Premonitions of Grief

Yesterday, another United Church of Christ pastor dared to ask a group of her colleagues and friends if we share in her experience of receiving premonitions. Stories bubbled up from within this trusted circle as much as they bubbled up in me.

I have had writer’s block. I have struggled every day this week to try to get words down on the page. Nothing has come. Or, at least, nothing has come easily. Last week, I turned my attention to this particular memory from my young adulthood. It is a story of a premonition.

The details are sketchy but I remember the feeling. I always remember the feeling. I’m sitting on my bed. I’m doing my homework. There are mounds of books and looseleaf binders surrounding me so much so that I can’t really see the pink bedspread I know lies beneath. I am tired and I really want to shake the books and binders off the bed and crawl into bed. But, I have a math test. (Or maybe that’s a detail I’m making up. Maybe it’s just because I always did my homework. I tried so hard to be the good student.) It’s not late. I shouldn’t be so tired or bored, but I am. I think I am.

The phone rings. But, ever the good girl, I do not rush down the hall. I don’t go answer the phone. I follow the rules and wait until someone calls up the stairs to say it’s for me. Of course, I know it is for me. I’m certain of it. I have no words for it but I know exactly who it was. I know it’s for me.

Finally, the call comes up the stairs confirming what I already know. My feet pad down the hall bouncing off the plush carpet. I pick up the receiver and I hear her say, “Hi!”

It is Lauren. She has some question about math, something she thinks I can help answer but I can’t say anything. I’m gasping for air. I’m sputtering tears until Lauren asks, “Elsa, what’s the matter?… Elsa, are you there?”

“I thought you were my mom. I thought my mom was calling.”

She is quiet as my sobs only get louder. “Do you need to go?” she asks.

I apologize. I say I’ll talk to her tomorrow. I say something about how stupid it is to think that my mom would be calling. She’d died ten years before. Of course, she could not call. She would not call but it felt so clear. I was so certain.

It wouldn’t be long before the phone would ring again. That same familiar feeling would wake me up from my slumber. It is Good Friday. The red numbers on my alarm clock indicate that it is very early. It is still dark. Still, the phone rings.

I hear the gruff barking of my Dad down the hall. He does not say much, grunts more than speaks. Maybe because he is so tired. Maybe because he does not know what to say. It is finished. I hear the phone return to its receiver. The hall light flashes on and I hear Dad’s heavy steps weigh down the plush carpet in the hall.

I know what he will say even before he opens the door. It had been in my dreams. She had died. Gam had died. It didn’t matter how long she’d battled cancer or how weak she had become. I wouldn’t be able to tell those signs for many years. But before Dad opened the door to whisper the news, before light flooded my bedroom, I knew Gam had died.

There’s probably a third story in there somewhere. Probably a fourth and fifth too, but these are the first premonitions of my grief. The first phone call marked a moment in time. When I retreated under my pink bedspread, it was then that I realized that I wouldn’t even recognize the sound of her voice. It had been ten years since I had heard her or seen her. It had been ten years since I had taken in her smell. I had forgotten her and I still don’t know how to make sense of that.

I don’t know how to talk about the shift that happened in the moment. How much I tried to find her. How I searched for those cassette tapes of bedtimes stories she had recorded while she was in the hospital. How I lamented ever doing laundry so that her clothes now smelled more like me than her. How much I couldn’t stand the stories that were told to me about my mom. I had forgotten her and no one else could fill in the blanks. I still missed her. I still wished for another ending, for any alternative to cancer’s victory. But, I no longer grieved her but the idea of her. I don’t want that to be true. I’m trying to write some thing else but it seems like this is the truth.

Still, there’s something strange there. It’s what my colleague in ministry wondered yesterday. We get these premonitions that someone is sick or someone needs a visit. We send notes in the mail and through cyberspace to say we’re just thinking of you. It’s something that love does. I don’t mean for it to sound trite. It’s why I am struggling to type the words into my manuscript. It’s sounds like drivel, except that I don’t believe that it is. There’s something about that connection we share that extends beyond the grave. Something about love changes us. It puts us into greater communion. It orients us toward each other’s wants and needs. It connects us even when it doesn’t make any logical sense.

