Thursday, July 27, 2006


A few years ago a group of religious folks had a fuel consumption awareness campaign going with the thought-provoking slogan "What Would Jesus Drive?" And while it's fun just to think about whether today the Messiah would drive a hybrid, or perhaps a beat-up pick up truck (can't you just picture it...with all disciples all riding in the back? Except James and John of course--they'd be arguing over who gets to ride "shotgun."), or whether, as my friend Amy suggests, Jesus rides the bus, the truth is that most of the time, back in the day, Jesus walked.

That's what I was thinking about today as I walked through downtown Silver Spring with a group from the AIM (Action in Montgomery) strategy team and a representative from the State Highway Administration's Department of Pedestrian Safety. One of AIM's goals is to increase pedestrian safety at several of the most dangerous intersections in downtown Silver Spring by doing things like making sure intersections have crosswalks, that pedestrians have enough time to make it across the street, and ensuring that pedestrians are visable to drivers. It seems like an easy goal to achieve, but since there are three major roads that people use to get into and out of DC that cut through the heart of downtown Silver Spring and tons of pedestrians, too, it isn't as simple as it seems.

As we walked and talked, I looked around and thought about all the people getting places on foot. There were young professionals in their suits and sneakers; moms pushing hot, sleepy kids in strollers; carefree teenagers running across the street; people leaving work, or headed there; people using wheelchairs, and older folks walking with assistance. And I thought about why it was that we, a handful of church folks, were out in the 90 degree heat talking about crosswalks.

The first reason is because a community is made up of people, and when people can get out of their cars (and office buildings and subdivisions and condos) and meet each other on the street that helps build and strengthen our community. But in order to do that they need to feel safe and secure out on those streets.

And the second, and no less important reason, is because--let's face it--most of the people who walk to get places do it because they don't have any other way of getting around. So pedestrian safety is also a justice issue, because everyone deserves to be safe.

And ultimately, we were out there, because that's where Jesus would have been, out on the streets, walking, meeting people in the midst of their comings and goings and loving them. So I felt a little closer to Jesus today--even if I do normally drive an SUV.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

a funeral is a wedding with God

On Sunday afternoon I was visiting with a Woodside member who has been recovering these last two weeks from back surgery. She had spent Sunday morning in the ER getting IV fluids because she had gotten dehydrated. Jean has a wonderful spirit, great attitude and a deep faith, all of which are really helping her in her healing. But at one point during our visit she said (only partly joking, I think), "it's awful getting old--don't do it!" I responded that I thought getting old was probably better than the alternative. She shot back without missing a beat, "Hey, you'd better practice what you preach!"

Of course we Christians do believe that there is something better than this life. A place without suffering or pain. Jesus described this life to come as a heavenly banquet and as a house with many rooms. I like those images. They give me strength and hope, and I do believe it (even if I am not, just yet, ready to go there).

I also like this poem by Ruth Foreman, and so I thought I would share.


A funeral is a wedding with God
betrothed to him
we are at death finally married
his from the beginning of beginnings

death a time of white flowers
veils lifted
and love from the whole spirit

i will tell my children
yes wear black on the outside
tribute the scars of this world
but wear light on the inside
for the glory of the one who passed

this is the day of celebration
the day of love and arms to wrap you whole
for the rest of your lives

and i will tell you mother that I am proud to help you gather your gown
your thread your stitches shoes and stockings
i am proud to be your waiting girl for that day
i apologize if i ever made you feel rushed or uncomfortable
i will remember the preparation and need
i will remember the pre-wedding days
i will remember them past my own
and i will tell my children
i will tell them

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's Not the 1950's Anymore

Last week I was in Boston for a gathering of young clergy from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership fellowship group that I have been lucky enough to be a part of the last two years. Whenever I am with these folks I learn so much--not only from our presenters, who are almost always excellent, engaging and challenging--but also from my colleagues, 20 or so other pastors in their 20's and 30's serving churches of different denominations across the country.

One of our presentations this time was by Nancy Ammerman, a researcher, author, and professor of Sociology of Religion at Harvard. She talked with us about the challenges facing our churches in a changing society. Here are some of the highlights:

In case you haven't noticed...
It isn’t the 1950’s anymore.

Most of the people coming to church these days aren't a stereotypical middle class family consisting of mom, dad and 2.5 kids. Today, the church members you get:
· Haven’t been there all their lives
· Aren’t related to anyone who’s already there
· May not be coming “for the children”
· Probably didn’t grow up in your tradition or any tradition
· Don’t live in the neighborhood
· Probably found you on the internet
(But of all the demographic groups most likely to seek out a church, the "married with kids" group are still the most likely.)

Therefore, the models of church that are stuck in the 1950's are not well suited to the world we live in.

