Saturday, December 04, 2010

Only Offering A Prayer

Here's the manuscript from a temple talk I gave last Sunday to my home congregation of Emanuel Lutheran in Manchester, CT:

When Pastor Cady asked me to speak here today about my experiences so far at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, I knew I wanted to be brief, but wow… I also knew that there is a lot I could talk about. My first semester at LTSP has been an amazing opportunity to grow, learn and discern God’s call. The academics have been rigorous, the community has been amazingly supportive, and the worship life there has been greatly nurturing. I’d go into how I’ve benefited from all those things in great detail (and I’d be happy to do so if you want to chat more after worship), but really, and in the interest of brevity; one quick story sums it all up.

Right across the street from the seminary there’s a Wawa, a typical convenience store that I often head over to during a late study night or the occasional evening when dinner isn’t very good at the refectory. There’s one man I’ve seen a few times there in particular, sitting on a curb in front of the store, asking for spare change. For my first couple months at LTSP, I’d occasionally give him a quarter if I had one, but more often than not I’d awkwardly mumble that I had nothing to give. A few weeks ago on my way into Wawa, I was asked again by this man to spare some change. Almost automatically I told him I could offer no money, but I could offer to pray for him.

Since that day I’ve had a couple brief conversations with him, which have led me to consider poverty and homelessness from a deeper theological perspective than ever before. Saying a prayer for someone in a convenience store parking lot isn’t all that amazing… it should be a common occurrence, its something we should all be able to do as Christians and its something that we’re called to do. That said, only after spending time at LTSP was I empowered to get up the courage and speak with that man on a deeper level than apologizing for not having any change… recognizing Christ in “the other.” While this simple act wasn’t amazing, the community at LTSP and my education there is proving to be, and I greatly look forward to continue growing and exploring my call to public ministry while there. Thanks for all of your continued support, and God bless.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Long Journey, Amazing Blessings

It's been a long journey since I last updated this blog in April.  I spent this past summer at Camp Calumet Lutheran in New Hampshire, where I was greatly blessed in helping thirty-four amazing teenagers learn how to be camp counselors.  Camp ended, and after two days home in Connecticut, I began my seminary education at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.  It's been pretty great experience so far, full of learning, growth and discernment.  Except for a brief hiking trip over Labor Day weekend, this past week was my first time back home.  It's been an interesting week rambling all over New England; visiting friends in Boston, catching a Bob Dylan concert at UMass and spending Thanksgiving at a close friend's home in New Hampshire provided me with a great opportunity to rest and reflect over all that I experienced in the last few months.

Having had such a busy summer and a packed schedule at seminary, I didn't think much about posting again until recently.  A couple weeks back it occurred to me that it might be interesting for folks to hear about my seminary experience and have a little bit of a deeper view of life there.  Right around the same time, I got an email from Tim Dalton, who runs Theology Degrees Online.  The website in general is a really great resource for those looking into all levels of theological education.  I've found Tim's blog section particularly helpful too, as it catalogs all sorts of blog on a given theological topic.  At any rate, Tim was emailing to let me know that Only A Northern Blog was named one of "The Top 50 Lutheran Blogs" (it's number 35). What an honor! And what an impetus to start this up again!

I'm going to try and post here at least weekly, and at least over the next few weeks, I'll try to unpack everything from both this past summer and my first semester at LTSP for all of you.  Check back in soon!

God's peace,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Creating Space for the Authentic

Also posted on the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Now in the last week of my Project Connect Immersion Experience at Christ the King, I’ve really started to reflect on what I learned during my time here.  While I’ll soon make another post about that topic in a general sense, I wanted to devote this space to one lesson I’ve learned in particular:

A couple nights back I was reading through some of the Psalms and thinking about my immersion experience when I came upon the following verses in Psalm 139:

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed… Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts (Psalm 139 14 – 16, 23).

Over the past couple months I’ve spent a lot of time working through what it’s going to mean to be a pastor while still being a real person.  If public ministry is a vocation where you’re “on” in some way almost all the time, balancing being a professional and a leader while still being a less than perfect human being (especially if you’re a pretty goofy guy like I am) seems like a daunting task.  On the other hand however is the fact that I feel very affirmed in my sense of call to be a pastor…  If I am correct in discerning God’s call, then it would logically follow that I could be a successful pastor without having to pretend to be something I’m not.

