Monday, September 28, 2009

Alpha Celebration Dinner

We are in the final stages of getting ready for our Alpha Celebration Dinner which will take place at the Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes, 579 Apollo Drive this Wednesday, September 30 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Families are welcome to attend as we have a quality educational program for children.

On Wednesday night we will start out with a dinner that will last approximately 40 minutes. Then we will have a short time of worship. Children will be then dismissed to their educational program while I give a talk entitled, “Is There More to Life Than This?” At the end of the talk I will share some information about the Alpha course which will start the next Wednesday, October 7.

The purpose of the Celebration dinner is to encourage people to get a taste of Alpha. By attending the Alpha Celebration Dinner a person is not obligated to come to the Alpha course.

Alpha is intended for people who have a lot of questions about faith, are new to the faith, or are even hostile to the faith. Wherever a person is on his or her faith journey, we will treat the person with hospitality and honor his or her questions.

I know that many people at Chain of Lakes are inviting their unchurched family and friends to come to Alpha. I am praying for everyone who is inviting. You have my spiritual support. Keep it up!

A person does not need to register for the Alpha Celebration Dinner, but it’s helpful to us. Call the Chain of Lakes office at 651-528-7321 or send an E-mail to colpres@comcast.net.

I can’t wait to see how the Spirit works through our Alpha Celebration Dinner goes. Would you take a moment to ask God to work in a marvelous way?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Evangelism

We Presbyterians don’t identify ourselves as good at evangelism.

I want to see that changed.

For the past month I’ve gone to different Presbyterian churches to speak about our New Church Development. During my talk I always ask the people present to share names of people who live in the geography of our New Church who don’t go to church. I usually get names of people. Then I call the people who gave the names to learn a little more about their unchurched friend and the relationship the person has with their unchurched friend.

During the call I always promise that I won’t be pushy when I contact their unchurched friend.

The stereotype of a pushy Christian is one that we Presbyterians don’t like. In fact if Minnesota Presbyterians want to avoid anything it’s being a pushy Christian. If we had to make a choice I think many Presbyterians would rather contract the H1N1 virus than come off as a pushy Presbyterian.

I’m a New Church Development pastor—and a big part of this work is being an evangelist. I don’t want to be a pushy Christian. I don’t want to get sick either!

I believe that the best evangelism is done through quality relationships with people. We want to have such a relationship with the person that we have the freedom to talk about God and what is going on at our church. We want people to know that we care and love for them. We want what is best for the person. Our inviting to events and our talk about God with others is secondary to that quality relationship.

Over the past seven months I’ve written and talked about my relationship with a gas station attendant who lives in the area. I’ve invited him to every event that we’ve had—and he’s never come to an event. I’ve had times when I was ready to give up on inviting this man to any other event. (How many times do I allow myself to be turned down!!) However I’ve decided never to get on his case for promising to come to an event and then not show up.

I’ve also been very careful over these past seven months not to let our new church be the only topic of conversation between us. I’ve tried to take time to get to know him, his family, what he does on a weekend, where he works. This past week another person from Chain of Lakes and I put up a flyer at the gas station about Alpha. The man who I know wasn’t there. This morning I when I came to buy my paper I pointed to the flyer and asked him, “can you come to the Alpha Celebration dinner” this Wednesday. I knew that he probably wouldn’t be able to because he works on Wednesday nights. He said, “no.” I asked him if his wife would be interested. Then he thought about it—“you know she might be interested in coming.” Then we talked through the logistics of her getting to the Alpha Celebration Dinner. She works until 6 and would get there late. I told him it would be okay if she was a little late. I gave the basic pitch that we will give his wife a FREE dinner with their daughter and we would offer child care. The offer of child care got his attention. At the end of the conversation I suggested that maybe I should just call his wife and talk to her myself. He said that she is working at the gas station tomorrow and that I could talk to her then. Wonderful!!

I’ll be at the gas station tomorrow morning to pick up a newspaper and talk to this man’s wife about coming to Alpha.

At the end of the conversation he said something that really got me excited. “You know,” he said, “what I’m really interested in is a Bible Study. I’d like to get into a Bible Study.” Then I said, “If you organize one among your friends, I’ll lead it.” That got his attention. We talked some more about it. He said, “I don’t know when I would have the time to do it.” I replied, “If we waited to have time to do things, nothing would ever get done.” He agreed. We left it at that. I wished him a good day and away I went.

