Posts tagged ‘church’

January 14, 2014

Ordination Outside the Church

Yesterday on the Deeper Story, my friend Joy posted a beautiful story about her ordination while on a mission trip to Sri Lanka. It was a huge coming out for her not only because what she shared was a personal, but because of fear of what it meant to say that she, a woman from a tradition that does not ordain women was ordained and not in a church.

I hope you’ll take a break and read it here.

The theology behind such an ordination was that ordination is about affirmation of what God has already done is and doing in a life. Quoting the words of Rev. Luther Lee who presided over the ordination of one of the first women ever to receive such, Joy tells us that these words were a part of her ordination service:

“We are not here to make a minister. It is not to confer on this our sister a right to preach the gospel. If she has not that right already, we have no power to communicate it to her.”

Upon reading this, immediately thought about all the women in my life who are “pastors types” like me but have never been ordained and maybe never will be.

Some of these women come from traditions that don’t support women in ministry. They stay planted even in their less than supportive denominations because they know they are called to serve (even if their contributions are never recognized).

And some come from family and life situations where ordination just never happened. They would have loved to attended seminary, taken ordination exams, been confirmed by church boards, but they had other callings on their life too. So, they just served without being given such a title.

The ministry of these women I know inspires me. It challenges me. And I feel a sense of collegiality with them. Though they might feel inferior at first to me because I have seminary degree (ridiculous really that we have to have these barriers), in the end it matters little. If at all. From where I sit, we are sisters. We know what it feels like to be called by God to teach, to care for and even preach to those in need a word of good news. Pastors are just who we are.

Does this mean I am anti-traditional ordination like that which I received? The kind where a person finishes seminary, writes papers, sits before boards to talk about theology and then has a service of laying on of hands in a church when the whole process is said and done and ready to be affirmed by a community.

No. I’m not. I think theological education is important. The longer I am in ministry the more the words of James 3:1 ring in my ears: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” To teach or preach is serious business and those of us who do it need to make sure we’re studied up!

Furthermore,  it’s good to be blessed by a community of faith that has watched your growth and cheered you on. It’s good to have the support of the of those in whom you will soon lead.

And in all of this, the church needs more ordained persons– persons willing to stand up and say the bold thing that their life is not their own and that they will use their gifts to serve all of God’s people.

My ordination service over seven years ago and the responsiblity of minister that came out of that is so very important to the person I believe God wants me to be. I wouldn’t change the whole getting ordained in the church part for anything.

But, as a church we have to realize that while our processes are in place and good, they are equally broken.

Our communities affirm many, but often leave out others equally called. Our circles of affirmation liturgy need to enlarge.

Ordination is a gift to the church, but not for the sake of the church only. God calls some to ministry that may take place 100% outside of the church’s walls.

Ordination rules and regulations were not given to Moses on golden tablets, but have come through years of tradition. Sometime our traditions need to take new directions.

I’m proud of the courage of my friend, Joy and the freedom in which she is speaking about her calling. I know her courage is already inspiring countless others. And that there are other women (and men) like Joy who are expressing (and will be expressing) call to ordination in the near future– ordination that will serve the mission of Jesus Christ but may not look like what we’ve always known.

November 7, 2013

Getting Married to God

On Monday, November 4th, I celebrated the 7th anniversary of my ordination.

Seven years ago this week, I stood at the front of a church– Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC and said to the congregation gathered of family, friends and congregation members that I would serve God in my vocational pursuits. I said I would set aside personal interests for the sake of the community of Christ. I said I would seek to embody, teach and share the gospel with my life. I said I would do all of this for as long as I lived.

After the service, we gathered in the church social hall and ate sausage balls and cheese dip among my other favorite snacks made by my future mother-in-law. There was a cake with a picture of me preaching with a huge, “Congratulations, Pastor Evans!” on it.

A big day all around.