In the end I’ve arrived at the decision to be as authentic as possible going forward.  I imagine that no matter how well one acts to perfectly “fit the mold” of being a pastor, not being authentic could likely put a large barrier between myself and whatever congregation I’ll be working with.  In a world where we all feel pressured to fit various molds in various situations, I think in the end people crave authenticity.  While folks might appreciate authenticity in others, people crave even more for space to be authentic themselves. 

I’m sure my train of thought seems a bit dis-jointed here, but in conclusion the greatest lesson I’ve learned from immersion experience is that a central part of my ministry will be helping to create that space for others and guiding congregations in seeking to do the same.  Helping others to show that wonderful complexity and workmanship spoken of in the passage above can’t be a bad thing… and perhaps in doing so it’ll help me be a little more authentic myself.

God’s peace,

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Manuscript of the sermon I preached this Sunday @ Christ the King, Wilbraham.  Enjoy!!

Often the purpose of a sermon is to explain a detailed theological concept based on the day’s readings or perhaps to invite us to deeply explore an aspect of our faith. Whatever its purpose might be, a sermon can often get complicated, frequently trying to explain a somewhat nuanced message. In stark contrast however, I think the message of today’s readings is a refreshingly simple one: let go of your perceived limitations! Celebrate where you are! In this joyous season of Easter celebrate the glory of the risen Christ! Celebrate God’s work that has been done… and celebrate God’s many blessings! Even if everything isn’t perfect, know that in Christ, anything is possible… and celebrate that fact! Whether it’s in our own lives, the life of the congregation here at Christ the King or the life of the wider church, it’s important to recognize both the positives and negatives of life, both past and present. Recognizing past missteps allows us to release and grow past them; celebrating God’s continued triumph through our lives brings greater clarity to some of the amazing opportunities God’s calling us to.
Next Sunday marks the completion of my immersion experience, and while there’s still a week to go, I’ve already begun to reflect on the invaluable experiences I’ve had and the amazing people I’ve met at Christ the King. The major goal of any Project Connect immersion experience is to help people decide whether or not they are called to ordained ministry… and I’m happy to say that you guys haven’t scared me away! In fact, my time spent here has completely reaffirmed my sense of call and I’m extremely excited about my future… things are going great, there’s certainly a lot to celebrate, and it’s in part thanks to all of you.
As I continue to reflect on my time here and celebrate my successes however, it’s also important to recognize that this period of discernment didn’t always look so great. In particular I have a crystal clear memory of one night this past September. I was sitting by the water at York Beach in Maine, about half an hour from where I was still living in New Hampshire, and reflecting with a close friend about how scared I was of the future. I had decided to leave Thrivent Financial for Lutherans about a month earlier to work in a job that would allow more time for me to actively discern whether or not I wanted to go into ministry… and my careful crafted plan for that period of transition had completely failed. After many expensive car repairs and dealing with a job market that was even worse than I expected, I was facing the issue of being nearly broke with no job. With my apartment lease soon up, I was also dealing with the prospect that I’d have to move back to dad’s house, something that I felt pretty ashamed of at the time. I was really beginning to doubt my decision to leave my well paying job with Thrivent, and more importantly I thought I had many personal limitations that wouldn’t allow me to be the great pastor I wanted to be.
Looking back on it, that evening was one of those rare turning points in life… standing on the edge of a sort of spiritual precipice I was presented with one of two options. I could easily step back from the edge, give into my perceived limitations, and follow that all too human need for comfort in what’s familiar… or I could celebrate who I was, have some faith in God’s call, and take that leap into a future of amazing opportunity.

I don’t think of that story as at all unique to me however… we all have those moments in life. We all have our own “road to Damascus moments”, where much like Saul, as we let go of our perceived limitations, the scales fall from our eyes, allowing us to celebrate… who we are. Only with that recognition and celebration of who we are can we step into the amazing future God is calling us to. In today’s gospel story, even after seeing all the amazing miracles of God’s love through Jesus, Peter still had denied Him… Peter stepped back from that spiritual precipice and just went fishing. Unlike some of the other gospels, there’s no definitive timeline in the Gospel of John… we really don’t know how long Peter went back to the comfortable familiarity of fishing. However long it was though, in Jesus, God still met Peter where he was… whether it is was four weeks after the crucifixion or four years. Sometimes in our lives, or in the life of our congregation, we might be right up on that spiritual precipice and decide to step back… and sometimes I think God might be calling us to do that too. We still should take the time let go of our perceived limitations, celebrate God’s very real achievements through us… but then rest in that joyful celebration. And even if we’re not following God’s call by stepping back from that spiritual precipice… through faith we know that God’s still going to meet us wherever we are.

