Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Weather System at Church

Watching this fiscal year end and planning for 2009 is unlike any time in my pastoral life. There is a major weather system change going on and it's not fun, but it's real. With expanding ministry needs and opportunities, we are facing the real prospect of decreased income due to major economic losses across the board. A church leader just sent me data on giving trends for 2008 that are encouraging because more people are giving than in the prior year, but the large gifts are less, leaving a significant, and maybe long-term gap.
The image that comes to my mind is reefing a sailboat in the face of an incoming storm. In my limited sailing experience across Lake Michigan, we were hit several times with approaching storms. When the sky ahead is black and purple, my inclination was to panic, drop the sails and motor as fast as we could back to port and skip the race altogether. My captain's approach was altogether different. Jack knew his boat was seaworthy, but we had to prepare it. So he instructed us to rig it for storm sailing by "reefing" the sails, which meant lowering them significantly so that they would not catch too much wind and tip the boat over, but have enough sail to keep us from bobbing in the water. So we raised these small storm sails (like the picture above) and sailed right into the wind. Sailing into a storm is not fun in anyone's book, but it is doable with a good boat and a good captain and crew.
The storm the local church faces is not fun. But it is sailable and doable if we prepare for it by lowering sails that could tip us, but keep enough sail up to keep us moving ahead. That's going to require some tough and serious looks at where the money is spent in the church and what is absolutely essential and what can "go below" for a season.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Weather we are famous for

This afternoon Martha, her dad and I went for a nice beach walk in bright sun and 70 degree weather. How sweet!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Interesting Afternoon

We were out for an afternoon walk when a car stopped and some friends who just visited church asked if we wanted to take a drive with them to visit their property. They are the owners of the 200+ acres where the Santa Barbara Tea Fire started by tresspassers. We said yes and took a drive with them onto their fascinating property, circa 1915 construction. We saw the utter devastation caused by the ferocious fires that basically burned down their entire property (no homes or buildings on it). We hiked higher and higher, till we saw planes in landing patterns below us. These folks had a great spirit about the fire and their future. It helps that they are believers and understand stewardship.

I can't dance...or can I?

I grew up being told I cannot dance. Whether it was evangelical issues, Covenant modesty or Swedish clunkiness I don't know. But at my daughter's wedding, she insisted I dance with her and it was beyond glorious. Then her bridesmaid invited me to dance again and it was still fun and delightful. Then this morning, as part of my devotions I saw this:Matt Harding and had a blast. You too can dance!


The text for the 1st Sunday after Christmas is Luke 2:22-40, the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the interception by Simeon and Anna. Jesus' unique birth is now immersed in the dense traditions of Israel: circumcision, naming, presenting, buying back, offerings of purification for Mary and Temple pilgrimages. In the traditions we find connection and continuity. The new emerges out of the old and the new is set in the context of the old.
As an evangelical, I hunger for deeper traditions, traditions that go beyond this local church and my family, traditions that go farther back than Covenant history and Swedish culture, traditions the precede the Reformation and Protestantism, traditions that are behind the Gothic and Romanesque, Constantinian and Augustinian. I resonate with the traditions of the early fathers and mothers. My hope is that we hunger for traditional depth that is more than a passing fad or a new style of making the old new and hip. May we hear our names called out of the past and find the strength for these new and uncertain days ahead.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Church Membership

The recent issue of Christianity Today has an excellent article on church membership. In today's less-than-enthusiastic approach to joining, this article stresses the importance of the right metaphors (biblical that stress organic family life vs country club membership) and accountability (articulating disciplinary actions and agreeing to them). What intrigued me was the expansion of membership classes from a two Sunday afternoon session to a 12 week course. Maybe it's time to re-examine how we teach membership.

Covenant Blogs...where are you?

I admit it. I'm a lazy blogger and love going to aggregators that pull together bloggers for me to skim over in one shot. Covenant Blogs is just such a location. But for the past few days...weeks, it's been experiencing a total snowstorm, a whiteout, and I miss it. Whoever administers Covenant Blogs, help!

