No Place To Go

It always comes to my mind this time of year with the onset of winter and the harder times for so many with no place to go. This song from the last of Ewan MacColl's radio ballads, 'The Travelling People', a programme that dealt with the culture and the living conditions of Britain's gypsies, didikais and tinkers, the ordinary people's ignorance of their ways and the shameful intolerance that is shown them.

I like to settle in the wintertime Away from the weather in a country town,

But come the spring I’d get itchy feet, Then goodbye town and smoky street

I’d want to be moving some place else, So move along get along move along get along

Go! Move! Shift!

There’s nothing beats the lovely heather and the moors and the birds whistling and the clear burn and you’ve nae coo nae care as the Scotchman says.

Well it ain’t a bad life in the summer, but I think about the winter, not the summer – I think about the winter. That’s the Terror Time. No place to go nor doesn’t know where to go. Doesn’t know any place to go and sit. It doesn’t matter whether it is snowing or blowing, you’ve got to go.

The heather will fade and the bracken will die  Stream will run cold and clear.

And the small birds will be going,  And it’s then you will be knowing

That the Terror Time is near.

Whaur will ye turn noo, whaur will ye bide  Now that the wark’s a’ done?

For the fairmer doesna need ye And the Council winna heed ye, And the Terror Time has come.

And there was about three foot of snow, and would you believe that I had to pull down that tent among that snow. And when I come fornent the police office in Auchterarder, the horse fell. The horse fell down, and the two policemen come out with their fingers in their tunics like that, and commenced to sneer and laugh. ‘My word’, I says, ‘Youse better men have something to laugh at.’ ‘Get that up’, he says, ‘And get the blazes out of here.’

The woods give no shelter, the trees they are bare  Snow falling all around.

And the children they are crying And the bed in which they’re lying Is frozen to the ground.

The snow winna lift and the stove winna draw, There’s ice in the water churn, In the mud and snaw you’re sloshing Trying to dae your bit o’ washing And the kindling winna burn.

Where would you rather be tonight, sitting in a comfortable house, nice and clean, your children nice and clean? What’s this life here? What’s this life for children?

Needing the warming of your own human kind, You move near a town, but then

Well, the sight of you’s offending, And the police they soon are sending…And you’re on the road again.

Christmas Gift Giving

Every Christmas my brother Chris and our families exchange Christmas gifts by making a donation to the other’s favorite non-profit agency. Chris’ choices rotate from bide-a-while shelter, to Shelter Nova Scotia to Direction 180. Chris’ gift to me is always a donation to the Brunswick Street Mission. But for most of my family and friends the old ritual of trying to buy something for someone who already has most of what they need is the norm. I wonder why this is. The notion of being stressed trying to find a gift for someone who doesn’t need said gift only so we can receive a large credit card bill in January seem bizarre.

That’s why I love this column by New York columnist Nicholas Kristof so much. I hope you agree.

Happy holidays! In the spirit of the season, here’s a suggestion: Instead of inflicting a garish tie on your brother or a carcinogenic face cream on your aunt, how about saving a life?

It’s time for my annual “gifts with meaning” guide, with suggestions for presents that won’t just clog a chest of drawers. Consider a $20 flock of ducks to an impoverished Bangladeshi family through Heifer International, or a $143 CARE scholarship for a girl in a developing country to attend high school. Or some other ideas you may not have thought of:

Deworm a child. Or a village of children! One-quarter of people worldwide have worms in their bellies, impairing their nutrition and often and this leads them to miss less school and earn more as adults. Kids in the American South were dewormed 100 years ago by the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, leading to large gains in school enrollment and in literacy, and now we can easily and cheaply achieve the same gains worldwide.

An excellent website called rigorously examines which charitable causes get the most bang for the buck (I strongly recommend browsing the site), and it recommends several deworming organizations. My favorite (yes, I have a favorite dewormer) is Deworm the World.

Pull a tooth! Millions of Americans can’t afford health or dental insurance, and a lifeline comes from volunteer doctors and dentists working through Remote Area Medical, an aid group that holds huge health fairs for those with no other access to help. During my visit to a fair in Virginia, I watched as one 30-year-old man had 18 teeth pulled.

Some uninsured families camped out for three days for a chance to see a doctor or dentist, and people had tears in their eyes as they thanked Stan Brock, the group’s founder. Some children walked out with new glasses and could see for the first time. Remote Area Medical doesn’t solve the systemic health care problems, but for those who have suffered an agonizing toothache for months or years, a dentist makes a life-changing difference — and since the doctors, dentists and nurses donate their time, it’s very cost-effective.

Fix a foot! About one child in 800 worldwide is born with clubfoot, in which one or both feet are twisted and deformed. In poor countries, these kids often end up unable to walk, attend school or hold a job; frequently, they end up as beggars. Yet clubfoot is easy to fix in infancy using a series of plaster casts, for about $500 a child.

Two great organizations focus on this issue: MiracleFeet, based in North Carolina, and Cure, based in Pennsylvania. I’ve watched MiracleFeet transform lives in Liberia and Cure in Niger, and it’s thrilling. Skeptics who think that humanitarian aid money is wasted should see toddlers who seemed destined to become beggars now running around, their lives transformed, because of a cheap fix.

Fight ethnic cleansing! Myanmar has gotten away with a brutal campaign of murder, rape and pillage directed at the Rohingya Muslim minority. Some experts believe it may qualify as genocide, and hundreds of thousands of survivors have poured into Bangladesh.

As it happens, one of the world’s best aid organizations, BRAC, is based in Bangladesh and does extraordinary work there as well as in other countries from South Sudan to Afghanistan. BRAC is now working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and building latrines, clinics, wells and safe spaces for refugee children. To fight the slaughter, we also need advocates, and Fortify Rights is a longtime leader in fighting for the Rohingya.

Test for cancer! It’s scandalous that a quarter-million women a year still die of cervical cancer, when these deaths are overwhelmingly preventable with HPV vaccinations and simple screenings. A Florida doctor, Vincent DeGennaro Jr., has poured his soul into starting a small aid group,

Innovating Health International, that helps women with cervical and breast cancer in Haiti and tries to prevent those cancers in the first place. It supports simple vinegar-based screenings that cost almost nothing — but can prevent an agonizing death.

President Trump is cutting off funds for some reproductive health organizations, like the U.N. Population Fund, so aid groups in this sphere could use a boost. Partners in Health, a leading health aid organization, also does superb work fighting cervical cancer and other diseases in Haiti.

Give a bed net! I’m haunted by a memory from two decades ago in Cambodia: I came across a grandmother caring for seven children because the mother had just died of malaria. The grandma had one mosquito bed net that could accommodate a couple of children. Her hardest task every night was to figure out which children would sleep under the net and which would sleep unprotected and perhaps die.

The Against Malaria Foundation supplies effective bed nets for about $4 each to families in areas where malaria is a major killer.

Neckties and sweaters are expensive, but saving a life, even in 2017, is a bargain. I hope you enjoy the holiday season.

Running Commentary

I love running commentary. When I was a young lad I would watch professional sports all the time. Like a lot of people my age then I had my favorite teams; Boston Bruins, Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, and the Boston Celtics (do you see a pattern). But I also listening and watched to hear the announcers. I was captivated by the skill to guide a listener through an event, to be welcoming, transparent, entertaining, accurate, and most of all, weaving together a narrative that made the whole experience one that could be understood as story. I loved this!

When I had a paper route I used the money I earned to purchase a tape recorder at Sears. When I was alone in the living room watching sports I would turn the sound down and record my own play by play and analysis of the game. Later I would play back the commentary and listen for how well I kept my own attention and accurately described what happened on the field, ice or court. I worked at this very diligently, and over time I got better.

This skill, this obsession, carried over into other parts of my life. I would be sitting on a bleacher watching some random event and just launch into commentary. Those sitting around me on the bleachers were more than a little startled by my loud voice offering a running commentary on what was unfolding in front of them. Some found it amusing, some found it strangely helpful to their understanding of the event and some were annoyed, it was a distraction, an irritant. All of these reactions continue to this day, as I continue to offer running commentary on what is going on around me.

When I was a baseball player my position on the field was catcher and behind the plate I would loudly offer an analysis of the game. Umpires, people in the stands behind us, hitters, would again be amused or appreciative or irritated or all three. And this would happen when I coached minor hockey, standing behind the team bench and selecting who would go on the ice or stay off, in the midst of decision making I was offering commentary, out loud, for all to hear.

