What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blog migration

Given that I blew up my blogger tempate, I decided to check out some blogging alturnatives and have migrated my blog to a new host and address. You can now read it at http://yourcomfort.blogs.com. Sorry for any hastle this may cause, but it does come with a nice snazzy new look.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A new look

I goofed. I messed up my blog. I did something wrong and suddenly the sidebar ended up at the bottom - and I didn't save the code. For a few days, I hoped that I could wade through the code and figure out what went wrong. Then for another few days I hoped a buddy of mine might be able to check it out and fix it. She was too busy.

And so I've taken matters into my own hands. I gave up and started fresh. You'll see the new template design. I'm not sure if I like it or not. But for the time being, it'll do.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We mourn the loss

We mourn the loss of those killed in the war in Iraq this week including Americas: Ruel M. Garcia, Rex C. Kenyon, Adam R. Shepherd, Dennis J. Flanagan, Matthew C. Frantz, Rickey Scott, Katherine Patricia Singleton, Clifton J. Yazzie, Carlos Arrelano Pandura, Brandon Christopher Dewey, Brian McElroy, Jason L. Norton, Lance M. Chase, Matthew D. Hunter, Peter D. Wagler, Lewis T. D. Calapini, Joshua A. Scott, Sean H. Miles and Joshua Allen Johnson.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

We mourn the loss

We mourn the loss of those killed in the war in Iraq this week including Americas: Michael Joseph McMullen, Mitchell K. Carver Jr., Kyle E. Jackson, Jonathan Kyle Price, Michael Anthony Jordan, Justin J. Watts, Kasper Allen Dudkiewicz and, Dustin L. Kendall.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Views of the Ministry

I'd like to thank those of you who participated in last week's survey. I found it really helpful.

For those of you who stop by here to look for some heresy, I thought I might help you out by posting one of my essays on my views of the ministry. Now don't go get all excited; I don't think you're going to find anything heritical in it. No dedicatin' babies or whispers of Arminian free will.

In fact, you may once again have your fears confirmed: I'm an orthodox Calvinist who's
really Reformed. Yes, I'm a married gay orthodox Calvinist who's really Reformed. But I do not see "married gay" and "orthodox Calvinist" conflicting. Some people do, but others do not. I'm among the later.

So here goes:

The Relationship Between the Office of the Minister of the Word and the Ministry and Witness of the Whole Church:
Pastor, Teacher and Enabler Building up the Church and Equipping the Whole Church to Serve the World

Section 4 of Part I Article 1 of the Book of Church Order of the Reformed Church in America defines the function and responsibilities of a Minister of the Word. In an age in which we focus on organizational leadership and business development, we can say that this section of the BCO provides us with the spiritual "job description" for local parish ministers. If seen in the employment pages of the paper, this description is as follows:

"The office of the minister in the local parish is to serve as pastor, teacher, and enabler of the congregation, to build up and equip the whole church for its ministry in the world. As pastor and teacher, the minister preaches and teaches the Word of God, administers the sacraments, shares responsibility with the officers and members of the congregation for their mutual Christian growth, exercises Christian love and discipline in conjunction with the elders, and is careful that everything in the church is done in a proper and orderly way. As enabler the minister so serves and lives among the congregation that together they become wholly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ in the service of the church for the world (BCO, Part I, Article 1, Section 4)."

From this description, we are to see the goal of the minister as "building up and equipping the whole church for its ministry in the world." This means that while local parish ministers may be seen as only serving their individual church or congregation, they, in fact, have a far wider responsibility -- to serve the entire church. While we may be installed as a pastor of an individual congregation, we are servants of Christ and as such we live out our calling to all of God's creation. This forces ministers to see outside the boundary of the fence around a particular church and to realize that our job is to serve all of the people living in our neighborhoods, cities and across our world. Thus, the worshipping congregation of a church is only one grouping of people to whom we are called to serve. While they can be seen as our primary responsibility, we are also responsible to minister to God's creation as can be manifested in other forms – from the AA group that might meet on Saturday morning to the daycare that uses the building during the week, from attending the wake of a member of the local Catholic church to praying for people in Iraq.

