church

The Glass Ceiling Ain't Broke Yet

By Rev. Mindi

A few weeks ago, we watched the graphic of the glass ceiling break as Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee by a major political party. While presidential candidates in the past have had it mentioned that they were good parents, there was much lauding of Hillary’s motherhood, and behind-the-scenes talk about her sticking by her husband during their difficult times.

This past week, we have heard stories of Kerri Walsh Jennings being a terrific mother and how she has to balance motherhood and being an athlete. Headlines that congratulated the wife of a Chicago Bears lineman who won bronze in women’s trap shooting: her name is Corey Cogdell (the Chicago Tribune received a lot of feedback on that one). That glass ceiling is not broken, only cracked. Because women are barely getting through.

Less than one quarter of the churches in my region have a woman on the pastoral staff, and of that quarter, one third are part-time. And while more women are still entering seminary than men, more women are in search processes and more women are not considered by search committees. There are still churches, in 2016, in my denomination that refuse to look at the professional profile of a woman minister in their search processes.

So I would like to ask my male colleagues to consider the following:

--Would you enter a profession in which you were significantly less likely to be hired because of your gender?

--Would you accept a position at a church if the person before you was a woman and received more pay than you, even though you have the same level of experience (or even more?)

--Would you be comfortable in a denomination in which there were churches that would not consider you because you are male?

--Would you accept a position in which a major change in family status would require you to be gone for 6-12 weeks, but the church would not pay for your leave time?

 

Now, ask yourself these real questions that I have personally been asked by search committees in the past, and how would you feel about them being asked of you:

--“How will you balance your family time and church time?”

--“What will you do on Sunday if your child is sick?”

--“What will your spouse do if you are the pastor? Will they be involved in the church?”

--“How is your physical health?”

--“How will you be able to pastor the (opposite sex) in our church?”

--“Will you leave the church if you have a baby?”

No my friends, the glass ceiling has not been broken. It has been cracked, but we have a long way to go in breaking it.

 

*Note: this post reflects a binary way of thinking, and is definitely not encompassing of all ministers or all families, especially LGBTQ individuals and their families. I cannot imagine the list of questions my LGBTQ clergy friends have been asked that would never be asked of those of us who are cisgender and heterosexual. 

Church, Go Back to School!

By Rev. Mindi

We checked in over coffee, talking about the start of the year, about what hadn’t been done over the summer. We shared our frustrations about things that were still the same, and celebrated the changes that have been made and places where we saw hope and opportunity.

We weren’t talking about church; we were talking about school.

Over the course of the conversation, as we talked about our admiration for the younger teachers who seemed to be able to adapt and adjust better, who could multitask and understand the differing needs of today’s children, of all abilities, I couldn’t help but think about church and how so many of the conversations we are having in the public education sphere are almost the same conversations we are having in the church world. While a younger age does not guarantee someone is open to change and adaptation, these observations came from parents at this gathering about younger teachers and administrators:

-Technology is seen as a necessity, not a luxury, especially for students with disabilities, and all students benefit from access to technology.

-They use social media as a teaching tool in the classroom, to share the accomplishments of the school with the public, and to connect with parents and families.

-They are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom, even when there are disruptions and distractions.

-They want to know about students’ lives outside of the classroom—culture, family, interests, progress they are making academically and socially.

 

In contrast, teachers and administrators that are “old school” tend to be:

-Unfamiliar with technology or supports for students with different and unique needs.

-Unfamiliar with social media—even afraid to use it for fear of privacy concerns.

-Using one-size-fits-all models of classroom instruction and behavior expectation.

-Unable to adapt to major changes—want to use same curriculum or method of teaching.

-Struggle with cultures that are different or new to them.

Of course, these are generalizations. Of course, every school is different, every administrator and teacher is different. However, public education in the United States is changing, and these conversations are eerily similar to the conversations I have with my colleagues in ministry.

There are plenty of factors that make a comparison between the church and public school a different one. However, in this conversation with parents, I heard many familiar themes:

-Struggle of an institution stuck in patterns of the past.

