Archive for April, 2010

April 27, 2010

Discernment Coming Soon

Beginning in June, Washington Plaza folks will be entering a new adventure in small groups. While we are known for our intensive Bible study courses and our book discussions, this summer we venture into the world of spiritual formation.

The reason behind this season’s shift stems out of a hunger I see in the congregation to go both deeper with God and with one another with an intentional approach. This is what the practice of a spiritual formation class will offer us.  We’ll be trying out the Companions in Christ material (which is well-known for its depth and quality by the way) called The Way of Discernment.

Who is this course designed for?

* People yearning to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance

* Individuals looking for direction in vocation or life changes

* Church leaders seeking clarity about our congregation’s distinctive mission

* Those searching for God’s will in matters of belief, ethics and faithful living

Yet you might ask:

How is spiritual formation different from a Bible Study or book discussion group? 

This class will be a commitment to meet weekly for prayer, faith practice and discussion. It’s an opportunity for scripture to form your spirituality instead of just gaining information about it. It’s an adventure of growing alongside others where the leader is not an instructor but a fellow participant. 

 If I join the group what will be expected of me?

*Attending once a week meetings if at all possible (not a drop in class)

*Prayer, mediation, and personal growth exercises during the week

*Willingness to share your spiritual insights with others

Group meetings will begin in June. Email me if you are interested. I’m looking forward to growing alongside you in this course.

April 26, 2010

Resurrection Is the Most Wonderful Time of Year

It seems this year that the sermon series from Acts about the unfolding of resurrection has challenged me to re-think the whole concept of resurrection.

Like most Christians who grew up in church, the term “resurrection” is something that I’ve heard about my entire life.

“We are a people of the resurrection” and “Without the resurrection where would we be?” are phrases that pastors always seem to throw out. And usually it seems that such statements are in the context of a telling of the Jesus story seeking to prove our religious expression (as Christians) is better than another faith tradition. (Not my style)

But, in chewing on the Acts texts as examples of what resurrection embodied might mean in the life of the church, I’ve come to be quite fond of resurrection in a larger context. I’m finding ways to apply the concept to the movements of life change and transition which all of us face. And, I’ve thinking about how we all need more seasons of resurrection in our own lives and in our faith communities.

It seems this year that resurrection is a great way to describe both my journey as a pastor and our congregation.

For example, this past Sunday, I preached on the lectionary reading about Dorcas following the idea of “When Death Comes Again.” What stood out to me the most through this scripture study was necessity of our embracing death, staying with death, grieving death so that we are in a place emotionally, spiritually, etc to have the possibility of seeing resurrection when it actually occurs.

Such “staying with death” I’m realizing is more than about just “Good Friday” or attentiveness to funeral services when the come to our communities. Rather, staying with death includes an awareness as a pastor that folks in my congregation are going through times of loss, pain and disappointment that seem unending throughout the year. And, while our natural human instincts might be to move on or seek to make people better sooner, truly, resurrection can only come if we are committed to staying with the journey of pain for however long it takes.

As I say this, I’m mindful of the commitment of heart that it takes to do this. It’s hard to see dying programs, dying ideas, dying dreams through. It’s hard to stick with a church or a person through a time of loss and grief. It’s hard to wonder in the wilderness not knowing when things will get any better.

But, I’m encouraged afresh this week that if we stay connected to God and to each other through the moments of death, the good news is resurrection is always around the corner. Our story won’t be about death and pain and loss forever. The challenge is to actually believe that resurrection of dreams, of hopes, of faith communities can happen, even out of the worst senerios.

Even with the challenges, I’ll continue proclaiming the next three weeks before Pentecost begins that Resurrection season is the most wonderful time of the year!

April 21, 2010

What Makes My Day

If you ever want to make your pastor’s day, you could say the following (if you mean it of course):

1. Can I begin giving to the church on a regular basis?

2. I want to join a Bible Study- what are my options for this?

3.  I’ve been picking up _____ for church until they are healthy enough to come on their own again.

4. Yes, I want to explore what it means to be baptized.

5. Yes, I’ll be back next Sunday.

6. I’d like to invite some folks from the church over to my home for dinner. How do I contact them?

7. I’m glad to see you; Sunday is my favorite day of the week.

8. I was really interested by what you said last Sunday in your sermon, could we talk about it more sometime?

9. Do you have any books you’d recommend for spiritually focused reading?

10. I’m so glad I’m a member of this church.

I’ve heard several of these statements recently from some of the folks at Washington Plaza. They all make me happy because they are signs that new life is springing forth. They tell the unspoken stories of movements of spiritual growth in the lives of those who intersect with our community. I”m encouraged that something is going right as individual lives are responding to the corporate experience of knowing God in this place.  And, I’m moved in gratitude for having a front seat to the process.