Going quickly back to the example of my own life, while I may have taken that leap of faith six months back, I have no intention to do so again for at least the next few months… soon after I’m done here at Christ the King I’ll be heading back up to Camp Calumet for my eighth full summer on staff. After taking a leap and having a period of extreme turbulence in my life, I think it’s really important to celebrate what God’s achieved in me with the people I care most about. That doesn’t mean I won’t experience any new challenges at all this summer or that I won’t still be working hard… far from it, as I finally found out I’ll be running the Counselor in Training program for the first time… but it does mean I’ll be recharging for what’s ahead of me at seminary in the fall… and that’s what in the end celebrating is really all about. Whether we step back from that spiritual precipice or not, recognizing and celebrating who we are allows us to know why we’re stepping back… are we stepping back from God’s call because we’re afraid of the future or are we stepping back to recharge for what God really is calling us to do next?

During the children’s moment today, we took some time to recognize and say thanks for the many ministries you’re all a part of at Christ the King… to celebrate all the good stuff God has going on here. I imagine you may be wondering why it was decided to do so. Here’s why: I made it a major goal for myself over the past few months to take in as much information as possible from everyone here and in doing so I wanted to provide some legitimate outside perspective of congregational life at Christ the King. Through many talks over dinner, conversations during coffee hour or time spent at adult forums, a few common narratives seemed to develop. First, I heard how the congregation had come a long way over the past few years and how a lot of tough stuff has been successfully worked out. Second, I heard a lot about how while things were in general going good at Christ the King, there were still a lot of challenges: how there was a budget deficit, how there were more jobs than people to fill them, etc. Third, I also heard about what some of the strengths of the congregation were: a great music program, and great ability to welcome guests, and of course a great pastor.

There were two things I didn’t hear however that sort of surprised me: first, what I perceived as your greatest strength wasn’t often mentioned. As I look out at the congregation today seeing all your smiling or perhaps bored faces… it’s been a long sermon, it’s easy to realize that everyone I see here is actively participating in one of the many ministries of Christ the King. Everyone’s doing something! At least compared to the other congregations I know of, that’s a really incredible thing and I think its something to be recognized and celebrated.

Second, while I heard about many amazing individual ministries here, I don’t think I really heard a general sense about what was next… where God was calling the congregation to use its many gifts. It might be that Christ the King is called to celebrate the successes of recent years and rest in that celebration… or it might be that you’re on that spiritual precipice and God is calling you to soon take that next leap of faith. I myself have no idea what’s next for everyone here, but I do know there’s should be one common denominator: recognize your gifts and celebrate where you are… you deserve it! God’s peace.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Care of Creation

As posted on my blog at the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Throughout the season of Lent at Christ the King, we’ve been exploring the many different faces of Christian stewardship… we’ve talked about being good stewards of our talents, our time, the Sabbath and our communities.  This past Sunday we concluded our Lenten adult forum series by talking about stewardship of God’s creation, a topic many of us were particularly passionate about.  There’s a lot involved with that sort of conversation, much more than we could ever cover in one hour, so our first issue was figuring out where to begin.

We could have talked about how to “green” the church or perhaps about how to get folks to stop using Styrofoam coffee cups and start drinking fair trade coffee, and while those are important conversations, it seemed like that would be getting a little bit ahead of ourselves.  Instead, we really wanted to start at the heart of the matter, discussing why (and even if) God calls us to care for the environment as Christians.  We all quickly agreed on the importance of environmental stewardship, and the conversation next turned to addressing why we don’t always seem to focus on that call.  It’s a topic that many folks are talking about nowadays, often by asking, “how can Christianity begin to address preserving the environment?”

After thinking quite a bit about it over the past week, I wonder if part of the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question. While I’m not a historian or a theologian, it seems like for much of its history, Christianity was very concerned with the environment.  Check out this quote from an actual theologian:
Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Note it.  Read it… God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.  Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?                       - St. Augustine (354 - 430)
And this one:
All creation is a symphony of praise to God. - Hildegard of Bingen (1098 - 1179)
And also this one (my favorite):
God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars. - traditionally attributed to Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)
If the trees and the flowers are important expressions of God’s love (perhaps almost as important as the Gospel), it seems to logically follow that we should preserve those things.  To be fair, Martin Luther and St. Augustine never talked about reducing your carbon footprint or using light bulbs that look like curly fries, but care of creation was still a part of their message.  Perhaps then, the question should really be, “Why have many Christians turned away from caring for the environment in recent decades and how can we get back to where we were?” Asking the question phrased in that particular way for me really results in some interesting answers.

