Sunday, May 18, 2014

An Emotionally Exhausting Day (the good kind)

Today was simultaneously a great day and a tough day at Arlington.

This morning at 10am we had five new people join the church. Four of them were baptized, and the other reaffirmed his baptismal vows. Each one of these new brothers and sisters have had negative experiences with church in the past, feeling unwelcome, judged, etc. Each of them said that Arlington was the first place they felt loved and accepted for who they were.

Their new commitments to Christ today are a testament to the love of God made known through the people of our church, who welcomed in people who were taking a big step by even walking into a building with a steeple on top. They showed their love over the weeks and months in ways both big and small, helping these people grow comfortable enough to enter into the communal journey of discipleship. Today was one of those days where the church was living into what God believes we can be, and I am very proud to serve as their pastor.

Today was also tough because tonight was the last service of The Road, at least for a little while. We're taking a summer hiatus, with the goal of returning in the Fall in some form.

The Road was our project almost from day 1 at Arlington. When I was first projected here and had my first meeting with the congregational leaders, they mentioned that they had had energy around an alternative worship gathering for a number of years. I replied that I had had experience birthing such a service at Crievewood, so very early on such a new service became our goal. A team of folks spent the better part of a year studying and visioning what it would look like together, and the first Sunday after Easter in 2012, we launched The Road.

Since then we've had good times and hard times. We've had big crowds and done worship just for the team that makes the service happen every week. Lately it's been more of the latter, which is why we're taking the break for the summer.

Having invested so much of my time, energy, and passion into The Road, it's very hard not to take the reality that the service is not effective in its current format personally. Intellectually I know that's not the case, of course, but my humanness keeps pulling me back into a frame of mind where it's all about me.

As we worshipped tonight, there was a good energy, and yet a strange sense of finality, like it was all over. I'm simultaneously relieved because I'm exhausted and need the break, and yet I'm also very sad because part of me feels like we failed. I know that's not the case, of course. We can tell stories of many people who have been blessed by what God has been doing through The Road, but that's my lesser self creeping in again.

So the great joy of the baptisms this morning and the disappointment of the hiatus beginning this evening sit side by side. Neither cancels the other out (which I suppose is a sign of progress, because my tendency is to let the negative win the day), but the end result is that all my emotional energy is spent, and I'm turning to blogging- a form of expression I haven't utilized much lately-to express it as best I can.

Today is perhaps a microcosm of what the totality of life and ministry are all about. Tomorrow's sabbath rest is sorely needed, then it's back unto the breach once more...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Shameless Self Promotion- Chuck Knows Church edition

Easter is right around the corner, and our friends at Chuck Knows Church have produced an amazing short film, Resurrection, that would be a great addition to your worship service if it includes video, or just to share with your family, friends, and congregation.

It shows how Christians get so hung up on Jesus' death and forget that the core of our faith is Jesus' Resurrection, and that it brings us joy! WE ARE EASTER PEOPLE!!!



OK, yes, the first and last parts of this film were filmed in my church, and got to I play the pastor (I've never had to stretch more as an actor), but my obvious bias aside, this is pretty darn good.

If you're not familiar with Chuck Knows Church, it's a web series where the main character, Chuck (an actor named Josh Childs who is as friendly as he seems on camera), talks to the camera and explains quirky things we do in church like liturgical colors, different holidays, the funny stuff clergy wear, etc.

Happy Easter, Easter people.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Return of the Roundtable

The Sermon Roundtable is returning.

For four years in Clarksville, every Tuesday night was a time when you could come and discuss the scripture passage(s) we would be reading at Bethlehem UMC the following Sunday. Those that participated ended up being much more engaged in the sermon on Sunday, since they had been part of the preparation process. Those who came on a regular basis really became theologians in their own right, growing in their ability to read the Bible critically in conversation with others who brought very different life experiences to the table.

I wrote an article about this gathering a few years back in Circuit Rider magazine, Collaborative Preaching and Holy Conversation, which you can read on Ministry Matters.

I have wanted to bring this method of collaborative preaching to Arlington, but I could never really find a time to do it with all the other things I did each week. We're starting this now because over the last three years, all the mid-week Bible study formats we've tried have not worked, so we're trying something new outside of the church walls.

Arlington's Sermon Roundtable be meeting on Wednesdays at 6pm at the Starbucks in Nashboro Village (2308 Murfessboro Pike, Nashville).

We'll be discussing the text(s) that we'll be reading at Arlington 10 days later. This week we'll be reading John 20:1-20, which is the Resurrection story in John's gospel that we'll be reading on Easter Sunday, April 20.

There are no rules at this Bible study other than to respect one another. There are no dumb questions, no bad ideas, even if we disagree. This is a fun format where we can explore in a more relaxed environment than we usually experience inside the walls of a church building.

