Tag Archives: church


teal ribbonCancer sucks.

Are there any two words written that were ever more true?  Is there anyone that read that sentence and didn’t think, “Yep, it sure does.”  It sucks more than the suckiest suck that has ever sucked.  Sorry about the 10-year-old mouth, but I think most would give me a pass.

My Mom has cancer.

Those words were hard to even type.  It’s not something I ever wanted to say again.  Six years ago her ovarian cancer went into remission.  Six doses of chemotherapy spread out over three week spans knocked it out. We hoped it was knocked out for good, but we have already established the sucky nature of cancer.

After my Dad told me the news, these are the things I did:

I cried. I sobbed full force, white-knuckled into my pillow. I know cancer. Cancer and I work in a lot of the same places. I can meet cancer at a hospital, or at someone’s home, or in a conversation at church, and I seem to know what to do. I’m not saying that I’m altogether comfortable with cancer, but we’re familiar. This time though, I wasn’t ready. I thought we had an agreement.  Cancer isn’t supposed to bother me at home, but like I said, Cancer sucks.

I hugged my wife, because it was her turn. We seem to take turns being strong in moments like this. It is strange, but I seldom recall a time when we were both crying at the same time. Someone told me once that I’m supposed to be the spiritual leader of our home. That’s bullshit (again, sorry about the language, but my emotions are pretty raw). We are partners. Sometimes I’m strong and confident and fearless and protective and all that stuff. Sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes I’m fragile and raw and broken. Sometimes she kicks me in the ass, and says, “Get up. Suck it up, and get after it.” Sometimes she holds me, strokes my head, and lets me just be broken. It seems like she always knows when she needs to do either, and I love her for this.

We went to our friends house. We have good friends. We have the kind of friends with whom we can play “Cards Against Humanity,” and hold nothing back. Nuh-thing. We share the big celebrations like weddings and births and C-League Volleyball championships (Go Spiking Vikings).  We share the mundane stuff of life like carpools, Tuesday dinner, red wine, and school plays. As soon as I was able to stand, I needed to see our friends. We’ve already buried two parents together, and they know more than anyone that there are somethings that even my lucky rocket-ship underpants won’t help. At their house, the conversation went something like this:

“I just found out that my Mom’s cancer is back.”

“That sucks.”


Sometimes friends have the perfect words for the moment.

A couple of weeks passed before we were able to tell anyone beyond our very small circle. Finally yesterday I emailed the prayer chain at our church. I’m not sure why I was resistant. Sometimes I feel like a character in Harry Potter, afraid to say the name of You Know Who for fear that speaking it’s name will give it power.  Or maybe I can’t let go of ill-gotten notion that as a pastor, I shouldn’t be vulnerable. There are people in the church that are in need of care, and I how am I supposed to care for anyone when I’m hurting?

The text I’m preaching from on Sunday is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and starts with these words, “Rejoice always. Pray continually.  Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” You’ve got to be kidding me. (I typed and then deleted a certain expletive in between the words “be” and “kidding me” about five times. I decided to go with leaving it out, so you can re-read that sentence and put it back in, if you so choose).

Rejoice always? That’s going to be a hard sell.

That, however, might be the point. Rejoicing always isn’t about skipping along in a land of rainbows and gumdrops. Praying continually is not about kneeling, folding my hands, and closing my eyes to the world. Giving thanks in every situation isn’t about denying the parts of life that just plain suck.

I rejoice in the life my Mother has lived, and I rejoice in the life she continues to live. I rejoice in her strength. I rejoice in her faith. I rejoice that she just called me from Sam’s Club to ask if I needed a new top coat. “Yes,” I said as I paused from writing this very blog. “My overcoat is blue, and it would be nice to have a black one for funerals.”

You see, I deal with cancer all the time. Truth be told, we had no deal. I knew all along that cancer goes where cancer is not welcome. I’m not rejoicing in its return. Yet in the midst of all things I give thanks.

I give thanks for a Mom who gives me more than I could ever imagine. I give thanks for her partner, my Dad, who taught me that its okay to take turns being strong. I give thanks for my brother and sister, for getting the teal bracelets and doing all the things I can’t do because of distance. I give thanks for my own partner, for being strong enough to hold me up from time to time. I give thanks for my daughters, who teach me every day about grace. I give thanks for my friends, who right now are probably thinking, “I thanked your Mom last night.” I give thanks for my church, who didn’t get an invulnerable pastor. They deserve better.


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Filed under Christianity, Personal Reflection

Pastor Robb is going to sing?

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

(With a tip of the hat to this great article from The Onion – vulgarity warning)

The cast of Riverside and the Center For Living Arts expressed their shock when Director Dino Hayz announced the solo list for their April 18 production of Godspell.

“Pastor Robb is singing?” one cast member, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned.  “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, and knows his Bible.  But singing?”

Reports indicate that while he has a fairly loud preaching voice, and feels comfortable being in front of people, he’s not exactly a song-and-dance kind of guy.  With no shortage of talented veterans to choose from, Dino Hayz inexplicably asked McCoy to sing one of the biggest songs of the show, “We Beseech Thee.”

“It’s the last fun number of the show,” said anonymous.  “Everyone will want to crucify him, not Jesus.”

McCoy showed some potential in the other three shows he’s been in.  The first was a 50’s Follies show he did in eighth grade at his own church.  Most believe that he only joined that cast because he “might get to hold hands with Christina.”  One witness says that they did, in fact, hold hands, but broke up only a few months after the show.  The causes are still unknown, as the note that ended the relationship has been lost.

His two shows as an adult were last year’s presentation of Godspell, where his vocal limitations were apparent in his two-line solo.  His last production was a play called A Bright Room Called Day. 

“He didn’t even memorize his lines,” said one reviewer of the drama about the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany.  Ironically, in both Godspell and Bright Room¸ the ordained United Methodist pastor played Satan.

“He’s a damn good Satan, but I’ve never seen a show where Satan has to sing and dance.  We’ll just have to sing back-up extra loud for this one.”

The show is Friday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church.  There will be a bake sale before the show and at intermission.  There will also be someone taking bets as to whether or not McCoy will “ever show his face in the church again after this debacle.”

2013 Godspell reflection, part 1

2013 Godspell reflection, part 2

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Reblogged: “Ten things your Pastor wishes you knew about her”

My friend and colleague, Mike Rayson, shared a blog post on this Facebook timeline the other day.  It was called “9 Things You Need to Know About Your Pastor”. It was an interesting article.  And when I say, “It is interesting,” I mean that in the same way as I do when someone shares with me an article by Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen. “Oh, pastor, did you see that article by Joel Osteen I shared with you?”

“Yes, it was very interesting.”

You see, while the post did bring up a few noteworthy points, it was difficult to wade through its gender bias. When I last checked, there were 133 comments on the blog. If I were to add one, it would read: “I will add No. 10 – He’s a woman.”

Mike’s wife Amy Rayson wrote this blog “Ten Things Your Pastor Wishes You Knew About Her”.  Coincidentally, I am told, she had written this post a few days before he shared the “9 things” post, but it seemed to be a perfect response nonetheless.

Amy writes:

