Sunday, December 30, 2007
Also present at the service was someone from my first congregation. She introduced herself as having known me from the days "of the church of Jesus Christ of the Air Conditioner." That got a non-comprehending laugh and took me back years and years, to the early 1980's, when the church I served in Columbia, South Carolina, owned a tiny church which had once been an Episcopal chapel in a Mill Village. it did indeed have a lovely stained glass window of Jesus in the back, and at some point, the bottom panel had been removed for an Air Conditioner. John Buehrens, later the president of the UUA, visited the congregation before I arrived and dubbed it with that name.
At the second service there were a couple of guys from Knoxville, a church which I served for a Summer as an intern and then for a year as a part time interim.
So many people told me they'd seen The Golden Compass for this service that if there is a sequal, I'm going to take credit for pushing this movie over the top.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
It didn't seem that anyone had had a terrible experience on Christmas, it was just too stressful overall. It seemed as if the hospital staff's Christmas was a little like our Boxing Day... nothing awful, but we were glad that it was over with.
Christmas Celebrations are not completely voluntary, but this universal elective surgery response surprised me. I wonder what celebrations would suit people better? Is it just too much of a holiday for families with excited children aged 3-15? That's a relatively small proportion of us, after all. As a family with a 17 year old, we've noticed that it's not quite the same any more. (These days, parents put together the gifts in the morning. The teen now goes to bed after we do and gets up late, too!) But we had a very nice day yesterday, all working our our art projects for nearly a full day. That's a luxury! Late in the evening we made a quick Christmas Visit to drop off gifts at a friend's, which topped off the day nicely.
We have a few treats planned for later this week and a New Year's party to go to. Tomorrow's work is to get ready for the Golden Compass service on Sunday, which, we hope, will bring in the kids who usually don't come to church the week after Christmas. Since most of you, dear readers, can't come to church and discover your Daemon's wisdom, check out the movie site (Goldencompassmovie.com), where, after a short personality inventory, you'll be assigned a deamon of your very own!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve Homily
Last year, someone informed me that when she was a kid, she thought that the Three Kings brought the baby Gold, Frankincense, and Mirth. I smiled for 24 hours. I wrote about it on my blog, and someone commented that when he was a kid, he had confusions about Certain Poor Shepherds.
The way this young person puzzled it out, “to certain” must be a verb, meaning,” to reassure,” so the angels came to reassure some poor shepherds in their fields. Which is not far from the mark, after all. This young person, when told the “real” meaning of the carol, that the angels appeared to “particular” shepherds, wanted to know why some and not others? A young Universalist in the making!
That got me to thinking about other meanings of the word “certain.” Here’s another possibility. They were not “reassured” poor shepherds, or “particular” poor shepherds, they were “confident” poor shepherds…sure of what they have seen and heard. They see an angel in the sky, and nobody says, “Ho, boy, it must be indigestion” or “I’m so stressed out I’ve started imagining things!.” They are certain: it’s an angel. The angel says “Go and See!” and nobody asks if by any chance this is the devil in disguise, or moans about a long walk into town: they Go and they See. They are sure that what they are seeing is their next king in that cold stable, and that’s good news to the poor.
Angels appearing in the sky with crystal clear messages makes for good stories, but it’s never happened to me that way, or to you, I’d wager. The times I’ve thought, maybe, I felt a nudge from God, the message was kind of…well, let’s just say, subtle. Easy to ignore, easy to miss, not at all clear. Never angelic voices. Mostly just a feeling; at a concert, on the bus, hiking, reading, listening to someone. The messages only come when I really need them. They often have a shine of good feeling with them, but no hosanna’s, no voices, no heavenly lights… nothing certain. Always a matter of “hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses,” as the poet T.S. Elliot complained
My experience, really, is much more like what the Magi’s experience must have been: You see a new star in the sky. What does it mean? Who knows what it means? Maybe nothing. maybe Everything. There’s an obscure prophesy about a baby or is it a king? Or is it just restlessness, boredom, avoidance?
Most people, even Magj, would have stayed at home by the fire. They’d have responsibilities, doubts, plans of their own to easily trump the lovely new star. The shepherds had it easy. Big voices. Bright Lights. Clear Instructions. Go and See the Baby! The Bible says they went, but there are any number of folk stories about the Shepherd who stayed behind. Someone had to tend the flocks, after all, and there’s always a skeptic in the crowd. That would be me. Maybe it would also be you.
Certainty or not, the task of our lives to follow the hints that come to us, whether in heavenly voices or, more likely, in the voices of friends, authors, musicians, teachers, and that still, small voice inside us.
They urge us to grow in love and spirit,
and remind us that the journey begins with single, tentative steps.
They urge us to open our hearts to what comes into our lives,
and remind us that it is the unexpected that is often the greatest blessing.
They urge us to look inward.
and remind us of the jewels beyond price that reside there.
They urge us to appreciate the world around us.
and make the things of the world our sacred teachers.
They urge us to give away what is precious to us,
and remind us that when we give in joy, we receive one hundred fold.
They urge us to test our voices and discern our best path,but remind us not to turn away from new faith and new hope, waiting for a certainty that may never come.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
How do websites get chosen for this kind of dissemination? By vote of users. If you're a stumble upon user, and you click the thumbs up on your toolbar...right now, for instance, this blog would get a vote. If you don't use stumble Upon, I've provided a button at the bottom of this post.
We early adopting UU's can help get the UU word out by voting for UU websites in this way. The more web-users who stumble upon UU websites, the more people discover us.
Evangelism...and you don't even have to explain UU!
Friday, December 21, 2007
A woman at church yesterday said that when she was a kid, she thought that the three Kings brought the baby Gold, Frankincense, and Mirth. I've been smiling ever since.
Those three universal beings (in the folk tradition from which manger scenes are made, they are an elderly European, a middle aged Oriental, and a young African) on their strange journey to bow down before a baby and bring gifts, were supposed to have brought three items of financial worth, gold, a precious incense used in religious ritual and worship, and a precious spice used in, of all things, embalming. Some make something of the latter; a gift for a person whose life was destined to be short.
I'd rather universalize these gifts, making them symbolic of what we need for a good life; a modicum of financial resources, the spiritual resources symbolized by Frankincense, and the emotional and relational resources symbolized by mirth.