-Administrators unable to think outside of the box and try new ideas, or even see the reason for doing something in a different way.

-Teachers not being paid enough to live even near the communities they teach in.

-Not enough resources to go around.

-Access to technology lacking.

-Buildings in dire need of updating, but can’t due to lack of funds.

-Struggle of educating students in a rapidly changing multi-cultural community.

-The number of students on free and reduced lunch rapidly on the rise.

Change “Administrators” to “Administration Board” or whatever your governing body is, change “teachers” to pastors, etc. You get the idea. Our communities are changing with new immigrants and cultures and the number of families at or near the poverty level is on the rise.

What I see that is helpful in this comparison is that change is possible. As part of this group of parents, I am seeing significant change in our school district towards inclusion of students with disabilities. Younger teachers are being hired who are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom. More resources are being invested in technology, including an app for parents to keep up with what is going on at their child’s school and in the district.

At the same time, teacher salaries are low. Teacher turnover is high in the state of Washington, where I live, and more and more teachers are leaving public education altogether. Bonds are not passing at the local level and so buildings are falling into disrepair, and resources are stretched thin. Every year, there are teacher positions that are unfilled by a permanent teacher and instead filled by a substitute, sometimes for the entire year.

The conversation is all too familiar. All too close to home. What can we learn, and what can we do differently?

UnCommon Acceptance

By Rev. Mindi

Two years ago, I sat in a breakout session at my first UNCO—The UnConference for pastors and church leaders—and in the first fifteen minutes of the session titled “Show Me The Money,” I learned more about fundraising and stewardship campaigns than I had in seminary—and I had taken an entire January term course on stewardship and church finances. I listened as church leaders shared what had worked in their congregation, ways of talking about stewardship, and focusing on the positives (“Look what ministries we participated in last year”) rather than the negatives (“Our budget shortfall means we will have to cut programs unless we raise enough money”). 

Two years ago, I connected with pastors and church leaders that I still go to regularly for ideas, support, and encouragement, as did my husband who was planting a new church. But more importantly for us, it was the first church conference that not only provided space and childcare for children (called KidUNCO), but fully welcomed our child AJ, who has autism, into the full life of the UnConference.

Last year, when we returned to UNCO, not only did we receive our warm welcome again, but as AJ ran across the gathering space, where we livestream our worship services and large group “brain-dump” sessions, people who knew AJ from the previous years but could not attend tweeted their greetings to AJ.

UNCO has created a community of church leaders who are connected not only after UNCO meets via Twitter and Facebook, but a way of connecting those who are physically present and those who participate via Twitter and livestream. And following last year’s UNCO, those of us involved in new church communities and the challenges of raising funds for our new ministries began using Google Hangout on a monthly basis—not only to share ideas and knowledge, but also to check in, and lift up one another and our ministries in prayer. The networks created within the larger UNCO gathering, including a writer’s group and synchroblog, provide support and encouragement for creativity in leadership.

UNCO has given me and my husband the opportunity to attend a leadership gathering together—and to bring our child with special needs to an inclusive and welcoming environment. Because of KidUNCO, my husband and I have been able to attend breakout sessions without one of us having to care for our child while we are learning and sharing.

More importantly, UNCO has provided close friendships with colleagues facing similar challenges in ministry. UNCO is not a conference you attend and take back with you what you learn—UNCO is the UnConference, in which you are participating all year long and in person for three days, if you are able to be there.

UNCO West is October 26-28 at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Click here for more information and to register. You won’t find a more affordable continuing education event that will benefit you throughout the year. You can also read Carol Howard Merritt’s excellent article on UNCO in the Christian Century.

Disability Advocacy in Your Community

By Rev. Mindi

April is Autism Awareness Month. In previous years for Autism Awareness Month, I have written about how to create a welcoming environment for families that have children and youth with autism in your church. However, there is a greater need within the greater disability community to help support advocacy. Here are some ways you can help become an advocate within the greater community, and therefore your church.

Did you know that you can be an educational advocate?

