Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spritual Authority

Today I was sharing with a friend and community organizer.  We talked about some of the issues we've been having at the church in the last few months and she mentioned my "spiritual authority" and asked if anyone in the church had similar authority.  I mentioned some prayer warriors and she explained that wasn't what she meant...she meant like in hierarchy or ranking that those who are higher have greater spiritual authority.  

I could follow what she was saying, but to be honest the language and idea is pretty foreign to me.  In all honesty, spiritual warfare and spiritual authority is not something that came up much in churches growing up.  It wasn't really until I was in ministry and working with my spiritual mentor that I began to touch on some of these things.  That's only been within the last 4 years.  

And while I'm good on some fronts, there are others that are very strange lands to me.  

After our discussion this friend prayed for me, something for which I am super grateful.  But I also walked away with a lot of questions.  Do I have greater authority in spiritual matters than others in my congregation?  I would say I have more training, more learning, and often more understanding about the Bible, or prayer, or theology, but power?  Do I have more power than another?  Does the DS or the Bishop have greater power still?  Would my prayers actually be more efficacious in matters pertaining to my church than someone else's?  If so, would the converse (or evil side) be true?  As in, would the consequences and repercussions for my sins be greater than those of another? (Not that I'm trying to sin, but I have a guilt complex as it is....)

I asked R what his thoughts are (he comes from a more charismatic tradition) and he said I absolutely have more authority at my church as it is a divine appointment--I'm not willy-nilly there (now, I believe God truly placed me here, but I have to admit that the skeptic in me has to wonder about ALL Methodist appointments...I know God uses us regardless, but I am not always convinced that each appointment is THE one God had in mind...)  And as such, I have full authority over my flock.  Not that they don't have responsibility in praying for the church and the church people, but that somehow I have more spiritual power.  Now, he doesn't agree that the DS or bishop have more spiritual authority than others--simply that they are pastors too and would have equal power.  And he definitely wasn't ready to jump on board that *Name* has full authority over all of Riverside county. 

To be honest, I don't know how to think about all of it.  Like I said, it's a new conversation for me.  I REALLY want to call my spiritual mentor and get his input and wisdom but he's taking a move this year and I don't want to disturb him, but I might have to send a note for "when there's time".  

I don't know, what are your thoughts?

Wedding tips

We did it! We are officially married!  (We even got the marriage certificate to prove it!)

Now, after 3 weeks of reflection, there are some things I'm super glad we did and others I wish we had done.  For what it's worth:

Glad we:
  • Hired a quality photographer who did more than just the standard shots
  • Did a photo guest book, putting a face with a name can be hard enough, let alone just trying to remember a person with no photo after years of marriage.
  • Did pictures ahead of time.
  • Had family and friends in for most of the week before the actual wedding, it was great to spend time with them!
  • Took time out for extra fun stuff.  Going to an angels' game, definitely a good plan!

  • Took crazy pictures on the trampoline...not many folks get to do that and it's something fun and memorable. 

  • Took 2 full weeks off (well, I got to anyway, but we got to enjoy Mexico AND camp in the mountains)
  • Wrote as many thank you notes as possible before the wedding. We were VERY blessed and have many notes to write. Knowing most of the "pre" gifts were acknowledged is super helpful. 
  • Got the wedding band Grandma was insistent I have...I love it!
  • Got to dance with the kids at the reception...those were my favorite memories as a child, I hope they are for them too. 
  • Invited lots of people to join the celebration!
  • Included family in the service (wedding party and liturgy)
  • Designed our own liturgy and veered from the beaten path...I wasn't sure how I'd feel not using the traditional words, but I think it came out great!
  • Took the time to take the family shots!
  • had people who were diligent enough to tape cards to gifts so that they didn't get mixed up in the transport.

