pandemic pastoring

Wowsa.

The disorientation is real, isn’t it?

I find myself unsure about what day it is and what it is I should do next and the hum of anxiety is constant companion.

Suddenly those I encounter are potential carriers of harm.

I represent threat to others.

We are all in this together, apart.

So may God grant us the courage and wisdom to learn from this reorientation of life.

Our elders?  Our fragile irreplaceable elders?  May we always treat them as precious and worthy of cosseting.

Our work colleagues?  May we savor the different ways they encounter life and how it is we are wildly blessed to join with them in meaningful work.

Child care workers and grocery store stockers and food service folk and the people who make it possible for our toilets to flush and our lights to be on.  May we honor them through the ways we notice and value their work.

Medical personnel who put their lives on the line to swab throats, research cures and dispense accurate information.  May we never forget that they are heroic seekers of wisdom that has the power to save lives.

And may we learn, once and always, that what we do and say matters.  It matters so much.

We are all leaders.

Stay home.  Keep your distance.  Practice grace with yourself and with others.

Remember who you are.

Henri Nouwen has this to say about that:

“You are my child.

You are written in the palms of my hand.

You are hidden in the shadow of my hand.

I have molded you in the secret of the earth.

I have knitted you together in your mother’s womb.

You belong to me.

I am yours.  You are mine.

I have called you from eternity and you are the one who is held safe

and embraced in love from eternity to eternity.

You belong to me.  And I am holding you safe and I want you to

know that whatever happens to yo, I am always there.  I was

always there;  I am always there;  I always will be there and hold you

in my embrace.

You are mine.  You are my child.  You belong to my home.  You

belong to my intimate life and I will never let you go.  I will be

faithful to you.”                  Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Lecture”

That.  That is who you are.

 

sacred space

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This space is soul home.

For decades this space has held baptisms, weddings, funerals, and weekly worship.

The power of prayers and music shared is palpable in this space.

And, due to the practice of social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this space echoes with emptiness.

Every Sunday those checkered rugs hold kids crawling and reading and puzzling and being kids during worship.  The steps in the chancel are used for children’s lessons and the Littlest of Angel song.

Each pew has its people.  Each chair in the ECC has its person.

Every week our organ and band sound out and are joined by hundreds of voices.

Coffee is shared, conversations savored and the sweet goodness of people who make up the collage of our hearts are encountered.

So.

The echoes of what is not are bouncing off of empty space.

And, the church is not a building or a space or a tangible must-have.

The church is each person open to encounter.

The church is the living Body and it is woven together by the power of the Holy Spirit and the church is each person praying and loving and living the anxiety of these days.

Our soul home is blessed yet by the prayers of the people.

Presence will come.

 

 

Gather Us In

There is a bit of scripture that pictures God as mother hen gathering her chicks.  (Matthew 23:37)

I have always felt the power of that image.  Chick-gathering is in my wiring in ways fierce and strong.

And I cannot much do that gathering in these days of pandemic living.

You join me in this ache, I know.

My biological chicks have issued the mandate that their “elderly” parents (when did THAT happen) are to stay home.

My church is connecting in ways that don’t involve physical gathering.  My gratitude for a staff that can support this frontier of cyber-connecting is immense.

And, leading worship in an empty sanctuary hurts.

How do we live, we who miss the sense of gathering in our body selves?

I find that I have become connection obsessed.

Our church staff is moving into largely distance work.  We shared a “Last Supper” of pizza and appreciation yesterday.  We will meet via Zoom every day but how to name the grief of not sharing ideas and laughter in the flesh?

My children are reaching out daily.  This I like.  And, the role-reversal of their concern for their vulnerable parents pierces my heart.  After years of being the mother hen I find that my chicks have powerful capacity for tending.

Who will we be when this pandemic loses its power?  How will we connect our hearts and passions for the good of all while we shelter in place?

While I cannot open my wings to embrace, the Holy can and the Holy does.

I pray for us all the creativity and heart to continue to know our connection.

Even as we know the fear, grief and anger of this time, we are profoundly gathered in.

 

 

 

 

 

hunger

I am far from home.

Today I was keenly hungry for worship in a United Methodist Church. Knowing that in my home church and in all United Methodist Churches across this world those who were struggling with the General Conference decision would be gathering, I wanted to be in solidarity.

And I needed a good word shared in the midst of connection.

Here is what I heard. I heard a brief note during ain’t-life-swell announcements about the General Conference and an acknowledgment that there were lots of opinions about the General Conference vote and, hey, people are always welcome at that church. Those of us gathered were assured that was so.

Really? Welcome?

Do not speak of welcome for all as though it is happening, truly, when baptized and called children of God are not welcome to preach or marry or be fully folded into community and you are not outraged.

There was no naming of pain. There was no seeming awareness that fluffing over injustice is to condone and perpetrate it.

None. Of. That.

I wanted to leave.

But in the front of the sanctuary was a table with the bread and cup on it and I had come so hungry and I was aware that this deep grief I was experiencing is part of the world I love and so I stayed because I so needed to be fed.

I stayed and prayed for Christ UMC and for all the churches who are doing hard soul and heart and advocacy work on this day. I stayed and tried to keep my heart soft toward the pastor who never once addressed the issue in his sermon. I stayed knowing that there are people who come to the church I serve who feel like they want to leave because of what I do or do not say.

