Reflectionary

I Go to Church

I love going to church. Except for 3rd grade, when I was expected to memorize the books of the Bible, I have always loved going to church. I’ve experienced a deep sense of God’s presence in the gathered community, found joy in singing both with choirs and congregations, made friends and encountered mentors, been comforted in times of terrible loss, and discovered my voice. I’ve also had my feelings hurt, wondered why bad things happen, and wished I could run away and never come back. This seems to me a reasonable aggregate of the human experience, with the the added benefit of incorporating a purposeful connection to God. 

As a little Southern Baptist girl, I aspired to marry a pastor. Later in life, and under different denominational influences, when I realized I had a call to ministry, everything made sense. I would be one of the people who helped make all those things happen for others. My great love in life became my work, and as part of it, I went to church, gladly, even when budgets were tight, or politics fraught, or justice undone. I believe in the possibility nascent in the gathered body of the faithful, and in the power God extends to us to make things happen. 

I’m smitten with this preacher.
(Photo credit: Kathie Carmines)

I still love going to church.

Almost every Sunday now, though, I sit in church as a worshiper, not a leader. Most weeks, I worship with the community my wife serves. I can count on hearing solid and often soaring preaching from both pastors on staff. The congregational singing is, and I do not exaggerate, amazing. I appreciate being part of a faith community that serves the wider world in tangible ways. I see the same people week in and week out and keep a neighborly eye on them as I know they do on my family. 

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do avoid the few people who have been guilty of micro-aggressions toward our queer clergy family, sing the doxology inclusively despite what is printed in the bulletin, and don’t always like what’s on the church sign. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes sitting in the pew raises existential questions about how I am serving God, and leaves me feeling a bit bereft. 

Still, I show up on Sunday, not because I must, but because I may, and I desire to be in worship, and I know full well that there is no church that will do everything to my complete satisfaction – not even one I serve as pastor myself. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Church that nurtured me by being present in a church that nurtures others, by offering my gifts when appropriate, by supporting the pastors and staff who work so hard and so faithfully. To all the pastors and program staff of all the churches, thank you for the work you do, often in the face of great challenges, and not just on Sundays. 

Thank you for making church happen. 


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

Prayers for Pastors, Reflectionary

After a Sunday off (a prayer for pastors)

Dear Holy,

After a Sunday off,
I find it hard to come back.
I am grateful for the rest,
but still managing re-entry.

It’s probably true that
I haven’t forgotten how
to write a sermon, to craft
a prayer, to offer a blessing,

after a Sunday offbut somewhere in the middle
between“I got this!”
and “what was I thinking?”
is the post-vacation muddle,

not so much “not ready”
as “not fully present”
not so much “unwilling”
as “not sure I’m able.”

Ground me, dear Holy,
in this time and space,
with the people I serve,
and a true word from You.

Amen.

Church Life, Ministry

Why Do You Go to Church?

The two preachers at my house have a disagreement in principle about church attendance. Oh, we’re both for it under ordinary circumstances! We grew up in families where everybody went to church. We loved Sunday School and Youth Group and special choirs. Really, seriously, most of the time we are eager to get up and go on a Sunday morning, to lead worship in our respective congregations.

But on vacation? There we disagree. I love to visit other churches on vacation. My spouse does not. And she may have a point. Church is our workplace, and maybe the occasional Sabbath spent on a beach or walking in the woods is a good thing. (Although we spent the last joint Sunday off on the road returning from vacation.)

Perhaps when I visit other churches I do it with the keen, appraising eye of a professional, taking notes for my own worship leadership. In fact, I’ve been guilty of preaching at one church while taking vacation from another, a kind of busman’s holiday.

Why do you go to church?

Some do it out of obligation, and others to see their friends. Some do it because they always have; it’s a habit. Some do it out of fear they will end up on God’s bad side. I’ve heard people say they went to church every week when they were younger because in the day of the Blue Laws, there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I find I wonder this about the people who come and listen to me on Sundays, particularly when they look unenthused about the experience. Believe me, I bring that home to ponder.

Why *do* you go to church?