The goal of our calling is something that calls us to more than mere maintenance of the faith. Rather, we are instructed to improve God's community, always building up and equipping the church for greater service to our Lord. Maintaining the status quo does not suffice in this case. As ministers, we are to be more than just "buying our time" or "keeping the ship afloat." Building up and equipping the whole church means innovating while at the same time always being mindful to the Word of God and the life and culture of the people we serve. Consequently, ministers must be acutely aware both of Word found the Holy Scriptures and of the word on the street. It is our job to connect the two in ways that make sense and help to fulfill the work of the entire church. This means that we must learn languages and cultures that are different from ours – we must step out of our safe church world and into the lives of those who do not speak the lingua ecclesia. It is our responsibility to translate the Word of God so that others might know and understand it. Doing this is not an easy task, and by its very nature leads ministers into places of newness and creativity. But if it is done with effort and through the will of the Spirit it results in such the equipping and building up that God requires of us.

Ministers will know that they are meeting this goal when they look around and see ministry being done in meaningful ways. This ministry may be local, regional or global, but it will have an eye toward making sense of individual lives and God's steadfast assurance that all people are included in the community of God. Such meaningful ministry will look different depending upon the people involved and the customs and interpretations that are shared about the gospel. But ministry that builds up and equips is known for its inclusion of all people and for it's empowering of those people to enter into the world living lives of faith, love and hope.

If building up the church and quipping the whole church to serve the world are the two purposes or goals of ministry, than the tasks that go in to meeting this goal can be broken down into three main categories: pastor, teacher and enabler.

As pastor, Ministers engage in the day-to-day running of the life of the church. We are vessels of God's teaching by way of our sound preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. We aid in this educational process through the faithful living of our lives, mindful that we must be faithful examples of God's love and forgiveness for others. Ours is a life that does not allow for the building up of lingering resentments or the holding on to moments that lack love or charity. Rather, we are doers and teachers of the Word in all that we do and in all the many ways we teach. Christian education is more than a weekly sermon or Bible study. It occurs most often as we chat over coffee, visit in the hospital, pick up our laundry and go to the supermarket. Every interaction we have, from opening a checking account at the local bank to calling in to complain about our cell phone bill has the potential to be a pastoral moment or an interaction of Christian teaching. We must see our entire lives as fulfilling the tasks of pastor and teacher.

Although the General Synod of 2004 adopted recommendation R-4 "To adopt the following revision to the Book of Church Order, Chapter 1, Part 1, Article 1, Sections 4 and 5" which seeks to strike out the term "enabler" from the description of the tasks of a minister, this recommendation has yet to be voted into our Book of Church Order. While the concern that the term "enabler" has negative connotations as an encourager of destructive behavior on other people, I believe that the term "enable" as defined by Webster's offers a significant understanding of one of the primary tasks of a minister.

The first definition of enabler is "To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; to make able" and the second is similar, "To make feasible or possible." Both of these understandings fit well in describing one of the primary tasks of the Minister. Ministers do not operate alone in the world. If a minister had to do every task around the church, he or she would be worn out within the course of the first week. Rather, the minister is the one who, by way of his or her pastoral leadership and teaching, encourages those around him or her to view their lives as ministry. This unleashes individuals to do the work of the church. In effect, it is through enabling ministry that Ministers of the Word most easily and effectively build up and equip the whole church. Ministers are the catalysts, the enzymes, which encourage ministry to grow.

Like an effective manager, our job is not to do all the work ourselves, but rather to do everything in our power to equip those around us to do the jobs of the church. We are the ones who educate, coordinate and who then get out of the way so that ministry can flourish and the church can grow both in its depth and breadth.

