Sitting in the dark of Advent

moon and stars
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

This Advent, I am painfully aware of so much grief which surrounds me. The grief of lost loved ones, the grief of lost jobs, the grief of lost chances. This season, which is typically billed as one of joy and celebration, is anything but for so many.

We rush around in an attempt to cover the pain brought on by mentions from others about family parties, vacations, and work schedules. We decorate our homes and light candles, reciting a script that we just can’t completely stand behind right now as we struggle and wonder what plan God has for us.

Why?

This is the time when we should celebrate that in all of our fault, doubt, confusion, and grief, God sent Christ for us. There was no list of requirements to receive the love and grace which the Christ child came to share. No decree went out that we must have everything pulled together in order to visit that stable and meet the Christ child.

Christ came to each of us in the middle of the night. If our savior came in the midst of the dark, why are we so afraid to sit there? Why are we ashamed to admit that the dark is where we find ourselves right now?

I wonder what this season would look like if we shifted our focus away from the scripts and the decorations, away from the masks we put on. I wonder what meaning this season would take on if we acknowledged the ways we struggle and instead of hiding them away in the empty decoration boxes, put them out beside the tree. What if we took time to sit in the dark of Advent for a while, openly and together, and listened for those angels to sing and announce Christ’s birth?

This season, I encourage you to remember that if we had everything together and perfect, there would have been no need for God to send his Son. I encourage you to allow others to see all that decorated your home – the twinkling lights and the struggle. I encourage you to embrace all that this season is for — the joy and celebration and the struggle and doubt.

If you can only sit in one part of Advent right now, sit where it is most true to you and remember that Christ was sent to us because God saw the ways in which we struggled and felt separated; God heard our cries in the wilderness and created this new way for us.

May we all find find strength and comfort as we sit in the dark of Advent and may we all find warmth by the fire with which we light each Advent candle.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

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Time to Slow Down

autumn autumn leaves branches danger
Photo by David Whittaker on Pexels.com

Over the past week, I have been reminded just how hectic and exhausting the season around Thanksgiving and Christmas can be for a pastor. This is a season of both thanksgiving and lament, and pastors are incredibly privileged to walk with individuals through it all. In my own experience, this is probably one of the most beautiful parts of ministry. I give thanks every time someone invites to me walk with them, grateful for their trust and grateful for the ways that I see God working in my relationship with each person.

This past week, though, I felt the burn out.

The day before Thanksgiving, I pulled up to my house with roughly an hour to decompress after a very intense 24 hours of pastoral care, clean up the house for family, take a shower, and rest. Needless to say, the decompression and rest didn’t happen the way it should have! At least both I and the house were clean though, right?

I rallied from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday afternoon, convinced that if I drank enough coffee and smiled through the yawns, I could make it. As I slowly slipped into the comfort of my “shell” while spending time with friends early in the weekend, I realized just how much that decompression and rest were needed. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at my upcoming week and I wondered how I would make sure that everything happens the way it needs to AND that I am taken care of. I looked at the month of December in my planning calendar and felt my body slump in the chair as my mind said “It is ok! Just rally and vacation will be here before you know it!”

It isn’t just about rallying though and it isn’t about how convincing our smile is either.

During this season of church decorating, parties, meetings, extra worship services, and family events, we pastors need to remember that it is important to find a way to slow down and take in the peace and hope of the Christ child.

Maybe we can find a brief moment of peace over a cup of coffee and a devotional before we rush to get the kids out the door each morning. Maybe we can take a few minutes to sit in the Sanctuary, praying for those on hearts and just sitting in the silence and comfort of God’s embrace. Maybe we can sit and look out at the world, listening to the sounds of creation settling in for the night, just before we go to bed.

However we find it, I pray that each of us finds time to slow down during this season. I pray that in the midst of the planning and meeting, we can simply sit and be. We spend so much time reminding our parishioners to take care of themselves and to soak in the peace of the Advent season, I pray that we are able to listen to our own words this year.

As we prepare to move through the season of Advent, I will be focusing on living my life as worship rather than living to check off a to-do list. Over the next few weeks, I will reflect on different portions of worship in this blog and I invite you to follow along and consider how you can slow down and worship God through your own day-to-day life during this season. I pray that as we go on this journey together, we all might find moments of peace, hope, love and joy that will carry us through this joy and grief filled call which is ministry with God’s children!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

What Makes You Strong

asphalt clouds endurance grass

We are officially on the ground and running at the Kirk after a longer kick-off season this year, and most of you are likely beginning to find your stride as well. Fall kick-off is an exhausting time which doesn’t provide much of a break until Thanksgiving when pastors might take a day or two to restart and gear up for Advent. For youth pastors, there hasn’t been much of a break since Spring Break (maybe)!

It didn’t take long into my first year as a youth & young adult pastor to not only realize, but accept and act on the fact that there is no way that I can do this alone. Even with a staff of four pastors, there is just too much work to go around!

At first, I figured if I could just plan and prioritize better, I could make it work. I bought a white board and divided it into the four very general sections of my job – youth group, confirmation, young adults, and general. I listed important dates and to-do items on this board. On a smaller board, I kept a daily to-do list. This worked for roughly a week. The problem that I ran into was that my job cannot be generalized. Under the two “simple” titles of youth and young adults, there are many smaller facets which then break down again (and possibly again). The young adults have just as many activities as the youth and require pastoral care in a different way at a different time.

I sat staring at my breakdown of the components of my job and wondered what to do. I remembered that the youth portion was also layered with three or four tiers of leadership which made that side manageable in theory, but what could I do to really strengthen that so that the system was more supportive than “hanging in there”? On the young adult side (which was quickly growing into young adults and families), there was nothing. This is a newer component and was taking a great deal of time with very little support system.

20180921_103245I quickly set to work adding tiers under my umbrella and strengthening those already at work. Youth volunteers went through more specified training at the start of this year, and will do so throughout the year. I asked a variety of young adults if they would be willing to help start a leadership team and we met to plan the semester and then take on leadership if different activities.

All too often, pastors become event planners and spend their time juggling a calendar rather than sitting with people. I found myself growing more and more frustrated with my time behind a computer screen rather than spending time with my people. I also learned that as I was putting these systems in place and strengthening what was already there, I had to be willing to let go and let the system work! When personal stress collided with professional stress in the middle of a meeting, I finally did let go and told my leaders I couldn’t do this without them.

Asking for help in our jobs, whatever they are, is not the weakness that I thought at one point. Asking for help does not mean that we are not capable. Asking for help, forming and strengthening support systems – that is what makes us strong! As I have told each of my leaders, no ministry succeeds if only person is behind it. If we want to anything to succeed, there has to be buy in. Success requires strategic and focused leadership from different angles. If one person leads everything, everything will suffer. If a team leads everything, each person within the team and ministry will grow in a new way!

Christ did not try to minister alone. Christ called a team together who first walked with him and listened before they started to assist and then minister on their own. Finally, when it was time for Christ to leave us the disciples and so many others were ready (even if they didn’t think so) to carry on the ministry.

As the year kicks off and you look at your calendar wondering how to best tackle today, this week and this month, remember that you don’t have to do this alone! Look to your support teams and if you don’t have one, start one. Find those who are invested in the ministry and ask them for help, because that help will only make you stronger!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

I am your pastor, but this is MY body

img-20180308-5aa0e00d4e1aeI cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard about inappropriate comments being made to or about my female clergy colleagues, and myself, about our bodies. We are told to dress more conservatively, asked if we are pregnant, receive suggestions about new hair dyes and makeup, and are handed articles about women’s health… just to name a few things. As we focus on finding new ways to share God’s Word with our congregations, our congregations focus on ways to make their female leaders more appealing to look at. Some of my colleagues have even been told that since the congregation hired them, they need to dress and appear the way the congregation says (ie. the way that particular parishoner wants).

The hardest part of this is that as we strive to be professional and kind, we struggle to respond to these comments because we know that our thoughts are in no way appropriate, even if they are in response to an even more inappropriate comment. I am personally incredibly envious of the women who are able to respond with grace and direct attention to the inappropriate comments because all too often we (read: I) just smile, tell you to have a nice day, and walk away as we bite our tongue and seek out a quiet space to let our rage out. We stand off to the side, cleaning up after worship and other programs, listening to what you say and pretending to ignore you while we wonder why you aren’t just talking about the presentation or sermon instead (you are not as quiet as you think you are, and even if you are, we will still hear through the grapevine.)

As I hear from colleagues about their experiences and I think about my own, I have one simple thing to say —

It is NEVER okay to make judgments about another person or to talk about them behind their back, and just because “you” pay “them” doesn’t make it okay.

I love to do prayer stations with my youth and a favorite one focuses on how we are created in the image of God. I encourage the youth to look in mirrors and to see themselves exactly in that way – created in the image of God. How does that change the way they see what they think of as flaws? I then encourage them to look at others in the room and to see perceived flaws (and things they may have recently made fun of) as beautiful and the image of God.

It is important that I do this regularly because, I thought, teenagers are the most critical of themselves and in need of support and reminders of their true beauty. As I think about what both my colleagues and I have experienced, and what so many others (men and women alike) experience every day, I want to encourage everyone to try this.

Go find a mirror and look into it. Look at everything that you think is flawed. See the beauty and power in it, knowing that you are strong and beautiful because you are created in God’s image. Think of someone you recently talked about and see them in God’s image. You can even go another step to let them know you see that they are created in God’s image!

There is no reason that your pastor should spend their free time looking for a new outfit to hide their weight because they overheard, again, someone asking if the pastor is pregnant. There is no reason that your pastor should feel like they need to dull their wardrobe because their outfits are not “befitting” of the office. There is no reason that your pastor should feel “less than” because another person does not like or approve of them because they are not fit enough, pretty enough, modern enough… every single person, including your pastor, is in fact ENOUGH and should be reminded of that instead of what is perceived as a flaw.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

When the World Changed

axel-houmadi-325307-unsplash-1400x934Seventeen years ago, our country was shaken to the core as we felt the trembling of collapsing buildings everywhere we were. Our reality shifted, never to be the same again. In the blink of an eye, we came together just as strongly as we were ripped apart.

