Friday, July 25, 2014

Random Sabbatical update

Confession Time.  I didn't attend a worship service on Sunday.  Instead I was a regular dad taking their child to camp. On the way we stopped at Starbucks, of course, and met a few of the others heading to her camp.  It provided an opportunity to have a random conversation with a young adult who is struggling with the idea of church, worship and community.  God Bless those random opportunities.

I am still working on a "Made to Stick" book report.  Also, this week I finished "Great by Choice" and intend to create a book report on that as well.  Had a marvelous time in a cabin in the woods this past week.  Thank You to church members who provided that opportunity.  I joked on facebook that I was going back in time.  No cell service, no wifi, I didn't mention the no running water and the outhouse as well!

As the sabbatical already is coming to its closing weeks I am struck by what has or hasn't happened.  Visiting worship has been brilliant and at first I wasn't really sure where that would be on my priority list.  Turns out it has been (with the exception of this previous week) priority one.  Reading has gone fairly well.  Worship planning . . . not as well as I had hoped, yet I am at peace with that.  I am reminding myself of the importance and power to admit "I don't know" and to keep working for an answer.

I am looking foward to talking with the church about what it is for us to be "Wesleyan" after all we are called "Wesley United Methodist Church."  What is it about Wesley's teachings, discipleship and church practice that we want to emulate and grow with?  I have been reflecting on the basic movement of the first Methodists who were moved through small group study to care for the vulnerable and to share their understanding of grace for all.

Hopefully this week I will be able to drop in on a friend's church for worship on Sunday and then I'm off to a house on Puget Sound.  Hope Y'all are well!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fourth Sabbatical Sunday Worship

As I reflect over childhood experiences, of people and events that shaped my life, I realized how clear my memories are of Sunday mornings.  How important it was for my parents to go to church.  How there seemed to be so many people.  Then as we got to the doors my mom would take us to the nursery and my parents would go into this mysterious room with all the other grown-ups.  What did they do in there?  Why couldn't I go in with them?  I have such a strong memory of the curiosity of that mystery.  What secret activities where those grown-ups doing?  Then one Sunday, I didn't go to the nursery, I went into the room with the grown-ups!  Over time I learned the prayers (wondering if the Holy Ghost was like Casper), I learned to sing and I ate bread and juice to remember Jesus loved me. My experiences there have greatly formed what it means to be part of a worshiping community and I am so grateful for the people of Rochester UMC.  They gave me a great gift as a child participating as a member of the worshiping community.

This Sunday I went to check out the local competition so to speak and attended one of the former Presbyterian churches in town. One personal note, I haven't been shaving the past week.  I'm on sabbatical so why not, right?  I was very self-conscious that I looked scruffy.  I was a lone single man with an unshaven face and I plopped myself down behind a family with two young girls.  Soon another man sat next to me further down the pew and I began thinking of church Safe Sanctuary policies.  Maybe this guy was thinking, who is this scruffy guy?  Why did he sit behind the girls?  Maybe I should have just shaved.

The worship started with two hymn-like songs.  There was a small singing group up front. The music was OK, but I didn't find a connection or excitement in singing them.  After a third song, there was a "passing of the peace" time.  I shook a few hands and sat, following my usual three and out rule.  Then it went on.  A couple more people shook my hand. And it went on.  Oh My Goodness when will it end?  Liturgically I really like passing the peace.  It’s important for us to be reconciled to one another. We should not stand and/or sit awkwardly waiting for this time to end while the extroverts move from one side of the sanctuary to the other. God has granted us grace, we should pass the peace and keep moving on.

Overall, this could have been a UMC service.  The congregation was older but had a good mix of families with children and youth.  The pastor was engaging.  The sermon, well, I've given plenty of shotgun (scattered without a clear point) sermons in my time so I'll give it a pass.  Not an "A"  but a "C".  I've been there.  I knew what I wanted to say, but just didn't get to it.  Then it’s Sunday and time to deliver whatever you have.

