Monday, September 25, 2006

Hard Sell

Several Woodside leaders and I went to a great workshop at Wesley Seminary on Saturday on Fruitful Congregations. The keynote speaker, Rev. Tom Berlin, is the pastor at Floris UMC in Herndon, VA and a very inspirational speaker. One of the things he said was that during his new member classes he tries to talk people out of becoming members. What he means is that, while the bar for coming to and participating in the church and its ministries is pretty low, to become a member of a church is, and should be, a significant commitment. And we should be up front about that when people are considering becoming members.

So when I had my first new members' class at Woodside yesterday, those words were ringing in my heart. We began the afternoon with everyone introducing themselves, sharing a bit about our life stories as well as our faith stories. Many people shared something about what they are looking for in a church: spirited worship, open hearts and minds and respect for diversity, a commitment to children. One man said what drew him to and excited him about Woodside was that it reminded him of the church he grew up in because when he was there the church was in a growth stage and all the families worked together to make the church great. He said that he thought Woodside, too, seemed to be in a growth period and he was excited to be a part of that.

I took them on a tour of the building and while we walked, I talked about some of the ministries that go on at Woodside. There's a lot to be excited and enthusiastic about right now, and it made me happy to share that with these folks and invite them into it, too. As we walked, many people remarked at how big the building was, and it was as clear to them, as it is to me, that our facility represents our greatest opportunity, but is also our greatest financial burden.

So at the end of the class, when I got the the part about what it means to be a member, I didn't hold anything back. I told them honestly--there's a lot of great things and great people here. You will love the sense of community, the diversity, the opportunities for mission and ministry that are available to you at Woodside. But, it's also going to be hard work. We need people with fresh ideas and energy, people who are willing to give of themselves in every way--spiritually, physically, financially--to be members here. I told them that if they aren't ready for this level of commitment, it's OK. They are welcome to be a part of our worshipping community, take part in classes and ministry opportunities, even serve on most committees without being a member. But if they were ready to jump in, there was a place for them to serve, to help develop the vision and mission of this church.

And something incredible happened. We went around the circle and everyone except one person--ten people--said: I'm ready. They knew what they were in for and they are excited. They are passionate and hopeful and faithful. And I think they will fit in well at Woodside. They will find that there are a lot of other people here who share this same love for and commitment to Christ's church. (And, by the way, I have the utmost respect for the woman who said she wasn't yet ready to join, because she, too understood that this was a commitment not to be taken lightly).

You know, joining a church is not like joining a country club. It's not like signing up for a magazine subscription or tickets to a concert series. If we need an analogy, I guess I would say that it's more like joining a gym. Just being a member doesn't really get you anywhere. You have to go regularly and sweat and be sore and tired sometimes in order to get results. But the result is a healthier life. When we really join a church and give it our all, we ultimately get more out of it. And I believe that a commitment to Christian discipleship lived out in community really does make all the difference in our lives.

Alright then...Let's get to work!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rev. Mom

When Nora was just a few months old I took her with me to a leadership seminar. At some point I recall that we were asked to introduce ourselves and say something about our ministry. I said my name and where I was the pastor, and that I was currently on maternity leave with this new baby, "not that that has anything to do with my ministry" I added quickly. One of the other women pastors (who also had a baby there with her) said gently, "No... it has everything to do with your ministry."

Perhaps I was just too new at the whole mom thing to get it (or maybe it was sleep deprivation, who knows) but everyday I become more aware of how much being Nora's mom shapes my ministry. This toddler stage, in particular, has taught me a lot that has also been helpful to me as a pastor.

Just a few lessons I've learned lately:

Patience, Patience, Patience. I am not always as patient as I should be, but being a mom has certainly helped me grow in this area. Everything is a learning experience for a two year old, and lots of times they just can't be rushed from one thing to the next. Plus, testing their wills is part of our developing relationship as she becomes her own person. Does that sound like church to you?

Eat your Veggies and Take a Bath. Sometimes we have to do things that we don't like just because they are good for us. And, unfortunately, that's something that doesn't change no matter how old we get to be.

Life is Good. When you look at the world through the eyes of a toddler, there is so much more beauty and joy and love in the world. One of Nora's favorite words these days is "Wow!" Just about everything is "wow" for her, and it helps me appreciate the world around me a lot more. Plus Nora is the kind of kid for whom every person she meets is a potential friend, and that reminds me, too, to see everyone as a child of God.

Remember What's Important. There's always more work to do in the church, but sometimes the most important thing I need to do is read a bedtime story with my little girl.

This past Sunday one of my church members saw me walking around in the sanctuary before the service carrying Nora on my hip and said to me, with a mix of kindness, joy and surprise: "When I saw you with that baby, I thought to myself, I just can't believe that's our pastor!"

Yep, that's me. Rev. Mom.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

(Last) Monday @ Mayorga

I always feel a little nervous starting a new thing. I wonder: will people come? and what might happen when they do? will people connect with each other? will they learn, be challenged, have fun?

Well, what a relief it was this past Monday, when we started our monthly coffee & conversation group Mondays @ Mayorga, and it was great. There was a really neat group of 14 people who came, including long time members of the church as well as newer people (even one woman whose first Sunday was last Sunday--that was really cool!). Because it was September 11th, we talked about our memories of that fateful day five years ago and how our lives and perspectives have changed since. There was some very powerful sharing that happened, and one person said that she thought that being away from the church allowed people to talk about things that people don't talk about at church where they may feel more guarded.

So if you missed it, here is the meditation that we used for our first Mondays @ Mayorga. Feel free to post your thoughts below and keep the conversation going. And come join us again on October 9th at 8:00 PM.

Where were you/what are your memories from September 11th, 2001?

How would you finish the sentence: “After (or since) September 11th…”?

September 11, 2006 Meditation by Rev. Vicky Starnes

Psalm 27:1-10, 13-14

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Pondering and meditating: On this anniversary of September 11th, what words from the psalmist bring us comfort and hope years after the tragic events of 2001? What does God desire of us now?

Prayer: Loving God, we remember those who died on this day five years ago. Send comfort and hope to their families and to all of us, as we strive to be your people. Amen.

Recommended Reading:

September 11: An Oral History by Dean Murphy

What Will You Do for Peace? Impact of 9/11 on New York City Youth by Faith Ringgold

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner