Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Thought - When Your Church is Waiting for It's Second Wind

Okay, I finally had my first very minor freak out at church recently. Seems there have been a few people that a year and months after the SP's departure are still struggling with things related to that. It's not important to list those details, but I guess it could summarized in "at least in Egypt we knew what to expect. In the desert it's new every day."

From what I understand from my very healthy and in shape running friends, the ultimate test is to run a marathon. I had thought about it when I was much thinner, exercised to "wog" (walk/job) the 26.2 mile endeavor) as part of the Lukeumia Society's "Team in Training." I went as far as reaching my financial goal to participate yet found myself struggling in the training department. The people in the running group were runners. I am not. They were sleek, toned, conditioned and experienced. I was thin for me, but no where near their physical condition. At the end of my first morning I left and cried in the bathroom at home feeling like I was an absolute failure. From that point on I had conditioned myself to believe that I would never succeed in the experience and of course fulfilled my own self-fulfilling prophecy.

A few years ago, I came to discover something I didn't know about churches. Churches are full of imperfect people. For those of you who are more astute than I, you probably already knew that. I, on the other hand am either too Pollyanna-ish, or just incredibly slow on the uptake. When I began working in church life, it was amazing to discover that the individuals who "do" church on Sundays struggle with the same behaviors, personalities, doubts and flaws as those in the pews do. I guess somewhere in the process, I thought that leaders were farther along in the sanctification process than pew people. What I discovered was that outside of the service, people are people. When I began to step into leadership, the areas and issues I dealt with seemed to fly up into my face on a daily basis. It is a challenge to think that others look to you as a source of hope and wisdom for their spiritual lives when sometimes you are asking yourself the same questions that they are. When churches (and leadership) struggle it's often because we have lost sight of our own limitations, we hold someone to a higher standard of behavior than we hold ourselves to ("I want a Pastor/leader to be the kind of Christian I can't be") or we just can't let go of the past and begin to move forward in hope.

So - back to the minor freak moment. I had left knowing that there were at least two families on the "departing the church" fence. One had already notified me that they were leaving. Because we're a small church, and thus a small Children's Ministries program, any family that leaves creates a significant dent in our percentages. When I arrived back, the dent was a 10%+ decline rate in our Children's numbers. I'm thankful to learn that all the families that I spoke with over the past few months that were leaning towards departure were doing so for reasons outside of the ministry area I have oversight to - yet saddened nonetheless to see them leave. A second blow came when I arrived back into the office and discovered our Student Ministries Director had submitted their resignation. That's when the freak happened. Not because of the resignation, but of what that might signify to individuals - would they think that the health of Children/Youth programs were at stake? Was there something going on that they should be concerned about? For me - the inevitable questions was "would I have a job this time next year?" followed by "*$&%, I found a place that I sync with, and is that in jepoardy?"

God, my Spiritual Director tells me, is more concerned with my willingness to obey than my obedience when all the dots are connecting. It's the reminder that humanity is in the dark no matter how clearly we think we see the picture before us. When our community moves forward with a pledge drive to secure finances for our SP position, we are moving foward in the belief that not only is this church going to be here in twelve months, but we will be moving forward in vision and purpose under the leadership of an SP. When I am creating my budget for Children's Ministries, I am believing that outreach and connecting with the community will become a bigger part of what we do as a community than it has during this hibernation period. When we search for an interim Youth Director, we're letting parents know that nothing will stall, and we're moving forward believing for new things for our youth. Where before I would have wanted to polish off the resume at the first sign of trouble, I came out of the moment more committed to the ministry set before me. God has (and is) calling me to radical trust in this area. There are good things waiting to happen, transition happens. And yes, it often takes much longer to happen than we think it should.

Leaders are not perfect. Pastors (and ministry staff) are no different than anyone else, with the minor exception that we may be more aware of our weaknesses to the extent that we're vulnerable before God. Our community has been running the equivalent of a marathon these past few months/years and we are hitting the proverbial 24.0 mile marker. I hear this for some is the "wall" point. Where you are willing to cash in all your chips and just stop believing you don't have enough stuff left in you to finish the race. For some people in the community, I think this is where they are at. Change takes time. It's hard to keep moving forward when one is not totally sure where you are going. It's been a long season, and the ending point still isn't in clear sight. Perhaps it would have been better to never have started the journey at all, rather finding something else to do (or place to worship)instead.