To start, I think saying “the environment” isn’t a good thing.  Much like referring to “climate change” as “global warming,” referring to God’s creation as “the environment” doesn’t fully express the concept… the environment seems like something apart from us, something “out there” (and increasingly distant).  Most Christians however, would consider themselves part of God’s creation.  I myself can’t wait for it to get warmer so I can get out in the woods or play Frisbee in the fields… the environment doesn’t seem like something I can enjoy sitting in this coffee shop.  God’s creation though is something that seems much more all around me… he even created the chocolate chip scone I’m eating right now (and very much enjoying).  If we can begin to see caring for God’s creation as caring for something we’re a part of, maybe it’ll seem a little more important. St. Augustine didn’t lock creation up in a park or wilderness preserve… he wouldn’t have seen himself as separate from the creation that he so applauded at all… why should we?

God’s peace,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Internal Dialogue

As written on my blog at the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

The last two weeks have sort of been a mini-transition period for me: as my work with the US Census begins to wind down and I finish up the last of my seminary applications, the central narrative of my life has begun to shift from “Wow I’m so tired” (see my March 17th blog post) to “So what do I do next?”  For one, I’m extremely excited for my immersion experience at Christ the King to be my only major focus going forward, but I’m also excited to have the mental space to improve myself in others ways.

An area for self-improvement became quite clear to me last week after preaching a sermon the previous Sunday.  Immediately following the sermon, I frankly didn’t think I did all that well… I thought I had a strong message to convey, but I doubted I conveyed it very strongly.  What really upset me though was not that I thought I gave a lousy sermon, but instead the reason why I thought I gave a lousy sermon.  I always loved speaking to large groups (both politically during my time in Washington and spiritually at Calumet) but over the past couple years I began to dislike “being the guy up front.”   I felt much less confident than I used to, and I blamed that lost of confidence on a number of experiences… losing my mother to lung cancer, being (falsely) diagnosed with cancer myself and being unemployed for roughly two months after I left Thrivent Financial (amongst other things).  I came out of my sermon really angry with myself for losing my self-confidence and thus not preaching/ speaking as well as I used to.  In a more general sense, I was angry that despite many recent successes, my confidence still wasn’t what it used to be.

Last Monday when I arrived at CTK Pastor Sara let me know a few folks had told her I gave a good sermon, but more importantly, they had told her some specific things they got out of my sermon.   I was told the day before after worship that I had done a good job, but I assumed people were just being nice.  Given that people were able to name some pretty specific things they got out of the sermon though, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t that bad after all.  Similarly, last Tuesday a supervisor at the census office asked me to continue on in a different leadership position once my recruiting job ended… all along I had thought I was doing alright working with the US Census, but I never thought I was doing a great job… turns out it was good enough to be asked to supervisor others.

The following passage from Isaiah illuminates what I started to realized after both incidents:

You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be nothing at all. For I, the Lord you God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you” (Isaiah 41: 12 – 13).

While some tough stuff happened to me in the last two years, it wasn’t those things that kept me not feeling very good about myself.   Much like in the Bible verse above, many of my issues were things I simply made up… those things warring against me were internal, not external; I was caught in a cycle of being way too hard on myself, and being more cognizant of that negative internal dialogue seems like a great goal to have over the next month.  Just coming to that realization has helped improve my self-confidence a great deal already, in only five days.

This blog post is getting a bit long, but as a quick illustration think of your child, a kid in your Sunday school class or frankly just anyone else misbehaving.  How often does yelling or being really harsh with that child or person help them to improve?  It might scare them into obedience, but only real constructive criticism and encouragement works to foster personal growth.  I suspect that many folks have a similarly negative internal dialogue to my own… if we’re gentle with others to create a nurturing environment for growth, why is it often so hard to be similarly gentle with ourselves? What does God want our internal dialogue to sound like? Just something to think about ☺

God’s peace,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Surprising and Spontaneous Acts of Love

For those that weren’t there this Sunday, I wanted to briefly go over what I talked about during my sermon, and for those that were there, I thought it would make sense to reiterate what I said (in perhaps a slightly more coherent message) and also to add a few additional thoughts as well.

Here’s the gospel story from last week, where Mary anoints Jesus with costly perfume at the home of Lazarus. It’s a story that’s in all four gospels in one form or another, suggesting it was a very important story to many of the different groups of early Christians:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12: 1-8).