Wow! I don’t know what will come of all this, but I left the gas station feeling that I had been used by God in a way that I never anticipated. Praise God!

If you have some comments about evangelism and this conversation, please share them in the comments section of this blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

ACORN The new whipping boy?

I have been keenly interested in the controversies over the past year regarding ACORN. I worked as a community organizer for ACORN from October 1987 to August 1988. I also worked for ACORN for about a month in their Brooklyn office in the fall of 1988 when I entered seminary at Union in New York City.

I organized a community group on the South Side of Chicago for ACRIN and then came to the Twin Cities to re-open their office. I ended up organizing two community groups in the Cities—one on the East side of St. Paul and one in the Philips neighborhood in Minneapolis. I also helped organize a delegation from the Cities who attended ACORN’s national convention in Atlanta in August 1988—their convention took place at the same time as the Democratic National Convention.

I have always had a high amount of respect for ACORN’s willingness to do the gritty work of organizing low-income people. I was trained to go door-to-door in low income neighborhoods. During our conversation I was asked to help people identify the problems in the neighborhood and share a vision of how a group of people could solve these problems. I was then trained to sign up the person to become a member of ACORN and collect dues on the spot.

Few other organizations are developing leadership in low-income neighborhoods like ACORN. I wish the church had the willingness to empower low-income people to solve their problems. I’ve heard many sermons from preachers about helping the poor, but I’ve experienced few churches (though some do exist) who look to empower the poor. Or Christians who would go door-to-door in low-income neighborhoods to talk to people.

Obviously I am biased when I reflect on the latest controversies regarding ACORN.

I found ACORN to be a loosely-managed organization. It was my experience that many people came in and out of ACORN as staff people. Many of these folks couldn’t exert the energy that was necessary to work for ACORN. We had many college students who were looking for a job after graduation. We would train them for a day and then send them out into the neighborhoods.

When the Republican party made ACORN a whipping boy last fall during the election I first thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe that anyone would find ACORN to be a threat. I remember how hard it was to get people to come to a meeting in someone’s home. We were happy if 40 people came to a community meeting. Suddenly ACORN was this “evil” organization? That didn’t make sense to me.

I’m not at all defending the behavior by ACORN’s staffers in the infamous video that has gone viral. I see the behavior by ACORN’s staff more an issue of mismanagement than one of corruption. In a column written this week by Tom Blackburn, the Catholic bishops’ Campaign for Human Development cut off ACORN’s funding because of weak management, transparency and fiscal accountability. The link to his column is here:
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/content/opinion/epaper/2009/09/21/a18a_blackburncol_0921.html.

I’ve always believe that if you really want to find trouble, a person can find it. Some conservative staffers dress up as a prostitute and a pimp, go to different offices of ACORN, offer their services, and secretly tape their interactions. That doesn’t pass the smell test.

ACORN’s mismanagement doesn’t pass the smell test either.

But the organization is not this terrible threat to our nation. They are an organization who has a long track of organizing the poor and have at times managed their organization poorly.

I still find it funny that people would find ACORN to be a threat. And I’m crying that this incident has created so much anger. ACORN doesn’t deserve to be anyone’s whipping boy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alpha Celebration Dinner

A week from tomorrow night, Wednesday, September 30 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Chain of Lakes is sharing an Alpha Celebration Dinner at the Hampton Inn in Lino Lakes, 579 Apollo Drive.

At the Celebration Dinner we will enjoy a wonderful dinner, we will sing some songs together, I will give a talk entitled, “Is there more to life than this?” and then I will share some information about the Alpha Course. After the singing we will dismiss the children to a separate educational program. The program for kids will be quite good.

At the Celebration Dinner we will share info about the Alpha Course that will start the next week.

During the Alpha course participants investigate the Christian faith in a relaxed setting that begins with a simple dinner. During ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, people are encouraged to ask questions and discuss what they’ve heard in a no pressure, non-judgmental atmosphere.

We are encouraging everyone in our Emerging Community at Chain of Lakes to participate in the “Just Bring One” campaign. Just bring one person to the Alpha Celebration dinner. Consider wearing an Alpha button (I’m wearing a button every day for the next two weeks), and put up a yard sign.

By coming to the Alpha Celebration Dinner a person is not obligated to attend the Alpha Course.

Alpha is intended for people who are skeptical about the faith, who have a lot of questions about God, and who might even be hostile to the faith. If you know of someone like this, please bring the person to the Alpha Celebration Dinner. I promise that we will welcome this person with caring and open arms; we will provide an accepting atmosphere to the person; and we will receive the person’s questions with a listening ear.

Please keep the Alpha Celebration in your prayers. Even if you live far away from the north metro would you take a moment right now to pray that God will work in this event.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sun Also Rises--and the Reformed Tradition

My on-line Book Club recently finished reading and discussing Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” During one summer in my college years I read a lot of Hemingway—“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Moveable Feast,” and if my memory serves me well, “The Sun Also Rises.” I looked forward to reacquainting myself with the book.

The novel explores the lives of five men and a woman who represent the “Lost Generation.” The book was narrated through the eyes of Jake Barnes, a World War 1 Vet, who became impotent because of a war injury. The novel follows Barnes through his experiences in Paris, a fishing trip in the country, his attraction to Lady Ahsley, Brett, along with the attractions of the other men, and finally a festival and bull fight.

The plot moved too slow for me. It wasn’t until the Hemingway’s description of the festival and the bull fight that I started paying attention to the book.

I really started paying attention to the novel when my Dad shared with me that I shouldn’t look at the novel through the lens of plot, but instead through the lens of character development. He was so right. As an English Professor who taught for almost 40 years in a Community College, I’m not surprised he shared such wisdom.

Nothing earth-shattering happened in the novel. Five men were attracted to a woman; all of the characters drank and caroused; they traveled on a fishing trip and experienced a festival and bull fight. In terms of plot the novel is inconsequential.

But the characters are interesting. And their responses to their life situation and to each other was fascinating.

I think that the characters of the book would be most interesting to folk who have more understanding of post-World War I life. I don’t—and thus I struggled.

In our on-line book club discussion I shared that the novel seemed to explore the theme of aimlessness—principally aimlessness among the characters. I shared that this is a topic that doesn’t grab me. I’m not all that interested in learning more about aimlessness.

Another member of our book club passionately responded that Hemingway’s description of the characters fits within our Reformed Tradition. Calvin taught Total Depravity—and these characters were depraved. The book club participant believed that Hemingway allowed us to understand better the human condition.

I think that’s true. But I guess I’m looking for more when I read a novel. When I look out at the world today I see a lot of depravity—I don’t need Hemingway to understand it. The newspaper chronicles depravity daily.

I am looking for some solutions to depravity.

I guess I won’t give up on my daily Scripture reading. The responses in the Bible to depravity trump any novel.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Core Values


This Sunday, September 20 our Emerging Community is gathering at 6:00 p.m. at Abundant Life Church in Blaine, 1105 117th Ave NE to start developing the Core Values for our congregation. We’ll munch on desserts to start our time together and then get to work on our Core Values. Child Care will be available.

A Core Value is a principle, a quality, a belief, and/or an attitude that is foundational to our community. In his book Church Unique, Will Mancini compared values to motives and said, “Motives [are] the shared convictions that guide the actions and reveal the strengths of the church. They are the values that represent the conscious and collective soul of your church because they express your most deeply held ideals.” (Page 129)

I am very excited about the opportunity to develop the Core Values at Chain of Lakes. If we do the process right, our Core Values will have a tremendous influence on the character of our congregation in the years to come. Coming up with Core Values is a wonderful opportunity for us to shape our future congregation. Most people never have the chance to have the opportunity to determine a church’s Core Values. What an opportunity!

Recently I listened to a radio interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. One of the Core Values of Google is: “don’t be evil.”

Schmidt also shared a bit how this value defines the company. All of the staff at Google know the value, “don’t be evil.” When a new program is offered at Google it has to pass the “don’t be evil” test. The Google staff frequently talk with each other about what “don’t be evil” means. This value has helped define the culture of Google.

In the interview Schmidt was asked the difference between “don’t be evil” compared to “always be good.” It was a wonderful question. There is a difference between the two phrases. Google has chosen “don’t be evil.” The question shows the importance of being very specific with our Core Values.

