Home Is Where You Find It

17499240_833023063760_5099698826993736160_n
Feeling the love from Lexington Presbyterian Church

I took a moment the other day to scroll through my blog posts and those of my colleague, Rev. Jordan Davis. If you did the same, you may find that we agree on one thing about our work in Church Relations: we really love what we do.

It has been such an amazing journey to traverse the Mid-Atlantic in service to our Alma mater and in service to the Kingdom as we build relationship and listen to congregations with whom we visit. With a strong cup of hot coffee in hand, our Union swag nestled in the trunk and our clergy robes hanging in the back seat, we set off each Sunday to preach, present, and profess the mission and vision of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Yet, there are always two sides to a coin. While we are gifted the chance to travel and engage a variety of congregations in locations far and wide, I often miss being home. And not my personal home, but my church home.

I am Reverend to Union Presbyterian Seminary, but not to a congregation where I serve Sunday after Sunday. People, places, and pulpits change each week! This dynamism is exciting but can also stir up feelings of being unknown. I often miss being in the presence of those in my faith community who truly know me. I was feeling this particular tug on my heart before heading out this past week for my visit to Lexington, Virginia. However, all of that changed when I stepped foot into Brady Chapel at Lexington Presbyterian Church.

I was scheduled to preach both services, the first being the informal worship service at 8:45am. I arrived and was greeted by alumnus, Rev. Bill Klein. We took a few moments to go over order for worship at this informal gathering, and I was surprised to see that there was no bulletin. My nerves began to set-in as I tried to remember our conversation while being introduced to several, warm folks.

Members greeted me with kind welcome and inquired if I was new or visiting, which is not unusual with this job. We chatted about Union over coffee and I shook hand after hand. However, I couldn’t shake the nagging insecurity about the coming service.

“Get with it,” I thought to myself, “grace abounds! It will be alright.” But I could not help myself relax.

It was not until I sat down in the front row of the gathered community, and the music began, that I was able to take a step back from my worried self and see that home was right in front of me.

These members assembled at a time, which might seem quite early for others, to hug one another, drink warm coffee, and commune. The body of Christ was gathered in this intimate space, singing songs from the Iona community, perhaps still shaking off slumber from the night before. Community joys and concerns were shared in announcements and prayer. By the time Bill nodded in my direction that it was time to read scripture and preach my sermon, I was moved by the love shared in that room. I was so moved, in fact, that I kicked off my shoes and connected with the holy ground upon which I stood. Home was in front of me, and I was did not want to miss-out because of my own insecurity.

Following the sermon, we communed at Table with one another. We sang more praise to the One who called us together in the first place. We extended hospitality with one another and we were sent out, again, to love and serve the Lord.

To be welcomed into an intimate gathering of the body of Christ is not unique to Lexington Presbyterian Church, though they do it very well. This was not my first experience with overwhelming warmth and welcome by a congregation with whom I visit. But that Sunday morning, with the help of God’s Spirit and the members of Lexington Presbyterian Church, I felt able to move my worried-self out of the way, in order to relax in the home surrounding me.

               Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

Advertisements

This Unique Gathering of the Church

positive-attitudeIf you cannot find me in a congregation, you can surely find me in a Presbytery meeting. Rev. Jordan Davis and I spend much of our time attending Presbytery meetings to do the work of building church relationships with Union Presbyterian Seminary.

Imagine if your responsibilities included attending these meetings all over the state? I strive regularly to make the gatherings of three regional Presbyteries which total about twelve meetings per year…

How boring, right?

If some small voice inside of you shouted, “YES!” at my comment, then you are not alone.

I have spoken to teaching elders, ruling elders, and staff who recognize the importance of a regional gathering as the Presbytery, but perceive the meetings to be inconvenient, laborious, and predictable. And these comments are not particular to one geographic area over another. It seems many of us feel this way. However, there are no easy answers when considering how to better improve meetings when we wrestle with the following decisions:

Should we meet on a Tuesday or Saturday?

Would an afternoon meeting be better than an early morning meeting?

Where can we find the best space to accommodate the entire Presbytery?

Should lunch be free?

What about child care?

Will worship include a sermon or will there be a Bible study?

Do we use The Presbyterian Hymnal or should we sing from Glory to God?

Does the hosting site have wifi access?

…Why doesn’t the hosting site have wifi access?!

The answer to each abovementioned question will suit some but will be difficult, or require flexibility, for others. Similarly, there are items of importance which will occur at every meeting but there are also opportunities for fluidity and creativity in the schedule.