As a member of my local special needs PTA (Parent Teacher Association), I have let parents know that I am willing to go with them to IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings. Students with special needs often have an IEP or a 504 plan (a 504 plan provides for accommodations for students with special needs; an IEP provides for individualized instruction and is much more detailed).  What do I do at those meetings? I am a non-anxious presence, there to provide support for the parent so they know they are not alone, as well as for the student. I ask clarifying questions. I am not there to take sides, but rather to encourage dialogue and offer support.

I am also an educational surrogate. I serve as a surrogate within the school district for students whose parents do not currently have custody and are not in the foster care system. I work to ensure that a student receives the supports necessary, which may include an evaluation for services and support and the beginning process of an IEP or 504 plan. I become part of the educational team.  How this happened for me is that I was asked to do this by a district official, who knew me as a parent of a special needs child, a board member for the special needs PTA, and as a local pastor. Since this time, I have now met two other pastors in other districts who also serve as educational surrogates in their district.

You can also join your local special education PTA, if there is one, or help form a community support network for students, as well as parents and educators of students with special needs. It takes the whole community, not just the family, not just the school—to help educate and support our special needs students and families.

Look for local disability advocacy organizations—they often need volunteer help—and partner with them. The ARC is a national disability advocacy organization with local chapters that has folks with disabilities on their staff and boards, and works to help individuals become self-advocates. With any disability organization, always check to see where its funding comes from, how its funding is used, and whether or not persons with disabilities serve on its board and staff. Persons with disabilities should be included in their own advocacy.

And as always, remember to include folks with disabilities in your church life. Folks with disabilities are already part of your congregation. They may be regular attenders in worship, but sometimes we forget that folks with disabilities can, and should, be included in leadership, worship, education and outreach—in other words, all aspects of the life of the church just as anyone else. And above all, be an advocate, wherever you are, for inclusion of persons of all abilities into our faith communities.

Rev. Mindi and her friend Rev. Danae Ashley launched Autism and Church in January. They are looking for more contributors, especially from adults and youth with autism, to write from their experience.

Equal Marriage?

By Rev. Mindi

I celebrate with my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends and family that now, in over thirty states, you can get married and have your marriage legally recognized. We still have a long way to go for rights for all LGBTQ folk (and especially the T, our Transgender kindred). But I am happy and celebrate in this moment.

But there is another group that does not have equal marriage, and those are persons with disabilities.

In the United States, if you are disabled and you get married, you run the risk of losing some, if not all of your disability benefits. According to the Social Security website ssi.gov, if you were diagnosed with a disability as a child and then get married, your benefits are revoked. Disabled individuals who marry someone who also has a disability can lose up to 25% of their benefits. My husband and I have heard many painful stories of couples who are not legally married because they would lose their benefits. We have also heard stories of couples who didn’t know that their benefits would be reduced so much, and struggle to make ends meet but cannot have a job due to their disability.

This is legally recognized marriage in the United States, and it is not equal or just. Many persons with disabilities choose to have a religious ceremony only, and maintain separate addresses so they can maintain their benefits that they need in order to live.

Sadly, the church, like the rest of society, is silent on this. When we and other disability advocates bring up this issue, we often hear, “That’s sad.” “I didn’t know.” “That’s too bad.” But I see no action. I see no work on legislation or even a cry out that this is unjust.

As we near the end of Disability Awareness Month, as we celebrate the news of legal marriage across the country for our gay and lesbian kindred, let us raise up our voice for disabled couples. Please listen to disabled couples and hear the stories of families. Speak to your lawmakers and encourage legislation to change this devastating fact for couples in every state.

And raise this issue in your congregations. People need to hear that equal marriage still does not exist for couples in which one or both have a disability. As you study this issue, be aware of areas in which the church is still not welcoming of people with disabilities, visible and invisible. How accessible is your building? How inclusive is your governing board? How welcoming are your Christian Education programs? What can you do to change the culture of your congregation?

May we celebrate with our lesbian and gay families and continue to work towards equal marriage in this entire country, and may we also raise up the voice for those who continue to struggle for a legal marriage in which their rights are protected.

