Starting Over Again

hands-way-guide-tourist

My sermon ended yesterday with the bold proclamation that God is just beginning to do a new thing. The words have been ratting around in my head since I first typed them. Pushing and prodding and nudging toward this amazing possibility that no one really understands.

I have to be honest. The whole idea makes me a bit tired. Not just because the church is changing and the future is unknown within the institution but because it’s the reality of my life. God has been doing a new thing this year. God gave me this amazing gift of love. God encouraged me to follow that love and move across country which meant leaving the church I was serving. It meant leaving the life I was trying to create and start over again.

Let me be clear: starting over sucks. It’s exhausting to try to reimagine what life could be when you have gotten so comfortable with the way life is. I’ve heard these complaints from church members so many times and it’s not that I didn’t understand. I did. I do. And I’ve tried so hard to take my own advice — and that of every book on change I’ve ever read — and try lots of things. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind and imagine crazy things. In doing so, I have had a bunch of failures. Last year, I started a ministry that started to gain some traction and then it tanked. Maybe I tanked. I’m still not sure but all of the sudden it was so clear that this wasn’t for me. I still don’t think it was a bad idea. I just wasn’t the one to make it happen.

Now, as this new year dawns, I’m getting ready to start over again. God is really, truly just beginning to do a new thing. This year, I will get married. (Holy moly. I am getting married.)  It is going to be an epic multi-day event with so much love and so much wine and so many beautiful people. And then, we move again. I get to start over again.

I’m trying to summon all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’m trying to live on the edge of hope and wonder even though — if I’m honest — the prospect makes me tired. Even so, I haven’t stopped googling. I haven’t stopped daydreaming about what will come next in the new year as I try so very hard to chart points on a map into the unknown.

Map Point #1: It all begins with a wedding. I am over-planning the crap out of this event because it’s what I do best. When I say it’s going to be epic, I am not kidding.

Map Point #2: Shortly thereafter, I will return to the place we call home now. I will finish my charge as an interim pastor at this sweet little church. I will bless them in their future.

Map Point #3: And then, I will join my beloved in this new place with lots of BBQ. That’s when the adventure really begins and anything could happen. But, rather than get scared and overwhelmed, the first part is to settle into this new place.

Map Point #4: At the same time I will be settling into this new place, I’ll be sending off applications to continue my education. Gosh. It’s scary to type this and name this thing I’ve been thinking about aloud. Now you’ll know if I don’t get in. Ack! But, here’s the honest truth: I’m seeking to begin a holy adventure into spiritual direction. It’s a call that’s been getting louder and louder so that I feel I can no longer say no. Fingers crossed, I’ll begin this educational wonder in January 2017 — but that means I gotta complete an application or two.

Map Point #5: Of course, I can’t just imagine one education opportunity in the new year so I’m trying to figure out when I might take Part Two of interim ministry training. I am loving the challenging work I get to do right now. I want to be better at it. I want to know all the things which means more education.

Map Point #6: Last year, as I started over, I get better and better about answering the call to write. I even got published. There’s a book I started writing last year — and one that I hope to finish this year. It’s a book about what I know best. It’s a book about grief encompassing those things that I’ve learned from the wonderful people in the churches I’ve served and the lessons I’ve struggled to realize over so many years of mourning my mother. I haven’t a clue if it will be published but it’s a point on the map this year.

God is just beginning to do a new thing. It’s just starting in the dawning of the new year. No matter how I might plan, there are things that I can’t pinpoint on any map. God will do what God does and surprise me with wonders. Or so I pray not only for myself but for you too.

What new things is God just beginning in your life right now?

Called to the Local Church

This morning, while on the second retreat as part of the Beyond the Call: Entreprenuerial Ministry, I offered this testimony. It is a truth that I struggled to say out loud. It is a truth I struggled to admit to myself because I’m not the quitting type, but I am in the thick of the discernment. I’m trying to figure out the right path in this new arena of (im)possible things and what I’m finding again and again is something I already knew to be true: I am called to a local church pastor. I’ve been afraid that it is not possible. Loving my future husband has meant big changes in my career but it hasn’t removed the fundamental truth that I’m a local church pastor. Finding this courage and faith within myself, I offered this testimony this morning. In doing so, I’m clarifying my call. I’m quitting this entreprenuerial thing and recommitting myself to the ministry to which I’ve always been called.

Here is how I tried to reveal this truth this morning.

I keep going back.

I keep going back to this one moment in my first call where I was sitting in a coffee shop with a young mother of three encouraging her to believe the crazy, impossible hope that she wasn’t alone. It’s what the church is all about. I made an impassioned speech that boils down to this: this is what we do as the body of Christ. We carry that great commission straight on through to this very moment only to say, just as Christ did, “You are not alone. I am with you to the end of the age.”
She was quiet before she challenged me with this question: “Who does that for you?”

I keep going back to that story with that mother of three and her frustrating question because for the very first time in my entire professional career, I get to have church. I get to have a group of people that are ready and eager to be there for me. I get to have church because I’m in the Army now.

