Monday, October 31, 2011

The story of Brenda

At Chain of Lakes we're focusing on Spiritual Gifts for the next month. We want to create a system where people identify their gifts and then are equipped to use them in At the end of my sermon yesterday I shared the story of Brenda. I'd like everyone reading this blog to reflect on this question, "what would happen to Brenda in your church? Are you willing to re-organize the way you do ministry so that Brenda could live into her dreams?" To watch the sermon go to:

Let me wrap up this sermon with a story about Brenda. This isn’t a historically true story. But a story like hers has happened many times in many different churches. Brenda has the spiritual gift of administration. What that means is she has the God-given ability to organize and manage information people, events, and resources to accomplish the objective of a ministry. She also has a deep passion to help kids with autism. She didn’t know that she had the gift of administration.

She moved to a new city. There was a church near her. It was called “Recruitment Presbyterian Church.” She attended one Sunday. When she walked in the door of the church she was greeted warmly. The people of the church were glad to see her. They were generous and kind and engaging. After attending a few Sundays Brenda decided to connect with the congregation.

One Sunday she went to worship and someone made a passionate plea to help with their hospitality ministry. The church needed door greeters. They really needed someone to say “yes.” They didn’t have anyone for the next Sunday and the person doing the announcement said he would be willing to get on his knees so that someone would be a door greeter. Brenda thought—I can do that. So she signed up. She was a door greeter about twice a month.

Often when she would drive home after worship she thought about some of the kids she knew who had autism. Every now and then she wondered if Recruitment Presbyterian Church would start a ministry to help these kids. One day she shared her ideas with some of the good folks at Recruitment Presbyterian Church. They responded by nodding their head and saying “good idea.” They never gave her any direction or ideas about taking the next step.

A while later she was talking to another parent from Recruitment Presbyterian Church about her dream of helping kids with autism and the parent said, “you know, we’re just happy that kids come to Recruitment Presbyterian Church and when they are here that they behave. I don’t think our congregation would know how to handle kids with autism.” When she sat down and reflected on this conversation she thought, “the people are really friendly here, but they just want warm bodies. They don’t want to live out their dreams.”

One Sunday a friend of hers at work invited her to attend Spiritual Gifts Presbyterian Church. She had no reason to attend because she liked Recruitment Presbyterian Church. She said, “yes.” When she came to the door she was greeted by a man who was warm in welcoming her. Later that day the man told her that he had the gift of hospitality and he loved using that gift to greet people. During worship the Lay Leader read a story about Jesus from the Scriptures that opened up the story to her in a new way. She had heard the story many times, but never she had never heard it read in such a compelling way. Her friend told her that people could do readings in worship if they had the gift of teaching. After worship she was amazed at the presentation of the food at fellowship. She had never seen so many different types of food presented in such a beautiful way. Later she found out that people could only serve fellowship if they had the gift of serving.

That week a person shared a coffee mug with her at her door. She enjoyed the two minute conversation with the person. She found out that the person who brought the mug had the gift of evangelism. When she was talking to her co-worker that week she mentioned that people really liked serving at Spiritual Gifts Presbyterian Church. Her co-worker said that the congregation had made a switch a few years earlier to a system of shared ministry. People weren’t recruited anymore. They were encouraged to identify their gifts and then encouraged and supported to use them in order to live out their dreams.

She went back to Spiritual Gifts Presbyterian Church the next Sunday and while she was there she took a Spiritual Gifts inventory. When she did it she discovered she had the gift of administration. She always had thought she had this gift, but now it was confirmed. Later that week someone from Spiritual Gifts church called her. “Could I come over and meet with you,” the person said. “I know you’re not part of our congregation, but I want to encourage you to use your gift of Administration. It doesn’t have to be for our church, but we know that if people use their gifts the world is a better place.”

They made a date for lunch. During the conversation Brenda she shared that she wanted to help kids with autism. “That’s wonderful,” the person said. “It would be a natural for you to use your gifts of administration to help these kids. You could do that in a church or not. With the gift of administration you have the ability to organize a program that would help these kids.”

When she heard that she realized that this was true. Brenda decided to go to the local school and share with the counselor her desire to help these kids. Surprisingly the counselor said that she had been thinking herself about designing a program to help kids with autism, but she needed someone with the gift of Administration. Brenda was awe struck. She had the gift of administration, and she was willing to use it. The counselor knew of a program that they could do, but the problem was they didn’t have a place to hold the program. Brenda responded, “I’m sure that Spiritual Gifts Presbyterian would host this.” She was so excited that she drove immediately over to the church. The pastor just happened to be available. Brenda shared with the pastor that the church had helped her identify Administration as a spiritual gift. That had led her to talk to the counselor about helping kids with autism and now they needed a place to host a program. Would Spiritual Gifts Presbyterian Church do it.

