Thursday, September 30, 2010

St. Jerome

So, as a part of my aforementioned efforts to "get along" with the saints, I've taken to having these fabulous women pick out for me a yearly "patron saint".  It's really a matter of stepping out in faith for me, and trying to find out if I feel like I'm worshipping mortals, or just more fully engaging in the commuion of the saints in which I profess to believe.  I'm not sure how they do it, whether it's out of a hat, or some random number generator, or some sort of prayer scenario, or what.  But hey, even casting lots is Biblical, so method doesn't really matter to me. 

What matters is the two that they've picked. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random, Middle 'o' the Night Thoughts

I came across this tonight, from Thomas Merton in Thoughts in Solitude:

"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

It reminds me a lot of the Holden Prayer for Good Courage:

"Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out in good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen." 

In other news, God works in mysterious ways (as though I didn't already know that).  I was listening to a sermon from my home church tonight, and realizing that what Pastor Mike was talking about was something I really needed to focus on - reclaiming the joy in my faith.  There was a time in my life when my faith was almost entirely about joy, and there are times when it's more intellectual (and I find that the joy actually comes when I get to be really intellectually engaged, but that's a different story...), but more recently it's been that "God is really messing with me, and that's a good thing, but a really hard thing, and it's not always the most joyful time, even though I can recognize that it's going to be good at the end" kind of faith.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sirach 2:1-11

A dear friend sent me this the other day, and I really, really like it. 

“My son, when you come to serve the LORD,
     prepare yourself for trials. 
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
     undisturbed in time of adversity. 
Cling to him, forsake him not;
     thus will your future be great. 
Accept whatever befalls you,
     in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold is tested,
     and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. 
Trust God and he will help you;
     make straight your ways and hope in him. 
You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy,
     turn not away lest you fall. 
You who fear the LORD, trust him,
     and your reward will not be lost. 
You who fear the LORD, hope for good things,
     for lasting joy and mercy. 
Study the generations long past and understand;
     has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
     has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed? 
Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
     he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emotional Crap

I really like my congregations - they are great, full of wonderful people.  The larger of the two is so totally resourceful and has such a good attitude, and the smaller is really good at taking care of each other and doing their own pastoral care. 

The towns are awesome as well.  Just cute little blink-and-you'll-miss-'em towns, "a stop sign on a map dot", filled with a surprising amount of life and energy and goodness.

But, I am lonely.  I have no "friends."  Literally, with the exception of a couple old "Norwegian bachelor farmer" types, everyone in town is married, and almost all are older than I am.  I love being invited over for dinner at people's houses, and chatting about church stuff or even the weather or town festivals or whatever.  But I have no one to crash on the couch and watch movies with, or even to call up and say, "I'm bored, want to drive into town and go see a movie?"  Nobody from school to say, "I was reading this book/Bible passage/blog today, and I don't know what to think."  Not even any other pastors in town to just "talk shop" with.

I want someone to come home to at the end of the day so I can say, "I had a really long day" or a "I had a really great day".  I want to not have to long for the one day a week I'm in the big city so that I have enough cell phone bars to call friends who don't live anywhere near me.  I want someone who will lovingly kick my butt into gear when I'm procrastinating.  I want to have people - just one or two would be great - around me that I feel like I can trust, really trust, with my own stuff, and it won't be repeated.  I want to have somebody to cook with, or lament the fact that there is nowhere to order pizza from. 

Maybe it's that I want to have someone near me where our primary relationship is not that of pastor-parishoner, somebody who I can just be myself with.  Somebody I can say, "I don't know if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life" to.  I've been working on building some other mentoring relationships, in the state and over email, but that's still not the same as a friend.

And to make matters worse, I'm really good at feeling guilty when I feel this way, because "Jesus is your best friend," and "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle" and "He is always right there beside you."  Yeah, I get that.  But this is still hard. 

Sigh...48 weeks to go... 

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol. V

So, last week was a busy week.  I preached (as usual) on Sunday, and then had a short afternoon off before dinner with the council members of the smaller of my two congregations.  It was a marvelous dinner, but still was something on the "to-do" list. 