Church Foreclosures

Saturday's New York Times has a sobering article on church foreclosures that shows how even churches are being caught up in the economic downturn. An interesting quote in the article states that during economic downturns churches historically increase in attendance and decrease in giving, with new attenders not giving at the same rate as older members. How will your church face this emerging trend?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter Sky

Monarchs Afloat

In a hidden little grove in Goleta is a treasure; a Monarch butterfly preserve. There, bunches like brown grape clusters are hundreds and thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of Monarch butterflies. Today the sun was out and it was warm enough that they floated in the air like golden snowflakes. It impressed my father-in-law that so many butterflies could gather in one place. These are unbuyable pleasures!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Isaac's Flying Videos

Whenever Isaac visits us, he takes out a radio-controlled plane and attaches a micro-video camera to it and goes flying. Here he is flying around Westmont College from the soccer field. You can see the burn areas in the mountains in front of you.

Christmas Walks

Martha, Liz and I enjoyed a windy beach walk today. All day long I have had walks with Isaac, John, Martha and Liz.

Christmas Buzz

We had a 7pm Christmas Eve candle-light service last night. The sanctuary was filled, songs were sung and candles were lit. We came home and had a ham/turkey feast from 8:30 to almost 10:00 pm then started opening presents. It was a new adventure with Jeff and Liz as a married couple. We opened presents till almost 1:00 am with Martha's dad giving out around midnight.
This morning it is raining and conducive to several cups of coffee and a fire in the fireplace. Slowly the kids are waking up, grazing at what food is on the counters. Floors are dirty, sinks are full, shoes are piled at the doors and someone is almost always in the shower. I cannot believe life is this good! Returning to a routine will be good later next week, but for now I'm really enjoying the Christmas buzz!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wedding Album

For those of you interested in seeing the great pictures Luke took of Elizabeth and Jeff's wedding, you can look here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Best Walk in the World

I've seen the walk hundreds of times. I've gotten choked up at the walk a number of times. I envisioned the walk ever since Liz was born. But when it happened yesterday, it was so sweet. The bridesmaids were all in, the music was transitioning, and it was just Liz on my arm in the quiet of the narthex. Bach began to be played and the doors swung open and we glided in and down the aisle, my daughter on my arm. Holding her at birth was a mighty fine feeling, but there was no walk. Watching her go through milestones has been exciting, but there was no walk. This was a walk worth waiting for.
The wedding went well. Chris Call and Jeremiah Massey played classical piano (Chris) and guitar (Jeremiah). Martha's father officiated with me and added the tender musings of a grandfather for Jeff and Liz. The reception at the house was a tour de force for Martha. the interior was a restaurant with Mexican enchiladas and fixings. Our French "son" Julien sent bottles of his Chatueau neuf du Pape wine for toasts. Then a "gypsy jazz" band arrived (2 guitars, bass and violin) to serenade the dancers, and the floor sprang to life with dancing the likes of which I have not send. Liz and Jeff's bridal party are all semi-professional swing dancers, so it was a spectacle to see them move! Liz insisted on a dance with me, a non-dancer. So I went on the floor tentatively and she invited me to relax and just move and we had sooooo much fun dancing together. We had so many friends with us from Minnesota, Chicago and here. I know more would have like to be with us, but December 20th is not a "convenient" time, so we fully understood. Now the house is returning to normal but the glow remains of the best walk in the world!

One picture!

Luke captured the essence of the whole weekend with Liz and Jeff with one picture. More will come later.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jeff meets Matt

My future son-in-law needed a hair-cut, so I took him to Montecito Barbers and Matt Sanchez, the owner, took charge of making Jeff look good, along with all the razzing and kidding that goes on. They discovered that both of them are Marines, and their conversation took off into areas with terms I could not decode. Needless to be said, Matt and Jeff enjoyed meeting each other and Jeff got the chance to sample good Montecito community!

