The following ramblings are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the local church I serve, the United Methodist Church, John Wesley, my family, my dogs, or anyone else whom I may have forgotten to mention for that matter.
Now, before you read on, let me just say this: I don't have all the facts or information, just what I've managed to follow in the news. So, as you read, please keep this in mind.
This article from the UM Reporter really saddened me on many levels, one of which is the incessant fear of what appears to be competition between local pastors and churches. Sometimes I fear that if we're not careful, we can be all too busy building our own kingdoms instead of the kingdom of God.
While I honestly sympathize with Bryson Butts, the former pastor of Gracepoint UMC - I hear in his responses a primal call to reach the unchurched that isn't always appreciated within institutional churches like the UMC - I am saddened that a church plant opportunity in Kansas has succumbed under the strain of it's tearing apart.
My prayer is for the Bryson and his new congregation and the 17 original members of Gracepoint UMC that suddenly are left without a church.
This past Friday I did something that I should have done
almost two years ago: I got my ear pierced. Now before you gasp, let me
invite you to read the story before you pass judgment. Hopefully then
you'll understand [and besides, I had my ear pierced for years in college, even
when I was in the midst of the ordination process, but I digress].
Almost two Junes ago now, Lisa and I had what was an awesome
vacation with our two best friends and favorite people in the whole world, Jon
and Siri Davenport. We had been planning the trip for months, actually
6-9 months prior. Like many things in life, it started out with a
conversation that began with, "wouldn't it be great if...." and
before we knew it, we had chosen a week, late June 2007, picked a place, the
Wisconsin Dells, and were busy making preparations.
One of the many things that Jon and I talked about during
our many weekly phone calls was the fact that his two boys, Seth and Jared, had
wanted to get their ears pierced on this summer vacation. Jon told me
that he thought that he might like to do it to; first to show support of his
boys, they were a bit apprehensive, and two, he had always said he wanted one.
In a moment of exhilaration I said, that if he did it, I too
would do it in solidarity with his boys.
Being that Jon and I were both pastors and leaders of local
congregations, there was some talk between us as to how our churches might
react. Both of our congregations were somewhat rural and not very
progressive, so as good leaders we were trying to be sensitive by at least
asking the question.
Well June finally came and before we knew it we were
together for a week of hilarity, relaxation and amazing fun and fellowship.
About the middle of the week the boys decided that it was time, time to
get pierced that is.
We traveled the town, scoping out the best place to get it
done and came across a tattoo parlor on the main drag, it looked clean and well
kept and the personel seemed to be friendly.
If my memory serves me right, being the good father that he
was, Jon went in first. After a minute or two out he came with the familiar
golden bead seated in his now reddening ear.
Next was Seth, desperately trying to be as brave as his dad,
he went in, “pop” and came out with the twin golden bead of his dads.Everyone looked at Jared, who was a bit
timid and wasn’t all too sure that he was really willing to go through with the
ordeal, but sure enough he soldiered up and went in, and came out; same read
ear, same gold bead.
Then, all three looked at me, and well, I froze.
Not because I was scared, of the pain that is.I knew what to expect.I was terrified of what people would
think; what my congregation would think.I serve a great church that unfortunately was going through a bit of a
trying time, adjusting to someone who was probably casting more vision than they
were ready to swallow at the time.So, needless to say, I didn’t want to throw gasoline on an already
smoldering fire. So...
I didn’t go through with it.
I broke my promise, and I spent the rest of the afternoon
and evening, the rest of the trip actually, torturing myself; wishing I had
gone through with it.
Little did I know that two months later, I’d be burying my
Even as I write this I still get a lump in my throat.
I’ll never get that moment back.I’ll never be able to call him up and say, “hey Jon, I’m
finally brave enough to do it, so lets go.”
I missed an opportunity to share an amazing and
unforgettable time with my best friend and let fear and other people’s
expectations and opinions get the best of me.
I’m sorry Jon. So sorry.
So, this past Friday, I spent the morning at the local
Starbucks, finishing the Sunday message, packed it up, had some lunch, and went
down to the local tattoo parlor and had my ear pierced.
Was I still concerned what the wonderful congregation that I
lead was going to say?Yep.Did I do it anyway?Yep.
So, Jon, I wear this earring proudly, in honor and memory of
you.Thanks for loving me.Thanks for sharing who you are, were and
always will be with me.Thanks for
investing in a friendship with a crazy fool like me.And thanks for all the ways that you have and continue to
You’re a braver man than I ever could be.
I love you, and I miss you man.
Grace & Peace,
P.S. tomorrow is my first public worship service that I will
lead with my new accessory.Pray
for me ;)
Out of Ur, Christianity Today's blog in a piece called the Hansen Report, a post drafted by one of their Editors at Large named Collin Hansen, reports on the plight of churches in rural America.
