Friday, December 19, 2008


From RevGalBlogPals:

It's true.

There are only five full days before Christmas Day, and whether you use them for shopping, wrapping, preaching, worshiping, singing or traveling or even wishing the whole darn thing were over last Tuesday, there's a good chance they will be busy ones.
So let's make this easy, if we can: tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

1. Preach a sermon on Sunday. The bulletins and everything else for morning worship is done. Except for my sermon. But, it's only Friday... I'm going with Isaiah 9:2-7, even though it's technically the Christmas Eve text. We've had a very non-lectionary (and very non-adventy) advent; at least it feels that way to me.

2. Wrap some gifts that we're donating to help a family out in need this Christmas. We're not doing gifts ourselves, but that doesn't mean we can't help out people who really would like presents this year!

3. Decorate/Clean/Make Presentable the House. The Open Parsonage Christmas Thingy is tomorrow and we need to not look completely like poor students with dorm furniture and books and papers everywhere for at least 3 hours. And like Christmas is somewhat around the corner.

4. Put together the Christmas Eve service. Fortunately, the service itself doesn't look too difficult to put together.

5. Make Chex Mix! Christmas isn't Christmas without Chex Mix. Well, that and those nuts in the shell that you crack and are so delicious.

I'm going to take the liberty of adding a bonus question: What is one thing that won't get done before Christmas?

Sending Christmas cards. Again. I'm such a loser. :-P

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I blinked...

...and it was one week to Christmas. How did that happen? The good news is the 30% off a bunch of Christmas decorations from Target and now the house looks like there might possibly be a holiday coming around the corner.

Really, it's been one of those weeks. Since last Friday: A hard death in the life of the congregation, losing power for four days, having some idiot kick up a rubber brick that smashes into your windshield, and cleaning your entire house for the parsonage Christmas open house. Oy. Praise God that professors abound in mercy this time of year - two incompletes - check, check. I can't think about school until after Christmas.

Christmas. I'm not ready for it. For the past eight years I haven't been ready for it. I am convinced that student life is not conducive to a spiritual advent. Well - at least not in how the season is intended. I surely have had a season of hope and expectation and waiting - for these darn papers to be done and the semester to end! Jesus hasn't really entered my thoughts as of late, unless it's in some desperate prayer -- Dear Jesus, please let the lights come back on -- or as some abstract theological concept -- the Jesus-event re-presented in the Communion meal infuses our own moments of becoming...

But Jesus didn't come when the world was ready. One of my (new) favorite poems is from Madeline L'engle called "First Coming." Essentially, God came down when we needed it - not when we were prepared for it. God came down when life was messy, when things were left undone and unsaid, when people were so much in pain they couldn't find God. And so for me this season, Jesus isn't in the pretty snow or the beautiful carols or the decked out house or in the little manger or in the finished to-do list - but Jesus is in the vibrant chaos, the little light beckoning me out of the darkness, the abundant grace I receive each day to keep moving forward. Jesus comes in the midst of my mess - in the midst of the world's mess - to bring hope, light, and peace.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What I Want For Christmas

In recent years, I've honestly been a bit baffled by the consumeristic bruhaha that surrounds the Christmas season. I walked into Michael's craft store the other week and Christmas decorations lined the shelves and it was barely after Halloween. I've already seen countless television ads for Holiday sales and jewelry and cars (because all of us can afford to give our loved one a new car for Christmas, right?), and it all leaves me thinking that somehow, somewhere, we got Christmas all wrong. We get lost in the insanity of the season, thinking that it won't be Christmas without the gifts underneath the tree, the mounds of cookies and goodies, or the ten billion cards we are obligated to send out to our third cousins twice removed we've never met (though - I am planning on doing cards this year!! I swear!!)

Really - It won't be Christmas without Christ. That is sort of the point, isn't it? That Christ came down to be with us - Emmanuel - God With Us. God's presence didn't come with fanfare, with loads of presents or important people. God came in the midst of a scandal - an unwed teen mother who nobody would take in giving birth in the least sanitary of places, who then becomes a refugee in the land of Egypt. Not pristine, not perfect and put together...and not consumeristic.

So why do we celebrate Christmas - Christ's Birth Day - with the giving of gifts when this day signifies the greatest gift of all that any one of us could ever hope to unwrap? When ever gift we get pales in comparison to this wonderful inbreaking of God's radical presence here with us on Earth?

This is why I want something different for Christmas. Sure, it would be nice to get gifts. I can think of a whole slew of things that I want, because there's nothing that I really need. I can also think of really thoughtful gifts to get for my friends and family; things I know that they will like and appreciate. But to me, that isn't the point of Christmas anymore. If Christmas is about God's earth-shattering, power-shifting, turning-the-world-upside-down presence with us - in us - then shouldn't we share that presence with others? Shouldn't that be our gift this season - to be with those who need the gift of presence more than anything else?

So my plan is to do this: instead of giving gifts to people I love, I'm going to give them stories instead. Stories about my encounters with people who need a reminder that God loves them. During this holiday season, I hope to maybe play a little Christmas concert at a nursing home. I hope to pray with people at Ruth's House. I hope to help bring Christmas to a family in need. I hope to pay for someone's groceries. I hope to have people over for dinner. I hope to sit with someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

And I'd like these stories in return. Instead of getting gifts from people, I'd rather that they go out and do likewise in their own communities - to share the gift of presence to those who need it most.

This is a joint venture that I am participating in with another couple - Matt and Farrah - who Ben and I will be joining with in this new ministry venture in Haverhill. Watch the video we put together to see even more reasons why we want to give the Gift of Presence this Christmas season. If you are interested, then please - join us!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Big Fat "F"

Ok, so I fail in writing a post everyday for NaBloPoMo (maybe I would have had a better shot at NaNoWriMo). In any case, life happens and sometimes internet is difficult to find and sometimes...I'm just lazy. There. I confess.