April 19, 2010

What Does a Pastor Do?

I’ve been a part of several conversations lately with new church attendees and community members where I have been stopped in midst of our discussion together with the question: “Now, I know you work on your sermons, but what do you do the rest of the week?”

It’s a timeless question that generations of pastors before me and beside me have been asked and answered each in his or her own way. For there’s not a rule book about how a pastor structures his or her day. It’s usually based both on the personality of the pastor and expectations of the congregation. It’s a unique job with some deadlines (Sunday is always coming, for example), but then it is also a job with a lot of unspecified responsibilities that can be attended to at a pace according to congregational needs.  I always say that no day of the week is ever the same and I never have reason to get bored!

But, just to help you get an idea about my approach, these are some of the “doing” tasks that my last week has included:

  • One-on-one meetings with parishioners going through time of crisis including taking communion to a church member in the hospital
  • One-on-one meetings with families/ individuals interested in learning more about the church and/or becoming official members of the congregation
  • Follow-up conversations/ emails with visitors from Sunday morning
  • Planning meetings/ phone conversations with church leadership about new initiatives for growth in congregational life
  • Attending to the administrative tasks of the church office: supervision of two other staff members, overseeing communication coming from the church office, planning with church administrator dates for the church calendar
  • Attentiveness to church outreach tools: updating Facebook fan page, twittering about important events, working with church administrator to update contact list for weekly email and making sure website is up to date, and of course blogging when new ideas come for posts
  • Meeting with church members who come to the office during office hours to ask questions, say hello
  • Attending community functions to represent the church
  • Preparing for upcoming Bible Studies by doing research on curriculum choices
  • Planning for worship; editing the bulletin
  • Connecting with colleagues in the area for meals for shared learning and support
  • And, of course, preparing for sermons by doing research, mediation and sitting still long enough so for God to have the opportunity to form my thoughts in the direction of what the congregation most needs to hear

And, the list could go on. Yet, it also could record things that I wish I had more time to do, contacts to parishioners and others that I needed to make and didn’t, and more study time that I wished I had. . .When I think about what I do and don’t, I always try to give myself grace to embrace the possibilities found in the next week.

While I can’t answer the “What does a pastor do?” for all my colleagues, know this: there’s so much more to the pastoral life than what you see on Sundays. Sundays are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the focus tasks of our job.

Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way! I get surprised daily by something new. I am and will continue to be grateful for this wonderful opportunity to put my energy and time into an organization with a great future. Because in the end, church life is not about the pastor which is why we work so hard. It’s always about the congregation. Pastors just are the catalyst for helping congregations reach their potential as we are transformed together into the community of faith that God would have for us to be.

Maybe then, another good question for us to ask is: ‘What do congregation members do to enrich and support the lives of their faith community?”

April 16, 2010

Ministry of Connection

Last night, Kevin and I had the opportunity to represent Washington Plaza at the Best of Reston award dinner held at the Reston Hyatt. I was honored to be asked to pray the invocation before the event began as WPBC is recognized as one of the founding churches who believed in Reston Interfaith’s mission from its conception over 40 years ago now.  It was a great opportunity to connect with some of Reston’s most dedicated community servants.

Reston Interfaith is Washington Plaza’s partner in community missions. We are happy to support their numerous projects throughout the year including the Walk for the Homeless in the fall, the food baskets at Thanksgiving and the adopt-a-child at Christmas.  We are happy to collect food each Sunday that goes to support their emergency food bank. We are happy to have one of our parishioners serve on its board of directors, representing us. You can learn more about what they do by watching this short clip:

But, there is so much more work to be done, especially as homelessness continues to grow in Fairfax County.

In response to our Christian call of service, Washington Plaza wants to help. Last December, the congregation voted to accept the recommendations of the Community Needs Assessment team, a group tasked with helping the church connect in even more meaningful ways with the needs of our community. One of these recommendations directed our attention to a new project recently launched by Reston Interfaith: the adopt-a-family program.

