Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Bird's Nest

Today I preached in this sanctuary for the first time. The pulpit is high and I stand on a small stepstool to make sure I don’t look like a Kindergartner stuck in the limbs of a giant tree. I know that I am fairly new to the craft of preaching, but I would guess that the nerves stick around in new spaces throughout a preacher’s life.

Each time I meet a new congregation, I am humbled by the mystery that precedes me. What have they already heard? What do they need to hear again? What hurts them? What lifts them up? What wounds to they have that I could worsen with salt? Who will hear law and who will hear gospel? The view changes with each bird’s nest and layout. The sound changes depending on how far my voice is from the ceiling. The people change, needing to hear different things on different days.

My palms were sweaty as the adrenaline rushed through me before preaching. There is something in that anxiety that taunts me each time, tempting me to believe that I am truly in control of my words and then humbles me with a Holy Spirit Reality Check. I hope those butterflies never go away.

I saw my girlfriends in the pews, still lost in the bizarre wonder of their friend being ordained for this stuff. It must be amusing to see me at work and to watch me do things most young women do not. Their smiles and loving eyes remind me that this is all possible: I can be fully myself and fully pastor.

My goddaughter was there with her family, a sassy PK (pastor’s kid) whose dad had the morning off and wanted to check me out in action. The toddler, however, was less concerned with this congregation and my new role because she is currently obsessed with “Matt’s truck” and wanted to see it after worship.

This community is becoming more familiar each day and I feel at home whenever I can connect children to parents, husband to wife, name to face, or person to committee. Having coffee together after worship seems to speed this process nicely. While shaking hands, Pastor Mike Woods approached with an introduction that made my day. He said that Mary Hess, my advisor at Luther Seminary, had introduced him to my blog years ago. He was in town for a reunion during sabbatical and decided to find my congregation.

Mike told me that my writing reminds him of the person on the Verizon Wireless commercials, aware of the communion of saints and with a faithful posse backing me up. Looking around, I had proof that this is true. There were saints visible, my new parishioners and dearest friends, but also saints from far and wide I lean on when the nerves strike.

On July 27, the 8am service at Sierra Ev. Lutheran Church was notified by their intern that I was being ordained during the 10am service at Normandale in Edina - the same hour in Minnesota. I felt them lifting me up and that has made all the difference. I went to seminary because so many encouraged and stayed there because so many challenged. I’ve always thought that church is silly if it remains a social club for a local community and does not connect prayerfully and faithful to the greater church and world across time.

The Bible says that a pastor’s role is to equip the laity. If I can do no other good at St. John’s, I will teach people to recognize their gifts and to call out talents in others. I will invite people to participate and show them that God calls us in many ways to the missio dei. After all, that is what Word and Sacrament ministry is supposed to do and that is what it has done to me.

So thank you, Mike, for coming to visit and for naming the greatest blessing in my life – the saints I meet at the font and table and those I love so dearly that the Word gives me jitters.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Center for Changing Lives

Park Avenue and 24th Street is bustling with construction and vision as the project nears completion. The old Lutheran Social Services (LSS) building is gone, but not the mission and community presence it has provided for the neighborhood for 50 years. I was able to explore the building on a hard-hat tour yesterday and learned more about the plans for this dream that is about to come true.

Here’s what I learned about the Center for Changing Lives:

  • Affordable Housing for 48 families. More than 1,000 families applied for housing here, which proves that the need is great. These units are not labeled transitional, giving the families stability and the freedom to decide how long they want to call the Center for Changing Lives home.
  • Important Services that will assist families and members of the community to feel cared for and surrounded by support and information for their families. These services include employment, housing, counseling, financial, pregnancy, refugee, youth and more.
  • Large Communal Spaces that will provide the neighborhood with meeting spaces and a place to belong.
  • Messiah Lutheran Church will begin worshipping in the Center for Changing Lives on the First Sunday in Advent, marking a new beginning for their community of faith and their strong relationship with the neighborhood. Several of Messiah’s ministries will find space at the Center, including the Kaleidoscope after school program, the clothing closet and the food shelf.
  • Playground Equipment has been purchased by a local company, whose staff will build the playground for residential youth and kids from the local community.
  • A Green Space that is significantly larger than the previous LSS building, but will function on a similar utility budget. The rain gardens and energy efficient materials are helping the Center keep housing and services truly affordable. In fact, 90% of the previous LSS building materials were recycled. Some of them now line the Crosstown/35W exchange!

This is a $27 million project made possible by generous help from federal, state, city, local and private levels. It is exciting to know that so many are involved in making this Center and its ministry possible.

What does the Center for Changing Lives need?

  • If Lutheran Social Services raises $4 million by the end of 2008, the Kreske Foundation will give $1.2 million. Any gift amount makes a difference.
  • Many of the services provided by the Center are made possible by volunteers with interest or expertise in those areas. Interested?
  • Talk to your pastor about having LSS come and share about the Center during an adult forum. The staff is excited about connecting congregations with this ministry and would love to hear from you!
  • Stop by and visit when the project is complete. Families begin moving in September 1 and Messiah begins worshipping at the Center in Advent.