The night before the service, I sat upright the in bed lounging with my closest girlfriends who came into town for the celebration (Baptist ordained pastors as well) trying not to be so anxious.

Over a bag of chips on top of the brand new white comforter I finally had the money to buy in my first post-seminary job, I recounted to them my deepest fear about the hours to come.

It wasn’t about the music going awry.

It wasn’t about the having to kneel for so long at the front of the church without my legs falling asleep as people prayed prayers of blessing over me.

It wasn’t whether or not I’d be able to pray the benediction as I’d planned to say without being too emotional.

No, it was a cry of: “I don’t want my life to be over.”

I was having pre-ordination jitters; the kind where I really knew that this moment in my life was a really big deal.

And even as my pastoral support girlfriend team sought to calm me down saying that my life wasn’t really over. They said things like, “You’ll still have fun. . . We’ll make sure of that. Being ordained doesn’t make you any less human.” There was part of me that felt the weight of the shift.

It was like I was getting married to God. I had one last night of freedom.

I ate more chips.

And though I had done everything I could to finally make it to this day– the improbable feet as a Baptist woman in ministry getting a Reverend in front of her name– when I stood in front of the altar on November 4, 2006, the relationship of God and I being in an more intense partnership was never exactly what I envisioned it to be.

This would be no easy marriage.

Though I’d grown up with a pastor for a father and knew all the social expectations that came with the title, to be the Rev myself was entirely new. Because all of the sudden the expectations didn’t just come with my family name but it was what I’d chosen.

I’d chosen to be the one who would be asked to publicly pray more than the norm.

I’d chosen to be the one who would be asked to stand the gravesides of the grieving, the bedsides of the sick and on the doorsteps of the bewildered seekers.

I’d chosen to be “on call” 24-7 when pastoral emergencies arose in a congregation.

I’d chosen that when the day came that I was legally married to a man that he’d be the kind of man that also supported the marriage I’d been pursuing long before we’d ever met.

But as is with most marriages, as it was with my ordination, it was not a one-sided deal.

God long before had chosen me.

Not that I was more special or “called” than others with different kinds of work, but that this was my path to walk with God.

And in many ways my “fear” was indeed right on– my life as it was before 11/4/06 was over.

In this new relationship that God and I would share together, greater discipline and sensitivity to the Spirit would be required.

No longer could I ever assume that my faith was for my own edification alone, but was for the blessing of my community.

No longer could I act as though I didn’t need community, for as much as they needed me, I needed them.

No long could I live in such a way that forgot the day that God and I got married– for if their ever came a time when I felt like a new vocational path was given to me– I’d need to release this marriage in a public way just as it was given to me.

Being married is a long-term commitment.

Seven years ago it all began. Together God and I are still on this journey.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming soon . . . Seven years later.

November 5, 2013

When Calling Takes You Outside the Church PART THREE

(If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, read here to come up to speed).

Calling outside of the church takes a different kind of spiritual discipline to keep up than calling within the church.

It’s a discipline they don’t teach you in seminary: being both pastor and lay person in the church at the same time as deeply growing spiritual being. Or is that even possible?

When I was the pastor, my job description included preaching every Sunday (except the four Sunday got off a year). I had to come up with 2,400+ words to say about God, faith and our life by Sunday morning. No exceptions. It was a built in discipline to think critically and theologically about scripture and community life.

At first, this task both delighted and overwhelmed me. My seasoned colleagues said, “It will get easier. Don’t you worry.” And it did. Once I got in the rhythm it was harder to take a week off. Not only could I come up with a sermon every week, but it became the place where I worked out my own spiritual musings. My own theological and Biblical wrestlings came forth from within my sermons (even if my congregation didn’t know it).

Now, as my calling has taken me outside of the church, I no longer do this. I preach once a month to every six weeks supply preaching for pastor friends out-of-town or filling in on an interim basis in smaller congregations without a pastor.

So where is my theological struggle worked out today?