Try to picture the scene in last week’s gospel story… it’s sort of strange, and really surprising, particularly if put in our own contemporary context. Imagine having the following folks (and perhaps others) at your next dinner party:
  1. A recently dead, still perhaps very stinky guy (that might be one reason for all the perfume) lounging around waiting for his “welcome back” dinner to be served… that’s Lazurus.
  2. Someone that was journeying to your home, happy to be with his friends, even though he would soon be heading over to your local capitol city where he faced certain persecution and death… that’s Jesus.
  3. The least likable, least trustworthy of all your friends, who for some reason was appointed by the previously mentioned friend to hold onto his wallet (and iPod… and cell phone… stuff like that). This not so trustworthy guy also randomly decides to be really practical and criticize all the fun that’s about to happen… that’s Judas.
  4. A person who is really stressed out about getting dinner ready, not able to fully appreciate the company of her friends, and is “cumbered by many things” (Luke uses that phrase)… that’s Martha.
  5. The weirdest person in the group… perhaps refered to as a “space cadet” or something perhaps a bit nicer… the spontaneous loopy one. Right before dinner is served at your that evening, she decides to pour a big bottle of perfume on one of your guest’s feet… and that big bottle of perfume costed her a year’s worth of wages… that’s Mary.

Who of these characters do you most identify with? Maybe the practical side of Judas? I could see that making sense… but even more likely, you probably identify with Martha. She’s doing exactly what she’s “supposed to do,” and while in fact she is doing a great deed (the meal couldn’t have happened without her), but is so burdened with stress she can’t fully appreciate the surprising new things God was at work on.

Who comes out as the hero of this gospel story though? Which character do you most want to be like? Mary is the character forever remembered (in all four gospels) for her act of amazingly spontaneous, extravagant love… I bet you probably most want to be like her (or Jesus, but being exactly like him would be pretty tough). It’s still tough though to even be like Mary though… we’re so often burdened, so often weighed down by various things, we can’t fully appreciate the gift of life around us… we can’t seem to always be spontaneously kind and loving to others.

I know I certainly have to think about more fully appreciating life and being spontaneously… I think it’s something worthy for all of us to think about.

God’s peace,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Six Days You Shall Labor...

As posted on the Christ the King, Wilbraham website:

Whenever seeking to discern God's call, identifying y0ur weaknesses in a given vocation is equally important as identifying and developing your strengths.  I intend my time of vocational discernment at Christ the King to be no different of course, and while it's been really helpful to identify some of my gifts for ministry over the past month, this past week was really a lot more about discovering (or in some ways reaffirming) one of those areas that I need to work on.  Namely, I'm absolutely horrible at allowing myself to take a break.  Furthermore, during those few opportunities I do have for relaxation, I'm equally bad at allowing myself to put aside the concerns and stresses of work.

While my time at Christ the King is not particularly stressful, my other job recruiting enumerators for the US Census can often be, and both roles combine to make it so that I really do not have a Sabbath (or in non-Biblical terms a real day off) most weeks.  On top of my busy schedule I'm still in the middle of the ELCA Candidacy process, finishing up some seminary applications and leading my own church's youth group.  Last week things came to head as I was finalizing plans for a youth group retreat weekend.  A couple of the kids had dropped out at the last minute, and while the retreat still went amazingly, I got stressed out to the point where I had what was probably a migraine for the first time in my life.  I ended up having to call out of work this past Thursday due to the migraine, and I got sick earlier this week as well.

After a whole lot of reflection (and a bit of rest), it occurred to me how silly it was that it took me getting sick to allow myself a day off.  I also took some time to reflect on the fourth commandment:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day, therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it (Ex. 20: 8 - 11).
When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, he put taking a day off ahead of not stealing, not committing adultery, and even not murdering others... seems like God certainly thinks taking a day off is pretty important.  The question then becomes why does God hold the Sabbath so highly; why do we need a day off?  Especially after my experience this past week, my reverent guess would be that without taking a day off to be with friends, family and God, it's nearly impossible to follow the first commandment.  Without taking that time to enjoy and fully be present in His creation, it's easy to begin putting other things before God... whether it's working to attain financial security for your family or working to ensure your church's youth group will have an amazing weekend, having a Sabbath helps us remember to allow God to work through us, instead of trying to achieve things on our own.