1. She is not a woman pastor.
She is a pastor. No one says, “This is Pastor Steve – he’s a man pastor.”
Having her gender attached to her job title as a (dis)qualifier diminishes both her, and the role of pastor.
2. Yes, she has read 1 Timothy 2:12.
Also 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Often. In fact it is likely she has spent many, many, many more hours than you pouring over and wrestling with those texts.
3. She doesn’t do it for the fun of it.
She has argued, wrestled, cried, lamented, and railed against her call.
She has been to Tarshish many times on her way to Nineveh. She does not exist to make a point, to make waves, or to make you mad. She is (and should be) obedient to her God, not to her critics.
4. She is soft.
She is soft not because of her gender, but as all people are soft – by nature of the biological and psychological reality of humanity. She works to REMAIN soft, despite the abrasions and burns of life. Because only psychopaths are content to be hardened and heartless.
5. She has been hurt.
Recently. Possibly by you.
It is a tough gig.
When she is hurt she is like an athlete competing on a broken foot. But she keeps doing her job anyway, because she is obedient to her call. Your positive feedback and encouragement on the job she is doing help her heal from those hurts more than you can imagine.
6. She loves her family.
Not all pastors have children, but all have some kind of group of humans she calls family.
If you hurt them, you hurt her and reduce her ability to be effective in ministry. Yes, she will devote some of her time and energy to the care of her family. This is good and scriptural. She loves it when you support her in this.
She does not put church first and family second. She puts God above all things. God takes care of the priorities from there.
7. She has a title.
She may prefer you to use it. She may prefer to be called by name.
But if you do use a title use the correct one.
She may be Jane, or Pastor Jane… but she is NEVER Miss Jane.
Yes, this includes when you introduce her to someone outside of your church or religious group. When you introduce your doctor to a friend you don’t demote him to ‘Mr.’ Even Protestants call the Roman Catholic leader  ‘Pope’.
If you can’t respect her, at least respect the office.
8. She is not a feminist.
Or she is. Really that’s up to her. By definition, a feminist is simply ‘a person who supports the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’
But she is not automatically a feminist by virtue of her gender or profession.
It is likely, however, that  she has spent at least some time wishing people would be less genderist (look it up).
9. She wishes she had a ‘clergy wife’.
(She has this point in common with her male colleagues.)
Single or married, she has heard of these mythical creatures who play piano , lead Sunday School classes, keep the home and any children clean fed and happy. . . and she would LOVE to have one of them! Who wouldn’t?
Sounds awesome!
Instead (if she is married) she has a spouse who is her partner in the home, and who holds their own position of value in the world; possibly, even, a position of paid employment. Her spouse (if she has one) is not an unpaid, extra church staff member. Take your church issues up with her, not her spouse (or her kids).
10. I do not speak for her.
She shook her head at least once while reading this. She is diverse and unique and her story is her own.
And she would love an opportunity to share that story with you.
11. She makes mistakes.
See? Even in counting points in a blog post.
She makes mistakes, not by nature of being female, but because she is a flawed, broken human being who is redeemed only through the grace of God. She craves forgiveness just as badly any other person.
Thank you, Amy.  I know I will never truly understand the crap that my female clergy colleagues have to go through, but I am thankful for their courage, strength, faith, and prophetic leadership.  I know that the Church is a stronger body because of the gifts and graces of so many women pastors. And there I go again – making mistake #1.
Here’s a “Valentine’s Day” card I made this year:
anna howard shaw

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February 28, 2014 · 10:17 am

The Prayer of Saint Francis

I want one of these.  He would fit in well with Dwight Schrute, Walter Payton, and John Wesley.

I want one of these. He would fit in well with Dwight Schrute, Walter Payton, and John Wesley.

There is going to be so much written in the next few hours and days about the new Pope.  I for one, am intrigued by his choice of name.  I am far from an expert on Catholic Saints and church history, but I’ve always loved the prayer that is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.

I said this prayer today while thinking of the newly elected Pope Francis.  I said it again while thinking of my own mission and ministry.  I prayed it again while thinking of the Church Universal, with all of its imperfections, failures, beauty, and hope.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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Please Remember

The picture on the left was circulating in my Facebook world today.  When I saw it, I shared it immediately.  These five reminders are just so beautifully simple.  I would like to go to Metropolis, take a picture next to the Superman sign, and check out a little league game.  I wonder if it effective.

The sign is posted at baseball fields and reads, Please Remember: 1. These are kids, 2. This is a game, 3. The coaches volunteer, 4. The Umpires are human, 5. You do not play for the Cardinals.

My daughter isn’t quite old enough to start playing, and I’m hoping she’s still a few years away from people taking it too seriously.  I haven’t been to a lot of youth baseball games lately, but I’ve heard horror stories of adults behaving very poorly.

