Saturday, June 27, 2009

New church transitions

I have a number of friends (and family) that are taking moves this year. For some of them, the fun has already begun and we have already talked about the joys (cough, cough) of parsonage living and some of the interesting phenomenons involved in starting a new church. Not that I am uber wise or any such thing, but I thought I'd throw out some thoughts on issues that have come up in those conversations.

1) It is not about you! In a variety of ways it is not about you. First and foremost, because what you do is about God. But in the most practical ways, for the first 6 months or so (at least), the way people act and respond is not about you. When they get uppity about bulletins, or change in worship, or your clothes, that's not about you. It will feel like it is, but it's not. When they refuse to come to church because you're __________ (a woman, a man, too young, too old, too conservative, too liberal...blah, blah, blah) that's not about you. They don't know you yet, so it can't be about you.

2) So....don't make it about you. Don't get defensive. Take a step back and try and discern what the real issue is. More often than not (particularly in the early stages) the issue that confronts you is not the real issue. So, dig deep, listen well, and try and attend to the real issue.

3) Parsonages are SOOOO much fun! Remember, one day you will laugh about the rats in the attic, the bathroom floor that is about to fall through, the roof that leaks, the yard that looks like a jungle, and it will be ok. In the meantime, breathe deeply, ask the trustees to take care of things, remember it is not your fault these things are a problem to start with, and help when and where you can.

4) Leave the stereotypes at the door. When you get to the new church (and probably even before) you will hear about your people. You will hear their reputations (both good and bad)...who will be helpful, who will hurt you, who will be an obstacle to you. Sometimes those things will prove true. Many times they will not. Before I arrived at Wesley I heard about couples that were so attached to the last pastor that they would never form a bond with me. I heard about people who would be the hardest on me and might never like me. I made it a point to meet with these folks one on one and got to know them on my own terms. 99% of the time the things I had heard were not true...those that loved the last pastor also love me and those that were going to "get in [my] way" have done nothing of the sort. The "tyrant" of your church, might just be a bully, but take the time to leave that at the door and get to know him/her and then decide for yourself.

5) Meet with your people. Don't have an agenda other than to get to know them and learn their stories. And, when you walk out, keep a notepad or a journal to write down what they told you. You might think you can remember family stories and marriage proposals etc, but 8 months from now, most likely you won't and you'll wish you could. So write it down, and then when you need to call on them, refer to your notes so you can be fresh on names and major incidents.

6) Do not come in with a vision. People will ask you what your vision for the church don't know!! Your vision for the first 6 months (at least) should be to get to know your people. Take time to learn about your people and listen for God's call.

7) Give it at least six months. It takes time to form new relationships and get established. It may be rocky for awhile, but prayer and faithful ministry will make things better. So, give yourself some time to get adjusted.

God at the center

Most Christians will tell you that it's important to have God at the center of your relationship. God will offer you love when your spouse doesn't. God will provide forgiveness for both of you. God will shape you. God will grow you. God will sustain you. People are broken and flawed and you and your partner will fail each other (over and over and over again...thank you Kendall Payne). But God is perfect, God's love is not broken or incomplete, God's love is perfect.

I've thought a lot about having God at the center of a relationship. I've shared that with couples and counseled about getting God back to the center, particularly in times of trial.

Thursday, I had new clarity about that notion. I thought about all the pressures that are placed upon a couple. I thought about burdens of work (or unemployment), kids, family, naysayers, bills...all of those things apply pressure to the relationship. I had the visual image of a 2x4 and all of that pressure being applied at the center. You and your partner stand at either end and support the weight from your position, but the center, if unsupported, under too much weight will snap. That's why you need God there. If God is at the center of your relationship, then when all that weight is applied, when the burdens become too much to bear, God will hold the weight, and support your relationship so that it doesn't snap.

God's support and strength don't give us a free ride. We still have to support our ends. After all if there is strength at the center, but not at either end, the board will still snap...just in a different direction.

When trials come, when the burdens are overwhelming, it is important to have God at our center, to allow God to carry some of the weight, to not insist that we must do it by ourselves or for ourselves.

We need God's support in our relationships, otherwise the load might be just too much to bear.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Candy Bar Advice

We are considering a candy bar for the wedding. R is addicted to candy and we thought it would be a fun touch. One of the bridesmaids offered to help and I asked if she would do research on cost and containers and all that kind of fun stuff.

She is doing great work, but I figured I'd ask for input or wisdom from any of you that might know about cheap places for candy, or how much to buy, etc, etc, etc.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Online Bible study

So we are exploring new possibilities for the church and one suggestion that came up was an online Bible study. We have a variety of members who can't make it to a scheduled time because of work or illness or life, but really want to be engaged in Bible study and one of them suggested an online study...with chat rooms or dialogue or posting. I think it's a great idea but would have no idea how to set it up or what program to use...

Does anyone use an online study? How is it run? Facilitated? Moderated?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

27 dresses

Today was day three (non-consecutive) of trying on wedding dresses. This time I took R's mom with me since my mom was back in B-town. First we tried the Jessica McClintock outlet, which had been recommended to me. Umm...not such a great idea. The dress selection was awful and there was no one around to help with anything. I only found one that would have even been reasonable to try on and after some more looking (and not finding) we decided it wasn't worth it even to try that one.

So we went to a place called "One Stop Bridal Shop" or something of the sort. They had some really beautiful dresses, but almost all of their sizes were WAY too small, so there was no real way to decide if it would look good on or not (and they weren't the type of store that would not have a variety of sizes in the same style). The clerk who was there was not helpful in the least.

The first two times I tried on dresses the ladies were in the room with me helping me put on and take off gowns. Initially I was bothered that I couldn't just try on a dress, but after having an experience where there was no help, I definitely appreciate the hands-on nature of Alfred Angelo and David's Bridal. After 7 or 8 unsuccessful try-ons at one-stop, it was time to leave.

So we decided we'd go to Alfred Angelo since I had found dresses I liked there before, but was in a foul mood before, so hopefully they would feel and look better this time around. We got there and the woman who helped me was awesome. She was friendly and knowledgable and really helpful. There was bride having a pure meltdown (and somewhat of a tantrum) when we got there and I kept thinking, "If it comes to tears over the train, send me home and send me to bed!"

I looked through the catalog and found a couple I had liked before but that weren't the right size the first time. She brought three dresses and it was good. We nixed the first one (well, I nixed it, technically) and then bounced around between the second and third. Then I tried a fourth and it was good too. It was nice to try on dresses that would zip and to work with someone who seemed genuinely interested in helping me find a dress I loved.

So, that was the good news. The other good news was that they are having a major sale on Friday and the dresses I liked will be $300 off. The bad news is....they are the top of the line styles, so they start out way more, so even the discounted price is more than I would like to pay.

So, yeah. It would be nice to make it to the nice designer outlet before Friday, but that's not gonna happen. So, I sort of have to bite the bullet and hope I find something comparable, or suck it up and pay for the one I like. For now, I will give you all voter's choice power. In no particular order, here are the three from today plus a couple others. Please choose a favorite (recognizing most are either a little small or a little big...which makes the top part pucker or bulge a little) :

Monday, June 22, 2009

thank you Melanie!

Special thanks to Melanie Little for the beautiful stoles she made for us!!! (picture to follow).

She shared these words with us:

A United Methodist Tapestry

Inspiration for the 2009 ordination stoles began with current events, the economy, the environment, and our world.

This crazy quilt style stole was pieced using repurposed fabrics representative of our United Methodist lives and faith journey

Grandmother’s sweater—honoring tradition and heritage

Scraps from a child’s quilt—hope for the future

A few neckties—United Methodist Men

A woman’s blouse and slacks—United Methodist Women

Reds from a quilter’s fabric stash—sharing and caring

A tea towel and apron—hospitality

Fabrics from previous ordination class stoles—your colleagues, mentors, and friends

Aloha fabric because we can all use a little aloha in our lives

Discontinued designer samples—a little style

Denim, the workhorse of fabrics, seems an appropriate backing. Much of it was harvested from worn or outgrown jeans from family and friends, both young and old. A preschooler’s pet rock was rediscovered and carefully removed from his outgrown pocket. Jeans have very practical pockets so each stole has one ready for a note (a thought before it is lost), a tissue or change (remember change can be a good thing).

The Pentecost cross is symbolic of the Great Commission. Here it is made from a tablecloth, representative of the invitation to come to the many tables of our faith…for communion, caring for the hungry, church picnics, and pot lucks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wedding Banquet

Plans for the wedding have continued to happen. We continue to look at the guest list and review names and are trying to make room for everyone we would like to invite…which is tremendously difficult at this point because we are limited to 200 people at our venue (which we don’t want to forsake because of beauty, convenience, and price).

As someone who likes everyone to be included, thinking of who we might exclude is a high anxiety process for me. It seriously stresses me out and makes me a bit of a cranky pants.