Open Doors

By Rev. Mindi

During the entire first half of 1998, from January until June, I attended one worship service. It was the folk mass at my host family’s Catholic Church in England. Before I had left the states for my semester abroad, several people had told me about various churches—Baptist, Methodist, Anglican—that I could attend while I was abroad. But I chose not to. I chose, quite purposefully, not to attend worship the rest of that spring. 

I was at a crossroads in my faith. I had been part of a few conservative Christian campus ministry groups, and found that while I enjoyed the spirit of the music and the community, I could not abide by the legalistic approach to the Bible nor the narrow theology. I was also involved in our campus’ Gay-Straight Alliance group (this was the late 90’s), was reading feminist literary theory and I always claim that my Introduction to Sociology course the fall of my junior year saved me from fundamentalism forever. While I attended a fairly liberal congregation in college, I found my faith conflicted—I loved the spirit of worship among my conservative friends, the relational nature of God in Jesus that was expressed—but not the narrow ideology. During that time in my life, Christian community was stifling. I equated Christian community with conformity, and liberal or conservative, I did not want to conform. So I chose not to attend a worship service.

However, I was in a church, a chapel, a cathedral or other sanctuary at least every week, if not more often. I lit candles in York Minster and Notre Dame, sat and listened to the choir in Westminster and Winchester, and lifted my eyes up to the stained glass everywhere. I sat in the pews and lit candles under the names of saints I had never heard of.

I grew up Baptist, and am a Baptist minister serving in both American Baptist and Disciples congregations. But in those days, having the opportunity in those old Anglican and Catholic churches to pray, to sit and be silent in the presence of God—or even in the emptiness in some of those dark days of my faith journey—helped me in my faith journey.  It is something I lament in the free church tradition, that often we do not have our sanctuaries open.  The few times I have participated in opening the doors of my own churches I have served have been after major tragedies, such as 9/11 and Sandy Hook. Most of the time, our doors are locked.

In the debates about SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) what often gets argued is the need for community—and the assumptions that those who are not in church do not have community. But I am starting to wonder if those of us in the church have been arguing from the wrong angle. Besides the fact that many people who claim to be spiritual gather in other settings for community, what about those who are seeking, or who are spiritual, or even *gasp* religious, but find community stifling? What about those who have been wounded in community?

Are there ways we can be open, be a place of prayer to the public, where people can come and pray, or sit in silence, or listen to music, or light candles? Our Catholic and Episcopalian brothers and sisters, among others, have kept up this ancient tradition, but many of us in the free church tradition have forgotten. We have placed such great emphasis on community that we have forgotten other’s needs. There are times in people’s lives in which community can do more harm than good. But it is the work of the community in providing the space set aside specifically for God, that can reach those in need of solitude.

I still value community and worship together. When I returned from England, it took me a while to get back into church, but I remember clearly the first worship service I attended when I came back was Communion Sunday, and I was never so glad to participate in the breaking of bread and the meal of remembrance with the church I had been raised in, with the people who had always been there for me. But I wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much had I not had the time away. I also feel that had it not been for the open churches, the candles in the chapels and the opportunities to pray or sit in silence, I would not have felt as assured of God’s presence even in my own dark valleys.

 

 

What’s in your collection?

By Rev. Mindi

A few weeks ago I hosted my family reunion at my church. Over thirty people came. This was the first gathering since my grandmother’s passing back in April, so it was incredibly important for us to be together, good—and hard. I had come up with an idea of a photo collage and had family members bring photos of them with Grandma and we put them up on a bulletin board to share our memories. However, my aunts also brought several things that had been my grandmother’s that hadn’t been given away yet.


My grandmother grew up during the Depression in the Colorado plains and scarcity had been her life. From the time I knew her, her home was filled with things. Some things, like the numerous photos of all of her grandchildren, little trinkets she had picked up while traveling later in life, had special meaning for her and were precious to her.  Other things, like the closet full of canned beans she had found on sale for 10 cents each, were not. Or the bags of things she got at garage sales. They were bargains that were too good to pass up. And we understood. If you’ve gone through a time where you’ve had so little, you want to make sure you won’t go without.