Coordinators from within the congregation have come forward and soon you’ll be hearing more details about how we can rally around a particular family that needs some encouragement and support as they seek to create a better future for their children. I’m excited about this new opportunity. I know there are so many members of our church with gifts of mentoring to share. But, in the same way, I know this new mission effort will change us in the process. We will be stretched and asked to grow as disciples of Christ. We will see first hand real needs in our community that we might otherwise overlook. It’s going to be good, I can already tell!

Washington Plaza is blessed by the ministry of connection to Reston Interfaith, and we are so glad to be along for the journey with you.

April 13, 2010

Resurrection Unfolding

What a relief that Lent is finally over!

While I knew and recognized the value in the time a part from normalcy in worship and in having conversations about sin, confession and repentance, it struck me again this year how difficult the outlook of Lent is. 

Not only did it affect me personally, but I saw the contemplative spirit of Lent putting a somber mood on the congregation as well.

For a church like ours that is still in the re-birth and re-organization phase, a somber spirit is not exactly what helps us out. (We need all the energy, excitement and enthusiasm that we can get!)

So, for this reason and many more, I rejoiced and was glad to say on April 4th: “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!” with the church full of joyful worshipers. We received the gift we’d be waiting for: resurrection came! It was a great day of celebration for us, as we joined together with all the saints of God around the world to say with shouts of praise: “Pain and death do not have the last word! In Christ, all things are possible. New life is here!”

And, now, as the second Sunday after Easter is upon us this week, our intention as a church is to stay with the resurrection message longer than just one Sunday.

Over the next couple of weeks (until Pentecost), I’m preaching through the book of Acts about how resurrection unfolds throughout the story of the early church. Each week, the hope is to uncover a little bit more about how resurrection can form the stories of our lives into beautiful witnesses of the goodness of God.

By slowing ourselves down here, instead of rushing through Easter season, I’m observing again how much hope is ours to claim being a people of the resurrection. 

In particular, the hope found within the Easter season gives us courage to dream a little bigger dreams, make plans for greater things than we can see right in front of our faces, and to realize once again that participation in the kingdom of God is how the Christian faith has its power.  We have the extra umph in our step to actually believe that life changing things could actually happen through us.

I’m already seeing evidence of this around the church and wanted to share a few examples with you-

1. Plans are being made to embark on a new adventure of community partnership with Reston Interfaith as Washington Plaza will soon be matched with a local area family in need through the Family Mentoring Program for the next year. I’m thankful for our two program coordinators who will soon be going through training to help lead us.  Resurrection is unfolding as we will soon have a tangible way to do community ministry in Reston unlike anything we’ve ever done before TOGETHER.

2. Contractors have been selected, funding has been approved by the congregation, and we are waiting to hear about opportunities for a loan. Why? Much-needed building repair can encourage us to continue to use our physical plant to be of service to the community. Resurrection is unfolding as we show ourselves and our neighbors that Washington Plaza is alive and well and committed to making a difference in the Lake Anne neighborhood.

3. New young adults and children are finding us every week. The children’s Sunday School area is constantly growing. Children of the church are forming community with each other. And, the hearts of long-timers are being encouraged through seeing the under 40 crowd grow on a weekly basis. Resurrection is unfolding as God is calling new faces with unique stories, gifts and passions to share with us that are guiding us in our becoming.

And, in other ways, this list could go on. Washington Plaza friends, keep your eyes open, for new life is springing up all around you. Do you perceive it? But, even more importantly what are you doing to participate in resurrection?

April 12, 2010

Rest in Peace, Danny

In a previous lifetime it seems, I was a student associate pastor at Providence United Methodist Church in Goldsboro, NC.  I loved this church for the ways that they encouraged and supported me during my final year of seminary. The robe I preach in every Sunday was a gift from this congregation, in fact.

I got to know this congregation in a way that I probably will never know another church because during my 9 month tenure there, the congregation supplied my housing and food. I spent an entire month (on the weekends) with one family in the church as well as lunch after church with a different family.

In February 2006, I wrote this post about one such family, the Brocks. I still get the newsletter from Providence each month and this week I read that Danny Brock passed away last week. My heart was sad to hear this news, but also glad to know that he’s finally at peace. I called the post: “Unexpected Blessings.”

When I begin the 90 mile trek to Goldsboro, NC on Saturday afternoons or evenings, often times I go expecting very little out of the Saturday night stay over experience. It is hard to give up a weekend night. And it is hard sometimes to spend the night in a parishioner’s home because when I am there I am no longer Elizabeth, but Elizabeth the pastor. I feel like my every move is being watched and judged (such as when I go to bed, how I fold the towel in the bathroom, how much coffee I drink for breakfast, etc). And, the sacrifice of not sleeping in my own bed seems a bit too much to endure sometimes when I’m facing a long day at church the next day. Ok, so you hear me using my complaining voice. . . .

