Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted February 22nd, 2018

Dear Family,

As I sit in my office today, I can hear the loud clangs of my two kids playing in the classroom next to me and I am reminded why I love snow days. My two kids have played so well together this morning and this is an anomaly. This isn’t normal. This isn’t what I expected, and yet, they are. They have defended each other. They have made each other laugh. They have skated on the ice rink that used to be the sidewalk. And they showed me that two persons who normally wouldn’t associate with one another can become the closest friends.

These are the moments that inspire me and help me dream of what could be. Why did my kids come together to play so nice? They wanted to come to work with me instead of going to a babysitter. They had a common goal. A shared purpose. A vision of what needed to be done, and they achieved it. Beautifully.

If my two kids, ages 9 and 7, can figure this out, then we should have no problems as adults to discern the better way. Right? I mean, my two kids fight more than I want to admit. They love to injure each other. They try to get each other in trouble. (Side note, as I let you all peek into our world, I hope and pray our family is not unique). Anyway, if my two kids can find a way to get along to accomplish a common goal, surely our world full of educated, professional, and intelligent adults can do the same.

I sit with these questions and thoughts as we move along in our Lenten journey. The Lenten Theme is “Divine Fusion: Holy Spirit meets/dances with Human Spirit.” I love the possibilities that our theme produces. These images of the Creator and created dancing together as we co-create a world that honors God, makes the world better for everyone. But even as I daydream of what could be, I make the mistake of turning on my television or clicking on a link and am brought back to reality. Our world is not as it should be.

Instead of dancing together, recreating a world where our schools are refuges and places of learning and growing, we have made them into mini warzones. Instead of highlighting students raising their voices to be heard, I hear adults chastising the students, accusing these students of being puppets for some agenda, and my heart breaks. These teenagers, who believe in the American dream, speak up and challenge their elected officials to do something, anything, as we tell them too. Instead of adults applauding the students’ courage, some adults mock them. Some adults hurl false accusations at them. And my heart breaks.

It is time for change. It is time for us to take the Divine hand and dance to make our world safer and holier. Not just for today but also for tomorrow. Not just so we can fill the pews on Sunday but also that future generations can still believe in the church as a place of refuge, a place to take the hand of God and dance. But that is not as it is today. I am not suggesting that we, as members of the McPherson Church of the Brethren, are guilty of hurling insults at these amazing teens but our world is. I am saying that as adults, we need to protect and empower our students. It is not about them inheriting the future. It is about their role in our world today. Now.

My kids showed me it can happen and we can also come together and attain a common goal. I see no greater goal/purpose than giving our young people space to speak. A place for them to answer their own call to make the world better. A chance to stand with our young people as they march, as they preach, as they pray, as they sing, as they mourn. When we do, I believe we will see God moving in amazing and holy ways. Young people are going to change the world and we can stand with them and be a part of this epic moment. Or we can be stuck on the sidelines, wishing we had their courage. If we want to see God’s spirit infused with the human spirit, it starts by standing together. It starts by preaching together. Marching together and loving each other. Holding one another’s hand and moving forward with a common purpose. So will you join me in standing with our young people as they demand safer schools? Will you stand with our students as they put themselves out there, risking it all, to demand change? If we do, we will see God moving in miraculous ways.  Amen.

— Jerry Bowen

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted January 25th, 2018

There is a new movie being released on February 23rd, 2018. “Every Day” by David Levithan, is based on the Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy/Romance book by the same name. One of the two central characters, Rhiannon, is a 16-year old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day. Rhiannon and “A” work each day to find each other, not knowing what or who the next day will bring. The movie deals with the hard realities of loving someone who is a different person every 24 hours. On any given day, the character “A” will wake up to be White, Asian, Black, Male, Female, thin, chubby, or physically challenged. At one point in the film, “A” says, “I’m never the same … twice, [but] never very far from the last [person I was]. I try to live that day for that person. …. I know what makes each person different and what makes everyone the same. .… The only way to keep going, is to see every person as a possibility.” Although this book/movie is fiction, it carries overtones of spirituality. Jesus, embodying the Spirit of God, encountered every person and situation, every day, with a heart open to the possibilities. As we enter the month of February and the commercial holiday of Valentine’s Day looms, I am reminded by the Good Beginnings Preschool children in our midst, how exciting it is to express love to one another. Not only are they preparing to share love with Valentine’s cards but each day they unabashedly welcome one another with open arms and unbridled enthusiasm and exit the building with greetings of great joy for whoever is awaiting them. How helpful it would be if the world could take to heart the lessons of a book, a preschooler and Jesus. How hopeful we might all be if we could love without bias, prejudice, judgement or hesitation – if it mattered not – the gender, size, shape, ethnicity or abilities of the one we loved. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and we all have possibility. May we love as God loves!    — Pastor Kathryn