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The Only Hope for America

Most everything I know about democracy I’ve learned in church. It is in my particular tradition of being church that I’ve had the chance to practice all of the values and ideals that democracy claims.

Mine is the tradition that birthed democracy. They were not perfect people but they came seeking freedom. They came looking for something different than what they had known and so they imagined this new way of governance that would Abraham Lincoln would later declare to be for the people and by the people. Mine is the United Church of Christ, a denomination made up of four different traditions that dared to come together in the certain belief that they could be better together. Imagine that in our current political landscape because I surely cannot. Still, I cannot help but view every bit of coverage of the political process through my experience in church. Take yesterday’s headline in the Washington Post: GOP reaches ‘new level of panic’ over Trump’s candidacy.

It was only two weeks ago that the Republican National Convention wrapped up in Cleveland, Ohio with Donald Trump became the official nominee for the party. Granted, this particular presidential candidate has said some really egregious things since he received that nomination but I can’t help but view this from the perspective of what would happen in church.

Because it does happen in church. It happens in all kinds of churches, not just those in my tradition. So, I’m curious how this panic would play out in a local congregation where a pastor has just been called. (Let’s also keep in mind that pastors and presidents are not at all the same thing. Nor should they be. Good heavens.) I’m trying to imagine what would happen if that pastor was to make the same kind of remarks that Donald Trump has made, if that pastor was to disregard the tradition and teachings of the church and how the people in that church might respond.

Would it only create a stink if the members of that church didn’t agree with what the pastor was doing and saying? Would they question his integrity? Would they wonder if they had made a mistake? What would happen if the powers that be within the denomination would override their decision to call that person to be their pastor and teacher? Would it create a panic within the members of that church? Or would it only raise the temperature of those in the judicatory?

That’s what I wonder most about this particular headline. Is this a question of who knows best? Because this is a question I carry into my ministry every single day. There is a fair amount of distrust among the congregations I have served. They are ever suspicious of the role of the judicatory. In the United Church of Christ, the association, the conference, general synod and the national setting but in your tradition it might include presbyteries, synods and districts. They don’t see the other expressions of the church (that’s what we call these things in the United Church of Christ) as partners in their ministry. And they should be partners. That’s the whole idea. They don’t trust the other expressions and are far more comfortable seeing themselves in that one little congregation all on their own. That may very well be all fine and good until there is a problem with their pastor, which seems to be the issue that the GOP is having with Donald Trump.

They see Trump as a problem. They see the harm that he may cause and they want to try to help. But, how do you do that? In our understanding of governance for the people and by the people, both inside and outside of the church, how do you decide that the people are wrong? After all, the people voted for him. All of those delegates in Cleveland got behind him. All that I can see is broken trust. The GOP doesn’t even need to act. It has already doubted the people. Trust is already broken. So, then, what can be done to rebuild that trust?

I don’t think this is just a question for the GOP, but it’s a question for all of us who dare to believe that we share some common ground. How do we hold that ground together even when we disagree? What happens when someone – maybe even someone well-intentioned  – takes those values and skews them? How do we go back to the core of who we are?

How do we move forward together?

We must move forward together. We must.

I confess to you that I am not a Republican but I love a whole lot of them. They are in the churches I serve. I am their pastor and I always will be. I don’t support Trump but there are those in my church that I do. We don’t agree. And that’s OK. Church has taught me the value of building consensus. It’s taught me the wisdom of taking time to learn and grow together and Jesus reminds me every week in the gospels we share in worship that we really are better together. It is not a question of who know best. I don’t think it can be. It has to be about the kind of trust that we can build with each other so that we can move forward. Together, we must move forward. It is our only hope.

Recipe for the Future Church

Every time we dare to talk about what the future of the church will be it feels like cooking. It feels like we are trying to divine a recipe — wondering if a dash of this or a pinch of that might just do the trick. In fact, most of ministry feels like that.

