Okay - where did the last week go, I must have blinked because it seemed to just fly by! We leave for vacation tomorrow and it feels like everything is in order for me to be gone from church for ten days. The assistant to the bishop is preaching next Sunday, there is an assistant lector, someone doing the children's sermon, bulletin is ready, and everything seems to be in its place. Of course, what isn't will be tended to by those who are here. Since I'm the only pastor right now and this congregation is used to two there is a bit of angst. But, I'm feeling great!! I have one more meeting in about fifteen minutes with one of the confirmants and then I will head home to have dinner, pack, get a good nights sleep and head to my sister's in the morning where we'll leave our car and she'll take us to the airport. What a gift a vacation is!! My husband has been scanning tour books for best drives in the northeast, best leaf colors on the internet, and getting his camera equipment ready. I'm taking my laptop and trying to decide which books I want to take with me for my reading pleasure! No dress up clothes - just casual, we'll slip into some church unnoticed next Sunday. We're looking forward to just spending some relaxing time together exploring God's beautiful creation. We love to do this, and used to do it often before I returned to parish ministry. It will be nurturing to our soul's since we are both pretty connected to our spirituality through nature. I have to admit I have those "motherly/grandmotherly" feelings of leaving behind my parish for the first time. Remember when you left the kids for the first time in someone else's care? How funny it is that we get so protective, not only of our children, but of our congregations! At least I feel some of that - I wonder if other ministers feel the same way? It's not about controlling them, I don't think. It's more that I want them to do well while I'm away, and I want things to run smoothly for them. I'm also not a worrier - and I know when I leave here after my meeting I will be able to leave it behind and let go of whatever happens because it's not up to me right now. I'm taking my time away, I have someone in place in case of emergency, and I plan to enjoy myself and not think about work! I've even got the bulletin ready for Oct. 7th so I don't need to worry about that!! Isn't life grand?!!
Monday, September 17, 2007
A week from today begins our vacation - my husband and I will be traveling out east and will be gone for about ten days. I am really looking forward to this trip, to spending quality time with my husband, and to spending time in God's incredible creation enjoying the natural world. It is Monday today, another one of those days when I wish I took Monday's off! Yesterday was LONG - 15 hours away from home starting with worship in the morning, meetings in the afternoon, then a long drive for a hospital visit before getting home at about 10:30 p.m. These things can't be helped and there are always choices to be made. I planned for the long day and figured I'd be home by around 6 p.m. The hospital visit wasn't planned, as of course they cannot be. But, a parishoner with a stroke was air lifted to a major hospital and in intensive care - as pastor you can choose not to go and call on the hospital to provide a chaplain. I choose to go because it is my commitment to serving my congregation. It just makes those days very long indeed. And those times don't happen often, though depending on the size of the congregation and the ages of the members, it can happen more or less frequently. I find that ministry waxes and wanes, and that at times the flow is much too heavy and time demanding while at other times I get a little bit of a breather. I also notice lately that I need to be more intentional about nurturing myself. (I just turned on some soothing music and my lavendar diffuser in my office.) Just little things can make a big difference, and sometimes I just don't tend to the details that can be so helpful in calming and soothing my own soul. I find even writing this blog helps me because it focuses me to think about what I might want to say, what's happening in my life, and what I am grateful for. Our women of the ELCA group is beginning the Bible Study on the Beatitudes and the writer of the study encourages us all to focus on the blessings of our lives during this study. It's a good reminder to think about gratitude, and the reality that everything we are and everything we have comes from God.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Today for lunch I went with a couple of women from church for a picnic on the river in town. Because I don't live here I don't know all of these areas, and the woman who invited us did this to introduce us to the trails there. She provided the picnic lunch as well. What a gift! There are beautiful trails along the Crow River and it was a cool, sunny, breezy day to be out there. This is the kind of day where it feels like worship to be in the natural environment. I like church, but I experience God myself most deeply in the natural world. Maybe it's because I'm always responsible for church - preaching, worship, etc. I do feel God's presence in all of it, but it is in the quiet moments of beauty and reflection that my soul is nurtured most. Nature, with all of its intricacies and variety, provides endless moments of soul tending. From the sound of the wind in the trees, the birds, the wildflowers, the flowing river and the noises of branches dropping, fish jumping. God's creation is one of the most extraordinary and awesome things in life to experience. What I wonder about is how I can get so caught up in life and work that I don't take the time to experience it more often? So, for today I am thankful for that hour along the river. I am thankful for a God who created such an amazing world. I am thankful for the way my soul and spirit feel lighter and more bouyant. I am thankful that my soul was nourished with the experience, the way my body was nourished with the food, and the way I was nourished with the gift of fellow human beings to share the experience with.