The list of things to do continues to pile up - just like the leaves in our backyard. It's that time of year, afterall. Time to start on the term papers and the stewardship campaign and the planning for Advent and the Christmas cards and the making up of a class from 2 years ago.

So far, I'm surviving. I've lately felt the need to start watching my hours more carefully - both at school and at church. Well, mainly church (to be honest); I could probably afford to spend a little bit more time on some of my schoolwork for certain classes *coughs*UMHistory*coughs*. Not that I'm in danger of earning that Big Fat "F" in that class...but I could invest a bit more of myself there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Missed A Day

Drat. I missed posting yesterday. Really, I have no excuse since it was my day off; or perhaps that is my excuse. I was a blob all day and I loved it. After the long week, I deserved a day where I could shut off my brain and where the hardest decision I had to make was whether or not to watch another episode of Heroes on hulu.com.

This tends to be the pattern of my Sabbaths, for better or for worse. On these days I really lack the energy to do much that is worthwhile. Getting out of bed is a challenge, and usually the pattern of the day is eat...sleep...eat...sleep....eat and sleep some more.

And then the cycle begins all over again. By Monday evening I'm thinking about Tuesday morning and what needs to get packed, which books need to be taken and read by when, what I need to throw in the laundry to be washed for the end of the week, and what we need to eat for lunch the next day.

For the most part, it's a comfortable cycle, although it's hard to focus on church work in NJ and hard to focus on schoolwork in MA. And it all revolves around Monday, my day off, my blessed Sabbath.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Grace Happens

Nothing ever turns out quite like you expect it to. I expected a smooth morning, even though we didn't have the bulletins ready and I needed one final sermon edit. Ben even took over my Sunday School class this morning so that I could have a little more time to format the bulletin and print it off and copy it.

Silly me, I should have realized that this morning drifted closer to the edge of chaos than I had hoped. But somehow, in the midst of it all, grace happened and everything was OK.

First, I didn't get my computer up and ready for the sermon until halfway through the Prayer of Confession. Ben started the service, and I'm sitting on the floor in my robe (thankfully hidden by the choir), praying that my machine doesn't lock up and that everything loaded properly and there were no extraneous programs open. As I'm doing this, I'm highlighting a second copy of my sermon so that Ben knows when to change slides when I'm speaking.

Next comes...hearing the phone ring. Actually, it rang several times during the service (only one was a relevant call pertaining to the baptism). I'm thinking, "shoot! Why today of all days do we have to leave the doors to the sanctuary open???" Admittedly, I made this decision as a way of being hospitable to late-comers. It certainly wasn't the smartest choice to make today.

We also had to do a little shuffling of the service. I do my best when I'm preaching to preach towards the Table, since Communion immediately follows the sermon. So what do you do when the baptism gets moved unexpectedly in between the two? Go with the flow as best as you can. :-) In the end, it worked out very well and we ended up with, according to many denominations, is the "proper" form of celebrating the Eucharist immediately after baptism. Actually, the United Methodist Hymnal actually suggests moving to Communion afterwards as well.

But the baptism itself went well, and the child I baptized looked so adorable in his white tux - and he didn't even fuss at all when I scooped water on his forehead. He took it all in, observing the congregation as I walked him up and down the aisle, showing him his new aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and grandmothers and grandfathers in Christ.

Other things were slightly off kilter as well -- like somehow between last week and this week our last Communion rice cake (for non-gluten eaters)...and then once we sent someone to the store to get one, we forget to put it out. So I have to ask the first person in line during Communion to go back and get the rice cake....

And yet...grace happens.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Saturday Night Fever

No, this isn't the BeeGees, this is the mad dash to the finish line. Worship in t-minus 14 hours, one sermon and one Sunday School class to go. Oh, and one touched-up powerpoint. I'm trying really, really hard not to look beyond Sunday morning to the pile of schoolwork that awaits me after worship (and after my great Patriot escape), and I'm praying that I won't break Sabbath (pray for me!!!!!). Sometimes, we just have a week where we aren't quite dealt enough time to finish everything, no matter how that time gets managed (especially if it gets managed poorly).

In other news, I'll be performing my first infant baptism tomorrow morning, well...my first ever any kind of baptism. I'm wicked excited! I remember my worship professor's words echoing in my ears: "be careful, babies are slippery!"

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quick Update

I'm learning lots of new things here at the New England School of Congregational Development.  Internet time is scarce; apparently the network we could get in our room isn't letting us on anymore, and I'm here stealing a moment or two downstairs before I have to run back up and start editing and working on my sermon.  Yay.


So...Paul Nixon gave some great talks, I learned a lot about small group ministry from a workshop, and we're putting the finishing touches on our presentation on postmodern churches for tomorrow.  Yay!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

2012?

Yesterday's comic from xkcd made me laugh:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Seven Random Things

I was going to write a post sharing some of my pre-sermon thoughts on stewardship, but really...this is way more fun for a daily post. My friend Jen over at Fields of Gold tagged me for this one!

Seven Random Rules

Here are the rules:
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 7 random things about yourself.
Tag 7 people at the end of your post.
Pass on the tag.

7 things:

1. I've never had stitches before. I most certainly plan on keeping it this way, because I get dizzy and nauseous at the slightest hint of pain or any unexpected and new medical procedure. I mean, anyone who faints when she gets eyedrops has a problem. Whenever I have kids, this pain thing is so going to be an issue.

2. I love Gregorian chant, early polyphonic music, and love to sing it. Those who know me well might not be too surprised about this, even though right now, I'm listening to Two Step by Dave Matthews Band. A far cry from chant, but still quite enjoyable.