Together, as disciples, we are trying to figure out how to create this awesome possibility of the realm of God. Jesus never told us exactly how to do it. He didn’t leave us any kind of cookbook or even a clear set of ingredients. We know that there will be love and there will be justice, but how much? How much will create what God has dreamed could be? Of course, there are other questions that we ask when we are imagining the future of the church. It’s not just the realm of God we’re imagining. It’s whether the institution will survive. It’s the question of whether or not anyone will ever come and if the message we offer is still relevant.

These are tough questions. They are questions that can’t be answered even though we try very hard. The fact is: we just don’t have all of the information. We are not sure what compels people. We are still learning. We may have been set in our ways for a long, long time. Most churches have and many are ready to answer this question. They want to know what the future holds. They want to be given the answers. We all want the answers. But, I gotta say, I don’t have the answers. I’m a professional leader in the institutional church but I am not sure. I can say everything that I think. I can lead a whole bunch of exercises that make the churched among us feel like we’re back in youth group. And I do. I do those things. But, the questions are so persistent and the answers are so illusive that the questions start to overwhelm. It’s then that we need to read.

There is nothing like a book to challenge our hopes and dreams about the future. Ask any librarian. Books challenge us to expand our horizons and allow us to hear ourselves. That’s why I love book studies within congregations. They shift the conversation so the questions are not quite so loud as our answers. We hear what really matters.

That’s when things really get cooking. So that’s what we did at St. Peter’s United ChurBeyond_Resistance_cover_largech of Christ in Knauertown, Pennsylvania. We just finished reading John Dorhauer’s Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World. There are many books that could challenge us to imagine the future but I chose this one because of its author. John Dorhauer is the newly elected General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and he wrote this book about what he has learned about how the world is changing. It is very much written from his perspective. It’s a book that unpacks postmodernism which it may or not do very well. (Some in our group did not think Dorhauer went far enough.)

What I find most compelling about the book is the challenge not just to think about how one individual congregation might choose to define their future and their mission but how we might think about all of our missional resources. The future of one church cannot be separated from the future of the churches that surround it. It can’t be removed from the future of the denomination it claims. This book is a challenge to think about how we might partner. It’s not as simple as whisk or stir. It requires more of us just as reading a book like this one challenge congregations to think beyond their own resistances.

If your church is trying to imagine the future, but find yourselves tripping over the question, try this book. Here’s a simple recipe to follow.

RECIPE FOR MINISTRY

It is indeed a recipe for future.

Published, Printed and Praying

More and more, I’m answering the call to write. So much so that I seem to be writing about writing. This seems a tad ridiculous so I hope you’ll forgive me for this — but here I go again writing about writing.

You’ve already heard about the columns I’ve been contributing to the new United Church of Christ blog New Sacred. So that’s old news though maybe you haven’t seen my newest article over there. If not, you’ll find it here. My most recent article is about spinning plates. Go figure.

CHReader-Fall-2015-Cover-Med-Res-RGBThe other bit of writing I have been doing was for the Church Health Reader which my dear friend from seminary edits. For the current issue on trauma, I wrote a bit about the amazing ways that churches are creating sacred, holy, healing spaces for the veteran community. You can find the Fall 2015 issue here. Or better still, please subscribe to this wonderful magazine.

In the programs and models piece I wrote, I interviewed three different projects from the a really big church’s ministry called RezVets to two United Church of Christ pastors following their passions within and beyond their local churches. I created a piece of artwork to accompany the article. It’s a black and white sketch of one of the healing circles shared by one of these amazing ministries. The artwork is called Circle of Trust. It is my hope to use my Etsy shop ::May It Be So:: to offer a contribution to the smallest and newest of these amazing ministries. I will donate 50% of the sale of this piece of artwork to support the good work of the Touchstone Veterans Outreach at St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ. Find the listing for my original artwork here.

I can’t even put words to how amazing this ministry is but I hope you’ll read the article and get just a taste. You can find the Church Health Reader article online here. If the article inspires you, I hope you’ll click over to my Etsy shop and purchase Circle of Trust to show our resounding support for this good work. After all, it’s Veteran’s Day, and we should do more than say thank you — as I was reminded this morning here.

A Few Good Things

NEW_2519Just two weeks ago, I ventured to Cape Cod to officiate the wedding of one of my college friends. And you know what? Weddings are fun. I say this as someone who is super busy planning her own wedding and has a bit of grief about it. So, it’s a little bit of a reminder. Weddings are fun. No, really Elsa, weddings are fun. But, I wasn’t the bride this time.

