Ever since I first visited Hope Church Boston in the summer of 2003 I’ve nurtured a dream for the church: a dream of extravagant welcome and non-judgmental inclusivity. The seeds of this dream were planted at the Sunday evening Jazz service at First Church in Cambridge where I first encountered a truly open Communion table. I found it expressed at Hope in the welcome statement read each Sunday at the beginning of the service. It’s a welcome message I’ve adapted and continue to proclaim at the beginning of worship each week, both as a tip of the hat to the community that ordained me and as a statement of my belief that no one should be excluded from meaningful experiences of the Divine. I recently had the chance to sit down and record it with the help of Nick DiLullo, who is a member of First Church in Farmington and a fabulous videographer.
Category Archives: Church
The months have flown by since my last post. I elected not to write as the winds of change made their mark on the landscape of my soul.
In June last year I was called by First Church of Christ, Congregational, 1652 in Farmington, Connecticut, to become their Pastor and Teacher. It meant saying goodbye to the dear people of The Congregational Church of West Medford, where I had just entered my fifth year of ministry. What was in many respects a sad time gave rise to an opportunity to celebrate the progress the congregation had made, a capstone of which was a mission trip last August to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
A testament to the faithfulness of the folks in West Medford, the congregation had been transformed during my pastorate among them into an outwardly focused, mission-driven church that sought in new and exciting ways to rise to the challenges of a new day. I hold them dearly in my prayers as I now minister at First Church in Farmington.
My ministry here is also one of peacebuilding and congregational transformation after years of tumult. Again I have been met by God’s grace every step of the way and am blessed by a community striving toward greater faithfulness and a true Christian identity. God has prepared me well for the challenges I face here and the congregation has offered an amazingly gracious welcome. The progress we’ve made in just a few months is enormous and I’m grateful for the ways God has blessed us.
After goodbyes, changes, and transitions, I am grateful to be able to echo the words of that great hymn written by Horatio Spafford: It is well with my soul! It is well, it is well, with my soul!
It was Kermit the Frog who once sang, “It’s not that easy being green.” I quite agree. The bright red stoles of Pentecost have been neatly folded away. The white and gold of the 50 days of Eastertide deserve good rest after adorning the sanctuary since replacing the dark shadows of the Paschal Triduum. The purples that guided our imaginations in Lent won’t be seen again until the first Sunday of Advent.
Liturgically we’re on the cusp of the long season after Pentecost known as Ordinary Time. It’s the second and longest period of Ordinary Time in the church year. The stoles on the lectern or draped over the preacher’s shoulders will be green for the 24 weeks that follow the white of this week’s Trinity Sunday service. It’s a long season that encompasses the bright greens of June, the lush dog days of summer, the first cool nights, and the glorious tapestry of fall. It can seem like a long, unexciting season for those of us who don’t celebrate minor feasts for saints or other commemorations. Ordinary Time can come to seem a little, well, ordinary. Yet it is in the ordinary where the extraordinary can come to light.
Kermit reminds us that while it’s not that easy being green, “Green’s the color of spring, and green can be cool and friendly-like, and green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree. When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why. But why wonder? I’m green. And it will do fine. It’s beautiful.”
Joan Chittister frames the essence of Ordinary Time this way: “Like an echo off a mountain that ripples and repeats itself down the valleys of life, the Sundays of Ordinary Time stand as a stark and repeating reminder of the center of the faith. Each Sunday, remember, is a feast, a little Easter, in its own right. Unencumbered by the overlay of any other feast, they carry within themselves, stark and unadorned, the essence of the Lord’s Day. Each of them is Easter, a return to the core of the faith, the center of the church, the call of the Christian community that ‘Jesus is risen.'” (The Liturgical Year, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p 185.)
Imagine what the church will become if we used Ordinary Time as an opportunity to return to the core of the faith, to get back to the basics of what we have come to believe. Imagine how much more meaningful Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany will be. Imagine what Lent, Easter, and Pentecost will come to mean. Imagine, if you dare, how your life will be transformed when you more fully live the commitment that Christ is risen.
So let’s heed the wisdom of Kermit and Chittister and live into what’s special about being green. Let’s celebrate Ordinary Time in a way that opens our hearts and minds to the extraordinary presence of God in the world. What a tremendous gift Ordinary Time promises to be!
