Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted November 29th, 2018

Some thoughts to ponder if your Christmas is a bit “Blue”  — Pastor Kathryn

The following is a lightly adapted ‘Blue Christmas’ worship meditation and ritual created by Rex A. E. Hunt who is a ‘grass roots’ religious naturalist, progressive liturgist, and social ecologist.  He lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Forty-six years ordained, first as a Presbyterian (1972), he is today a retired minister of the Uniting Church in Australia (formed in 1977).

Christmas is a time for memories and remembering. For some, the memories are of loved family members who have died, and the holiday season makes the pain of these losses ever more real. For others, the memories are of happier times than we now know; felt as the anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity around employment, the anxiety of illness or poor health, or the emptiness of loss after a bushfire. We sometimes can feel very alone in the midst of all the celebrating of the season, the singing, and the constant proclamation of “Joy, joy, joy!” As we enter this season it is good to remember, we are in the presence of God’s comforting love. It is good to remember that with God, we are safe to feel what we feel: to acknowledge our sadness, to share our concern, to release our anger, to face our emptiness, and still to know that God by whatever name – cares. In the community that is ‘church’, we are in a safe place – a place of comfort and support – a place where we are not alone in our life experiences. When we lose, we grieve. Grief is normal. Grief is universal. At the same time grief is extremely personal. May we and others not forget or deny our journey of grief. We enter the season of Christmas; bringing our needs AND the needs of the world, with our faith AND with our doubts, with our hopes AND our fears. We come as we are, because it is God who invites us to come. And God has promised never to turn us away.

Rather than hiding your reality of a “Blue Christmas”, you are encouraged to name it and ritualize it by lighting a candle each week of Advent and speaking, praying or reading the following words:

The first candle is lit to remember those whom we have loved and lost. We pause to remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that binds them to us in this season. The second candle is lit to mend the pain of loss. The loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health, the loss of home. We pause to gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God, asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace. The third candle is lit to remember ourselves this Christmas time. We pause and remember the past weeks and months and years: the disbelief, the anger, the down times, the poignancy of reminiscing, the hugs and handshakes of family and friends, all those who stood with us. The fourth candle is lit to remember the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us. We remember that God is our companion, who shares our life, blessing us, and filling us with longing and with courage. In this season of Advent and Christmas, let us remember: God’s care that – surrounds us, leads us into the future, defeats the darkness with dawn and holds us in Love.

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted October 25th, 2018

Greetings Family,

On Monday I traveled to Great Bend and spent part of the day with others from the Western Plains District talking about what inspires us. For those that were there, I understand that is an oversimplification of the amazing conversations we had, but for the time I was there, I sensed the discussions anchored around what inspires us. Or maybe put differently, what about our communities of faith impact us in such a positive way, that we hunger for more? Spiritually. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

I left Great Bend with the words that were shared around our table of worship, and one thought that stuck with me was this: at the core of who we are, as a tribe and as individuals, is a deep desire for connections. We need each other. We need our sisters and brothers walking beside us, breaking bread with us, and serving the world together.

We need people to listen to us when we are hurting. We need folks who can hear our stories, even the darkest elements, and still love and welcome us. We need sisters and brothers who can openly, and honestly, challenge us and hold us accountable. We need spaces to disagree with one another, safely, without fear of losing a friend. We need to be able to sing, to pray, to give of ourselves, to unpack scripture, and we need to do it together, as the body of Christ.

Around our holy table, on Monday, we embodied what the author of Ephesians called the church to be: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and (Creator *changes by Jerry) of all, who is over all and through all and in all.…” Away from the table, we all could have been as different as apples and oranges, but to quote the well-known movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” at that table, “we are all fruit.”

As I drove home and reflected on my sisters and brothers around the table, I smiled and laughed and felt hope. Because the rhetoric of the world, especially in our politically charged climate, seems to push us against each other. But around that table, in that holy space, what might have divided us outside disappeared into the abyss. What walls that the world constructed to separate us, God tore down and helped us create a beautiful tapestry of humanity. Around the table were my fellow pilgrims, my sisters and brothers, who long to experience God in so many ways, and to see the church respond to God’s call to be the church.

Sure, if we were all pressed a little more, we might have strong opinions on how or why the church needs to be the church. I heard my sisters and brothers share that to be the church we must honor each other. That we need each other. That we must protect each other. That we work hard to listen to one another. That we sing songs and plant gardens and laugh and cry and build each other up. What I heard that day, and what spoke to me as I drove home, was that to be the church, we have to be there for one another.

We have to take the chance to be vulnerable for each other. We have to trust each other. We have to believe that the other, in our midst, wants what we want. The world might thrive on creating the us versus them dichotomy, but not so the church. The church creates spaces where we can turn our verbal swords and shields into pruning hooks and plowshares. Around all of the holy tables, we create, we can commune with God and one another, and honor the charge of the author Ephesians, who wrote “…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” To the glory of God and for our neighbors good. Amen.

_______________________

¹ Ephesians 4: 4-6 all scriptures come from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

— Jerry Bowen

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted September 19th, 2018

The second week of September I attended four and a half days of training in the area of bereavement, death, and dying.

For most individuals this becomes an unpleasant topic to ponder and encounter.  Rightly so, because when one is bereaved, grieving, or mourning, it is often the result of having lost a dear loved one, a cherished belonging, a companion pet, divorce, loss of home and place, loss of past, present, and future – we are sad, tearful, angry, hurting, and often feel confused, depressed, and without direction and purpose.  We experience losses of many kinds not limited to the previous list.  Loss is something we can encounter each day with varying intensity and for a variety reasons.

Elemental to our healing and convalescing from significant loss and grief is our capacity to acknowledge and integrate the reality of a death or loss.  This happens very differently and is never quite the same for each person over the span of time.  Our convalescence from losses and that feeling of being torn apart is less about “getting over it” and more about “living into and with” a new reality that has come into our lives.  In this way, we discover that our grief experience is not linear, but recursive in nature; that it is not predictable and is not bound to some arbitrary or named time frame.   In the words of Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of The Center for Loss and Life Transition, “…there is no reward for speed.”

There are common misconceptions about grief.  I will list ten and perhaps you may know of others.  1)  Grief and mourning is the same thing.  2)  There are predictable, orderly stages to grief and mourning.  3)  We should avoid the painful parts of the grief experience.  4)  Tears of grief are a sign of weakness.  5)  Being upset and openly mourning means the mourner is being “weak” in faith.  6)  When someone dies, the mourner only grieves and mourns for the physical loss of the person.  7)  The mourner should try not to think about the person who died on holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and other life markers.   8)  The mourner should be able to “get over” grief as soon as possible.  9)  Nobody can help the mourner with the grief/mourning journey.  10)  When grief and mourning are finally reconciled, they never come up again.

These ten misconceptions are ever around us and others, who are striving to heal and convalesce from significant loss.  With these in heart and mind, perhaps we can be ever more conscious and compassionate to others and ourselves whenever one or all of these misconceptions rears its unhelpful and hindering head.  Our task is not to judge others for how they are grieving, but to walk with and support one another in a spirit of love and grace.

May God comfort us and assist us in our own grief journeys and as we also come along side others in the midst of convalescence and healing.

From the works of Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Founder and Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, Ft. Collins, CO. 

Please feel safe in contacting me with questions or conversations.

Chris Whitacre, Pastoral Care Minister

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted August 30th, 2018

Have you ever heard of “Messy Church”?

‘Messy’ means that God is interested in people and families who are ‘messy’ rather than perfect; that Jesus spent time with outsiders, ‘sinners’ and social misfits more happily than with the orderly Pharisees, some of whom seemed to live neatly by the rule book and didn’t appear to need God.  ‘Church’ because it is church for those who belong to it.

‘Messy Church’:

reflects a God of creativity, celebration, hospitality and unconditional love.

gives opportunities for people to encounter Jesus and grow close to Jesus.

is for people of all ages, at all stages of their faith journey.

uses hands-on activities to explore Bible stories.  is an oasis of welcome and a safe space in which to thrive.

reflects a God of joy who wants people to have life in all its fullness.

usually meets once a month at a time and place best suited for those who attend.