I was the officiant. I was the one who got to say all of the things which I used to hate. In the beginning of my ministry, I would have much preferred a funeral. I still love funerals. Funerals are at the heart of my call story. They allow me to exorcise all of my demons. They allow a space for tremendous healing in the midst of the heavy load of grief. But, I’m really starting to love weddings. A few months ago, I got to officiate my little cousin’s wedding. (The picture you see here is actually from that wedding.) And then there was this one of my dear friend. And it’s just so good. I love it. So, I guess you could say that I’m available for weddings. Go ahead and contact me.

But, really, I don’t want weddings to be my main gig. So maybe don’t contact me. Lately, I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to writing. On September 1, the United Church of Christ launched a new blog called New Sacred. It’s only been a couple of weeks — but whew! The writing is awesome and I am one of the writers. My first post just appeared today in honor of the Pope’s visit. Oh, have you heard that the Pope in in town? I wrote about what went down in my neighboring city of Philadelphia. You can find it here. While you’re there, be sure to check out all of the other amazing posts. Hats off to Marchae Grair on this awesome project. 

As much as I am writing, I am reading. I’m reading too many books at once actually. It’s a small problem as I can’t seem to finish a single one of these books. Nevertheless, there are some really important books I’m reading right now with a group of people in something dubbed White Young Clergy Reading Racism. It started as a blog series that flopped and became a Facebook group. If you’re interested in joining our discussion, join the Facebook group here. The conversation will be better with you — and it’s the perfect time as we are just now wrapping up our conversation on But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race. It’s time to choose another book — and we’d love your ideas.

Alternabook studytively, if you are really, really, really sad that you missed the first conversation of But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race, head on over to my Ideas + Resources page where you can download your very own copy of this book study. Even if you’re not that sad. Maybe just because you want to confront your own racism. That’s an even better reason.

So, that’s it. That’s a few good things from me. How about you?

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.

How Things Change

Doing a New ThingNot long ago, I wanted to give up. Or I felt like I wanted to give up. I’m really not much of a quitter. I’m too damn stubborn. But, I was frustrated and my energy for this project was waning.

How things change.

Almost immediately after I published that post, my little internet home for this military ministry started to get some attention. Just when I thought that I might be going about this all wrong, this showed up on Twitter. Just a few hours later, in one of the Facebook groups I’ve joined of blogging military spouses, there was another post wondering who was behind Beyond Acronyms. There was some enthusiasm. We’re not talking thousands of people. Or even hundreds. More like five. Five people were excited about this thing but five people can make all of the difference in the world. Five people can make you think like anything is possible because five people are suddenly like… hey, yeah, I’d be into that. I love these five people.

So now, with the encouragement of these five people, I’m starting to see myself as an entrepreneur. I even created a board for such a possibility on Pinterest which clearly means I must be serious. (That was sarcasm.)

Even with that new identity, I’m still struggling because what I’ve created so far is an online community. That’s not exactly what I wanted. I knew there would be some element of this when I started but it’s not what I want this to be. It’s not my hope. And yet, as much as I want to shift this internet-based ministry into something that manifests with real live actual people meeting together, I’ve been trying really hard to remind myself that that day will come. For now, this can be an online thing which means that I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make connections with real live actual people on the internet. I’m reading things like how Connie Schultz built a unique online community on Facebook and relying on my own network.

The RevGalBlogPals have been one of the tremendous resources of my ministry over the years which might have something to do with one of its many leaders is a dear friend of mine. So, I’ve been leaning into this online ministry to figure out how it has grown from a few haphazard blogs to what it is today. Here’s what I learned: the internet has changed a lot. It’s changed since I helped to create this thing called The Young Clergy Women Project. What worked then will not work now. But, this very dear friend of mine offered to do a little promotion for me. You can see that here. That’s really what started the stir of those five people talking about this — and how I got the little burst of energy a few weeks ago. I’m ever grateful. God bless RevGals!

