Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
A Gathering of Pastors
My head is full of cobwebs from all the conversations yesterday. A whole bunch of members and friends of MCC gathered on the Westmont campus where we first began worshiping in 1959. Then we processed through the woods on a path singing to the gym, where 210+ people ate, talked and reminisced about the years 1980-2000.
Following the dinner, we adjourned to our third location for the night; the sanctuary. There we sang a hymn by Bryan Jeffrey Leech, heard a poem composed for the anniversary by Dr. Paul Willis, were moved to tears by a Bach violin duet by the husband and wife team of Phil and Claire-Marie Fiscor. To cap it off, we premiered a dvd by Casson Demmon on our 50 years, filled with reflections from members and friends, young and old. At the end of the evening, the former pastors gathered up front to talk about today's joint pastoral prayer. And for a moment, MCC's history was standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder on the chancel. Tasting God's grace.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Confirmation classes are officially over for the year at MCC. Last week I gave the final exam to the 12 confirmation students. the fastest finished in an hour and most were done by the 1.5 hour mark. It was a comprehensive survey of the Old Testament. As I read confirmation exams year after year, I am increasingly moved by the students' fresh insights into theology with word combinations I have not thought of using. These are not "cute" answers, but fresh and deep grapplings with theology. Some years ago someone gave me the concept of "reverse mentoring." It means to intentionally gather younger people around me to tutor me in technology, music, culture, media, and communication. Teaching confirmation is a form of reverse mentoring for me. Of course I teach history and theology unapologetically. But I listen also to the way these young minds take in biblical concepts and process them in their own creative ways. Below are some illustrations that i particularly like:
On Creation: "If God thinks humans are 'very, very good' we must be pretty darn awesome!"
On Worship: "I just want to worship God inside my head"
On Sin: "It's because we have a corrupt curiosity"
Why the Passover: "Because Egypt worshiped false gods and enslaved the real God's people"
Role of Prophets: "To deliver news from God (mostly bad)."
Judges: "short-time rulers"
Covenant: "a strong promise"
One on-going conversation I have had in churches over the years is about my role in teaching 7th and 8th graders. Shouldn't it be part of Student Ministries? Shouldn't I bow out and let the Youth Pastor(s) enfold it and just show up once in a while? Sometimes that is very attractive logic during particularly busy times in the church year. 4:30-6:00 pm every Tuesday does take a chunk of time. But when I get the chance to interview the students and read their papers, I realize I cannot afford not to do this. What a gift!
The Meaning of Stones
If you read this blog, you already know from the post below that this weekend is a big deal here at MCC. We are celebrating 50 years of life as a congregation. This afternoon we will gather on the Westmont campus at our first worship site, Deane Chapel and hear reflections from a founding member and former pastor Bryan Jeffrey Leech. Then we will process with music down the hill on a path to the gym for dinner. There we will recount the growth days during the pastoral leadership team of Curt Peterson and Jon Ireland. The congregation outgrew the official sanctuary on our current location and built a multi-purpose gym where worship was held. Then around 7:00 pm we will adjourn to the newest building on the campus, the sanctuary, where we will hear a poem written for the occasion by Dr. Paul Willis, a violin duet by Dr. Phil Fiscor and his wife Claire-Marie Fiscor and then premier a dvd on our 50 years of life that was shot by Casson Demmon.
On Sunday I'm preaching on Joshua 4:6 and the meaning of stones. I realized as I prepared for this sermon, how prominently stones figure into my life and photography. I'm captivated by stones, large and small. My three-time rejected manuscript on sacred space is titled "Old Stones; a rediscovery of the sacred." I have a stone perched on my window sill and a shard of stone from Israel on my credenza.
In an age of plastics and throwaways, stones endure, stones last. Stones bear up under storms and wind, snow and fire. Stones silently witness to stability and endurance. Stones outlast every human being. Stones point me to God.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
50th Anniversary: What Do These Stones Mean?
The only church anniversary I remember was that of 1st Covenant St. Paul when I was in college (1971-1976). The other churches I served had anniversaries before I arrived or after I left, but not during my tenure. I have dedicated buildings, burned mortgages, recognized pastoral retirements, and many couples' wedding anniversaries, but never that of a church....until now. This weekend Montecito Covenant celebrates its 50th Anniversary: 1959-2009.