My hunch is our attitude toward this unique gathering of the Church influences our experience. Our attitude determines how we engage and value the time.

If we believe the meeting is an impediment on our work or life schedule, we may end up running through our mental to-do list during worship rather than being present with our sisters and brothers in Christ. If we believe the meeting to be laborious, we may lack a sincere interest in future candidates for ministry or we may decide to leave the meeting early. If we believe the meeting to be predictable, we may be less inclined to study up on important items brought forth in the agenda.

Our Book of Order defines the Presbytery as, “the council serving as the corporate expression of the church within a certain district and is composed of all the congregations and teaching elders within that district” (G-3.0301). The Presbytery is the larger, living, breathing body of Christ with a specific charge to be, “responsible for the government of the church throughout its district, and for assisting and supporting the witness of congregations to the sovereign activity of God in the world, so that all congregations become communities of faith, hope, love, and witness” (G-3.0301).

At Presbytery meetings, we gather to rejoice and worship the Lord, our God, in response to God’s amazing love and faithfulness. At Presbytery meetings, we discern the work of God’s Spirit among us through discussion and debate from our individual experience. At Presbytery meetings, we celebrate milestones and retirements, giving thanks for those things in the past and for those things in the future yet to come.  At Presbytery meetings, we share our perspectives, we share our lives, and we are the body of Christ.

Therefore, if we believe these things to be true about the role and responsibility of the Presbytery, our attitude toward this unique gathering of the Church may influence our experience.

If we believe that the Presbytery, gathered, serves to support the true witness of God’s sovereign activity in the world, our attitude toward this unique gathering of the Church may influence our experience.

If we believe that, through the diligent work of committees and task forces, missionaries and candidates for ministry, God’s amazing love is shared and celebrated in worship, consent docket, and at table over fellowship, our attitude toward this unique gathering of the Church may influence our experience.

In the words of Pastor Lon Solomon, “not a sermon, just a thought.”

Rev. Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer

The Dark Part of the Journey: Congregations in Transition

woods

One of the unique aspects of Church Relations is the amount of time that we are able to spend with congregations in a transition stage of ministry. Many times, Nicole and I are called in to fill the pulpit following the departure of a beloved pastor meaning we are able to see the congregation in their most raw moments, wandering through the deepest part of the forest.

There is no doubt that losing a pastor is difficult. Sometimes the pastor leaves unexpectedly and sometimes rumors float around for months before, “I am sure that Rev. X is going to announce their retirement soon! They did just turn 65, after all.” Every departure is different, and every departure leaves a congregation wondering what will happen next.

Many times, if not all of the time, there is the support of supply preachers. This can be especially difficult for the congregation. Supply preachers rarely know the back-story of the recent departure and are therefore unable to speak about it and begin to offer healing words. It doesn’t help at all that this transition time will likely mean a different pastor every week, making it hard for the congregation to find the consistency they desire.

These weeks following a departure also leave the congregation with a loss of leadership. There is no denying that parishioners look to the pastor for guidance in most things, and even if there is an Elder or Deacon in charge, it can seem like no one is without the prominent figure and “go to” person.

Lately, I have thought a lot about what a congregation goes through during this initial transition. I have worshipped with and led worship for some of these congregations. I have experienced the hesitant welcome that gradually, week by week, turned into a warm embrace. I have heard the laments and the celebrations of departed pastors. My heart has hurt and smiled with each congregation, and my prayers have been filled with thoughts of them.

 

As we are in the season of Lent with one another, I wanted to share some thoughts for these congregations, but also for everyone in a transition phase of life:

1) Consistency is not always key! While consistency is comfortable, it can stunt our growth. This is why the best physical trainers will change up your work out every day. Just as our bodies get tired and quit responding when the same muscle is worked in the same way every day, our minds and spirits grow weary. Yes, it is confusing and tiring having someone new every single week, but it also gives the congregation time to wake-up and learn about other preaching and leadership styles. So often, we think we prefer one thing over another, but it isn’t until we actually experience the other that we can make that decision! Different preaching and worship styles can awaken different senses and parts of Spirit. Different stories can trigger new and fresh ideas.