By the time she passed many of her things had been given away. She had a tiny apartment in an assisted living facility, and in that apartment were photos everywhere of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She also had magazines and newspaper clippings. Though she had met AJ as a baby, she didn’t get to see him again until just before he turned four years old, and he had been diagnosed with autism the year before. When we visited her, she pulled out a few magazine and newspaper clippings that she had saved over the past year about autism. To others it might have just been stuff. To me, this was precious.

So on three tables in my church a few weeks ago were notebooks, journals, boxes of greeting cards, old “peel and stick” notes, markers, Post-it notes, and other writing items. And we all remembered how Grandma would write us letters and send birthday cards with $2.00 bills in them or write us notes when we were in college. There was a table of vases and canisters and we remembered the flowers she would cut from her own garden and how she had the greenest of green thumbs—she could save just about any plant that I could kill. And on another table were boxes of books she had read over the years—prayer books and short inspirational stories. 

Lots of things, lots of stuff. By itself, it had no value. But the memories of looking at those things remind me of the importance of what we value—the memories we have of the time together, the memories of the time taken to send a letter or pick up the phone, the memory of fresh-cut flowers and tattered books read aloud.

A few of those boxes now sit in my garage for the church rummage sale. We all took something, knowing that we didn’t really need another empty journal or a vase or a book, but there was a lot left over and hopefully they will go to others who need them.

And so my black journal with my grandmother’s name written in the front, but the pages empty, are a place maybe I will record other memories. It reminds me of the green dress that hangs in my closet.

The green dress was given to me by a woman I’ll call Ev. Ev was a member of the first church I served as an associate and as I was leaving to become the senior pastor at another church she entered hospice. Ev was the one who called everyone in the church. Ev was the one who knew everything about everyone, but not in a gossipy way. She sincerely wanted to know.  The last time Ev was in the hospital and I went to visit her with a friend, she told us about how the ambulance had come to get her, and she told us the ambulance driver’s name, where his kids went to school, who his favorite Red Sox player was, and many other details about him. She then stopped and looked at us and chuckled. “Some people collect things. I collect people.”

When I visited her at her home in hospice, she asked me to go back into her closet and look for this particular green dress she had bought but never worn. It definitely was not made for my height, but I have kept it and even worn it on occasion, thinking of Ev and her wise words.

I think my grandmother was the same way. Though she had a lot of things, the most important thing she collected was people, even if most of them were her family.

I’ve been in professional ministry for almost twelve years, serving at four churches and as a hospital chaplain. As I reflect back, it’s not about the sermons I’ve preached that went well or didn’t go well, or the programs that went smoothly or the ones that failed—it’s about the people I’ve met on the way.  Whenever I have taken the time to have a cup of coffee with someone or visit someone in the hospital, I have gained something more. I know that when I have struggled with a church member, attempting to take the time to listen has often mended some hurt feelings and strengthened the relationship.

In the end, I hope that I look back both on my personal life and in professional ministry and think about the people I have collected on the way, more than positions that were successful or not or programs or growth or—whatever. I hope that it is the people who stay with me.

Messages on the Bathroom Wall

By Rev. Mindi

I’ve not had a great week, let’s just say that. Balancing parenting a special needs child and ministry is difficult. Ministry is difficult. There are demands every which way and you can never satisfy everyone’s demand.

People call on a daily basis looking for assistance and nine times out of ten, I can’t help them. The resources aren’t there. We are a very small church, but we do what we can and we’ve narrowed our assistance to food and refer everyone else on to social services. But that, of course, does not make most people happy.  Many times people hang up on me. Sometimes they even accuse me of not being helpful, or worse, not being a Christian. They tell me no one will help them. Maybe that’s all true. Maybe I am a lousy Christian because I don’t help every person who comes to me and often I turn them away. Once in a while, I can help with either a food donation or a gift card, but that’s it.

I am the pastor of a small church, but even so, it seems like I never have the time to visit everyone who could use a visit. Because my child is young, he is home with me or at the office with me a lot, making it difficult to go out and visit like I feel I should. I always seem to be a step or two behind on paperwork, on worship planning, on visioning with the church.

