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Thanks to All for a GREAT Children’s Sunday at Franklin Federated Church!

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

–Mark 10:14 (NRSV)

Once a year the kids take over worship at Franklin Federated.

Well, “take over” is a strong language. In truth, the kids are celebrated and worship is really more tailored to their tastes for one Sunday. In truth, I would be happy for the kids to completely take over and run worship on Sunday mornings now and again. But I have three kids under the age of nine, so there’s an “awww” factor in having your own kids take the reigns.

The truth is, it takes a lot of people to make this work. The kids light the candles, and they were young enough that they needed adults escorting them on their way (thanks Julia). Then someone stands with a clipboard (thanks Erin) and shepherds each part of the service along, making sure (the way a Stage Manager would) that everyone is ready and where they are supposed to be for everything they do. Adults put together Power Points (thanks Mireille) that we use to sing in worship. Adults help plan and set up the picnic (thanks Chris and Tim) and adults help us from all the things that might fall through the cracks (thanks Deb, Chris, Julia, Mireille, Erin and so many others). Others came forward to serve on the Grill ministry (thanks Tim, Rick Brian and others) and the Sunday Sundaes were well loved as ever (Thanks Annette).

As always, Children’s Sunday could just as well be called “Intergenerational Sunday,” because congregations remain some of the last places where people participate in the work we do together. Sports may bring adults to the sidelines (and some coach, but most do not) and the arts may involve adults as instructors to child students, but only in congregations do we say that the kids serve AS adults do. It’s a great feeling to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with children to present a new way for the congregation to meet God.

One liturgical area of consideration did arise, and that was Communion Service. At the Federated Church, Communion is administered by the Deacons; this feels good because we’ve only got two sacraments (or ordinances, as we say on the Baptist side of our church): Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When we do one of these two things, having the Deacons participate reminds us how important they are. It also invokes the apostolic tradition, where we remember that the Deacons were “set aside” from “waiting tables” in order to attend to the spiritual needs of the new congregations (Acts 6:1-6). The two may seem to meld in the Communion Liturgy, but anyone who has tasted the scant bit of bread and juice, or wine, depending on your tradition, knows this: the amounts are symbolic, working toward a unifying sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit in those who partake.

So the Christian Education Team requested that the Deacons commission children to serve Communion, and the Deacons did so. This isn’t gate-keeping. Rather, this is a reminder of what’s important to us: our traditions. Our sacraments and our ordinances. Like the children of our church, they are part of the glue that holds us together, part of the hope that keeps us secure in times of adversity. They are part of who we are and of what we might become.

What a wonderful Sunday. What a great liturgy. What a satisfying (maybe too much so) picnic. As I sit each day to mark off five things I’m grateful for, today was easy: I am thankful for Children’s Sunday, and for all the generations of the church who made it not only possible, but wonderful.


Did This Really Just Happen?

Did This Really Just Happen?

I checked the date of this article a few times to make sure I hadn’t just missed it from April 1st. 

I am in shock. I knew Pope Francis was going to be different, in some ways. This, THIS is probably the biggest, most significant change I’ve heard in the theology of the Catholic Church in my lifetime. 

Does that mean it IS the biggest change the Roman Catholic Church has ever made? Maybe not for them. I don’t really know. I just know that for me, as a Christian outsider from the Catholic community, this feels huge. Theologically, this overturns attitudes and doctrines that have held for many years. And it feels really good. 

It’s an interesting time to be watching the Vatican. I wish them well. 

There’s a lot more going on than who Petraeus is sleeping with

You are being expertly distracted. People are still suffering Sandy. Israel may be about to be at war with Palestine. Our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. Who a morally compromised CIA director is having relations with really is one of the least of our worries right now. I don’t condone his behavior, but there’s more death and destruction being ignored this week than maybe any other in a long, long time.

Hello How Are You?

Nearing a week after the election, and I’m interested to know how my small, brave group of readers are faring.

Did your fella(s) win? Were you interested in someone else entirely who didn’t get any time? Are you making choices now, like some others, to exhibit your displeasure?  Or are you preparing to boycott their businesses? Will that help the workers they claim to be ready to fire?

I’m interested in the “divisive” character of this election, as reported by some outlets, since the election wasn’t really that divisive. A win by 303? That means the Obama/Biden team beat out JFK and many others. This  election really wasn’t that close. Richard Greener’s article here really points this up, and his math seems right, unless I’ve missed something. And you’ll tell me if I have, won’t you?

What’s the Christian witness now, after all the posturing is done? Or is it just more posturing? I’m tired of “God’s judgment this and that,” because neither of these parties seems that concerned with God’s will as I understand it.

How about you?


Vote Twice

“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?” –Luke 12:25-26 (NRSV)

Folks, I will keep this short. Just back from an anniversary trip to Iceland, and WOW was it ever amazing. I will try to put a post together that reflects both images and feelings from this amazing interaction with creation. I recommend the country to you without reservation, and will even include some wise pointers that friends gave us to make things more interesting and convenient.

One thing I will note for today, though; we made no provisions for ourselves to be able to carry our iPhones with us. Or rather, we did not buy any additional international roaming plans, so we had no network unless we were in our hotel room and used wifi. It was a great choice. A little scary, at times, since we didn't rent a GPS either and had a car that we used with…wait for it…PAPER MAPS! The horror! It was actually something to pick up a car from a rental place and be handed the map and given “directions” to get to Reykjavik, with the understanding that if we failed my to follow those directions, reading signs only in Icelandic, that we would still be circling the airport right now. My lovely wife (and chief navigator) gets all the credit for our success). Of course, if we had broken down on the road, we would have had to flag someone else down. We ARE spoiled these days, with ubiquitous communication devices always in our pockets (unless we forget to charge them). On the other hand, we found ourselves focusing on one another a lot more, and really connecting with the amazing geology and massive waterfalls and the air and everything else. On a level, not having those devices made the trip better than it ever could have been with them.