It’s no wonder everyone then and now think I am odd. This behavior can be traced to a mother who instilled a belief in me that what I saw and heard was inherently interesting to others. That is not necessarily a helpful lesson to pass on to a child who wants to make friends! As I grew older I learned the hard way that people were not as interested in my commentary as my mother led me to believe! However, there was one very important lesson, a good lesson, I learned from this experience. Being a good announcer means having the ability to describe events to people with very different sets of lenses, different education levels, different backgrounds, different senses of humour, different politics, different interests. I never ever tried to play it safe and be all things to all people. Those announcers blend in too much, people want the announcer to add something to the experience. By the same token people don’t want the announcer to overwhelm the event, to make it about her/him. The important thing is the event, not the person speaking.

What I learned to do was offer tid bits and colour to the commentary that gave something interesting for a great variety of listeners to chew on, to think about. I was trying, if you will, to be multi-grain bread, not bland white sandwich bread. But in the flavor to add tastes to the experience that covered a wide range of appetites, not just my own.

When people ask me where and how I learned to be a preacher this is the answer I want to tell them.

Church Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about organic leadership. In my training to be an ordained minister I witnessed many different styles of church leadership from clergy. Three different styles that came to my attention were what I would call 1) incarnational leadership, 2) prophetic leadership and 3) organic leadership.

The incarnational approach posits the presence of the divine in the people. The people as a community have within them the truth and the one offering leadership is to both help the community discern and affirm this truth. I had a supervisor once who used to tell me over and over about the sins of previous generations of church leadership, who would come to a community and tell them what was truth, as if no truth ever existed in that community. How arrogant! How unfaithful, to think God would not have already come to a place before this self-important clergyperson arrived with the truth. My supervisor then would try as best he could to blend in, to become the community, embodied in exacting form. He looked, spoke and lived as the locals. This witness had a powerful effect, people felt affirmed for the first time in their ministry, and they began to express their passion for faith with a sense of the presence being with them, not a presence coming at them.

The prophetic approach comes with many different themes, different theologies, and different kinds of personnel. The irony here is that you can have an evangelical, a fundamentalist, a progressive or a liberation theology believing pastor and all would claim their approach was prophetic. They clergy believe the truth has set them free and if only others would hear this challenging truth they too would be set free. There is no sense of discerning what truth is present, rather it is discerning what there is that lacks truth and addressing that with a strong message. Evangelicals will call on people to accept Jesus as Saviour, liberals will call on people to become more inclusive and accepting, social justice prophets will call on people to live for justice, not just us.

The organic approach is slightly different than both of the above types of leadership. An organic leader seeks to know her/his congregation, their strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, know her or his own strengths and weaknesses. In this model the leader is a part of the people. Unlike the incarnational approach the leader knows s/he brings a particular understanding of theology and community and justice. There is no sense of hiding or suppressing these difference. But unlike the prophetic approach the organic leader seeks to find places in the community where the truth lives, where the truth is coming to life and breathing new life into the body of Christ. The leader is a kind of canary in the coalmine, s/he explains to the community that the truth is present, names it and inspires people to live what God is already doing with and for the people.

The organic leader can let some things go knowing the organic community just does not have the tools or gifts necessary to live out all types of mission. The organic leader can say, “this is who we are, how can we use what God has given us to be the most faithful disciples possible in this context? There is a kind of acceptance but also a strong push to grow, stretch what God is doing and what can do in this context.

Merry Christmas

The Rev. Kevin O’Brien, dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, revealed his thoughts on the religious debate over whether to use the expression “Merry Christmas” this winter season. According to O’Brien, Jesus probably doesn’t care whether you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”  “It should not be about litmus tests, about whether I say ‘happy holidays’ or ‘merry Christmas,’” O’Brien said. “To me, that’s an easy way out to prove your Christianity.” Christians, he added, should instead focus on acting out their faith during the holiday season, which means celebrating and honoring the religious diversity in our country. “We have to be careful about the language we use in a pluralistic society like ourselves, because in it we encounter people of different faith traditions,” O’Brien said. “This means listening to people and respecting people who are different than us. We listen to them not just simply to be nice, but to learn.”

Getting Ready in Advent

Hi Bethany!

Here’s a conversation I had last Sunday as I was wandering through the pews sharing my Advent joy…

Parishioner sitting quietly, unsuspectedly waiting for the church service to begin…

Kevin: Hello!