Food and fire, hope and spirit, love and community. May your Holiday season be blessed with Gold, Frankincense, and Mirth.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Well, that's a bummer. It will be a constant reminder of all the unpleasant changes that have been a part of our lives in the past 7 years and (since no one imagines that terrorists can't get Government Issued ID) will, no doubt remind us of vulnerabilities we'd prefer to ignore. Some people are talking and writing as if it's the step before Concentration Camps, worth boycotting, protesting, and loosing large amounts of money to stand up for democracy.
That's the part that really bugs me. As one who pulls out her ID with every check, every airplane, every Credit Transaction (I sign my credit cards, "Please Check ID") I just don't equate ID checks with Fascism.
It is true that ID checks can be abused. If a government record was being kept of ID's checked, so that a list of people attending GA could be created (not that I doubt that it could be easily created in other ways), that would trouble me. If the ID's were being checked in ways that violated the civil rights of the young, the dark-skinned, or the scruffy, that would trouble me. Every time a layer of enforcement is added to a society opportunities are created to violate the rights of citizens...sometimes because of nefarious government policy, more often because human beings deal so poorly with power. Every local cop has the ability to violate Civil Rights in just the ways we are worrying about, and nobody is talking about observing them! But as I've watched the airport situation develop over 6 years, I have to say that I've been hugely impressed with how much attention has been paid to rights, to cultural sensitivity, and to training people who have a lot of power to use it well. As one who travels with a sometimes scruffy teenager who has looked like he could be over 18 for several years now, I can say that I think we ought to give governments some credit here. We are not the only people in the world who understand privilege and oppression.
The UUA has been assured that ID's will be only checked, not recorded, that everyone will be dealt with courteously, that they welcome observers of this process. One of the conventions they had lately was a Muslem group, and that apparently passed without incident, so I'm not actually very worried about our sometimes scruffy and defiant teens, or our persons of color; something they are actually pretty used to in South Florida.
It is true that those illegal aliens who have not been able to obtain Government Issued ID will not be able to attend our worship services, but I'm having a hard time getting very excited about this. I'm all for putting our force behind a sensible, enforceable immigration policy, but to say as some are saying that we simply can not have a worship service that not everyone can attend makes no sense at all. There are so many people who, for so many reasons can't attend our worship services, week after week, and we do so little about it that in my opinion, it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy to draw our line in the sand about ID checks.
I am still left with the bummer, about how the world has changed, about how much we actually have lost, about the huge expense of dealing with the world as it is today, but that's a post for another day!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
One thing we did in 2002 was add a second minister to our staff. This was a huge task which was paid for with every penny the congregation had in savings and aggressive fund raising for three years. In some ways a second minister is more expensive than a first minister, because in order to attract someone (outside of a Seminary city, anyway) you have to be paying everyone better than you probably are, you might need new office space, and so on. It's also a huge task because nobody will help you with it. A 100 member church looking for its first minister has everyone's sympathy. There used to be an entire extension program devoted to helping churches hire their first minister, and more than one chalice-lighter grant has helped a congregation over that hump. If they took that minister and grew by 50 members they were considered very successful. But the 400 member church trying to hire its second minister has nobody's sympathy. I said more than once in that near decade of plateau that if I could only have an extension grant for a second minister I could add a small congregation's worth of members to my congregation. I was wrong. With a second minister, we added a medium-sized congregation worth of members.
Other things were right. 9/11 happened. The senior minister (me) quit getting sick and needing months of recuperation time. In our case, a second minister not only did all the things a second minister usually does but changed some very unhealthy dynamics in the church about which I had no leverage by myself. Our city grew almost as fast as the church. Still, if I had to suggest one intervention for a 400 member church which was willing to become a large congregation, that's what I'd suggest.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Yep, they took liberties with the story and played down the anti-religion theme, and gad, was it loud! But if you kept your fingers close to your ears, it was a magical two hours, in many ways a better story than the book.
The whole church staff has seen it now, and we're planning an intergenerational service on it for that always awkward Sunday after Christmas. (I so want to throw gold glitter around to demonstrate Dust but the last time I did that the janitor didn't speak to me for weeks, so that's out.) I'm looking forward to the opportunity to talk to kids about this new way to think about God or the Spirit of Life.
Is anyone else planning worship or RE around this movie?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It's for sale to travelers. Tooth powder can be taken in one's carry-on luggage. The possibility that a terrorist might put a bomb in a toothpaste tube has changed our lifestyle.
Four people killed in church on Sunday by a suicide gunner. Six kids wounded as they got off a school bus today. This is happening a lot. Add these needless deaths to the ordinary gun related crimes; crimes of property gone wrong or crimes of passion gone all too well, and you have the daily reality of gun violence, right here, in our own neighborhoods, schools, churches, work places. It could happen to any one of us tomorrow.
Let's ditch the ban on toothpaste and put the ban on guns.
When will they ever learn?
Monday, December 10, 2007
We also talked about tweaking their regular order of service so that the children will leave a bit earlier in the service. They are looking into getting a stretch of highway to pick up and are wondering how to be more involved with the town's food bank. They have two college students attending and one professor from the State University in the town and they have established a student group on campus. We talked about how they might organize any needed pastoral care, when to call for assistance, and a variety of other things. I brought home a pledge card, a new member's sign-up sheet, and a request by an elderly woman to know how to put the church in her will. (also an envelope with their offering coins, bills, and checks...we're having difficulty getting a local bank account set up for them.)
The core group in Socorro started meeting six months ago and they began weekly worship two months ago. They are a thriving, attractive congregation. They are enjoying each other's company. More than one person has said that this project has hugely enriched their life in their small town. It's been a great project for the whole church; we're all getting a kick out of being on a cutting edge of a new way to organize new congregations.
I've been a part of starting two other congregations, one in a similarly small town in South Carolina and one in the western suburbs of Albuquerque. The first one failed after its first year. The second has been 'on its own' for a decade now and is settling its second minister, but they have not been able to take advantage of the housing boom around them and remain quite small. I felt about both groups that they were fighting nearly impossible odds; they were abandoned babies left to fend for themselves way too early in a hard world. Years ago I promised myself that I'd never do that again.
Our Socorro branch, age 2 months, has access to a good sermon every week, an RE library, advice, training for worship and covenant group leaders, pastoral care, and moral support. It's such a pleasure to watch them take all that and thrive!
Saturday, December 08, 2007
There are more than a few potshots at the Catholic Church, although in this alternative universe, this institution seems to have been founded by Calvin, and so is clearly meant to be a diatribe against any kind of religion which represses human freedom and creativity. The church folks who are putting up a stink are damning themselves by their reaction...if I tell a parable about a bad guy and someone says, "How dare you make fun of me!" they have accused themselves.