The sign got me thinking, what if I could use these same rules at church?  What would they look like?  It seemed like the sign on the left hit a nerve with a lot of people that participate in youth sports.  I wonder if my sign will do the same with people that worship on a regular basis.

What the following was posted in your church, Please Remember: 1. We were all created in the image of God, 2. This is worship, 3. Visiting church is an act of courage, 4. Pastors are human, 5. You are not Jesus.

I love the Church.  It can be a place of love, forgiveness, and hospitality.  All too often it is not.  What if this sign hung in our churches?  Would it resonate?  Would it make a difference?

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Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Maundy Thursday.pngBelow is suited for a sanctuary or chapel.

Maundy Thursday Pot-Luck Liturgy is meant to be shared around food.

Maundy Thursday

Liturgist:     Jesus spent his life teaching us the meaning of love.  Through word and deed Jesus showed us how to love God and to love one another.  He fed the hungry.  He healed the sick.  He invited the women and the children and the tax collectors and the sinners to come to his table.  He broke bread with the least and the lost and shared the cup of redemption with them all.  He crossed boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.  He challenged religious authority, and he scoffed at pomposity and self-absorbed grandeur.  He called out the hypocrites.  He admonished the scribes and the Pharisees for their hardened hearts.  He brought a simple message: Love God, love yourself, and love one another.

All:       We gather in the name of Jesus and remember the way that he showed us.  We gather to remember not just his death, but his life.

UM Hymnal #174 – His Name is Wonderful

Liturgist:     The way of Jesus goes through the cross, but we are not there yet.  It is close.  We can see its shadow.  We can feel the cold, dark, night. We know that the enemies of God are conspiring.  They have had enough of him.  He threatens their comfort.  He threatens their way of life.  He threatens their power.  They will come for him.  First though, we will gather.  We gather with Jesus and his closest friends.  We gather with those that called him teacher, Rabbi, friend.  We gather for the Passover meal, to remember that God saved the people from slavery.  God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

All:       God saved the Israelites at Passover, and revealed that it is God who reigns, not the Pharaoh.  Our God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

UM Hymnal #448 – Go Down, Moses

Liturgist:     Even as they were sharing this sacred meal together, the disciples were not of one heart.  Jesus knew that he was asking much from these men, and he knew that they would fail him.  Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  Was he angry at some slight?  Was he disappointed that Jesus would not raise an army against the Romans? Was he upset with the value of the oil that the woman “wasted” when she anointed Jesus?  We will never know Judas’ heart, but Jesus knew that he would be betrayed.  And did Jesus do with the man that would betray him?  He broke bread with him. All of the disciples were deeply saddened, and they asked:

All:     I would never betray you, Lord.  It’s not me, is it?

Leader One:      On the night in which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “This is my body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Leader Two:    When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.”

Leader One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:       Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Leader One:    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and the cup.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood.  By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever.

Communion in silence

Liturgist:     When the holy meal had been shared, the disciples began to argue over which one would be the greatest.  Even here, at the end of their time together, they did not seem to understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.  He reminded them that to be great in the Kingdom of God meant to serve.  After Jesus’ talk of betrayal, the disciples’ argument, and Jesus’ rebuke of them, the disciples seemed to be growing anxious. Peter proclaimed:

All:       “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Liturgist:     And Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Faith We Sing, Hymn #2112 – Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Liturgist:     Afterwards, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to pray for him, for he wanted to be alone.  There, Jesus prayed.  He asked his friends to keep watch, but they kept falling asleep.  He prayed for another way out.  He prayed in anguish.  He prayed as a man who could feel pain, who would be hurt by betrayal, who would be scarred by the scourge, and would bleed when nails were driven into his arms and legs.  He prayed as a man who knew that if he followed God’s will, he would be charged, convicted, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and nailed to a cross.  Knowing all of this full well he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”  Then he stood up for all that he had lived for.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come to into the time of trial”

All:       Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi” and kissed him.  Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

UM Hymnal #290 – Go to Dark Gethsemane (verses 1-3 only)

Liturgist:     There was a brief skirmish at the arrest, but his disciples quickly scattered.  Peter, who had only hours before promised to go with Jesus to prison, even death, followed from a distance.  During the trial, Peter remained hidden in the shadows.  First a servant girl saw him and said, “This man was also with him.”