Today's The Day

Today is the day every father anticipates, dreads or fears; the day his daughter marries a man. Ours has been a long journey and for me, it's the right day, the right man, the right thing to do. Liz is so happy with Jeff, and he with her. Family and friends are gathering. The house has been turned into a restaurant, with all the furniture removed to bedrooms or the studio. It's nice to have a study to retreat to for some quiet while the rest of the family sleeps (other than my father-in-law and Martha). What's really cool is to see how many different people just show up and know what to do. My job right now? To take the advice from my brother and be like the harpoonist in Moby Dick: sit still and poised.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Airlines: Big Losers

OK, it's the holidays and there should be some delays. OK, there is some winter weather, there can be some delays. But 4 for 4? Come on! My father-in-law from Richmond on American, Luke from Chicago on United, Liz and Jeff from Atlanta on AirTran and Isaac last night on US Air all came late...four flights, four late arrivals. When Isaac got to the baggage area he turned and said, "Let's go make a claim Dad, they lost it." I said we should wait till all the bags are off, and we did: no bags for Isaac. In three flights to Santa Barbara on USAir his bags were delayed three times! Come on! To make matters worse, they charged him $15 to lose the bag. I thought they could lose something for free. If you have to pay to check a bag, shouldn't there be a higher level of certainty that the bag arrives?
Isaac now expects it. It does not irritate him, he expects this sort of incompetence. I got to thinking about another scenario. On the day you go to the airport, you stop by FedEx or UPS with your bags. Drop them off with your arrival address (maybe an airport kiosk or your hotel or accommodation. Then with minimal carry-on, you go to do your flying KNOWING that your baggage will arrive safely and on-time. 4 for 4??

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren Invocation: good idea for whom?

I just spent the last hour watching CNN analyze the rightness, wrongness, foolishness and wiseness of Rick Warren giving the invocation at the inauguration of President-elect Obama. The left argues it's a terrible mistake, allowing an evangelical, non-tolerant voice on the platform. The voices on the right argue that it's a terrible mistake for Warren to align himself with someone with whom he disagrees on a number of key issues (abortion and gay marriage). And the moderate voices say that this is exactly what the country needs; a modeling convicted civility, agreeing to disagree yet be part of the same United States.
Would I bring the invocation for the inauguration of an extremely conservative or liberal person? Absolutely yes! The invocation is not for the President, the big-wigs, the press or the watching clergy. The invocation is for God and to God. The audience is one: God. I'll talk to God gladly any time in front of any audience. I've done it in front of fraternal orders and civic groups. I've done it for policeman and firemen, military and pacifists. I've delivered an invocation for a retired submarine (USS SIlversides) and the opening of a swimming pool (Japan). Go talk to God Rick!

We All Do Spin

A friend from church came into the office today mid-wedding errands and looked at me, smiled broadly and said; "We all do spin Don!" and laughed. She has three married daughters and several grandchildren and is wise beyond belief. By her comment she captured the essence of parents-of-the-bride on the night before rehearsal. All flights have been late. We have been up too late and up too early and when we are in bed we can only think of what has not gotten done yet and needs to get done in the morning unless we might forget it and should we get up now and write a note or trust it to memory and what was that sound and what is that itch? Our sentences have no punctuation and our errands fly off into tangents. And it's all fun, and all dizzying. Borders blur and boundaries shift. Normally clear counters are piled with tin-foil covered somethings and shoes are stacked at both doors.
But right now, it's quiet here. Martha and Liz are at a shower with girls and Jeff is in Pasadena dancing with friends. Isaac should be coming in later tonight. John (my father-in-law) and Luke and I now have a quiet evening. It's a great sampling of all that it means to be family. But spinning I am.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I'm in totally new territory. I've officiate at over 375 weddings in my career, including the wedding of relatives and close friends. I have observations, advice and wisdom. But now I'm the father of the bride and feel like the character Steve Martin played in that epic comedy. Most of the time I do not get what's going on and if I ask, it shows how out of touch I am. Our son Luke flew in this afternoon and Martha's dad in a little while. Then we drive to LAX to pick up LIz and Jeff. Tomorrow Isaac flies in and the weekend is rolling. Friends from all over are flying in. This will be a totally new adventure for our whole family. Am I really a father-of-the-bride?