If I want to keep learning, if I want to keep growing, then I have to keep my mind engaged. With our travel schedule, I’ve had to find my spiritual life outside just attending just ONE church.

And it takes discipline.

It takes discipline like initiating reading a book on spiritual practice with a friend and discussing it together though no one tells you to do so.

It takes discipline like engaging your preaching friend’s sermon prep process, even if you will not be asked to speak on the passage.

It takes discipline like seeking out people of faith that challenge you– even if you have to make a journey several states over to visit them.

It is so much harder to do outside the church (when one community isn’t at your disposal), but it doesn’t mean it is impossible. And it doesn’t mean that rich spirituality has to be found in a box checked, “Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I am a member of this small group at this church.” It can be found as opportunities present themselves to embody church in daily life.

I’ve been reading Addie Zimerman’s new book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over (it’s an amazing must read for any of you who grew up in evangelical land as I did).

One of the phrases that has stuck with me so far from this book is something that Addie’s husband, Andrew says about church.

The two of them were “shopping” for a new church as a young married couple and kept hitting walls of frustration with the traditional church model which to them felt over packaged, inauthentic and all about awkward conversations around coffee pots in the corners of Sunday School rooms.

Addie keeps trying to find the perfect church while Andrew wasn’t so wrapped up in the structure kept telling Addie his motto: “But we are The Church.” Or in other words, church is not something we go to but something we experience every time 2 or 3 are gathered in Christ’s name. (The two eventually joined a house church).

It takes discipline to remember that church is not noun but a verb. And that as we set out on this path to follow Jesus, there is not just one way to live out our faith.

We might spent our whole lives figuring it out and then realizing we were wrong and figuring it out again.

We might do it within the membership roles of a congregation. Or we might not. Jesus still loves us the same.

October 29, 2013

When Calling Takes You Outside the Church PART TWO

In continuation of the conversation about what happens to your own sense of doctrine when calling takes you outside the church?

(The first part of this series can be read by clicking here if you missed it).

What happens when you don’t have a denomination or a presbytery or bishop or association telling you to stay within these lines of thought and worship practice (at least publicly that is)?

What happens when you don’t have to worry about losing your job if you cross the line just a little to far in your writing or speaking?

What happens to your own sense of faith then? What happens to your own church attendance record?

Such are questions I feel like I’ve been living into this year with this new sense of calling on my life.

I no longer attend church on Sundays because I have to. I attend because I want to.

I no longer do service activities because it is something that my church asks me to do, I do things because it is just who I am.

I no longer tow the “this is what my denomination believes” card. In the spiritual community I have around me, we wrestle together.

Not that I’ve ever really been the kind of person who was shut down by those who want to silence my questionings, but to be in a place where my income (i.e. ability to pay the mortgage) is not dependent on what a particular church or a denominational group of churches thinks about what I believe can only be summed up in one word: freedom.

So dang freeing.

Most days now feel like living into the exhortation from Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.”

It’s been a season of life for me to once and for all put aside the voices in my head from my evangelical upbringing that say things like:

“Christianity is about going to church every Sunday” or “Christianity can’t be found outside the church.”

And in the midst of this freedom, I’m having lots of new questions about the role of the church in faith. Questions like: “Is spiritual, Jesus-centric community only found in a group of people who get together in a church building on Sunday morning or other times of the week?”

I realize by saying this aloud, I’m on the edge of the heretic zone for some of you.

You’ll be getting out the Bible and start quoting passages from Corinthians to me about the foundational principles of church as shared with us by Paul.

“You’re a pastor? You can’t say these things!”

Ok, I hear you already.

But this is my point: as my own sense of calling has taken me out of the church, I’ve often found the “church” in what seems nothing like what I’ve ever known before. And I don’t need the church to say I’m right or wrong here. It just is.

Church comes to me in conversations over lemonade or Diet Coke when people of completely different spiritual backgrounds somehow land on common ground.