3. Given a choice between something salty and something sweet, I will more often than not gravitate towards salty. I really don't know why this is the case; maybe because growing up, dessert was never a big thing in my family. Sometimes I fear that I'm losing ground when it comes to my ability to connect with my ice-cream eating relatives... ;-)

4. Not so random, but I procrastinate. Horribly. I think this is because most of the time, I don't actually want to do the work I'm supposed to do. Right now, it's because I have an awful case of "bitter-grad/seminary-student-itis" and because church ministry is way more fun. Or...well, read my intro to this post. Oops.

5. When I get angry, stressed, or irritated, my favorite way to calm myself down is to do housework. It can be cooking dinner, sweeping, doing laundry -- anything. It helps me feel like I have control over something in my life.

6. I want a nose-piercing. I'm waiting for the opportune moment (really, I'm working up the nerve to do it; see #1 above). I've wanted one ever since my freshman year of college (or maybe it was my sophomore year) when I saw my Freshman Fellowship leader with one and it looked just perfect. I'd go for a small stud; I think it would be cute.

7. I love candles, but I never really get around to lighting them. Many years of living under the oppression of college dorms and grad housing made me forget that really, it's OK to light a candle in my own home. Really.

Hmmm. As far as tagging people go, I have no idea who reads this regularly, so I'm going to tag a few folks I think do, and if you aren't tagged, (1) please don't be offended; and (2) consider yourself tagged. And leave a comment if you do this! :-)

1. D.S. Mike

2. Beth Quick

3. Dogblogger

4. Emerging Here

5. Life in the Way

6. Lured to the Journey

7. You!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted

Bright and early at 7 AM this morning, I did my civic duty and voted. Sadly, I didn't get an "I voted" sticker, and I didn't have an opportunity to get my free cup of coffee at Starbucks (not that that's the reason why I voted anyway!) Really, aside from the presidential race (well, in Massachusetts, that's not going to be any surprise) and the three ballot questions (income tax law was the biggie), there weren't very many contested races (like anyone is going to take the senate seat away from John Kerry, and there wasn't anything really in terms of municipal seats).

I was worried about long lines at our polling place. There was only a 10 minute wait (max, maybe it was really more like 5 minutes) and from what I could tell with the comments being made, this was unusual; generally there is no line! I wonder if things changed during the day; basically once we voted we hopped back in the car to zip down to NJ.

Now I'm settling in to watch the returns (and at 10, the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert special on Comedy Central). I always find it amusing that they call states with 10% of precincts reporting; at this point, they've called Kentucky for McCain and New Hampshire for Obama. And it's fun to hop around to different stations to see the slants and the biases and the different numbers...and all the different senate and house races that get examined and

We're having a little Election get-together to watch the results and commiserate or celebrate together. My plan is to stay up to see someone declared president. Perhaps it'll take a long time, or maybe not. But it should be fun nevertheless!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What a Marriage is Made Of

I woke up last night around 3 AM to the sound of my dear husband getting ready to go out. My mind was rather foggy, but he mentioned something about his stomach not feeling well and that he was going out to get some antacid and some ginger ale to help settle it. That was before he ran back to the bathroom. Still dazed, I got out of bed and decided that I would go out instead. So I trudged out to the car, drove to the 24-hour CVS down the road, purchased more medication than was probably needed, and came back to the house.

When I came back, he was still feeling pretty awful. I suppose I could have easily gone back to bed, but I decided to stay up with him. In those moments, I realized that being married is about the good warm fuzzies, and cuddling on the couch, and all that wonderful stuff. But, it's also about being up with your spouse when they're sick as a dog...and even though you can't really do anything to help them, your presence is enough.

Today I've been waiting on him hand and foot (for the most part...he surprised me by doing some cleaning while I was out on a walk!). I must admit, I enjoy taking care of him (not to say I'm having fun at his expense!).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints Sunday

One of my favorite "holidays" in the church year is All Saints Day/Sunday. It gives me and everyone a chance to remember the people who have made a difference in our lives; both those who are still alive today and those who have gone before us. Today in worship we emphasized the latter; the congregation has gone through a major grieving period and I felt it was important to acknowledge this and remember the names of all of those people who were special to us who have passed away. We set up a card table with a whole bunch of tealights and after a short meditation, I invited folks to come forward and name a saint and say a word or two about that person. It was truly amazing to see the number of people come forward and - as was later told to me - have the picture on the rotating powerpoint often be that same person being lifted up as the candle was lit.

I know I am surrounded by saints all the time. My cloud of witnesses is big. I shared yesterday some pictures of my grandfather - who was probably the most loving and patient man I have ever met. The picture of him with a bird perched on his finger says it all; being able to hold still long enough and be so peaceful for such a length of time as to allow a bird to feel safe enough to land on his finger is a feat in and of itself! I remember dancing around in the smoke of his pipe, chasing it around and enjoying the smell of it. I remember when I would go shopping with my grandparents; my grandmother and I would be halfway through the store and Papa would still be wandering around, taking time out to look at different things and be curious about them - didn't matter what it was! I remember his messy workbench with wires and half-open electrical contraptions strewn about. I also remember all of his gadgets that he had throughout the house (mostly in the basement, though!) - like a pair of dolphins rotating around in a circle, powered by the induced current a changing magnetic field makes.

Sometimes I feel bad for not having the opportunity to get to know him better. We lived so far away and we only got to see him and Nammie about once a year; twice if we were lucky! But I know he continues to watch me as I grow...and I hope that he can be proud of me! (I'm sure he is, but...yeah. :-) )

Saturday, November 01, 2008

NaBloPoMo

So, it's National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), and I've decided to do this instead of NaNoWriMo, largely because being a pastor and being a seminary student means I have lots to write without adding the extra pressure. I already blog, and I'd like to become more consistent about it so...there we go. NaNoWriMo is on my horizons for next year though, once I don't have at least 20 pages to write and research for class. I'll still have the sermons, but those can be managed. Mostly.