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Schuller mystery

The LA Times today had a story about Robert Schuller's (the younger) resignation from the Crystal Cathedral. Writers speculate about what went wrong and how it can be mended. It's no mystery to me. In the early 80's on a study retreat with my dad, I asked him if he ever thought about having me on staff with him. Instantly he answered "No way!" Hurt and confused, I asked him why. Didn't he think I had potential as a pastor?
He affirmed my pastor gifts and call, but said it's too complicated when a father and son (mother daughter or mixed genders) work together in the church. The lines get blurry and "call" can get dwarfed in entitlement. I admire Robert Schuller Sr.. I've read a number of his books over the years and heard him preach several times. I do not know his son and have nothing negative to say about him and his call to ministry. I think he'll do far better out from under the shadow of his dad. But being so high-profile, this will be a tough wound to mend.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Hidden Heroes

Fuentes Esperanza had their annual Christmas program today. It's a Spanish-speaking Covenant church near the campus of UCSB in Goleta, California (a west-adjacent city next to Santa Barbara). I counted about 60 adults and children. They had their regular worship service in the UCSB campus religious activities building. It's just a big room with folding chairs and a screen and projector. But today, after worship, the three kings were going to hand out Christmas presents to all the children in attendance.
Here's where the hidden hero comes in. Lisa Call, a member of MCC began promoting this ministry months ago, asking church members to "adopt" one child and buy an appropriate present for him/her. When the presents came in, Lisa wrapped and coded all the presents to the appropriate child. Our members formed a "present-chain" delivering 35 presents to kids who were called up to one of the Wise Men, given the gift and had their picture taken to the applause of the congregation. You could see the anticipation in the eyes of these little ones, most of whom are living in abject poverty. Ever since we arrived here four years ago, Lisa and her husband Chris have shepherded this ministry to Fuentes Epseranza. At the end of the program, Rev. Hugo Otaoloa singled me out as the senior pastor to the applause of the congregation. it's like that you know. I do none of the really hard work, show up and get the applause, while in the back, along the wall were all the hidden heroes!

"God of Small Things"

On this third Sunday in Advent, the preaching text is Psalm 126 "those who weep while sowing harvest with shouts of joy." In studying for the day, I cam across Zechariah 4:10 that speaks about the "day of small things." it clicked. Sowing seeds is an act of throwing "small things" like seeds into the wind and into the future. In a day overwhelmed by big things: $700 billion big, we can easily be overwhelmed by the small things at our disposal. "What is this among so many?" In these harsh times, the church can rise to the challenge of ministry in small things; cups of water in Jesus' name.

Staff Christmas Party

I admit it. I'm not a big party-goer. I like intimate little dinners with another couple or two. Large parties take a lot of work. So last night, I was a bit reluctant heading the the staff Christmas party at Diana and Dick's house. I was sniffling a cold and would have liked to stay home at a fire with a book. But when we got there, everything was festive and the food was abundant. It wasn't till about 8:30 or 8:45 that we began the white elephant exchange. You know the drill, in series a person opens a gift or can exchange his/her choice for an already opened gift. Soon the gifts got funnier and funnier. We were all laughing with each other till we cried. As the energy in the room increased, I sat back and smiled. Diana saw the smile and asked what I was smiling (maybe smirking) about. I told her how grateful I was for this moment and this staff. I was enjoying the radiating love in the room, a love that really cares for each other. It was not about the job or the tasks, but each other. maybe I should rethink parties!