Church comes to me over Skype conversations with my friend in Africa who reminds me that no matter what, I’m loved unconditionally.

Church comes to me when my best friend in Tennessee talks to me about how she’s teaching her 2 year old to pray prayers of thanksgiving.

Church comes to me when I’m standing with Kevin at a Feed The Children food drop giving can goods and life essential products to neighbors in need.

What about you? Where do you find church? Where are you struggling with issues of doctrine and spirituality that somehow get tangled in the word we’ve labeled “church”?

September 1, 2013

To Remember Who You Are

A couple weeks ago with Kevin out of the country for work and no particular geographic place I needed to be I packed up from DC and headed south toward North Carolina.

While I was in seminary I worked to keep my student debt at $0 as a student associate pastor at a rural United Methodist Church.

For two academic years, New Sharon United Methodist Church was my home.

It was a win-win for both the church and me, I believe. They got extra pastoral help. I got valuable experience as a pastor in an affirming environment. I taught them that all folks with Baptist roots aren’t crazy. They taught me the joys of entering deeply into their lives. We loved each other. And I made some life-long friends as a result of being a part of this community.

So, it feel natural to call some New Sharon church members who have abided in my life since then– and ask them if I could stay with them when I came to town. Tim and Debbie Smith were great to say “Yes!”

In being in North Carolina, the land of many trees, I remembered who I was. And I got a lot of writing done surrounded by good company and food.

Not only through the gracious hospitality of my hosts, but through numerous lunch and dinner conversations and even a visit back to choir practice at my old church.

I heard things like, “We still think of you all the time . . . We are so glad our paths crossed when they did. . . . I wish you lived closer.”

I even got to reconnect with an older church member, Bobbie Hunt who told me that she has a bookmark I gave her after my visit to Africa in 2005– and that she prays for me daily. Every time she sees the bookmark, she said that she prays for me! I was amazed and tears came to my eyes as I heard this. Not only did I have no idea I’d made any impression on her life, but to know of her daily prayers for me was amazing (especially considering so much of Kevin’s work with FTC is now in Africa!).

North Carolina was good for my soul.

I remembered I came from somewhere– including there.

I remembered that I have more people who love me than I realize from my current experience in a new place.

I remembered the joy that comes from the calling of being a particular group of people’s pastor.

I remembered that I have a home to go back to anytime I forget.

Durham, Hillsborough and New Sharon United Methodist friends, I love you. Thanks for reminding me again how much you love me too.

July 10, 2013

Why Still Preacher on the Plaza?

One question I’ve gotten recently is “Why haven’t you changed the name of your blog?”

The official title of my blog is Preacher on the Plaza. I started this blog back in January 2009 (back when not everyone and their brother had a blog) when I became the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist (WPBC) in Reston, VA. This church sat as the centerpiece of a commercial/ residential district of Lake Anne with our next door neighbors being a coffee shop, a real estate branch office and a Thai restaurant. (What fun, right?) Hence the name– Preacher on the Plaza— I was the only “preacher” on Lake Anne Plaza.

On my last Sunday at WPBC, I was given a couple of gifts. One of them was a binder full of my blogs printed out (remember the 2012 election joke about binders?). It was a funny yet appropriate gift. The congregation knew me well. They knew how much I loved writing and sharing the story of our little church with the larger community. They knew the blogs I’d written during my tenure with them meant something.

Though blogs are not meant to become doctrinal statements or even be the kind of thoughts shared that you’ll always go back to years later– I kind of like having these binders in my closet as a way to remember WPBC and their thoughtfulness.

So, when January 2013 rolled around, I thought about changing the name of this site. A chapter in the life had ended, you know. I was no longer “the preacher on Lake Anne Plaza.” One day, there would be another pastor to care for this group of people I loved so much. Maybe he or she would want to be “the preacher on the plaza?”