The title "Sermon Roundtable" is taken from the title of a book called The Roundtable Pulpit one of my seminary professors, John McClure, wrote, describing the theory of incorporating multiple voices in proclamation.

For those that may be wondering, I haven't given up blogging altogether. I've had lots of thoughts and feelings in the last few months, I just didn't think that this was the best medium to share them as I am thinking through issues of church, faith, and my own understanding of how God is calling me in ministry.

I'll try to post on a semi-regular basis, but I don't know when or if I'll ever be a regular blogger again.

In the meantime, if you're in Nashville and inclined to engage in some free form spiritual conversation, come join us on Wednesdays at 6pm.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Shameless Self Promotion: Christmas in the UK Edition

Want proof that the internet has made the world a whole lot smaller?

About a month ago, I got a Facebook message from Richard Corrie, the Faith Producer for BBC Radio Cumbria (Cumbria is in Northern England. Yeah, I had to Google it, too), asking if he could use some material I wrote for their Christmas Eve broadcast.

They used some monologues that I wrote for a chapel service a number of years ago at Vanderbilt Divinity School, imagining what it would be like for Mary, Joseph and one of the shepherds, respectively, to tell about their experience of the Nativity story.

I published these monologues on Ministry Matters a couple years ago, along with some thoughts on how churches could produce their own such material, in an article called The Christmas Story in First Person. (The folks at the BBC only used Mary and Joseph. The Shepherd was my personal favorite, but oh well.)

If you're so inclined, you can go to the BBC's website to listen to the Christmas Eve Service from St. Andrew's Church in Penrith. The service is an hour long and the whole thing is worth the listen, but if you just want to hear the monologues, Mary starts at 18:57, and Joseph at 32:50.

I hope everyone had a blessed and peaceful Christmas, however you chose to spend it. Thanks for reading, and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thomas Merton Day

72 years ago today Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani

45 years ago today he entered the church triumphant after being accidentally electrocuted at a conference in Bangkok

While not officially recognized by any denomination, he is a saint for writers, people who consistently wrestle with their calling, and to all those who crave honesty and authenticity in their spiritual quest

Happy Thomas Merton Day to all

(Icon by William Hart McNichols)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shameless Self Promotion- Prop Edition

I have a new article up on Ministry Matters- You're a Prop, and that's OK.

I'm responding to a recent episode of the Homebrewed Christianity podcast in which a former pastor says that one of the downsides of this vocation is that "you are a prop" in many events like weddings and funerals that are supposed to be sacred and worshipful.

My contention is that even if people are requesting the presence of a clergy-person for the "wrong" reasons, it still gives the pastor the opportunity to have significant interaction with people they would not normally get to relate to. A pastor may start off as a prop, but they can make the most of the opportunity with the right attitude.

I wrote the article a few weeks ago. It just posted today, but given a recent video of a priest who went off on a wedding photographer (the editor thankfully did a last minute link to the video in the article), the timing works out great!



Read the article and comment here or on Ministry Matters if you're so inclined. If you like it, please share it with others who might be interested. Thanks for reading!

Regarding the pastor in this video, the time to have such conversations with the photographer and or/ videographer is before the ceremony, but for all we know he may have and they didn't respect his request, or he may not have had the chance to. I've never had this problem, and I like to think I might have handled it a little bit differently, but I applaud him for pushing back and claiming his authority!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering September 11

Anyone alive and old enough to be conscious of what was happening remembers where they were on September 11, 2001, when they heard that we were being attacked. For Generation X the Millennial Generation (I am a member of both since 1980 is the overlap), 9/11 is what Pearl Harbor was for the Greatest Generation and JFK's assassination was for the Baby Boomers.

I was a junior in college, eating cereal in a bedroom I shared with two other guys in my fraternity house. I was a couple years into my first youth ministry job, so I spent quite a bit of time processing the events with middle and high schoolers as well as my college peers.

Preachers have to come up with ten to fifteen minutes of new material every single week, so how I process and reflect on many issues usually ends up in sermons in one way or another. How I have reflected on 9/11 and the many issues it brings up is no exception, so instead of writing a lengthy post, I will simply share two messages where I share some of these reflections.

The first one, "The Renewed Creation" was part of a series on Romans. The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks happened to be on a Sunday, and the events were at the forefront of everyone's mind that morning. We reflected how God's sanctifying grace draws us out of being primarily self centered into reflecting on God's other-centered love.



The second message, "Terror and Resurrection", was shared the Sunday following the Boston Marathon bombings. That week also saw the manhunt that killed one of the bombers playing out on live TV, and a huge chemical plant explosion in Texas. The senselessness of violence and death was very much on everyone's minds, much like on 9/11. We reflected on how, in the face of terror and senseless violence, followers of Jesus witness to the God who enters into our suffering and breaks the power of death, claiming "Resurrection" as the last word.



How do you remember the events of twelve years ago today? Where were you that day? How have your memories changed over time?