But it's after the wall that you hit your second wind. That energy that comes seemingly out of nowhere to propell you towards the finish. For us, that wind takes place in the interview that is happening across the hall for an Interim Youth Director, the Search Committee who is having second interviews with applicants, the Children's Ministry team who is gearing up for VBS with kickoff Sunday today and recruiting for Summer Children's Church. It's reminding ourselves that we are a part of something greater than what we can physically see - and this is the point of the race we're running that we sometimes need to focus our eyes on the crowd of witness cheering us on while waiting for the finish line to come more clearly into focus.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

With a little help from my friends

It's Sunday night and I'm sitting in a LaQuinta Inn hotel room in Fresno, CA. This is the final pit stop on the "couch trip express." I am finding it hard to believe that after tomorrow, I'll be back in the real world again. And - looking forward to my next vacation in June.

Here are a few of the highlights:

I've never been called "grandma" before!: P, my best friend's little boy (age 5 1/2) shared in his J-Kindergarten class that he thought his grandma was coming to visit him that afternoon. Wow, now I know that I must look old to a 5 year old! He now has the distinct privilege of being the only person anywhere on the face of the earth who can call me grandma and live!

How fast time flies: It's hard to believe that P's sister M has just turned 8. She is becoming a darling little girl who is intelligent, sensitive, funny and athletic. Her passion is gymnastics and I marvel at the way that she moves her body so effortlessly on and off of a balance beam.

Friends: My former Rector in Beverly Hills told me that the relationships that I make in seminary would last a lifetime. Fuller has given me an opportunity to cross paths with so many - and there are 5 in particular that I can't imagine not having them a part of my world. This past week I was able to catch up with them. We had a great dinner Thursday night at my friend E's new home - she and her fiance R just purchased a home and we all had a chance to catch up there. Two of the group introduced us to their new significant others and the others (me that is!) enjoyed the introduction.

pampering is in: I finally used the last of the spa coupons that I have been saving since 2004 - yes you read correctly. Thursday I had a mini spa morning with a massage, mani/pedi and the Langham (former Ritz Carlton in Pasadena). The grounds are gorgeous, the time and quiet sublime and there's that little girl that all women have that loved to be pampered and have her nails done. On Saturday I took N back to the hotel for high tea. While we were there we had a chance to watch an outdoor wedding on the back lawn of the hotel - with a couple of my friends marrying this year I'm once again caught up in the news and pre wedding plans of friends. Two pots of tea, a wide variety of treats later we left happy and pampered.

Unexpected Surprises: ASL Story Time at the Deaf West Theatre in Hollywood. My friend E is taking certification courses in ASL and I got to tag along while she completed an assignment. Signed by a member of the Theatre, Rainbow Fish, Peter Rabbit and Wonderful Nature, Wonderful You were signed for both hearing and non hearing children and adults. Watching the dance between the spoken and unspoken word was beautiful to watch, especially as hearing impaired children had a chance to participate in something as simple as sharing a story together.

Griffith Park: My friend S surprised me this morning by taking me to lunch and then time at the Griffith Park Observatory. It had been closed for several years for major refurbishing and retrofitting and I guess opened up again last year. I can't wait to post the pics. The new presentation that the observatory has "Centered in the Universe" is a beautiful mixture of music, sight, sound and story woven together in a way that engages the audience in the quest for what lies outside of the world that we know. With hands on demonstrations and some incredible new exhibits it is worth the visit - especially when the only admission ($7) is for the presentation.

Good Friends: I lived in LA for over 14 years and there are two women in particular who I consider good friends. J, is the mom of P and M, my former roommate. We still have the ability to return to "roommate speak", finishing or saying the same thing at exactly the same time. S is a creative, passionate woman who enjoys life. 3 years is too long not to see each other, yet the test of friendship I guess can be that we pick up without missing a beat when we're together, no matter how much time has passed.

