Thursday, March 24, 2011

I walk these streets...

One of the new things we are doing as a pastoral staff is Pastor on the Square – an hour each Thursday morning when one of the pastors hangs out at Jupiter House. This was my idea after our lead pastor, Matt, came back from a workshop and shared the expert’s recommendation that pastors spend more time out of their offices, out of their churches, in order to draw others into the church. It makes sense. From my desk, who am I reaching? Sure, I’m planning programming or writing sermons that I hope will reach folks, but how much more effective might it be for me to go outside and actually meet people.

So today was one of my turns. I love this experience since it affords me an opportunity to walk the streets of my city and meet people. My fellow associate pastor, Lisa, often teases me since I’m a huge extrovert and am always looking for ways to interact with folks. It feeds my spirit!

But today, I’m tired. I had a long day yesterday followed by a night of wonderful meetings that are helpful to the life and work of church, but take a lot of energy. So I’m dragging. I take a couple of Reporterswith me (the newspaper of our national church, with a local North Texas Conference edition included). I rarely have time to read, so I feel like this will be a good investment of time if I don’t happen to strike up a lengthy conversation with anyone.

I have to confess – I had to make myself keep reading many times. Not because the content wasn’t good, but because I’m so tired. And it was a good exercise to ask myself why? Of course, my baby boy did have a hard night last night and we were up a couple of hours together, but beyond that, sometimes I’m just tired of maintaining the level of programming and the thought of taking on anything new is daunting.

I read an article on the Latchkey program at Floral Heights UMC in Wichita Falls, and wonder why we haven’t shared the good news of our own Children’s Day Out/FunStop programs lately. They are amazing gifts to our community and draw in more new persons to faith and membership at our church than many realize.

I read an article on Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist church in Florida. “The church’s strategy is expressed in four words that seek to summarize a Wesleyan vision of sanctification – reach, connect, form, send.” The lead pastor, Rev. Jorge Acevedo, states, “We want to reach people, welcoming them with the radical welcome of God. We want to connect them to the family of God in relationships. We want to help form them into Christ’s likeness, and we want to send them out as missionaries.”

I’m encouraged, because that’s what we’re trying to do, too, through our Neighborhood ConneXion groups. Since I started at the church 5-6 years ago, I wondered what it would be like to have block parties, to get to know neighbors who were already members of my church and show our other neighbors what fun we were having and invite them along. With the advent of some very helpful software, we were finally able to map the members of our church, divide them into groups, and launch a ministry led by the laity in their own neighborhoods. After co-leading the facilitator training last night, I’m excited to see how it goes. I hope it starts to satisfy that deep-seated need we all have for meaningful relationships, for spiritual running partners to encourage us in our faith.

I turn the page and find the column Gen-X Rising by Rev. Andrew Thompson. This is always one of my favorites. This one is called “Virtual church will never replace the body of Christ” and the funny opening talks about a 1989 article in the New York Times which wondered if computer (or electronic) mail would ever supersede fax machines. Of course we all laugh, but just last night I was sharing with a youth how communicating electronically – texts, e-mails, facebook messages, and, well, even this blog – gives you a sense of anonymity that can be dangerous to the body of Christ. We misunderstand, we say things we would never say in person, we miss that personal connection that is so foundational to our identity as followers of Christ.
Real, in the flesh human relationships are tough. People disagree. Love takes a lot of hard work. But the digital universe? That’s easy…We see attempts by the church to grapple with our changing society in a number of new ways. There are some promising ones that use technology to bring people together in the flesh. But others do more harm than good…God did not tweet salvation. He didn’t send an e-mail, or a podcast or even a fax. God came in the flesh, so that all flesh might be redeemed. And the church he is building even now to proclaim that good news is meant to be a body – just as real as Jesus’ own body was and is.
- Rev. Andrew Thompson
I feel challenged, but invigorated by the reading and conversations and a good cup of chai tea. As I walk back to the church, I think about the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In one section, when she’s in Rome, she talks about how a city has a word that sums it up, something that defines it to the core. I think about Denton, about the bikers and students and lawyers and doctors, about the hospitals and universities and repair shops and churches and quirky little coffee shops and restaurants. I’m struck again by how just plain cool my town is. What word could define this city? What word seems to sing from the street corners and whisper from the redbud trees?

I finally settle on create. In Denton, we create as naturally as we breathe – art, music, scholars. Sure, some of the things we create will fail, but that doesn’t mean we stop creating. Maybe I’m a little theological in my definition, seeing us in all our imago Dei glory, partaking in God’s own creative energy, but I’m definitely more optimistic, and a little less tired, as I step back into my office.

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