I’m not serving a local church. I left my second call and moved all of the way across the country to begin my new life with my future husband, the Captain in the U.S. Army, where I get to be part of a community. It’s not church — not really — but in many ways it is.

And I’m not willing to give that up. I’m not willing to give up the possibly of having that community within the military because there might be ministry to do. There’s ministry to be done. Of that, I have no doubt. There are progressive people in the military that are hungry for something — but I don’t need to be their salvation. I don’t. I don’t need to be the leader or the entrepreneur or even the first follower. Somebody else can do that work.

Because I keep coming back to that conversation with that mother of three. She hit it. I need community but there’s more than that. Something I didn’t really know until I helped out a colleague out a few weeks ago. A member of his church was dying. He’s on medial leave. He couldn’t go. I got that call — and as my fiancé told me — there was a light in me that couldn’t be put out. That light shined so brightly because I got to do what I loved most.

And what I love most is church. It’s where my passion is. It’s where my heart is. What I told that mother of three is what I most believe because I am a local church pastor.

I am called to serve the broken, bruised and beaten people that make up the body of Christ. It’s my greatest task — my very calling — to remind each and one of those people who dare to proclaim the impossible truth that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior that there is abundant life ahead. I don’t care how many people might say that the church is dying. That’s a crappy story and will only come true if we continue to say it over and over again. But, go ahead. Tell your sob story. Because what I’ve got is hope. What I’ve got is faith. What I’ve got is unending enthusiasm for something as simple and boring and radical as pastoral ministry.

I keep going back to this: I was made to be a local church pastor proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

I don’t quite know what this means. It’s interesting to me that those that heard these words assumed that I’m still in this entreprenuerial thing. It wasn’t clear that this kind of work just isn’t in me. I only know that I’m actually supposed to be rolling up my sleeves not building a new ministry, but helping existing congregations renew and revive.

It’s this work that gets me most excited. It is my passion.

The Time Has Come

201412547f33f67b137As you may have seen over and over again, I have been filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 17:1-24. You can find the audio — and even a video to watch — of the sermon I preached entitled The Time Has Come on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Accompanied

This was my very last time in this beautiful worship space but be sure to check out upcoming opportunities for worship and service on the church website.

Remain in Love

201412547f33f67b137As you may have seen over and over again, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 15:1-8. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled Remain in Love on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Secured

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am.  Here are some directions to find the church. Tomorrow is my last time in this beautiful worship space and I’d love to see you there.

That Reverberation in My Soul

A true call — that which is a true reflection of one’s vocation which Frederick Buechner so well surmised to be the “place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” — must be a call where the totality of your deep gladness reverberates.

As much as I can say this, it’s hard to know what this means. It’s a line that appeared in the letter that I sent last week to a congregation who was ready and willing to call me as their next pastor but I had to say no. I had to say no because that reverberation just wasn’t there. I didn’t feel it. I wasn’t connected to it and I really didn’t want to be taking a job just to have a job.

reflections-887648_1280Because a true call is much more than a job. I have loved each and every church that I have served but my place in ministry in those communities never expressed the totality of my call. I’m not sure there is any one place that could ever speak to that possibility. For it has never been one place or one people but so many places and so many people.

My call has always included a call to family and a call to friendship — and now, it includes still another call. Now, I find myself answering the call to be a partner in marriage. We are only just engaged but we’ve moved across the country so that there is some part of me that already feels the weight of the vows to keep my promise to him in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live. To live into both my ordination vows and the promise of this relationship means that I sometimes I have to say no.

I had to say no this time. Maybe because I’m new at this and a little too overprotective of our relationship and its success. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But, this is the first time that I’ve had to make such a choice. It’s the first time I’ve had to consider how a job might impact my relationship — and I had to say no for the sake of my relationship. Because this time, it felt like I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t be the pastor I wanted to be and still be the partner that my deep gladness requires.

Saying no has sent me back to the United Church of Christ’s Ordained Minister’s Code and the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministry for some language about how that whole call might reverberate within my soul. It has made me wonder about all of the places that I hear the echoes of call. Those places of deep gladness I find in writing, in social justice and in community. That deep gladness that surprises and delights me in answering the call to preach and teach, to share in the work of creating meaningful, lasting traditions and to listen with my whole heart to the stories that are shared with me. The Ordained Minister’s Code doesn’t want me to miss the fact that there are some commitments I need to make to my self and my family, but it’s the last line that I most need to hear. That which says: Relying on the grace of God, I will lead a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.

There is deep hunger in the world. It’s a hunger I feel in the church I could have served, a hunger I encounter reading the news in the morning and a hunger I feel within myself each time I try to find my words with pen and paper. There are so many things to be done. There are so many things that I could do — but I can’t do it all and I don’t want to do it just to have a job. I want to do this work because it expresses every part of my call so that I’m always leading a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called. I want that reverberation deep within my soul now and always.

No Spoiler Alerts

201412547f33f67b137As you may already know, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on John 6:24-35. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled No Spoiler Alerts on the church website. Please click here. 

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… BlessedThis is perhaps the truest thing that I know to be true about the gospel. We are not alone but ever interdependent. I can only hope my words preached this truth.