Honestly, right now I am procrastinating. I'm preaching tomorrow - well, really it's a meditation for All Saints Sunday. My plan is to give a short message about the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, then give people an opportunity to share stories about the saints in their lives that have gone before, complete with candle lighting and pictures. I hope it will be powerful; our church community has recently gone through a lot of grief and loss, and the aim of this is to provide a way for the whole church to remember together both the saints of the church and the saints in our own lives that have impacted and made a difference to us.

I can think of several people who have been saints to me. Some I have already wrote about, like Hillie Cass (and a wee bit about her husband Malcolm in there). But as I put together my service powerpoint, I thought a lot about my grandfather (whose picture us below).


"His eye is on the Sparrow, and I know He watches me."

More thoughts to come about my grandfather...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ok, I have to be honest. I haven't been updating recently, not because I've been insanely busy, not because I haven't had anything to write about, not because the threat of impending term papers are starting to loom dangerously on the horizon and I've been frantically researching and exerting my creative writing energy in that general direction. No, I've been lax in my blogging because...of Twilight.

I must confess, I am obsessed. This past weekend I devoured not only the last two books in the saga, but the unfinished 5th book available on Stephanie Meyer's website. My obsession is so bad, I've even started dreaming in the Twilight world. No, my husband is not figured as Edward Cullen and I am not Isabella Swan, but vampires of a benevolent sort walk around in my dreams. I think usually I am one (but I never get around to hunting).

I don't know why these books hold such a fascination for me. Maybe because I'm not that far out of high school and teenage emo drama sucks me in. Maybe I've harbored a secret desire for a vampire boyfriend all my life without knowing it (sorry, Ben). Maybe I just need a new viable world to escape into from time to time.

Whatever the case, I'm hooked. So hooked, that I'm drooling over the movie release in November, have downloaded Twilight wallpaper for my laptop, and Ben's making fun of me for my obsession (though he's reading the books too, so...there.)

So for anyone who hasn't read these books - read them. They're fun, light, and easily devourable (even the longer ones).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

End of the Week

You know how most people look forward to Fridays? To the end of the work week and to a little bit of R & R on the weekend?

That's how I feel about Mondays, my blessed day of rest. Especially on Saturday nights, especially on those Sundays before I preach. Not that I don't enjoy worship, and leading a congregation. But on Saturday night, Sunday looms large on the horizon. I want my sermon finished, the bulletins done, my things for Sunday gathered neatly by the door (because if I don't do it, I'll forget them), the powerpoint finished with the perfect images...and the list goes on.

It's on Saturday nights that I'm struck by the incredible amount of energy that goes into the Sunday morning "event." It's the culmination of the pastor's work week; everything that has gone before has led up to getting ready for that one hour (or hour-and-a-half) on Sunday. Half of our "half-time" status at this church goes into thinking about and planning for worship. And it's on nights like these when I wonder if is really how things should be.

Why is it that the bulk of our time goes into preparing worship and not going out into the community, meeting people, making disciples, forming leaders, equipping the laity? How come so much of what we do is performance based rather than relational? Sunday morning worship rarely facilitates relationship - with God for some, with other people not at all.

But for now, it's about the Sundays and the Saturday nights and looking forward to the Mondays.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Baby Squirrel!

I love fall. There's just something in the air and in the changing of the leaves that makes me glad I'm alive. Last week in NJ, we had a few beautiful autumn days that weren't too cold and so I decided that it would be a sin to study indoors. Drew has a beautiful patio with tables and chairs and a nice sitting wall around a small garden and a fountain, and this was the perfect spot to do a bit of reading before my 4 PM class. Several others had decided that such a spot would be the perfect place to study, and all was going well...until a few of us got distracted by squeaking coming over by the tree. Curious, I drifted over to the sitting wall (along with another student), and discovered two adorable baby squirrels chasing each other around the tree. I got out my camera to take a few pictures, and as I did so, one of the squirrels became just as curious about me as I was about it! It came right over and was trying to climb the short wall, but it wasn't able to make it over the lip. It clung there instead, and I was able to get this great picture that I wanted to share with all of you:



More cute squirrel pics:




Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Back to Blogging

Blogging for me is a spiritual discipline.  As I've been studying the life of Wesley and his use of a journal these past few weeks in my online United Methodist History class, I've been reminded how useful for me it is to have a record of not just how I've spent my time, but my reflection on and interpretation of those things that are happening, either in the world or in my life.


Granted, a blog belongs in the public sphere and so not everything can be shared.  But a good part of it can be, and I've found that it really does help me process and fit different pieces of my life and faith together.  It also shows me how much I need to start up a paper journal again as well (if my hand has the strength to write for that long!).

Therefore, I am going to be more intentional in sharing my thoughts and reflections, even in the midst of school, church, commuting, learning about Haverhill, and all the other busy things that clutter my life.  I'll post something at least once per week, hopefully twice.   

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Value of a Nickel

The church I serve is across the street from the city's poorest and most dangerous sections; the small part, as the previous pastor told us, gives the city it's bad reputation. Because of our location, we get phone calls once in awhile about people asking for help with groceries or with food. I have to guess that we get more calls then actually make it through to us; since we're not in the office on a consistent basis, I'm sure there are people who call and who don't leave a message. We do maintain a small food pantry that the church goes through every once in awhile to make sure the cans haven't expired, and there are a few folks who donate food to us to keep it stocked. While certainly not put to its best use, it serves a function in the community and there are people who need a bag or two of groceries to tie themselves over until their next pay check comes in who are able to find what they need.