My energy is often low, especially on days when my son has been up since 2 a.m. There are days where I simply cannot focus on ministry. I would call them sick days, but really it’s “I’m-just-so-tired-I-need-a-break” days. They often are combined after a week of meetings and church events and therapies for my son and then a night where he doesn’t sleep.

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life.

And then I remember.

*****

I was sitting on the darkwood pew, doodling on the bulletin. I put the little half-pencil with hardly any lead down, picking up the hymnal as I stood up to sing along with the congregation. This church was a little weird, in that they sang all the “Amens” at the end of hymns. I wondered if other churches sang the “Amens” and if my home church was the only one who didn’t. It seemed to make the hymn dreadfully longer than it needed to be. I looked out over the mass of silver haired heads in front of me. My mother sang perfect alto harmony as we neared the “Amen.” It echoed in my ears after we had put our hymnals back and sat down.  Then my grandfather went up to the pulpit.

I don’t remember what the Scripture reading was. I don’t really remember much of the sermon, except the part where my grandfather talked about two men who had come out as gay and loved each other. I don’t know why that is the only part of the sermon I remember, I guess it is because in 1990 it seemed a little shocking to vocalize support for GLBTQ people from the pulpit. But more importantly, what I remember is this:

“That will be you someday.”

It wasn’t a voice, it was more like a feeling—no, more like a push inside my gut and heart saying this is who you are. A minister. It’s in your blood. My grandfather, his twin brother and younger brother, their father and grandfather—all Baptist ministers. And suddenly, I knew who I was and who I was going to be. I was sure of it, certain of it, and that certainty stayed with me a long time.

Throughout high school, that certainty remained silently inside while I listened to my good Christian friends tell me how women couldn’t be ministers.

Throughout college, when at times I questioned my call, thought about going to graduate school for creative writing instead, that certainty kept me from filling out the applications for Master of Arts programs and instead requesting information for Master of Divinity degrees.

Throughout seminary, when I questioned the Bible, even Jesus sometimes, and wondered what the heck I was doing and why my dating life was suffering, that certainty melded into my identity. I began to see myself as a minister, as a church pastor, as leading a congregation. And when I became a little afraid and applied for a few non-ministry positions while in seminary as “backup,” the certainty was there in the relief I felt when those positions fell through.  Indeed, by the time I graduated I had already been called to be a Christian Education minister that later grew into a full Associate position.

*****

The certainty is still there—when I doubt it all after a hard board meeting, when I have had little sleep trying to balance parenthood and ministry, when I am pulled in every direction—my heart and my gut say, “This is you.”

God says, “This is you.”

Because a long time ago, even before I sat in that pew at my grandfather’s church, I was at my home church in Alaska which rented space from an Episcopal church. One of those funny Episcopalians—I have no idea if it was a layperson or the rector—had printed a little card and had taped it to the bottom of the restroom mirrors.

That card read, “You are looking at a minister.”

So whenever I go to the bathroom, I look at myself. I look at a minister. I look at the one called by God.

My gut and my heart say, “This is you.”

"We need all kinds of thinkers."

by Rev. Mindi

My husband and I had the opportunity to hear Temple Grandin speak last week. Temple is, of course, probably one of the most famous people with autism that we know of today, but as Temple shared, many also suspect people such as Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs had undiagnosed autism. Albert Einstein did not speak until the age of three, and Steve Jobs had few friends and was socially awkward as a child and youth.

While Temple has contributed much to our more current understandings of how people live in the world with autism, I was reminded that she is one person, with one set of experiences, and that as parent of a child with autism our experience and our son’s experience is different.  Her experience has taught her that sometimes the rest of us try to make it too easy and we don’t challenge our children enough. Perhaps there is some wisdom in that; maybe we do make it too easy at times. However, I am again reminded that is her opinion from her experience, and that we knew little about autism when she was a child. While we still don’t know as much, we do know that intensive therapies such as speech-language and behavioral therapy can go a long way in helping a child with autism achieve access to education as “typically developing” children do today.  We have had to think differently about how we care and educate children with autism, and we are continuing to do so.