We arrived home in time to vote today. It's a privilege I do not take lightly. We have both voted already at the time of this writing, and the Franklin High School polling station is a remarkably efficient and full of really nice, helpful people. They make you feel like you matter, that your votes counts, all of the stuff that voting is supposed to be about.

As soon as I was done voting, I went to the parking lot, sat in my car, and made another vote. I voted for my sanity. I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, as well as my news apps. I have not turned on the television since I voted. I will not do so until well into tonight. I cannot change the outcome. There's nothing I can do about what's unfolding. I can only add to my worry, not to my life. I hope you are doing the same. Obviously you're doing it now, if you're reading this blog on November 6th. But I urge you to follow up your vote for candidates with another important vote: the vote for sanity, the vote for more peace of mind, the vote to look out and see this beautiful orange sunset and appreciate the cool air and the faces of people you love and all the rest of it. Whatever the results of this election are, we will still be the United States of America when it's over, and I'll keep blogging, and you'll keep doing what you're doing, and we'll still be seeking the face of Christ in others and seeking ways to support them. I wish you peace and grace, whether you “win” or “lose.”

Hey, you're reading this blog. You're already a winner! 😛

Malone Takes on the Denomination Thing

Pastor Jonathan Malone has written an interesting post about his experience of churches and denominations. It got me thinking about all this again. Full disclosure, Jonathan and I do a podcast together called 12 Enough that you can download and listen to if you've got the inclination. He likens the relationship of churches and denominations as they stand now to what happens at a Jr. High School Dance, and manages to weave Foucault in there as well. No small feat.

While I'll leave the heavy theologizing to him, I ran into this myself recently as I missed yet another denominational event in my own backyard. Super Saturday at Tri-Valley Technical School right here in Franklin, hosted by the Mass Conference of the United Church of Christ. Why did I miss it? Well, ten things came up.

And I chose.

I chose to do the other things, as I almost always do, even when there are great resources and important workshops. Why does this keep happening? Are all ministers as introverted as I am? Are others as bored by meeting culture as I am? Are we all just to family-focused to want to take any additional time out for other things?

I don't know what the answer is here, but I do know that my own personal lack of connection to the denomination(s) I serve is helping to foster the lack of connection at our church. Are denominational reps reaching out? They sure are. They are doing admirable work of connecting with local pastors and trying to keep everything together in an era of vastly dwindling resources. Malone alludes to this in his piece. But they are also crowded out by the exact same things that are crowding out the churches from the lives of individual believers.

Every Sunday my people choose things that do not happen at church to focus on. Luckily for us, they do this in waves rather than all at once, but the net effect is that, three years into my pastorate here, we are STILL hovering around the 120 mark most weeks. Knowing the size of many local congregations, I don't take this for granted. 120 souls in a church in New England is no laughing matter, and I am grateful to every single person who takes the time to show up. But we cannot grow past that point when a majority of our members and friends think that showing up twice a month is a good enough church commitment. Now take that spirit and string it along into denominations; if I connect with the denomination(s) at least once a year, I think I'm doing pretty well.

And yet, oblivious to most other aspects of our corporate lives, denominations seem to still thrive in meeting culture, doing most of their work around conference tables rather than online where it makes sense to do most of the heavy decision work. Face to face meetings? Fellowship? How dare they? Seriously, I'm a fan of face to face, far more so than Facebook. But there still comes this moment where, with a finite amount of our most valuable resources (it's still time, it's still not money) we must make a choice. I will always choose to be with my family on days off from church.

I guess I'll get to Super Saturday when my kids are old enough to go? I'd be mirroring the habits of most congregants in New England protestant churches these days.


Peace and Grace and Not Much Sandy

I hope and pray that folks are safe and well in NYC and surrounding areas. I thought it was nice that the Pope had some words of prayer for everybody prior to the storm. It reminds me of the practice of praying the hours, or the Daily Office. Somewhere, at every minute of the day, there is a religious order praying for the world. Occasionally it’s nice to hear the specific prayers offered by someone with so high a profile. I don’t have the text of the prayer at hand, but still…nice gesture.

Here in Massachusetts the storm seems to have largely been a dud. I had it on good advice that this would likely be the cast, so kept my “disaster prep” to a minimum this time. I will tell you the one crucial thing I DID do, though: I removed the Facebook app from my iPhone, and didn’t check it until the storm was well over. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I find the fear-mongering that used to be the province of certain news networks (actually most of them these days) has crept into social media as well. It is corrosive. I didn’t need it. I would drive two hours to help any friend, provided my family was safe, but the panicking ramp-up seems irrelevant and overly fearful.

I’m glad so many folks close by made it through so easily here. For those that did not, we’ll now begin the same work we do after every storm: cleaning up, putting it all back together, finding our peace. For those in the greater NY/NJ/CT area without power, or those at the coast facing flooded homes, I hope our communication will remain steady and sober as we get folks what they need.

If you lack power or hot water and need either, Franklin Federated Church is up and running, and you should feel free to come by if you can get there.