Wish we had: 
  • blocked more time in advance for pictures--they took longer than I expected. 
  • Planned a longer reception, I was amazed at how little time I had with people
  • Had someone (not the professional) with one of our cameras to take pictures of us with folks in the receiving line. People with cameras took pictures, but I would have appreciated having pictures with the other folks too, and would really like to have been able to send folks those shots.
  • Expressed some expectations more clearly, some folks weren't available for pictures when they needed to be or changed out of formal wear far too early for our expectations and hopes.
  • Made better dinner plans for ourselves the night of the wedding, or gone ahead with room service even though it was pricey rather than R walking MILES to find Denny's and bring dinner back.
  • More time to spend with the folks we invited
  • Pictures of everyone that was there. Despite the picture guestbook, not everyone was photographed, I'm bummed about that.
  • Asked (paid?) someone to take lots of candid and fun shots of all the guests at the reception. The photographer did a great job, but focused on us, not them and again I wish I had more pics of the folks who were there. 
  • More words to express how grateful we are for all those who celebrated with us and make our day wonderful.
  • Been able to actual try the food and eat something! (ok, so we got a 2 bites each, plus one bite of cake, that was it--at least my dad had warned me!)

**I'm sure there are more things, but this what I have in mind for now.

Financial Follow-up

Special thanks to Dr. Tony, Larry, and Jim who all responded to the "Is it Me, or....?" post.  Each of them asked good and healthy questions for any church leaders and I wanted to respond to those and then give an update.

1) The concert was not a fundraiser for the church. Instead it was a fundraiser for our mission work on the Gulf Coast--over and above what we spend to send people down there and apart from our general operating budget.  We do have various fundraisers throughout the year, but they are not to sustain the ministries of the church--that comes from regular stewardship and tithing, instead they go to new or special ministries.  (Though as a note, I would like for us to get to a place where our regular budget even covers "special" things).

2) The finance chair has been up on all the happenings.  The trouble was not inattention, but rather one month of pronounced shortfall. 

3) We are a 100% church, meaning we pay 100% of our apportionments each year.  This comes off the top and is a commitment our church has had for years, with many thanks to HS who led us in that faithful stewardship. 

4) We have a growing membership with new visitors each week.  That being said, with many new folks, they aren't always financially committed to the church, but begin with attendance.  We do do a regular stewardship campaign in the fall and encourage people to step up in giving each year.  

5) Ever since I began full time ministry, I have tithed 10% and above.  I believe that it grounds my faith journey and allows me to preach with integrity when it comes to tithing and stewardship.  

6)  Larry asked if we have integrity in our spending, I believe we do.  Since I arrived, we have been working to shore up our accounting and do the required audits.  We are faithful in that we do not spend more than we have, which is in many cases how we were able to stay in the black last year.  That said, while we are faithful in how we spend God's money, we are looking at doing some new and different things so that we might better be able to grow the church with a strong financial foundation undergirding our work.

Now, as an update.  I went to annual conference and spoke with a friend/colleague and she shared that when she got to her church they had a debt of $500,000---$250,000 owed to the contractor, over and above the mortgage, and $250,000 to the city.  When I heard that I thought, "I would have cried and walked away."  But then she went on to share how they negotiated some of the costs and paid it off.  Then, we heard from our guest pastor from Korea about how they had raised $10,000,000 then $5,000,000 then $25,000,000 in order to grow the church and expand facilities.  That pretty much just blows my mind. I know many churches have done and will do that, but it floors me.  

I was humbled to hear their stories.  Really, our $2000 seemed like the widows mite in comparison.  I was struck with the need to pray for God to cover our needs and for us/me to truly turn this fully over to God.  

Last week our secretary shared that we had received $1000 for the shortfall, this week I heard we had received another check for $1000.  Then I was handed a $2000 check from someone else.  She is relatively new to the church, but wanted to help too, so we applied some of that to the general budget to keep us a bit ahead of the curve and the rest to the concert shortfall.  

I was amazed and awed at how quickly God provided when I stopped stressing and simply handed it over.  I know it's simple and obvious, but money stuff makes me anxious and it was hard to just trust that it would be covered.  But God has deepened my faith and challenged me in my faithfulness.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quote of the day

Today's quote makes me rethink the earlier post:

"You challenge me Debbie. It's one of the things I love about you, but you scare me."

(then we both laughed)

Is it me or....?

So, finance stuff has been tight (and tough) lately (at the church I mean).  We knew before the fiscal year started that we would need to make some major budget changes and that the way do money now, in the long haul, would not take us where we need to be.  So we brought in a new finance chair to help us make the changes that we need.  

I don't know if you've tried it or not, but overhauling the budget is not an easy process. It's messy and tedious and Loooooooong.  But we're working at it.  

Well, in the meantime, we've hit a shortfall.  I don't think it's because of anything specific (maybe it is...?) but I think it's more that the economy has finally caught up with us.  Last year we were relatively unaffected, but this year we've hit the red zone.  It's not huge and it's no where near where I know other churches have dipped to, but it is troublesome and worrisome and all that bad stuff, so we brought it to the light with the larger congregation and asked for some help to get caught up.

Then, sort of at the same time, we put on our big concert event (which we had hope to have at least 2000 for but were prepared for as many as 5000), except we only ended up with 500, which meant we didn't even break even.  So next to the plea for help with the regular budget, we have a request in the church newsletter to help pay off our loans that paid for the event (made by church members).  The event as a whole had gone really well and the things we had control over were smooth and great!  But it is hard to keep people seeing that when there is a financial shortfall.  

So, people are now talking (probably more like murmuring because I'm not hearing it....not directly anyway, not yet, but I have been on a honeymoon until yesterday...) and they are worried that the church is in financial trouble (and somehow when people hear that they freeze and don't want to give money because they think we'll plunder it or something...it's odd really...or maybe not so odd since that's what many of us think when someone asks us for cash...we fear they've already mismanaged their funds to get in the place they are and we don't want to "waste" money in such a way....)

Anyway, I spoke with a church leader today and he said "we need your help to get us out of this." and I thought, "good, at least they trust me to help with this." But I also couldn't help but wonder if it's my fault.  Is it my fault that I helped lead a committee into putting on a big event that was so big that maybe it caused us to fall?  Some interpreted the obstacles we hit along the way to the concert as God's warning to try and keep us from experiencing the "failure" of the concert; and yet others interpreted those same obstacles as the enemy trying to prevent an amazing event from happening in God's name.  Which is it?  Did I ignore God's warnings?  Or did I see the enemy at work and encourage (rightly?) for folks to keep doing what we felt called to do in faith?  and who is to blame?  or do we blame anyone?

What about the general shortfalls of the church....are those my fault?  Am I supposed to be doing something different?  I'm guessing they are not my fault...though maybe I should do something different...(and I'm guessing that if I let myself believe that they are and I were to be in a church that was $20,000 in the hole or $40,000 in the hole that I might hurt myself or quit the ministry...so I probably shouldn't play into that....) But regardless, I can't help but wonder how I'm (as a still pretty green pastor) supposed to help my church out of financial trials and I am wondering how God offers guidance and discernment in these areas.

Any thoughts? Or even educated guesses?

How am I doing now?

In January 2009 I learned that I would interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry to be ordained as an elder in full connection.  I wouldn't interview until March, but asked for prayers as soon as I got the notice.  

This was one of the responses:

Dear Sister Debbie,
You've got them! Thanks for giving us targets we can aim our prayers. [Wife] and I and our family do pray, telling God how thankful we are for sending you here. For a long time, we have wondered what was wrong with us. Now we are asking why are we so blessed. Thank you. We do have so many blessings to be grateful about. You are so young and we are so old. Still, you charge in and make us stretch ourselves and to keep pushing the limit further out. Thank you. I am especially impressed that the homeless in our community have begun to find us (well, many of us) to be welcoming and accepting of who they are. You know you have made some of us to remember and accept who we are and whose we are. Relax, Pastor, know that God hears all of our prayers, including yours and that the good work he has started at Wesley in you is a long way from finished. We know that you are good for us. I pray that  the growth you are inspiring in us will make us good for you. We are looking forward to attending your ordination. 
Joy to you my sister,
PS. I probably will never write to you like this again, but it does feel good.
I'm not sure what made me look for this email the other day, but I did and was touched by it again.  I was and am awed by such a thoughtful note from a cherished church member.  But in reading it Saturday, I had to ask myself if I was still really doing such a good job.  I don't think I'm doing a bad job, or even that I'm slacking, but in some ways I don't feel very prophetic.  

I don't feel like I'm challenging people as much any more.  I suppose if I were fair, I'd say that I am challenging people differently.  And, if I were REALLY fair, I'd say that people shouldn't be challenged all the time...that there should be some time to reflect and grow and be with God rather than always having to change.  In the beginning, I think I (and my ways) was so new and different that lots of things were challenging to the congregation, not because I meant them to be, but simply because I do things differently.  And during the 2nd 6 months that I was here, I preached for a couple months on "Stepping out in faith to show God's love" and on people in the Bible who had risked for the sake of their faith. I encouraged people to be in ministry in new and different ways.  This year, I have been more focused on developing leadership (a much more challenging prospect if I can say so....)  I've also been focused on some major staffing and administrative issues that have come up that have not allowed me as much time to be creative in the ways I preach or do things in the church.  

I don't know. I'm probably just rambling here.  I feel like I'm ready for the next thing in the church (well, maybe after I finish sorting out some of the administrative mess) but I don't know exactly what that would be.  I don't feel like I'm inspiring people or bringing about the growth I would like, but don't know what I should be doing differently.  I feel like I need a mentor again, someone to process with and guide me in some sort of concrete direction.  Or maybe I just need to listen and pray more and see where it is God wants me to go....

Monday, June 14, 2010

To do or not to do...

...that is the question. I'm the type of person who likes to be busy. I really don't do well being idle (even at parties thrown for me, I prefer to help and serve and clean up).  I find that I am more productive when there is more on my plate (not less).

Though you could probably say that for the last few months my plate has been a bit too full which has impeded the true quality of my work....hopefully that will shift now that the big things are over and I can fall into a "normal" (whatever that is) routine again at work.

Anyway, back to the point of the post....in being a busy person, I am generally quick to say yes to things (hence the over committed side of my life).  I also tend to be the type that is invited to do lots of things for lots of people.  Every time I turn around I am being asked to do something new.  Now, in many ways, it's flattering.  Really, it's nice to have a good reputation and for people to want me to help with their project (or board or committee or whatever). On the other hand, it seems like my name is just a good name to throw out there whenever they need a young pastor for a job or when they need someone ready to say yes.  

In other words, I get a lot of requests.  I am finally (it only took me four years in full time ministry) trying to be more discerning about where I say yes and where I say no.  

Though I have to be honest, in the last 3 weeks, I've been trying to discern one such decision and I have a leaning, but I'm not totally sure that it's true discernment and not just my gut. I think I need to go back to MEM's advice and actually write things down and use the Ignatius Method of Discernment. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Recipe of the day

I got home and wanted to bake today. I have a pack of dates that were left by someone and wanted to find a recipe to use them, but instead I happened upon this one for cranberry orange bread...so I made it instead and it was wonderful.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Recipe of the day

We watched "It's Complicated" this weekend and despite the very questionable moral plot line, they had a scene where the female protagonist makes chocolate croissants...ever since I've been craving some. So I looked up recipes and found this one.  I wasn't sure about the Philo dough and it sounded like extra work, so I grabbed some handy dandy Pillsbury croissants and used chocolate kisses cut in half (they were EVERYWHERE post wedding...) and baked them up....and they were fabulous!!!  I might go with chocolate chips next time because I think they might melt faster, but either way they were definitely worth the very little effort it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A couple of 4th grade boys

Note to reader: ***this might be my most juvenile and random post to date, that's my disclaimer. You've been warned.  This is not theological or reverent.  So, if that's what you're hoping for, I'd stop now.

In seminary, a friend of mine shared that on one of the first nights dating her (now) husband, she farted, loud and obvious, and he just took it in stride and they all laughed it off.  Her advice was always to find a man who you could fart in front of. 

I was not of the same mind.  I could follow the logic, but was never one to fart in front of folks...regardless of who they are.  Well then R entered the scene and my logic was only cemented.  There was no (semi) public farting.  Period.  It just didn't happen. 

Then a few months back, I'm not sure what possessed me or how it started, but I began encouraging him to just let it out.  Really, I don't know what prompted it, but I would cajole and encourage and tell him it was totally ok.  And my memory doesn't serve here either, but one of us let one rip and it was ok, not totally permissible, but ok.  No one died.  (Neither from odor nor from embarrassment) but it was still a slow road to acceptability.

And then a few weeks (or months) later we both became like 4th grade boys and now it's no-holds-barred around here.  Mind you this is when it's just the two of us, not when others are around, but we laud one another for a particularly odiferous toot or for one that is noisier than most.  We cheer and laugh and give props.  It's really comical. 

I work with lots of older and elderly folks who fart without qualms and it's always a bit odd that they are so free in their flatulence and I am sure there will come a day when neither R nor I is amused any longer, but for now we just laugh.  We also have those moments when the smell is so potent that we wish we had never begun this journey of flatulential (that's my word!) freedom. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the night we went shopping and he was on one aisle and I on another and I walked around the corner and was stopped dead in my tracks and could only proclaim, "Whoa, was that you?" Or when I returned the favor and failed to warn him as he approached me in a different store in a different aisle after a particularly gnarly wind. 

R's a bit more dramatic than I am and he says that was one that made your eyes water and ears bleed....I say it wasn't that bad.  But I was laughing too hard to actually inhale and smell it. 

There are other days when we are shooed out of rooms because the smell is unbearable and yet, despite the watery eyes and bleeding ears, we still just laugh....hysterically.

So begins our life-long journey of married life. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Word to the not-so-wise

I say "to the not-so-wise" because my guess is that the wise would already have intuited this....

First a little background....I've mentioned before that I get migraines.  Fortunately, this year during Lent I prayed against the migraines and had a couple the first week and then only one killer migraine the week of our mission trip. But otherwise I have been headache free.  Now, it would be fair to say that someone gave me a couple of meds to try at the outset of trouble and I have used some of those...whether or not they would have turned into full fledged migraines is questionable. 

Another key detail is that last summer my doctor prescribed a migraine med along with some others (asthma etc) and when I went to fill the prescription the pharmacy said it would cost $75.  In addition to the$35 for the 3 others (at the time and under the circumstances) there was no way.  So despite my constant fight with migraines, I didn't get the prescription, I just stuck with over the counter medications and hoped for the best.  Well, in April (after the migraine from Hell in Mississippi) I had enough money for the medication and finally ordered it (only I had lost the script by then so my doctor had to call it in and only ordered me 3 pills....).

Ok, so fast forward to our plane ride home from our honeymoon time in Mexico.  We got on the plane and I was getting the beginning signs of a migraine and decided to take something. I debated between the med my friend had given me and the new prescription and went with the latter.

That was a really bad idea.  After about 10-15 minutes it kicked in and I was dizzy, had hot flashes, felt my chest constrict like there was a large person sitting on it, and had a heightened sensitivity for pain.  In case you're not asthmatic or have never had trouble (real trouble) breathing, let me just say that not being able to breathe might just be the scariest experience--EVER.  I began to cry as my body felt out of control and I struggled to breathe.  It wasn't the small straw breathing, but the weight on your chest breathing.  I was so scared I struggled to even tell R why I was crying (I think he thought it was still linked to the book I was reading which had caused me to cry earlier.).  I used both of my inhalers and could breathe, but still had the weight and the hot flashes and the dizziness (later when I ate and drank something it felt like my throat was super small). I looked for benadryl but did not find any.

I can't say that I would have gone to the hospital had I had that experience on the ground, but I will say that trying a new med while thousands of feet in the air is not a great plan. In fact it's a dumb idea.  I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me that I could have had trouble with it (probably b/c I have never had an allergic reaction to a medicine before) but it scared the you-know-what out of me. 

So here's my advice: never try a new medicine when you are in any remote location (be that in a plane, on a boat, in the woods, or simply in another country where you aren't guaranteed the medical attention you might need...). 

(Gratefully, once I was able to calm myself down and convince myself that even though it was tough to breathe I wasn't going to suffocate I relaxed more and later the side effects began to fade....though I did have the shakes in the middle of the night when I got home...I assumed once the med was finally through my system....)