I stayed.

And, I left hungry.

May we create communities through which tears and hungers and delights and questions and insistence upon the sacred beauty of each is celebrated.

No one is fully welcomed unless all are fully welcomed.

Truth.

power

I am in Sedona.  Finding places of power and being in them has been a theme of my renewal leave.

Yesterday the United Methodist Church wielded power in a way that slashes hearts.

After decades of wrangling over issues of full inclusion of GLBTQIA people of faith, the corporate body of the church had this to say:

No.  No, we will not ordain GLBTQIA children of God.  No, we will not allow our pastors to do same-gender weddings.  And, we are going to command your bishops to go after those clergy who won’t fall in line and your Boards of Ordained Ministry to be instruments of interrogation.

Thus said the General Conference.  By a slim margin.  With nearly half the voting body being from outside of the US.

There are so many admonitions written in scripture that the General Conference has determined are not bedrock mandate: Issues of women in leadership, divorce, not stoning our children who disobey.  Those kinds of things the church has determined literal interpretation of scripture is not to be.

It seems that love is just too terrifyingly powerful to “allow”.

It is nonsense.

The church cannot contain love.  The Body of Christ is called to support and celebrate love as sacred gift.  Love is hard work.  The church is meant to come alongside and empower people who have the courage to open their hearts to others. Jesus taught plenty about that.

There is snow melting in Sedona.

I know that hearts will melt, too.  I know that the movement will make its way into a way of being that claims, celebrates, and supports the glory of each of God’s createds living fully alive and celebrated in community.

But let’s be clear.  We are not a United Methodist Church.

We are a movement even now being pushed into new life.

It is time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

holy wholeness

I am praying this week.

I am praying for the hearts of United Methodists to be strangely and profoundly warmed.

The notion about living with a strangely warmed heart comes from the experience of John Wesley. Wesley lived for decades as pastor and child of God without a clear sense of his full welcome into God’s embrace.

Through a heart warming experience, Wesley came to know the power of holy wholeness.

That heart warming brought Wesley and the movement now called United Methodism alive.

It has brought me and so many alive, this astounding good news that we are beloved, known, and made one with God’s heart.

United Methodists from around the globe are gathering in St Louis this weekend. They are gathering for a specially called conference. At the conference delegates will engage with each other and with the Holy Spirit to determine the future of the movement sparked by a man who knew what it was to feel doubtful about being fully welcomed into God’s grace.

United Methodists have been wrangling around this issue for decades. Countless hours, resources, passion and energy have been poured into how it is the people of Jesus the Christ are called to discipleship in the company of all.

There are plans being presented, talk of schism being bandied about and hearts feeling exhausted and near broken by the continued insistence on the part of some that GLBTQ children of God are blessed and beloved; well, kind of. Sort of. Not really.

Legions of others are fully exhausted by the continued profanity of exclusion currently articulated in our Discipline. The thought of another “not yet” in regards to living congruency with the gospel is unbearable.

So I am praying.

I am praying for the delegates and the bishops.

I am praying for the children I have baptized. I want them to grow up in a community of faith that welcomes them wildly and gratefully, with all varieties of being celebrated as God gift.

I am praying for the too many who have felt unwelcome by the people of Jesus.

I am praying for colleagues who have been mandated by our current disciple to closet living. My heart cannot go too near the cost of practicing subterfuge around holy relationships.

I am praying for my church: The United Methodist Church and the church I am appointed to serve. Both are full of people who have found welcome and invitation into the good-news-making of Jesus. I love both the larger and my local church. I believe in the power and the promise of the strangely-warmed.

The Holy Spirit is a force for love in this world. This I believe.

This is a pivotal time.

I am praying.

Please join me.

grief

I live in these days with a pervasive and powerful sense of grief.

I love the vision of the nation in which I live.  All are created equal, right? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are certain inalienable rights.  But the whole precious – and who knew how fragile? – vision of what I thought was shared and sacred has been huckstered and profaned through and certainly beyond this past election.

What to make of a nation squandering its heart in fracture?  What to do with earth and women and the poor and the vulnerable collateralized by powerful elite who have no concept of what it is to be other than privileged by gender, race, orientation or social status? What to do with the falling-in-behind the dismantling of compassion by those people who espouse the teachings of Jesus as bedrock in their lives and hearts?  How can Jesus be used as mascot for the impoverishing of millions and the despoiling of this precious earth?

I love the vision of the United Methodist Church.  Transformation of the world is sore needed and the hope of the living Christ as lived through the followers of Jesus is call to lived compassion.  We are called to be antidote to fracture.

What to make of a denomination that condones hate speak?  How can we be about transformation and open hearts, minds, and doors as we participate through our polity in the shutting of doors to the called and the beloved?  How do we preach the Jesus message of dismantling systems of oppression whilst enduring the realities of ministering through a denominational structure bound by just such oppression?

Grief is real.

I’m choosing to feel it.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost.  Pentecost celebrates the ways the Holy Spirit took up dancing on the heads of the fractured and frightened.  Through the power of that Spirit barriers were eradicated and people could hear the hearts and behold the sacred humanity of those they never thought they would understand.

Oh come, Holy Spirit, come!

We are sore in need of the dance.