The big irony about the book is that it's author is a Humanist who believes that all value resides in this world, but his book, for all that it's about a war against the Church, is luminously spiritual. Never again will I look at dust as merely the grit under my feet. In reality, it connects us all, and in parable, is our reminder that grace abounds. The children's values (and in spite of the fact that they've got the authorities in three worlds looking for them, their values are solid and good) are rewarded not only materially but spiritually. I hope to find something more about Mr. Pullman and his beliefs.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Thanks so much for this insightful comment. There are wonderful stories of good relationships among colleagues working on a staff together, but of course, those don't get heard as often as the horror stories. And every job description should have some of "shiny" parts of ministry, the creative, public aspects, and some of the "heavy lifting". Also each minister (really, this goes for any staff person whose job description can be negotiated) should have some things that really excite them. My experience in working with a number of colleagues is that it is hard to know, in advance, what that split of work is going to be and also that it changes with time. I think that it is best for church leaders to give the two ministers as much leeway as they possibly can to decide between themselves how they are going to split up the ministry and to expect them to tweak their division of labor every year. Much as they might like to only hear the senior minister preach, for instance, if the Associate likes to preach and you want a happy associate, you have to find ways to let that happen. (You do want a happy associate and a happy team. An unhappy minister is a menace to themselves and their church and a ministerial transition is a huge expense.) If all ministers have some basic HR training, (that includes training in how to be a good senior colleague) they will know how to negotiate and re-negotiate these things and why it is important to do so.
There are some things that no one person or church can do on its own, and one is to create a culture in which staff can work productively together. When we fancied ourselves a denomination of small, lay-lead, one-minister, one-employee churches, we did have an employment culture; a culture that expected that committees of lay people would provide support and if necessary, supervision to employees and ministers. That had its inefficiencies and injustices, but one of the truly painful and conflict-producing consequences of growth was that once you have more than a couple of employees or have grown to need more than one minister, none of that works any more and the loudest voices clamor for impossible structures and a lot of free-for-all and unsupervised staff. That culture makes growth really, really hard, it makes excellence impossible, it makes working on a staff really hard, and it makes being responsible for the work of a staff impossible. So if I could wave my magic wand on the ministerial side of things:
1. I'd insist that every minister have basic Human Resources training. A minister needs to know how to hire, train, coach, manage, discipline, and fire people. Ideally this training would be offered by theological schools or the UUA because all these tasks are somewhat different in the small staff/church environments that we work in. This is particularly tricky when two ordained staff are working together and even more tricky when both ministers are called by the congregation, which vastly complicates their relationship.
2. I'd make serving on a staff a respectable option for ministers. Assistant and Associate positions and part-time program specialties are absolutely vital for churches of over 500 members. Right now, UU ministers are encouraged from several sources to think that these positions are not very respectable and that a "real" minister has his or her "own" church. The UUMA guidelines need to be changed on this point, and I hear that they are.
3. I'd create a group for ministers serving on staffs and assist with funding a yearly retreat for them, and I'd think of them when doing things like putting together groups of ministers to talk about growth. The Associate and Assistant ministers know things the Senior ministers don't know about growth.
Monday, November 26, 2007
- Get into a fight, don't end the fight, keep it going, let it permeate all aspects of a congregation, never tell the people who are fighting that they are hurting the church, and don't do anything that would tred on their sacred right to freely say whatever hurtful, horrible things they want to say to as many people as they can find. That will insure that the congregation's "buzz" is a matter of whispering in corners or raised and edgy voices. Big Growth Killer. Nobody comes to church to fight. Church fights leave ministers and lay people with Post Traumatic Stress. The people who join a church that's in the middle of a fight are either astoundingly dedicated, clueless or..worse yet, like to fight.
- Let your building and grounds get run down, looking like nobody in this supposedly caring, dedicated community cares.
- Pay absolutely no attention to the changes the churches around you are making in worship. You may have great reasons to do it your way, but if you're clueless (or look clueless) to the culture around you, that culture is not going to knock on your door.
- Pay no attention to your guests (aka visitors). Make sure they are uncomfortable from the moment they arrive on your property and don't see a sign or a greeter telling them where to go. Keep them wondering after the service...where is that social hall? Don't interrupt your important conversations about church business to say Good Morning or find out where they came.
- Make it clear to parents that you don't really care about children. Tuck them away in a basement. Rent your classrooms to a daycare center which throws sheets over all their cool toys so that the children who come to Sunday School feel like they are camping out in a graveyard of forbidden joys. Use hand-me-down games and toys. Don't sign kids in and out of classrooms. (Parents have been taught to be clinically paranoid about their children's safety. They sign their kids in and out of birthday parties these days.)
The focus of this Consultation was on numerical growth, and the assumption was made that excellence in programming brings growth in service, spirit, inclusiveness, etc, and that is part and parcel of numerical growth. We talked some about the role of the minister in discerning what kind of growth is most likely to benefit the church as a whole, and we talked about the pain and complexity of having to say "no" to or not support projects that some think will be growth-producing.
Since I'm from the "Growth is an outcome, not a goal" school of thought, my focus is always on those "other kinds of growth." Perhaps that's one reason I weathered a decade of non-growth without ever feeling that I was not accomplishing my goals. We were doing much needed renovations. We were re-building community after a church fight. I was working on bringing more spirituality into the worship service. It was very satisfying, productive ministry, and I honor myself and my congregation for it. We were just trying to be a good church...and look what happened, eventually!
The ministers at the Growth Consultation didn't have much in the way of "nuts and bolts" of growth to discuss. We talked about vision, love, spirituality, and other vast topics. That may say something about a ministerial skill required to grow a church; grand and vast thinking. It may say something about this particular group which didn't include ministers who imagine that they have the one and only growth plan for everyone. But it may also say something about skills and preferences this group was taking for granted. Maybe we didn't want to talk about nuts and bolts of growth because some of those nuts and bolts are too obvious to bring up in an august group of colleagues.
For instance, I have a feeling that growing churches collect data. They know how many people are in church on any Sunday, how many members, children, and teens there are. They know something about the trends they are dealing with. They know how many visitors they have.
(We have, for instance, seen a marked increase in visitors since the Time Ad campaign out.)