In October we heard the Ten Commandments in worship and received the reminder to keep the Sabbath holy. Christians worship on Sunday to mark the Resurrection. It’s our less elaborate adaptation of the Jewish Sabbath. Most people feel no cultural pressure to attend, and some have no experience with church, and others have made other choices for legitimate reasons of their own including past hurts.

Why do you go to church?

In February I visited my childhood church in Virginia, where, yes, I preached on a vacation Sunday. It’s the place I first heard the words “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1, King James Version) And I think that’s the reason I keep going to church on Sundays, the reason I responded to God’s call to local church ministry: I go because I am glad, week in and week out, to go into the house of the Lord.

Why do *you* go to church? I would love to know.

Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.
Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.

Prayers for Pastors

When it’s hard (a prayer for pastors)

simpsons_church_sign_closed_for_summerLord,
when it’s hard,
when the words do not come easily,
when the pews empty for summer,
when the night was short,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s sad,
when the hopes we had are dashed,
when the miracle does not occur,
when death comes despite our efforts,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s frustrating,
when we love process but the church does not,
when we thought it was a call, but no,
when we look for you but cannot see you,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s late,
when it’s too soon to say so,
when it’s early days but not really,
when it feels entirely futile,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s painful,
when we realize it’s a mismatch,
when we see there is nothing we can do,
when we wonder why you wanted us here,
especially then,
hear our prayer.

Then, Lord,
remind us
you cried out, “My God, my God,”
you spent three days in a tomb,
you knew the chill of darkness,
but then the light came
and a new day.

Remind us, Lord,
and please,
hear our prayer.

Prayers for Pastors

Sunday after Easter, in my study (a prayer for pastors)

Sometimes the texts for the day are perfect.
Sometimes the texts for the day are perfect.

My Lord,

It was exactly the right morning to call a town meeting.

The sun was shining, and the roads were clear, and the people came. I thank you.

Thank you, too, for showing up on that evening of the first day of the week, for showing up despite locked doors and shuttered windows, for showing up and blowing your Spirit into our spiritual ancestors, the ones who first shared the good news beyond the inner circle, once they got themselves together to go back into the world again.

Our churches, dearest Heavenly Parent, are so often locked like that room. We proclaim that all are welcome, but we feel shy to ask people in, or we kind of hope no one *too* new or different will turn up, or we have lost hope that there is any life in the Old Girl we love so much but fear may die soon.

Please show up, we pray, please show up again, and blast through our leaded windows and our safety doors and the firewalls around our hearts. Breathe your Spirit into us, a spirit of courage and daring and imagination and whimsy and practicality and wonder and skepticism and childlike faith, for we need all these qualities to serve you in this world today.

Show up, Mother of us all, and baptize us with your Spirit.

Please.

We are ready.

Amen.

Church Life, reverb10

Community — #reverb10 day 7

December 7 – Community

Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

(Author: Cali Harris)

Oh, this is too easy. I'm finding it in North Yarmouth, in my new church family, and I dearly hope it will deepen in the coming year. 

This morning I went to pray with a dear person and that dear person's dear spouse before surgery, and the dear person's dear spouse asked, as we walked down a corridor, how *I* was doing? 

Really?

Really. 

I've been skimming the surface of church community ever since I left Small Church almost four years ago. It was hard to leave them, though I understood the financial necessity and made the move myself. The size at which a church can support a full-time pastor has increased, mostly due to the expense for health insurance. They just couldn't do it, although there had been mighty efforts. I remain wistful when I think of them and how much we loved each other. 

That almost made it easier to be an interim minister, always knowing everything was temporary, loving, but not growing attached, or expecting people to be particularly attached to me.

So this is unaccustomed. And I find I like it.

And although a church is not a building, here's a picture of the sanctuary where we gather.

005

 

Church Life, Ministry

Good News

NYCCIn case you haven't heard it elsewhere, I'm happy to report that despite a coughing fit one paragraph from the conclusion of the sermon, I did receive the vote of the congregation to be the pastor at First Congregational Church UCC in North Yarmouth, Maine. I start on September 1st. I'm beyond delighted, and deeply grateful. 

Thanks to all who offered words of support along the way. I had the opportunity to be in conversation with a number of wonderful churches, but I feel convinced this is the way the Spirit meant me to move in the end.