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted November 22nd, 2017

“Growing an Engaged Church: How to stop “Doing Church” and start being the church again” by Albert L. Winseman is turning out to be a thoughtful read. Recommended by Leadership Team Chair, LaMonte Rothrock, this book helps tackle the questions of – how we are ‘being church’. We learn that people who are ‘being church’ are engaged in their congregations and can claim four truths: 1) I know what is expected 2) I have the opportunity to do what I do best 3) My spiritual needs are being met and 4) My opinion counts. Structured to give feedback to four corresponding questions, chapter five includes a  twelve question sample survey that gathers information on 1) What do I get? 2) What do I give? 3) How can we grow? and 4) Do I belong? Choosing actions that address these four core concerns can move us from stasis to dynamic and vital growth.  Winseman claims that in addition to attending to these four areas, there are two myths that keep us from moving into becoming a spiritually vital and healthy community; Myth 1) “Believing leads to belonging” Myth 2) “An active member is a faithful member.” Research has shown that people do not come to church because they believe but rather they come to church because they want to belong. When we focus on nurturing people’s sense of belonging – when they feel they belong – and they can tell you what is expected, how they are doing their best, how their spiritual needs are  being met and why their opinion counts – then and only then do people commit to a spiritual path in their spiritual community – then they believe. Winseman additionally addresses Myth two by stating, “Activity that is not the result of engagement leads to burnout. And burned-out members eventually leave: psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and physically.” Why do we care? Why do we wish to be engaged with any church at all? Why does it matter that we participate in a community of faith? We go to work, we volunteer and we participate in a wide array of social activities. We can have all our special interest and social needs met in these ‘other’ places in our lives. So why church? At its purest – the church is the one place in society that does not exist for its own self-preservation. It does not exist to promote itself or its own agenda or its own perspective. The CHURCH exists to be God in this world. ENGAGED participants in church life are active BEING the church. ENGAGED participants in church life are active BEING God in this world. From this perspective, it is well worth working on becoming a Growing and Engaged Church.    – Pastor Kathryn

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted October 19th, 2017

Greetings Fellow Pilgrims,

The weather is shifting, and I welcome it.  The cooler days of fall invite us to spend more time outside playing, laughing, loving.  I love walking out on our deck to let our dog out for her morning routine, and as I breathe deep the autumn air, I feel alive.  New.  Refreshed.  The cool air stings my lungs, yes.  But it is a joyous feeling.  These are the moments that let me know I am alive.  That life is good.  And for all that is, I am eternally grateful.

I am supposed to find ways to inspire with these words in the newsletter or offer some profound wisdom/insight.  I don’t know that I have either this month.  I simply want to share how joy filled I am to be here.  In this space.  With you all on this amazing journey.  There is so much going on in our world that we could lament or condemn or be angry about, but each morning as I stand on my deck, looking over my yard, watching Goldie explore the fence, I laugh.

Because as the sun rises, revealing the deep blue sky above, showing me all that is, I am blessed.  Those early morning moments afford me the time to reflect on my life, and I feel so incredibly thankful.  Kendra has a great job, and she loves going to work.  So many in the world dread clocking in, and my best friend, my partner in life, drives an hour so that she can make a difference.  She loves it, and that brings me joy.  It is not only joy I feel, because as I stand on that deck, facing the west, feeling the rays of the sun sneak in from behind me, I cry.  But not necessarily tears of sorrow.

There is much about the future that I do not know and much of it I fear.  I wonder what will my kids become?  How will they be treated?  What world are we giving them?  These questions cause anxiety to rise up within me that almost stops my heart.  But then standing on that deck, echoing from somewhere deep within me, I hear my children’s laughter.  As much as the world seems to be descending into a dark abyss, the laughter of my children snaps me back to reality.  Daniel and Reyna are surrounded by family who love them.  They have friends who play and laugh and dream dreams with them.  They have a church family who treat them as their own.  Yes the world might seem like a bleak place, but God is still God and the world is good.  Reflecting on all these truths empowers me to sigh with a sense of peace that cannot be taken away, nor does the world we inhabit understand that peace.