2) You don’t need a pastor to function! Some of the strongest congregations I have spent time with had no consistent pastor. The Body of Christ is led by Christ, and each of us serves an equal role within the Body. Yes, the pastor has the seminary education and the preaching experience, but that is not what keeps the congregation functioning. Use this time to take inventory of the gifts within your congregation. Is there a desire for Bible Study? Ask each person to bring their Bible to share their favorite verse and why it means so much to them. Does your congregation miss fellowship dinners, but the budget won’t allow for them? Invite each person to bring their dinner from home and join around the table together with your different meals, but sharing the time with one another. Do you want refreshments before or after worship? Invite one or two families to provide snacks every other week or once a month (every week if there are enough willing and able bodies!) It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be huge. Jesus Christ said “where two or more are gathered”, he didn’t say “where the spread is fancy and the leader is ordained.”

3) You are not alone! While it might seem that you are on an island alone and no one sees you or understands, know that there are so many thinking of you and praying for you. The departed pastor, the committee helping you in the transition, each pastor that fills the pulpit, and the neighboring congregations. We are all praying for you! Even if it feels like all hope is lost, when you gather in the Sanctuary on Sunday morning, even if it is just because “it is what we do”, there is someone standing with you. When it feels like you are most alone, reach out and hold the hand of your neighbor. Pray hand in hand and share the Peace with a hug. See and feel God’s presence through the embrace of one another and know that even if it seems like nothing is happening, God is creating an incredible thing in and through each of us!

 

These thoughts don’t save the transition, and they might not make any sense right now. However, I pray that if your congregation is in transition, they might offer some guidance at some point along the way. If you are in transition in your own life, know that every thought applies to you as well. Transition is never easy and it can be terrifying, but know that transition does not mean “the end”, it means that something else is coming.

If you are in a transition in your own life or in your congregation, know that we are walking with you and praying for you! If you have a specific prayer request as you move through Lent and this phase of life, feel free to share those.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations

Living as Neighbors

One of my favorite things to look at in a Sunday morning bulletin is the weekly calendar. This is the space where I learn about the life of this congregation beyond the weekly worship hour. When is Youth Group? What studies are going on? What meetings are taking place? What other organizations use their space?

Recently, I have an increasing awareness of outside organizations using the different spaces of the congregations. Even beyond when the different areas of the property are in use, I am especially interested in the relationships between these outside organizations and the congregation. I love to ask various members about their involvement in these different gatherings but sadly, I am learning that the relationship is usually mostly financial.

Renting our available physical space is a wonderful way to round out the budget and help a neighbor in need, but our welcome and shared grace can help to nourish and feed a hungry soul who has come to our doors seeking. They might be seeking a safe community who shares in their struggle, or maybe they are seeking another badge for their Girl Scout or Boy Scout sash. Maybe they are seeking a more fit body or a work space away from home.

No matter the organization or person using the space, every time the physical space of our church is used, we are opening our doors to individuals who might be seeking God’s grace in their lives. Some of the organizations they come with might offer a glimpse of that, but are we doing anything to help in the offering– to be the Church outside of the Sunday worship hour?

greetersWhat would the Church look like if even once a month, members brought refreshments or stood as door greeters when outside meetings are taking place? What would we learn about our neighbors who use this space if we asked if we might sit in on a meeting sometime or offered a brief prayer at the opening of the meeting?

I regularly read mission statements and see signs that say “All are welcome!” Sermons are preached on welcome and visitors are greeted during the worship hour with smiles and open arms. Following worship, though, the lights are quickly shut off and the doors locked until the next meeting when we rush in and out, focusing only on the next thing on our own to do list and very little on the strangers, the neighbors, we pass.

Our welcome, not just on Sunday morning, is what shapes each congregation and the wider Church. I have left workouts in church parking lots disheartened after overhearing conversations  along the lines of “I thought about coming here on Sunday, but they just don’t seem very welcoming the way they look at us and complain.” How would those conversations sound if the person dropping by for a book walked over and greeted the group in the parking lot, or even offered a case of cold water at the close of the workout? I have visited churches during the week for studies or to leave information and been greeted with “Why are you here?” followed by a grunt. Would I have returned for the study the next week if the greeting were a smile and “How can I help you?” Probably, but instead I stayed home to work.

Signs, like we talked about last week, can help to bring someone in. It is our actions that will help to embrace and nourish those who are now here in this Holy space, no matter the reason! The people we welcome may never come on Sunday morning, but they just might leave feeling refreshed and encouraged and might even recommend our church to a friend; OR maybe our welcome will be exactly what they were waiting for and they will be the first in the pew next week! The most important thing to remember, though, is it that it is not about what we receive, rather it is about what we give– God’s grace and love through our welcome.

How does your congregation minister and walk with organizations using your physical space?

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations