Archive for July, 2009

July 31, 2009

Being on the Other Side

I visit a lot of folks in the hospital as part of my job. I know how to find clergy parking. I know how to hunt folks down when the hospital staff isn’t as helpful to tell you where a patient is. I know how to sit with a family as they wait for the results of a major test. I know how important it is to pray with a patient when the outcome is uncertain.

428401602_d2a85e41a5But, what I didn’t know about until this week was what it was like to be on the other side of the hospital. I didn’t know what it was like to watch someone who means the world to you go through a hospital stay. It is a new emotional experience. It is a place of being where you appreciate things that you’d never had reason to think about before.

Now that we are out of the hospital bubble we were in for a couple of days, this is what I have to offer:

I didn’t know how important it was for someone to be with me after I told Kevin goodbye for the operating room. (It is just not a time to be alone).

I didn’t know how much it would mean to be prayed for in acutal words relayed by those dearest to us.

I didn’t know how much gifts of “Could I bring you something for dinner?” Or, “Could I take you to lunch?” meant. (I guess worry makes you forget to eat).

I didn’t know how much I would give up sleep (my favorite thing) to be in the hospital beside Kevin. There are just times when you don’t want to be a part, especially when you know you are the only family the patient has around (you want to live up the the responsibility bestowed to you).

I didn’t know how the quality of bedside manner for a nurse makes or breaks your outlook. (If you have a caring nurse, it means the world!)

I didn’t know what a great gift texting is in a hospital environment (thank God for technology). There are just sometimes when you want folks to know how things are going, but you don’t have the energy to talk.

I didn’t know that there would be no way that I would have mental energy to think about work or my sermon this week or any of these sorts of things until we got home. (While keeping around my laptop around, it was  never opened!)

I didn’t know how appreciative I could be of every little bit of concern: kind thoughts sent our way through emails, visits, flowers, and all other well wishes. Nothing was underappreciated in our book!

My pastoral presence for the loved ones of those receiving hospital care will be different now. I know how important it is on a personal level.

And, I wonder how family go through times of illness and crisis without the support of loving communities? We have certainly been encouraged from the quality of folks around us this week! We are all the better for it even as Kevin continues to recover at home.

July 27, 2009

Memories of Summer

In churches, summer is the time that most pastors, ministries and worship attendance drops or slows down. Few churches have many expectations for summer, it seems.

Though we are trying not to be most churches (and have successfully maintained around our average attendance in the summer as if it was spring), I have to say that there is a part of me that misses the fast paced summers of my youth. The pace and expectations of church life from my pastor’s chair, now seems slow.

Summer have always represented for me times of big change, of personal growth and new experiences. Some of the most life shaping experiences I’ve had, have all come in the summer.

COlogoJPEGwebSummers like the year I went out on my own for the first time, committed to serve with a city based ministry in Charleston, SC with 4o+ college and grad school students when I had just finished my junior year of high school. It was a summer of learning to be away from home and live with in community with those who challenged me emotionally and spiritually. It was a summer of learning for the first time that salvation is more than praying a particular prayer. It was a summer of teaching basketball and life skills to intercity children– leading me to major in education in college.

Summers like the year after my junior year of college that I served on staff of Son Servants, a youth mission camp. Itphoto7 was a summer of traveling from the poorest regions of Jamaica, to the backwoods of West Virginia, to the pariries of an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to the poverty of Tex-Mex border (No, I’m not making all of this up; it was quite the traveling experience). It was a summer of learning that ministry is about giving up all control as you never know what might happen or what conditions you might endure. It was a summer of sleeping in hallways, on bunk beds and in tents. It was a summer about coming believe in myself as a leader too.

Summers like after my second year of Duke Divinity, coming to Washington DC to a church I’d never heard of before to learn from a pastor I’d never met either. In the end, it was a summer of knowing from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head that I was called to be a pastor and that ordination was for me. It was a summer of learning how to be alone as much as it was about being with others. It was a summer about my life direction changing in more ways than one.

But, as much as I long for one of these experiences once again, I know that my calling is different now as Rev. Elizabeth Hagan, pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church. 

This summer has been about being a supportive wife, a friend, and a minister committed to doing the little things that I can each week to help our community of faith thrive.

This summer has been about learning from and preaching about the life of David as seen in I and II Samuel.

This summer has been about cookouts and picnics. Some time for the beach and some time at home. This summer has been about enjoying the warmer weather and longer days.

This summer has been about staying put.

