Manifesto for the Next Fifty Years

I have now celebrated my fiftieth birthday.  A half-century of living is behind me and a new half-century lies ahead. This birthday has been an opportunity for reflection.  Here are some thoughts about my priorities as I look ahead.

1. It’s ok to be alone. I celebrated my birthday with a day by myself. I love my husband and my daughters but I don’t need someone else to make me complete. I can be quiet (hard to imagine). I can think and pray and read and reflect. Time alone is an occasional gift that I need to give myself.

2. It’s time to love my body. According to the standards of cultural beauty, it’s not perfect. I am not a twig. No matter how much strength training I do, I don’t think I will have sculpted arms and legs. There are parts I like (love my full head of grey hair) and parts I don’t like (jiggly thighs).  Loving my body means I won’t buy into the body image of the culture. It also means I will treat my body well with exercise, good food, and wonderful sleep. Loving my body means accepting it and caring for it.

3. Let go of inhibitions.  Ok, I don’t really have many of these but the few I have can go away now. Someone once told me that they love how hearty my laugh is. I don’t have an inhibited timid laugh. So live the laughter. Dance and sing in public (more than I already do). Talk to strangers (again, more than I already do).

4. Try new things. Fortunately my husband is a great partner on these adventures. Go to new places. Explore a new hobby. Do something unexpected. Life is exciting and grand, and shouldn’t  be dull or boring. I can see how easy it is to get stuck in ruts of behavior but I don’t want that to happen to me.

5. A corollary to #4 – Keep my life large. As I have aged, I sense the tendency for life to shrink. I could easily slide into being a woman who doesn’t travel alone, who doesn’t drive on busy interstates, who doesn’t ride the boogie board in the ocean. Allowing fear to shrink my life isn’t an option. Life is best when it expands instead of contracts.

6. Go “micro” on relationships. I have lots of “macro” level relationships with diverse people because I serve on several boards in the community and in our denomination. I see those folks when we gather for those meetings.  But there aren’t many people, especially people who are significantly different from me, that I consider friends with one-on-one time. Time to go deeper and really get to know a few friends.

There’s the manifesto. If you want to offer some more, feel free to share your thoughts in a comment.
Grace and peace,
Millie

The Myth of Your Own Church

Last week I attended a lunch meeting with a wonderful group of community leaders. Someone seated at my table learned that I serve as Executive Pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church. He then asked “Do you ever want to have your own church?”

Well that pushed my button. I quickly responded, “I already have.” My last call was as solo pastor of a smaller church in our presbytery and I served there for nine years. The question pushed my buttons because it is a flawed question. And probably because it taps my own insecurities and my own vocational struggles.

First, the question assumes that Associate Pastors are somehow inferior to Pastors. It presumes that the corporate ladder is also an ecclesiastical one. So every person who isn’t at the “top” is in a junior position? And every junior partner wants to move up in the firm, right? We bring that model of worldly success to the way we view the church but the model doesn’t work for ministry in the church. There are five of us serving as Associate Pastors in this church. None of us are “juniors” in ministry. We are all mature seasoned professionals. We all understand ourselves to be called by God to this role with this congregation at this particular time. We are called by God, who doesn’t differentiate between junior partners and CEOs. And we are individually members of a Body of Christ, in which every member is essential and none can be lord over the others. We differ in role and in function but not in value. Associate Pastors aren’t “flunkies” who are incapable in ministry. Some are excellent preachers; some are wonderful administrators; some are fabulous moderators of meetings. The Associate role doesn’t automatically mean the individual doesn’t have those gifts. Less-involved members don’t understand the dynamics but the faithful core appreciates each one for his/her unique ministry.

Some Associate Pastors serve as Associates for their entire ministerial journey because that is the best fit for their style and their gifts. They might thrive in larger church ministry with the fellowship of ordained colleagues and would not function well in a solo pastorate that can be isolating and lonely. They might be called to specialized ministry, for example in pastoral care or in education, rather than called to the generalized ministry of a pastor.

Some Associate Pastors serve as Associates because they haven’t been called as Pastor to a large church. On a case by case basis, that might be God’s will, or it might be related to sinful cultural dynamics about gender or race or sexual orientation. For example (and yes, it’s a personal one), if large churches aren’t calling women as Pastors, capable ordained women in ministry will be in Associate roles.