There will be a big event Saturday evening; processing from our first worship location on the campus of Westmont College, down to the gym where we worship after we outgrew the old sanctuary and then into the newly completed sanctuary (2005). Former pastors will be present and sharing and praying. We commissioned a member to make a dvd celebrating our history, present and future. And we purchased a large stone and had our name, dates and scripture etched onto its face in the area we hope to make into a prayer garden.
After three and a half years, I am aware of my brevity within this congregation. What do our 50 years mean? What does this stone mean? In the story of Joshua (4:6) the meaning of the stone(s) is that the hand of the Lord is mighty and we should fear the Lord God forever. Our past experience with God reveals that he has been mighty among this congregation and the members and friends. And he is mighty still.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Trim Costs...Raise Income
I'm on my 3rd cup of coffee this morning getting ready for what should be a very fun and engaging day. The entire church staff is gathering off-site for a day of prayer, planning and dreaming about future ministries, schedule, themes and best practices. But what hangs over our heads is income-to-budget. We, like many (dare I say most?) churches are feeling the pinch between what the budget needs to maintain ministry and what the income is.
In collaboration with the church council, the staff has been given the first crack at finding savings within the already lean budget. So what I'm wondering is how are you doing it? What are some of the budget-saving ideas you are doing at your church (or even business?) Some of the ideas floated by me yesterday on the church patio were:
1. get rid of paper bulletins
2. stop buying church coffee (brew only donated)
3. turn off the air conditioning
4. stop hiring out yard work, go to all volunteer and staff
5. raise facility use rates (especially for weddings)
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Kim & Henry
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Behind Locked Doors
We know the story pretty well in the post-Easter season. After Jesus' resurrection appearances to a few, but not all, the remaining disciples went to cover, returning to the Upper Room to lock themselves in "for fear of the Jews." The John 20:19-31 text is this great narrative of Jesus coming through fear-locked doors and breathing peace.
Fear locks us down. The Fear Paralysis Reflex is part of our brain-stem equipment that shuts us down, in the womb, to trauma. It's a reflex. We don't think about it. It translates out into the world with blinks and flinching. Fear prompts and automatic response...and that's good mostly.
But fear is pervasive and part of the market-driven culture we live in. Some of us live hooked on fear. We cannot recall a time when fear did not drive our thoughts and actions. Like the photo above, we are chained by some very familiar fears. Jesus unlocks fears.
What would it mean to you, your family, your organization, your staff, your church if you were not hounded by fears?
Monday, April 13, 2009
Leland Eliasson on the value of seminary
In a recent interview with "REV"magazine, my old friend Leland Eliasson, provost of Bethel Seminary reflects on the up-sides and down-sides of seminary education. I have had conversations with church leaders about how effective or not a seminary education is for contemporary ministry. We have some strong churches in our area pastored by persons without an MDiv. Yet Fuller Theological Seminary offers off-site classes in our facility, and I am seeing these guys enrolled in classes well into their pastoral careers. When I talked with them, their response to me was that now they knew where they needed to grow deeper (Greek, Hebrew, Church History, Systematic Theology).
What lessons from seminary keep you going over the years? What were the invaluable skill-sets you keep fresh? What were the classes that were less valuable over the long haul?
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Easter & Baptism
It was a full Easter Sunday with great music and a sanctuary filled almost twice. Kids and families gathered for food and the big Easter egg hunt pictured below.
Following a wonderful lunch with friends from three different churches, I went to Butterfly Beach to baptize a young man who accepted Christ last fall. His family came to witness his powerful testimony of change and pastors from Calvary Chapel came to bless and give words of encouragement. Adam and I walked out into the chilly waters and he said "It's really, really cold!" Then I baptized him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When he came up out of the waters, he was spurting and spitting, gasping for air. Then he said, it's not so cold any more...and he hugged me to the cheers of everyone on shore. It was a good, good day.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Easter Sunday: The Last Word
Who has the last word in your home? your circle of friends? your job? I came across a term this week called "last word syndrome" that describes the personality type that has to get the last word in, always, everywhere. We know them. Sometimes we are them. But last words are also very helpful. Someone needs to have a final say on things, from minor decisions to going to war. We need to know who is in charge and who are the authority to bring the last word.
