Church Life, Life in the Manse

The place where you are standing

Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” - Exodus 3:5 (NRSV)

Although the stay-at-home order in my county was lifted weeks ago, the church I attend continues to worship online. As a person with an autoimmune disease, a return to gatherings with anyone outside my family’s bubble will be as far off as the availability of a proven vaccine for Covid-19.

This feels hard for me, as it does for many, because I love going to worship. I have stood in church and felt the presence of God, and I have slipped off my shoes there because I knew we stood on holy ground. I have experienced the charge of the Spirit in a sanctuary full of singers, in the testimony of another, in shared confessions of sin, in vows of commitment, in stirring proclamation, in profound and potent silence.

Where is God still speaking to me? To us?

Of course, I know God speaks in places that are not church, and when I set aside my longing for what I cannot have right now, I think of Moses with his flock, drawn somehow beyond the wilderness to the mountain of God. The story doesn’t start at the burning bush. It starts with a God-given impulse to go farther than we might tend to go, to open ourselves up to go where God might be.

Where is God calling you today? Pay attention as you make your way. Be alert for the signs of Holy Presence. Turn aside and look. The place where you are standing may be holy ground.

O God of all that is good, draw us toward your ever-burning fire. Amen.

The view of the church from just outside our kitchen door.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Daily Devotional.

Church Life, Leadership, Stewardship

Taking the Lead

Last night I stayed up late watching baseball, fell asleep, then woke again to find my favorite team, the Washington Nationals, was still playing and had taken the lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. This morning I scrolled through Twitter and watched video clips of the game and victory celebrations. They were all fun, but one in particular struck me. While the team consists of 25 professional baseball players, there are rankings both formal and informal that indicate the place of a particular player. This one is a star, and this one is reliable, and this one keeps morale up even if he does not score many runs. 

One of my favorite players is a relief pitcher, Sean Doolittle, who has been the closer of many of our games this season. He is the last one to pitch, and by the nature of his role he plays under the pressure of minute examination. We like him at my house not only because he is a good ballplayer, but because of his support for inclusion of LGBTQ+ fans, and his love of Star Wars and indy bookstores. After last night I also admire his team leadership. In a post-game interview, he did not focus on himself, but instead talked up another player who did well last night, one who was sent down to the minor leagues for a long swath of the season after struggling to hit the ball, a guy so understated that his version of a celebratory reaction is a shy smile, but who made the amazing catch that won the game. 

It’s good leadership to celebrate others, to recognize contributions of time and talent, and to lift up the person whose faithful service might go unremarked.

It’s good leadership to celebrate others, to recognize contributions of time and talent, and to lift up the person whose faithful service might go unremarked. As we enter the stewardship season in many of our churches, I wonder whose gifts of time and talent we might highlight? Who stays on top of things that others might never notice? Who does what needs to be done without expectation of attention? May we take the lead in appreciating their efforts. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

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Church Life, Psalms, Reflectionary

If two preachers…

Like many churches, the Presbyterian congregation my wife serves has seen what we used to think of as the fall return to a regular schedule pushed back from September to October and into November by travel team soccer and fall baseball, 5Ks and half-marathons at popular regional locations, Penn State football games (in our area), even cheerleading for elementary school girls. This year the staff decided to offer a worship opportunity late on Sunday afternoon, from mid-September through October, lined up with the time parents typically drop teens off for youth group. Kathryn planned a simple service using an Iona liturgy. After she joked several times that she would be reading it alone, I offered to come over to church at the appointed time. 

It was just the two of us the first week. And the second week. The third week Kathryn was out of town, and a few people joined the Christian Ed director, so we were hopeful that week 4 might bring more.

It was just the two of us again. 

We prayed and sang and engaged in lectio divina, just the two of us, for the third time in four weeks. This past Sunday’s psalm was 26, and we listened for the phrases that stood out for us, and talked about what was different for each of us and how we heard the verses for ourselves and for the other. It’s ironic, in this time of #ChurchToo, and knowing how important it is to be outside the walls of the church to be in ministry, and perhaps most of all because no one else had come to worship, that this verse popped for me.

If two preachers pray in the sanctuary, but no one else sees them, do they make any sound at all?

By all the metrics that matter in denominational surveys and material assessments, the 5:30 Sunday service could be called a failure. Yet as we left to walk back across the street to the manse, I thought, I would love to keep doing this, whether anyone else ever comes or not.

A version of this post appeared in the RevGals Weekly e-Reader