But somehow I just couldn’t change the name. The title had become a part of what I was and who I was in the process of becoming.
I decided to remain “Preacher on the Plaza” for two reasons:

1. In this current phase of life, God seemed to be calling me to be a pastor who was “on the plazas” of life (as I always seem to be somewhere that wasn’t where I was the week before). I would not pastor a traditional church, but I would be out among the people where I found myself seeking opportunities to engage others in the deeper stories of life. The plazas of this world would be my new ministry. And I would need to write about them.

2. The church that made me their “Preacher on the Plaza” gave me my voice. One of the greatest gift my tenure at WPBC gave me was confidence in the leader/ teacher/ preacher I was made to be. I tell the truth when I say NEVER did WPBC ask me to be any less than who I was– a rarity among churches these days. I actually think they would have been ill at me as a congregation if I’d backed down to be any less than I was. In keeping the name “Preacher on the Plaza” for my blog, it’s my way of paying tribute to this wonderful congregation that empowered me in my becoming and having a piece of them always with me.

So, thanks for reading, oh faithful blog readers. Thanks for being on this journey with me– this journey that I often have no idea where it is going from day-to-day.

I look forward to possibly visiting a plaza near you sometime soon!

May 20, 2013

Not All Worship Is the Same

I’ve been around church for years. And I think I’ve seen so much of what makes church, church these days–

Traditional Worship
Contemporary Worship
Contemplative Worship
Worship by the Common Book of Prayer
Worship where tongues are spoken
Worship where hands are raised
Worship in shorts
Worship in suits
Worship with shouts
Worship in silence
Worship from the pews
Worship from the pulpit

Is there a correct way to worship?

Is there a way of worship that is more pleasing to God?

Is there a worship style that will get more people to attend your church?

Such are the kind of questions church folks like to ask each other. Such are the kind of questions that church folks like to think they have complete certainty about.

We go to conferences to seek to worship in mass numbers. We go to conferences to learn better ways to lead our kind of worship. And we go to conferences to learn about the latest trends in worship.

But is such worth all our energy? What does God think of all our shuffling around like this? Does “better worship” or “bigger worship” really help us draw closer to the Divine?

I’m not so sure.

We’ve become good students at the art form of worship, but we’ve lost sight at what encountering God looks like– the kind of God that Annie Dillard says we need to wear crash helmets to experience in church. We’ve lost sight of believing that worship begins with a relationship. Worship begins with a desire for adoration of the One who is greater than us all– who could never to be controlled

And no fancy templates or worship orders are always needed. We can worship with or without drums, the piano or the organ.

And most of all, it’s never about emotion alone as is the most popular trend in so many churches today– it’s about an alignment of our entire being.

And worship most of all is not about us– not about what we “get out of it.” Not about the feelings we leave a worship service with and most of all worship is not for worship’s sake. Worship, as given to us in the Christian context is about setting our feet on holy ground. Holy ground which we may “feel” once in our lives– or if we are lucky maybe more . . . but the emotion is never guaranteed.

Consider this wisdom from Roberta Bondi about the emotional traps of whatever kind of worship practice we choose:

“If we have a powerful religious experience, we need always to remember that just because a religious experience is powerful it is not necessarily from God.”

Bondi goes on to ask us to consider these questions in our discernment of worship: “Does this experience make us feel singled out and either superior or not accountable to others in or out of the community because of it? Does it lead us to be judgmental of others, to say who deserves to belong to God’s people and who does not? . . . OR does this experience give us insight into ourselves, others or God? Do its insights hold good over time, or was it simply an emotional high that not only wears off but makes us seek another?”

If an experience of God in church leads us to want more of the experiences (the high of it all) and not God alone, then it is not worship at its best. BUT, if an experience changes us from inside out, turning over in us bone and marrow, thought and feeling, then it is worship that is about to change the world. It’s heaven come to earth.