Some might legitimately ask about the relationship between our Purpose Statement and our Core Values. Our Purpose Statement answers the question, “Why do we exist?” Our values are the principles, qualities, beliefs and/or attitudes that lead us to live out our Purpose Statement. Our Core Values undergird the relationships in our community. Over time our community will develop an understanding behind our Core Values. To take the Google example, how would one define “don’t be evil?” I’m guessing at Google there is a discernable understanding of what “don’t be evil” means. Over time if we articulate and live out our Core Values we will have a discernable understanding of our values.

We will know that we are living out our Core Values when we come to the point of having a Core Value violated. When that happens many in our faith community will rise up and say, “no, this is not who we are.”

For example one Core Value that most of our society has adopted is not to use racist images in our public language. If someone said such a racist word in a public setting—a word that was probably used frequently 150 years ago—that person would be publically reprimanded. The reason for the reprimand is because of our core values.

One challenge of developing Core Values is to drill down so deep that we can all agree that we have clearly articulated the nuance of what we want. For example most churches express a desire to be friendly. But friendly means something different to different people. So we have to drill down into that word, “friendly.” What are we trying to articulate and express about the value, “friendly?” Is it hospitality, is it welcoming, is it acceptance? Each of these words means something different. What are we aiming for? For a Core Value to be powerful we have to find laser sharp precision.

It’s important that we don’t have too many Core Values, no more than five, perhaps four. Just as I want my eight-year old daughter, Hannah—and all eight year olds—to know our Purpose Statement by memory, I want Hannah and other kids to know our Core Values.

It’s important that our Core Values are not reactionary. We want to say what we are instead of saying what we are not.

It’s important that we are passionate about our Core Values. We will be willing to stand up and even fight for our Core Values. If we don’t speak up for our Core Values, then our Core Values are not important enough to us.

It’s important that our Core Values stir something up within us.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the Spirit leads us to develop as the Core Values at Chain of Lakes. Please pray for us as we begin this process. Everyone who has come to an event at Chain of Lakes is welcome to come.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Final Night in the Metrodome

My friend and Chain of Lakes participant Gary Wassam (Wass) and I joined 19,033 other people to watch the Twins play the Indians last night.

Most likely this was my last trip to watch the Twins in the Metrodome. As I was watching the game I tried to conjure up a top ten list of Metrodome baseball moments. The sterile and cold atmosphere (you know what it’s like to be cold inside a baseball stadium? Sitting in the lower left field stands I felt like I needed to wear a parka. I wonder what the air conditioning bill is for the Twins?) didn’t do much for my memories. But honestly I don’t have a hot list of memories of Metrodome baseball. I’ve seen about 30 games in the last 27 years and none stand out.
The Twins have given us two World Series and many Division Titles at the Metrodome, but I haven't watched any of their memorable games in person.

After a non-inspiring experience at Wendy’s, Wass and I beat the very late-arriving crowd to find our seats. The first three Twins batters belted out hits and it appeared for a moment that the game would be a rout. But true to Twins' form the next three batters went down quietly and we only led by one run.

The Twins have offered us moments of brilliance this year, but their moments don’t last and the ensuing reality is not memorable.

Case-in-point—Scott Baker teased us with three no-hit innings and then labored—I mean labored—through the 4th. So a once-promising route turned into a two-run deficit. With the certainty of the Tigers losing, it appeared possible that the Twins would lose this opportunity to gain a game in the standings.

Then the pesky Twins came back. Cabrera homered to tie the game and then the ultimate piranhas—Punto and Buscher—gave us the funniest moment of the game. With Buscher on second, Punto hit a single to right. Buscher ran right through the stop sign that I could see from the left field stands. Buscher didn't see it and would have been out by three feet if the Indians’ catcher had made the play. No matter the lack of style points—the Twins were ahead, and I was feeling it.

I soon announced to anyone within earshot that the Twins were back in the Pennant Race. Which technically is true. The Tigers look terrible, are losing pitchers every day, and have to play the pesky Twins seven more times. So a vision of a Division Title is possible, right?

