Here We Go Again…

Well, this is going to be what seems like my 100th attempt at blogging regularly. I always get going well in the beginning, and then let it slip away. I figured it was time to get going moving on it again. So many things have changed over the last year that I’m not going to even attempt to catch up on everything on this blog. I’ll highlight a few things, and set the tone for future blogs.

I am in the third month of my third year as a pastor. I began my third year in the Conestoga Parish on July 1, 2010. It’s both exciting and scary knowing that I’ve been in the same place for that long. Most of my employment up to this point has been seasonal or temporary at best. The other thing about starting my third year is that I know it will be my last with these three churches. Starting July 1, 2011, I will be a full time pastor and will move to a new church, and most likely a new town. I’ll share more about that in the future, because I don’t know anything about that yet and won’t until I get the phone call next spring.

Along with starting my final year at the churches, I begin my final year of seminary. I won’t mince words here, I’m extremely excited to be finishing up school. I started school at 5 1/2 years old, and now I’m 25 1/2 years old. That’s been a lot of time in school thus far in my life, and I’m ready for a break. People tell me that I’ll miss it, but I just want the opportunity to miss it. Right now I miss being home for more than 3 days a week. I miss being able to spend time with my family and friends on a regular basis. Many of my friends are getting married, having kids, and I want to be more free to experience those things with them. I fell rushed all the time, like I can’t give my all to any thing, only part of me to a million different things. Anyway, I’m ready for May to come around and to have completed my Master’s degree. It’s been a long few years here, and I’ll be glad to have that degree in my hand.

This last summer I had some exciting times. At Annual Conference (if you don’t know what that is, think of it as a large corporate meeting with all of its stockholders) I was commissioned as a Provisional Elder in the Nebraska Conference of the United Methodist Church. Now, what does that mean? Well, in short, I’m a step away from full ordination. The Board of Ordained Ministry felt that I was prepared enough to take on the work of an Elder, with some accountability and supervision, and after a couple years, I will be eligible for ordination. If all goes well, I’m looking at summer of 2013 for ordination. Here’s a picture from that event.

Well, I think I’ve spent enough time tonight tinkering with the design and layout of the blog and writing this post, I better get back to the homework. I’ve already started the list of things to blog about, so look forward to more posts coming soon. It feels good to be back.

Grace and Peace,

What will it be? Where will it be? My purpose in life is a mystery.

Yesterday at chapel I had the distinct pleasure to her the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery preach. Some would say it was a lecture, but there was no doubt in my mind that worship and a sermon took place during that time together. I cannot fully give justice to the event in my words, but I do know that I was greatly changed by being able to experience it. Very few people know this, but since I was in elementary school I have extensively read and studied the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. So, to be able to see, listen to, and shake hands with a giant of the movement was extremely meaningful to me.

There were many quotable moments throughout the morning, many of which I am unable to recall completely, but I do remember this one being especially moving.

Integration is not the movement of all things black to all things white; it is the movement of all things wrong to all things right.

As I heard Rev. Lowery speak, I was constantly moved, many times to tears, about all that he and others had done to bring about change to our country and how they have never stopped working for the greater good. He has been committed to his convictions for his entire life, which has spanned an amazing 87 years so far. His stories always had a point whether they seemed to at first or not, and hit home something powerful about humanity and its need to love one another. After the time in chapel I was both comforted and extremely uncomfortable. My discomfort is grounded in the struggle of my purpose and calling in life. Hearing the call for each of us to be “chaplains of the common good” really struck home with me. Rev. Lowery spoke of his recent work in uniting advocacy groups, and how he felt there were some things above the hierarchy of the church. His use of humor in that situation did not stop me from thinking that our institution gets in the way of ministry many times.

I struggle with my own calling each and everyday. I question whether I am called to the direction I’m headed, or to something different. I wonder if I am compromising my calling for the sure deal of itinerant preaching and guaranteed appointments. Am I called to this? Each day I think I may be less and less. First and foremost I want to be a servant leader. Yes, those two terms can go together whether my recent pastoral care book would agree or not. Leading by example, and less by meetings and visioning plans is where I want to be. I want to serve the needs of people and spend less time maintaining and protecting an institution. There is so much need for work in social justice and mercy ministries, that I would hope the church would be open to a calling based entirely on those factors.

Here’s the catch, how do I go about this? How do I determine if this is possible? How do I make sure that I am able to serve in a way that is authentic to my calling, and still be able to make a living to survive? These are all things on my mind right now. I never imagined being almost half done with my MDiv and be thinking that maybe there’s a different path for me when it’s all done. It scares me, causes me discomfort, but also gives me some peace that I know God is still calling me through the doubt and confusion. God’s calling is bigger than a process and bigger than me. Hopefully some answers will come my way soon, and Rev. Lowery was probably a messenger on the path to figuring it all out.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Refelctions

I’ve never been one to set resolutions as a new year begins, but I do think it’s important to reflect on events and happenings in my life and see what I can learn. 2008 was a year of much diversity in my experiences. There’s been highs and lows, and everything in between.

2008 started and ended in the exact same place and with some of the same people. I found myself in cold machine shed in rural Nebraska with friends from college. That might have been the same, but everything in between was anything but familiar.

I spent the first 5 months of 2008 living in Kansas City and working at Baker University in Kansas. I enjoyed the time very much, and often miss living in a city with so much to do. That semester is also when I experienced a class that forced me to think in different ways about theology. I was introduced to Process Theology, and think that this will be an area I will spend more time in, either in a class or on my own. I discovered an understanding of God that made sense to me and lined up with my experiences. This was a big moment for me to have discovered something in seminary that got me excited about what I was doing.