A Glimpse of The Changing World We Live In:

  • Growing numbers of immigrants: 11% of US population was born somewhere other than the US; born in places other than Europe (Latin America 41%, Africa/ Caribbean 10%, Asia 26%) and they aren't just immigrating to the coasts--they are coming to the South, Mid-West, small towns and rural areas.
  • Mobility: 49% of people live in same house as 5 years ago; 25% moved within county in the last 5 years; 25% moved in from outside the county—therefore there are fewer people with long term connections to our community.
  • Connectedness—80% of the US population has some kind of access to the internet, the majority of people have more education; this impacts the experiences and expectations that people bring into the church.
  • Congregational membership: fewer people are life long members of the same church. The churches with the highest stability are Roman Catholic and African American churches; the churches with the most people "switching" are Pentecostals, and sectarian groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they have more converts.
  • Family composition: in 2000— 23.6 % of the population was married with kids (and this group is decreasing), 9.2% were single with kids (a stable number), 28.1 % were married with no kids (increasing), 16.6 % live alone (increasing), 9.2 % are seniors who live alone seniors (increasing), 13.3 % are "other households" (increasing).
  • Beginning of the last century, in the majority of homes one parent would die before the last child left the house so the empty nest phenomenon only came about in the last century.

These are some of the interesting trends in American society. And yet, every congregation is a constantly evolving, intentionally created community, therefore, you can’t make assumptions about the status quo.

So how does the church change to meet and engage with our changing society? Dr. Ammerman had some ideas. She called them "Leading in the Midst of Change: Seven Habits for Adaptive Leadership" (note the word is not leaders, but leadership—because leadership is a shared task)

  1. Adaptive leadership requires curiosity about the world:
    Walk around, drive around and hang out
    Talk to planning departments and get census data
    Read local newspapers
    Get to know public officials
    Talk to your own people
  2. It also requires honest self-assessment:
    · Ask: “How we do things here” and get to know your congregation’s culture
    · Examine the unspoken assumptions about “who we are”
  3. And entrepreneurship—which means imagining resources for getting things done
    · Resources come in all shapes and sizes—people, skills, energy, space, infrastructure, and money
    · Remember that connections are resources, too
  4. Playful experimentation—having a sense of humor
    · Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
    · Be ready to try things that seem a little crazy
    · Don’t be afraid to fail
    · Be ready to laugh when you do
  5. Adaptive Leadership should make it dramatic
    · Tell stories about who you are becoming
    · Create visual symbols and images (like using different kinds of bread for communion in a congregation that is multicultural)
  6. Practice Deep Hospitality
    · remember that newcomers don’t know anyone, don’t know all the rules, don’t know how to get things done, and may not know much about your tradition
    · Sunday morning is not an “in house” morning and worship should be designed to welcome new people
    · Remember that minorities of any sort will feel like outsiders
  7. Be Ready for Conflict
    · Congregations without conflict do not change
    · Yes, a few people just might leave
    · People will chafe as much over how things are done as over what is done. So negotiating the “how” is the important challenge for leadership

And The Eighth Habit: Spiritual Discernment. Pray, pray and pray more. Let God give the vision, and the Holy Spirit provide the power. With God all things are possible.

Well, friends...looks like we've got plenty to keep us busy! And I am really looking forward to working with you all at Woodside to build our adaptive leadership and engage our community. Be sure to let me know what you think about this, too, OK? You can post your comments below.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Welcome to Woodside

It's a steep climb up this learning curve, the one that comes from transitioning from associate pastor to "pastor-in-charge" (in charge of exactly what I am still not sure!). After a long day of moving that nearly didn't happen, week one at Woodside UMC began with a Spirit-filled worship service. We celebrated communion and there was a liturgy to celebrate my appointment which involved many new (to me) and wonderful people. Everyone was excited to meet us and many people told us how glad they are to have us there--it was a great welcome.

But then the work week began, and with it came building issues, illness, death and dying, assisting neighbors in need...and it culminated with an accident on Georgia Ave. in which one of the drivers crashed into our lawn, building and the church sign which still reads: Rev. Rachel Cornwell, Welcome to Woodside! (Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt!)

It has been a little overwhelming, but it has also been a great first week. There was that really engergizing meeting with the outreach co-chairs who caught me up on all the cool ideas they have for the church in the coming months including an all-church picnic (August 13th!), a fall open house, and Wednesday nights at Woodside with dinner and a program for the community. There was a great celebration of the life of Rosemary Louft and the passing of Helen Sherbert, two long-time, faithful members of the church and a gathering of family and friends, and the sharing of memories, and I had the priviledge of being a part of that. And there were all the people who stopped by to talk, the introductions and getting to know each other that's made me feel like Woodside is becoming my home.

Best of all God has clearly been present this week--opening up opportunities, giving us fresh energy, watching over and protecting us. And like that sign, I'm still standing!