this ritual: World Wars, man on the moon, women’s suffrage. Imagine the excitement when the first Model T rumbled up to the church doors. And then they stood in the same place as your people, sharing the bread and the juice, connecting with the all who came before and all who are to come. Because you continue this ritual, one day people in flying cars will pull up to your church and join in the ritual, remembering that you and your dedication to the continuation of the community made it possible for them to have that sacred space. 

My favorite way to celebrate the Holy Thursday worship service is to set tables across the chancel and invite people to sit around the tables. Candles (unlit) are placed around the table along with the communion elements. Simple centerpieces of palms and candles set the mood.  I used this resource to develop the following worship service:  http://www.reformedworship.org/article/december-1999/learning-about-seder-meal-teaching-service-jewish-festival-passover  and a communion liturgy by Cheryl Lawrie of the Uniting Church of Australia. 


Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday Worship Service Starter 

Call to Worship 

One: In the presence of loved ones and friends, we gather to learn about the Passover.
All: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this day I brought you out of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout the generations for all times (Ex. 12:17).
One: We gather to fulfill the Mitzvah.
(If a candle is near you, please light at this time)
All: We praise you, God, Lord of all life, as we light the candles of Passover.

Opening Hymn     Time Now To Gather    FWS#2265

Remembering God’s Three Promises 
One: Our story tells us that in diverse ways with different words, God gave promises of freedom to our people.  Let us say the first promise together.
All: I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians.
One: We take the Kiddush cup and proclaim the holiness of this Day of Deliverance!
All: We praise you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.
One: We recall God’s second promise. Listen to a reading from the book of Exodus (6:6).
All: Remembering with gratitude, we praise you, O God, Redeemer of Israel! We praise you, Lord of all, who creates the fruit of the vine.
One: Together we recall the third promise from God. As it is written: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.”
All: Praised are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who created the fruit of the vine.

One: On this night, in the Upper Room, Jesus made a request of those gathered: to add a fourth promise, from them to God. That they would always remember Jesus. Eat and drink, do this in remembrance of me. And with those words, the act of Holy Communion was begun. 

Reading of the Scripture        1 Corinthians 11:23-26 

I have already told you what the Lord Jesus did on the night he was betrayed. And it came from the Lord himself. He took some bread in his hands.  Then after he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this and remember me.”  After the meal, Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and said, “This is my blood, and with it God makes his new agreement with you. Drink this and remember me.” The Lord meant that when you eat this bread and drink from this cup, you tell about his death until he comes.

Message             

Communion (By Cheryl Lawrie of the Uniting Church of Australia) 

One: On their own, the bread and juice are nothing.
To become a foretaste and a promise
of love made real and a world made whole,
they need a story and a blessing and a people who believe…

All: It would not have been God’s table
if they hadn’t all been gathered around it:
the betrayer and the friend the power-hungry 
and the justice seeker the faithful and the fickle.

One: When Jesus poured the wine, and the bread was broken;
when everyone could eat - the outcast and the beloved
the arrogant and the gracious, the wrong-doer and the wrongly done by -
the table became a foretaste of love made real and of a world made whole.

All: Your company at the table will include the betrayer and the beloved
the wrong-doer and the wrongly done by. It would not be God’s table without them.

One: And the promise is that when you are together,
when you tell the story and give the blessing
when you break the bread and pour the wine
you will discover a foretaste of love made real
and of a world made whole.


Sharing of the Bread and the Juice 

Matthew 5: 21-37 Apologizing for Bad Apologies

“I’m so sorry. No excuses, I’m just so sorry.” And the tears started. 

When I was in seminary, I was asked to visit an undergraduate group, Spectrum, which provided support and community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students. At the time, the Southern Methodist University was ranked the 12th most homophobic college in the nation, so these young people were most certainly in need of a support system. Based on the Texas conservative religious culture, I had some idea about the hurt these young people had probably experienced in their churches and their homes, and was nervous to join them as a representative of the theology school. Why on earth would they feel safe with me there? They had earned their reservations and judgements about people of faith. 

With about 20 college students in the room, we went around in the circle and did introductions. People shared bits of their experiences or why they needed the group. The leader who invited me intentionally had me to close sharing to last. I had one chance to not be just another religious person who said something hurtful or stupid to these vulnerable young people. 