Then Monday I had to head into the "big city" for staff meetings, internship supervision, etc... I like going to the city, (Starbucks, Walmart, and Target, the greatest sirens in my life) but I had to hurry back home because there was a visitation and prayer service (kind of a forum for eulogies, held in conjunction with many funerals in this part of the country) for a man at my church who had died.  I didn't really have to "run" any of it, as the deceased had a relative who is a pastor in a nearby town who had been pressed into service, but I still needed to go, and I'm glad I did. 

Tuesday was the funeral, and I spent most of the day in my office/the church being hospitable to all the assorted funeral people running around - funeral committee ladies, funeral home staff, etc...

Wednesday I went to the local nursing home to learn about leading worship there, as I apparently now have a rotating responsbility for leading it, and while I was at the nursing home, the funeral home director called to tell me that one of my parishoners had died, in the nursing home, the night before, and that we needed to get going on funeral arrangements.  So Wednesday afternoon/evening was spent consulting with my supervisor and trying to get a hold of the family, which ended up being kind of a weird thing.  I guess people get strange around death, and everyone reacts differently, but still, it was odd. 

Being Aware Of One's Place

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons...If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.  - 1 Timothy 4:1,6

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  - Ephesians 4:11-15

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  - James 1:19

Post-synod leadership event, I've been thinking more about the times and places when we're called to speak the truth, and how that relates to our "place at the table," as it were.  Brian wrote an interesting post here about the need for interns to, basically, shut up a little more and listen.  I was chastised for this a bit myself the other day by a dear friend and mentor, and I still haven't come to any solid conclusions. 

As someone who is yet "young" in my ministry (although feeling like a bit of an old lady in life...), but who is very passionate about certain things, I have a tendency to get all worked up and want to speak my mind.  In my setting as the "pastor" of these two congregations, this actually comes out less with regard to congregational idiosyncrasies (Fine, you want to sing out of that hymnal and only that one and let us NOT touch the other one except on Easter when we HAVE to?  Whatever.  I might vent about it from time to time with friends or colleagues, but I really see myself in somewhat of an interim role here, and there's not much of this type of stuff that I'm willing to die over) and more over (what I perceive as, anyway,) Biblical or theological truth.

Clearly, there are times when for the sake of good order, being respectful of the knowledge and wisdom of others, or just not having the energy to fight, opening one's mouth could be either unhelpful,disrespectful, or just downright not worth it.

But what about when the time comes to speak the truth?  When what is at stake is not some weird preference about whether First Communion should be in 4th grade or 5th grade*, or what seminary taught you about the proper steps of exegesis, or how to cite the AC in a dispute over whether to raise the chalice during the Words of Institution, but instead something truly central to the faith, like justification or the Incarnation or the Trinity or something?  Are we called to proclaim every facet of Scriptural and theological truth at every moment, or are there times when it's best to shut up for the good of the order/because you want the meeting to end/because it wouldn't make the situation any better/because you are only an intern and the bishop is sitting right in front of you? 

Is it different if you are in a situation like mine where I am basically on my own, and although I'm supervised, it's not a direct, senior-pastor-in-the-office-next-door kind of supervision?  How does one decide what is one's "hill to die on," so to speak, and when it's appropriate to claim room for self-identity and theologically negotiable preferences, or when it's better just to be quiet, and go along with it, either because it's not worth the battle or because you're "just the intern"? 

Is it different if you're at a Synod Leadership Conference vs. a council meeting vs. bumping into a member at the grocery story vs. one-on-one with your supervisor?


*Altar guild lady: "Fourth grade is more than young enough if you ask me, people ought to be able to understand and explain what's going on."  What I decided not to say at 9:00 on Saturday night"Do you understand what's going on?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CPE, Redux

I spent the last few days at a synod leadership conference/retreat, which was, shall I say...well, I don't even have a good word to describe it. 

On the one hand, it was really nice.  I got to meet lots of new people, other pastors in my area, spend some quality time with my supervisor and other interns that I know from school, etc...

But the content of the conference had been billed ahead of time as being about how to connect with people and be a more effective leader in your congregation.  Awesome.  Or, not.  It turned out to be CPE 2.0.  Right down to the words and charts and graphs and the "understanding your feelings" and "developing an awareness of how you impact the system."  It was so fake and so froo-froo that I found it difficult to even listen respectfully.  I just got done with 11 weeks of this, I took the few bits of useful information from it, and I literally just signed off on the final evaluation this afternoon and I freaking want to be done with it.  I spent lots of time texting my CPE colleagues, my pastor at home, and my mom.  I made mental to-do lists.  I drank coffee.  I worked hard at not fidgeting, not biting my nails, not rolling my eyes, etc...

The other reason I struggled was that this was ostensibly a gathering of religious leaders, and the man presenting the material (four 75-90 minute sessions) claimed to be a Lutheran pastor.  And yet, I saw very little indication that he had any more sincere, identifiably orthodox Christian theology than my CPE Supervisor.  (At one point he talked about he and his wife leading pilgrimages to India and Nepal.  I'm unaware of any major Christian sites in India and Nepal that would make them good locations for a pilgrimage.  Maybe I'm missing something, though.)

Anyhow, one of the sessions this morning was focused on understanding the trajectory of group development and cohesion, and how we go from "pseudo-community," where basically everyone pretends to get along and suppresses their true feelings, to "chaos," where there is lots of conflict because everyone is starting to feel free to express how they really feel, to um...something where people start to decide how to get along despite their differences, to "community," where people actually do get along.  One of the pastors in the room mentioned that his congregation seems to be in the "chaos" stage right now, and that part of the problem is that there are people who no longer believe that they can get along.  He has people who have fundamental philosophical/doctrinal differences with the group, and are questioning whether those can - or even should - be overcome for the sake of community building.  This man's question to the presenter was whether it is possible or even desirable that all groups eventually move out of the chaos phase, even if they have to sacrifice doctrine to do so.  The presenter's response was, "Well, it's very sad that they are choosing not to be a part of the community and work through the chaos.  No one should ever have to give up their personal doctrinal commitments, we just have to learn how to live together despite our differences."  The pastor was very frustrated because this didn't answer his question, although, given that the presenter comes heavily endorsed by the ELCA and is headed out to colleges and seminaries in the coming months to ply this information to the unsuspecting young'uns, it should have given him all he needed to know.  (Maybe it did, I don't know, I didn't talk with him after.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol. IV

So, yesterday was interesting.

One of the goals that I have set for myself on internship (we're supposed to "set goals") is to learn to preach without a manuscript.  I actually think that, in general, I'm more of an outline preacher.  When I read a manuscript, it feels fake, like I'm, well, reading the sermon, instead of delivering it or preaching it.  But I'm also a little concerned that without an outline or notes of some kind, that my verbose nature will take over, and I will wander far afield, jabbering away about whatever strikes my fancy at the time. 

Now, as of yesterday at 8 am, I didn't quite feel ready to walk away from the manuscript entirely.  Earlier in the week, I had consciously entertained the idea of an outline or even going completely free-form, but had decided against it.  And when I left Church #1, bulletins firmly in hand, I was giving no thought whatsoever to this particular goal.  However, about halfway to Church #2, I realized that the text of my sermon was laying nicely on the pulpit of Church #1.  At least, that's where I assumed it was, since it wasn't in my Bible, caught up in my own copy of the bulletin, or in my purse.  I searched each several times, and finally decided to spend the last few miles of the drive trying to remember what I had written. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

At The Gate Of The Year

I found this poem somewhere the other day, and it really means a lot to me as I venture off into this year of internship. It's just beautiful in general, but as I look outward, nervous and excited about what lies ahead, about what will be revealed to me about myself, my ministry, my vocation, it gives me perspective.  Enjoy!

At the Gate of the Year
by Minnie Louise Haskins

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.  That shall be better to you than light and safer than a known way."
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.  And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart bestill:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

God knows.  His will
Is best.  The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God.  Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life's stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God's thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol. III

So, at church yesterday, I learned that when you are the pastor of a two-point parish, it's helpful if someone tells you that the reason all those bulletins are stacked outside your office door is because you need to take them with you to the second service 10 miles down the road.  That way, when you get there and the usher says, "Do you have the bulletins?", you don't have to say, "" 

Anyway, all in all, things went really smoothly.  There's the requisite figuring out of the choreography of offering and communion, that sort of thing.  But in general, it went fine.  The Words of Institution aren't quite second-nature (read: totally memorized) to me yet, but one of the congregations does communion every week, so I'm I'll get there soon enough. 