Can you tell that the question pushed my buttons? But my response was incorrect. The biggest flaw with the question and with my response is that there is no such thing as “your own church.” Any pastor who has served as a solo pastor or a head of staff will figure that out quickly. The church isn’t mine. The Presbyterian Church (USA) acknowledges this truth in the opening section of the Book of Order. “Christ calls the Church into being…Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills.” (F1.0202) The church belongs to Jesus Christ, not to the pastor. “The Church is the body of Christ.” (F 1.0301) The church belongs to its members, as together they enflesh Christ’s body in the world.

When I hear someone talk about “your own church,” I know they have never served as a Pastor. It doesn’t take long (minutes? days? weeks?) to realize that this community isn’t mine. It belongs to Christ and to the members of the body. When I’ve come to that realization, and in my case it’s a lesson that has to be relearned repeatedly, I give thanks that Christ and this particular body have called me to be a part and have invited me to use my gifts here. I am grateful for that indeed.

Evite from God

Imagine if you received an evite from God in your email inbox.  God is planning to be in town this Sunday and will be making an appearance in your place of worship at 11 am.  How will you respond?  Imagine that you reply “yes” to God’s evite.  How will you prepare?  Will you worry about what you are wearing and how you look?  Or will you focus on your heart?  Will you make an effort to be on time and in a seat before 11 so that you are ready to experience God?  Will you pay attention to your behavior that morning – how you speak to your family, how you handle the exasperating driver in front of you, how you park the car? Are you excited, hopeful, joyful?  What will your posture be?  Will you slouch back in the chair, or will you lean forward expectantly?  Will you strain to hear every word or will you chat with your friend when God is speaking?  If God glances over during the music, are you singing?  If God listens for your voice during the prayer, are you heard?  What will you talk about during the car ride home or at the lunch table? 

I hope we experience the living God when we gather for worship each Sunday,  Sadly, I don’t think it is what we expect.  I wonder why.  I would like to hear your thoughts.  If you came to worship expecting to be in the presence of God, what would change for you?

Don’t Forget the Trailblazers!

I recently read the obituary for Rev. Dr. Mary Matz.  I never met Mary but I give thanks to God for her because she was the first woman to become an ordained minister within the Moravian Church in America.  I was baptized, educated, confirmed, and loved in the Moravian Church. 

Mary was raised as a Lutheran, worked as a Christian educator at a Presbyterian Church, and then married a Moravian pastor.  When her husband became Dean of the Moravian Seminary, Mary enrolled as a student there.  Mary’s lifetime of ministry touched many people. 

As I said, I never knew Mary.  But she was a trailblazer in ministry and her faithfulness to her calling made a tremendous difference.  As an ordained woman, I am grateful for all the generations of women who have used their gifts in service to God’s kingdom.  Sometimes it’s easy to forget the people who have gone ahead of us on the path, but our journey is easier because they have already blazed the trail.  Who blazed your trail? Maybe it’s a role model in ministry or a political figure or a person who took an ethical stand in your business area. Join me in gratitude for the trailblazers, whether we ever met them or not! Our journey of faithfulness is a little bit easier because someone already walked on the path.

Good news on the corner

Last Thursday I drove to Washington,DC to pick up one of my daughters who had been there for a leadership conference. On the long drive up 85/95 I stopped for gas somewhere north of Richmond. When I pulled out of the gas station I saw a man standing on the median at the intersection. He was holding a cardboard sign. An all too familiar sight. Then he turned around. His sign read “God loves you.” I rolled down my window, gave him a big thumbs up, and grabbed my phone to take a photo. He had a big grin and waved at everyone. After my last blog post, I believe this was a God-moment. Unexpected joyous grace abounds!

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Good News for Spiritual Beggars

Indian theologian D.T. Niles defined evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” As disciples of Jesus, we are called to share the good news we have found in Jesus Christ with spiritually hungry people all around us. If you were asked about why you go to church, or why you try to live as a disciple following Jesus, or why you base your life on faith in God, how would you respond? Do you have a “beggar speech”? Can you share the good news in seven words?

A few years ago Christian Century magazine issued this challenge and you can read how people responded by clicking here http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-10/whats-gospel-seven-words

Jessica Tate, Director of Next (a network of leaders within the Presbyterian Church USA), wrote a blog post in June and issued the same challenge. You can read Jessica’s post and how people responded by clicking here http://nextchurch.net/next-church-evangelism/

Everytime I try this I come up with a different answer. For today, here’s my seven word beggar speech of good news:

God loves. We fail. God forgives. Repeat.

Now it’s your turn. Post your response as a comment below.

 

 

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