Lastly, the relationship between the Minister of the Word and the ministry and witness of the whole church is one of faithful service and steadfast stewardship of the mysteries of God (BCO, Part I, Article 1, Sec. 3)." Ministers, through their work as pastors, teachers and enablers aim to build up and equip the church. We do this in conjunction with the priesthood of all believers, knowing that "Jesus Christ is the only Head of his church (BCO, Preamble)." Together, we are blessed and honored to participate in the work of God through the life of God's church. "Gathered by the Spirit around Word and sacrament, the church fulfills its call within the expectations of the reign of God as it participates in mission, in calling all persons to life in Christ, and in proclaiming God’s promise and commands to all the world."

A Minister of the Word, through his or her faithful service as pastor, teacher and enabler, has the tremendous opportunity and privilege of being a part of the equipping and building up of the whole church to serve the world. We do this through the faithful living of our daily lives, always remembering that we serve God above all others. Like the words of a song that learned in kindergarten (well before I knew about such important disciplines as exegesis, theology or ecclesiology), "they will know that we are Christians by our love." Indeed, they will know ministers by our love – it is through this love of God and of others that we are able to be pastors, teachers and enablers. It is through this love that we are able to transcend our own feelings, prejudices and opinions in order to participate in the mission of calling all persons to life in Christ and to proclaim God's promise and commands to the entire world. And in so doing, we are able to succeed in equipping and building up the witness of the whole church.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Too pooped to post

Yesterday Stacey only had enough energy to answer the latest meme. Today it's my turn. I just got back from driving back from Philly. The traffic got a little intense, but the one-day get away provided some much needed relaxation. We discovered that the Philadelphia Ikea is the place to go. Years ago I had sworn off ever entering another Ikea after a jam-packed disaster of a trip to the Elizabeth, NJ store. This time around, the store wasn't so crowded. We had a great time, especially dining on those meatballs and lingenberry torts!

I'm beat, so I'll just jump into the meme.

Four Jobs I've Had in My Life:
1. Telemarketeing fundraiser (my first job at age 16) for two non-profits.
2. Working on the assembly line making car batteries for AC Delco.
3. Interned for the Reformed Church in America.
4. Financial advisor.

Four movies I could watch over and over, and have:
1. Bull Durham
2. Steal Magnolias
3. Fried Green Tomatoes
4. Antonia's Line

Four places I have lived:
1. Holland, MI
2. Rochester, NY
3. Oxford, England
4. New Brunswick, NJ

Four shows I love to watch:
1. Law and Order (especially SVU)
2. Six Feet Under
3. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly
4. Numb3rs

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. St. Croix
2. Freemont, MI
3. Maine
4. New Orleans

Four websites I visit daily:
1. cnn
2. craigslist
3. bloglines
4. lifehacker

Four favorite foods:
1. Cheeseburgers
2. Nachos
3. Pad Thai
4. Rice crispy bars

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. England (even in the rain!)
2. St. Thomas or St. Croix
3. Hanging out with friends
4. In bed and asleep

Four people who I tag next:
I'm going to skip this one. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Now is the time!

I've always wondered who the person behind National Administrative Assistant's Day was. Back in the day when I had an administrative assistant, I always forgot it, then felt guilty for the rest of the month. Now that I think about it, perhaps that month was National Guilty Supervisor's Month.

Anyway, someone out there has declared that this week is International Blog De-Lurking Week. Now, I understand if some of you want to stay lurking, but I'd really apprecaite it if you might find the time to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you, and I'm sure that the person who obsessively checks this blog ten times per day would, too (hey, speaking of delurking, I'd love to hear from you too!). Now is the time. You can even abuse a semicolon if you feel inspired. Come on! Pleeeeesssseee.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A seminary autobiography

Previously, someone asked about my call to ministry. While hunting through my reflection papers, I found this "seminary autobiography" I wrote during my final semester in school. Perhaps some of you thinking about seminary might find it helpful. Please remember that it was written more than a few years ago.


During my time as a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary I have preached 53 sermons, drunk approximately 2730 liters of Diet Pepsi, saved several thousand dollars in my employer-sponsored 403(b) account, , dropped out of school once and watched the entire first season of Six Feet Under. There have been moments where I was certain of my calling as a pastor and times of absolute confusion and complete dismay at my foolishness for having ever attempted to enter into the ranks of the ordained. Mostly, though, seminary has been the process of putting one foot in front of the other -- whether walking, running, marching, skipping or perhaps crawling -- through each day.