Now, nobody mentioned data-keeping as a technology of growth. Too dull. Too obvious. But I know that not every minister insists on keeping and using data like this. We didn't talk about how we convert visitors to members, although I'd lay my money that every church represented had a method of doing that. We did talk briefly about how we assimilate members and help them find their own ministry in the church, in the context of staffing....many growing churches have Membership and Social Justice coordinators, and I'm so jealous. Somehow we limp by with neither. (actually with those functions spread amongst staff and volunteers.)
Perhaps those listening, who kept commenting that this was a very different discussion than they often heard amongst ministers, are better able to figure out what we were taking for granted, and that will be a very interesting report.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
At the end of the morning, the Power Company representative approached our administrator, asking for information about the church. "There's great energy, here, " she said. "Everybody is happy!"
We called that, "the buzz" at the Growth Consultation, and we all agreed that (1) it existed and was important, and (2) that an unhappy or conflicted or depressed congregation produces a completely different "buzz". Our experience is that this is an often commented-on, very attractive feature of our congregation. Buzz is very valuable.
"Buzz" happens when the space is full, when people are excited about what and who they find in the space, when groups of people chatting are fluid and open to new people. (A group that is talking intently among itself and does not want to be approached or overheard...the sort of group that might exist during a time of conflict...makes a completely different kind of noise.)
"Buzz" is created by children, which is why we serve cocoa at Coffee Hour. Buzz is created by smiles, expansive gestures, and people calling out to their friends by name.
There comes a time as a church grows, that the members buzzing around at coffee hour don't know whether those around them are new any more, and taking care of those newcomers and helping them be a part of the buzz is really important. That's when versions of the Yellow Cup become important; we have to be able to identify a lot of newcomers in a short span of 10-20 minutes. That's also when some volunteers and staff have to keep firmly in mind that their job at coffee hour is to greet newcomers.
We do things to create buzz at our congregation. We encourage all our scouts to sell their wares, we invite groups to put out information, there are always tables full of sign-up sheets. And while we do wish that we had a larger social hall during the winter, we are glad that we don't have to deal with a cavernous hall, where it would be hard to create the buzz that helps people experience the energy of this congregation.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Do everything right,all the time, and the child will prosper. It’s as simple as that, except for fate, luck, heredity, chance, the astrological sign under which the child was born, the order of her birth, his first encounter with evil, the boy who gilts her in spite of her excellent qualities, the war that is being fought when he is a young man, the drugs she may try once or too many times, the friends she makes, how he scores on tests, how well she endures kidding about her shortcomings, how ambitions he becomes, how far she falls behind, circumstantial evidence, ironic perspective, danger when it is least expected, difficulty in triumphing over circumstances, people with hidden agendas, and animals with rabies.” -Ann Beattie, from Picturing WillOf course, it's all so important, our children, and our churches, that we do our best in spite of all the possible ways things might derail.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I have to comment here that I have learned that I'm a very poor predictor of which of these programs will "fly," so it's a good thing I don't feel the need to be controlling. Who would have thought that the group going to work in New Orleans would raise $7,000 by making one appeal on a Sunday morning? Who would have thought that the group splitting off of the young adult group and calling themselves the (old)parents of young children would grow to the point of having 24 adults and 23 children at their meetings? Or that the little group of techies who wanted to video-tape the sermon to put up on Utube and public access TV would morph into our current video ministry which serves two branches, a third service on our site, videos on our website and a sermon subscription service to lay-lead congregations?
But to some programs one must say, "no." Sometimes the program doesn't fit in the church's vision, or would compete with our core programming for space or use too much staff time or...this is the hardest...needs skilled or professional leadership to keep participants safe. There are any number of other times a minister has to just say no. It's one of the hard parts of the job. We started talking about this as the "fierce shepherd" role...the leader who loves the church...it's people and its vision...enough to keep them on track.
Someone advanced the theory...and I think it's a good one, that the minister of a growing church must be such a fierce shepherd, and shepherds who won't do this spend all their energy chasing troubled and troubling sheep around. Some ministers have to learn to step up to this role, others have to learn to codify it with policy and share it with other leaders. But it's gotta be done.
We also commented that female leaders pay a much greater price than male leaders for stepping into this role; even UU's want their female ministers to be tender mommies not fierce shepherds. We wondered if one reason fewer women seem to apply for senior ministry positions in larger churches is that by the time they are experienced enough to think of serving a large church, they've been beaten down by the unequal price of saying "no."
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Mine run to Jr. High level. I think I should be pleased about this, too, after all, its an oral medium, but it's a bit harder...
On the goal side are those who believe that our way of doing religion has a saving message for the world and we should make a goal of reaching more of those people. On the outcome side are those who believe that the goal should be a healthy church and a program which feeds the spiritual hungers of the community (not the church as it stands, but the larger community, however that is defined.) The "Growth as a Goal" folks are gung ho for setting growth goals, since you gotta have a dream, and we who have such an important message outta dream big. The "Growth as an Outcome" folks believe that you should only set goals about things you can control, and you can't in the end, control whether people visit and like you when they do. They were further somewhat suspicious of numerical goals; it sounds like a too-simple, "bigger is better" trip.
Ours was a multi-generational group of ministers, ranging from three to going on 30 years in ministry and twentys to fifties in age. This particular conversation divided starkly along these generational lines. Newer, younger ministers had growth goals for themselves and their churches. Older, more experienced ministers spoke for growth as an outcome of a healthy, serving church. There was some passion in both groups for their chosen style.
This could be more of a difference in language than substance (the "Growth as a goal" folks know that to get growth, you have to have a vital program, and the "Growth as an outcome" ministers had experienced plenty of growth in spite of not aiming for it.) It could be a result of sadder-but-wiser ministers who have endured plateaus and declines in spite of all the good programming and church health they could muster. It could be that the younger folks are braver and bolder and more willing to take the risk of setting goals.
An observer commented that it seemed that this group of ministers believed that Unitarian Unitarianism has a saving message for the world and that growth is a good thing. The stunned silence that greeted that statement was eloquent testimony to this group's unquestioning passion for our movement and what it has to offer our world.
What about you? Is growth a goal in your church? Why or why not?
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Young ministers quickly discover that that's way too simple. There are some people who are way comfortable with their afflictions and will soak up all the comfort a new minister can give and still need more. There are some pew-sitters who are in so much pain only an ogre would afflict more.
There are some UU ministers who feel uneasy ministering to UU's, who tend to be among the knowledge and professional classes. Way too comfortable by the world's standards, they all have enough to eat, shelter, and heat, the majority have health insurance, especially if they are over 30, and an awful lot can entertain themselves in all the ways their hearts desire.
The world's standards are very low, and frankly, I think of my folks (and myself) as afflicted in spite of their relative wealth. They are afflicted with all ills the flesh is heir to and are often rather isolated. Their lives are way too busy and terribly stressful, the younger ones often carry huge debt, and most are puzzled and uneasy, if not downright frightened, by the current state of the world. I call that afflicted. Most of my preaching is aimed, not at afflicting the comfortable but offering a word of understanding and healing to the afflicted.
We talked some, at the growth consultation, about how we deal with the prophetic side of ministry, and this was an area in which the 12 ministers of growing church clearly had different philosophies. Some do a lot of teaching about social problems and organizing of social change opportunities. Most of what you read about church growth suggests that this is crucial, but Social Justice has never been this church's strong suit, and it has grown anyway. I preach on social issues on the occasions when I think I have an insight to share. Sometime I just share my puzzlement and talk about how to live with fear. What I never do is just wring my hands, or wave my fists, sermonically. If I can't wring some hope and a to-do list out of a situation (the Iraq war comes immediately to mind), it's not fodder for a sermon, it's fodder for the prayer.
Friday, November 16, 2007
The session devoted to nuts and bolts was on the agenda but it turned out that most of the participants felt about like I did, and the conversation at that session turned to love. Our love for our churches, for this denomination, for our work. We all agreed on how key that was. Some of us told stories of our call to our churches that bordered on mystical. When called back to nuts and bolts, we mostly talked about worship, spiritual programming such as covenant groups (and Ken, do tell them about your month of gratitude!). There was some talk about the importance of staff work and how unprepared we all felt for the growing task of supervision, and how this always fraught subject is nearly impossible in our UU World. But then we returned to the relationship between minister and congregation.
I wondered what kind of a consultation this would have been if lay leaders have been invited, and if I were following up on this, I'd invite groups of lay people from churches which have grown to a special lunch at, GA, or the Large or Medium Sized church conferences. I'd feed them well, tell them how special and wonderful they are , and ask some of the same questions. I have a feeling they'd have an entirely different perspective.
They'd talk about good preaching much more than we ministers did, I'm sure, (it was a remarkably un-braggy group) but beyond that, I'm not so sure, and I think it's important to know.
What about it, lay readers of this blog? If your church has grown over the past five years, what has caused that growth? What do you think people come for and what keeps them? What has your hard work been devoted to and why have you done it?
A second set of stories, which I particularly resonated with, was told about trust, in particular, trusting the minister's leadership. This is not something that comes naturally to UU's, even less so when there has been difficulty between congregation and ministers.
I digress to tell a personal story. Before I accepted the call to Albuquerque, the retiring District Exec sat me down and told me about the difficulties my predecessors had had and had caused and said (to the 35 year old across the table from him), “You do know what this means, don’t you?” “Yes,” I said, in my most serious and grown up voice, “It means that it will be a long time before they trust me or follow me.” He looked surprised, and then relieved. “Well, he said, “As long as you know that, if you love them, you should go.” “I know it.” I said, and I went.
Now I look back fondly on my long dead colleague (he died within a month of that conversation). I wonder what he meant by “a long time”. I know what I meant. I’m embarrassed to report that I meant two years.
It was fifteen years.
Not that I didn’t do a good deal of leading in my first 15 years, but the lack of trust did make everything twice as hard and the toll on me twice as heavy. But about year 15, some of the invisible plasma that had impeded our life together fell away, and it has been so much easier since.
There is nothing like desperation to get an old guarde to grudgingly trust a new minister, and while desperation to grow can't show to the congregation at large, a little quiet desperation in the leadership is probably a necessary thing. It may be that a minister coming to a church that know itself to be in trouble is more likely to be allowed to help that church grow than a minister coming to a church that thinks it's doing a pretty good job already.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I've always had a hunch that one reason my church is a vital religious community is because our worship service, no matter who is leading it, is noticeably worshipful, our program is definitely heavy on spiritual growth opportunities, and our language spiritual, religious, and not dogmatic. I was hoping that that hunch would be confirmed in this gathering, which it was. It's an interesting experience to think you're "way out there" and discover that others of your successful colleagues are even more "way out." Very satisfying.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Well, gosh, and gee…I just did ministry and then struggled as open-heartedly as I could with the aftermath.
That’s no small issue. However growth happens, it is very clear that all it takes to stop or reverse it is inattention, exhaustion, a good church fight, unwillingness or inability to re-structure, unwillingness to relentlessly change old patterns, guide people in the paths of hospitality, mourn change and move on. In other words, growth is hard work. The observers have repeatedly commented on how much centered energy we 12 ministers seem to have. It’s a contrast to other groups of ministers that I don’t see as clearly as the observers seem to, but I trust them. Is the energy and centeredness the cause of the growth? It seems likely. But it also seems likely to me that the centered energy is a result of the growth. We’re shaped by what we do, and those of us who have managed, by hook or crook, to grow churches have, perhaps of necessity, developed an intensity by sheer dint of hard work and the focus it takes to lead a changing institution.
There's more. I've got lots of reflections and notes, which I'll be posting over the next week. A video is also planned.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's a big lifestyle change. It adds a half hour to my work day, which has taken some getting used to, but I feel like I know my city and its people better, and I do get home more relaxed and somewhat better exercised. But mostly, it's my little bit, not only for the winter air quality in my city, but for the world; the island dwellers and polar bears and the African peasants who suffer the most from drought. It's a symbolic gesture which will do no measurable good, except to show that it is possible, even in a sprawling western city, to do a lot on public transportation.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Ouch. This is disappointing. We UU's think that we're beyond this.
What does this mean? One possibility that there's a lot more sexism amongst us than we'd like to think. Another possibility is that male ministers pursue their career path more vigorously and are able and willing to move, to put in full time work while raising children, and to move into ministries where they must supervise staff and exert considerable, overt leadership. (ie, fewer of the women in search are applying for the larger churches)
It may be that women still have to be better than their male competition to get a job, and this phenomena gets worse the "more prestigious" the pulpit. It may be that churches and search committees have unconscious prejudices or that their expectations of their minister-to-be are so high that only a man with a wife to hold down the home front could possibly do them, especially if there are young children in the family.