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Well, it's Monday morning and today I was thinking how much more clearly I see why some pastors take Monday off! I choose to take Friday off because it affords the opportunity to do some things on Fri. and Sat. that I want to be involved in - such as the spiritual direction training program I am part of. But, it is also costly at times. Yesterday I had a full day from 7 a.m. until 9:30 pm. with an hour and a half break to have lunch and take a drive with my husband. It was a good day and I feel good about the meetings and planning that took place. But, I had an early call to be at the hospital for a parishoner who is having surgery and now at 10 a.m. I am feeling kind of weary. Thankfully, there is an ebb and flow to these times - sometimes too busy and then sometimes reprieve. Parish ministry can never really be called a "job" because it is more a way of life where flexibility is required. Understanding and flexibility on the part of my husband and family is crucial for me to be able to fully commit myself to parish ministry and for the most part I have that. They are flexible, just at times disappointed that I cannot be available for them sometimes when my schedule doesn't permit. Today I have other visits to make and another evening meeting so it will be a longer day than I would like. I live about 35 minutes drive from church so going home for lunch or dinner makes for much too much driving in this day of costly fuel. Within the next month we will begin housesitting about 5 minutes away from the church and we are looking forward to that because I can realistically join my husband for dinner almost every night! It will be a welcome change from being away for dinner at least three nights a week. So, as ministry continues God's blessings are evident and I am grateful. Even when I am tired and Monday morning feels more like the end of the week than the beginning!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
I always think the beginning of parish ministry referred to as "the honeymoon" period is interesting. It certainly holds true in my experience - when you first arrive at a parish it's exciting, people usually like you, and as long as you don't rock the boat things go along smoothly. This beginning infatuation period can last up to a year or more, but unfortunately for me it usually never lasts even six months! I think partly it's because when you are an interim you aren't as careful as you are in a settled call. I also know I get the lay of the land - or understanding of the system and dynamics pretty quickly - so I begin to work on these things sooner. At any rate, it feels to me that the honeymoon period in my current call is over. And, I've been there not quite six months. Partly, I haven't worked with the confirmation program before and I'm making a few changes. I'm quickly learning that the parents of the teenagers in my current congregation aren't the easiest to work with. And, as happens in every congregation, when one gets wind of change and starts spreading the news - interpreting it the way they perceive it - things can go amuck quite quickly. This is also the time of a call where I begin asking myself the question, "why do I do this?" There is no other line of work where you are so consistently evaluated (by everyone all the time) and no matter what you do you are often criticized. I often wonder if I really have the kind of personality that can take the parish. I care deeply about the people, but often end up scratching my head when instead of coming to seek me out and talk to me, I get wind that someone's unhappy - from somebody else who's trying to caretake the someone who is unhappy. It is really like living in a large family system with all the dynamics and roles that you see played out in families. One writer in the field of church systems believes that everyone in the church is living out the roles they played in their families - and that is what makes for difficult and unhealthy dynamics when those folks have not grown up, differentiated, and learned to be healthy adults. This makes sense to me based on my experience. It also helps me to remember that it is just as much "them" as it is "me" when conflict begins to arise. So this week, my goal is to pray. Then try to love and nurture the people I work with, remembering my call is to nurture young people in the faith and relationship with one another as I try to deal with parents whose expectations I can never fully meet.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
This morning I attended the local ministerial group I am part of. This was the first meeting for the new year because we take the summer off. It was a good meeting, but a small one. It's time consuming and isn't exactly my idea of fun, but I think it's crucial if we're ever going to get over denominationalism and understand that we serve the One God the Apostle Paul always pointed us toward. But, we do love our traditions! We were talking about the 150th anniversary of the city and the request for the churches to do something - an ecumenical service, of course. One proposal was to cancel all church services on Sunday morning and have one service out at the high school - enough space for all. Immediately the Catholic church priest said it wasn't possible for him to do that. He's interested in doing the ecumenical service, he just isn't willing to cancel his services - he says he can't. Given the current position of the Vatican, I'm sure he feels that pressure. They are, by recent communication, after all, the only "true church". So - okay, we've dealt with that plenty over the years, doesn't mean the rest of us can't go ahead. I suggested a lunch followed by a worship service on Sunday morning which would allow the Catholic church to do their thing and still be involved. People, after all, come out to eat and a community picnic seems to me to be a way to do food, worship and fellowship! The conversation went on for some time and basically went round in circles. Bottom line is that it's a good idea, but I didn't sense a great deal of flexibility. Are we pastors all like this? Do we stake our ground and refuse to give on issues because our denominational polity or our theology is 'best'? I'd like to think we're not, but am I deluding myself? I am Lutheran because of the theology of grace and I wouldn't have it any other way. I won't allow other theology to be promoted from my pulpit if I have any say over it. So - I'm a bit unwilling to bend myself, aren't I? And yet, it is because of grace that I have a deep, rich, full and fulfilling life. It is because I understand at the core of my being that it is God's action toward me that saves me and not anything I do that makes me Lutheran. I buy the theology. I don't want my salvation to depend on me because I know I'd blow it! But, I also know that everyone needs to work out their own faith and understanding, so I don't want to speak for the masses. So, if we ministers can't come to some kind of common ground how are those who we serve ever going to get there? Seems to me something's gotta give - and I wonder if we'll ever get there.