Friday, December 12, 2008

NAE fires Cizik

Richard Cizik, the Washington DC representative of the National Association of Evangelicals was forced to resign. In an article in Christiantiy Today he was quoted in an interview on "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross saying that while he did not agree with calling homosexual partnership "marriage" he was not against "civil unions". The N.A. E. under the leadership of Minneapolis pastor Leith Anderson, saw that statement as crossing the line. Did he? Is not affirming the biblical understanding of marriage as that between a man and a woman the issue? If gay people choose to live in "civil unions" that have state (not church) sanctioning, and a christian defends the rights of those people whose life-style he (or she) really disagrees with, is that being loving or crossing a line?

Pastor for Sustainability

In the special issue of The Economist: The World in 2009 Daniel Franklin, editor, writes a fascinating article about sustainability in uncertain times. Of course this article is written from the perspective of corporations and profit-driven entities. With reduced cash flows, what goes and what stays? What things are non-negotiably at the core of an enterprise and what become more optional? Is a company's commitment to being green economically viable? How about ethnic diversity? Franklin argues that some of those qualities that could come under the knife of the accounting department must be protected because those qualities drive the essence of the organization and will attract or, if the are eliminated, discourage the best and brightest new leaders and customers.
This is the tough time of the year in churches when leaders build 2009 budgets before 2008 income has fully come in. It's when we worry, hope, speculate, and prognosticate about what the future will be. We, like many churches, do not have a formal "pledge drive" where we get statements of intent from our members and friends. We keep the names and amounts of what people give anonymous and project (maybe guess) where our giving will go the next year based on attendance growth (or decline) and program growth (or decline).
The question I ask myself is "how do we sustain viable ministry?" How do we keep budgets responsibly trim without becoming organizationally anorexic and self destructive? How can we run as close to a "flat' budget as possible and still keep momentum and enthusiasm? One trend I am noticing is the higher priority on gathering and relationship building, community time versus equipment time. I sense that we will travel less to far away conferences and invest more in pot-lucks and picnics.

A Good Wall

The parsonage wall is done. The back side of our house faced a dirt road and a landscaping firm with big trucks that begin working every day at 7:00 am. There was little privacy on the back side of the house, where all the bedroom windows faced. So the church council graciously allowed money to be spent to construct a retaining wall; for both privacy and water-drainage during heavy rain times. The wall expanded the back yard border by about 4 feet (still within the property line) and the way it faces south, it reflects the morning and afternoon sun, brightening up the whole space. But what it does most is give definition to what is home and what is work.
The ongoing challenge of life in a parsonage, a lovely home on the corner of the church property, is boundaries and definition. When am I at work and when am I home? What is public and what is private? When am I on duty and when am I off duty? Being 55 years old gives me an edge of maturity. I have a pretty clear sense of boundary that I did not have when I began ministry in 1980 (in a parsonage). We moved on to buy homes (2) and raise a family. I think it's much tougher on families with children than on empty-nesters. But the challenge is still there; to get away and get refreshed, so I can be fully present when I'm here. The wall really helps me visually.
But the wall is more of an illustration of what I need to be doing on a daily and regular basis; finding a quiet place and time, when I am given over completely to God and not the noises around me. The routine I began in France of reading the Bible (or devotional writers) first, before eating, showering or New York Timing, remains wonderful. Because I awake early and fast, that works for me. It might not work for others who wake up slower or later. When is the "wall-time" that works for you. How do you make the borders and boundaries between what is accessible to others and what is accessible to God?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anitdote to Noise