My arrival into the world of seminary was somewhat of a breach birth. Having spent my childhood on the campuses of three different graduate schools of divine learning, the mysteries of theological education had been somewhat exposed to me. I also had a reasonable understanding of what happens to those deemed acceptable of the title Master of Divinity after they collect their personalized degree on graduation day. Seminary is a one way, do not pass go, do not collect $200 direct road to a lifetime of low paying, high stress work with little to no personal privacy and loads unreasonable, typically unstated expectations. Plus, as a woman (not to mention a full-fledged gay "sinner" in the eyes of most of my fellow Christians) there wasn't much likelihood of my being offered one of those low paying, high stress jobs.

On account of this, I shied away from seminary and the ministry. Instead, I started a career in the exciting yet morally challenged world of Wall Street, bought a little co-op in Park Slope and was well on my way to making it big when I had an honest to goodness real-life interaction with the Higher Power which struck me just silly enough to apply to seminary.

Fortunately, my first class of Biblical Studies cured whatever it was that had sickened me into seminary. The only miracle was that I didn't fail the class. I came close, though. Reading the entire Bible in 13 weeks is a reasonable assignment. Having to take annoying multiple-choice quizzes on the readings didn't mesh well with my "style of learning." Fortunately, the class had one analytical paper involved, which rescued my ridiculously low quiz average. I immediately withdrew following my first class in seminary and declared myself a full-fledged seminary drop-out, unable to make the cut among peers who could recite whole portions of the Bible by memory having sharpened their rote knowledge of the scriptures through countless childhood sword drills.

The hum of the financial markets held my attention for the next few years, until God caught up with me on September 11th. It had only been a few months before that Morgan Stanley had offered me a job on the 76th floor. I turned it down to work for a branch manger without a moral compass, which led to a rather large fight and my quitting on the evening of September 10th. Without a job and struggling to make sense of a world that had seemed so rational only moments earlier, I found myself walking toward my former professor's house on 14th Street in Brooklyn.

He greeted me with a sense of excitement about the potential of my returning to seminary. Since the Tuesday night class had been cancelled the week before, I would not be behind and could start my studies immediately. He'd even drive me to campus for class that night if I would meet him at 4pm. At 3:55pm that Tuesday, I officially reentered the general seminary population.

Two of the obstacles to my immediate embracing of seminary life came in the form of my mother and father. A better set of parents cannot be imagined. But at the age of 26, with a burgeoning sense of independence and a fierce desire to have my own life, I wasn't quite prepared to share a campus with my progenitors. Having your father as the President of the seminary you attend can be a bit of a challenge. Adding your mother to the mix takes it up a notch.

I was a little worried that moving in with them might cramp my social style or might result in an apocalyptic parent-child blowout. But neither occurred. Certainly our shared quarters and close knowledge of each other's lives led to more than one argument, but over the course of three year our relationship has moved from more than just child and parent to one of friendship and more recently to even perhaps one of colleague. I wouldn't have made it through the program as quickly or have been able to take on as much as I have without the faithful support of my parents.

It's a deep personal secret that my mother has done my laundry while I've been in school. Supposedly we have a deal of laundry help in exchange for computer tutorials, but Mom's spent much more time with the washer and dryer than I ever have in front of her computer. And there has been a comfort in having my parents read over sermons, edit papers and offer sage advise on an as needed basis.

More of a challenge has been navigating my friendships at school in light of our shared last name. It began the very first day of class when a new student asked me to repeat my name during our introductions and then in a rather loud voice said, "Is your father the President?" While I want to blend in, it's hard to ignore the fact that I live in the basement of the President's house. With this has come some unstated expectations and some unsaid biases for all of us. It hasn't been easy, but we've managed. And having time with my parents has allowed for an exceptionally rich educational experience. I've learned more by osmosis from them than from classroom lectures. If you asked me when or where I picked certain things up, I wouldn't be able to tell you. But they have served as wonderful models of ministry.