Monday, September 3, 2007
Labor Day weekend and that means I had today off - a rare and pleasant occasion! I just putzed around the house this morning and didn't really even get dressed until about lunch time. Made lunch for my hubby and I and then headed out to do some errands. First place, of course, was to Starbucks for a frappacino light! Went to Party America and got bubbles for Rally Sunday. Went to World Market and bought two baskets for the living room bookcases so we could store our CD's in them. And then I went to Jade Nails and had a pedicure and manicure - what a wonderful luxury. Do you know how good it feels to have your feet soaked in a jacuzzi like tub while you sit in a chair that gives you a massage? And then someone trims your toenails, massages your feet, and does all the things that are needed to make your feet look great? All the while you just sit in a massage chair! I had never had a pedicure until this year because I could never really afford it. And even though it's an incredibly unnecessary luxury I really love it! I had a manicure as well and then I went grocery shopping. Got that all done, came home and made dinner and ate with my hubby - which these days is also a luxury because I'm usually gone at least three nights a week. Then, I made a huge pot of chili to freeze in small containers so he and I can have 'pre-made' lunches during the week. All in all it was a productive day! And, it was also relaxing. I seldom get to do any shopping and I took my time and enjoyed the day. What a wonderful gift a day off is, and I really enjoyed it!
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Today I preached on the Luke text from Chapter 14 and it was focused on humility and hospitality. Sometimes the teachings of Jesus seem so simple to me - if I always look at them from the perspective of relational theology. Every time we extend ourselves for the sake of others we do something for them - and something happens to us. We grow spiritually, we deepen in faith and we become more like God created us to be. Relationship is always reciprocal, so it's never a one way interaction. Giving to another isn't just about what I am doing for them, but it's as much what I need to do for ME. It's strange that for years I didn't get this. What I learned mostly was what I needed to do for those "less fortunate" than me. That's an arrogant approach. There is poverty of the rich, just as there is poverty of the poor. There is also arrogance of the poor, just as there is arrogance of the rich. What I know now is that God's call to serve is based on relationship; with God, with others, and with all creation. And relationship is always interactive, and it is always reciprocal. I am not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than me - God's love is equal for all that he created. God doesn't play favorites - I am not special somehow because I live in the United States and I'm a middle class white woman. God loves me - but doesn't love me MORE or LESS than anyone! If you read the gospels you see this everywhere - Jesus is always leveling the ground between social class, race, gender. He's always ushering in the new kingdom where everyone is invited, everyone is loved and everyone is equal. When I see this I wonder why we have such a need to exclude. I wonder why we fight over who is "in" and who is "out" based on anything!! Can you imagine if we simply opened the doors, invited everyone to join, invited everyone to participate, and lived with joy as if God really does love us what an amazing faith community we would be?!
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Yesterday I went to the State Fair with my daughter and three granddaughters and we had a delightful day. It was in the 80's - almost too warm, but it was still beautiful. One of my favorite things about the State Fair is the food - and we ate our way from one end of the grounds to the other! Because there were four of us (Anya, the almost 7 week old obviously wasn't sharing our food!) we would get something and each try a few bites - that way we got to sample more stuff! So we had: pronto pups, mini donuts, french fries, roasted corn on the cob, Luigi's fries (breadsticks with cheese and marinara dip), Italian Ice, caramel apples and popcorn. Now, you would think with a combination like that at least one of us would get sick!! I talked to the girls today and we all did just fine. And even with all the walking we feel good today. It makes me thankful that I lost all the weight I have - I had no problems walking and even piggybacked Jayden (the five year old) about half the time we were at the fair. Two years ago I wouldn't have been able to handle the walking!! The other thing I find amazing about the State Fair is that I have lived in the Twin Cities area a huge portion of my adult life, and yet there are thousands of people and I never see anyone I know! My daughter ran into her chiropractor and they both live in Buffalo outside the Twin Cities - go figure! Because we had the baby with us we didn't go into any of the buildings, barns, etc. We did go to the Kiddie ride area and did some rides with the girls. I went on the first one with Jayden and it turns out the ride stopped halfway through and went backward - I was fine until then! I didn't think I'd go on any more, but after sitting for awhile we decided to ride the ferris wheel. Keyara wanted to and Jayden wasn't sure. But, we talked Jayden into it and the three of us rode. Jayden liked it so much we came back later and rode it again! The girls were both having fun, mom and I enjoyed it and even little Anya was as good as gold - so it was a good day. I love my family and I so much treasure the times we can do things like this together. Life is good.