My head's noisy. It cold be because next week our daughter is getting married here and I'm pretty wired about the first marriage of our children. We are also in the aftermath of the Tea Fire chaos, with lots of activity here (Westmont College overflow parking, neighbor meetings with architects, Wednesday dinners now over 125 people, and the regular ramp-up into Christmas with coffees and parties and dinners). Martha is focussed like a laser with huge lists getting done every day. Add to that, I'm a voracious reader of the New York Times, Drudge Report, Atlantic, Wired, Fast Company, Christian Century, Christianity Today, Los Angeles magazine, The Economist, and a news junkie on TV. I have allowed so many voices into my head that devotional quiet has become a real challenge until I discovered the writing of the guy pictured above: Francois Fenelon (a French Roman Catholic mystic/quietist 1590's).
Fenelon is a great antidote to the noise because he champions being quiet, still, calm. He was liked neither by the Roman Catholic magesterium nor by the Reformers. He befriended another like-mind, Madame Guyon and they wrote back and forth like St. Francis and Claire, or John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. So now each morning I sit down with my coffee and have this long-dead French friend speak to my heart.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

M-4 Bathrooms!

M-4 met again today. M-4 stands for the four churches of Montecito (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Covenant). In the past we have raised funds and sent HIV/AIDS care kits (1,000 and then 2,000) through World Vision to Africa. We then raised funds for and packed 800 and then 900 back-to-school back packs for underprivileged kids in our community. We brought Jim Wallis from Sojourners to speak to our community about how to work together (the "New Awakening" he writes about) and we have had two ecumenical Thanksgiving services.
So we had high hopes of a larger and greater project. We were thinking about bringing to Santa Barbara through World Vision their HIV/AIDS awareness experience that needs 2,500 sq/ft and staffed for a week with 350 volunteers. The goal is to bring global awareness to the Christian community of HIV/AIDS. But we had difficulty getting traction and, more importantly, the space for the event.
Then at the meeting today, someone else go excited...about bathrooms in the local trailer park for low income worker-families. They live in cramped vacation trailers (not the big 40 foot type with double-wides). Few have bath/shower facilities so they all (90 residents) share a shower room with several stalls for each gender. They are decrepit, unsanitary and unused by the children, who do not get regular baths/showers and often smell of body-odor. We felt the Sprit move around the room summoning us to help bring sanitary and decent bathing facilities to our brothers and sisters just a few miles away from us.
So now we are launched in a new venture under some new leadership in the name of the body of Jesus Christ!

Monday, December 08, 2008

When Fear Takes Over

The other day I heard a comment that got my attention. The person speaking said that the problem with our highly wired culture is that "fear leaks in in too many place." By that he meant that our yahoo accounts, google news, and constant access to emails and instant messages, we hear way too much bad news with no countervailing good news. When the fires came through Santa Barbara, the fears and worries were overstated. I heard in Virginia that everything was burning; Westmont College, the church and our house. It wasn't that bad for us. But fears took over. What people feared over-rode what they knew.
In Sunday's New York Times neuroeconomist Gregory Burns M.D, Ph.D. writes about how fear paralyzes decision-making, risk-taking and creativity. That has big implications for the church. We are not fear-based or fear-driven. We are realists, not romanticists. We traffic in reality, but reality based in divine hope. This is a good time for the church to be the church!

Counter-Emergent: Children's Programs

The latest books on effective post-modern ministry exalt the simple-church model. Be focused. Know your mission. Stick to your mission. Do not let "good-stuff" distract you away from "God-stuff". Stop doing traditional things because they've been done for years. Resist being captured by 19th and 20th century church-culture. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
So in staff, we read together "IT", "Simple Church", "The Forgotten Ways", "Sticky Church" etc. We genuinely discuss whether we should stay with some of the inherited traditions like the summer VBS program called Noah's or the "Christmas In the Field" children's program.

This year the new Children's Ministry Director and Fuller Seminary student wrestled with whether this was good and effective theology and ecclesiology and even missiology. In the end, she opted to put on the Christmas Program last night in the sanctuary. About 80+ people came. A wonderful young couple dressed the parts of Mary and Joseph along with their new baby. Kids dressed as shepherds, angels, and a variety of animals. We sang together, they burped out their lines, they got distracted, we laughed and were moved. And there was a restored innocence last night...and it was good church!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

iTunes University

At the Westmont Christmas dessert tonight, I met a guy who told me about a new learning situation. It seems that the head of Yale University's MBA program "bailed"on Yale to join a new venture from apple. Spend some time on this site and see the aggregation of learning opportunities! What will this do to the stand-alone institution?