All:       “Woman, I do not know him.”

Liturgist:     A little later someone else, on seeing him said, “You also are one of them.”

All:       “Man, I am not.”

Liturgist:     Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

All:       “I do not know what you are talking about.  I do not know Jesus.”

Liturgist:     At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, and he wept bitterly.

UM Hymnal #288 – Were You There

Stripping of the table (All of the items that adorn the Lord’s table, and all of the liturgical banners are removed in silence)

There will be no sending forth or postlude.  People are asked to leave in reflective silence, and return for Good Friday service and Easter Sunday service.

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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My hope rests

The United Methodist Church is dying. I have heard the numbers, and they don’t lie. I’m not going to quote them here, but trust me.  The numbers aren’t pretty.  And it’s not just the United Methodist Church.  In the United States, churches of all brands, denominations, theology, and politics are seeing decline.  There are some that celebrate the death of religion.

But I’m here to tell you that the reports of the death of the United Methodist Church have been greatly exaggerated.  Is it the same Church it was 50 years ago?  No – Thank God.  The numbers tell one story, and it is an important story that we need to pay attention to.  There are many reasons why churches have been in decline for the last forty years.  I was reminded this week that the United Methodist Church is about more than numbers.

Today I celebrated the wonderful and holy meal of Communion.  I enjoyed this meal in a conference room of the United Methodist Building in Washington DC.  It is a building that sits at a corner.  Across one street is the Supreme Court building.  Across the other street is the US Capitol.  I’ve spent the last few days amongst leaders in the United Methodist Church with the General Board of Church and Society.  It has been a full week.

It has been full of information, meetings, inspiration, prayer, walking, fellowship, and friendship.  I have met two Congressmen, and a General Secretary.  I have stood in awe of the great monuments dedicated to the history of this nation.  My greatest thrill however, has been the chance to meet the amazing young leaders that have dedicated their lives to serving Christ in the United Methodist Church.  I’ve met real people with hopes, passion, talent, and skill.  I’ve shared stories, ideas, and laughs.

This whole experience has been incredibly uplifting.  Today as I walked toward the bread and the cup, I was filled with hope.  I felt an amazing rush of power – Holy Spirit power.  I looked around at the faces of people that were once colleagues, and are now friends.  I saw Jordan, Becky, Chris, Beth, Chris, Bethany, Jessica, Ann, Andrew, and so many others.  I looked at the faces of these servant leaders, and I felt the power of hope.

I still know all the numbers.  I’m not hiding my head in the sand as the church is in decline.  Even while I’ve been here I have heard the stories of church decline, and of the struggles that we face across the United States connection.  This week though has been a great reminder that our church – the imperfect, troubled, struggling church I love – is about more than numbers.

My hope rests above all in the Jesus’ love and righteousness.  My hope resides also in the leaders that are working to open hearts, minds, and doors in the name of Jesus Christ.


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Why Church?

An Illinois country road. Photo by DeWayne Neeley. Click on the picture to go to his Flickr site.

A long time ago I wrote a sermon about a bike ride through the cornfields of central Illinois.  It was one of my favorite things to do when I lived in Chenoa.  I would turn left out of our driveway and just keep going.  It wouldn’t take long before I was on a road that looked a lot like the one pictured. 

When the corn was high, riding a bike down a narrow road like this was a slighltly harrowing experience because I couldn’t really see where I was.  When you’re in the middle of one of these corn canyons, you can see where the road leads – at least until the next hill – and that’s about it.  When the corn is high, you can’t really see anything but corn and sky.