Well, it's after midnight, and I am going to pack it in for now. Tomorrow/today I am going to the cemetary to take care of my dad's grave and hopefully take a drive along the blossom trail which should be beautiful this time of year. It's been over five years since I've been in the city and I am curious to see how much it's changed. Then it's home to my little Diva Dog, my awesome roommie who has been taking care of her all week and life as usual.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Quiet Time

My drive down to Santa Barbara was an absolutely beautiful drive. I was totally surprised not to hit any real traffic to speak of during Tuesday morning commute on the 101 going through San Jose. The wet winter has created some of the most beautiful hillscapes that I have seen as I drove through the Central Coast. It's been so long since I've visted San Luis Obispo or Atascadero that I have forgotten their quaint, charm and beach city vibe. Going the legal speed limit, I made Santa Barbara in about 4.5 hours and found my way up into the Santa Barbara Hills

to Mount Calvary Retreat House and Monastery:

Mt. Calvary is an Episcopal/Anglican Monastic Order of the Holy Cross which follows the rules of St. Benedict. They are known for their gift of hospitality to the visitor/guest and go out of their way to ensure that your time at the retreat house/monastery is a blessed on.

The view today was absolutely gorgeous. A rain storm was headed inland and so the whispy clouds hung over the tips of the hills throughout the day. The brothers who call Mt. Calvary home have an ecclectic palate of life experiences, and talents. Brother William is an avid gardener who has been a part of the Botanical Gardens in Santa Barbara for years. Brother Roy produces some of the most beautiful caligraphy work I have ever seen, Brother Lawrence is an avid astronomer to at one time was a docent with JPL going to schools in the area. I have a couple of his photographs taken during a meteror shower with behind the large iron cross standing in the midst of their courtyard. Another recent addition to the home is Brother Joseph who last time I was there was involved in "writing" an icon (writing is a spiritual practice of drawing/painting a sacred picture.)

It amazing to me that a place like this one can literally produce such a sense of peace and openness to the sacred within me each time I visit. I hesitate using the phrase "sacred space" because the reality is that everywhere we go - we bring Christ/God into the space thus making it sacred and holy - but there are places that seem to be a bit easier to be open to God in. The Irish call these places "the thin places"; spots where the veil between the natural and supernatural world are very thin. I can feel my body begin to relax almost immediately, my constant movement forward grind to a complete halt when I arrive and walk into the chapel for prayers.
I think I am a closet monastic - there is something that resonates so deep in me with the rhythm of daily prayer in a community. That was one of the things that I do mmiss the most about not working at my old church in Beverly Hills. Every day no matter what the entire staff gathered together for noonday prayer. It was difficult at first to pull away from what I was working on, but as soon as I developed the pattern, I came to find great enjoyment.

When I left the familiar, it was a challenge to take the rhythm that I had made for myself into another environment. Praying by myself at morning, noonday and compline seemed hollow and empty. Even though I was praying the "we" in the Offices, I still felt separated.

I'm thankful that many Protestants are now becoming aware of the importance of developing sacred spaces and a value for the rhythms normally found in monastic communities. I just recently discovered a Protestant Monastic Community in the Bay Area that gathers several times a week for evening prayer - hopefully I will get the guts up to check it out soon.

In the meantime today marked a special day for me. I decided about a year ago to apply for membership as an Associate of the Holy Cross. Briefly,these are men and women who support the work of the Order through prayer, community and financial endeavors. While they do not live in a monastic community, they stay connected through developing their own "Rule of Life", and engaging in active spiritual practices that have meaning for them. I extended my 6 month probationary period when I made the decision to formally leave the ECUSA for personal reasons at that time.

Today, however, I formally was received as an Associate. It signified that I have finally come to a place where I can say that I have made peace with the fact that how I would participate in ordained ministry will look different than my vision. Metaphorically speaking I cut the last cords this past year and now am ready to engage wherever God is placing me. And - it appears that God is moving in some interesting places of late. It's too early to speak about them but I would appreciate your prayers.

Here are some more pics of the surrounding plants and other to enjoy. I'm working on a labyrinth photo prayer which I hope to have up soon.

Ah rest!

Did you feel the earthquake? You should have because it is official - I am on VACATION! I left Tuesday morning for Southern California. First stop is Santa Barbara where I will be starting my time off the right way with a stay in one of the most hospitable monasteries - Mt. Calvary. Then I am off to friends in Santa Clarita. The rest of the time will be spent connecting with friends from Fuller, LA and other places, a well needed hair cut from the master of all stylists who used to do my hair in LA, cashing in gift certificates at the Ritz Carlton Pasadena (or whatever it is called now). Then heading back to the Bay Area via Fresburg (otherwise known as Fresno) to take care of my dad's gravesite and hopefully have a cup of java with a highschool friend I've recently reconnected with via Facebook.

I'll post some pic's shortly as a reflection of my time away!