But what I took away from Temple’s speech was that “We need all kinds of thinkers.” She thinks in pictures. She did not do well in math, especially algebra, but she is known for her incredible, creative designs for cattle farmers because she drew them out in elaborate detail.  She sees things in pictures. While many of us start at the top with a large concept and work our way through a problem by breaking it down into smaller pieces, she starts with the smaller pieces. She thinks differently. And many people living with autism do. Steve Jobs , as she shared, started by dreaming of an interface that was easy to use. He didn’t start with trying to figure out how to develop the software to do it—he left that to the engineers.

In the church, we need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers who dream of the church differently, out-of-the-box, along with the people who work on the ideas and ministries that help us to move into the new church concept. All too often, we are still working from the old concept, and we expect the pastor to do it all. We are not working out of the box, we are instead looking at the old concept of church and breaking down into smaller pieces: Christian education, outreach, programs, Bible Study, Youth ministry, etc. I have seen way too many churches think if they just hire a new Youth Minister everything will change for the good, or if they just try a new program for Young Adults they will change. But the truth is they aren’t looking for that kind of change—they are looking to fix one small problem without seeing the larger picture: the church they once knew is dying. Or dead. Or just completely outdated and irrelevant. And the pastor often gets blamed when the change does not occur (as expected).

We need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers and imaginers and organizers and planners. We need to go back to vision and purpose: who do we imagine God desires us to be as the church? Are we fulfilling that dream and vision, or are we fulfilling a plan of the past, an old model that doesn’t mean the same thing anymore?  How can we think out of the box in this world, today?

More importantly, how can we use all kinds of thinkers? How can we bring in the doubters and the strugglers, the ones who don’t know (and perhaps don’t care too much) about our denominational identity along with the cradle churchgoers? Or, to think even more outside of the box, how do we go out and be the church with all of these?

We need all kinds of thinkers. This isn’t easy to do, but we need to let go of the old models of programs and staff configurations and even building maintenance to move into a model of being the church as Christ’s Body. The church, since even the early days, has been challenged to think outside of the box. In many ways, this isn’t something new. It’s just time to dream it up again, and to include the dreamers who might think about church differently than you. It’s not enough to include a token young adult or youth on a committee; a church needs to engage communities of youth and young adults and actually desire to build a relationship. It’s not enough to say “Let’s have a program for young families to get them into the church;” a church needs to think outside the box and look at the greater picture: are we really a child-friendly church? Are we welcoming of children who may cry or run around? Do we provide child care? Do we care if children eat all the cookies at coffee hour? And are we welcoming of non-traditional families? How do we include families whose children may live with another parent and only attend on occasion?

It’s time to think outside the box, and to do that, we’re going to need some help. We’re going to need all kinds of thinkers.

Silence

by Rev. Mindi

Nation, we’ve had a rough seven months.

Superstorm Sandy. Newtown. The Boston Marathon. West, Texas. Moore, Oklahoma.

And there are more tragedies that don’t make the national news, or at least not to the same degree. The Mother’s Day shooting in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Other school shootings. Gang violence. Homophobic violence.  Massive fires in Southern California. Natural and unnatural disasters.

It’s all a bit too much for us to take at times. For many of us, our first reaction is shock and shared grief. It may hit very close to home (for us, my husband’s cousin lost their home in Sandy, my in-laws live in Newtown, and we own a home in Southern Oklahoma where we lived just a year ago) or it may just be the shared shock and grief we have when a child, the epitome of innocence and hope and joy, is killed.

For others, our first reaction is to act. How can we help? What can we do? We hear the stories of heroes, the First Responders, the ones who put their own lives in danger to save the lives of others. We hear the stories of teachers who bravely shielded the children in their classroom from bullets or tornadoes. We want to do something that can help and honor those who have given of their lives.

But still, for some, there is a need to say something. A need to speak, a need to put meaning into words. And this is very, very dangerous ground. There was a flurry of activity on Twitter yesterday, much of it deleted today, but the stings of those words are still fresh.