What I most like to tell people as a pastor is: if you feel the need to raise your hands in a “quiet” church: do it. If you feel the need to cover your head in reverence in a “high” church: do it. If you feel the need to sit reflectively in a “loud” church: do it.

I think the sooner we stop trying to manufacture experiences of God, the sooner we’ll find the Holy in whatever tradition our worshiping life takes us.

April 12, 2013

Spiritual Tour Guide

Last week, I was having lunch with a friend who I’d hadn’t seen in years. As we were catching up on life’s ups and downs, she stopped the conversation to make a bold statement: “I’m tired of being a spiritual guide for everyone else.”

My friend, a veteran minister with a thriving campus ministry under her leadership was speaking to the weariness that had become her own life. She went on, “There are times when I have to remind myself that I’m not just a spiritual tour guide, helping others creating meaningful experiences with God when I don’t allow myself to stop and have some of my own.” She then told me about the things she’s recently added and subtracted from her schedule to make this possible– growing in her own faith journey again.

I was convicted and encouraged by her honesty of this friend, especially as I’m now in month #4 of my own sabbatical from playing the role of “spiritual tour guide” for a congregation.

Don’t get me wrong– the role, the privilege and the opportunities that come when others entrust you to lead and guide their faith– is a high and wonderful calling. It’s a blessing to those of us who have found or do find ourselves in this role in our communities. And, being a “tour guide” is never a completely serving only others activity. For there is much to learn as you abide in the deep waters of relationship with others.

But, should this be a role we are in for life? Many ministers I know, think so. But, I’m just not sure.

We’ve all got to take time outs.

I know that what I’m suggesting is nothing profound– for there are entire centers, book series and support groups of all kinds that encourage personal well-being for those in serving roles such as ministers. Clergy-care is something seminary folks and denominational folks, and foundation folks like to talk about, give money to support and even set up conferences to encourage.

But, the simplicity of my friend’s statement: “I want to create spiritual experiences for myself” I think really gets at the heart of what the conversation is missing. And, that is the point of clergy care.

As a pastor, I remember going to conferences where it would be preached to me to :
spend time alone with God every day outside of sermon prep,
put my family above the church as much as I could,
take all of my vacation
never miss a day off (the deadly sin of clergy care!).

I did these things as a pastor (well, a lot of these things). I was proud to take all my vacation and visit a spiritual director once a month and even dream with the leadership about a Sabbatical at some point (funny how I got one sooner than we all would have thought!).

But, even in doing these things, I have to tell you I missed the point.

I never got around to creating spiritual experiences for myself. I never saw myself outside of the role of pastor (a.k.a. spiritual tour guide for others). I rarely made it a priority to position my life to let God speak to me without it having something to do with a Bible Study I needed to lead or a sermon I need to preach. I did the best I could. I know that. And, after all, I had a job to do with deadlines and people who “needed me.” I was paid to lead.

Yet, now where I sit now as a disciple of Jesus without tour group, I have to say I’m learning much in this tour group of one.

I’m learning how much I liked my title and role at the church– though I know now how little such impressed Jesus or made me a “better” or more “faithful” Christian than anyone else.

I’m learning much about prayer– that the Holy truly wants to abide with me in everyday life, not just the parts I think are holy.

I’m learning much about community– that “church” can happen very often outside the walls of any building.

I’m learning how to be supportive to my former clergy colleagues– even when it means playing the part of “Judas” at the last-minute at a Maundy Thursday service (yes, this really happened for this friend).

I know I won’t be in this space forever. But, for now, I continue to be grateful for it. I know that even in the uncertainty of what each day ahead holds, I’m still ok as a tour guide in an time-out.

February 20, 2013

I Confess

I hear it from clergy all the time: it’s hard to worship when you are leading others.

One of the joys of my Sabbatical time so far has been the opportunity to visit to other churches and consider again what church means to me as a participating worshipper.

But learning how to be a worshipper is harder than it might seem.