It may mean that, these days, the average male minister (now a minority entity,) is more skilled and dedicated and "together" than the average female minister. (This is very politically incorrect to think, I know. But I'm sure I noticed the reverse when I was in theological school; the average women, though a minority, was more skilled and dedicated and together than the average man. This was much more obvious amongst my Methodist friends, where women were less welcome than in my UU circles. Why beat your head against the brick wall of minority-ness unless you're really good at this?)
Thinking about all of those women, many of whom are now retired, and their careers leads me to my own theory about sexism, women, and ministry. I'm inclined to think that search committees are fairly open minded on the subject of having a woman minister. I've been in conversation with a dozen or so over the years and I've only once thought I detected a real strain of sexism. But I think that the women ministers themselves have been beaten down by the difficulties of being a woman in ministry. It's not easy being a man in ministy, either, but to all those shared difficulties, women add the difficulty of the unconscious, unspoken sexism in our society, which means that women have to be twice as forceful as a man to be heard but are liked less and less the more forceful they are, and women ministers bear a burden of projection of people's "mother stuff". Male ministers get "father stuff", but in this society, "father stuff" is a lot less potent and troublesome than "mother stuff".
So a woman's first ministry is hard, the resistance is subtle, (and often from women, which is confusing and painful), and the line very thin between being a leader and being strident. It's extra hard for the woman minister to figure out, when she gets negative feedback, what's sexism and what she really needs to look at. Conflicts with others are always her fault...after all, women are supposed to get along, and women ministers are supposed to get along with everyone. So ministry for women is harder, more perplexing, not as much fun, always requires a kind of heightened survival instinct. Because of all that, it is easier to quit, harder to take career risks, harder to imagine oneself a minister of a large church.
So if it turns out to be mostly true that women are self-selecting less challenging ministries, that does not absolve us of sexism. And if we are making things harder for our talented women ministers, we're the losers in the end, after all. There are apparently not enough ministers willing and able to serve our larger churches; several very attractive larger churches didn't settle a minister last year. We can't afford to handicap 3/5 of our pool with the results of a sexism we don't believe in.
Monday, September 10, 2007
My newspaper is going out of business. It's the liberal, evening paper. Albuquerque must be the smallest two-paper city in the nation, but...no more. I'd go out of the daily newspaper business entirely, but my son loves the comics and we need old papers for the iguana cage.
My gym class got less and less satisfactory and I finally quit. Of the two classes that fit my life, one is so crowded that it's unpleasant and the the teacher of the second class moves so fast and includes dance steps...I feel incompetent. It's bad enough that I have to lift weights for an hour...oh, do I hate lifting weights...but to also feel incompetent...it is too much.
Yesterday a hurricane-induced front rolled through Albuquerque during church. The wind blew, the clouds rolled around and it was suddenly very humid. Some people clearly found this exhilerating. "Change is in the Air!" they quipped as the came on to the church patio. "Fall is here!" Others were clearly uncomfortable and uneasy. I was one of those. Too much is too much.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
News is slow in August.
My congregation was thrilled, and for whatever reason, church was packed this morning.
Here's the text. Considering the fact that I very foolishly let my "reporter-gard" down completely, I thought it came out pretty well.
People Do Business, Shop With Virtual Dollars, Even Worship in Internet-Based World
By Autumn Gray
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Assistant Business Editor
Members of a local Unitarian Universalist church know their senior minister as Christine Robinson. In her second life, she is Cathryn Cleanslate.
Albuquerque marketer Reid Givens calls his digital persona Reid Delaid.
And local software designer Lynne Whitehorn-Umphres assumes the name CoyoteAngel Dimsum in her virtual existence.
Each has taken up residency in an Internet-based realm called Second Life— a world of three-dimensional graphic design that imitates real life and has attracted 9 million users worldwide.
SecondLife.com, created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab in 2003, offers a virtual society designed completely by its resident members. Members appear on-screen as animated representations of themselves, called avatars. They work, shop, play, dance— do practically anything they
can, or can't, do in this life. They even marry other avatars.
"It's fascinating how like real life it is," says Robinson, who has presided over a virtual wedding.
Second Life has also become a venue for business, networking and education. Even the University of New Mexico has property there, intending to expand its distance-learning capabilities.
International corporations like IBM, as well as small entrepreneurs, use the site to market their products and sell their wares— both virtual and real.
In one 24-hour period at the end of last week, Second Life residents had spent a little more than $1 million (yes, that's real money) on virtual purchases or activities.
The site has made national headlines recently due to its popularity. Last week, a Wall Street Journal story titled "Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?" wrote about concerns that users were neglecting their First Life to spend time with their Second Life.
That doesn't appear to be the case with Robinson, Whitehorse-Umphres and Givens— all appear to use it to enhance their real life.
Business opportunities are ultimately why Whitehorse-Umphres became a resident. Not only has she begun helping her spouse set up a jewelry store in Second Life, she also intends to begin her own high-tech, money-making venture.
Givens uses it as a continuing education tool— attending virtual meetings with others of similar professions to talk shop.
And Robinson says having a virtual church in Second Life gives her a chance to connect with a broader audience.
"We're basically in the business of helping people discuss their spiritual life," Robinson said of the church, "and this was just another way to do that."
The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life is an example of how the site works. It holds regular virtual services and has built a sanctuary on virtual property it purchased.
A three-dimensional visual wonder created by a UU artist, the church offers attending avatars cushioned seating, a flaming chalice, stone pulpit, lush plants and a waterfall flowing over rock walls.
Robinson found the church through a search engine on Second Life once she became a resident in the spring. On sabbatical from the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, she began ministering to the online congregation.
"They had worship services that were as real and as meaningful as anything I've felt in real life," she said.
Personally, Robinson says she has spent money for the virtual collection plate and has bought materials to make a virtual necklace for her avatar.
Be prepared to pay
Second Life has its own economy, based on the Linden currency, and real money gets exchanged. Roughly 275 Lindens ($L), which buy Second Life goods and services, can be bought with one real dollar ($US).
Registering for residency is free— if all you want is to exist and move about. Just create an avatar name and password, and you're in. A 3D graphics card, high-speed processor and broadband connection are helpful, too.
But, as in real life, property costs money, and if your goal is to start a business, own a home, or do anything of permanence, be prepared to pay.
Multinational corporations have gotten involved.
Pontiac and Nissan both have car dealerships in Second Life, and Nissan offers avatars a test-track to try out their driving skills on virtual cars; Coca-Cola recently launched a Hollywood-style premier there; and Microsoft has begun conducting interviews with the avatars of software engineers for real-world jobs, according to a recent segment on National Public Radio.
