Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

That's the United Methodist slogan now. And all of us are struggling with the ins and outs of it. But tonight was the Trustees meeting and one of the questions we are asking is what if the doors are too open? Can they be too open? We have someone sleeping out back who has, we think, been coming in when folks come in for classes, then disappearing somewhere and once the classes leave can then stay in the church. This is a constant struggle for almost every church there is. When do we help, when do we refer, when do we chase away? Every once in a while there are some easy answers in this conversation, but not very often and when there are easy answers, there are usually lot of pain somewhere in the mix.

We know that all of us are going to have to be more diligent about locking doors and checking in building - always in pairs, please. Safety and protecting children is a high priority. But often there is no real danger and most of the time someone hurting and needing care which we may or may not be able to give. All this mixed up with a new pastor who doesn't know the services available yet. It is a good problem to face and I think we will find God in lots of places as we struggle with the questions.

Ted Rule for the Spiritual Journey #764 Open your heart wherever there is someone in trouble, always let it in, never grow callous to the needs of those around us, but But BUT only do what God calls us to do. There are more needs in the world than we can ever solve, but Jesus calls us to live in compassion -- ALWAYS. Whatever answers Christians have to give in the world come compassionate, risking hearts. But, we can't do everything. Which leads us straight to the question: what does God want us to do? Good thing for Trustees to discern wouldn't you say.

What do you think we should do?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our Book

Jim preached a wonderful sermon this morning. Oh, I know he said that he was just talkin' but if sermons are just for preachers, then he's a preacher. We got a tour around the Bible, some of his favorite parts, an encouragement to question as we search together the mysteries in the Bible, a model for a life-long study of the Bible and then an encouragement on how to live from Michah 6. "What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." And another from Matthew 7, "Ask and the door shall be opened, seek and you will find."

Jim came on the heals of two ordained preachers guest preaching at our church, a DS with a pile of years of experience, and another retired preacher with another pile of years of experience, and he could not have preached with better style, depth of understanding of the scriptures or a good healthy dose of God's Word.

Not that long ago, I heard another Jim, and a Mike, preach on the essentials of the Bible, and they both look a similar scope of the Bible and used some of the same scriptures to lift up three "Greats" in the Bible. (Jim Griffith and Mike Slaughter, a church start consultant and pastor of the vibrant Ginghamsburg, Ohio UMC).
  1. The Great Commandment: (Deuteronomy 6) "The Lord your God is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." Later on Hillel and Jesus will add "and love your neighbor as yourself".
  2. The Great Requirement: (Jim's Micah passage) to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly.
  3. The Great Commission: (from Matthew 28) "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations".
Tell us what you took away Sunday from Jim's sermon.
Thank you Jim.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mapping Change

Church Council met on Tuesday and we began what will be an ongoing discussion about change. That, largely, is the purpose of this blog -- to look at the most essential elements of the church and discuss change. It has to be a conversation, or, in the best of the Wesleyan tradition, a holy conferencing.

The Annual Conference is using Dan Dick's book, "Vital Signs", to help set some parameters for revitalizing the church. We all took the survey in the book with our best guesses for the answers for now. In the next couple of weeks, we will do some research and find out what the real answers are.

Vital Signs looks at two factors for revitalizing churches, growth and stability and maps a church on this spectrum.

Now, we were just doing our best guesses on Tuesday night, but if they prove true, then we chart at about the "y" in decaying, meaning both unstable and declining (plot point -3.1,-.8) in averages tallied ably by Nick at the meeting -- thank you Nick. The quadrants are:
  • Decaying: both declining and unstable. 51% of the churches in his study fit into this area, and since half the churches in this Conference are under 85 in worship attendance. Stressed leadership and finances leads to an inward looking church.
  • Dystrophic: growing but unstable, these churches may offer lots of services to a bunch of folks but have a hard time keeping track of everyone.
  • Retrogressive: stable but declining, these churches are often transitional and have limited their focus to be manageable as they decline, or to focus their energies as they are growing from declining congregations.
  • Vital: growing and stable, they tend to define membership in terms of the ministries offered.
Follow the link to a nice summary article on this by Susan Hansen.

Tuesday night we began to talk about two questions: who does God want us to serve in Fortuna, and are we ready to care for those God sends?

Where do you think we are in growth and in stability? Do you have some advice for the Council?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finding Our Own Prayer

A bit of chaos today. I sat in the sound booth to see how things work behind the scenes. Things didn't work which gave me the chance to see a whole bunch of people working to try and solve the problem. I could see the care that goes on behind the scenes to make worship a good experience for everyone.

Sitting in the back is an odd experience for me. I like things up front. In the back you can't hear others singing during the hymns so it feels like you are singing alone. But, I get to see more of the caring behind the scenes: the attentiveness of the greeters and ushers, instructions given quietly to help people feel at home, the constant attention given to the service by Val and the others in the sound booth, the people that come in and out of the service for different reasons, the hosts leaving early to set out the feast, the quiet scurrying when things don't work according to plan. People finding a special niche, all their own in service to the worshiping community. Wonderful!

Gerhart Drumm started off his lovely sermon today about the Lord's Prayer with the statement that he was not going to say how to pray the Lord's prayer, but how he prayed the Lord's Prayer. It is a prayer we say in common, but everyone's prayer needs to be different because we are all different and come from different situations. It was like what I saw from the back -- everyone was in worship together, but all the workers at the back had a different way to bring their gifts to the community.

What is my prayer? What is your prayer? How is your prayer different than another's? How is it significant that we have different prayers or similar ones?

What do you think?

(the picture is one of my favorites: Chagall's Lamentation of Jeremiah)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Prophet without Voice

This is my eighth day in Fortuna. Odd week of doing ministry by doing almost no work at all. Moving is part of the job, and so I have been working over-long days every day for a month now. But all the dirt and dust and garbage and cleaning and packing and unpacking and tearing down and setting up is all done in the midst of a monumental work of love. The way has been paved by so many, and I am so grateful. We have been surrounded in blessings from long before we stepped foot into Fortuna. Thank you.

This week, I got a gift. My first Sunday at Fortuna United Methodist Church was spent sitting in the pew watching while others lead the service and Carol Newquist preached the sermon. He talked about Jesus not being able to really preach in his own home town. The only voice I had was when John stuck two pieces of paper in my hand before the service and told me I was singing the anthems with the men of the congregation -- patriotic songs, "don't worry, it's all melody". Carol talked about expectations, and being real with one another, and how Jesus couldn't be accepted as a special person in his own home town because everyone already knew who he was. I like the question he poses to me.

Do I do better ministry where I am known or where I am not known? It is a pretty acute question for me right now. But I think it is a good question for all of us.

What do you think? Where do you do your best ministry?