In my ministry, last words have often been attributed to Jesus' last words on the cross. We have focussed tenebrae services around the seven last words of Jesus. But those are not his last words. His last words are those after the death, after the resurrection in his encounters with the disciples. Those are the words my heart hungered to hear this year.
So worship tomorrow will revolve around all four Gospels and the last words of Jesus to his friends and....to us.
Stations of the Cross
Pastors are proprietary, and senior pastors are very proprietary. I know what I like to do and how to do it. I have my ways for doing weddings, funerals, communion, Sunday mornings, preaching, etc. You can call it good habit or deep rut. Holy week is one of those deep places for me: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. They fit a fabric and total story: procession, intimate table fellowship and lessons of love, devastating loss at the cross and the darkening of space, and the brilliance of resurrection.
So when the staff ganged up on me several months ago about doing Holy Week a little differently, my response was immediate and reflexive: no thank you, this is my territory, we'll do it my way. They must have prayed for me, because they came back with their proposals, graciously but persistently: could we do things differently?
I said "yes" to both Maundy Thursday (that I blogged about previously) and to the Good Friday Stations of the cross. Instead of being held in the church, they suggested that we go to the neighborhood nearby where 12 of our families lost their homes. Because it is circular, we could walk a route, making 7 stops at 7 home-slabs.
At each stop, a staff member led traveling groups of 10-12 in a responsive reading about that stage of Jesus' journey to the cross with a unison prayer. Over each sign, was the name of the family who lived there and the station of the cross.
We were not sure about the turn-out. Friday afternoon turned in to intermittent showers. We had a rain-plan for the sanctuary, but decided at the last minute (staff vote) to hold it outside even with the threat of rain. About 100 people showed up and the sun broke through making for powerful community experience of walking the stations of the cross through the ashes of the fire last November.
I'm glad the staff is patient with me!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Dealing with Shifts
In a recent article on shifts in the church Kevin Miller helpfully articulates three big shifts that have happened over the last years: the popular understanding of church "authenticity", the way people enter into church communities, and the role of the church in its own community and setting.
I read the article above after spending time in my new exciting book below:
I picked it up after an interview on public radio's "Fresh Air" with the authors. Both authors are employed by the dry but accurate magazine "The Economist". One is a Roman Catholic and the other is an avowed atheist. But the theme of the book is about the faith revival going on around the global contrary to popular and media representations of decline. This book is also a reinforcement of "shift" going on right before our eyes.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
A Day of Foot Washing
Pastor for Gospel Action, Jon Lemmond, invited me to join him for a foot-washing event downtown Santa Barbara for the homeless in our community. It was sponsored by "Well-Bridge" a local agency that gives compassionate care to the homeless. They came out in big numbers, gathering for a meal, registration and wait.
When the time came for the foot-washing, it was a serious foot-washing of warm water, soap and hydrogen peroxide, overseen by an area podiatrist. The whole process took up to 30 minutes, giving Jon the occasion to seriously visit with and get to know the homeless man whose feet he washed
Tonight MCC gathered for a soup-supper, foot-printing of tempra paint on paper and then washing the paint off.
But one young boy grabbed me, to have my foot-print painted along side his. Then he washed my feet. I tell you, I'm not used to having a young boy wash my feet! It was a humbling experience to have this child touch, wash and dry my feet as everyone looked on. No wonder Peter objected!
The Big Wave of Holy Week
It's still dark here. I got up early to take Anna to the Air Bus for her trip to see her dad. But I'm keyed up. It's Maundy Thursday. Tonight we will try an innovative meal/service of foot-painting of children and significant adults and make prints of them for the children. Then we will see if adults and children can wash the paint off of each others' feet. Following the soup meal, foot-painting/washing we will celebrate communion together.
Good Friday plans to be a walking of the stations of the cross through a neighborhood burned by the Tea Fire last November. At each of seven homes, we will stop for a litany of remembrance of what Jesus suffered for us against the backdrop of devastation. The forecast is for rain. We have plans to move inside if we need to, but we all hope we can do the walk.