But these are the Twins and the moment didn’t last. Wass and I left in the bottom of the eighth as a two-run lead with Nathan on the mound seemed secure. I asked my Facebook Friends if leaving in the bottom-of-the eighth is wimpy and my baseball purist friends told me it was. But with a 5:45 a.m. wakeup call looming it didn’t make sense to have a final, teary, sentimental Metrodome moment.

Of course, nothing with the Twins this year is easy. Nathan gave up a homer and then a walk and a vision of a blown save appeared possible. But Nathan got out of the jam and indeed we are only 4 ½ back with seventeen to play—seven with the Tigers. We’re in a pennant race, right?

Well anything can happen in baseball and as Yogi said, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” but if we do have a pennant race it’s not exactly exciting to watch.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

H1N1 and fear

I am not a scientist, so I don’t know how deep a threat the H1N1 flu poses to our world. But I am a communicator, and I know the temptation of scaring people into action. Preachers have a long tradition of scaring people into going to church. The scare tactic is well-known, “if you don’t go to church or have a relationship with God, then you’re going to Hell.”

I’ve been suspicious from the start about the danger of the H1N1 flu—mostly because it seems that our leaders have relied more on fear than facts in sharing information.

Let me be clear: if someone asked me if the H1N1 flue poses an extraordinary threat to our society my answer would be, “I don’t know.”

But I do know that a lot of opinions are being shared and that actions are being taken based on misinformation. (Recently I heard that a church is discouraging its people from holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer, a practice that the church previously followed. I have yet to hear that holding hands can transmit the flu and/or what the level of risk is in holding hands regarding contracting the flu.)

Yesterday a conference was held in Minnesota about the “Flu Pandemic.” I carefully read the article in this morning’s Star Tribune, which can be found here: http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/59253022.html?elr=KArksUUUycaEacyU

I learned the following facts from the Star Tribune:
265 flu cases caused hospitalization; three people in Minnesota died from H1N1
Eighty percent of hospitalized cases were in the Twin Cities metro area
Seventy percent of those hospitalized were younger than 25.

I have to admit that none of those facts have rocked my world. More people have been hospitalized and have died this year from car accidents than the H1N1 flu.

Incidentally I believe it’s irresponsible for the Star Tribune to label this flu the “swine flu.” Why have they not followed most news organizations in calling the flu the “H1N1 flu?”

I did read a lot of opinions and predictions in the Star Tribune article.

Michael Osterholm said that he wouldn’t be surprised if sporting events will be canceled in the next few months because teams have too many players with the flu. I’m going to count how many sporting events will be canceled in the next three months. If more than ten sporting events are canceled because of H1N1 in Minnesota by December 15 I’ll note that in a future blog.

He also shared the opinion that churches should not use communion cups, “We should ban that.”

I found the following document written by the Anglican community in response to the SARS epidemic to be helpful in thinking about using the Common Cup during Communion:
http://www.toronto.anglican.ca/images/up-1SARS_summary_report.pdf

I took a risk this morning in driving to work. I take risks every day. I accept risk when I drink from a Common Cup to celebrate the greatest act of sacrifice in the history of the world. If someone told me that there is a 100 percent certainty that I would get the flu from drinking from the Common Cup, I still might do it.

It’s impossible to legislate against risk.

I understand that the H1N1 flu came up fast and unexpected last spring. I understand because of the swiftness of the H1N1 flu leaders don’t have a large amount of scientific facts about the disease. I understand that the flu could kill millions of people; I understand that the Flu Pandemic of 1918 killed a large number of people.

I’m willing to take some precautions, but don’t try to scare me with opinions.

There is enough fear in the world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Poverty

This week the Census Bureau released statistics that showed the poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent in 2008, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. The poverty rate is the highest it’s been since 1997. The Census Bureau said that 39.8 million people lived below the poverty line last year which is defined as income of $22,025 for a family of four.

One question that I always ask is “how are we doing?” In my mind our country is doing poor when we have so many people living as poor. I have no problem putting it as simply as the following: The United States had a bad year in 2008 because the poverty rate grew so high.

The church has to take some responsibility for this. If there ever was an issue that could unite conservative Christians, moderate Christians, and liberal Christians, I believe the issue is reducing poverty. One theme that is consistent in the Scriptures is the call to help the poor. I don’t believe the only purpose of the church is to be a social welfare institution, but we in the church are called to place social welfare high on our list of priorities. So how is the church doing? Because of the increase in the poverty rate we in the church haven’t done enough.