I reflect on that day spent with my grandparents while I was tracked out of school. I struggled to understand what was going on. I was in 8th grade and knew enough to know this wasn’t good, but also was aware that I didn’t know enough. In the following months, I watched with friends as the world we were only just beginning to understand faded away, as the unity we celebrated dissolved, and as finger pointing, fear, and blame filled the soundbites on the television.

My teenage years were shaped by the immediate responses to the events of 9/11. I vaguely remember a world where everyone was welcome and lived as the neighbors I had learned about in Sunday school. Mostly though, I still struggle to understand how and why the unity in the United States collapsed and turned to fear and hatred so quickly.

As I sit here and remember today, I also struggle with the idea that my youth do not remember. In fact, fewer than five were even alive when the towers fell and brought our unity down with them. I realize that my youth do not have the memories of a united country and instead only know this fear and hatred that has crept in ever since that first airplane struck the tower.

I wonder if our youth hear our tired cries for justice and unity and think that we have given up. I wonder what their vision of unity is, having grown up in such a broken world? I pray that they come to know a world where we do not fear those around us and instead live as neighbors, no longer pointing to the past as an example but living it in the present.

Maybe my memory of what our country used to be is naive and skewed — again, I was only in 8th grade. My heart breaks that those younger than me likely cannot even pull on those naive thoughts to imagine such a place.

God calls us to live as neighbors, to love one another, and to share grace with one another. Somewhere in the back of my memories, I do believe we were once on the verge of such a world. Today I pray that we can all find those memories of days forgotten and strive to live in such a way that we bring back that unity of support and love for neighbor. I pray that our children will grow up in a world where they don’t have to look to a history book to know that even for a brief time, we acted as the Body of Christ. I pray for and long for the day when we can say that we are not only the United States of America, but the United Kingdom of God.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)

You are invited!

invitationInvitations. They fill our mailbox every year, inviting us to weddings and birthday parties, baby showers and retirement celebrations, housewarmings and game nights. Electronic invitations can be sent for free, you can have a mail house do the addressing for you, or make a night of it with a friend as you hand address and lick each envelope. We think nothing of sending invitations when it is time to party – so why do we second guess ourselves when it is time to worship?

There is a billboard in Eastern NC which has peaked my interest for several years now. The congregation renting that space has called out to the masses and invited everyone to join them, “Where you belong before you believe.” I imagine a congregation of individuals of all ages, in out types of outfits, and talking about all kinds of things. I imagine laughter and excitement as strangers become friends, and as friends walk together discerning their faith. This invitation might be a blanket invite, but it is one that grabs attention and makes this pastor very curious.

This past weekend, a group of teenagers knocked on my door. The teens seemed genuinely excited about their church as they handed over a postcard and invited us – NOT to come to church – but to come get a bookbag filled with supplies for the year. They see a need in our community and they want to address it – on a Saturday morning when people of all faith traditions can join together as one community, celebrating another new beginning. Even with no children in need of a book bag of supplies, we were interested in and excited for their ministry.

Sitting at table along a sidewalk in downtown Raleigh, my husband stopped mid-sentence and called out to someone behind me, “Hey! Would you like to have a seat?” I was both shocked and confused (and the introvert in me was a little annoyed) when an older gentleman limped over and sat down with us. Over the next hour, we enjoyed conversation about family, faith, sports, and movies as the sun beat down on us and the server kept our water glasses filled. As we parted ways, we shook hands and wished each other well, likely to never cross paths again but changed forever because of our time together.

Each of these instances have occurred in the last few weeks and had me thinking about how I invite others to the Table this coming year.

When we worship, we may not have balloons and an overflowing gift table when you arrive but we are having a party! We are singing, some are dancing, we are smiling, we are hugging, we are celebrating – even in our grief, solitude, and fear. We are a community of God’s children and we want to welcome YOU! We want to welcome you to worship, to Bible study, to Sunday school, to youth group, to fellowship, and just to BE.

We at least say that we want to invite you. The thought is there! Why don’t we actually do it, though?

We put blurbs in our church newsletters and might even post on Facebook. We encourage others to pass along an invitation while we wait to hear the results. We pray they won’t answer the phone when we call so that we can just leave a quick voicemail and move on.

For most churches, these weeks kick off a new Christian Education year. I challenge you to move beyond the bulletin invitation, only seen by those already in attendance and actually reading what we have edited all week. Call those who are missing. Tell your neighbors about what excites you at your church. Bring a friend to youth group. Invite the young adult down the pew to join you. Look one another in the eye and share an invitation to join together in this crazy journey of life and faith!

Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div. ’14)
Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)