1) So the obvious question is, "What the heck happened to you? You promised six more things, and then disappeared for two weeks. What gives?"
Well, if you remember correctly, in my last post, I mentioned that we really didn't have much of a clue as to what we were going to do for our vacation. We had toyed with the idea of amusement parks, visiting friends, and the like but having just bought a home, some furniture, and just renovated our basement (to turn it into a finished rec room), funds were tight. So, we went to Goshen, planning to visit friends for a couple of days, and then kinda of just figured we'd figure out what to do next.
I have to say that a lot of neat things have happened to me through the writing of this blog. Since it's really my own journal, I like to go back and read both the blogs I've posted, and those I chose not to, just to get a sense of where my head was at. This blog has also helped me make friends here in the area (a big "shout out" to you Thief) and across the ocean (particularly in London after my two part post on my experience at Holy Trinity Brompton). It got me corrected via email by a leading pastor in the "Emerging Church" movement and engendered the wrath of some faithful members a church in Seattle led by a pastor who has a history of teaching things about a woman's place in church and home that just didn't seem right. But after reading my last post, Vanessa Stalkamp (a faithful member at Shawnee) told her husband, Eric (one of the last 4 or 5 NHL fans left in the Lower 48) about our lack of vacation plans. In turn, he text me to call him (how 21st Century), and they offered us their lake house as a vacation destination.
I mean.... how wonderfully bizarre is that?
After 3.5 seconds of discussion, we graciously accepted their offer, cut our visit to Goshen short (considering that at the house we were staying, there were four adults, seven kids, and one dog under one roof, I think they were happy to see us move on), and spent six days swimming, jet skiing, boating, playing games, and watching "family movies" (Cars and The Aristocats). Of course, I also locked us out of the house one evening and ruined a tow rope, but we corrected those things! In any case, it was a very, very nice week, and we thank the Stalkamps for their generosity.
2) But still, why no updates? Well, while on vacation, mostly because we didn't know what we were doing, I didn't take my laptop with me. And while my phone is WiFi enabled, it would have taken me forever to punch in with my thumbs six more things on my tiny QWERTY keyboard (which would have left my wife alone with all three boys for hours while I would have been at the coffeehouse in Coldwater, Michigan bogarting their free WiFi access. I like being married, so I chose differently.)
Then upon my return to the working world, there was just too much to do. We had three youth ministry candidates at church the first Sunday we were back which required multiple interviews, a weekly service had to be planned, discussions had to be had with the Centrum Stage Decoration Team (for our next sermon series, "Jesus In the Suburbs", starting August 19th), a team to write dramas for that series had to be organized, phone calls had to be returned, an interview in Fort Wayne had to be conducted, and we also experienced the passing of two members of our church family. Couple that with a wife and three boys having my undivided attention one week for a vacation, and their still wanting me around even after returning to work, and I just ran out of time.
3) Which leads me to this... I have noticed a lot of differences between being an associate pastor and a senior pastor, but the biggest difference, by far, are the demands that are put on your time. It wasn't like I was just sitting around twiddling my thumbs as an associate pastor. Far from it. Back in the "salad days" at Goshen First, particularly, my schedule was insane. Not only was I working every work day, but I'd teach an adult bible study on Monday evening, do worship planning Tuesday evening, process over the TGIW Youth ministry on Wednesday, shoot short videos (when necessary) on Thursdays, do "The Peak" on Sunday nights, and somehow in there fit in evening meetings and counseling. I probably worked 70-80+ hours every week.
No, it's not the volume of time that overwhelms me: it's the sense of responsibility. The inability to get away from everything that needs to be done. The mountain of praying, listening, researching, planning, organizing, executing, and evaluating that needs to be done in every single aspect of ministry. Before, I was worried about my areas of responsibility. Now, I'm concerned with overall direction, effectiveness and health of the church as a whole... and that's a huge change that will take some time getting used to. While even now, when I introduce myself as the "Senior Pastor at Shawnee United Methodist Church", hearing the words come out of my mouth just seem surreal. I keep waiting to get a call from Joseph asking me who in the world I think I am.
Someday, soon, I suspect though, I'll wake up to the reality that I'm not some pastoral usurper and Joseph ain't gonna call to put me in my place. This is my place now, and it will take some getting used to.
4) Fortunately, I'm finding out just how great the staff and people of this church truly are. I always loved my time at Shawnee as a youth pastor, and having survived a two year "trial by fire" ordeal as Joe's chief spear carrier and another year getting treated like royalty by the Beeson Center, I am reconnecting with that joy and passion I had a young dreamer so many years ago. I credit this mainly to all that the Lord is teaching me, and the staff and lay-leadership of this church.