I shared in an earlier blog that the existence of poverty challenges the heart and compassion of wealthy folks—really the character of our faith. Jesus was very clear in his teaching that when we help those who are hungry, thirsty and without clothes we do it to him. Our willingness to help is a reflection of our own service to Jesus.

A key point—which is often missed in discussions about poverty—is those of us who are wealthy help and serve not only for the benefit of the poor, but for our own benefit. Our willingness to serve is a direct reflection of the compassion and mercy of our own hearts. We who have means help so that we develop a direct relationship with people who are poor. We take steps towards becoming complete Christians through our service.

Question—how many people in poverty do you know?
Question—how willing is your congregation to encourage folks to develop a relationship with people who are poor?

I hope these poverty statistics don’t become just another blip of statistical information that is ignored. I hope that that this information pricks our hearts. I hope that we might say, “enough is enough; we have to do better.”

I liked what Rachel Black wrote in a blog earlier this week at: http://blog.sojo.net/2009/09/10/new-poverty-numbers-old-poverty-definitions/
“To end poverty, we must come up with a comprehensive and holistic set of solutions that contributes to stability and mobility. Such a set of solutions might include access to health care; access to services such as transportation and child care that facilitate work; access to affordable and nutritious food; access to an education that provides both the academic and social foundations for success; and access to financial services that facilitate saving and protect against predatory products and practices. We must develop measurable targets for achieving each goal, and most importantly, we must make a national commitment that holds us all accountable for making progress toward the targets.”

I’m willing to be accountable for making progress at reducint poverty; I hope that the church is willing to be accountable too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grandma Maxine's 95th birthday


This past Monday, my mom’s family gathered to celebrate her mother’s 95th birthday. Grandma Maxine. We certainly celebrated the passing of another year of life, but really when we celebrate my grandmother we recognize her style and panache.

Grandma Maxine was driven to her celebration in a 1925 Model A car. She sat elegantly in the front seat dressed in a classy red and white outfit. As long as Grandma Maxine is around Talbott’s will always do well. Her three children squished in the backseat and enjoyed the ride.

Grandma Maxine got ready for her party by golfing nine holes this past Saturday and three holes on Sunday. How many 95 year olds can do that? How many 25 year olds can do that?

She took up golf in her sixties and has become such a fixture at the Zumbro Valley golf club that she was given a lifetime membership. That course has caused me to confess my use of language more than once. It’s a short, winding, hilly course with small greens that rewards good chipping and putting. When I golf with my grandma she frequently beats me—she would probably beat me if we went today.

One of my favorite golfing memories of Grandma Maxine is watching her putt. She would have a tee in her mouth and swing a pink putter over the ball like a pendulum. Then after she hit the ball she would twist her body almost willing the ball through her twist to go into the hole. Many times it worked!

This week she will probably play bridge at the country club and go to church, where she was the organist for at least 50 years.

She still lives at home in a townhome. She refuses to let anyone cook for her and probably won’t like it that I even mentioned that in this blog.

It was a privilege to celebrate with her this past Monday. I do believe that her entire family came—three kids, seven grandkids, 16 great-grandkids, and one great-great granddaughter.
Grandma Maxine still has plenty of life in her. This fall she is traveling with her children to the Smoky Mountains.

Her life is the type that most of us want to live at ninety-five.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First Day of School

Yesterday I had the privilege of walking our daughter, Hannah, to the bus stop for her first day of school. She’s entering the third grade at her new school in Blaine. For the past month (or so it seems) she’s counted down the days to the first day of school.

The first day of school is special for a number of ways. Allow me to share ten special qualities of the first day of school.

How many days do parents walk to the bus stop with cameras and camcorders? I felt a bit sheepish at first carrying my camcorder to the bus stop, but my neighbor lifted me up by also recording her kids’ every step to the bus. I’m not sure why I record the first day of school at the bus stop, but now I have four recordings of Hannah’s first day of school on camcorder tapes. Recording the bus driving down the street with the parents waving and half of them with tears running down our cheeks—that’s special.