That is partly why I loved those bike rides so much.  It was so peaceful and so calm.  I spent a lot of time in prayer on those country roads.  The reason I said it was harrowing, however, is because I could be riding along with cornfields on boths sides for quite some time.  And while country roads were usually straight, they were not always a dependable grid.  Some were deadends.  Some veered in directions I didn’t really mean to go.  Some took me to the highway (and if you ever want a lesson in white-knuckled prayer, ride your bike on a busy country highway – with semi trucks passing you at 60 miles and hour).

It could be really easy to get turned around amidst all the fields and right angles.  Yet no matter where I rode, I always knew that I could see the water tower.  As long as I could see the water tower, I knew I could get back home.  The water tower is the tallest thing poking out of the grove of trees that is Chenoa.  Whenever I rode – I knew I could make it home if I could see the water tower.  That is why those moments in the corn canyons were a little unsettling.

In life, we can go down a lot of roads.  Sometimes were are heading away from home.  Sometimes we are meandering around aimlessly.  Sometimes we hit dead ends, or go on courses we didn’t intend.  Sometimes we get turned around.  Sometimes we hold on white-knuckled just praying that things will be okay.  That is why it is so important to have that water tower – raising over it all, showing us the way home.

To me, that is church.  It is the place to which I can always turn.  It is not perfect.  The church has made mistakes – some historic, some personal.  The church has hurt people, hurt families, hurt nations.  Yet as far as I’m concerned, it is our best hope.  It is the best hope we have of finding our way.  It is the beacon that calls us home. 

At its best the church is a place of love.  If the church is being what Christ intended it to be, the church is a place of forgiveness, grace, invitation and mission.  It is a place to be fed, empowered and sent out.  It is the oasis of the Kingdom of God.  When I think of the churches I have been a part of, I don’t think of buildings or decor. I don’ t think of great sermons or well-organized Bible study.  I don’t think of perfect liturgy or music.  I think of love.

I think of people that cared for me as a child.  I think of people that loved me as an adult.  I think of people that helped guide me into ministry, that picked me up when I failed and allowed me to grow.  I think of people that loved me like parents and were grandparents to my daughters.  When I think of when the church has hurt me I do not think of wrong theology, or boring sermons, or bad music.  When the church has hurt me it has been when people failed to live up to the commandment Christ has given us – love one another as Christ has loved us.  Yet before I let the anger, resentment and hurt feelings get the better of me, I remember that I have failed to love as well.  I am in need of forgiveness for my carelessness, my thoughtlessness and my selfishness.

Through it all, I have found love in the church.  My heart breaks for those that have been wronged by the church.  My heart yearns for those that seek and do not find.  I don’t know where you are on your journey.  I don’t presume to know the path you need to take.  All I know is what I have found.  I have found a place to hold onto.  I have found a water tower in the bike ride of my life – showing me the way to get back home.  I pray you find your way home too.



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Pastor Appreciation

clergy appreciationI found out on Sunday that October is Pastor Appreciation Month, so I thought I would tell you all how much to appreciate me.  Just kidding of course.

Actually, I want to write about some of the pastors in my life that I appreciate.  Doing what I do, I have come to know a few pastors. So here is a list of pastors that have shaped me in some way over the years.

Steve Arters and Heather Hasto. Steve was my first youth pastor and was a major factor in introducing me to Jesus Christ. While I wonder if we may now be on different sides of some theological issues, I know that we still share more in common than our love of the Phillies.  He shaped me in an important way, and he loved me for me. He will forever keep me grounded in the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Heather was an associate pastor of the church I grew up in, and the first woman I recall being a preacher. I was completely oblivious at the time that anyone would have a problem with a woman as a pastor, and am still largely baffled by the obstacles that women clergy face. She was someone that just made people feel loved.

Keith Zimmerman. My current district superintendent. In many ways, he is my pastor. He has helped me through some difficult times, and has been a strong leader. He’s the best DS I’ve ever known, but I’ve only known two, and the other was pretty great too.