Charlotte Hefner, our associate pastor, I think is just starting to get used to the idea, after so many years of taking care of endless details, what leading others to take care of details will look like for her. And she's so smart that I can't wait to see what dreams start becoming reality in the areas of discipleship ministry for all ages. I'm watching Shane Hollar transform from the guy who played piano and wrote out the music for the band, to someone developing a vision for music, tech, and visual ministry here at the church. I love watching Christie Lewis and Billie Hollar begin wrapping their brains around the possibilities for Children's ministry. I sense an excitement in Cathy Dempsey, our long-time Administrative Secretary, as I hear her talking about the Spirit moving, slowly but surely, among us. I witness the dedication of Barb Brenneman to our older adults and shut-ins, while enjoying how well we are working together (with Charlotte) as a team to make sure people are visited and cared for. I watch Mike Sheets throw himself into his work of maintaining this building, coming in on days off to make sure things are working properly and the plant is ready for us. I feed off of Sharon Barr's energy for making music, and her passion for her church home, while I marvel at how dedicated Sue Anne Shaw is providing this church with good music, filling in anyway she can so that people might be touched by God through a ministry of praise. I appreciate the relationship that Diane Hile and I are forging, as we seek to work together to do what's best for both our children's ministry and our excellent pre-school and daycare.
And all the lay-leaders and volunteers.... shoot. How are you ever going to do better than having Roger Rhodes help you sort through financial and personnel issues, or his wife, Judy, offering to help out any way she can (and subsequently doing so)? Who has greater measure of faith than a Ruth Anne Loar, or a bigger bear hug than Bob Brenneman? Who can give better counsel than a Glenn Derryberry or Cecily Crider, or push you harder to think through your theology than a Rob Neidich? Or who is better organizational thinker than Arlene Joyce? Bretta Roush, Brian Adams, Dr. and Mrs. Becker, the Johnsons, Peaks, Millers, Yunkers, Millie (the world's best neighbor) Hughes, the Stalkamps, and on and on and on and on. I'm a pastor who goes to the Kewpee, and gets to talk to one my parishioners, Jeri Moyes, about her ongoing ministry of praying for her customers and co-workers. I believe in our public school system cause I know people like Tony Cox are working with our children, our civil service system cause people like Roy Tordiff are working hard to serve the people, and our military cause a classy young man like Wade Broadwater serves with dignity. People like Don Fischer and The Immlers use their gifts to so that others in this world, people they don't know, might have access to clean water or medical care... and it energizes me!
Top that off with Sue Dickerson loving my mom into the choir and this church, and Stan Weller inviting me over for the occasional bowl of chili.... and, well, you'd have to be dead to not get geeked to be where I am right now: serving with all these people, and so many more, who just love Jesus and his people.
I have my days, just like other people, but all in all, I love my job!
5) I want to extend my condolences to both the families of Mary Lou Hosselman and Willi DaPore. Never in my career have I been blessed before by doing two funerals back-to-back. I attribute this to the abundant love that these women had for their friends and family, and how that love was reflected back to me in the stories the families and friends of these wonderful people told me about their lives. I know that the coming days will be hard for those who left grieving, but that everyone could have a mother or grandmother like Mary Lou or Willi, this world's ills would cured... and that's the truth.
6) Had a nice lunch last week with Father Steve Blum, senior pastor of St. Charles Catholic Church here in Lima. Shawnee has a great working relationship with St. Charles, and I attribute that to Father Steve's willingness to work ecumenically in this community, and across the world. I am excited at the prospect of doing some good work with him as we seek to eradicate hunger in this community through our annual "Harvest for the Hungry Community Food Drive", discuss ways that the church community can address the needs of people living in our community who are impoverished and disenfranchised, and how we might join together to address the challenge of the City of Lima's willingness to bring a casino to town (which, in case you hadn't caught it, I am fully opposed to). Praying with him, I am reminded that in Christ, truly, there is no east or west, or north or south.
7) And speaking of the casino issue, it blows my mind that the Mayor and City Council of Lima are willing to spend $15,000 on legal fees associated with making sure this Intergovernmental Agreement is in line with the guidelines of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but fail to see the need to commission an independent study to determine the potential impact of a facility like this on our community. I suggested this in a letter to the editor of the Lima News over a year ago, and still the city continues to march forward on this issue using only information provided to it by the Eastern Shawnee tribe.
What will the impact of the casino on area crime and what will be the cost to area law enforcement agencies? the demand for services like water and sewer? the impact of the casino on local property values or the allocation of the community's disposable income and how that relates to other existing service industries?
