Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Call To Be Wild

Reading Jeremiah's call story for Sunday's worship reminds me of the day I sat above the Wentz Library on the first day of 'summer Greek', my very first day in a seminary class. We sat in a circle and took turns breaking the silence to share our call stories. It was fascinating! I heard such a range of experience from seasoned naval veterans to students right out of college. Some seemed to have been following God's call for a while, others had been fighting it quite determinedly. Still through the stories there were similarities. Each of us had encountered God in some way. Many of us had encountered God again and again yet at some point the 'call' became insistent.  Many of us found good reasons to doubt that we were hearing correctly. Surely God needed the capable and well-equipped leaders for Christ's church. We were reminded again that day as we were assured all along the way, "God doesn't call the equipped, God equips the called."

Did we like Jeremiah get a sign that we were on the right path? Only after having taken the first step in faith knowing that we had to follow this call. (Mine was finding out that seminarians received a discount at the local candy store. Chocolate is always an affirmation of call!) I found a quote I love in my reading,
"Vocation exacts a price and not all can pay it. . To follow the vocation does not mean happiness, but once [the call] has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow." (Gilbert Meilaender quoted by Philip Thompson, Interpretation Jan 2008)
I guess that summed up our experience up to that first day of seminary. We were there, in our first class and we were following the call we could not resist.

Now, we are six years into our various callings and all in different places along the journey. We hear and follow the same call even if the voice at times grows faint or the circumstances seem less vital.  Jeremiah continued to hear God's call and his journey was never easy. Michelangelo may have shown it best on the Sistine Chapel wall. (See side bar picture.) A brooding Jeremiah with the two muses of a prophet behind him.  Ron S. Hartsville expresses it like this at

But hovering behind the wizened Jeremiah are the two Muses of every veteran ministry: The beaten-down personna on the left, with downcast eyes and defeated countenance, representing the urge to give up; to succumb to the despair of defeat, and the cynicism born of failure to convince. But the figure on the right seems animated by resolution. She wears a robe and hood as if preparing for a long journey. She symbolizes the hope for the future, and determination to persevere on the pilgrimage of faith, because steadfastness and faithfulness are what God is about, and what a prophet of any era is called to be.
Answering God's call is a step toward faithfulness and the beginning of a journey walking close to God. Our call stories, the moments when we remember, like Jeremiah that our lips were touched, are what keep us going no matter what the 'life of call' brings.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back To Work

I love my 'work'. It's hard to call it that at times because this vocation is integrated with my life. I remember when I was first experiencing 'call' I longed for work where I could get up and do what I really enjoyed. I wanted to spend time reading scripture and writings about scripture. Along with that study, I wanted to talk about the message of scripture and the life of a Christian. Now I am a pastor and I do get to do all those things, when there is time that is. :-)

There are other parts of this 'work' that take time away from study, but I enjoy those also; visits with elderly and ill, counseling people in crisis by mostly listening, planning for the future and adding my voice to meetings. I love that the meetings are capably chaired and well organized. The pastor's voice is one among many, always consulted but not looked to for all the answers. There is such health in this congregation.

And then there are the times of discernment. There are never enough of those times. This post-vacation week is a good time for discernment. Even as the busyness of newsletter writing and worship planning begins again, there will be time to think about the future and to listen for where God is calling us. Or so I hope.

For now, it's back to 'work'. Always a bit of a struggle coming off vacation, but just remembering the joy of this vocation should get me through the day (and tonight's meeting). I wish as much for anyone who reads this today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Time with my daughter is so precious. It always has been but now that she lives so many states away it is more so. When we are together we invariably end up at Starbucks, DSW, and/or Old Navy. Truly not the hottest shops in the world but we love to look at shoes together and drink coffee. Simple things are so very special when the company is just right.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Close Enough To Just Sit

Close family relationships are those that allow people to just sit together without an agenda. It is beautiful to be in such a setting. Perhaps true meditation or contemplation of God is no more than this, a relationship that is so close that one can sit with God, experiencing the closeness without an agenda.

Next time I struggle in prayer, I'm going to remember this.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Spiritual Formation

It was nice to see so many people choosing an area of spiritual formation for the year ahead yesterday after church. (Alma's delicious refreshments certainly aided the process.) Once again I'm wondering how to get myself into contemplation mode, my choice.

Perhaps everyone faces the choice of how to begin. I think I'll address that next week, before I fly away on vacation. But first, a very busy week ahead. Contemplate that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Baptism Stories

I first noticed that Brethren and Baptists baptize differently about six months after I started attending the Church in Manassas. I was surprised to see the youth baptized in a forward motion. Baptists go back, in fact, since my father was an American Baptist pastor, I had seen some pretty funny things happen in the baptistery.

My good friend flopped back so hard her feet came up. She was the daughter of a retired preacher and trouble often showed up when we were together so I suspected she did the flopping on purpose. . so did my dad.