Josh Williams, Will Deuel, Nicole Cox, Jeremiah Thompson, Eric Swanson, Jay Reginetter, Megan Thompson, and Grant Armstrong. This is a group of new pastors that I have gotten to know through the Residence in Ministry and other conference relationships. RIM had very little practical value, except for the relationships that have formed with other clergy in the conference. Every time I get depressed after watching the Daily Show or see a best seller list with Bill O’Reilly or Glen Beck on the top, I think of these people, and I have hope. They are smart, energetic, young, and talented. Our conference, and more importantly the Kingdom of God, is better for having these people as pastors.

Phil Icenogle and Jason Woolever. These two pastors were my mentors during the candidacy process. Jason was a great person to sit down and share some ideas. Sometimes we would even get to the Wesley sermon we had read for our meeting. Phil is retired now, but helped me tremendously when I was overwhelmed with conference paper work.

Dave Estep, Charlie MacDonald, Shelly Forrest, Jon Hauck, Ron Marsh, Ken Sloan-Couch. A group that meets for breakfast every Tuesday morning. They have supported and encouraged me since my earliest days as a pastor. It is great to be able to get together with a group of pastors that are free of pretension and BS, and just care for one another.

Brady Abel, Sue Artt, Rick Oberle and Stacy Tate. This group started as few first-year seminarians that were terrified of oral exams, so we gathered in the library every week to study. We helped each articulate our faith. We challenged each other. We encouraged each other. After we all passed our orals, we kept meeting at a local restaurant. When we graduated we knew that the group had become an essential part of our life. So now we gather at least once a year and we help each other articulate our faith. We challenge each other. We encourage each other. We love each other.

Deana White, Eric Fistler, Diane Windler, Jack Michael, Josh Longbottom, Craig Jan-McMahon, Clint McCann, Michael Kinnamon, Peggy Way, Christopher Grundy, Deb Krause, John Bracke, Karen Tye, Jesse Williams, Nelson Pierce, Joe and Jessica Rowley, Sharon Kichline, Pam Ekey, Dee Pennington. I was reluctant to start this list because it could keep going and going, and there is no way I could include them all. These were the people that shaped my seminary experience. They are professors and students that changed my life and shaped my faith.  Eric became my best friend.  Deanna became my co-coach and friend.  I couldn’t possibly list them all, or the reasons I included them on this list.

Dr. Williams baffled me when he said, “seminary is not about finding the answers.  It is about learning to ask the right questions.”   Dr. Kinnamon reminded me that “every theological statement you make, you need to be able to make to a burning child in Auschwitz, or a dying AIDS orhpan in Africa, or a mourning mother after a drunk driver killed her child.”  Dr. McCann reminded me that, “If I have to make a choice between God’s grace and God’s wrath, I’m going to err on the side of grace.”

Michael Smith, Dan Powers, Jeff Long, Duane Larson. Michael Smith was the pastor at the first church I ever attended without my parents. He helped me through the earliest stages of my call to ministry. Dan was the pastor that helped hire me as a youth director. Although I had no experience or qualifications other than a willing heart, he nurtured me and let me grow. He allowed me to preach and teach and guided me to seminary. Jeff and Duane were the pastors of the church I served in seminary. Jeff is a leader full of charisma and a preacher not afraid to take some chances. He cast a vision for that church that is still developing. Duane took the vision that Jeff had helped create and his turned it into a reality. He is a khakis and flannel kind of guy that allows others to shine. I learned so much from them about leadership, preaching, and the pastoral office. Both were confident enough in their own position to allow me to grow.

Christian Ricker, Ed Hudelson, Dan Patterson, Steve Estes and Jerry Koch. These are the other pastors in Chenoa. We have a great working relationship. When we gather at a table we represent a wide spectrum of theological and political diversity, yet we can work together for the best interest of Chenoa. I think it helps that we honestly like each other.

Mark Harris and Mollie Ward. Mark went through CPE with me and Mollie was our director. While the other three gentlemen in our group helped me a lot, it is with Mollie and Mark whom I have continued to be in relationship. Mark inspired me as a United Methodist and as a dynamic personality. He and I are very different, and I learned so much from him. Mollie was a quiet, intelligent, pushing and yet encouraging voice through a difficult and rewarding experience. She held a group of five men together and allowed herself to be vulnerable with us. She helped me push myself to be a better pastor, father, brother, son and husband.

When I look back at this list, and what has turned into one of the longest blogs I have ever written, I feel so blessed. I have been shaped, nurtured, loved, pushed, and cared for by so many that are called Pastor. This list continues to grow. If I bought a gift card to Target for all of these people that have been there for me, I would be broke, but I also know that is not why they were there.

If you have read this list and have gotten to this point, I hope you take a few more minutes and reflect on pastors in your life. I know that bad pastors can inflict terrible harm, and I have experienced the damage they can do. If you have been harmed by pastors, try to find a place for forgiveness, because we are, after all, sinful humans.

If you have a pastor that has shaped your life, that has loved you unconditionally, that has challenged you to be a better person, that has introduced you to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, take another moment and thank them. Give them a call, write them a note, send them an email, or post something on their facebook wall.

I’m not going to lie, if I get a gift card to Chili’s in the mail, I am going to like it. But if I get a note from someone that says, “you changed my life,” I will cherish that forever.

To all the pastors that have been there for me, I say thank you. You have changed my life.

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Filed under Personal Reflection

Fixing the Skandal

A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Will Deuel had a series of posts on his blog, “A Man Called Preach.”  His series of posts about the Skand-lous mission of the Board of Ordained Minstry created quite a whirlwind, including dozens of responses from well-wishers, sympathizers, and fellow probationary Elders rumbling along the ordination track.

As I think about our current Board of Ordained Ministry in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, I concur with much of what Will had to say, especially in suggesting that it needs to be re-thought.  So I kept on thinking…

What if the Board of Ordained Ministry was perceived not so much as a board of gatekeepers, but as a team of mentors?

I can imagine a new kind of process, one that does not exist to weed out those that are deemed unworthy, but one that lifts up, empowers, and molds responsible Christian leaders.  I can imagine a team of mentors, prayerfully discerning the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, shaping a process that meets them where they are.

Instead of treating us as “classes” that have set list of hurdles that must be leapt in order to reach the goal, the ordination process could be a time of spiritual guidance, discernment and empowerment.   Picture this:

A probationary elder, upon being comissioned, sits with a small group of pastors and lay people to examine the material that was presented.  They talk about the Bible study, the sermon, the written work, and Wesley’s historical questions.  They consider the work experience of the candidate, the education, and seminary evaluations.  Together, they create working goals related to different parts of ministry.  If a candidate has a gift of teaching and preaching, she is given resources to develop those gifts.  She is supported in going to preaching conferences (like the annual Festival of Homiletics, which I am dying to go, but have no means), and continuing education seminars.  She is not required to do redundant work that was taught in seminary and examined during the comissioning process.

The candidate struggles with administrative duties, so she is given a mentor – one not based solely on age and gender, but one that is suited to teach her the skills she needs.  During the first round of annual conference forms, she meets with her mentor a couple of times.  They meet again shortly after the annual report forms are filled out.  Throughout the year, the mentor and candidate meet several times to talk about administrative tasks.

The group decides that Clinical Pastoral Education is required of the candidate, but not necessarily for all.  She has some gifts of pastoral care, but could certainly refine her skills.  She is given financial support to enroll in a CPE program.  Her mentor and DS make sure that during the CPE internship, certified lay speakers relieve her from the pulpit two or three times so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by the duties of congregational leadership and her CPE internship.

There are Residence in Ministry Retreats.  They are intentionally about building the connection and meeting learning goals.  The residents meet the bishop, members of the cabinet, and some local pastors and lay leaders from around the conference.  At the retreats, practical ministry techniques and issures are mixed with things like spiritual gifts inventories and personality tests.  The candidates discuss their path toward ordination, about their struggles and their fears.  They are given time for their own prayer, study and reflection.

Each candidate is treated as an individual –  a whole person.  Ordination is a process of discernment and growth – not a series of hoops. 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  The question I have is, what’s keeping this from being a reality?


Filed under Christianity