How many days do kids go to bed willingly and without a struggle the night before? Hannah was practically counting down the time until she could go to bed this past Monday night. She looked forward to going to sleep, so she could wake up and experience the first day of school.

How many days do kids put out their clothes they are going to wear on the first day of school? Hannah has had her outfit hung in a special place for many days. It hung out in the open in her room like a monument—a reminder that something special was about to occur.

How many days do parents cook their children a special breakfast? We have a special tradition of my wife, Amy, making pancakes decorated as a smiley face. I even enjoyed that.

How many days do parents talk to each other at the bus stop? I met at least three new neighbors yesterday morning. I know, I know I should get to know my neighbors (and I have), but the first day of school is like a neighborhood reunion—even for those of us who haven’t lived in the neighborhood

How many days does the bus driver patiently wait for all the kids to climb the bus steps and then wait as all of us meddling parents take pictures of the kids who are on the bus? I learned and already forgot Hannah’s bus driver’s name. But at least I know his face and the next time I’m at the bus stop I’ll start a conversation with him.

How many days do parents talk so much during the day about taking their children to school and/or the bus stop? I would guess that most of my friends who use Facebook wrote something on their status update yesterday about the first day of school.

How many days do parents look forward to going home to learn about what happened at the first day of school? There probably isn’t a more anticipated day then the first day of school for parents to come home from work and learn about what happened.

How many days do parents go to the bus stop to welcome their children from the bus when they get home from school? Hannah told Amy that she would like her mom to greet her at the bus stop every afternoon when she gets home from school.

How many days bring back so many memories? I remember my first day of school in third grade—it’s a vague memory, but I still have it. As Hannah got her backpack together the night before the first day of school I shared with her that I used to use “Big Chief” notebooks (remember those?) in third grade. The type of notebook is different across generations, but the need for a writing utensil and for paper is the same.

The first day of school fuses the present and the past in an unique way.

If you have a thought about the first day of school, please share it in the comments section of this blog.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Synod Communicators Wrap-up


Yesterday I attended the second and basically last day of the Synod Communicator’s Conference in Bloomington. Approximately 25 of us met to discuss how we in the church—and especially the PC(USA) can do more than less.

Highlights for me included:
Shane Whisler speaking about Presbyterian Neighbor News. Through Synod and Presbytery communicators he is working on setting up a network through a web site where local people write articles about happenings in their Presbyterian church and/or their Presbytery. The tag line on the web site says it best: “One Presbyterian stream flowing through every Presbyterian neighborhood.” We can sign up to receive information about the local events in our Synod. Check it out at: http://www.pnnews.org/

Listening to Manley Olson speak about preparations for General Assembly. Twin Cities Area Presbytery is attending the next General Assembly next July, 2010. He is the co-chair of the local arrangements committee. I enjoyed his whimsical presentation style. He is a General Assembly veteran—a person who sees General Assembly as a family reunion. Imagine that--we can get together as Presbyterians and be family and not fighters.

Joan Benson gave an excellent presentation on writing for the web. She shared that writing for the web must be shorter, lively, hyperlinked and have a personal voice. She led us through some fun, writing exercises. She gave us a biblical story and also a news story and had us write a version of each in 160 characters. She shares an excellent blog on writing at: http://jmbenson-writing.com/wordpress/

I am impressed that we have main-line communicators who are trying to engage new media and who are trying to figure out how to be effective in this new media. We’ve come a long way from the typed newsletter printed on a stencil! The church doesn’t have to be the bastion of communication methods used by our grandparents. Congratulations to Duane Sweep at the Synod Office for continuing to engage this important issue.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Synod Communicators Conference


Last night I attended the first session of a two-day Communicators Conference that the Synod of Lakes and Prairies is offering. Approximately 25 of us gathered at a hotel in Bloomington to hear a presentation on Google applications by Sarah Moore-Nokes who is on staff at Winnebago Presbytery. (I missed the first worship presentation.) The general theme of the conference is “Doing more with less.”
For those of you who don't know, The Synod of Lakes and Prairies is a governing body in the Presbyterian Church. It covers a wide area of the upper Midwest that reaches from the eastern border of Wisconsin, south through Iowa and Nebraska, north through Minnesota and west through the Dakotas. Within the synod's boundaries are 16 presbyteries encompassing with nearly 900 churches with about 150,000 members.
I am thrilled that the Synod is offering resources to the church on informational technology. One phrase that I frequently use is “Jesus is the most innovative religious leader in the history of the world, but the church is one of the least innovative institutions in the world. Why the disconnect?” I don’t think the church is called to be on the cutting edge of technology, but I also find very troubling the resistance to using technology among church and yes, Presbyterian leaders.