The pastor smiled. Of course they would do it.

Soon Brenda ran an one-day after school program for kids with at Spiritual gifts Presbyterian Church. Her gifts and passions had intersected. The program made a difference.

About two months later someone called her from Recruitment Presbyterian Church. Brenda hadn’t been to worship there for those two months. “We’re filling out the greeter schedule for the next three months,” the person said on the phone. “We have some slots to fill. Would you be a greeter?” Brenda thought to herself. She liked the people at Recruitment Presbyterian Church. She didn’t mind being a greeter; it wasn’t that hard. But she was having such a blast living out her spiritual gifts of administration and living out her dream of helping kids with autism. She felt guilty saying no, but there was no way she could say no to her gifts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being surprised by God

One of my delights is being surprised by God. This past Sunday was M.E.A. weekend in Minnesota. Traditionally this is a day of low worship attendance in churches as many families are traveling out of town. Amy, Hannah, and I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of M.E.A. weekend visiting with friends in Rochester.

I woke up very early this past Sunday thinking and reflecting on what was going to happen in worship at Chain of Lakes. I wasn’t anticipating a large turnout of people, and I wasn’t anticipating that we would have any first-time guests. But I also know from experience that God frequently will surprise me.

So I prayed the following—“Lord I’m not expecting a large turnout today at Chain of Lakes, and I have no reason to think that we will have any first-time guests, but would you surprise me? This congregation is your congregation, and I’m asking for your Spirit to work in a wonderful way today.”

Wow—was I surprised. We had a higher attendance than our weekly average; much higher than I anticipated. We had two families visit us for the first time. They both came because they found the web site of our congregation— During worship I offered the ritual of anointing. As Kellie Burriss—the Music Director at Chain of Lakes—sang, I invited people to approach me. As this happened I would ask each person if they had a particular prayer request. I would then anoint the person’s forehead with oil and pray with them.

A large number of people came forward to receive anointing. Some were in tears. These were special moments complete with the pregnancy of the Spirit.

Praise God for surprises. No matter what we think will happen in worship or in the church, God is always working in wonderful and surprising ways. I pray that all of us will keep faith in this surprising God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Speech by Father Joe Keefe

I recently received a speech given by Father Joe Keefe. He was previously the priest at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Rochester. I was so moved by the speech, that I wanted to share it on this blog. Father Keefe is struggling with Lou Gehrig's disease

"One question for people who are not overly distracted is, How do I have eternal life with Jesus and His Body? Or How do I get to heaven. I have discovered something about that question by being sick. And I read over the readings for the coming Sunday about the wedding garment. and the commentary by St. Catherine of Siena says that the wedding garment is poverty, just as I had discovered. So, How did Jesus /Heaven give me that necessary garment and what is poverty?

How did I get poor? My speech got worse in January 2010 and I got some honest feedback that I was not getting better as I thought. I asked the friends on our priest vacation, “How do I know when I should resign?”To sum up their answer, “How about now.” I went to Bishop Quinn “I won't get enough rest if stay pastor of Pax.”
He accepted that and said, “Joe you are still a priest.”

As I went I said to myself “What have you done?” Given up this parish leadership? I had to admit that some of my importance came from being the pastor of Pax. And for sure one source of my importance is knowledge. And the speaking of knowledge. These were going away and I was becoming poor. Next my joy in eating was taken away by weak lips, tongue and swallowing and in September I noticed a a shortness of breath. Another poverty. Now every time I want to contribute I can't. I am a poor child.

Then comes the second Sunday of Lent the Transfiguration. I have never liked to preach on this. But this I time I saw something different because Christ is making me poor. I was attracted to words from heaven,” This is my beloved Son.” not, this is my miracle worker. Not, this my teacher. This is my Son. So am I the beloved son because I am baptized into Him. You and I are beloved sons. For persons that have wedding garments, that is the only source of their importance. I do not give it to myself either. I am poor.

Poverty is not limited to the financial, although I'm getting poorer that way, too, because Medicare is my primary provider now.

It is like Jesus told the Rich young man who went away sad, “get rid of all your sources of importance, be poor, and follow me. Jesus does not play games Either He is the source of your importance or you are on your own and on the road to purifying fire.

Opportunities for being poor:
Last Tuesday morning there were 3 blood draws that didn't work with all the painful poking into my tired veins. Then a call that they couldn't download the talk I wrote that was to be read for me at 90 priests' gathering for my 40th and I said, “no problem, I print another. But all of sudden my printer did not work and my laptop froze. That's an opportunity to be poor, to have the wedding garment.

So having the wedding garment is not protection against mornings like that because He wants to know if I consider Him the only source of my importance, still more, that I am the beloved son in the midst of everything going wrong.

You will be given that garment each day. How do you keep it on each day?

Offering is: I am poor and you God are rich in Love beyond measure so I offer this to you so that I can walk with You.

When I had the Tuesday morning of poverty, I offered continuously. How? I wasn't born yesterday, just seven months ago. So I know Him and and His faithfulness and I offered my anger, sadness, my being overwhelmed. What does He do? He shows possibilities. I had given the talk to a friend and I called that friend who brought the copy to me. The rest of the day of full of grace. The talk was met with a standing ovation by three bishops and all the priests. How lavishly He treats this poor child.

When we went to a lake home near Hayward in late August we forgot my week's supply of daily doses of medicine. I was angry and wanted to throw something. But then the Lord woke me up and said “I am here! Are you?” I said “Yes and I offer this to you.” The first thing I did was to turn to the person that forgot it and say, I forgive you.” He always opens possibilities when you offer. That was just the beginning. Our cell phone would not get a signal. So two trooped out into the twilight and found, on a lonely driveway, two young boys, who let them call on their phones. They called Maureen on her cell phone Sunday night as she and Dave came in the door from the Cities. She called Msgr Don Schmitz, she knew his cell # because he's a friend. Don was coming to Hayward later and waiting for Fr. Fr. Tom Jennings from Luverne who was delayed. Next, Maureen called the Apartments where I live and on this Sunday night got someone, who let her come, they questioned her, and then let her into my apartment to get the medicine. She called Fr. Schmitz back and Maureen and Dave drove to Cannon Falls to hand off the goods to Fr. Schmitz. Fathers Schmitz and Jennings bought the medicine with them. He put every person in place and He gave me Peace, when I would have given myself anxiety.

Do not censor your opportunities for wearing the wedding garment.

Being sad, angry, jealous, lustful, prideful, overwhelmed, not knowing, getting what you wanted and still being restless etc. These are opportunities to realize poverty, how poor I am. Last Tuedsy was St. Francis Day. St Francis was called Il Poverello, The Little Poor One. The church is as certain about his wedding garment as she is about Mary's garment; For she said, “You have looked with favor upon your lowly servant.” Jesus let himself die as only a poor man dies. You can live this way every day, with assurance that you are being saved now, and eternally. Then, and only then, can all the way to heaven be heaven as St. Catherine said.

Thank you all for helping me with your prayers and other ways of caring so I could receive this gift of Lady poverty."

Fr. Joe Keefe

October 8-10, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fun service at Chain of Lakes

St. Francis day (he was the patron saint of animals) was this past Tuesday, October 4. Instead of organizing a separate service at Chain of Lakes we decided to devote an entire worship service to animals, which will be Sunday, October 9. We won’t bless animals, but instead will explore the relationship between God and animals and God and pets. We’re going to have fun answering questions people have about pets, hearing a faith story about a woman’s relationship with her pets, and being blessed by very special music. All are welcome!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Attending Leadership Institute at Church of the Resurrection

Last week five folks from Chain of Lakes joined me in attending Leadership Institute at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Kansas. This church was started in 1990 has grown to be one of the largest Methodist churches in the country. Every fall they share a Leadership Institute event. Through small classes, large group talks, and worship participants learn how Church of the Resurrection has become so successful. This was the sixth time I’ve attended Leadership Institute, and this was the largest group I’ve taken to the event.

By far the best workshop for me was lead by Martha Grace Reese. She has developed a wonderful process for mainline churches develop the practice of evangelism. I bought all four of her books and look forward to using them at Chain of Lakes. One quote she said that resonated with me is “it’s hard to teach people how to do evangelism if we are not clear on why we do evangelism.” At Chain of Lakes we have done a lot of work on the “hows” of evangelism. We could grow in teaching people the “whys.”

Adam Hamilton once again did an extraordinary job of teaching. He shared five basics that every church needs to get right. He said that the basics are: 1) It’s all about relationships with people; 2) Leaders clarify the purpose; 3) Leaders help churches or ministries to discern God’s vision; 4) Leaders honestly face shortcomings and pursue excellence; 5) Meaningful, moving, well-led worship.

Bill Hybels spoke on Friday morning. He shared five ideas that he would share with church leaders. He imagined himself on his death bed and being asked to share these five. They are: 1) Vision—taking people from here to there; 2) Get the people engaged; 3) make worship memorable; 4) pace yourself for the long haul; 5) pay attention to whispers from God.

The best part of the conference was to listen to the excitement of the folks who attended from Chain of Lakes. They were touched by the ministry and mission of Church of the Resurrection and very interested in taking some ideas back to the north metro for ministry. I’ve shared that I rate a conference a success if one idea is still implemented in six months. I’m hoping and praying that six ideas will be implemented from this conference in March 2012.

Notes from each workshop and plenary session will soon be posted at