Not only was I surprised to see Brethren go forward in the baptistery, but once was not enough! It took a good THREE dunkings for brethren to be baptized. Not long after, I had a conversation about the theology behind the practice with Pastor Fred Swartz when I asked to join the church.

I learned I didn’t have to be baptized two more times, because Brethren recognize the baptism of other denominations. So when I joined the church, I affirmed my baptismal vows, as did my husband and our letters were transferred from other churches on the same day our son was dedicated.

It was a very meaningful day. There have been a few similar vow-taking days since that first one in the baptistry with my father. The day of my licensing to ministry and the day of my ordination to set-apart ministry were two more where baptism imagery and promises were remembered.

I never imagined the day I was baptized by my father that I would some day follow in his footsteps as a pastor. What I didn’t realize completely then, was I was following his path from the moment of my baptism. In May 1964, I was ordained to ministry in a much more important way than the ceremony that followed my graduation from seminary. Each person who sits in a pew tonight or tomorrow and recalls their baptism has been ordained to ministry. It is an awesome responsibility and the joy of a lifetime. May you be blessed in your remembering.

Monday, January 4, 2010


It appears I took a break from blogging without hardly noticing. Time has flown by and now it is a new year and a Monday at the office. I imagine many ministers are facing full desks today.

Even the break of a few days and less regular office hours last week were a blessing. Enjoying the visit of family and friends made the days fly by with joy. I find that I do enjoy 'work' and although I am busy most of the day, it often doesn't seem like work. How nice to be able to say that! Of course, it's still Monday and by the time Friday rolls around and I've gotten thru the meetings, visits, and planning of the week, I may be saying another thing. I'll be preparing a Memorial Service and a sermon by then. Yet I look forward to celebrating the life of someone I've come to know over the last year and hearing the stories of other aspects of her life. Perhaps I'll get to 'know' her in a deeper way as there are many stories of the work she and her husband did to get this congregation started 50 years ago.

The end of one year and beginning of next is a time for reflection. I wonder what will be remembered from our lives and the year 2009 and 2010? What might we do to follow the Christ that will leave a positive impact on the lives of others in the year ahead.

Last Sunday I spoke of five traditional areas of pilgrimage and asked the congregation to consider their journey for the year ahead. The areas are,

Does your life need greater intimacy with God? Do you need to feel God’s presence closer to you so that you will have the confidence to support others on their journey? Prayer can be in solitude or in a group setting of silence. It takes time to develop this discipline yet the benefits far outweigh the work.
Do you feel tempted by aspects of life that you’d like to change? Will a focus on specific behaviors (taking on or leaving behind) help you find fulfillment in a healthy functional way of living? Often changes of behavior need the support of others and a group setting might be just what is needed to inspire you along the way.
Spirit Power
Do you seek a more visible empowerment by God’s Holy Spirit that you might share healing and hope with others? Many who seek this route are found in charismatic churches, but every church needs the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. If this is your call, God may have work for you ahead.
Justice and Compassion
Are you being called to enter or begin a movement that cries out against injustice and seeks to offer equality to all people? There are so many ways to work for justice or every scale imaginable. We have many resources in the Church of the Brethren to help you discern this call to action.
Is the Bible itself the place of your journey, for study, devotion, learning and inspiration? Will you take on a pilgrimage of reading?

I used the following information from James Bryan Smith's work in the Spiritual Formation Workbook:

  1. In 4th century men and women began monasteries and cloisters, emphasizing the importance of solitude, meditation, and prayer. St. Augustine was an example. The Church universal was strengthened by this renewal of intimacy with God. It was the beginning of the contemplative movement that has seen a renewal in our day.
  2. In the early 18th century John Wesley (he and friends were in the “HOLY CLUB”) began focusing on moral laxity of the time and the removal of sinful habits from the life of Christians. The METHODIST movement was dramatic and impacted the church in positive ways.
  3. In the 17th century, the Holy Spirit moved among people called ‘QUAKERS’ led by George Fox. An active spiritual life became the empowering principle at the center of their worship, which led them into many areas of mission, evangelism and social concern.
  4. Late in the 12th century, Francis of Assisi, left his home and wealth and went into the countryside of Italy caring for the sick, poor and lame. Countless men and women followed Francis’ lead and the Church’s impact on disease and poverty was remarkable.
  5. IN the 15th century there was a renaissance we know as the protestant reformation that emphasized the importance of scripture, individual reading with interpretation, and a focus on biblical preaching. We have to thank Martin Luther, Zwingli, and others for the access to the BIBLE that we tend to take for granted.[i]
I guess we can all use some direction when it comes to looking ahead. I think I'll contemplate the direction of my personal journey for 2010 and choose an area for my focus too. Perhaps this blog will enable me to explore it with others. I sure hope so.

[i] James Bryan Smith, A Spiritual Formation Workbook (San Francisco: Harper, 1993) p. 15-16