Doing as much work in front of my computer as I do, I find it helpful at times to go to places on the web where I can find refreshment and renewal. Rather than frequent pilgrimages to news sites where the hype of “breaking news” is overdone, I find the sites offered below help me gain perspective and inspiration. They often lead to a reflective walk around the sanctuary or through the neighborhood.
One of the first places I like to go is The Painted Prayerbook, where United Methodist minister and artist Jan Richardson brings together writing, art, and faith in a way that leads to deep reflection and prayer. I am astounded by the volume and depth of the work she does.
The United Church of Christ’s daily devotionals can be received by email or accessed on the denomination’s website (you’ll need to scroll down and select the reading for the day when accessing online). True to the identity of the UCC, these reflections are inclusive and seek to respond to real-world concerns and questions.
Contemplative Outreach, according to its vision statement, “is a community of individuals and Centering Prayer groups committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life.” Father Thomas Keating, a guru of centering prayer, is one of the founding members. The articles, videos, and newsletters under the resources tab provide helpful reminders and practical advice about the practice of contemplative prayer.
Finally, for now, as a preacher I enjoy visiting WorkingPreacher, where scholars comment on the texts prescribed for the week’s lectionary. I believe anyone who wants to engage the Bible can gain much out of the insights offered by a range of commentators. In find the work of David Lose particularly insightful and very much enjoy his “voice.”
I’m back and apologize for not posting another round of spiritual practices last week. Much of my time was occupied with grief and crisis counseling, planning and conducting two funeral services, along with tending to my flock and usual duties. I find it is especially at times like this that it’s important to have spiritual practices and resources on which to draw.
So today (and for the rest of the week) I thought I’d offer some online resources that I turn to for inspiration.
The most logical place to start is wit the daily office. My two favorite sites for this are Mission St. Clare and Oremus. I especially love the focus on the Psalms, on which I like to prayerfully dwell (meditate) each day. In both the morning and evening offices one meanders through prayers, scriptures, hymns, and moments of acclamation. I especially enjoy the scripted prayers, many of which have been prayed over thousands of years.
Perhaps the most mysterious aspect about praying the daily office is that thousands of people from around the globe are participating in one way or another, albeit at different places and times. My heart sings with the monks at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham and Weston Priory in Weston, Vermont, each time I read the office. In their communities I’ve found peace and quiet on retreat, a feeling I carry with me even sitting in front of my computer or iPad. Mission St. Clare has an awesome app!
I’ll end there for today. Check back later in the week for some lectionary resources as well as other awesome sites for contemplation.
In my personal prayer life, I find lectio divina an effective practice for quieting down, focusing, and reaching a more contemplative place in my prayers. It’s often difficult for many of us to carve out the time to intentionally pray, let alone pray deeply to the point where we can rest in the arms of the Divine. Yet these days of Lent provide us a great opportunity to begin making time to pray.
From personal experience lectio divina is one of the most accessible of the spiritual disciplines. All you need is a block of private quiet time, a Bible, and the desire to engage the Word of God in a slow, purposeful, and ultimately contemplative way. One of the most ancient Christian practices, once widely used, lectio divina empowers one to cultivate deep listening, or “listening with the ear of our hearts,” as St. Benedict said in his Rule.
Lectio can also be a communal prayer activity that can greatly enrich those burdensome church committee meetings or even one’s time together as a family, but I’ll get there tomorrow. For today I’ll offer a brief description of individual lectio divina:
Find a passage of scripture that resonates with you or perhaps one of the texts prescribed for the week in the Revised Common Lectionary. Take notice of the parameters of the text, where it begins and where it ends.
Then take a few moments to prayerfully quiet yourself and to open yourself to the word God has in store for you. It’s useful to breathe deeply and ensure that you’re sitting comfortably yet attentively.
Then begin reading. This is not speed reading, the kind we’re used to in practically ever other setting of our lives. Rather it is slow, reverential, deliberate reading. One might even call it meditative reading.
As you’re reading notice what word or phrase starts to resonate with you.
Read through the text a second or third time, keeping your pace slow and deliberate and being attentive to that word or phrase. Memorize it. Hold on to it and then begin to prayerfully ponder it in your heart.
When your thoughts begin to wander, come back to that word and simply rest with it. Let it become a focal point for you, drawing you more deeply into your prayer, into communion with God. Think of this communion with the Divine, this contemplative place, in the words of the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know