If Jesus was alive in bodily form today, I don’t think that he would be calling his followers to use Facebook, blogs, Twitter, blog feeders, I-Google as a requirement of faith, but I do believe he would be using those features to share the gospel and promote community among his followers.

Sarah Moore-Nokes shared some very interesting thoughts on using Google tools. I learned
· that Google has many tools that church leaders can use to be more effective and tools that will not be a barrier to communication and work. They have a tool for almost everything we do at work. Well almost everything. They haven’t invented an Internet stapler!
· about the concept of Cloud Computing. Instead of storing information on our own desktops, information will be frequently stored in another place—the Internet. We will then access that information. This could come in handy for me as I often work in different locations. I could access a sermon I’m writing from work, then when I go home and I don’t to bring my computer home. I could access it on any computer at home. If I had my I-phone and had 15 minutes I could access the information from my I-Phone and do 15 minutes of work on the sermon. We will be able to access information from multiple types of hardware.
· about I-Google. We can create our own personalized E-Google page that has the information on it for our work. For example, we can put a Google E-mail application on our personalized E-Google page. That application can read all of our individual E-mail accounts. This could come in handy. I have four E-mail accounts. I have one at church that I read frequently. I have a MSN account that I use for personal E-mail. I have a Yahoo account which I use to register on web sites. That account gets all my E-mail solicitations. I have an old AOL account that I look at once a month. Instead of logging onto four different E-mail accounts my Google application can keep me posted in one spot about new E-mails I receive from each account. I know, I know—this feature might not rock my world—but it will save me time—it will help me do more with less.
· blog feeds. Instead of sending information on a mass E-mail, we could have people sign up for a blog feed to receive information from the church. Actually this isn’t really a blog, but a way to communicate. I send E-mails almost every day to the folks in our church. I could have them sign up for a feed and then just put the information into a document that is automatically sent electronically to a group.

I know that much of this information that was shared is basic to some folks and confusing to others. For me it is interesting to learn how to use technological tools in our work in the church.

Today we will hear presentations on Presbyterian Neighbor News; we will hear from Paula Sanders the executive coordinator for Local Arrangements for the 2010 General Assembly; we will hear a presentation on “Writing for the Web;” and we will hear a panel discussion from communicators in the Synod.

I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Developing partnerships for impact

Yesterday I brought 22 backpacks with school supplies to the CEAP office in Blaine. The people in our new congregation and almost every child who came to Vacation Bible School generously donated these backpacks with school supplies. CEAP (Community Emergency Assistance Program) is a community-based, non-profit agency that partners with other resources to assist people in need. Their office is located in the Anoka County Social Services Building.

This was a marvelous response by the people in our new church. As I shared at our Vacation Bible School final gathering, “who says that new churches can’t do mission?” We have 16 families who are part of our Core Group. That means we averaged over a backpack per family. I’m hopeful that this generous response at helping others will be continued a hundred fold in the years to come. I want us to be known as a group of disciples who make an impact on the world.

CEAP’s family services manager, Tom Linman shared with me that CEAP will distribute close to two thousand backpacks with school supplies to children in Anoka County. The need is obviously high.

In the picture on top of this blog Tom is standing in back of a shopping cart that has the backpacks which our faith community donated.

I believe that churches must continue to look for ways to partner with community organizations to address issues in the community. This backpack ministry is just one example. CEAP gave us a list of supplies that was needed; they distributed the backpacks to children who need them. Our task as a faith community was to come up with the backpacks with school supplies.

Sure our faith community could have done this ministry by ourselves. We could have found a list of children who need backpacks, we could have come up with a list of items in the backpacks, we could have arranged for the distribution of the backpacks once we had them. But if another organization will do that—why do we need to do all that.

The point is to make an impact.

Through partnerships the church has a greater possibility at developing the Kingdom.