First Friday/Saturday in December

The first Saturday in December was a big deal in Minnesota. It was Salem Covenant's Smorgasbord, where crews of Swedish food zealots wold prepare monstrous portions of herring, deviled eggs, lutefisk, meatballs, lingonberries, breads, fruit-soup, potato sausage and coffee (hundreds of gallons of coffee). Then another room was converted to nordic (and asian) craft sales and the sanctuary became a real "Prairie Home Companion" set where Swedish dressed singers would sing and a bunch of guys (and later women) formed a fun string band, and a variety of children and family performers. Over a 1,000 people came through in the late afternoon and early evening, filling the church with sounds and smells and leaving the staff and leadership totally exhausted. That's how Advent began.
The first weekend was also Christmas at Northwestern College, where Martha would design the program in consultation with our neighbor and choir director Tim Sawyer. We would attend one of the concerts and I would always weep at the glorious sounds of Northwestern College Choir.
Now in Santa Barbara the events are different, but similar. The first Friday is the great Christmas parade down State Street, little ballerinas, dog-obedience school, fire fighters (standing ovations from the crowds) schools, Young Life, drum and bugle corps, hispanic low-rider bicycle clubs (entirely decked out street bikes!) and all sorts of groups that like to parade. It's both big and innocent. We met a number of church families as we walked the street.
Then tonight we were invited to Westmont College as guests of president Bebe to meet, and greet and eat with board members and neighbors. Now in my fourth winter, it's fun getting a new routine established. The tree is up and decorated and the mantle-piece is filled with creche images and tinsel. I've now switched from potato sausage to sushi!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent Suppers?

Are you kidding? Another meal during Advent? Aren't our calendars full enough with enough December obligations to be adding a weekly dinner? Nobody will come! It's one more expense of money and time! The budget is already tight! Who will cook, who will set up, who will clean up?
But my staff members would not let up. They believed this church was hungry for meals together. One family whose home burned down requested a weekly meal with another church family with an in tact home. Then staff members and others expressed their desire to have meals with those who have been dislocated. Then the wave grew and the staff said that they really felt there was a deep hunger for just hanging out together; no program, no music, no complexity, just a meal with each other in the middle of the week.
Then another staff member proposed hosting a Christmas shower for burned out families. The donations poured in, overwhelming tables and families. So the two ideas came together tonight. Suzanne Medlyn cooked a marvelous turkey meal, tables groaned under the load of gifts, 120+ people gathered and would not leave! I left an almost full gym to teach a Bible study. When others came up to congratulate me on my good idea, I had to admit that the idea was not mine, I just gave in and said "yes" to an incredibly creative staff!
So for the next two weeks we will have dinner together in the gym and just hang out (at least until I leave to teach the Bible study).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Westmont Re-opens!

The Westmont campus officially re-opened today after the Tea Fire of November 13th. It was a Monday and my day off. I have a long list of pre-wedding things I need to get done. But something tugged me to get dressed and walk up for the chapel service. It was filled to capacity with students, faculty, alumni, community, and rescue personnel. Campus Pastor Ben Patterson was at his eloquent best, exhorting us to grieve with those who grieve, but not as those without hope. He said that Hope is our unique song and Faith is the dance to that song. Then he challenged students to get back to work without complaining. His words were the ones that could only come from the Campus Pastor. The President Gayle Beebe opened his heart and shared what went through his mind in those early hours of the fire: his family and his students. Then the fire chief of the community gave witness to the amazing safety plan Westmont had in place for such a time as this. He is still amazed that not a sing life was taken by fire!
After a great choir anthem and "Lamb of God" we all processed to the old chapel building, which was miraculously spared, with the woods on either side of it charred black. There we stood and sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" like never before.

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