On this past Sunday morning I found myself at a big steeple church with a friend in my hometown in Tennessee. It was her home church and for this reason I was glad to go alongside.

But, when we pulled up to the congregation sometimes known in the community as “fortress,” I was a little afraid.

And rightfully so. I was back in church compound land. Such a big model of doing ministry is not what I believe the church is nor is how I’ve I practiced it in years.

Was I going to have to make small church talk with strangers around the coffee pot before church? Was I going to have to sit in a classroom circle staring at other well-dressed folks who appeared to be more excited about study than they actually were? Was I going to want to pull my hair out at the fluffy theology coming forth from the lips of leaders? None of these are my favorite things, as you might imagine.

Furthermore, fear came up in me because I’m not a fan of churches without a lot of racial diversity. (We need our churches to LOOK like the Body of Christ.) I’m not a fan of churches that don’t include voices of the poor (I mean, what is a good service without a distraction from a homeless person coming in?). And, I know a church is not for me if the American and Christian flag are proudly displayed in the sanctuary (Can I say idolatry of nationalism has no place in God’s house?). Most of all, I want to know that when a church says, “We welcome all” they really mean it. I want to know that a church’s doctrine doesn’t hurt people.

But, then we arrived. Ready or not, I went.

Getting out of our car, I gazed up at a large dark stoned building that takes up several blocks in the neighborhood. It almost felt like something out of one of the Harry Potter movies as I walked through wood carved archways inside to get take a flight of stairs down to a well-kept Sunday School classroom. Asking questions on the way in, I learned that the membership is mostly made up of those who would be named as upper middle to upper class folks– at least 2,000 in worship on Sunday. And most of it members are white– even though some of the young families have adopted church from other countries. And there is one paid African-American soloist in the choir. Need I say more?

I could have easily spent the next two hours rolling my eyes and thinking “better than” thoughts in my head.

But, I have to confess– I was wonderfully surprised.

Walking into Sunday School– a room filled with well-dressed, well-to-do looking folks, about 20 of them in all, with a woman in a black sweater, red beaded necklace, pencil length grey skirt, and black boots standing behind a pulpit on a desk, I found an open mind. We sat in rows not a circle. And then, what came forth from this teacher’s mouth was well-prepared, engaging truth from the Word.

I almost had tears well up in my eyes at several points as we discussed the passage from John 5 about the man whom Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (Have there been spaces in my life the past six years when someone has taught me on a regular basis? No. Man, this has got to change, I thought. ) As I continued to listen, the teacher read commentaries from some of my favorite Biblical scholars, one in which I’d even known in seminary. The class members shared a richer theological discussed than I’d experienced in such a church in years. I found myself saying in the midst of the discussion, “I guess this is why people actually come to church– they’re hungry too to learn about their relationship with Christ.” Because I did. I left refreshed.

Later in the service of worship, though the number of white faces were many and the flags hung beside the steps up to the altar, I tried again to not be so snobby. And, tears found me again. We sang robustly the great hymns of faith with the kind of full voices only a full sanctuary with pipe organ can. I found beauty in the liturgy of the prayers. The choir proclaimed a sacred piece that stilled any unsettling in me. The preacher, though an older white man, read and proclaimed the Word with jewels of encouragement. And, throughout the service, I felt the warmth of those around me– many of whom I’d met before while visiting once before– folks who remembered me, asked genuine questions, and talked to me about their prayer life.

I left with a conviction of my heart. One I’d been thinking about for a long while– we’ve got to be less judgmental of each other in the Church. Pastors like me need to stop being church snobs. The Spirit of the Lord is not always in the places we expect. God’s presence is in all black churches and all white churches and rich churches and poor churches. Church doesn’t always have to be just the way we like it for worship to happen. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I know this again full well.