In it Hansen reports of the effect that rural flight is having on small town churches who desperately need qualified and gifted, and he even suggests "young" pastors, who are willing to relocate to what some might feel to be remote areas. To make matters worse, he suggests, the financial viability of small local rural churches often puts a significant strain on their ability to hire or support a full time, seminary trained, credentialed pastor.
"Even $35,000, the average starting salary for seminary graduates,
overburdens churches whose members depend on Social Security checks."
I serve one of these churches of which Hansen speaks and all of which he says is indeed true.
To be able to sustain and ongoing vibrant ministry while paying a pastor even the minimum that her denominational tribe might require places a significant financial burden on the church. This is a reality that my little tribe of about 275 is dealing with right now.
But it's not just clergy people who leave Mayberry for the big cities. Hansen reports that:
"Plagued by severe “brain drain,” rural American towns have been
grasping for ways to entice doctors and motivated teachers to return
and settle. According to Time, pastors may be even less inclined to serve small towns than their college-educated counterparts."
Being a city boy, while I never imagined pastoring in a town the size that I am in now, and although I love the rattle and hum of an sub-urban/urban environment, pastoring in my current context has been a better experience than I could ever imagined.
Yet Hansen names the tough realities that I was plagued with when I first arrived to my current ministry context almost 6 years ago:
"But it’s not like you can find a huge pool of pastors dying to serve in
rural churches who can’t land a paying gig. It takes guts to seek out a
rural placement after seminary when your classmates have dreams of
planting urban churches. Shannon Jung tells Van Biema, “A town without
a Starbucks scares [young pastors].” There may be some discomfort with
forsaking suburban amenities. A bigger problem is peer support."
Can you believe it, "a town without a Starbucks!?!" [thankfully there's one in the larger city some 9 miles away, can I get an "amen.!"] But all joking aside, things like a lack of peer support, and an unwillingness to embrace the changing culture around the church can serve as a significant deterrent to wooing young pastors to a geographic locale.
Yet there is something alluring about these small places that seem to, at first blush, be a decade or so behind their sub-urban counter parts. As one who values relationships, pastoring in a rural setting enables any leader to be on a first name basis with anyone from the Mayor to the janitor at the local middle school. Coffee and camaraderie is shared openly, even if you are the outsider.
So ministry in small towns can't be just ignored.
In fact just this year I went to a conference, The Sticks Conference, whose entire focus was on developing a mission mindset in order to plant & redevelop churches in rural areas. It was so refreshing! So many of the conferences that I attend are put on by "big box" churches who have capital and resources that my congregation could never imagine. Yet here, in a small town in central Ohio, Wooster to be exact, was a vibrant, cutting edge, large rural church that was making a impact for Jesus and reaching a whole new audience.
Hansen issues a challenge to the conventional notion that rural pastoring is somehow a step child to its sub-urban counterpart:
"They might even begin to enjoy rural America. They won’t be spending
all their time administering programs such as those that engulf many
suburban pastors. They might even find the small community strangely
willing to incorporate a young pastor’s fresh ideas if they are
tactfully implemented. And a pastor working in rural America can always
count on church members willing to serve beyond the constraints of time
and ability. Starbucks or not, that’s the kind of gig that God could
use to cure a pastor’s soul."
Having ministry referred to as a "gig," although I realize that Hansen is simply using a hip term, reminds me of another important point: While it may be true that as pastor's there are different geographic and cultural areas where we might not wish to go, as women and men called of God to the gift of ministry I'm not so sure that we can pick and choose depending upon if a given place has the amenities that we prefer.
It seems to me that beginning way back with the call of God to Abram, Abram was invited to leave everything that he knew to go to the land that God would show him. Seems a pretty ludicrous idea doesn't, that kind of faith. Yet we are pastor leaders are heirs of Abram's call, and we too must answer God and leave everything that we have to follow.
Do I envision being part of a vibrant sub-urban ministry someday, and even plant a church? With everything that is in me. But has God been using me in my current rural context in ways that I could have never imagined? More that I could have even hoped.
Today in my denominational tributary we celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion. As those who harken from the tribe of United Methodists, we believe communion to be just that a sacred moment. It's often amazed, saddened, and frustrated me by the way I've had so many people attempt to do "business" with me during this sacred moment.
Here are just some of the examples; mind you all of these are prefaced by my, or another officiants saying; "the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for you that you may have life..."
..."I won' t be at Monday's meeting."
..."we're going on vacation, see you in a week or so."
..."did you know ______ is in the hospital?"
..."there's a burgundy van in the parking lot with the door left open."
..."would you like to do lunch after the service?"
These are actual things I've heard, or at least heard of, during the sacrament of Holy Communion. All this to say is this: I wonder what [not to mention who] it is that we are thinking about as we approach the table of Jesus? Are we remembering his great sacrifice for us? Are we pausing to be grateful for all that God has done for , in, through, us because of Jesus?
I'm not against doing business in the church, in fact, I would suggest that there is indeed business that we need to be about as we prepare ourselves to receive the sacrament, but perhaps we should reserve other business for other times than the Eucharist.