Photos from the Center for Changing Lives Website

Friday, August 22, 2008

Church Mice

I am meeting the tender souls and strong hands that love this church. By church I mean the Body of Christ, living through ministries and the Word alive in our speech and action, and I also mean the building. When you have been the hands and feet of Christ together with others for so long, the house itself becomes dear and meaningful. This church is beloved by many.

One of these servants encouraged me to follow him around the building today. It is a maze of mystery and beauty that stands tall in Tangletown, hiding history behind old doors and holding children in learning and laughter each day.

You can learn a lot about a congregation by following in the footsteps of a faithful member. He taught me about light switches and back stairways, boiler rooms and classrooms. The stories flowed as we wandered and I soaked them in, hoping that someday they would feel like my own precious history. This congregation has been the Body of Christ for nearly 125 years and the building has been standing as a sign of God's faithfulness since the 1920s.

While traditional worship and mainline denominations fade, I am inspired by the immigrants who saved and struggled so that these stones could tell their faith story to the community 90 years ago. Come inside and learn from the stain glass windows like many before you, pulled into the drama of worshiping with ancestors and saints to come. It is one way to know that God's Word is steadfast and that faith produces tender souls and strong hands.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Holy Communion

I come from an over the top family. While we are culturally Lutheran with Nordic emotions, dinners together are usually loud and chaotic. We usually serve food by lining everything up in bowls and on platters across the counter and fill our plates in a first-come-first-serve order. Condiments pour out of the fridge and on to the table. Dozens of almost empty salad dressing bottles and types of steak sauce litter are passed from end to end after we sing grace and finish with a single, booming clap in unison. Perhaps there is some Italian blood in there we have yet to discover.

The Matriarchs in this madness are my mother and her twin sister. If you set them loose on remote beach, they will use small talk to find someone we're distantly related to before dinner. It is in this environment I've grown, knowing third and fourth cousins and reconnecting with people five times removed from me.

Last week I had dinner with the twins and somewhat distant cousins that connect me to Cottonwood, MN and Cape Town, South Africa. It is in these moments filled with memories and connections beyond me, that I believe in the sacredness and stubbornness of Oral Tradition. These women light up and become lost in the stories of ancestors and adventures, becoming and letting go. I often hear the same tale repeated each time I met or hear of a distant auntie or wild woman and simply nod to absorb the urgency with which they share. They tell so that I might know, understand, and remember. That is what the storytellers of long ago did to make sure the word would be recognized into the future.

I smiled to myself as these women engaged over dinner, the volume escalating and laughter encompassing the patio area with each glass of wine poured. The bread pudding came with candles and a faux-birthday was celebrated for the sake of free dessert and a friend in town. Spoons were handed out and they watched her wish on a candle for a birthday to come halfway around the world.

And then the enormous plate was passed from hand to hand until dozens of spoonfuls devoured the food and left women feeling satisfied with the story shared.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Thin Line

I've been thinking about self-care lately. In seminary we are reminded again and again that spiritual leaders have a reputation for giving too much of themselves without replenishing, reflecting, or resting. Clergy are sometimes stereotyped as out of shape and out of touch with their own emotional and mental health.

Internship was a great opportunity to draw the line concerning "me time" before launching into the world of full-time ministry. It's difficult to set aside time to take care of yourself when there's always more to do. People pat pastors on the back when they're always available and serving, but giving in overdrive fails to set an example for parishioners fighting the temptation to work 50+ hours/week at their own jobs. (It also means there's probably a lack of lay leadership, pastoral trust, and delegation, but that's another entry!)

Technology also makes communication instantaneous, which causes people to expect more from each other. When you're always plugged in and available, finding ways to separate from these expectations and the rush of giving can cease to happen in conscious, habitual ways.

Last week the media was obsessed with John McCain's political ad questioning Barack Obama's decision to work out at the gym instead of arranging a meeting with wounded soldiers on his Tour de Universe. I mention this without political agenda, but because leaders in the public eye will always be praised for spreading themselves too thin and critiqued for not finding time to do more. We want to hear about how normal their home lives are or that they can relate to the average person, but also expect them to live super-human lives.

I was impressed to hear that ANY candidate was making time to take care of his/her body and mind by including physical activity in a jam-packed schedule abroad. I've admired my professors seen taking walks during lunch and pastors who make time to refuel spiritually in creative and life giving ways.

My mother-in-law reminded me last night that rest is described frequently in scripture, holding up the Third Commandment in lots of ways. Scripture is filled with strange rules and legal instructions for life that maintained order and care in the lives of Jewish families and communities. People were expected to change their habits to cause rest during certain seasons in the spiritual calendar and personal life stages. This rest marked change, both the stress and joy that comes from giving of ourselves.

So take care of yourself. Take ten minutes, an hour, or a weekend to rest and mark the things that are happening in your life. Get on a bike or take a walk to a local restaurant, enjoy the weather, nap outside or splurge on fixings for a healthy dinner. Turn off your cell phone, the TV and the things in life that desensitize us and make demands of our "free" time. Allow room for silence, for it is in the quiet many prophets have been called and equipped. It's a thin line between giving yourself generously and having nothing left to give.

Breathe. Pray. Lead well by refilling your own cup.