It has been a season of reunion gatherings at our church.

Through reunions called “funerals” lives are remembered, strands of relationship and being are celebrated, and gratitude and grief are named.

As pastor, I am able to feel the coming-home of children raised in the church. For perhaps the first time they sit in a pew without their father or their mother by their side. The jarring is so real. Powerfully, the sanctuary holds their beloved yet; it always will.

Picture boards showing big fish and wide grins bear witness to a singular life. The innocent hope shining through wedding photos and the rascally delights of play bear witness to the unfolding of story and heart.

Friends and co-workers, long-lost relatives and church companions share sugar and coffee and a need to bear witness.

The mystery that is life, death, and resurrection. Together we bow before the enormity of it all.

The church writ large flops about in a scramble for relevance. We sometimes chase after the latest gimmick that will settle our anxieties about decline.

Would that we would cease the scramble and remember that the center of our being is reunion: reunion with the beating heart of the Holy, reunion with the ongoing presence, power and guide that is Christ Jesus, reunion with the promise that in the midst of life God longs love for each and all.

The church exists in order to facilitate reunion.

Through baptisms and funerals, faith groups and worship, we exist to host reunion.

Holy work, that.

time and rivers

Of time and rivers flowing
The seasons make a song
And we who live beside her
Still try to sing along
Of rivers, fish, and men
And the season still a-coming
When she’ll run clear again.

So many homeless sailors,
So many winds that blow
I asked the half blind scholars
Which way the currents flow
So cast your nets below
And the gods of moving waters
Will tell us all they know.

The circles of the planets
The circles of the moon
The circles of the atoms
All play a marching tune
And we who would join in
Can stand aside no longer
Now let us all begin.
                Pete Seeger

How is it we are given this gift of life?

Having returned from vacation a scant 24 hours ago, I officiated this morning at the funeral of a woman who blessed.  She blessed through laughter and quick humor.  She blessed through a willingness to “join in” as Seeger sings in the lyrics above.

She lived a singular life; unrepeatable and precious.

And so it is for each who join in.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  My prayers for my loves and the real clamor of my longings sound relentlessly in my soul.

Sometimes the “I want” is a gong noisy and clanging and that gong has the power to create such cacophony within that the still small assurances of the Holy are near overwhelmed.

And then I remember.

Mine is to cast my nets below; deep into the moving waters of grace that will tell me all I need to know.

Still.  Small.  Powerful.  Deep.

Let us all begin.




Today we celebrated the life of a woman who lived 101 years.

Gathered for worship were her children and grandchildren and friends and folk who knew themselves to have spent time and life with a graceful powerhouse.

We do that at church.  We hold the space for celebrations and life markings.  We welcome  people we may never see again and for a time we share voices in song and stories through hearts.

There are times when the beleaguer of “doing church” can make the heart heavy.  The tending of relationships and buildings and protocols and brusings can near obscure the reason for our being.

And then there are services that remind us that community in Christ matters.  It matters deeply.

For 101 years the woman we celebrated today held space in her being for the power of God in her life.  The fruit of her faith was palpable in her people and in the air and prayer we shared.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for the steadfast devotion that has prompted people to support a church that has held funerals for nearly 160 years.  I’m grateful for the privilege of weaving worship that names resurrection and wonder.  I’m grateful for the hands that bake bars and pour coffee.

I’m grateful for the reminder that “doing church” matters.  It matters a lot.

look who’s bothered!

Today I officiated at the funeral of a long-past member whom I have never met.

He grew up in the church and had moved from Mpls years ago.  It was important to his family to have the celebration of his life in his home territory, so they called to see if Richfield would host.

Of course.  That’s what we do.

It’s always a bit of a sniffing-out session when folks who are not members come into the church with a sense of what they want.  As the planning session went on, I was thinking of preacher and theologian Thomas Long’s discussion of funerals and how they have changed in the minds of many.

Often, Long observed (and I agree), funerals have become pep rallies for the deceased with precious little nod to the mystery and vulnerability that is life and death and resurrection and grief.

I liked this man’s family.  I liked what I heard about this man.

And, I was jangled a bit even before the service.  We had agreed that maybe “Me and Bobby McGee” would best be shared in the fellowship hall following the worship service.  That was good.

We had agreed that three eulogists would speak and they would be aware of the great good of being concise in their comments.

And, as in so much that is life, I had to let go during the service and trust that many unknowns would conspire to honor a life and give thanks to God for it.

But I had to wrestle with white-hot anger during the course of one of the eulogies. The man speaking used language that hurt in that sacred space.  He told a joke that jarred in the air that has held so many prayers.  I was torn between wanting to be gracious and wanting to welcome lighting bolts from the sky.

Here’s the thing.  I like to have fun as much as the next person.  I don’t believe that God despises laughter and I do believe that being able to celebrate the life of a beloved through anecdotes that provoke laughter is soul gift.

And, we gather in sanctuaries for services of life, death, and resurrection for a purpose.

We gather to bring our bruised and confused hearts before God and to offer them up for holding.  Eulogies are a chance to express our wonder about the gift of the deceased.  Stand-up comedy has its place.  So too does humility.

Trembling before God is a spiritual practice that requires reverence.

Reverence matters,  especially when the mystery that is life and death and resurrection is before us.

There is a powerful healing that happens when we step off the stage and acknowledge that all that we are and all that we live is directed by grace.

Reverence and wonder were missing today and life goes on and the family was pleased by oh, I missed the chance to worship.


I’m bothered.

I think that’s a good thing.


I was held by two churches in one day:  both I have given my heart to.

I spent the afternoon in Duluth at the funeral of a beloved spiritual guru.  Armas was 95 when he died.  The place was packed with huge hearted people who came to give thanks for the ways he breathed questions and spark in the world he so loved.

In the front row was his Men’s Bible Study group.  In the congregation were people who had shared the work loves of his life: justice making, question asking, meaning making and savoring.  His heart team was there to name his glory and give God thanks for the privilege of sharing life with him.

I motored back to Minneapolis for two church meetings.  Around each meeting table were members of teams (in church speak, we call them committees) who give their time and their hearts in order that ministry can happen.  We are varied in opinion and sensibilities, but we are woven together in order to set the stage for transformation.

It is no small thing, this being a part of a team.

Tonight I am full of wonder and gratitude.  Paying tribute to a man who knew the need for community, followed by encounters with circles of folk who live that need in order to share it.

It was good.  It is good.


My head and heart are full.

My head is full of fluids intent on silencing my world.  I’m on the second go-round of antibiotics for ear infections.  So it goes.  It’s brought to my heart a whole new compassion for those with hearing loss.  Restaurants are brutal, as is any place where ambient noise reigns supreme.  Reality feels swaddled.  I’m learning new things.

And my heart?  My heart is full of wonder.  Love is an amazing force for healing.  At my uncle’s funeral, the pain and joy that comes with family and loving was named, the holding of story was shared, and the power of healing and gratitude was passed from heart to heart.  I share family with an amazing crew of varied explorers.  From grandparents Keith and Helen came four children full of soul and zest and they made families and together we each hold a piece of our shared story.  It’s a wonder.

Church too is a coming together of each of our stories.  When we gather to name our dependence upon and grounding in the Holy, we swirl our beings into a weave of remarkable strength.  Each of our bumps is held, each of our triumphs is present, and our questions and wisdom conspire to lead us into the story larger than our own in order that we might know it to be our own.

How wonder-full is that?



Tomorrow will be the tenth funeral held at RUMC this month.

I find myself amazed at the power and grace of our church.

Each funeral requires a team of ministers.  Our organist provides powerful music to hold families and friends.  Vocalists and instrumentalists share their gifts.  Our communications person produces bulletins to aid worship.  The women and men of the church bake bars and cakes.  Those bars and cakes are offered, along with coffee and beverages and other foods by the people of the church who know how important it is to feed the hungry and offer drinks of compassion to the thirsty.  They welcome all through the doors: community members, families, estranged and beloveds alike.

People come to mark the lives of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  They sing and pray and give thanks for the time spent making life together.  And, they name before God their gratitude for life and life eternal in the company of the Christ and the flotsam and jetsam that is family and friends.

We have shared powerful worship over this past month.

Today, four different people stopped me and told me this:  they are praying for me.  Knowing that hearts get linked and it is hard to say goodbye to so many in such a short time, they offered me the powerful gift of their prayers.

To serve in the midst of such ministry underscores the teaching of Jesus.  He taught that living discipleship is about building the kindom of God on earth.  The time for compassion and grace and blessing is now.

I’m seeing it at church.  And for sure, I am feeling it in this now.



tree of life

I have been drawn to trees of late.

Truly, it has ever been thus.  Some of my most powerful childhood memories include times spent held by trees.  Climbing trees was an elemental need for me then.  Sitting on a branch, surrounded by green and growing and supported by power and movement, I was home.

In my professional life, I have been powerfully engaged in green and growing.  It has been a season of funerals for long time members.  As I have sat with family and heard stories and hearts, I have felt grafted into the alive thing that is family.  Pastors are allowed to be, for a time, a part of the life cycle of families.  When we gather for funerals, the hope is that family members feel surrounded by the life beat that is a growing, powerful, and eternal tree of life.

Today in the mail I received a gift from one of the families.  I had come to know them well through officiating at the funerals of their grandparents who died weeks apart.  They are a beautiful lot, and the ways they named the knot holes of family life and the alive of gratitude moved me.

They sent me a tree.  It is on a silver pendant, crafted by one of them.  It has heft and power, this symbol, and I am moved by the convergences.  I am blessed to have been a part of their witness of the tree that is life.  I am blessed to wear that symbol as I continue to sink roots into the Holy and reach toward the sun in my own life and the family I am blessed to learn with.

Sometimes, the thing that is parish ministry near takes me to my knees in wonder.  We hold the space in community where we pray that others will find each other and the Holy and in that partnership move toward life transformed.

I am transformed.  I am transformed by the welcome, the lament, the laughter and the snarl that is life.

The tree will remind me:  Sanctuary is, alive is, life is.



Today we celebrated the life of a brother.  The Rev. Jim Dodge lived life with an honest and searching heart.

At his funeral today we named our love for him and the real challenge that is living as people fully aware of the power of grace.

And we sang and prayed our gratitude for having known such a one as Jim.

One of the traditions of the UM church in MN is that at funerals for our colleagues, we sing as a clergy choir.  This tradition never ceases to humble me.  When it came time to sing for our brother and from our own need to witness, the front of the church became packed with people who have opted to give their lives over to ministry.

I’m proud to be one of that number.

And, I am so grateful that our lives are held by the hand of the Holy and we walk our days in the company of so much that is good.

The squirrely and painful days are real.  But oh, to be able to come together and name our gratitude is soul tonic.  The grief is real, but it is shared and stirred into a huge pot of grace and for that on this day I breathe thanks.

God speed, Jim.  And, thanks for your touch on the lives of the so many who call you teacher and friend.

telling a life

On Sunday a man died.

He grew up in this church.  The details of his being were shared yesterday during a meeting with his widow.

In an hour we will hold his life to the light of our attention through the worship we share at his funeral.  We will unpack memories, gratitude, tinges of disappointments, angers and the sure sense that never will this man be fully known; not to himself and not to those who shared life with him.  We will name the mundane facts of living and seek to name the mysteries and wonders of his being.  There is so much we will never know about him.

And yet, we do believe that he is fully known by God;  not only known, but known and fully loved.

Every funeral I facilitate brings me to the wondering about this art called living.  How is it the telling of my life will go?  What major plot lines will be teased out and shared and celebrated?  What stumblings will those gathered need to name in order to practice honesty?  What foibles will be fodder for good laughs (I have provided so MANY!) and what legacy will be named as being broadened because of my being?

What will the telling of my life mean?

For clergy the question comes around often.  We are faced with the refining fire of mortality as a part of our vocational being.  Dodging just isn’t possible when funerals are planned and unfolded on a regular basis.

Sitting for a time of story telling and sharing it in the context of worship is sacred gift and it is poignant and insistent reminder. 

The day is coming when people will gather to hear a story with your name as lead.

What sort of telling will it be?