Take, for example, my first sermon. A number of friends had warned me of their intense anxiety at the moment they were called upon to preach a real sermon in a real church in front of real people. No doubt, I shared what can only be a universal sense of excitement, dread, nervousness and terror as I prepared for the first time I entered a pulpit. I had been asked by the Flatlands Reformed Church to fill in for their retiring minister as they searched for an interim over the course of the summer. With only slightly more than a semester's worth of classes and having yet to take a course in preaching, I readily agreed to this supervised ministry assignment.

Having watched my father prepare and deliver countless sermons throughout my childhood, I understood the drill: Read. Prepare. Think. Type. Procrastinate. Type. Think. Talk. Type. Print. Show Mom. Make corrections. Sleep. Wake. Shower. Dress. Eat. Leave two hours early. Take directions, robe, Bible, sermon. Show up. Greet. Pee. Put on robe and pray for the best. In my case, there were a few small glitches. Preparations took a little longer. A visit from my cousin made for extra procrastination. Her getting violently ill made for additional interruptions. Finally able to get some sleep at 1am, I was awakened at 3 by the sound of the fire alarm coming from the library. With everyone who lived on campus away on vacation, I knew I needed to go greet the firefighters and make sure that no flames had engulfed the building that housed my internet connection.

But an odd calm came over me, because I knew the motions of preaching. I managed to fake it thanks to having grown up as a preacher's kid. No one seemed to notice that it was my first sermon. Even I hardly paid attention to that. I didn't have time to worry about getting nervous. Between working 20 hours a week for the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, taking a summer class in Pastoral Administration and attempting to have a social life, there just wasn't enough time to agonize over the fact that I was masquerading as a pastor.

In enjoyed the safety of denial until one Sunday when I was visiting a homebound parishioner following church. As we sat in her bedroom the telephone rang. She excused herself and answered it. I could here her greet her friend, then announce in a rather think Brooklyn accent "I can't tawk with you right now. I'm having a visit from my past-a."
I looked around excited at the possibility that a minister would be joining us only make a horrifying discovery: this poor unknowing woman thought that I was her pastor.

Over the course of that summer I continued to act as if I was this congregation's seminarian pastor. The first few weeks were more difficult than then next. Leading worship was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I leading the prayer of confession, and freaked out inside each time I said the assurance of pardon afterwards. The task of proclaiming an entire congregation's forgiveness seemed a little too large for a little mortal like myself. Inside I felt as though I barely had my act together. But fortunately, I was not the one actually doing the forgiving. Once I realized that I had nothing to do with the entire interaction between the individual in the pew and God, it made announcing our forgiveness much easier. I only stated a fact, but God made it all possible. I would have no trouble announcing to a large group of people something as plainly true as the score of the previous night's Yankees game. What was the difference between declaring that truth and proclaiming the truth that God forgives our sins?

The only thing more challenging than the assurance of pardon was saying the benediction. As a child, I remember my Aunt Sue asking my little brother what it takes to be a minister. He immediately responded that being a minister was simple, all you had to do was raise both your arms with two fingers and your thumb stretched out and saying "Go now in peace." In his young eyes, the act of offering a benediction signified the mark of being a minister. And he is right. Ministers are the ones who provide encouragement, comfort, challenge and faith through the act of blessing others. I still tremble inside every time I offer a benediction.

The poor congregation at Flatlands suffered for months with the need of a solid benediction. My fear of being a minister led me to shutter under the task. The end of the service meant a weak, soft-spoken, hesitant blessing from a young seminarian afraid of her task. Sure I said the words, but words alone do not make up the entire task. Finally, a friend of mine visited our service. As we drove back home, she provided me with a critique of my leading worship. While the preaching moved her, she said that the benediction was wholly disappointing. I explained to her that ministers give benedictions and that I was merely a seminarian. Thoroughly unimpressed, she delivered her own sermon. "Listen Ann, you may not think that you're a minister. You may not even like the idea. But like it or not, you are the only one who will give those people a benediction this week. Those people deserve a good blessing, and you're the one who's got to do it. So even if you don't think you're a minister, you're going to have to buck up and benedict. God is depending on it, and so are they!"