‘Messy Church’ is NOT…….

just for children

a club

just for families

a quick fix for whatever ails the church

a drain on resources

set in stone

Messy Church USA is affiliated with the international Messy Church movement, whose home is with the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), a Christian charity based in Oxfordshire, UK. Messy Church started in an Anglican Church near Portsmouth, UK, in 2004, and has grown into an international movement, operating across a wide range of Christian denominations and traditions. It became part of The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) in 2006 with the publication of the first Messy Church book by founder Lucy Moore. For more information about how Messy Church began, go to their webpage at www.messychurch.org.uk

Internationally, ‘Messy Church’ is also known as; Die Ü-Kirche in Germany, ‘L’eglise pele-mele’ in French Canada, ‘Kirkjubrall’ in Iceland, the Welsh call it ‘Llan Llanast’, the Dutch call it, “Kliederkerk’ and the Norwegian know it as ‘Kreative Kirke’.

Pastor Kathryn

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted July 20th, 2018

Greetings Family,

Tomorrow morning 13 of us will join others on a wild adventure to Ft. Collins, Colorado for National Youth Conference. I am reminded of just how blessed I am to be a part of the great story of what God is doing in the McPherson Church of the Brethren. This whole summer has added another chapter of what God is doing, not only within our church family, but in our district and even within our larger denomination.

I was honored to spend two weeks at camp as a spiritual director and the memories of those two weeks will walk with me my entire life. Learning from the directors of both camps, I left those two sacred weeks a better person, a better father/husband, and a better pastor. Working with the counselors, I realized the future of our world is very bright and blessed. Leaning on the cooks and medical staff God opened my eyes to how we all need each other and we all have so much to give. But it was the students and the campers who enriched my life in epic and historic ways. I thank each one of them for making my life more whole. And I am thankful that you, my church family, agreed to letting me serve the district in a way that changed my life and strengthened my ministry and call.

A week and a half later, Kendra, Daniel, Reyna, and I packed up a rental vehicle and drove east as we navigated the open road on our way to Cincinnati, Ohio for Annual Conference. That experience had profound impact on all of us. Daniel and Reyna were able to spend the days with kids their age from all over the denomination and both formed relationships that they still talk about and look forward to renewing next year. Kendra had a chance to rest from her chaotic work schedule. Her soul was also enriched and blessed by joining worship with sisters and brothers from across this beautiful land. Though I went to Annual Conference a bit cynical and skeptical, I left that hallowed ground believing, maybe for the first time in a long time, that our denomination is set to make an epic difference in our world. All new business was tabled until next year. By choosing to do so, we could worship together, break bread together, and remember why we come together. This is only going to make us a stronger community of faith and I believe next year will plot the course for a brilliant future.

And now I am on the eve of another spiritually challenging and enriching experience. Again I am so thankful, blessed, and honored to serve you and be a part of a pastoral team that works together and leans on each other and challenges one another.

I share all of this not only to recap my historic summer, and it has been one that I will cherish forever, but also because I was immersed in those different moments, I felt God showing me what is needed for all of us. Perhaps I have always felt this way, and these weeks away affirmed what I have always held on to? Maybe. But I want to believe God opened my eyes and I could see, truly see, what helps make us whole. What came to me?

Community.

In each of the adventures that God has had me on this summer, what made the weeks holy was not just the worship or the teaching or the service projects. No. What made them holy, and by extension making me more whole, were the sisters and brothers on the journey with me. I realized how much I needed each person, regardless of age, next to me. It didn’t matter who they voted for or what they had on their dinner plate, what mattered was that they, and I, took the risk of being together. Around the tables, whether we were eating, doing art projects, planning the day, or talking about all things related to being human, around those tables walls crumbled. Differences disappeared. Bonds of love developed and grew stronger with each passing second. In those moments we laughed. We cried. We argued. We disagreed on many things. But as we stood up and pushed our chairs in, we realized we were closer than we had ever been because we risked sitting together and sharing.

That is what God showed me. I need more time with people. Around tables. Sharing. Laughing. Crying. Debating. Listening. Learning. Growing. So as we prepare to leave for NYC, I am planning on seeking many tables so that this summer of growth continues to nurture and mature the work God started. But more than that, I realize I have to bring this back for all of us. A new school year is upon us and I feel it is a great time to create spaces for authentic fellowship and relationships building. Will you join me at any table that is before us? Will you risk being vulnerable enough that I can learn from you and maybe I can offer you a bit of wisdom? Will you come to our tables and laugh with me? Love with me? Grow with me? I invite you all and hope to carry the spiritual awakening that begun in June with us all, from this day forward. Amen.   – Pastor Jerry