November 25, 2022
As we prepare for Advent and Christmas, we will encounter the usual tension between celebrating the birth of Jesus and surrounding ourselves with the more secular trappings of the holiday. It is always a challenge to balance those two priorities in our lives and in the lives of the members of our congregations.
With the celebration of Thanksgiving though, we pause to give thanks for the very things that our faith walk calls us to recognize throughout the year. Thanksgiving is not a distinctly religious holiday, and yet it is a recognition of the power and blessing of giving thanks, and it is a reminder to all to recognize blessings, both small and great.
One of my blessings is the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas with you on a weekly basis. It is sometimes a challenge to discern what to write about, and at other times the words almost write themselves. In both cases, I thank you that you take the time to read and reflect on such things. I know that we each have too many things to do in life, and that fact that you pause for a few minutes to visit my website is indeed a gracious blessing to me.
I hope that this Thanksgiving time finds you being filled with grace and blessings, and surrounded by the love of God, family and friends.
November 18, 2022
As Advent begins on November 27th, we have once again established themes for our Advent readings and our worship celebrations. The four themes we have chosen for this year are – Angels, Giving, Surprises and Love. These are mostly non-traditional themes, but I tend to encourage such choices because I think that they help us to open ourselves to fresh experiences of Advent and Christmas, rather than expecting the same experiences that we have always had, no matter how wonderful those experiences may have been.
In some ways then, the theme that we have chosen for the third Sunday of Advent, “Surprises,” becomes for me an overall theme for the entire season. As I once again read the birth stories as told by both Matthew and Luke, it seems to me that just about everything in them speaks of Surprise, from the announcements of the angels to the lack of room in the inn.
Our challenge is to recapture that sense of surprise as we again encounter stories that are mostly quite familiar. Of course, if you ask most people about the story of the birth of Jesus, they will tell you a story that combines all of the familiar elements, neglecting to notice that Matthew and Luke each tell unique stories with their own well-chosen elements that convey the story in the ways in which they understood it.
Some of the surprise for people is then that Matthew never mentions the shepherds and Luke doesn’t tell us anything about the Magi. But more than just the details of the accounts, is the fact that just as God brought about a surprising sequence of events some 2000 years ago, so too God can bring surprises into our experiences of this season, and not only can God do that, I believe that God does it and welcomes us into the newness of this particular Advent season.
For each of us, we need to discover our own surprises in this story, so that we can then open doors and windows for our people to also discover things that they have never considered before. For when we recognize the surprises, then we can allow the fresh experience of Christmas to fill our hearts.
November 11, 2022
Celebrating What’s Right with Life
During the month of November my congregation is emphasizing a theme of Celebrating What is Right with Life. The origin of this idea came from a chance viewing of a wonderful DVD presentation entitled, Celebrate What’s Right With The World. It is a compilation of photographs taken by Dewitt Jones, a National Geographic photographer at the time, along with a filmed commentary of him speaking about the images and reflecting on life.
This particular DVD is quite expensive to purchase. While the beauty of the images and the power of the message are both worth the purchase price, this can pose a challenge, especially for a smaller church with limited resources. One option is to ask if your judicatory (Regional Church office, Conference office, Synod office) has a copy in their lending library. That being said, this short DVD is one of the most powerful celebrations of life that I have ever viewed.
With the inspiration provided by his photographs and commentary, we are exploring our theme through daily emails that I send out inviting reflection on areas in which one might celebrate what is right with life. (As an aside, if you would like to be added to that daily email list, please let me know through the “Contact” tab.)
As we now move to the two Sundays before Thanksgiving, we are inviting folks to share their celebrations. Those who worship in-person can write their own messages on the sticky notes that we will use to enhance the one wall of the sanctuary, while those who join us through Zoom will receive an advance invitation to participate by sending in their thoughts of celebration, and volunteers will write those celebrations on the sticky notes for them.
It is so easy to name what we feel is wrong with our world. But here is an opportunity to observe, share and celebrate what is right with life.
November 4, 2022
In those times when I think about retirement, one of my motivations for remaining active in leadership in a church is because I feel that the message of Jesus, and the mission of the Church, is so important in our world of today. We can certainly list many things that we think are wrong with our world, and we can also discover things that we can celebrate are indeed right in the world. The Church, in its variety, despite its weaknesses, and through the ways in which it brings hope and joy to people, is one of those things that I celebrate as being right in the world.
But, in a world that is always looking for new things, for fresh excitement, it is a challenge for churches to remain committed and passionate about telling the story of God, Jesus and the church, while finding fresh ways to reinvigorate our worship life and the sharing of the message that we have found to be incredibly meaningful in our own lives.
As you can guess, I find the use of the arts to be one way of bringing fresh life into any church community. But there are other ways to be creative too. Innovation can be as simple as changing the worship handouts that you use, so that the change is noticeable. Or, perhaps you don’t even use bulletins, so then find other ways to alter the look of the worship space, or even envision ways to change the order of worship for particular Sundays. The possibilities are of course endless.
We certainly have been given a basic Gospel message that has endured for two thousand years, and will continue to speak God’s grace to generations beyond ourselves. But the sharing of that message, the communication of that grace, is something that requires our constant attention. To use our creativity, to think innovatively, will help to keep the sharing of the message ever fresh.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.