Easter is full of music, flowers and food. In addition to the regular joy of preaching, I will be baptizing a young man in the afternoon who gave his life to Christ after a long ordeal, which I hope to have him share just before the sermon. Another young boy (10) gave his life to Jesus last Sunday and might give witness to his decision as well.
Holy Week is a big wave that is beautiful, fast moving, and can sometimes really tumble you.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Friday, April 03, 2009
Six Flags craziness
The sun is just beginning to rise on our last full day of the mission trip with the four guys, Mike and and Lisa. I have not had a shower in four days and I really miss my own routine. But what I am is hopeful and grateful. Why? As I watch these boys listen and process complex issues, even troubling and disturbing issues, I an excited about this emerging generation of leaders. These boys are not afraid to ask in-your-face questions and are not put off by jargon or lingo. They are boys who love to play, wrestle and compete at just about everything! They are comfortable with silence and they make great big noises suddenly.
They accept me, a 56 year old senior pastor with a week's worth of scruffy beard who does not always get their jokes. They love to pray (not so much sing). And they really love to eat (I think I gained 5 pound just watching them eat!). I look forward to seeing them go off to college, find vocation direction, discover relationships and use their gifts in the body of Christ. The horizon looks great!
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Sacramento: Loaves & Fishes + Tent City
Our day began at Sacramento's "Loaves And Fishes" agency for the homeless. Donna Trumbo from Bayside South Covenant church connected us to this vibrant relief agency in the industrial corridor of Sacramento. We were met by an energetic nun, whose order supplies the noon meal for the 1st Thursday of every month. The boys, Mike, Lisa and I were stationed at various areas to serve meals to 391 people today (down from the normal 700)
After lunch the associate director Garrin took us on a walking tour of Sacramento's "tent city" just across the tracks from "Loaves and Fishes". There we met Christine, who lives in the tent behind her with her husband. She is disabled and barely walks to Loaves and Fishes to volunteer each day. Garrin told Christine that they found an electric wheelchair for her to get back and forth from her tent to the center. She was so excited to have mobility.
Not wanting to be "tourists" we walked the perimeter of one of the "cities" in clear view of the capitol. It was moving to all of us to see hundreds of tents, unlike any campground we ever visited. One of the boys said that what troubled him most was that this was a scene he expected to see in foreign countries, but not here at home. Again, we were moved to see Christians with compassion serving the poor with dignity and grace and trying to provide avenues out of homelessness and poverty.
Now the boys are outside the church playing a rousing game of four-square with lots of noise. Dinner later after they have a chance to burn off some steam.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Wednesday was spent in San Francisco courtesy of the Westmont Urban Center House. There we learned about Not For Sale, the new initiative to stop the trafficking of human slavery. The numbers are downright scary! 27 million world-wide and 2-3 million in the USA. Our guys were moved and challenged about what that means to them. We walked Haight Street across infamous Ashbury to a Thai restaurant. Then we hung out at Pier 39 and crossed the Golden Gate for the picture below.
Now we are getting settled down at Marin Covenant Church, to prepare for our trip to Sacramento tomorrow to feed the hungry.
A Tribute to Beauty
Traveling with four high school young men, a dad and our Student Ministries director in one suburban since Saturday is a definite challenge for introverted old me. I'm learning new meanings of personal space and tolerance. I'm sure the students are seeing a new dimension to their senior pastor, sitting in the van, staring out the window or playing 20 question games with them.
But one side benefit of this adventure is the appreciation of California's beauty. Los Angeles has the hum of a bee-hive in full swing. The streets and highways buzz with energy. The drive south to San Diego showed off the beauty of the ocean and the dry, rolling, stone studded hills that undulate around the city. It certainly helped that we had a beautiful location at the Gwinn home. The drive north yesterday on the 5, back through Los Angeles, Annaheim and Disney Land, then up the long grade of the grape vine and down into the dry grazing lands of Harris Ranch and into the salad bowl of lettuce, onions and strawberrys. But the high redwoods of Mission Springs silenced a lot of our noisy restlessness as we walked through the tree sanctuary. "The heavens are telling...."