But, during the month of January, my host family, Danny and Lynette gave me new perspective on why I do the job I do once again but more importantly what it means to joyfully embrace life—no matter the circumstances.

It is important to note here that Danny spends most of his days in his wheelchair. He can not dress, bath or feed himself without help. Danny will proudly tell you that he used to be a lineman, working for the local electric company. But, in 1991, a freak accident occurred and as a 15-foot, 200 pound poll fell on one side of his body.

Doctors told Lynette and their three boys that Danny would probably not make it through the night. But, Danny fought through many nights ahead with the support of his family. Lynette brought him home as soon as she could learn how to take care of him and now Danny can even walk with some assistance.

So, even though Danny’s physical abilities are now limited, Danny has many gifts to offer. His smile and delightful spirit lightens up any room he is in. I felt this way when he called out across the room, “Elizabeth, I’m glad to see you.”

But, beyond Danny’s positive attitude and love of life, he also loves others deeply. Before I could even begin a conversation with Danny, he handed me a pack of his own design of greeting cards and a scissor holder made from a paper towel dispenser and construction paper. I was so taken back by these homemade gifts because I knew not only how much time Danny had spent making them (using his one mobile arm), but because of the income I knew he received from the greeting cards.

Since his accident, drawing had become Danny’s passion. His drawings had won him awards in the county fair and were prominently framed all around his bedroom. I felt so special to have some of Danny’s artwork as my own. But beyond just being around Danny and hearing more about his hobbies, I learned much from Lynette too.

From the moment Lynette and I began to talk, I quickly learned she was with a woman of courage. As I listened to her tell me about Danny’s accident and how it had shaped their lives, I was overcome with awe. She was so joyful! Lynette praised the many doctors, friends and church members who had helped them financially and in gifts of time and service. And even though her days were now consumed with Danny’s care with limited trips out of the house for herself, she keep thanking God for how she felt God’s presence with her day in a day out. While Lynette did she expect her life to turn out as it did, God’s grace was sufficient. She and Danny were very blessed, she said. Grace got her out of bed each morning and sustained her through the lonely and uncertain moments. And, all I could think is, “Wow, my faith is so small!”

And, so after spending three Saturday nights with them, I too found unexpected blessings. Blessings of seeing my life from a perspective outside of myself, the blessing of being loved by one who gave me the best he had to offer, and the blessing of encouragement from a woman of great faith. Even though driving 250 miles each weekend can be an inconvenience, some of God’s most authentic saints do indeed live in Goldsboro, NC.

So, I’m glad that I get such precious moments of getting to know people like Danny and Lynette when I get there.

Danny, rest in peace! Thanks for all you did to shape me in my becoming a pastor. Much love!

April 8, 2010

On the Fourth Day After Easter. . .

What did this pastor do? She is rested.

Today is a day I have very much looked forward to because it is my Sabbath (and at this point nothing seems to be disturbing it). It is a discipline to actually take my day off because there is always the urge that there is more to do. But, without Sabbath practice lately, I’m not sure I’d be upright and walking. It has been my energy for my weariness and enthusiasm for my soul.

Sabbath reminds me who I am outside of my role as pastor. Sabbath gives me the opportunity to be with people who love me regardless of what I do for them. And most importantly, Sabbath gives me time to connect with God in way that I can not in the busyness of jetted off from this appointment and to that responsiblity.

I was recently doing some reading on the Alban institute website and I found this great piece from Judith Schwanz:

Sabbath is a break from expectations and productivity. You don’t need to accomplish anything in the true sabbath. We have become so conditioned to believe that unproductive time is wasted time. What things have you put off doing because you had more pressing deadlines? When was the last time you read a book just for fun? How long has it been since you turned off the alarm clock and slept in? Do you love to putter in the garden, but rarely find time for it? These things and many others may be ideal sabbath practices for you if you find them to be a source of refreshment.

Sabbath is a break from competition. For one day, we lay aside the pressure to be number one, to be better than anyone else. Competition pervades our society and the church and pushes us to try a little harder, give a little more to strive for the best. For the sabbath, lay aside the need to win and be content to participate in life. Choose not to engage in those activities that require competition.