Right now, it's like we're buying a house, and the only real source of information we're receiving on that house, is coming from it's owner/builder. Will the Chamber of Commerce or a service organization like the Rotary Club look out for the best interests of it's members and the community and begin demanding real, impartial answers to these questions? Or are we just so smitten with the possibilities of "2000 new jobs" promised to us that we'll just keep merrily marching forward?
I have no idea. All I know is that I don't trust an industry set up in a fashion that the house always wins. And I mean ALWAYS wins. Demand answers from your local lawmakers, and force those who are supposedly looking out for the community's best interests to gather solid information not paid for by people who stand to make a financial killing.
I'll stop pontificating, after I just say one more thing: I will never, I MEAN NEVER, forget last year, when upon hearing the concerns of local people at an open forum on this issue on how devastating a casino would be on local families, hearing one of the tribe's non-Native American financial backers in attendance that evening, comment on how excited church people should be at the prospect of working with all these broken people. Let's hope Jacob Marley's ghost visits that guy before he too is condemned to wander the earth haunting misers whose business should have been humanity.
8) One of my fellow Beeson Scholars, Aaron Wymer, recently returned from his dissertation hearing at Asbury with the good news that one of this year's Beeson Pastors, Lenny Luchetti, a Wesleyan pastor raised in South Philly, is writing a blog about his experience. You can check it out here. After reading the few posts he's written about his experience thus far, I can tell that the "Beeson Magic" is already working on Lenny and his class. I look forward to reading about their experiences.
9) Families whose livelihoods are dependent on a bread winner who is a Civil Engineer always fear news like that of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. While spending on infrastructure like roads, bridges and sewers isn't all that "hip" (let's put it this way, we'll never see Paris Hilton take up bridge maintenance or Angelina Jolie take up sewer updating as their cause) when a story like this one, or a local story like a city crew in Delphos who dug up sewer pipes so old they were made out of wood, breaks, one realizes how important these structures are to our physical, environmental, and economic well-being. And yet, as I remember the failing levies in New Orleans, it's difficult to raise the ire of the public on such issues until there is a massive failure that results in the loss of life.
Well, I feel the same way about the church. Culturally, economically, educationally, and socially we have benefited greatly in this country from the existence of houses of worship. Places where high ideals, morals, integrity, sense of collective responsibility, a great respect for good, and a desire to combat evil are developed and honed among the populace. I know that a lot of people wonder in an age where governments in the western world have recognized the importance of providing education, rehabilitation, and other humanitarian services that all found their genesis in the church, if this institution is still necessary. And, in fact, most people in this nation, while in spirit and theory affirm in principle the teachings of Jesus, have expressed their doubt by dropping out (sometimes for multiple generations) of church life, assuming that which the church taught and stood for is just "here to stay".
While I don't doubt that the church has, in part, due to its own insularity brought this development down upon itself, one wonders if pretty much 400+ years of non-stop economic progress (with admittedly some hiccups) in the west hasn't somehow, slowly and surely, coaxed the populace into a state of apathy and self-centeredness. A state where the fixation of individuals on themselves can now often only be broken when those values we take for granted - values like respect, honesty, integrity, and morality - but are essential making it possible for us to live together with some semblance of order, are broken in ways that shock our sensibilities. Hence the upsurge in church attendance after 9/11, which then kind of died down as the shock of that day began to fade back into the background of "news" like celebrity indiscretions and the world record for number of hot dogs eaten in one sitting. Considering that the Christian church in places south of the equator, where people are struggling to survive while dreaming of a better tomorrow, is flourishing as a source of hope and direction, one wonders what depths would be necessary to startle us out of our spiritual "blank stare"?
I think we should all fear that "bridge collapse".
10) We have officially become a soccer family. Max, today, had his first soccer practice. This meant this weekend we had to go out and buy him a pair of cleats, shin guards, soccer socks, and (most important) a soccer ball. I talked to an old friend, Jason Reeves, last night, and he told me that eleven years ago when his eldest started soccer as a kindergarten student, he couldn't believe that his own flesh and blood would choose to play the one sport he never had anything to do with growing up. Never, he told me, could he imagine himself ever caring, or even understanding, a soccer match. But now, not only does Christian play for his high school team, but Jason and his wife Tammy are traveling all over hither and yon so their younger son and daughter can score goals. Now Jason describes himself as a soccer fanatic, coaching his daughter's club team, and even watching matches on TV.
"Just watch," he said, "what happened to me could very well happen to you."
Do you think it's too late to sign up Max for football?