The spring of 2008 also brought about the quadrennial gathering of United Methodists known as General Conference. This was my second time attending, but my first as a primary delegate. This was a time of deep struggling for me personally and spiritually. There were many glimmers of hope that I saw and experienced during the conference, but there were also some down times. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but there was much disappointment in the church’s continued decision to ban the ordination of homosexuals. Also, the continued policies that make the church less accessible to the LGBT community troubled me at the time, and still does. However, I experienced a progressive community that I had not previously within the denomination. These were people I shared views and passions with, and gave me some comfort during that time.

Following General Conference, the school year ended and I received my first appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. This resulted in a move back to Nebraska and a few life style changes. I also spent July in Dallas at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference to elect bishops for the church. This was my last act as a lay person in the United Methodist Church, and was a reaffirmation of why I am moving towards ordination and greater leadership in the church. The politics and clear prejudices present at this event showed me the need for great change in the church.

As August and September came around, I became very excited to start school again. I was ready to start learning and to see my friends again. However, I never thought that this fall would be such a challenging time in so many ways. These last 4-5 months have been the most difficult that I’ve experienced in my life, and there are so many different elements that have contributed to it. I’ve learned so much about who I am in comparison to who I thought I should be, and learned a lot about trust. I’ve gained some amazing people in my life through these experiences, and wouldn’t want to have had any other people in my life during this time.

One shining highlight of the year was the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I spent much of the year hoping for that night when the election happened. I had the opportunity to see Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton in person, as well as take part in a few political rallies. It was exciting to be a part of something so historic. Election night was also a lot of fun in KC. I got to see the results with my closest friends and had a blast.

I know there will be challenges and difficulties in the future, but at this point I’m hoping for all the best in 2009. I have a lot of questions about my calling and my future ministry, but am going to take it as it comes and discover where I’m suppose to be in life. It may even end up being something I never imagined.

I’ve gained so much from my close circle of friends in the last part of 2008, and feel a lot better than I would if I didn’t have them. In some of my most difficult times, I gained people that are family to me. I can never thank you all enough, and look forward to the times we will have together in the future.

I pray that everyone will receive love and happiness this coming year, and all the years ahead. Take time to evaluate life, and be willing to try something new!

Grace and Peace,
Z

Time to start again…

So I was cleaning my apartment today and found my old backpack and it had stuff still in it. One of those things was my journal. I picked up the leather bound notebook that I purchased almost a year and a half ago, and obviously haven’t used in quite some time. Actually, while looking at it I noticed my last entry was January 18, 2008. Almost an entire year ago. However, the entry I read was interesting to me. It was a theological life statement that I had wrote for Polity class last January. It reminded me of what I feel and hope for the local church. Here is the entry:

I want the local church to realize its potential in changing lives. Through my personal actions and interactions with others, I want laity and clergy I come in contact with to grow in their faith. The realization that one single person or community can make a huge difference, is to realize God’s amazing Love for each individual. We must always be messengers of Grace, for what greater gift can we receive from God? As we connect with each other in the places we live and play, God is realized in the faces of others.

Part of my new start this January will be to journal more regularly… or I guess at all :)… as well as to blog about my thoughts and ideas about the present and the future. I hope that once in awhile something profound comes forth and can also help others think about life. If it doesn’t, at least I’ve started to bring things out of my head and into the open.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Reflections on Chapel Today

For the first time in quite awhile I was really moved by the chapel service at school. The sermon was excellent, communion was done in a way that embraced completely the theology of those serving the elements, even the prayers were deligently decided upon for their value. The overarching theme was to not give into fear, even when the cloud of fear is completely surrounding us.

The message was on Matthew 25:14-30. Here is a small excerpt of that passage:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This slave lived in so much fear that he was not willing to even attempt to invest or expand on what he is given. This fear is so much that it actually pushes him to not act at all. How often is that the case in our lives? I know the fear of the results push me to not act many times. The fear of the unknown can debilitate us in so many ways. This message of overcoming fear continued at the Communion Table. We were called to come and partake in the meal, as Jesus and the Disciples did, without fear of there not being enough. Jesus allows there to be enough of him to go around all the time. During communion, the pianist began playing the song, “Give Thanks.” There was no intention for the congregation to sing along at this point, but slowly we all began singing with the music. As I was walking up to receive Communion, the lyrics really started to speak to me.

AND NOW LET THE WEAK SAY
I AM STRONG
LET THE POOR SAY
I AM RICH
BECAUSE OF WHAT
THE LORD HAS DONE
FOR US

I began to choke up for no apparent reason at that point and really felt vulnerable as I came to the front of the line to receive the elements. It was extremely powerful moment in a time where I needed to know about the hope and love that is still present in the church. I also want to share the prayers from the service today.

For all that we have been given, for the many gifts with we have been entrusted, O God of Abundant Life, We give thanks. For the many times we have failed to respond according to our ability, for the many times we have been paralyzed by fear and insecurity, for our complicity in the unjust distribution of weatlh, O God of Mercy, we repent. For the many who live without, for the many who live with too much, O God of Compassion, we pray. For wisdom and courage, O God of Sustenance and Grace, we hope and trust in you. In the name of Christ, Amen.

May many blessings be upon you in your life!

-z