That settled the matter. If the congregation needed me to act as if I were their minister, then I would have to do a better job at it. And they needed someone to be their minister. It was just taking them longer than they thought to find someone qualified for the job. By the end of the summer, their pastor search committee decided to forego hiring an interim pastor. They hadn't found anyone available in the area, and rumor had it things were going reasonably well with their seminarian. And so I ended up staying with them for the next year.

The year that I spent with the Flatlands Reformed Church taught me more about ministry than I ever would have learned in a lifetime of classes. Ten thousand books cannot make a pastor, but a congregation of twenty-five certainly went a long way to forming me into a minister. I learned about faith and hope and patience. I learned a lot about patience. Church time runs much more slowly than capitalist time, and it became clear to me that big transformations in the life of a congregation occur slowly, as the result of extremely small, almost invisible changes. The church had developed over the course of 349 years and I could neither kill it nor keep it alive. My job was to serve God by loving the congregation, encouraging them, and allowing them to be themselves.

Loving the people of Flatlands was the easiest assignment I have been given in seminary. They were hungry for love. And I was excited that they allowed me to be their student pastor.

Meanwhile, I actually managed to find the time date someone.
We met during my one-week off for vacation in the summer. She immediately intrigued me because she didn't believe in God, but she enjoyed going to her hippie Anglican church where they drank coffee throughout the service and allowed worshippers to attend with their dogs. I had always wanted to meet a nice Christian woman with whom I could share my faith and my connection to ecclesiastical life. While she might not believe in the words of the Apostle's Creed, at least she liked church, albeit a church with dogs and coffee inside (which, I'll admit was a real challenge to my old school additudes).

Life seemed to make sense during this time. The familiar rhythms of school and work and church on Sunday felt perfect to me. Then it changed. The dating relationship went south, and
within a few weeks, I learned that Flatlands planned to call a full-time ordained pastor to be their minister. While I knew that I still had another year of seminary to go, in the back of my mind I had hoped that perhaps they would keep me on as their minister. Foolish, but reasonable. Heartbreak. Times two.

I did my best to keep things together for the next few months. My best buddy April, the seriously observant Jew, took me out for lunch, invited me for shabbos dinner, answered my instant messages, talked on the phone and basically listened to my ramblings ad nausium. She assured me that there would be another church and another girl. When April needed a break from pastoral care duties, I'd hang out with Chris. I started to run, which felt horrible at first, but provided a great outlet for any excess stress, sadness and anger.

While I may have believed that life would never get better, and proceeded to stomp my feet and act out accordingly, I'm most proud that I don't think my childish mood came out in church. Sunday after Sunday I managed to lead worship and love the congregation with integrity, and with a continued sense of love for the people of Flatlands. April was right, there would be another church and another girl, and I needed to be patient. I also needed to remember that I had a job to do, and a calling to live out and no amount of heartbreak should keep me from doing that.

A few months past, and just as quickly as things had seemed to fall apart, they suddenly changed for the better. April was right. It just took me by surprise. A Sunday school teacher who attended the same church as I did before starting to work at Flatlands left a message for me at work asking if we could meet over coffee and talk about seminary life. Jennifer was interested in attending New Brunswick, but wanted to know more about it. After several scheduling mishaps, we met outside her office in Rockefeller Center on a beautiful day and walked around midtown talking about God, church, seminary and the rest of our lives.

We met again the following week for another midtown walk. The night after she came to visit campus I found an email in my inbox asking if I would like to accompany her to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. "I hear the cherry blossoms are in bloom," she wrote. Immediately I sent an instant message to April and asked her to exegete the email for its deeper meaning. April discerned that a trip to the Botanical Garden most definitely constituted a date.

Meanwhile, several well-meaning members of the Brooklyn Classis began to play their own game of matchmaker. They told me that the small congregation in Greenpoint might need a seminarian. They didn't have much money, but their parsonage was legendary as the most beautiful place in New York. That's at least what they told me. I don't know what they said to the congregation in Greenpoint about me, but I'm sure it wasn't about my legendary beauty.