It is a peace that is out there.  Yes, in some faraway place, but on those brisk mornings on my deck, I realize that same peace is within me.  It is the active presence of the Holy Spirit moving back and forth.  It is the Spirit of laughter in my kids.  It is the hyper active Labrador that chases a rabbit all over our yard, never able to catch her prey.  It is Kendra’s love that stands with me every day.  And it is in each one of you, my church family that walks with me.  These truths give me peace, and they cause me to take deep breaths and say Amen.  Thank you.  Praise be to God for all that is and all that will be.

The day is coming, soon I think, when standing on my deck, each morning, will be filled with the winds that do not comfort but steal my breath.  I will not worry about those days, not yet.  They are still in the distant future.  What I am going to focus on is the now.  Today.  And all that God has blessed me with.  Will you join me in celebrating the good in our lives?  Will you celebrate, with me, all the gifts God has given us?  And will you walk with me, and my family, in giving thanks for those awe filled, daily experiences that illuminate the work of God in our lives?   So join me.  Stand with me on whatever morning inspiration filled deck you have and breathe deep in the power of the Spirit moving in our lives.  Amen.    — Pastor Jerry

Musings from Ministry Team Members

Posted September 19th, 2017

Who likes to go first?  As a child going first, for me, somehow seemed very important.  In elementary school I remember racing other children to the front of the lunch line just to be first only to have the Teacher send me to the back of the line for being inconsiderate of others.  I was used to being in back of the line by virtue of my last name beginning with a “W”.  Somehow my positive self-esteem was attached to being first, at least once in a while, which infers that being last in line was hard on my self-esteem.  So, at that stage in my life an uptick in my self-esteem was always welcomed.   Being first in our society carries an air of importance and status.  Being first in our society means you are “somebody”.  Being first in our society indicates deserved or expected recognition for hard work, for diligence, for accomplishment and achievement, for being important.  Usually dignitaries or guests of honor go first at banquets or occasions of state.  Being second in the space race to the Soviets stung our national pride, but there was redemption in our nation by being first to the moon.  We take great pride and consider it success when we are first in line to purchase tickets for a major event or concert.  We are important or prideful when we are owners of a first edition book or publication.  We are important when we are first to view damage and destruction; to be first with the latest gossip; to be first in achieving a new world record in sports, racing, or highest dollar paid for artwork or an antique. The drive to be first is strong and got persons to the North and South poles; to be the first to climb Mt. Everest.  The world is full of “firsts” from the past and “firsts” unknown and yet to be.  How important is it to you to be first?  We live in a first world nation which carries an air of importance and responsibility.  What does it mean to us when we hear the words “America First” from national leadership?  How important is being first when it comes at the expense of others and their livelihood, well-being, and self-esteem – in country and abroad?

While being first can be fun and feel good, being first can also be uncomfortable and unsettling.  In the face of a transgression against the other, who will be the first to apologize?  Following the heat of an argument or conflict, who will be the first to say “I am sorry”?  In the face of an infraction or incursion upon another’s dignity and personhood, who will be the first to admit wrongdoing?  Who will be first to say “I love you”?  Who will be the first to forgive and to offer grace?  Being first in these instances may not be as glorious, but they are no less important – even greater!  Being first in these situations carries with them an air of humility and vulnerability.  Being first in these encounters requires our ego and pride to be secondary to another’s injuries, hurts, wants and needs.

We are reminded in scripture from I John 4:19 that “…we love because God first loved us”.  God took the first step toward humanity by sending Jesus as a baby to reconcile our human imperfections.  This was an act of love on God’s part.  Jesus’ example and teaching about love, forgiveness and grace and eventual sacrifice in the biblical narrative was a “first” of epic and biblical proportions.  God became vulnerable to the vagaries of the whims of humanity, when with God in a position of being first, could have chosen otherwise.  God so loved the world – FIRST!

May we be as quick and generous to love; to apologize; to admit wrong doing; to place ourselves as second and even last as God is to love us and embrace us.  We would do well with a little more love in our world today.  We love because God first loved us.  May it be so.

Chris Whitacre

Pastoral Care Minister