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am. I’ll be there for the next three Sundays and hope you’ll join us. Here are some directions to find the church.

Twelve Years

201412547f33f67b137As you may already know, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on Mark 5:21-43. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled Twelve Years on the church website. Please click here. There’s also a video if you follow that same link.

This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ. The theme for this week was In Christ I am… Fragile — though I was preaching on the theme In Christ I am… Empowered. Because I apparently wrote down the wrong thing. So it goes.

If you happen to be in Short Hills, or even nearby, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am. You won’t see me there every Sunday but I hope you’ll join us. Here are some directions to find the church.

Help Me Get the Word Out

There is a saved draft of a new post as part of my series about Doing a New Thing in this military ministry that I’m imagining. There are lots of things that I’m eager to share and new things that I’m eager to try — but I’m not yet ready to hit publish that particular post.

Instead, in this post, I’d like to invite you to be conspirators and collaborators in this possibility.

On Sunday, at the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, I heard Cameron Trimble of the Center of Progressive Renewal preach an inspiring word where she asked the gathered body:When was the last time you were as passionate about your faith as you were about your donuts? She had shared a testimony to the abiding power of donuts especially after being with another conference that celebrated their local donuts over another competing baker. It was hysterical and ridiculous. You had to wonder where she was going with this — until Cameron asked this question. When was the last time you were as passionate about your faith as you were about your donuts?

Just the evening before I had dinner with a bunch of colleagues in the UCC 2030 Clergy Network who were excited and curious about what I was doing — but I wasn’t ready to make a pitch. I wasn’t ready for their enthusiasm and curiosity. I was just too darn tired after a long day of meetings.

I missed my chance.

I could have had this amazing opportunity to share this possibility with a group of people who were eager and excited but I didn’t. I missed my chance.

I don’t want that to happen again. I don’t want that to happen to me or to anyone else so I want to invite you to become part of this possibility. Because none of us can do this alone. We need each other to realize the crazy things we hope to do for God’s people. So, help me get the word out. Share this video with everyone you know. Share it on Twitter and Facebook. Share it on your blog. Post it anywhere you can think to add it.

Share this video because this is my hope:

Website LogoThere are amazing chaplains in the military right now — but so few of them are progressive. So few of them are able to provide a sacred space for tough questions that doesn’t insist on a narrowly Christian perspective. There are rules against it but there are too many stories like this one. We need a progressive voice for the military community. As churches sell their buildings and religious structures of every shape and kind adapt to meet the needs of a changing world, why shouldn’t that innovation come within the military community as well? Why shouldn’t there be an open table for our service members of every faith and no faith to do the holy work of building progressive community? I admit that I get stuck in my Christian language as much as the military community stumbles over acronyms — but this is my hope. It’s a community Beyond Acronyms. It’s a community that hopes together, prays together and gathers together. It’s beyond any one military branch and even beyond the internet — though that’s where it’s starting. I believe we need this. I believe this kind of progressive ministry is necessary for the kind of people we hope to be.

I get excited just writing these words. I’m much more excited about this than I am about donuts — and I hope you are too. Help me get the word out and share this video.

Our Inner Nature

201412547f33f67b137As you may already know, I’m filling in as Guest Minister at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ.

I preached this past Sunday on Genesis 3:8-15. You can find the audio of the sermon entitled Our Inner Nature on the church website. Please click here. There’s also a video if you follow that same link. Or if you prefer, I hope that you can soon watch it on my YouTube channel. (But not yet.) This sermon is part of a summer preaching series exploring the Pathways to Christ.

If you happen to be in Short Hills, please join us! Worship is at 9:30 am.

You won’t see me there every Sunday but I hope you’ll join us.

Here are some directions to find the church. See you there.

The Last Retreat

Two years ago, I began this journey with four other women in a cohort group in College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Theological Seminary. It all started with a group of women that I met as part of The Young Clergy Women Project. We became fast friends. There were dinners and bottles of wine. There was conversations and this desire for something more. In all honesty, we were looking for an excuse to spend more time together. That is, an excuse to drink wine together. So we applied to this program with lofty ideas about how we would support each other in trying to understand what makes our leadership different as young clergy women. We knew were were doing it differently. We just didn’t understand why we were different.

a96cd-photoWe applied to this grant. We had big ideas and crazy dreams. There was nothing that could stop us — except that lots has changed in those two years.

One member of our group had a baby. Three of us left our churches. Only one of those three is serving a church now.

And then, there was this moment the last time we were together in Washington DC where we each wondered if we were called to traditional churches. It’s the assumption that began this grant. We wanted to better understand how to create change within traditional churches. We didn’t want to do abandon those churches and start something new. That’s what we had said. But something changed in that retreat in DC. Something about us changed.

Today I’m leaving for the last retreat we’ll share funded by College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Theological Seminary. I know this isn’t really the last retreat because we still have so many questions. And we really do enjoy drinking wine together. That won’t end this week. I know it won’t. It’ll continue. Something will happen past this point. But, I ask for your prayers. I ask for your prayers this week as we gather for our last retreat in Arizona as we try to better understand where God is leading each of us in life and ministry.

It is holy time indeed.