While I still have more than enough learning to do in terms of allowing myself to take a break, I am happy to say that after a great conversation with my supervisor yesterday, I'll no longer be doing Census work on Saturdays, thus having a full day without professional commitments.  Especially during the season of Lent when we're exploring how we can sometimes feel distant from God, I encourage everyone to really think about whether or not they've created a true day of rest for themselves, and how that rest can bring us closer to God.

God's peace,

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Two Are Better Than One

My weekly blogpost on the CTK Wilbraham website:

While this week has been really busy for me (thus the late blog post), it's also been a week of great fellowship and great learning at Christ the King.   While getting to know many of you better over dinner, during adult forum and at other times, one notion has continued to come into focus for me: the gift of community.  One member of the congregation recently told me "Christ the King is a small congregation, but it's mighty!"  After spending almost a month now with all of you, I couldn't agree more, and it's due to the strength of the community here.
From singing in the choir, to organizing coffee hour, to serving on church council or writing the weekly bulletin, it seems like almost everyone at CTK is actively involved in life of the congregation.  While other churches may be bigger or have a larger budget, I honestly think that it's a pretty rare blessing to find a congregation that has such a high percentage of its members contributing to the community.  First, I think it's important to celebrate and thank God for having such a strong community.  Second though, it's also important to ask how we can be good stewards of such a blessing.  The following passage from Ecclesiastes really sheds some light on that notion:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccl 4: 9 -12).

I've been reading that Bible verse to campers the first night of camp at Calumet since 2003, but this week the first struck me in a brand new way.  The message of helping and supporting a friend is obvious, but I think there's more here, particularly in the part about having a good reward for toil...  what is that reward anyway?  Outside of being able to achieve more together, the experience of working together allows for even greater grow as a community, thus adding to our reward.  While being a good steward of community does indeed involve achieving and doing God's work in the world, it also involves learning from that process of achievement.

God's peace,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Life Together

As posted on Christ the King Wilbraham's website:

It’s been another amazing week of growing and learning at Christ the King! Worshiping, participating in adult forum, and talking with everyone over coffee hour this week helped me get to know many of you, I can’t wait to continue getting to know everyone better over the next couple months. While I learned a great deal about many of you individually, I also discovered some great things about CTK as a whole. First, whether its the bread at communion or the cookies at coffee hour, baking is definitely a gift that obviously apparent in your congregation! On a slightly more serious note however, I’ve continued to be amazingly impressed by quality worship experience at the Christ the King. Many folks tend to think of worship as more of a performance to watch, something to only passively take part in. At CTK at least, worship is much much more: it’s a genuine expression of Christian community, with everyone actively participating and contributing their own unique spiritual gifts to the fellowship.

Outside of my time at CTK, I’ve spent some time this week reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, which is an amazing portrayal of Christian community. There’s one quote in the book that particularly struck me:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.

One reason I think worship at Christ the King is so great is it's conversational in tone; everyone seems to be very in tune with each other's needs. When we listen to each other, we tend to support one another. As we continue to explore different varieties of stewardship during Lent, it'll be a great opportunity to mutually listen and support each other in discovering new ways to use our spiritual gifts in the wider community and beyond! God's peace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does Not Wisdom Call?

 My first immersion experience reflection on Christ the King Wilbraham's website:

After only four days at Christ the King, the following passage from Proverbs strikes me as particularly relevant:
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?  On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; besides the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.  O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.  Hear, for I will speak noble thing, and from my lips will come what is right…” (Prov. 8: 1-6)
For much of my life, but particularly over this past year, I’ve been actively, and (I hope) prudently discerning my call to ordained ministry.  While my discernment process has already helped to affirm my sense of call, I know there’s still so much learning to do!  Much like the passage above illustrates, wisdom and opportunities to learn abound… and they’re certainly here at Christ the King.

As I start my immersion experience at CTK, I’m at a crossroads in life: after two years out of school, I plan on attending seminary this fall and I’ll also return to work at Camp Calumet this summer.  At this point I’m trying to discern what strengths I’ll bring to ministry and what areas need some work.  Learning opportunities have constantly presented themselves over the past few days: I found the care taken in music & worship planning this past Sunday afternoon truly inspirational, and hearing how many of you have uniquely contributed to God’s work at CTK has been an amazing experience as well.

While I find great opportunity for my own learning at CTK, I’ve also seen great opportunity for your congregation.  Working through the upcoming construction project will be a great time to be even more out connecting with the community for instance, and Lent is always an excellent opportunity for stewardship and spiritual growth.  Many thanks for all of your warm welcomes this past Sunday, and I look forward to spending more time with you over the next couple months.
God’s peace,