Avatars buy and sell everything from virtual sneakers at a store created by Nike, to textures for their hair and skin (avatars may have scales or horns, for example, as opposed to just looking human), to planes, and, yes, even sex. All are graphic renderings that can be used or worn or carried by avatars.
Software designer Whitehorn-Umphres is pursuing a job creating computer programs specifically for virtual technology.
She is also helping her spouse, Albuquerque jeweler Dana Whitehorn-Umphres, set up a gallery there.
The shop would allow avatars to try on virtual models of jewelry that exists in this world. An avatar could then purchase the graphically depicted item for wear online or a person might click an accompanying link allowing them to buy the real thing for the big bucks in this world.
Either way, Dana makes money.
"For people who are actual entrepreneurs, it's a brilliant environment to try this out," Lynne said.
Way of the future?
Futurist Lowell Catlett, a dean at New Mexico State University, has been speaking around the state about virtual worlds.
He says technologies like Second Life afford businesses one of the first living labs where social behavior can be watched and studied in real time.
Coldwell Banker earlier this year established an office in the virtual world, built more than 500 homes for sale and even purchased a helicopter to give avatars aerial tours of the subdivision.
Michael Wilsher, qualifying broker for the Rio Rancho offices of Coldwell Banker, has been encouraging his sellers— as recently as August— to create their own avatars and start networking and selling through the virtual land.
"I tell my agents, 'Guys, don't wait til everybody's doing it. Do it now. It's a no-brainer.' ''
"Yes, a lot of it is for fun," he says, "but people are actually buying things, and people actually make decisions (in Second Life)."
Second Life is also proving beneficial for education.
UNM's New Media and Extended Learning Department is interested in using the online environment to improve distance learning, says its director, Debby Knotts.
The department obtained property in Second Life through a national entity called the New Media Consortium, which bought an entire island in the virtual world for its members. UNM's plot sits adjacent to the Center for Digital Storytelling, Knotts said, though no UNM building exists yet.
Givens, who works in Albuquerque, uses Second Life more for continuing education than as a money-maker. He just became employed with a marketing company called MindSpace and says he attends a meeting called Coffee with Crayon developed by the marketing company Crayon.
The online forum attracts people in his profession nationwide.
"Everybody just talks shop," says Givens, who adds he also attends an occasional concert through a nightclub in Second Life.
"It is a tool," Givens says of the virtual world. "It's not going to revolutionize business and marketing, but it is going to have an impact. How much depends in part on the goal of the company."
By the numbers
Number of residents on SecondLife.com
Number of people in-world in a recent seven-day period
Amount spent in a 24-hour period
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Apple Sauce, apple butter, baked apples, fried apples, apple crisp, apples in hand, apple bread, apple cake, apple juice. Glory, Hallelujah!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I'd love to hear more (see comments!) from readers about any daily prayer/meditation/reading they use!
Monday, August 20, 2007
If you don’t want to know the ending of this book, don’t read on.
Several people in my church have told me how disappointed they were with the epilogue to Deathly Hallows, when Rowling relates the small doings of all the people who survived the era of Voldemort. What they named their children, what those children’s lives and anxieties were like, a few hints as to what the parents did for a living…it’s a domestic scene so utterly unlike the ferocious unreality of the body of the 7 books that, frankly, it’s a bit hard to take. All that blood, sweat, and tears, so that we’d know that 19 year old Teddy is kissing 18 year old Victoire, (oh, how I hate that Brittish expression “snogging”: I refuse to use it!) and that little Albus Severus is worring himself sick that he will be sorted into Slitherin House at school? It just doesn’t seem quite fitting. It just goes against our ironic natures; it’s a little too happy for UU’s, I think. It’s better suited to our neighbors in the Church of Religious Science from which we return, when we stray, shaking our heads saying, “They’re so….optimistic!” We want a few more scars, more PTSD, another generation family dysfunction. We think that is “realistic.” We UU’s didn’t fall very far from our Puritan tree.
I was disappointed too, but this odd little add-on is growing on me. A bit of a poem by my colleague Lynn Unger put it in perspective. She’s talking about the Lillies of the field and our obsession with our appointments. She ends,
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
Life is supposed to be lovely and happy and free and focused on the small doings of our families and gardens. That’s what Jesus was trying to say. Lynn softens it to reassure us that the stands we take and the accomplishments of our appointments do also matter. But they are derivative. The lily itself is the important thing.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Today's UUWorld.org article comments that a web-based world might be good for liberalism in religion in the same way that the printing press was good for liberalism in it's day. When people started reading the Bible for themselves instead of just hearing sermons about it, it got them to actively thinking about what they believed and which church structures were biblical. Similarly, the information glut on the web and the user-activity of it all might get more people thinking actively about their faith. I hope he's right!
Friday, August 10, 2007
All congratulations accepted!
Now the editors at Skinner House will do their magic on it. No doubt there's a bunch of work left, but this feels like a milestone. My co-author is celebrating with a vacation in England. I'm celebrating by getting back to blogging.
The book will provide resources for spiritual sharing groups, covenant groups, small group ministry, by whatever name. Most of the book consists of materials to help group members think about the topic, so that when they come to the group, they will not be speaking "off the top of their heads." Our title at the moment is Upon Consideration.
Now...back to the garden, the knitting, the reading, and the normal activities of Summer!
Monday, August 06, 2007
It is so hard to hold two contrasting truths at the same time.
The suffering of Hiroshima was horrible, and the Bomb and its possible use has been a scourge on humanity ever since, hovering in the background of nightmares.
It is hard, but it is possible, to mourn the terrible consequences of a thing that was rightly done. Indeed, I believe that if we are not to loose our humanity in the hurly burly of life, it is necessary to mourn the terrible consequences even of things rightly done.
Today is Hiroshima Day. With the now rebuilt city of Hiroshima, we must pray for peace.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
We have several kinds of fruit pureed in the freezer, awaiting the smoothies which are a regular part of our diet. And we'll buy apples, oranges, and grapes through the year. I can't quite wrap my head around the experiment that Barbara Kingsolver made with her family and eat only in-season, local food, though I very much admire her values. (see side bar...it's a great book about food, cooking, gardening, and politics).
Still, the fruit season is a wonderful time of the year, and it's about over now.
Vegetable season is starting up. We have squash, peppers, and tomatoes, with cucumbers and beans on the way. But one does eat those last blackberries with great relish!