While it good to have memories of the the gifts of summers past, I’m thankful to be charting the path I’m on in my adult married life of belonging to a home, a community and city where I am to be for a while.

Here’s to hoping that your summer is bringing the beauty of new memories as you chart the course of what this summer is to be for you! And, so glad there there is still more summer for all of us yet to come.

July 23, 2009

Feeling the Support

The American Baptist Churches USA reccomends that each congregation hold a Pastoral Relations Committee with their head of staff. This committee is to be a group of people that meet regularly with the pastor to serve as sounding board both for the concerns of the pastor, but also for the church. The folks selected to be on this committee are to serve as advisers to the pastor as he/ she seeks to understand where the congregation is on a particular issue(s). And, these folks are charged to love and care for the pastor and the pastor’s family in tangible ways.

I was so happy to learn that Washington Plaza desired to set up a Pastoral Relations Committee for me when I first arrived. In our case, the pastor search team vowed to stay on for another year to work with me as I made the transition into the community life. (And, it didn’t hurt that the tradition of having dinner at meetings was vowed to continue. You know that Washington Plaza folks work best with food). 

We’ve  met every two months since January. And, I have to say what a joy to be with they are!

At our gathering last night, I was able to see even more reasons as to why I feel joy in being with this group. Toward the end of our time as we were having a discussion about upcoming events. I told them that I carry around in me a lot of the enthusism, dreams, etc that I have for the church, and what I wanted for this group is stand beside me in the spiritual load I feel I carry. I asked if we could pray together about visioning for the future– that this would the encouragement that I needed. And, what came forth as we prayed was beautiful.323195576_2c684a8bcb

It was a spontaneous prayer of what was on everyone’s hearts.

I heard prayers about about their love for their church.

I heard prayers for God’s will to come to our plans, not our will.

I heard prayers for Kevin and for me, for wisdom in leadership.

I heard prayers for those in our church that are going through difficult times right now that our body will come together in support of them.

I heard prayers for communal vision.

I’m thankful not only for the members of and contributions of the Pastoral Relations Committee, but for the spirit of the church which they represent. I do feel the support of this great task of being church together that we’ve undertaken. And, from a pastor’s point of view, this is one of the best gifts a church can give!

July 21, 2009

Communion for All or Maybe Not?

I went to mass on Saturday- for a wedding in Naples, Florida.

It was a reversal of roles for me. Instead of doing the wedding, I was in the wedding as a bridesmaid along with Kevin who was the Best Man.  I was happy for the break and glad to be there to support our friends.

But, little did I know how hard it would be for me sit through the entire mass.

There are a couple of non-negotiable for me about church in the past couple of years: there must be people of all races and cultures present (or at least welcomed), there must be both men and women in leadership and there must be an ecumenical feel to the service (i.e. no one should feel bad because they are from a different tradition).

But, in this Catholic Mass, I was denied communion because I was not Catholic. No questions asked.

Even though I knew parts of the liturgy by heart. . . . even though I had been ordained to the gospel ministry . . . . even though I spend my life in commitment to the same Christian faith professed by the priests and the congregation. Even though I probably go to church more than anyone other than the priests at the wedding. . . .

I was denied the body of Christ.

And not only this, but I was forced to go forward with my hands crossed tight to my shoulders to receive a blessing from a priest who denied me communion and who would not allow a person of my gender to enter his ranks. I didn’t make it through the blessing before I had to quickly get back to my seat.

I cried. I cried a lot in fact.

This moment felt for me like the injustice of the system of the church that we live in came to rest upon my shoulders.

It surprised me how upset I became. Especially as the liturgist sang: “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.”

There was no tasting and seeing that the Lord was good for me that day. And I wept.

I need to preface this post by saying that I love my friends who recently married, Frank and Julie. They had a beautiful wedding. I have many dear friends who are practicing Catholics. I’m happy for this fact. I feel the Catholic tradition, while has done some very hurtful things (as have most religious traditions have done too), they have contributed much good to the world.

I didn’t want my tears to be any reflection of my pride to be standing next to my friends that day, but the whole experienced made me ponder the real problems with Catholic/ Protestant relations.

When you are denied the body of Christ that you don’t feel too friendly afterwards to a tradition that is to be your cousin in the faith.

I don’t think I can go back to Mass again unless it is for a wedding or a funeral of a dear friend. I just can’t, especially as a pastor now.

(When you can say with the priest, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again” because these are your words you lead you people in at the table, but are denied the elements it is just wrong. Very wrong.)

The whole experienced made me all the more happy to celebrate communion at Washington Plaza in a week. I had forgotten what a GIFT our open table is to the community. We believe, in the tradition of John Wesley, that the table is a means of grace and all are open to receive it.

I look forward to extending Christ’s welcome to all– Catholic, Baptist, Methodists, whom ever to our service of word and table on August 2nd. I might just have tears in my eyes of thanksgiving for the privilege of sharing the Lord’s Supper will any who find our doors.

I think this is the way that Christ’s meal was meant to be shared anyway– not an exclusive club type of table, but a table for the poor, the weak, the needy, and any who would come seeing the Lord’s presence.

Luckily, we have some fun friends who found a way to cheer me up afterwards. At the reception, we posed for this picture and our friend Bhavik, served us some bread from the buffet.  Made me smile.Bhavik Offers communion

July 21, 2009

Vacation Wisdom

Sometimes not making any plans can be the best plan of all.

When a town local tells you it is just a 15 minute walk, this isn’t necessarily true. It make take you more than 45 minutes to get there due to having no idea where you are going.

Having a view of the beachfour friends 2 from your room can bring such peace.

Never make a U-Turn in Florida.

When reserving a rental car, always pick your car based on trunk space, especially if you are in charge of getting the bride and groom to the airport for their honeymoon. (See us with them to the left)

Always remember you have to carry what you pack. And, probably your airport gate will be the farthest from where you are making the journey even more joyful. . .

You get what you pay for, especially in airline travel. If you pick the cheapest tickets, then you may not be able to sit with your travel partner and the seat may stick to you when you stand up.

Did I mention, never make a U-Turn in Florida?

If the bride plans a 8 am brunch the day after the wedding, remind her that not everyone is gthe beach viewoing to come. So, maybe it is not a good idea. It is just way too early on Sunday morning when you are vacation.

A wedding that serves three desserts= sugar coma for everyone.

Getting your hair done at Supercuts for a special event is never a good idea if you have curly hair like mine– it will fall a part after 5 minutes.

Always savor the moment. Vacation is over before you know it.

July 15, 2009

Thank God for Vacation

I will be out of the office for the rest of the week and return again on Tuesday.

I’m thankful for all who will hold down the ship while I’m away- Deb in the office, the Outreach team during Family Fun Night this Friday, Richard, during Sunday School, Joe, in the pulpit.

I have full confidence that all will go well in my absence.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to rest, not check my email every day, be at the beach and celebrate a wedding with some of our dear friends.

As a member of the church told me yesterday, “Pastors need breaks just like anyone else.” And, yes, it is true.

I didn’t know how tired I was until we got here last night . . .

I’ll be sure to share about our adventures when we return.

July 13, 2009

Good Family News

About 2 weeks into my tenure at Washington Plaza, we got difficult news. After planning and reorganizing our move based on my job and Kevin’s job, signing a lease agreement on a place to live, and so much more, we heard the most unexpected: Kevin’s job would be ending soon. His employer decided they could make more money if they closed the entire buliding. What a load this was to hear and take in! Somehow all the stories I’d heard of these hard times had come to our doorstep. It was all very real.

Soon, however, Kevin was offered back his job if he would move to Chicago, where his company was moving the Maryland office.

But, we knew this just could not be. We both felt strongly that Reston was the community where I was to serve and that Washington Plaza was a God-given opportunity for me. We rejected the offer and prayed that something would come up. (Some people told us we were crazy to not take a job in this economy, but nonetheless, it is what we did).

In the meantime, thanks to Kevin’s work ethic, his new boss in Chicago kept extending his tenure. First to June and then until July. His last day was to be July 10th (this past Friday).

I have to say that this winter and spring have been scary times for us. While I was relived that Kevin was still working, I knew the worst could happen. I knew that we might be forced to live off of my income (which would not be enough) and think about words like food stamps, unemployment lines, etc. Since January, we cut back expenses and planned for the worse. Besides work related trips, we’ve done no major traveling (which is our favorite thing especially as our families living far away).

But, good news came just in time, proving God’s faithfulness once again. The future is looking just a little more clear.090320_GoodNews_wide-horizontal

On Thursday, Kevin was offered the position of Vice President of Development of Gifts in Kind in Alexandria, VA. It is a promotion for him in title.  And,  his first venture into the non-profit world after spending lots of time in government related positions and most recently in corporate America. He’s excited about the challenge of working for an organization that is a distribution center for hundreds of other charities internationally. You can read more about it here.

There are so many reasons that this job is good for our family at this point in our lives. I’m glad Kevin’s commute time will be significantly less.  I’m happy he’ll be around more during the week. (For the past couple of months, he’s spent 2-3 days every week in Chicago). I can drag Kevin to the gym with me more. We’ll both work and live in the same state. And, it will be interesting to see how my connections in the church world are able to connect with the mission of Kevin’s job as he settles in.

Thank you Washington Plaza and other dear friends for your support and prayers. We are are glad to be staying put.

July 11, 2009

In the Seventh Month

I’ve been at this preaching every week now for nearly seven months every single week. Wow, is really my only response.

I believe to some this will sound like no big deal. “It’s your job, right?”  And, while I do love preaching and would never complain for an opportunity to do it, I have to say that making the transition from once a month to every Sunday has been indeed a transition.

As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect” so I know that the volume of attempts to preach can’t do anything but make me better at the craft. In the process, I have found myself more into the rhythm of what it takes to write a sermon every week. It is a discipline. It is a spiritual discipline that I must shape the activities of my life around. For, I just can’t sit down on Friday and expect a sermon to come out of thin air unless I’ve done all the work I’ve needed to prior to the writing phase. And, as  result of writing sermon after sermon, I am beginning to see what my more experienced pastor friends have told me “It gets easier.”

I believe it gets easier because I notice the flow of my own writing style to greater degree.

I am getting to know the congregation better. I know that look on their faces when I am saying something that resonates with their spirits. I know that look like when I am making no sense. I know that look like when I’ve brought joy to their hearts.

It gets easier because I’m trusting my own voice more. I’m trusting that it will have the things to say that need to be said. And that some how, some way they will be good news to someone.

But, then at the same time, it doesn’t get easier at all.

As much as preaching is an experience filled with spiritual confidence, planning, and attention to the art of the craft, there are moments of doubt.

There are moments of “How in the world am I going to have something to say again next week?”

There are moments of looking at a strange text wondering how sense could be made something that seems so odd.

There are moments in the drafting process where I seek to put my thoughts on paper and its like a bunch of mush running in different directions without the flow needed to tie it all together.

There are moments when preaching seems like the most unusual gift to the church at all– but regardless of all of this, it keeps on.

And I will keep on too. Looking forward to what the next week’s sermon writing experience will entail (well, most of the time). Most of all, thankful to the congregation that has given me a chance to engage in this practice that is for me a feast of joy.

July 9, 2009

Evening Prayer

Prayers for peace have been on my heart and mind lately especially as I think of the members of our congregation that are facing periods of illness, surgery and life changing desicions. I have always loved this prayer and we even sang the hymn version of this prayer last Sunday in worship after communion.

I share it with you today as I as pray your heart is filled with peace this evening, especially as God calls you to put hands and feet to your prayers to be that peace in our brokeness of all our worlds.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

— St. Francis of Assisi

July 7, 2009

Thinking Big

I have to say, I walked away from a church finance committee last night pretty proud of the folks I’m working alongside. Our group is in the process of planning for the stewardship campaign for this fall. I won’t give away any of the campaign ideas quite yet (you’ll just have to stay tuned to hear about them), but I will say that the church is good hands with these folks as leaders.Thinking%20Big%20Logo

The reason for this is because of one of the most essential characteristics of leadership is the ability to see beyond what is in front of you. Part of this means having the guts to dream big and encourage others to see what you see too. 

I sat in a room last night with the finance folks and the question came up about how much we wanted to challenge the congregation to grow in their giving to the church in the coming year. It was unanimous that everyone wanted the church to be stretched to think about giving as a spiritual practice (instead of just, y’all pledge please). And, everyone wanted me to teach and preach about how our financial gifts really give us the means to attempt even greater things for God in this place and grow in our journey with God as well.

There was no shying away from the fact that the amount we want to raise our budget in the coming year will be a difficult task, BUT the most faithful decision– not because we are in a place struggling to pay our bills, but because we want to do MORE in mission and ministry. We know that God needs all of us to do our part to make this happen.

It was a gift to not be the one in the room to give the “let’s have faith” talk, but to hear it coming from countless others. For me, it was a moment to celebrate because I feel this is just the beginning of the marvelous things God has in store for us as we look toward stewardship in 2009.

I’m getting excited about October, which is stewardship month, already! And, WPBC folks, you should too. I’m counting on the fact that with God’s power working in us, we are going to see in front our eyes more than we could have ever asked for or imagined. Hold on folks, for this ride is going to be fun.

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