Tonight my dad and I walked the dogs and picked up fast food. As we walked, we ran into a number of the homeless I see and know and work with each week at the church. They know me by name and excitedly greeted me and introduced me to their companions. As we walked I began to wonder how many of them I should include in the wedding list.

In some ways, I was ashamed to ask the question. I mean, if they were regular Joes who worked and had a home and came to church each Sunday, I doubt I’d ask whether or not they should be included (as long as we’re including church people in general). Allen is just as much a regular as Linda, so should there be any distinction?

Part of me cringes because I have seen “good church people” up and move on Sunday morning when Alean sits next to them in the pew, and I would hate for him to be rebuked or rejected in a similar way at my wedding celebration. If he were there, he’d be just as much an invited guest as anyone else. Why should he be known or treated any differently? (I am sure that he would get a hair cut, take a shower, and even get a nice outfit to wear to the celebration).

But I am still hesitant, for whatever reason. Not as much about Allen specifically, he’s there every Sunday and has been since I invited him for the first time last July, but what about the others? What about the woman who shows up high on crack? Or the men who sit and drink on the church premises? What about those who come for Sunday hot breakfast and maybe even Sunday school, but don’t darken the door of the sanctuary? What about them? Are they not members of our body? Appendages in the eyes of many, but part of the body nonetheless…

In many ways, I know many of these people better than other church members. I see them throughout the week, hear their stories, their laments, tend to their needs in ways I don’t for others (either because I am not asked, or their needs are not as apparent).

In a related conversation, my dad suggested we think about wedding plans as if we were inviting Christ. He thought we should even consider setting a place for Christ at a table. I like the idea. We might even do it. And then I pause and think, “Isn’t giving a seat to Allen the same as offering that seat to Christ?”

Asking the question challenges my notions of inclusivity and hospitality. How open am I really if I still make distinctions between people based on economics or social status? Am I really being Christ-like? Should I show more grace? More inclusivity? Less judgment? Less fear of what others will say?

I realize I am in no way simplifying my wedding craziness. Maybe you can help? Maybe you have wisdom or courage or grace to offer…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Open me Lord

Open me lord

Open me lord that I may see

Open me lord that I may hear

Open me lord that I may receive

Open me lord that I may know

Open me lord

Open me lord

Open me lord

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It would be easier

Last week I mentioned that we needed to regroup on our approach the homeless and that we would be sitting down for longer term solutions and to figure out an approach to working with our concerned neighbor. Well, the day after that post I received a call from the city homeless guy we were going to work with and he said the mayor's office is now involved.

Awesome! To be honest, I started cracking up. It literally made my day. I haven't even been here a year and I've already had the mayor's office notified about our ministries (and apparently the misdeed of caring for those in need). The city guy said he was given leeway to work with us, but had to do it right away or it would move out of his hands. I said that was fine and moved our homeless team meeting up a week to this Monday. I asked church folks about a good time and figured 7pm would work and sent out a confirmation email.

Well, then I got an email back from the city guy and he can't do 7pm and he interpreted my email to mean that I think we are in an us vs them position. (Which I don't). He also said there has been more than one complaint (sort of saw that one coming), and that there are health and safety code violations that need to be addressed. That email did not make my day.

I knew that eventually working with the homeless would become something advocacy issue...I guess I just didn't figure it would be now.

The truth is I started to cry when I got that email. I cried because I had been misunderstood. I cried because this ministry is hard and taxing. I cried because I don't want to fight. I am tired and busy and have 100 things on my plate and the last thing I want to do is fight the city, or the mayor, or the NIMBY folks around us.

But then as I thought about it (and kept crying) I thought, "It would be easier to make them leave. It would be easier not to have sanitation issues. It would be easier not to deal with their stuff that is piled around the church. It would be easier not to deal with parishioner complaints about why "they" are still here. All of that would be easier. But it would not be more faithful."

If we kick them off of our property, there is still no place for them to go. Yes, there are shelters here, but they fill up and there is not enough space for everyone. So, you think there are health and safety violations with them sleeping around the church? How about when they defecate and urinate behind local restaurants? When they get more violent staking out territory because it's a fight for the good spot every night?

Even if this ceased to be our issue, it doesn't cease to be an issue. There is still a real need and a very complex web of problems. There is no complete answer. There is no perfect answer.