From the right, we hear this is God’s will. We hear Scripture spoken as if to say this is part of God’s plan. We hear words of judgment and condemnation of those who claim to speak for God.Those words, even if one agrees with them, do NOT bring comfort to those who are mourning, do NOT bring healing to those who are hurting.

From the left, we hear blame. We hear messages about climate change, lack of funds for disaster relief, and poor payment of teachers. We hear words of judgment and condemnation towards those who disagree with them.  While one might agree with these opinions, those words do NOT bring comfort to those who are mourning, do NOT bring healing to those who are hurting.

Church, we are called to be different. We are called to be Living Hope.  We are called to both action and silence. 

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  John 11:32-37

Perhaps our own response ought to be silence, weeping, and then action. Perhaps words are utterly unnecessary, and even harmful.

*You can give through the One Great Hour of Sharing (Week of Compassion) in your local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American Baptist, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian Church USA, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, AME Zion, and Reformed Church in America to help those in Oklahoma with tornado disaster relief.

From "Blecky" to Resurrection

Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

Some days I don’t feel so good about other people.   There are days when I rehearse the mean things, or the stupid things, or the ridiculous things that people have said or done to me and as a result, I just feel blecky—for those who don’t speak the language of Charlsi, that’s a combo between yucky and bleh.  I recognize that when I stew on all of the errors and the mistakes that others make, then it is becomes much easier to ignore my own stuff.  Sunday was a reminder of that for me.

Yep.  I confess that on Easter Sunday I had less than magnanimous thoughts about someone.  I was judgmental and irritated.  I even ranted about it a little bit.  And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Not one thing.  No one’s life was altered by my indignation but my own.  I was the only one who felt the wrath of Charlsi and I didn’t feel very good about it.  And then, something amazing happened.  Something beyond what I could control.  Something more powerful than even, well, me.  What was it you are undoubtedly wondering?  The Resurrection.  

I know, it sounds simple.  It is simple.  There I was all in a tizzy before worship, stressing about something ridiculous when worship started and I was reminded that it was Easter morning.  I sat down in the pew and lost myself in the story of life, death and resurrection.  I washed myself in the newness of life that only comes in the presence of God.  I remembered the graciousness of the one who breathes us all into being and the joy of the one who washes our ugliness away.  

And it wasn’t the magnificent wording of the Call to Worship, or the fabulous Iona music, or the experience of storytelling; instead, it was all of that.  It was the experience of singing and praying and celebrating an unbelievable story that only my faith can explain.   Sometimes I feel like Mary Magdalene running to tell Jesus’s friends about the resurrection:  I’ve got amazing news.  But who will believe m?   

Even writing this I think, so what?  So, I was grumpy and judgmental on Easter Sunday morning.  Who cares?  And maybe no one does except me.  I care because I was reminded that I am human.  Human, human, human.  Even on the holy of holies Easter Sunday, I was human.  And as a human I mess up, and get petty, and arrogant and then I walk into Easter Sunday worship and I experience the resurrection.  I hear songs and prayers that bring about amazing changes.  I tell stories about new hope and new faith.  I experience the very presence of God.

I get freaking excited about this stuff because I am changed.  I know, isn’t it great?  I am changed by the act of worship.  I am changed by engaging with others on Easter morning.  I am changed by telling the story of resurrection because I know what it can do to a life.  I have witnessed life restored, life renewed, life resurrected from the tombs.  I have witness not just my life restored, but individuals who have known the dark, dank experience of being entombed by sorrow, grief, addiction, pain, loss, heartache, anger, desperation and even, just plain ole pettiness.  

I have witnessed lives changed in huge, earth shattering, temple shaking ways.  I have witnessed lives changed in small, little, what may at first seem to be inconsequential ways.  I have witnessed big resurrections and little resurrections—all of them have changed lives.  All of them renew my hope in a grace that is bigger than I am and a love that bigger than all of us.  

That’s what happened to me on Easter Sunday.  I went feeling from blecky and less than, well, Christian to restored, reminded, renewed.   I can’t wait to see what Pentecost brings.