A few weeks after I spent a Sunday afternoon among the cherry blossoms, I found myself preaching to a small group of faithful folks in North Brooklyn. Supposedly they had a congregational meeting afterwards and agreed to ask me to come and be their seminarian pastor. With only ten folks present, I imagine the meeting was closer to a conversation over coffee and doughnuts. I began on the third Sunday of August. Three people attended church that morning -- including the organist.

Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and suddenly the end of seminary is in sight. Small changes have led to large transformations. I started my second attempt at seminary still wrestling with the trauma of September 11th. It may have been a form of escape from the Wall Street lifestyle, but looking back I can see how the little things have grown. I am completely surprised at the shocking things that God has done with me and for me during this time. Each one of those 53 sermons is one more than I ever imagined preaching, or being allowed to preach. My kidneys have not given out under the strain of all that Diet Pepsi used to fuel late night studying. I haven't gone broke. Instead, I've seen again and again that God is indeed faithful.

Gasp! Stewardship

I've now been the pastor at Greenpoint for two and a half years, and I'll admit that there have been countless moments where I hadn't had a clue about what I was doing. While I excelled at the read the book and write the paper rhythms seminary, and am naturally inclined to understanding the logic and structure of Reformed theology, I am completely out of my league when it comes to revitalizing a congregation. They don't teach you in seminary what you need to know to do this kind of work. A sort list of just a few of the things I've picked up through this "on the job" training:

  • If it's cold inside and the thermostat is set for 68, but there's no heat coming through the radiators, there's something wrong. Don't just think that the problem will go away on its own. Press the red button on the furnace and if nothing happens, call the service people. If it's cold outside, don't delay.
  • You cannot find housing for every homeless person who knocks on your door.
  • When you think that using candy in a children's sermon is a good idea think again. If you must utilize this brilliant idea of yours, make sure to hand the candy out AFTER the children's sermon. Otherwise, chaos will ensue.
There are many more serious moments that I wish I had somehow prepared for in seminary, but who would have every imagined each and every totally bizarre senario? It's impossible, and so I understand that seminaries teach us how to find the answers on our own, and not just what the answers are supposed to be.

One of the prime growth areas for me right now is church administration. And here, I have to say, I could have used a little better preparation. Our congregation has grown to the point where we need to reassess who we are and what we are doing together. For 17 out of the 20 years before I arrived, we hadn't had a pastor. This has meant that we haven't had anyone to guide such a process.

And so I'm fearfully attempting this throughout the coming year. I admit, the idea scares me. It's big and kind of daunting. I'm a consensus kind of gal, and we've been able to operate without much organization because we've been so small. Now, we're in a new phase, one which comes with putting down roots and growing strong.

This past week, I attempted to do something that I've never done before (and I also wasn't taught in seminary). I preached a sermon about stewardship. Now most of you might be scratching your head and wondering "wow, she's been a preacher for over three years and she hasn't once preached on stewardship; what's wrong with this chick!?!?"

Okay, I've sprinkled themes of stewardship in many of my sermons. I preach on money regularly, just not exactly directly calling people to give it to the mission of the church. Honestly, I can say that there was something inside of me that felt the time wasn't right. Initially when I arrived, I knew that all the people in the church were giving everything they could to keep the place open. Now that there are so many new folks, though, that isn't necessarily the case.

I know that when I attended church in college, I would pop a buck or two in the plate and call it good. I wasn't challenged to give, but the church I attended seemed to be well off. In fact, though, I wanted desperately to be challenged to give to God. I may not have articulated it that way, but I wanted it nonetheless.

The time felt right last week for a stewardship sermon. I studied and prayed and worried. I worried a lot about how it would be received. We started with the children's sermon. Jen had decided that we needed offering envelopes (yes, we hadn't had offering envelopes for many years here). She ordered a set of 50, which arrived the week before Christmas. I wrapped the box of them in Christmas paper and left it at the front of the sanctuary.