As a church we aren't trying to be defiant. We aren't trying to be rebellious. We are trying to care for those in need, doing what we can with what we have. We try to deal with trash and bathroom issues. We try and hold them to a standard of behavior and involvement with the church. We try and treat them with care and dignity and respect.

And to simply say, "Sorry this got way too sticky and complicated for us" may be honest, but it is not faithful.

Nevertheless, I still don't want to fight (not that I won't just that I don't want to). I don't want to deal with citations from the city, or the police, or the mayor's office, or whomever thinks it's a brilliant idea to offer citations for caring for those in need.

I have a feeling tomorrow's meeting is going to be hard, and that things might just get very hard. Please pray for us as we make decisions and have tough conversations and try and continue to be faithful in our response.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The story continues

Many of you have made comments through this blog and to me personally that you have been interested in our work with the homeless. It has been a few months since I have written much about our current situation and think it's worth an update for various reasons.  

1) We continue to "house" homeless....I use the word house loosely since we don't provide indoor accommodations, rather we allow people to sleep on the sidewalks covered by balconies and eaves at the church.  We have 3 or 4 that are pretty standard and have been there for months now, and some added new people, plus one guy who was there for awhile, moved to Phoenix, and is now back.  

2) We have started offering Monday morning showers.  One man has volunteered to come and be there to open up and someone else cleans the towels so there are fresh towels each week.  This has been an adventure because towels regularly go missing and some people take FOREVER in the shower, and others think 8 or 9 is still too early to be up...

3) We continue to offer hot breakfast on Sunday mornings as part of the all church meal.  That meal/fundraiser is over in a week or so, but we know that food is still important for these brothers and sisters, so some members are coordinating cooks for each week to cook for 8-12 people so the homeless can still eat through the summer months. 

4) One member volunteered to start a Bible study for the homeless and that has been going for a couple months now.  She regularly has 2 or 3 other members out there with her.  This has been great to do scriptural teachings with these folks and to help members connect on a different level.  We have one of the men now starting to attend worship regularly and he has requested a Vietnamese Bible so he can get more out of Bible study (and I'm just lucky enough to have the DS who has done the first authentic Vietnamese translation of the Bible...the other was done by second language learner missionaries decades ago...)

5) We did allow a couple in a motorhome to stay.  The agreement was for a month and that time lapsed into 6 weeks and we ran into some complicating factors and asked them to leave immediately.  They refused for more than a week and the police ended up getting involved before they left.  It was hard to know that they were in violation of the agreement we had made and had not done what we asked and to know we had to be heavy handed but to also know how hard it is/was for them and to pray for good to happen at the same time.  

6) I got a call this week from a concerned neighbor.  He had seen someone sleeping on the balcony and wanted to know if we were aware.  (he was expecting we weren't).  I happened to answer the phone myself and talked with him. I said I understood his concern, and explained our position.  I tried to offer our experiences and positions on things like hygiene, bathrooms, and crime, but told him that if he wasn't satisfied that he could still call the police (what he originally intended to do) or talk with our city councilman (who I had just spoken with the week before about this very issue).  I also said I'd be willing to talk with him further if he was interested.   I do understand his concerns and take them seriously.  I am also slightly amused because people have been sleeping at our church for over a year now and he just now noticed...

7)  I emailed our city councilman right away to tell him about the phone call and what we are doing.  I wanted him to be aware and hear from me first.  He kindly responded after he talked to our neighbor and expressed both concern and encouragement.  He, too, understands that what the city offers is not enough to cover all the needs and there are more people out there, and that the church needs to be part of the solution.  

8)  Now it's time for some church folks to meet again to reassess what we are doing, plan a strategy if Mr. Neighbor rallies support against our ministries, and figure out what we plan to do and start looking at more long range responses.  All along we've known what we were doing  were temporary bandaid fixes, but we've also known we needed to do something.  So, now it's time to look again and figure out where we go from here.  

Quote of the day

There will always be reasons to doubt. The true measure of a person is not if they are bold enough to doubt but courageous enough to trust.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Raise your voice for clean water for all!

I've just asked my senators to cosponsor the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009 (S.624), which will help bring first-time, sustainable access to clean water and sanitation to a hundred million of the world's poorest people. I'm asking you to make that commitment, too, by adding your voice.

Together as ONE, we can make a difference!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Quote of the Day

"We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems."
- John W. Gardner

Finessing the church invites

So a big part of the stress is figuring out the church member thing.  I pastor a large-small church (around 150), that is very tightly knit.  I sense that most of them figure everyone will be invited.  And being the kind of family church they are, my guess is that if everyone is invited, everyone will come.  

Now, I really do not like the idea of inviting some and not all, I don't think I could deal with the guilt of who we didn't invite.  And just like with most things, if you invite A then you really should invite B, because they both took you to lunch that one time, and if B is going, then certainly you need to invite C because they share a pew and one would know the other wasn't going and would assuredly be hurt....etc...etc...etc.  

So, I sat down with the church directory and went through name by name and wrote down all those that I thought were likely to show if invited.  They are the most active members, the ones that are there every Sunday and attend most "extra" church programs as it is.  I think there might be 75 or so on that list. Of those, we are particularly close to maybe 25 of them.  But, like I said, if you invite, A, then you need to invite B and if B, then C.  So it seems like we need to invite 75 of them.

The added trouble then  Do we put it as a general church invitation in a newsletter?  Maybe...that way we are sure to cover everyone and not inadvertently leave someone out.  But, the problem is there are more people who receive the newsletter than come to church, so would we have added folks we didn't anticipate and are not particularly close to?  And, if we have limited space, how do we deal with reservations from an open invitation?  

Or, do we send personalized invitations to those 75 people we think would come?  Will we then get in trouble because we didn't send that same invitation to an inactive person?  That helps us nail down numbers and assure ourselves that we have invited those who are most important, but could lead to exclusion.

Also, normal etiquette dictates that if we invite a single person, we also invite a guest, which is all well and good for our single friends, but what if those 30 church people who are single also invite a guest (because etiquette dictates they can...) or how do you tactfully say, you are invited, but please don't invite extra people?  

Or, what if the parents we invite, who are active, decide this is a good time to bring their kids (who are our age but do not attend the church anymore).  Technically those kids are members, but they aren't a part of the church, and though we would like them to be, our wedding isn't really the best place to try and bring them in.  Now, it's feasible (and even likely), that the kids wouldn't come because they haven't been active, or they don't know us well and that I am worrying for nothing, but I feel like I at least need to consider the possibility.  Because, after all, what do you do if your venue only seats 200 and you invite 300 expecting lots of no's and 275 show up!??!  Then what?!  

I have also thought about the possibility of just holding a separate reception for the all the church people, anyone who wants to come can...that would give us more room for extended family and for friends of my parents.  But it also takes us back to the A, B, C dilemma, because there are those 25 church people we are close to, that we would want to be a part of our day, so then we have to deal with the inclusion/exclusion dilemmas all over again.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

Now I know why people elope

Long ago, before I was engaged or even dating a reasonable prospect, I was offered close to $10,000 if I just eloped when I finally decided to get married.  While the $10,000 sounded nice, the idea was way too far fetched to even consider.  I have always wanted to have lots of friends and family at my wedding, and taking 2 people (plus my parents since they'd freak if I got married without them there) to Vegas for an Elvis wedding just didn't seem reasonable (or even desirable).
Now, after skimming a few books, outlining the guest list, and beginning the bride's workbook, I'm ready to consider it!  There are so many details.  So many things to consider.  And they seem to think that most people will take a year to plan, so they put everything on a 12 month schedule...well, if you're starting out and only have 6 months to plan a wedding, that puts you 6 months behind on your reservations and taste testing and sizing and God knows what else, which can make a detail-oriented bride a little bit nuts.  

I'm only 3 days in on actual planning and am super overwhelmed.  We found a venue, but seating is limited, so that means we have to limit the guest list, which is a serious stressor. But if we go with them, not only do we not have to go hunt down other venues, but the catering and the serving, and the set up, and the chairs and tables, and the linens, and the parking are all already included, which sounds really nice to me.  Because I am not super stoked about the idea of having to try different caterers, different cake makers, different chair companies, different linen companies, and up'ing all those costs by $1500-$3000 since the current place is not only nice but super affordable.  

So the question becomes, which is more important:  cost and location or number of guests (i.e., inviting everyone you want to have included)???

All wedding all the time

So, the wedding planning has officially begun.  It is the most interesting blog fodder I've had for awhile.  Well, I should rephrase that, it is the most interesting bloggable blog fodder I've had for awhile.  There has been lots of interesting stuff in life and in church, but it would not have been appropriate to put any of it online....not now anyway, maybe after a few more months when it's not so in-your-face real. 

That being said, I will try not to make the blog all wedding all the time, so that some of you who are more into the church reading, or those who just don't want to be overwhelmed by wedding plans, still have something interesting to read.