Does the church still need prophets? Does the church need voiced raised that say, “Stop building altars to yourself and start serving?” Does the church need radical changes in its institutional life so that it can look more like the radical message of Jesus? Does the church need more integration and more theologically sound teachers? Sure it does. It really, really really it does.

But, in the meantime, can the church be the place where God’s presence dwells, where lives are transformed and where individual faith can be nourished? To all of this, I say yes.

I confess, I’ve been judgmental a long time. This Sabbatical time is asking this ugliness in me to change. And, most of all this Sabbath is asking me to worship from the pews. And most of all to listen.

February 1, 2013

Out of the Spotlight

It has been over a month now since I preached my last sermon at Washington Plaza. It’s very different life from how it was only a few months ago when I was asked to stand in pulpit every week and give an account of my faith while lovingly finding a way to be a presence of care for others. And although I jumped back into the pulpit last week as a guest preacher, my life in general has been lived out of the spotlight and I think will continue to be such for a bit longer. Sabbatical 2013 is on full-time.

Now, I go to church on Sunday and sit in the back pew and get up to walk out the door when the pastor says amen. I blog and write for online publications less, instead focusing on my goal of finishing my book manuscript by March 31. I spend more time than I have had at the gym. Maybe a 5K is in my future soon?

People who know me well ask one of two questions:

1. Are you bored?

2. What are you doing next?

These are normal questions to ask. But I’m not very good at answering them. Sometimes I miss the pace of what my life used to be, but most of the time I don’t. As much as I am cheering on my favorite clergy pals and churches for whom I have rich histories, I have no envy of “I wish I were you.” (Well, of course I could feel differently by Easter). And for the record, I no I have no 10 step plan for what is coming next.

I’ve had several pastor types say to me recently, “I could never do what you are doing. I could never leave what I know by choice.” But, I made this big leap with Kevin’s full support and I need to tell you that I’m still alive (imagine that?)! I’m also breathing, smiling, laughing and crying through the joys and sorrows of life just like everyone does, maybe though a richer level than before.

In taking this time to learn to exist and move in this world without a title or a traditional job to call my own, it has its scary moments of course. Sabbatical times are not for those who like hanging on to ego, public recognition, or even a “can-do” spirit.

I need to tell you that I worry if I stop blogging all the time many of you will stop reading altogether (and I like this conversation we’re having). I worry no one will ask me to write for them again if I don’t keep reminding them to ask me. I worry I might just have a completely new take on the church as an outsider that may never allow me to come back as the insider I once was. But in all of these things, Sabbath time is all about letting go and having faith that as you move through the rhythms of each day more will be revealed.

One of my favorite Sabbath authors, Wayne Muller writes:

“All life requires a rhythm of rest. . .
There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. ”

Instead of moving slowly and listening to these rhythms, it would be much easier to start marketing myself for what is next (I know how to do that). Or, try to find some part-time job so that I could say I’m doing ___. (I know how to do that too). Or, even to be online every five minutes posting my accomplishments (“See, look at me, I’m as busy as you, just not getting paid for it right now”) so others can validate my existence. But, such is not Sabbath’s way.

Sabbath’s way is about saying “no” so that we can say “yes” with greater confidence.

There are times of course when I feel guilty about my place of privilege– I know countless others would love to have this kind of time a part from the norm and their financial, family or other life circumstances simply won’t allow such. But, I have to keep reminding myself that Sabbath is a gift. God gave me this gift. It would just as wrong not to receive it.

And, as much as I would just like to crawl in a cave with my most favorite people in the world and call this Sabbath, life (or least how I experience it) can not be totally lived in a bubble. There are bills to pay, food to prepare, clothes to wash, events to go to that help support the work of my husband, and people who come out of nowhere and hit my car while I was minding your my business and as a result now require long and dramatic conversations with insurance companies to get it fixed. As we all experience, life happens. Even in Sabbath, we can’t control.

Thanks for stopping by to sit in Sabbath with me for just for just a bit. Now, out of the spotlight I go again.

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