When the kids came down for the children's sermon, they couldn't help but be curious about the wrapped present. They hunted for a name, but finding none announced that obviously it was for everyone. Then they dove in to open it. Paper went flying all over and suddenly the box was open. The kids started pulling out the little boxes. One announced that they were bricks. Another started reading the outside. They pulled out the individual envelopes and asked what they were. I explained that all our gifts come from God and that the envelopes help remind us to give our gifts back to God each week. One of the kids announced, "oh, well if that's what they are for, then we all need them. Let's pass them out to everyone!" And with that the kids jumped up and passed out the envelopes to every single person sitting in the pews. Then they started listing the people who were missing and setting aside boxes for them.

The whole children's sermon couldn't have been better scripted. The kids really seemed to get it. Obviously, children's sermons at the Greenpoint Church aren't spectator sports. I'm really thankful for this since it allows for a real freedom to deliver the message in unique and new ways.

When it came to the sermon, I prayed just a little harder than usual and then took the leap. Here's the text. I changed it a bit while preaching it, but not much.

I'm not quite sure why I was so worried about preaching such a sermon. Part of it must be that even though I worked on Wall Street and am now a financial writer, I still have the WASPy attitude that you don't talk about money - especially in church. Several of the congregants picked up on this, and I even got teased a bit about it after the service. I think the sermon went well. I, for one, felt inspired to give a little more than I am currently. I truly believe in the mission of the Greenpoint Reformed Church, and I know that God is at work in our congregation. So, as is often the case, at least it was the sermon I needed to hear.

I'm wondering if most pastors have difficulty preaching about stewardship and giving? What kind of resources have you used to help encourage giving in your congregation(s)? Any thoughts or ideas would be really appreciated.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

We mourn the loss

We mourn the loss of those killed in the war in Iraq this week including Americas: William F. Hecker III, Jason Lopezreyes, Robbie M. Mariano, Johnny J. Peralez Jr., Christopher P. Petty, Ryan D. Walker, Stephen J. White, Michael E. McLaughlin, Adam Leigh Cann, Albert Pasquale Gettings, Ryan S. McCurdy, Radhames Camilomatos, Joseph D. deMoors, Douglas A. Labouff, Michael R. Martinez, Clinton R. Upchurch, Jaime L. Campbell, Michael I. Edwards, Jacob E. Melson, Chester W. Troxel, Stuart M. Anderson, Nathan R. Field, Robert T. Johnson, Darren D. Braswell, Kyle W. Brown, Jeriad P. Jacobs, Jason T. Little, Brett L. Lundstrom and Raul Mercado.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Why do you read this blog?

Every once in awhile, I check the logs for this blog and am fasinated by the ways that people visit the site as well as their locations. This got me to wonderin' - why do you read this blog?

I've put together a little poll for you to take. It certainly isn't anything that Gallup would produce, but I'm hoping perhaps you might take the time to click away and let me know why you visit the blog.

Why do you read this blog?
The Greenpoint Church is exciting and entertaining.

Theological reflection on ministry is fasinating.

I want to see if there's anything heretical going on.

An out gay minister? That's great. I can't wait to hear what she's going to say.

Ann doesn't abuse the semicolon; I like that.

Free polls from Pollhost.com

We mourn the loss

I'm finding that many people visit this site because it lists the name of their friend or family member who has been killed in the war in Iraq. To you who visit, please know that our congregation prays for your friend or family member out loud by name during our Sunday worship service. It is only a small way of honoring the life that has been sacrificed in service to our country.


We mourn the loss of those killed in the war in Iraq this past week, including Americans: Richard M. Salter, Isaias E. Santos, Dane O. Carver, Joshua M. Morberg, Lance S. Sage, Aaron M. Forbes, George Anthony "Tony" Lutz II, Prince K. Teewia, Shawn Christopher Dostie, Jonathan R. Pfender, Ayman A. Taha, Marcelino Ronald Corniel, Jason Lee Bishop and Christopher J. Vanderhorn.