It was about that time that I realized that I needed some more support. So I started to gather a startup community. Not a board or a set of officers but a startup community. I don’t actually remember which book I read about this in — and really should locate it because I have to do a better job of explaining this as I bring members of my startup community on board. But the idea is simply this: there is a constellation of people with different skills who seek to support you in this entrepreneurial thing by offering you bits of wisdom or advice or simply letting you vent all of your frustrations — but in the language of the United Church of Christ, it’s covenantal thing. You sign on to this. It’s an intentional commitment to be in this relationship. It’s something you’re actively doing which may mean that any one of these people calls me out whey they haven’t heard a word from me. So far this little community includes three women — two of whom are pastors and one is a graphic designer/tech genius. And in truth, I haven’t utilized their skills much yet.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a friend who is a military chaplain that has given me pause. She spoke a truth that I’ve been struggling to admit myself. I have been creating this blog with this media content — but my heart is not in it. It’s not really what I want to do. I don’t want to be writing about such possibilities but want to be engaged in the real ministry. The stuff that’s not so much about what’s on the internet but what is before you in the place that you are. Last week, I gave myself that out. I posted this on the blog so that I wouldn’t have to worry about posting anymore. I could focus on the other stuff that I hope to do but am still not sure how to do. (It also happens that this post speaks to the kind of community I hope for — the kind that wants to end racism and is actively taking a part in this struggle.) My military chaplain friend said it this way: the way that I approach this has to build up and support the good work of progressive chaplains. It has to be a complement. It has to work together rather than over and against. What she didn’t know is that I feel like I’ve been putting up content to put up content. I’m posting about things I don’t really know but imagine to be. So, I need to do some more work. I need to get into the trenches. (No pun intended.) I need to make some connections.

It is this that I hoped to do this summer. I thought I would start with some local churches near the base we’re at now but then I remembered that it’s summer. It’s summer in church world and things slow to an incredibly slow pace in most congregations. It’s a time of rest and planning that I loved as a local church pastor. It wasn’t a time of meetings but a time to chart out the year in preaching and teaching by the pool. (This does not meet that pastors are lazy. They are anything but lazy as they sit and read theology on the beach. They are trying to make 1000 things happen at once all year long and summer often provides a little more leisure to do some big picture thinking.) I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of that precious time. So, I’m thinking that I might do a little more networking in the military world. I don’t really know how or where — but that summer can be a time to build some relationships rather than blogging. It can be a time to ask big questions within the new community I find myself.

So, that’s what I’ll be trying this summer but I’d hate to leave you without something to do. Here’s what I’d like to ask you to do as new experiments arise in ministry. Go on over to Instagram and follow along on the adventure. Follow Beyond Acronyms here and please don’t ever forget to pray for this community. Pray for every spouse and every service member that finds themselves in a changing culture especially after the Supreme Court decision on marriage. They need your prayers and your hopes more than I do.

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.

Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 14, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday seems like a huge departure from last Sunday. We find ourselves in Psalm 69:1-16 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. The Narrative Lectionary offers the the option to pair this reading with Matthew 7:7-11 but I’m skipping it… again.

Instead, it this the connection to the Exodus story that jumps out of this passage for me. I’m reminded instantly from verse 1 of the midrash story of Naschon. It’s a story that I attempted to tell in worship last year when that particular story from the Exodus stumbled into the other lectionary cycle. It’s a great story and one that deserves to be retold. My version was called Up to Our Necks. On that Sunday, I used the liturgy I wrote for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways. (It was Pentecost 14–September 14 in Year A.)

I’ve adapted a few of those prayers to be used with the Psalm for this Sunday.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

It has been a hard week
when so many things have gone wrong
and nothing seems to have been done well.
So here we are, to worship together asking God,
Save us from the mud. 
We have felt stuck and tired
where it hasn’t felt like anything could possibly change
in our lives or in this world.
So here we are, to worship together asking God,
Don’t let us drown.
We’ve been up to our necks in our own fears
and our our own limitations. It’s almost swallowed us up.
So here we are, because we need to hear God say,
I hear your prayers.
In our worship today, let our prayers reach out to God,
in God’s great and faithful love,
so that we might know,
We are saved.