My supervisor came down to preach, which was good, because "thou shalt hate everybody" is a heck of a text for a first sermon.  I did the rest of worship leadership, and managed to survive.  This is one of the advantages of a (reasonably) traditional worship service - the congregation knows what they're supposed to do, and so do I.  There were a few times of transition throughout the service where I had been nervous about what words I needed to use, but then I relaxed and just let my memory take over.  I was raised on the LBW liturgy, which is (basically) what these congregations use, and I found that I remembered more of it than I thought. 

The people were also all really nice, including at the second service when we didn't have bulletins.  It seems more and more like my parishoners have more grace for me than I have for myself, which should tell me something...seems like something I should have explored in CPE, but then, well, anyway....

Finally, as my supervisor and I were leaving in our separate vehicles after the second service, he said to me, "Excellent job today, see you Tuesday!"  I realized then that it had been an extraordinarily long time since anyone had given me totally unqualified praise like that.  Not "Excellent job, just work on getting the Words of Institution down."  Not "Excellent job, just remember the bulletins next week."  Not "Excellent job, but learn to talk louder."  Just, "Excellent job."  Not that I don't have plenty of things to work on, and I'm sure I'll find more.  But it's nice to know that I have a supervisor who will tell me when I do things well, because it's good for my self-confidence to hear that. 

So...1 down, 51 to go.  Time to get a jump on that sermon for next week!

John 18:38

Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"


Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I've lived in this town for two days.  Who would have thought I could be so invested in the high school football team already?  But there I was, out on the sidelines (well, behind the rope), under the lights, being eaten alive by mosquitos (which, by the way, are like flocks of chickens around here), jumping and clapping and screaming with everyone else.

We kicked butt in the Homecoming game, and are now 3-0.  Apparently this team hasn't won three games total in the last two years or something, so it's super exciting. 

It's also a little bit nostalgic, because I haven't been to a high school football game, well, pretty much since I was in high school.  I might have gone to the Homecoming Game my freshman or sophomore year of college, but that would have been all.  And the guys here play in a deep blue (brighter than my alma mater, but blue all the same), with white and just a teensy bit of red, just like my school.  And everyone was screaming "Go Big Blue!" just like at my school.  Standing behind and off to the side of the guys reminded me of my super fun days as a student athletic trainer in high school.  I was suprised by how much the jersey numbers had stuck with me.  I was looking up and down the sideline, and in my head thinking, Aaron, Ryan, Grant, David, Chad, Brandon.  I sort of had to stop myself, at one point, from yelling "Run, Andy, run!" when #2 zipped up the sideline, reminding myself that I don't know that kid, and his name probably isn't Andy.  (It wasn't.) 

It was so fun to see the guys be all excited about an interception, or a really solid hit.  Especially small town football, where probably nobody is being scouted for D-1 schools, way better than college, where everybody's trying to get to the NFL, and certainly not the NFL where it's all about money and egos.  This was just plain fun.  It was also really cool to see how excited the community was.  Even little kids were screaming and cheering for players by name, rattling off stats, etc...It was great. 

This is going to be an awesome year.

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol II

Today was my first real day in my office at the main church.  I actually think it's somewhat of a group office - although no one has technically confirmed that for me.  So I hope they don't mind that I rearranged the furniture...

Anyhow, the few hours I was there, plus my other experiences as a part of getting ready for and getting settled into my internship, have reminded me how important organization is to me.  I've felt sort of disorganized, and like I'm not entirely certain what I'm supposed to be doing and who is in charge of what. 

This isn't necessarily helped by the fact that my supervisor, who is already 90 miles away, happens to be on vacation at the moment.  Granted, he has been available by email and phone, and told me I can call him 24/7, which is good, but still...