One of my first experiences helping someone out came a few weeks ago. A woman called the church after our Sunday worship service and explained that she needed a gallon of milk for her kids, and explained the circumstances surrounding that need. I told her to come on down to the church and I'd be there with milk for her and her family. I dashed down the street to the Walgreens to get some in time for her arrival. By this time, most of the church folk had left except for my husband and I and some others who were cleaning up after coffee fellowship.

Several minutes later, she arrived bringing her daughter with her and I gave her the milk and showed her back to our small food pantry in case there was anything else she needed. This girl - probably about six or seven - was the most extroverted, loving, joyous, and friendly little girl I have ever seen. Everything in the church she approached with an inquisitive spirit -- "let's see this!" or "can I play with this?" or spontaneously giving hugs to those she saw. I have to say that I was quite enchanted by her spirit of love and acceptance to everyone and her exuberance for life.

While I was showing her around and sharing toys with her, she impulsively decided to share something with me. She was showing off her purse and I was admiring it and wanted to show me what was inside. She pulled out three quarters and one nickel. I admired how much money she had, and she smiled up at me and took a quarter and put it into my hand. "This is for you!" she exclaimed. I was taken aback and a more than a little unsure as to how to respond. After all, this kid I had barely met, whose family was facing difficult economic times, had just given me a significant amount of the money she had to her name. I shook my head and told her she should keep it, but she wouldn't hear of it. Finally, she allowed me to exchange the quarter she had given me for her nickel.

I continue to ponder this unusual exchange. Part of me feels like I should have kept the quarter she had so generously given - like the woman who places all she has into the Temple treasury in Mark 12:38-44, this girl had freely given away her money without question -- in this case to a complete stranger! A quarter, to this little girl, is a lot of money, but she still wanted to give it away to share what she had with me.

The nickel I kept currently sits on my dresser as a reminder of this exchange. It reminds me that even when we have little, we are called to give. It reminds me that a tithe is only a starting place and that we are called to go above and beyond to be good stewards of the resources that God has given us. It reminds me that all that we have and all that we are are to be used at God's disposal. It reminds me that even in these tough economic times, it's no excuse to cut God out of the equation.

I believe that this girl gave me more than just a nickel that day; she taught me a powerful lesson on what it means to give no matter where we are in life, no matter what our circumstances, and no matter how much we think we have that's of worth.

(image from http://http://www.coinfacts.com/nickels/jefferson_nickels/1971_No_S_Jefferson_Nickel_Obverse.jpg)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Wet

Do any of you older and wiser and more experienced pastors have any advice to give a newbie on how to go about a pre-baptismal meeting? In your experience, what has been the line for pastoral concern vs. baptism as a act of worship in community, especially when it comes to issues of public/private baptism?

On a more basic level, what are the things you tend to cover when you schedule an appointment for folks to come in and talk about baptizing thier child? Materials/handouts you have available? Going over the liturgy and what it means?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Taste of Community

This semester, I'm going to get a little taste of what living in community is going to be like. Ben and I are going to be staying with our dear friends Matt and Farrah for one night each week when we stay in NJ for classes. It'll be great...but we're going to have to discipline ourselves in order to get work done, else we're just going to talk, talk, talk until the wee hours of the morning!

I know that I'm looking forward to what living in community is going to look like once we're all graduated and situated together up in Massachusetts. I dream of a common prayer life together, meals together, conversations together, game nights together...and figuring out life together. In many ways, it will be like getting married all over again as we negotiate conflicts and figure out what works and what doesn't and how we live together.

But for now, I'll have to be content with these little bite-sized tastes before we dive into the full-sized meal!

Monday, August 25, 2008

This past Saturday, Len Sweet came and spoke to a gathering of New England United Methodist about ministry in this new culture, and about how to navigate the Perfect Storm of postmodernism, post-Christendom, and post-scale. I'll admit, it was nice to have one of my favorite professors on my home turf and experiencing good New England culture, and it was great that some folks up this way could start getting a handle on how we can enjoy the ride as we face these opportunities for ministry here in New England.

One of the metaphors we played with was that of a football team. A football team needs to huddle before a play to make sure everyone is on the same page and ready for the play. The point of the huddle is to make it as quick as possible because the point of the game is to move the ball downfield to score a touchdown, and you can't do that if you are spending all of your time in the huddle.

Within this metaphor for the church, we definitely have a huddle situation; so much so that I think we've forgotten that there's a game going on. It reminds me of watching T-ball, where adorable kids sit in the outfield, making dandelion chains for each other, totally oblivious to the face that there's a game out there that they're playing. When the ball comes their way, they seem surprised, and not quite sure what to do with it. Or when a kid gets a great hit and is a bit astonished and everyone starts yelling "go home!" what does she do but...start running home instead of toward home plate.

We've got to get our heads back in the game -- go back to the play book (no...that doesn't mean the Book of Discipline) and get our signals straight from the coach. That is, if the church wants to continue playing on the field.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Balance

I like to think sometimes that I have a wide fan-base who wait with bated breath for every new post...but who am I kidding? Right now I'm posting because at heart, I am forever a procrastinator -- not because you are particularly interested in what I have to say right now.

I've been back from vacation for a few days now, and am starting to wonder how the heck I'm going to manage seminary and church and commuting this next year. I ordered books yesterday, and it was like my eyes were opened: "Shoot! I really am going back for another year! Dear Lord..." I still haven't managed to finish my incomplete class this summer, and am half-tempted just to retake it. Bleah. My advice to all of you: never, ever take an incomplete if you can help it.

