Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Presbytery Pastors Retreat

For the past 24 hours I had the privilege of attending a Pastors (Teaching Elder) Retreat that the Committee on Ministry of our Presbytery organized.  The Retreat was held at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake and coordinated by Richard Buller, pastor of Valley Community Presbyterian Church.
I was unsure about going until the very last minute.  My wife, Amy, asked me on Sunday night if I was looking forward to the Retreat.  “Yes,” I replied, “but there is part of me that would like to stay and get more work done.” 
My sentiment is exactly why I and all pastors need a Retreat like this.  The highlight of the time for me was being away and allowing myself to decompress for 24 hours at a beautiful setting. 
I arrived at noon on Monday.  I was fortunate to have lunch with Chaz & Janet Ruark—and we hardly even talked about our work!  After lunch Deb De Meester shared some of her learnings about leadership.  At the end of our session she encouraged us to reflect on and understand the images of leadership we carry with us right now.  We had a long break where I was able to go for a long run.  After a wonderful dinner at another resort, we enjoyed worship.  Bill Davnie read some Psalms of Ascents, we sang some eventide hymns, and Chaz encouraged us to rest and relax—keep our stuff in order.
This morning we feasted at breakfast, spent more time talking about leadership, and then feasted at lunch.  We had just the right mix of free time, learnings, worship, and food.
I’m encouraged that this Retreat could become a yearly event for our Presbytery.  I don’t know of any Teaching Elder who doesn’t feel enormous stress in their ministry.  We need to continue to build relationships with each other and be intentional about taking Sabbath.  I’m glad I didn’t give into the temptation of doing more work.  My soul is in a better place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Story about the Holy Spirit

This past Sunday I preached about the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit is one of six gifts with which God blesses us. An image that I shared that helps me understand the Holy Spirit more clearly is “Footprints in the Sand.” The image comes from the popular poem that is shared on many funeral bulletins. We can look back on events of our life and see the footprints of God—the Holy Spirit. Through faith we can understand that God was leading and directing us—we can practically see the footprints. The video and manuscript of the sermon can be found at colpres.org.

Recently I had a story of these footprints. This past June we ended the first round of hiring a Music Leader at Chain of Lakes New Church. The process ended when the three candidates we were ready to interview in person all dropped out for personal reasons. At the time this was discouraging—mainly because we had to start all over in the process.

At the time I was reading the book “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. One phrase that he wrote which resonated with me was “pray as if it depends on God; work as if it depends on you.” I decided to apply this idea to our new search for a Music Leader. I made a pledge to God that I would pray on my knees 15 minutes a day until we hired a Music Leader at Chain of Lakes New Church.

I told God on many occasions that I felt like the persistent widow in the story in Luke 18. I acknowledged during my prayer time that I was pleading with God to bring us a quality candidate. During these times on my knees I experienced many impressions (footprints) from God. While praying before the first deadline for applications, I felt an impression that we would receive new applications that week—and we did.

At that first meeting of our Worship Team I asked the group what we would do if we received more candidates. They all agreed that we should keep an open mind. When I got home that day we received an application from Kristel Peters.

During an interview with Kristel I learned that she was living in Bemidji and looking to come back to the Twin Cities. A friend of hers had found out about the position through a flyer that Betty Long—a disciple at Chain of Lakes New Church—had put at Caribou Coffee. This friend E-mailed Kristel to share the information.

If someone had told me at the beginning of the search process that we would hire someone who was living four hours away and that the person would find out about the position from a friend who saw a flyer at a Caribou in the Twin Cities, I would have said, “Wow.” Only God can do that.

Yes—only God. Kristel will be sharing music for the first time in worship this Sunday at Chain of Lakes New Church. Even more exciting is to see the footprints of God in our ministry. Praise the Holy Spirit!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Please Read Sarah Bigwood's blog!

I asked Sarah Bigwood, who has plenty of experience with 20 and 30 somethings, to write a blog about how she would have structured the Presbytery meeting the other night from the perspecitve of a young adult--people we Presbyterians give lip service to wanting to have involved.

She did a terrific job. Thank you, Sarah.

This blog should be required reading for all Presbyterians. I even suggest giving an exam to all future Presbyterian commissioners on the ideas that she presented!!

How about a Pre-Presbytery event also.

The blog is here: http://sbigwood.blogspot.com/2012/09/where-two-or-more-are-gathered.html?showComment=1347571834684#c5908680774040661165

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Presbytery meeting--long, hot, and cranky

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area gathered for its September meeting yesterday at the Presbyterian church in Shakopee. Mary Ann Archer, a leader at Chain of Lakes New Church, rode down with me. We arrived at 3:00 to finish up some business with the Property Purchase Task Force. I ended up spending my time at a table distributing newsletters from our new church and rocks from our new property. We distributed these rocks at the Property Dedication service on August 22. It was wonderful talking to people at the table and sharing these important mementos from this important event.

Unfortunately the Presbyterian church building in Shakopee is not air conditioned—and the temperature yesterday rose into the 90’s. The sanctuary was warm and somehow I think this affected the mood of the body. People came ready to argue.

And we did—a resolution was brought to oppose the proposed Minnesota state constitutional amendment on marriage. The resolution can be found at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/presbyterytwincities/Presbytery+Packets/September2012/Marriage+Amendment+Resolution.pdf

Those against the amendment argued that taking this position won’t make any difference in the world; that this action takes the Presbytery away from the important mission of making disciples; that the position is not consistent with the Scriptures; and that it won’t further the peace and unity of the church.

Those in favor of the amendment argued that other denominations have taken a position, particular the local Catholic Diocese, that Jesus would be in favor of this position, and not to take a stand on the issue is divisive.

I thought the debate was thoughtful and respectful—and even cut short a bit when the question was called.

The vote was taken by secret ballot. The vote was 99 yes, 39 no, with 4 abstentions.

We then proceeded to the longest Committee on Ministry report I can ever remember. We voted on requests for pastoral changes from Edgcumbe, Buffalo, Church of the Master and Spirit of Life along with two requests for validation for ministry and ordination. These six items took an interminable amount of time to cover.

I was disappointed that John Gay, the pastor whom Presbyterian Church of the Master (PCOM) brought to the Presbytery, was asked if he would take the congregation out of the denomination. PCOM is certainly on the conservative edge of our denomination and many people have wondered if they will stay with the PC(USA). However I don’t think the Presbytery made any friends among the people at PCOM by asking this question in public and then nitpicking about the number of women the Pastoral Nominating Committee interviewed.

Ultimately I think the question is appropriate--as I hope that a pastor won't lead a congregation out of the PC(USA). However I didn't think the timing of the question was appropriate. Feelings in the Presbytery are raw right now in the context of the Presbytery passing its Gracious Separation Policy in June.

We adjourned for a break and were treated to the best meal a local congregation has served at a Presbytery meeting in a very long time.

The speed of the meeting didn’t pick up after dinner. We worshipped together and celebrated Communion and then heard a very long report about General Assembly. We then went back to the Committee on Ministry report—which wasn’t done yet! We listened as another candidate for ordination read a Statement of Faith and then was questioned.

At this point I went into the lobby to find a comfortable chair and sit by a door that had a breeze. I wish I hadn’t as Margaret Thomas made a common-sense motion to streamline Committee on Ministry reports to the Presbytery. Unfortunately this did not pass.

At this point the Presbytery started clapping when speakers said their reports were short. I was the very last speaker and spoke for two minutes about the progress of Chain of Lakes New Church and the property dedication we held last month.

We adjourned about 9:30 and staggered out of the hot building.

During the meeting the comment was made about the importance of empowering young people in our congregations and the Presbytery. If we’re really serious about this we will change the way we do business. Not too many young people want to sit in a warm building for five and a half hours while their kids are home. My wife and daughter went to a music concert last night to commemorate September 11. I wish I could have been with them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Day of School

This morning kids from all over the state of Minnesota gathered at bus stops for school—most of them going to the first day of school. Our daughter, Hannah, went to Roosevelt Middle School for her first day of sixth grade. I am very much looking forward to going home to hear how her day went.

Amy started a tradition of taking pictures of Hannah by a chalkboard on the first day of school. As we were taking the pictures Hannah’s eyes noticed the other youth her age walking to the bus stop. “Hurry up,” she said (in a pleasant voice) as we took pictures. She’s getting to that age where she doesn’t want to appear to her friends to be too dependent on her parents.

When she got to the bus stop she found her girl friends from the neighborhood—I think there are seven of them. They stayed together in a group as all the other Middle School kids in our neighborhood gathered at the bus stop—nineteen in all.

I’m grateful for everyone who gives their time to help educate our youth. This past Sunday at Chain of Lakes New Church we prayed for teachers and administrators and custodians and principals and bus drivers, and cooks and hall monitors and anyone else we could think of who help in education. They are valuable and certainly undervalued by our world.

I have no fear of sending Hannah off to Roosevelt Middle School for her first day of sixth grade. I legitimately trust that every adult who will be in contact with her is ready to help educate her. I know that our public schools are criticized harshly—and sometimes fairly—but today is a day to celebrate what we have. In our neighborhood nineteen kids got on the bus for a new journey—and we have confidence that it will be successful.