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I thought it was a better all around book than earlier ones, which could go off on boring tangents. This one held my rapt attention until the second to last chapter.
I'll wait a few days to give my review, as I realize that not everyone has been able to free up the day of reading required to get through this book. All I can say at the moment is that the book ended without saying anything about the damage done to the survivors of being on either the good or evil side of this epic battle. Only grief was mentioned. So in the end, it was a kids book, rather than a new mythology. It sure was a great way to spend a travel day, though!
I'll be preaching on the book in a few weeks; one of my preaching traditions is to give a kid-friendly and kid-topiced sermon the week after school starts. I think we'll tell the kids they can come in HP costume that morning.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
It took me about 3 months to "get around" to checking it out. I walked in and asked the woman at the desk how one got to use this gym? And she, bless her heart, said, "well, you do have to be at least 50 years old." "Oh, I'm all of that," I said and...double bless her heart, she carded me! Made my day.
In spite of the fact that I've apparently been eligible to use this gym for half a decade, it was clear that if I did, I'd be about two decades younger than the average user. And frankly, I'm not really sure I'll be quite comfortable there. The people using the gym the afternoon I visited were, well, practically frail, gingerly treading their treadmills. And good for them for taking care of themselves! Still, I'm worried that it would feel like showing off to go through my paces. But since it only costs $18.00 a year, (about a third of the monthly rate at my gym), I decided to sign up and try it out.
But I haven't done it yet.
Nor have I been back to the gym I don't like any more.
I'm stuck between self-image and practicality.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I feel like a veritable farm wife, but the fact of the matter is that I live in a very suburban home with a back yard that is about 120*40, and includes a pretty big patch of grass and two patios.
Now that I have your attention I have to admit that the alfalfa "field" is a 3*3 plot, and I "mowed" it with grass clippers. The hay and green alfalfa is the iguana's fare. Like most humans, he prefers prepared, corn-based food, in this case, commercial iguana chow, but the alfalfa is good for him, and much closer to his native diet, so we insist.
Everything else mentioned above is "life sized", although the apricots came from another family's garden. We'll be returning the favor with plum jam in a bit, along with blackberries, which are my husband's project. Our little yard contains five dwarf fruit trees which provide a bounty of fruit for us , the birds, and the neighbors who live on the other side of the wall. Also, at the moment, 15 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, squash, cucumbers, and a bean tower. The beans are not doing too well, but everything else is thriving, along with sunflower plants which will feed the songbirds once the fruit season is over. It's all semi-organic; we use no pesticides and half doses of fertilizer; other nutrients are supplied by compost, which is my husband's major contribution to the family farm.
I know that some people consider food growing and preparation (not to mention composting) to be just the sort of torture that the industrial revolution was supposed to free us from, but I ask, "so what were you freed FOR?" And at what cost? Every plum we enjoy from our own tree saves the world the carbon cost of the 1500 miles the average grocery item travels to get to our table. And of course, the taste of a homegrown tomato is simply unavailable anywhere else.
So I don't make it to the gym much in the Summer. I get my exercise the old fashioned way, and my tan, and my sauna, too. I'm a farm wife.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Although I can see the utility of this scheme as a way to force our capitalist system to recognize some of the costs of their activity which currently are going un-registered and will be paid for by future generations, I have some real questions about the moral value of carbon offset payments for individuals. I prefer actual offsets to voluntary activity like flying to GA or Transylvania. If you are going to spew tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by flying, how about taking the bus to work or lowering your a/c use or planting a vegetable garden? Getting a sticker for your name tag by paying an extra $6.00 at GA is, given the magnitude of the problems facing us, is better than nothing but so lame as to be evidence of denial.
I hasten to say that I was at GA. And I'll be going next year, apparently, as I'm giving a lecture and have a book due out from Skinner House. I'm planning to combine it with some vacation to maximize the benefit of the the plane trip and I plan to just say "no!" to all enticements to go to GA in 09. If our denomination was really serious about reducing carbon emissions, it would put major effort into regional gatherings and go to biannual GA's.
How then would the work get done? Already more than 1/2 of GA attendees are not delegates. They are attending for the workshops, worship services, and networking available at GA, and GA has gotten so big that these things are less and less satisfying. Time to downsize, regionalize, and virtualize both the business and the fun of GA.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
One draw of Ghost Ranch this week was J. Philip Newell, the chaplain of the month, whose little daily prayer book I've used for about five years. Now after a week of listening to him read from his adaptations of scripture, the Celtic Treasure, I'm planning to switch to this book for a while. Such lovely passages; Here's a piece from Genesis, about the seventh day of creation.
On the seventh day there was silence in heaven.
The mighty wind of life was still.
The sea was calm.
The morning stars glistened.
The Earth slept.
The work was finished.
Creation had been born.
And the Mother of all things rested.
The book includes scripture passages and prayers.
There's a link to this book at Amazon.com in the right column.
I spent last week at Ghost Ranch. It is one of Earth's most beautiful places, and the Presbyterians, its current stewards, share it with all who come. I've been to many an off-season ministers' event there, but the accommodations used to be so rough and the service so iffy that we quit going. Reservations lost, no heat, that sort of thing. But a couple of years ago, traveling with a friend who was serving on a Ghost Ranch Committee, we stopped there and I attended her meeting (pretty sad case, aren't I? Attending somebody elses' church meetings in my spare time?) It turned out to be a soul searching sort of meeting and my take away message was, "I like these people. I like the way they think about their faith and their lives and their responsibility to the world. I ought to try coming here on vacation." It took a couple of years, and this year was the year.
I watched the scenery. I learned to weave and turned out a couple of pretty-good- for-a-first- try pillow tops. I found it so absorbing that I hardly thought about my church at all, and that makes for a very successful ministerial vacation. Their resident theologian/spiritual director, Philip Newell offered morning services which were just lovely and open to all. Even the communion service. "These are the gifts of the Earth," he commented about the bread and the wine. "They don't belong to this tradition or any other tradition. All are welcome." It's been a long time since I took communion anywhere except at the UU Christian Fellowship's GA communion service. It felt very good. The only disappointment: it was surprisingly hard to have a good conversation. There were plenty of possibilities for "Where do you come from and is this your first time at Ghost Ranch" kind of conversations, but harder to get deeper. It seemed that most people had come with friends or had been coming for many years. This is something they need to work on.
On the other hand, they've been doing some hard work on their accommodations and have some really lovely new residences, and their phone, computer, and reservations systems seem to be working now, too. Church retreat, anybody?