After seven weeks of ministry, I've realized just how much you have to do in a church. There's work, and then there's....work. On the one hand, there's the Sunday morning ritual and preparing for that, the meetings to go to and the pushing paper around. On the other hand, there's getting folks motivated to study the Bible, to follow Jesus more passionately, to take their discipleship to the next level. I'm struggling to keep the balance tipped more in the latter direction than the former. It sounded so much easier to do in theory than in practice.

Part of it may just be a function of my own level of intense discipleship. I'll admit, some days it's all I can do to get through saying the morning offices instead of praying for the city, my congregation, and my world. And some weeks, my personal Bible study is limited to what I do for sermon prep (which, as they teach us in seminary, is perfectly alright, but I beg to differ). And I have yet to dig myself deeply into the fabric of this community, though both Ben and I have had some great conversations with a few of the local small business owners.

It's a process, of course, but I'm impatient. So is Ben, which makes putting things into perspective difficult. So I'm left with trying to channel this impatience into prayer and into something constructive as we get to know our congregation and this city that God has called us to. I fear that seminary is going to be one more thing to get in the way (time-wise and otherwise) of what God is trying to do through us.

So we'll be juggling a church plant, seminary, church, and sabbath this year. Pray for us!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Olympic Christians

As I prepare my sermon on Matthew 13:44-46 (the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price), my mind keeps getting drawn to the Olympics. In Beijing, athletes from around the world will gather to push themselves to their limits in order to compete for their country, and bring home the gold. Many competitors have been training for this one event for their whole lives, working with single-minded passion and determination to make the cut, make their country's team, and win it all. The gold medal for these people is their pearl of great price, something they've sacrificed for and worked for in an effort to attain.

What is our pearl of great price? What drives and motivates us? Many would say our families, perhaps our jobs or success. But what about the kingdom? How many of us would be willing to sacrifice like that for the kingdom of God - to make God's dream for this world become a reality? Do any of us have that single-minded devotion that drives and compels us to serve God and neighbor with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

But I think that there's more than just this focused drive to achieve that spurs the Olympic athletes on toward winning the prize. There's a love of the sport involved. They enjoy what they do because it brings satisfaction and joy. There's beauty to it as well that motivates their efforts to achieve.

Pearls in ancient Palestine were appreciated not just for their value, but also for their beauty. It's not just that we are driven by need or calling to bring forth God's dream for the world, but that there is something inherently beautiful in it; that God seeks human efforts - as broken and messed up as we are - to create a world characterized by joy, peace, mercy, justice, and love. There is beauty in touching and transforming the life of another, in witnessing two old friends having coffee together, a child playing with her friends, or a man stopping to talk with a homeless person. There's beauty in the small acts that show how God's dream is working to make all things new.

So there is the value of the kingdom - something we are called to invest ourselves in fully, orienting our lives completely around God and neighbor; and something deeply beautiful in being able to witness to and participate in God's designs for creation.

I think we're called to be Olympic Christians - striving and training and giving all we have so that God's dream for the world can come true and appreciating the beautiful ways God works in us and in others to make this a reality.

Both strands are probably too much for one sermon, but we'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

In church this morning, Ben led a community exegesis of the Good Samaritan text, and then we did a little skit modernizing the characters. We took the new characters from the suggestions of the congregation:

The Jericho Road? I-495

Priest and Levite: a respected member of our church community and Jimmy Carter

The Samaritan: Manny Ramirez (though it was between him, Derek Jeter, and we heard some people suggest A-Rod as well).

Only in Massachusetts....

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Friends? Please?

So - question for those of you who have been pastors for awhile...or just know how to get out into a community:

How do you make friends with people your own age when the city doesn't seem to offer any services for that demographic (especially when you aren't living where the young adults are)? Do you just hang out a lot at coffee shops and pray someone sits down at the table next to you and is reading something interesting? Do you go to the music events and hunt people down? Do you scour facebook for people living in your area and pounce on likely candidates and scream, "I need friends!!!!!"?

Ben and I went out last night; the local arts district was holding a mini-street festival of sorts. The stores were open, there was a band playing (although they bowed out early since they had a more important gig elsewhere), and there was food and ice cream. Some folks were dancing in the streets, having a great time. But most people came in groups, so there wasn't a chance to really mingle and get to know folks.

So far, our best time of connecting with people has been the shopkeepers in the downtown. We go in, talk about how we're new to the area, and most of the folks have been very willing to help us out, get us oriented to the community and whatnot. Perhaps the next question to ask these people would be - "what is there to do to meet people my own age here?"

Perhaps I'll have to make "making friends" a spiritual discipline...

Friday, July 25, 2008



I was driving home from having dinner with my father-in-law at their house (and getting a few bags of fresh garden veggies too!) when I noticed in the fading sunlight the forms of flamingos approaching. "Huh," I thought, "I don't remember there being any flamingos in our neighbor's yard." Except...it wasn't the neighbor's yard. It was my front lawn, littered with very pink flamingos. I guess Westwood has paid me back for all the flamingo flocking I inflicted on the city this past spring as the youth group raised money for Nothing But Nets. Never thought it would happen...but then again, Westwood has a few sneaky and devious people who would do such a thing when they're up in the Massachusetts area!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"In fact, New England leads the country in ice cream consumption per capita."

Enough said.

(found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New adventures

I have to wonder if it is the experience of every new pastor to have at least one situation come up within the first couple weeks that (1) is common enough that other pastors have dealt with something similar but that (2) is uncommon enough that it isn't covered by what an average person normally thinks of when considering parish ministry. My gut instinct tells me that this happens to a good number of green pastors - or maybe I just don't want to be one of the isolated few.

So I spent a good part of the afternoon in the office, mentally and spiritually preparing myself - mostly trying to assure myself that I looked (and felt) pastorly, that I was there to listen and ask questions, and that soon, it'd be over and I could go home to continue working on my sermon for Sunday (which is still, at this hour, very much in process). I also chatted with the copier repairman, who is a very friendly fellow and helped acquaint me to the heavy-duty-more-copier-than-we-need copy machine (it's very, very nice).

So the appointed time rolled around, the copy machine man gone, and...nothing. No one. I waited. Still, no one drove into the parking lot. I don't think anyone even drove by the church on the side streets while I waited in the church office, checking Facebook every two or three minutes to occupy my time.

The end of the story? I went home, frustrated that I spent all this time preparing for the meeting while I could have been writing my sermon while I was in the office. But, also glad to have meet the copier man, who gave some tips on people to meet in the area. And also glad I spent some time getting things together for this meeting; I'm sure it will prove to be very useful somewhere down the line.

And I'm sure there'll be something unexpected to deal with next week.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Settling In

The house is mostly unpacked, thanks to the many people - family, friends, and churchfolk - who came over last Tuesday to help get our house in order. The downstairs is fully done, while the upstairs...well, let's just say you don't want to peek inside our guest bedroom. But other than that, we have a functional house with a few charming oddities and quirks that give it some character. For instance, one of the rooms has windows that overlook the stairwell. We also have what is called a "sleeping room" off of the master bedroom. Apparently, many houses built in the early 20th century had them since there were no air conditioners. It's a room with small windows about bed-height placed all about the room. They're under the eaves, so the sun doesn't heat them, and they help improve circulation for those hot summer nights. Pictures will be forthcoming!

We're also settling in to being pastors of a church - learning about where things are kept in the office, getting to know the community both in and outside the church, and exploring the area. So far, things have gone remarkably well, and we didn't make complete fools out of ourselves the first Sunday (leave it to this coming Sunday, where I'm the one who gets to preach!) In any event, I already have meetings with folks scheduled for tomorrow, a sermon to write, VBS to look after, calls to make, hymns to pick...on top of changing addresses, drivers license, etc...

But today is my day off for the week, so enough of that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I spent a delightful day down in Boston with Ben and the in-laws touring the Boston Science Museum. I hadn't been there for several years, but it was fun to go through some of the familiar exhibits and feed the part of my brain that is still in love with math and physics (and wonders why I left it in the first place).

My favorite exhibit is probably the one dedicated to mathematics, but close behind are the electricity presentation (and playing with eddy currents), the butterfly garden, the cotton-tailed monkeys, and all the fun interactive stations on the lower level. Currently, they have a special exhibit on baseball with all sorts of neat historical artifacts and information...and Curt Schilling's bloody sock from the 2004 World Series. Not nearly as cool or as historic as the bloody garment Gandhi was wearing when he was assassinated that I saw in India, but neat nonetheless.

I am going to love being this close to Boston. We'll be a train-ride away on the commuter rail, and for some of the other attractions, driving into the city won't be too difficult (New Jersey driving has made me rather fearless). There are all sorts of things I would love to do: the Aquarium, Museum of Art, the Children's Museum, catch a few shows, etc... I hope that we get to go into Boston at least once a month.

In the spirit of the science-y day I had, I leave you with a webcomic from xkcd:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Alive. I think.

I blinked, and a month has flown by without me really being aware of it. Finishing up at Westwood, moving in with the in-laws, local pastor's licensing school, annual conference, and catching up with life have occupied my time since the end of May. But now, Ben and I are on vacation before July 1st comes and we are the official pastors of the Good Shepherd UMC in Haverhill, MA and we move into the parsonage.

I'm excited about going into ministry and stepping out for the first time "on my own", so to speak. I'm also, frankly, terrified. I know I'll make mistakes (as will Ben), and I know I'll be busy balancing ministry with school and rest and church planting. But it will be good.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An appointment!

Here is why I'm in the midst of so many transitions right now: Ben and I have an appointment up in New England! We are going to be the pastors at Good Shepherd UMC in Haverhill, MA! Everything is pretty frantic as we try to get all of our paperwork together, finish papers for seminary (but fortunately that's done), and...move out by May 31st. Our lease runs out at the end of the month, and we're going to be living with Ben's parents for a bit before we can move into the parsonage. We're renting a big huge moving truck and heading back north.

I'm really looking forward to pastoring this church. The community seems really wonderful, and honestly, I am looking forward to being back in New England. We still have one more year left at Drew, and so commuting for that year isn't going to be so much fun, but there are two of us. And lots of podcasts we want to listen to. :-)

I'm sad leaving my current church. Westwood has been a great place for me to learn and grow, and they will always have a special place in my heart.

So that's my bit of news!

Friday, May 02, 2008

I've reached an impasse with my sermon. This is one of those that is struggling to be born, and I haven't had the energy or the willpower to bring it into the world yet. I have two and a half pages, and a few thoughts. I know where I want it to go; just need to see if I can get it there or if God wants something else preached.

I'm looking at John 17 - the whole chapter. I'm struck by how many times during this last prayer Jesus prays "that they may be one as we are one." This oneness has a purpose: so that the world may know of God's love - it's not unity for unity's sake. It's not even about agreement - Jesus didn't pray that the disciples should agree or believe the same things...but that they might be one. That we may be one.

This is the nugget I'm trying to draw out. I'm using General Conference as an example of the apparent disunity of the UMC - the protests and fighting and lack of consensus about issues that deeply divide the church. But deep down...we are still one. We are all still in Christ. We may not understand it. We may not even like it. But we're one...and that means we need to act like it. It doesn't mean that suddenly everyone has to agree, but it means that we have to love our neighbors and each other, transcending disagreements, and look to Christ which binds us together. Perhaps I'll add a bit of Wesley's "A Catholic Spirit" in there.

Arg, but it just isn't coming! Fortunately, I have one more day...