“Thank you for welcoming me. My name is Jessica and I’m a student at the theology school, preparing to become a United Methodist minister. I believe you are all blessedly and sacredly made, perfect in the eyes of God. You deserve whatever relationships will bring you fulfillment. I’m not here to try and make you go to church. I just wanted you to know that you have support of students and people of faith, and if you ever need anything or want to talk, please let me know. I know you have had traumatic experiences with people of faith, and I’m so sorry. No excuses, I’m just so sorry.” 

And the tears started. I was taken aback. I had gotten a little teary while talking because I am so ashamed of how we as a universal church have treated and continue to treat the GLBTQA community, but I expected anger from these kids, not tears or vulnerability. I expected them to hate me because of who I represented. I had entirely underestimated the power of a genuine apology and God’s presence. 

I developed a relationship with them over the two years that followed, attending meetings occasionally, talking over coffee, answering scriptural questions, and even showing movies and having discussions on religious topics (Prayers for Bobby, For the Bible Tells Me So, etc). Leaving Dallas for my internship meant leaving them, and that made me sad. It was a wonderful relationship, and it all started with an apology. 

As you prepare a sermon on Matthew 5: 21-37 or any sermon on anger and forgiveness, consider talking about the power or a real apology.  Scripture tells us in several places to make peace with someone we have hurt and to talk openly with someone who has hurt us: 

“So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.” (Matthew 5:21-37)

You have probably had a situation where someone has hurt your feelings or caused harm of some sort and apologized, but you still didn’t feel quite right about it. My guess would be because the apology went something like this: 

“I’m sorry that you felt…..”
“I’m sorry that you thought….”
“I’m sorry, but….” 

There are other variations, but these are common examples of the non-apology. An apology that includes these or similar phrases is not a real apology. The person is not sorry for what they have done, is not accepting responsibility and is not providing assurances that the transgression will not happen again. 

We have lost the art of the true and genuine apology, and as a result, forgiveness and reconciliation (which are two separate and distinct processes) is not occurring nearly enough in our culture.  People carry deep, open wounds because they are not receiving an apology and the request for forgiveness needed to move forward in healing. 

Even though I had never personally wounded any of the young people in the room that day, my apology had meaning to them because I represented the entity that had wounded them. It was powerful in a way I still struggle to understand. Maybe it’s a living example of Philippians 4:7, God’s peace surpassing all understanding. I just know that those young people cried and hugged me and talked about how meaningful my apology was. 

Model this in your congregation. If you hurt a member of leadership with a flippant comment or if you get angry and say something wrong, apologize. Genuinely. Without excuse. If your transgression took place in a meeting, apologize in front of everyone. Humble yourself and model what the scriptures instruct us. If your church members are hurting one another, counsel them on the faithful way to apologize. Open a meeting with a meditation on the importance of apology for the betterment of the community. You are their spiritual leader. Lead spiritually. 

“I’m sorry that I said X. It was wrong and out of line and I regret it, and I regret that I hurt you. I know that it will take time for you to trust me again. I’m working on my temper/sarcasm/passive aggressive tendencies because I know it is one of my flaws. I hope with time you can forgive me. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help restore our relationship. I really am sorry.” 

That is an apology.  

God calls us to be in meaningful relationships. But we are flawed, wounded and diverse people, which means we will hurt someone, accidentally or on purpose. People will be angry with us and we will be angry with others. We will have misunderstandings. We will have different priorities and values. And all of this might take place in one Church Council meeting. 

Before we come to God’s altar, we are to make peace with those we might have hurt so that we come forth with a peaceful heart. Encourage your congregation to think of a person they need to apologize to or someone they might have hurt. Is there a regret they are so ashamed of they avoid the person instead of addressing it? Is ego keeping them from admitting to being wrong. 


Invite them to be part of bringing God’s peace that surpasses all understanding by playing an active part in the healing of someone else’s heart. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Luke 13: 31-35 Just Because You Are Sent Doesn’t Mean They Want You

This Lenten text is an important one for first time pastors and pastors in transition to keep in mind. Keeping at a minimum the comparisons to Jesus and Jerusalem (you are special, but not that special, and your church is special, but not that special), this texts helps us to remember that just because God has called us and the Bishop has sent us, we might not be welcomed in the place we have been sent. 

When I started at my first appointment, I followed a pastor who had served there for 22 years and felt forced into retirement against her will and the will of the church. One of the people who refused to accept my presence was “Frank”. He was a businessman, but his passion was singing and he was a trained opera singer who often sang in worship. I asked Frank if he would like to continue this, and with a positive response, we set the date. Wanting to be the peacemaker with him, I asked him to choose his songs and I would plan the worship theme around what he felt called to share musically with us. 

The day came, about six weeks into my pastorate. The prelude: beautiful. The offertory: breathtaking. And then came time for the sung benediction. He stood in the center of the chancel. He raised the microphone to his lips. And began explaining to the congregation all the reasons he felt I was not only the wrong person to pastor the church but the reasons I was a failure as a human being.

Awesome. 

And at the end of his tirade (no reason to get into a screaming match trying to stop him) he sang his benediction and I calmly gave my benediction (unplanned, but I was not going to end worship on his ‘note’). Cliff Notes version: He and his wife left the church, which was best for all involved. 

God calls us into ministry and with God’s guidance, the Bishop sends us to appointments. None of this is a guarantee that we will be welcomed or treated well. Sometimes we will be sent to places that are so wounded or grieving so deeply that they are not able to see God’s plan active in the life of their church. It takes time, and sadly you will bear the brunt of their hurt for a while. We don’t go into ministry excited about the possibility of rejection, but when it happens, we must remember that we have work to do. Do not allow rejection or bad behavior on the part of a grieving congregation to cause you to question your calling to ministry or God’s presence in your life. 

If you are preparing a sermon on Luke 13: 31-35, ask your congregation if there has even been a time when they have felt called to do something, but we not received well. Perhaps they were feeding the homeless and were harassed by the police, or were working at a teen center and the kids didn’t want them there. Did they give up (or would they if faced with the situation)? Jesus knew the importance of finishing his work regardless of the opposition, and this is a model we will need to be remember in our work as well.


If you are struggling with a new congregation, consider a few sessions with Whole Soul Consulting to help you develop a plan to heal wounds of the part, gain the trust of your leadership, and discern how you fit into God’s (and Bishop’s) plan for your new community of faith. www.wholesoulconsulting.org

Answering Authentically

“How’s your day?”

“Pretty good. You?”

“Pretty good.” 

Break this cycle by being honest about your life with your congregation, colleagues, and the random people you meet who probably have an incorrect idea about who clergy are. If someone were to ask me right now, “How’s your day going?”, my answer would be: 

“Well, we’ve got this dog, very sweet, very old golden retriever mix. She going deaf and going blind and is pretty senile, and doesn't always remember to go outside to go to the bathroom. This morning, while I was in the kitchen re-potting some nearly-dead orchids, the dog pees on the floor, and then slips and falls in it. I turn around, covered in dirt, to pick up the 40 pound dog, and realize too late that she is covered in pee. As I scramble to get her outside, leaving a trail of dog pee in my wake, the baby (who is sick and teething) gets curious and crawls into the kitchen and right through the dog pee. So now the baby, dog and I are all covered in pee, some of which has turned into mud from the dirt I was using on the plants. 

It’s too cold outside to hose the dog off, so after I clean up the baby and put him in the bouncy chair, I carry the dog into the shower and give her a bath, which gets hair everywhere. As the baby cries from not being included in the bath, covering his face in snot from his head cold, I carry the dog back outside so she can lay in the sun to dry. 

I clean up the baby again, go into the bathroom to clean up the mess and nearly throw up from the smell. After turning on the fan and emptying an entire can of Febreze into the bathroom, I go the other one to get myself cleaned up. Hubby can clean that when he gets home.

At this point, lunch time has long passed and I’m starving and exhausted. So I had wine and cake for lunch and am now watching Indiana Jones with the baby sleeping in my lap. It will be this way for the next few hours.”  

No matter how mundane our lives seem, we have stories. Just because we are clergy doesn’t mean we have perfect, smooth and happy lives, and the more open we are about the truth of our lives, the more able people will be able to connect with us and feel safe being open with us in return. 


Now back to my movie…..