A prayer, offering and closing song and Peace Out, have fun watching the World Cup!

Again, I'm left to wonder, what is the purpose of this Sunday morning task?  So much time and emotional energy is given by the staff of any church into this weekly gathering.  Whether it’s traditional protestant or non-denominational we all sing, pray and hear from the scriptures.  Some of it is more entertaining than others.  But, would even the "best" of these services be the right place for someone to enter into the Christian community?  That’s how I entered as a child nurtured by my parents and other loving adults of the congregation.  But would I begin anew through worship?  I'm not sure.  I'm becoming increasingly aware also of how hard it is to wander into these things alone.  God bless all those single people or lone adults with children who have wandered into worship looking to connect with God and with others.  God forgive me for when I and or the church did not greet them well. 

I'm becoming more convinced that discipleship happens best in relationships that are formed in other ways from Sunday morning worship.  Worship can be formative in our lives of faith.  Worship can express things in a unique way.  Worship can give us a gift of community and the presence of God that other gatherings might not.  Yet, maybe we need to put some equal time into other aspects of spiritual formation.  How much more might I receive in worship if I knew a few of the people I was participating with?  How much more might I be open to the message if I had been reading some of the same scriptures and thoughts during the week? 

What makes worship "work" for you?  When does worship fall flat?  Is it the worship that is offered or what you have brought to the worship that will answer those questions?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Third sabbatical Sunday worship

When I was in the 8th grade I spent a lot of time giving attention to a girl I'll call here Mary.  I spent what seems like hours talking on the phone with her, writing notes to her.  We seemed to be getting on well.  Then she dropped a bomb on me.  She liked some guy I'll call here Peter.  WHAT?  Seriously?  What has this dude got that I don't have?  Peter?  No WAY!  But we've spent all this time talking and . . . then the dreaded words of every teenage boy came, "I like you as a friend . . ."  NOOOOOOO!  I was crushed.  Why didn't she like me?  What is wrong with me?  As I worshiped this past Sunday I wondered. have the mainline churches been jilted, put off into the friend zone?

This past Sunday  I went to "the Stone Church" named as I understand it after their first building in downtown, which was, you guessed it, an old stone church.  Their current facility is a great modern building.  Once again coffee was on offer before worship but this time it was not espresso, just drip coffee, but still on offer BEFORE worship.  Yes, I took my coffee into the sanctuary, although this didn't seem to be as much of the culture here as it was at Four Square.  Also, once again there was the countdown timer on the screen!  What's up with that is it a thing?  It does give a feeling that something exciting is about to happen.

In my seat near the back I was surrounded by a generation that would have seemed more comfortable in worship with hymns.  I couldn't help but wonder and I wanted to ask them,  "why do you worship here."  They didn't seen to enjoy the music so it must have been something else.  I looked around more and noticed that there were a number of people in their 70's and 80's along with families of all ages. That got me thinking about the general situation of the mainline denominations.  What did we miss?  There was a time when our worship numbers dominated.  When I was in seminary the focus was on getting the boomers to come back to worship.  (As a Gen Xer that really annoyed me.)  The churches response seemed to be, "yes, of course they left and explored in their young adult years, but when they have kids they will come back."  But they didn't.  Nor did my generation.  Where did they go?  Well it seems a number of them went to the Foursquares and Stone Churches of the world.

So now what?  What need might mainline churches meet?

Authentic community comes to mind.  One person can set the tone for the community but it takes the whole group to decide to BE community.  Maybe there was nothing the church could have done when the boomers fled.  Maybe the church could have found a way to walk alongside the exploring boomers.  Our cities and towns have upwards of 90% of the people who are finding something more meaningful to do with their Sunday mornings than attend a worship service.  I believe that among those not attending worship somewhere, many of them are longing for a community of care and forgiveness, a community working to transform the dark places of the world, a community connecting to the Holy and to one another.

Maybe its time for the church to stop worrying about why Mary has gone over to Peter and consider instead how we all can be in community together with all our unique and wonderful qualities.