Part of the Ascension Day Scripture from Acts 11 contains this promise from Jesus;

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Then he was taken from their sight into the clouds, two angels appeared and instructed the probably bewildered disciples to go back to Jerusalem, where they began to wait and to pray for the gift Jesus had promised.

Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can be filled with anticipation or anxiety....

So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others? Well, I really hate praying aloud (a not so great thing for a pastor, I know), but I pray silently better when there are others around. It helps keep me accountable and focused. Plus, I love the feeling of corporate silence rather than solitary silence (though that's nice on occasion too).

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety? I tend not to wait well. I suppose it's a mix of both...but it really depends on what I'm waiting for.

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise? Yes! I knew far before my husband did that God had planted something between us.

4. Do you prefer stillness or action? Stillness, for the most part.

5. If (and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to receive? Perhaps this isn't quite a spiritual gift, but I would love to have the gift of extroversion.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dragging My Feet

I've been so out of touch this semester. I haven't read any blogs, even those that I've really, really wanted to. I haven't talked with friends in ages. I need to get off my lazy butt and call people, e-mail people, write to people, but I'm so tired. Just...tired. And many changes are coming.

I can't write about all of them yet - everything will be official down on this end in a couple of weeks. But it means these next two months will be frantic and hectic, with one small window for a week's vacation. We hope to visit relatives, but honestly, part of me hopes we become vegetables and I have the chance to set the "reset" button.

I've blogged (a little bit) more on http://melissa.bechurchne.org, but I want to play around with the format more. I'm strange like that -- I can't write or put my words out there if I don't have a suitable design or space for it. I'm getting twitchy about redesigning the website (again) because I think there are areas for improvement. Maybe if I redesign it I'll want to blog there more...

...or maybe I'll start all over again. Hah! There's the procrastinator in me talking. I've got a sermon for this Sunday (on Unity of all things...how the heck am I supposed to preach on Unity after General Conference?). I also have a paper for UM Doctrine and Polity on the decline of the Methodist class meeting and how such a system can be reincorporated into church life (my choice of topic). And then a final project for Sweet. And then Matt and Farrah's wedding. And then more sermons and Annual Conference and stuff...

...there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it isn't a train. I keep having to tell myself that.

So I don't know what has made me so relationally out of touch this past semester. Perhaps I'm settling in tooooo well to married life. Perhaps it's because this church planting thing is starting to take off (I can't remember how many flash trips to New England the four of us made this semester). No matter. I can just try to be better.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Random Thought

Breakfast this morning with Len Sweet made me think about something.

What if the best preparation for this new kind of church plant we want to do isn't taking a quarter time church or working in a church plant or anything like that...

...but rather working as a barista at Starbucks?

(I have a problem with the fact that they don't have free Wi-Fi, but the question remains...substitute any good coffee shop for Starbucks).

What do you think?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Culture Shock 101

2nd semester is well underway here at Drew, and memories of India are fading fast. I know many people experience culture shock upon returning to the United States after they have visited a poorer country, and to a certain degree I resonate with that experience. What I didn't expect was how quickly I reacclimated to our consumeristic culture. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was flat on my back for a few days with a severe cold right after getting back from India, but if I'm honest with myself I know it's an excuse.

I've struggled with this aspect of American life for awhile -- the materialism, the emphasis on consuming goods -- and I was disheartened by seeing aspects of this bleeding over into India. Not that globalization hasn't done some good for the Indian economy, but there are terrible costs as well. With the matter of clean drinking water, I heard one economist say, "If the government can't provide clean drinking water, then what is wrong with Coca-cola coming in to supply that need?" On the flip side, this increasing privatization of public services is adversely affecting the poorest of the poor - those in rural villages and those in the urban slums.

It's not enough to try to be better. Of course, this is a step in the right direction, but by trying to live more ethically in this materialistic, consumeristic culture we are still participating in a system that hurts those who can't do anything about it. What would it look like for us to drop out of the system all together, or to buy from local businesses with ethical practices? To grow our own foods or buy locally, to shop at goodwill or the salvation army for clothes instead of driving out to the mall, to go to the library for books and music (or going to a used book store) instead of buying them new? What would it look like to cut down on what we bought every month, especially if we really didn't need it in the first place? Essentially, what would it look like for a significant number of people to be one level removed from all of this craziness?

I hope that this church plant can be a model for this kind of living, but I know that my husband and I need to make improvements in our life together first. There's a lot we can do before we're close to where we want to be: eat more simply, buy used products, consume less. In fact, we're going to try something different. We're going to not buy anything new (aside from things like lightbulbs or underwear or food...things you need to buy new) until Pentecost. Anything new will have to be given as a gift. It should be an interesting experiment, and one that we would love to get others in on! If you're interested in journeying with us, pray about it and leave a comment!

[Note: Increasingly, I will be posting more often on my new blog site: http://melissa.bechurchne.org. To see the posts of the whole community together, check out http://bechurchne.org/blog/. I'll still be using this site, but we'll see what it morphs into!]

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

We've arrived safely in India, and have spent the past few days in the Bangalore area. We stayed at the Fireflies Ashram, a place that is dedicated to being an interface between the sacred and the secular in India. They are interfaith, but primarily Hindu. Much of our time there was spent getting over jet-lag, though we visited the Mysore palace and a 13th century Hindu temple in some remote village, in addition to a cow ashram and a lecture at United Theological College in Bangalore.

I don't know hoy I am going to assemble all these experiences and pieces of information together. So much has happened in only three days, and there's so much to reflect upon: poverty, the expanding middle class, different cultural understandings, awkward bathrooms....the list goes on!

So I'm going to try and update when I can, but the internet isn't very fast, the computers are slow, and we get limited time at internet cafes. Plus, writing e-mails to Ben is a priority. :-)

Until next time....