I think part of my related to the fact that I still don't really conceive of myself as a "pastor," per se.  My name is on the sign outside the church, and I've been referred to as "the pastor" numerous times already, but I still feel sort of out of my element.  I'm not certain whether this is a permanent vocational issue or just something I need to grow into, but regardless, the idea that (priesthood of all believers and lay leadership not withstanding) I am in charge here, is mind-boggling to me.


Earlier, I wrote about the awesomeness of girlfriends, and how they are totally a gift from God.  Last weekend, before I left for internship, I spent the weekend with my BFF from high school.  We don't get to hang out or talk too often, as our lives have gone radically different directions since high school, and particularly since college.  However, occasionally we're able to make time for a good phone call or quick visit, and last weekend I got a whole day and a half with my "bestie." 

It was fun to see her kids, as they are so flippin' adorable, but her husband was also gracious enough to really keep an eye on them a lot of the time, and to entertain himself when they were asleep.  We had lots of time to catch up on the important and not-so-important things that are going on in our lives, to spend more money than we should at an awesome little bookstore, and even to do a little yoga.  (It was my first time doing yoga, and I kind of liked it.  Man, I worked hard, but it was kind of relaxing, and I didn't finish feeling frustrated at my total inability to "grapevine across the room" or whatever.) 

It was a great weekend, and also a very relaxing weekend, and I was reminded again of how wonderful these relationships - and this one in particular - really are.  It's also fun to see how no matter how much time or distance separates us, some things never change. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tales of a Country Parson, Vol I

That said, while I'm not naturally a megachurch person, I also never thought I would be a very small, very rural church person.  And yet, here I am, on my internship.

I should note, first of all, that the fact that I am on internship at all is utterly bizarre.  I was never supposed to be getting my MDiv.  When I showed up at seminary two years ago, it was to get an MA in Educational Leadership, and I was going to...I don't know, write curriculum or something.  I was not, under any circumstances, going to be a pastor.

Well.  Throw a little Holy Spirit into the mix, and two years later, here I am on internship, and a detached-site one no less, which basically just means that my supervisor is 90 miles away and I am out here on the prairie all by myself.  I am "the pastor" at a 2-point parish.  I preach, I teach, I do baptisms and weddings and funerals. 

And I live in the parsonage.  Built in 1910, it's a 3 bedroom, absolutely incredible house.  It has a little front porch I can sit out on, and a separate dining room.  There's a little study area, and absolutely gorgeous woodwork.  I just moved in yesterday, and I love it!  I've spent the last two days getting settled in the house, and getting to know the area and the people.

I'm still lacking a little in the self-confidence department - I'm kind of out of my league here, but everyone here is really supportive.  My supervisor has actually been on vacation, but I will get to see him on Sunday, and then again all day on Tuesday, and that will help me too, just to get a basic framework.  So, time to get started!


Oops!  It suddenly occurred to me today that this entry could be interpreted as referring to my home congregation, or any of the other specific congregatations that I attend on a frequent or infrequent basis. 

It's not.  I love my home congregation, despite my critique that it is too loud.  In many ways, it is kind of strange that I have such an affinity for the place.

It is nothing short of gigantic, and in many ways is the low-church, generic American Evangelicalism that I just don't resonate with.  Not really the place for the high-church, Evangelical Catholic introvert that is me.

But the thing is, Jesus is there.  And when I first moved to town and started looking for a church, there was just something that continued to draw me back.  Of course, I was always at the early morning "traditional" service, and rarely made it past the chapel.  But God really worked on my heart and my attitude while I was there, and I found myself getting acclimated eventually - making friends, becoming more comfortable with (or at least less judgmental of) the general atmosphere there, and finally becoming involved in some really cool things.

Like I said, Jesus is there.  He is present in the leadership, and in the thousands of members who worship there each week.  He is present in the vision and the mission and the values.  He is present in the transformed lives and the built and rebuilt relationships.  He is present in the bread and the wine, the water and the word. 

The Holy Spirit is hard at work in my home congregation, and I absolutely love it.  I myself had somewhat of a "conversion experience" there, and it was where I really learned to be excited about my faith - where it moved from my head to my heart. 

Is it everything I would do, if I ran the zoo?  Hmm...maybe - probably - not.  But praise God for his graciousness, and his love, and the incredible things he's doing at, in, and through my church!