Sabbath is a break from consumerism. We spend so much time during the week thinking about making money, paying bills, and acquiring things we really need as well as those we just want. Our consumer society provides us with so many choices and upgrades that we can easily get sucked into the cycle of always wanting more. We want the newest gadget, the latest technology. God calls us to a life of simplicity. Especially on the sabbath, resolve to take the time to appreciate what you do have and refrain from the hectic grasping for more. Sabbath is a good time to ask, “Do I really need that?” and discern what is really important.

We need all of these breaks– not just when we go on our annual vacations– but every week. Imagine how refreshed and self-aware we’d all be if we actually took complete days off on a regular basis.

I want to be a pastor who encourages Sabbath practice in my congregation for these reasons and many more, so I best get to modeling it myself. Off the computer for the rest of the day: Sabbath, here I come!

April 6, 2010

A Proud Alumna

Pardon the personal post, but here goes: Though it went against all Biblical narratives of rooting for David instead of Goliath, I was proud to cheer on Duke last night to become the 2010 NCAA national champion!  Butler played a great game and I have much admiration for the way they played and carried themselves, BUT it was a good night for those wearing Duke blue in the end.

I was even more prouder to see the divinity students with the divinity signs in the background during this interview at half-time.

I had a wonderful experience at Duke Divinity and would highly recommend it to other pastors and theologians seeking to do great things for the church!  And, know if you attend, you’ll have a great distraction of community building during basketball season too. Some of my fondest memories on campus center around watching basketball. It’s hard to leave the university and not be hooked.

Already looking forward to next year!

April 3, 2010

Preaching on Easter

It’s almost lunchtime on Saturday and I’m still working on my sermon for Easter Sunday. It has been a busy week and now I finally feel like I have the energy of thought and emotion to begin thinking about what it means that “Christ is risen indeed!”

I begin this task today, however, with much gratitude.

It is a high and holy privilege to be allowed to speak a word on the most important day of all the Christian year. I do so knowing that it is an honor considering my age and gender.

I attended one of the youngest seminaries in America. I think the average age of the incoming class was 24. I remember one semester some of my colleagues taking a class on preaching during the high holy days. Yet, many of them emerged from the class wondering how long it would be before they had the opportunity to use the reflection and knowledge they’d gained in the class. With most of us heading for positions in associate land, these classmates of mine knew that it would be a rarity for them to be called upon to preach on Christmas, Easter or even Pentecost. They’d be assigned the “low crowd Sundays” like the week after Christmas and Easter or on Labor Day weekend. In most cases, they’d have to wait until they had their own church to be allowed to speak a word on Easter.

When I was an associate pastor before coming to Washington Plaza, such was my experience just as predicted. I preached the week after Christmas and Easter and on those other unpopular Sundays. And, I know that my story was not uncommon. The only occasions I’ve heard of associate pastors preaching on an important day are when a death, illness, or major life crisis comes to the senior pastor. Somehow speaking on Easter has become some sort of privilege to be earned or a right to be deserved.

Yet, is this really what the Easter story is all about? Is it a story about earning the love of God? Is it a story about the resurrected Lord appearing to the most polished? Is it a tale about the first coming first?

Actually not at all. It is the story of the world turned upside down of the promises of Jesus coming into life. It is a story of the first shall be last and the last shall be first. It is a story of Christ appearing to the lowest of the day first: some women after all!

I know most the arguments against associates preaching on Christmas and Easter go back to the presumption from the senior pastor: “The church would expect to hear from the senior pastor on such a day. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t preach when the congregation expected me to.” Or, “The associate pastor is just not as good of preacher as I am. I wouldn’t want to scare way all the visitors.” Or, “The associate pastor is a better preacher than I am, I still want to have a job after Easter.”

I eagerly look forward to the day when Washington Plaza has the opportunity to call other pastoral staff and thus opportunities for our congregation to break the barriers on all of this nonsense. For the days that define our Christian faith should always belong to all of us not just a select few. And more voices than just one should always fill any pulpit.

Until then, on occasions, like tomorrow, I will humbly enter the pulpit in a spirit of thanksgiving. Thanking God for chance to bring a word to God’s people. Thanking God for the congregations like Washington Plaza that have allowed me to lead without being held back by ideas about age or gender. Thanking God for the opportunity I have each week to do what I love: time a part for study and then speaking encouragement others about the hope that is ours to claim in the story we call resurrection.

Now back to the sermon . . .

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