Prayer of Invocation

With the following words, as suggested in the original liturgy, I would allow for a few moments of silent reflection as the congregation moves together to seek God’s presence. I imagine doing that by saying simply:

So here we are, together,
to find the salvation we’re not even sure we need.
Let us come before God to ask
for that great and faithful love.
Let us share in silent prayer.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as summer arrives. Does this mean a transition in your worship experience? I’d love to hear what you’re daydreaming about in the comments below. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 14, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.

Wanting to Give Up

Doing a New ThingIt’s true. Over the past few weeks, when I haven’t been posting about my latest escapades of entrepreneurial ministry, I have wanted to give up. I have wanted to throw in the towel. I have seriously contemplated why I ever thought this might be possible.

There was the first blow a couple weeks ago where the person who is supposed to be the connection to everything was less than supportive. I still haven’t fully recovered from that. I haven’t written back. I haven’t informed him of my grand plan because I don’t really have one. I wish that were not true. But, I’m afraid it is. I don’t have a grand plan. I’m not really sure what I’m doing.

The problem isn’t this one person — as easy as it might be to blame anyone but myself. But, the truth of the matter is: the problem is me. I have found myself in this new place and in this new life. I have a whole new identity that I don’t quite understand. I want to understand it but I don’t really know anything about being a military spouse. And I’m trying to create community for people like me. Except that they are not like me. They are actual military spouses. They’ve been through more than one deployment. They’ve moved with their spouse every two or three years. They know things about military life that I just don’t know yet. Maybe I thought I would. Or that somehow it would be as it was on Lifetime’s Army Wives. But, it’s not like that. My life is nothing like it is on TV.

Woe is me, right?

In the first retreat of this program I’m participating in (and have considered quitting), Stanford professor Dave Evans introduced us to design thinking. He suggested that there are such a things as wicked problems. This fascinated me so that I preached a sermon about it before I left my last call. In wicked problems, using the tools of design thinking, you’re supposed to ideate. You throw as many different solutions at that wicked problem as you can imagine. It’s not a reflective process but one that demands action. You don’t give up. You just try out a new idea. And so, it was suggested that it’s time for me to ideate. I have hit a wall. I’ve lost hope — but I can’t get stalled there. I can’t give up. I have to try something. Ideate! Ideate! That’s what they say. It’s how you’ll push through this feeling.

It was about that time — when I was told to ideate — that I read this article entitled Stop Doing Intergenerational Ministry. I panicked a bit because I love intergenerational ministry. I think it’s what we should be about in the church. So I clicked over to the article and was relieved to discover that the author hooked me. It’s really a reminder to the church not to do multigenerational ministry where the youth and the little kids and the parents and the seniors are all separate programs for each age group. Stop doing that, the author demands. Yes, I thought. We should stop doing that. We should stop doing ministry that separates and divides. We should be building communities without divisions — divisions like that divides civilians from the military. It’s a divide I’d like to bridge. Such a hope appeared on my blog only a few weeks ago. But, it requires doing a different kind of ministry where there isn’t a program called military ministry. But there is a military culture.

Most of the programs I’ve found have been in more conservative churches. There are few progressive churches that send care packages to the troops but none seem to be centered on military families. The soldiers are out there — like the people that are served on mission trips. They aren’t part of the community. They aren’t part of the culture. Even in the more conservative churches, there is a program that cares of the needs of the military family. But, it seems that most of them fail to welcome the family as part of the community. Or so I found out when I asked around on Twitter. So maybe that’s where my energy should head. Not to building community within and among military families — but to create meaningful connections to worshipping bodies. Or, honestly, helping those worshipping bodies figure out how to create such a culture of welcome.

At the same time, I read this beautiful post by a colleague and friend in the United Church of Christ. This began a conversation about — between the two of us — how mental health impacts soldiers and their families. This interests me but there are a ton of more qualified people already doing this good work. So I’m not so excited about this idea.

There’s still part of me that wants to give up. There’s still part of me that wonders if any of this is possible — but I gotta believe that there is some wild and crazy reason that I signed up for this thing. There is something that I’m supposed to learn. There is something I’m supposed to try. And maybe that will just keep me going.