Quiet Parishioner: Hello?

Kevin: Are you getting ready this Advent?

Quiet Parishioner: Is there anything going on?

Kevin: Is there anything going on?! Where do I start?

Quiet Parishioner: How about Tuesday.

Kevin: Got it. Tuesday night (the 12th) at 7 pm we’ll have our Advent Faith Study in the MacKinnon Chapel. We’ll be diving into Advent/Christmas aided by the Carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. I will be asking what aspect of Jesus’ presence named in this Carol you need this Christmas.

Quiet Parishioner: What about Wednesday?

Kevin: I’m just getting started. You know our Shawn, he loves to bring that old world music to our attention with instruments we rarely see. How cool. You can join Shawn and his musical pals in the Ewen Moase Fellowship Hall at 7:30 pm for the Rejouissance Early Music Ensemble.

Quiet Parishioner: That sounds very cosmic and other worldly but how about something more participatory and familiar?

Kevin: Funny you should say that. If you are free at 1 pm this Thursday some of us are joining the talented Linda Grady at St. Vincent Guest House on Windsor Street (that building that looks like a space ship) to sing Christmas carols in a worship service for the residents in the Chapel on the 2nd floor.

Quiet Parishioner: Will you be preaching at that service?

Kevin: Is the Pope Catholic? Is Bobby Orr the greatest hockey player to ever live?

Quiet Parishioner: I guess I won’t need my hearing aids after all. OK, so this week there is study, beautiful music to sit and listen to, old carols to sing for others, how about something outdoorsy?

Kevin: Put on your Stanfield long johns and join us this Friday in front of our Church Hall (2669 Joseph Howe Drive) at 6:30 pm for Annual Living Nativity which will include eight live animals; an alpaca, a donkey, three sheep, and three goats…. I have a donkey costume in my office if you would like to wear that?

Quiet Parishioner: That’s OK. I’ll pass this year on the costume. I’ll be there wearing that toque I bought after church last week from Grace Veino.

Kevin: Is that enough “going on” at Advent to help you get ready for the Christmas spirit?

Quiet Parishioner: What about Saturday?

Kevin: Well, even God took a break in the Creation Story. Perhaps you can go to Al’s Tree Lot in the Hall parking lot and get your tree that day from Glen MacRae and ask him to show you a photo of his newborn daughter?

Quiet Parishioner: And Sunday?

Kevin: Our Annual Service of Lessons and Carols will be a little different this year, six people from the church, new and familiar faces, all ages, men and women, will tell us in one to two minutes what their favorite Christmas Carol is and why.

Quiet Parishioner: That’s interesting, I can imagine that as I listen to these persons I will be thinking about what my favorite Carol is and why.

Kevin: That was my intent.

Quiet Parishioner: And the week after that?

Kevin: Stay tuned…we’re just getting started.

Quiet Parishioner: Thanks for this.

Kevin: By the way it’s been two years since I visited you, would you like me to visit again?

Quiet Parishioner: That’s OK. I enjoyed our visit but I had to take a week long nap after you left. When I am rested up I will let you know.

Kevin: Happy Advent!

Quiet Parishioner: See you on Tuesday night.


Connections. How are they offered and how are they accepted? Yesterday was a day of connections made real. In the morning worship a man whom I met at a funeral for someone who lived close to the street read the Gospel. This man was casting about for connections. He heard me at this funeral and we shared a lengthy conversation. That Sunday night he appeared at Brunswick Street United Church. He has been going ever since. Last Christmas Eve he called in the morning to say he had no bed sheets. I asked the people at Bethany for used bed sheets and instead received many sets of new bed sheets. This man was overwhelmed. Now he attends Bethany on Sunday morning and Brunswick Street on Sunday night. He offered the Benediction at Brunswick Street and yesterday, for the first time, he read the Gospel at Bethany.

Yesterday morning the office staff person I worked with in Tantallon attended the morning service at Bethany. She arrived with her mother. She told me her 101 year old aunt was in hospital and so after church and coffee hour I went to the hospital and visited the aunt.

In the afternoon I attended a Christmas party hosted by a woman who attends Bethany church. It was an open house gathering catered with amazing good and beverages. There I met many people I had connected to when the host’s husband had died more than a year ago. This host insisted and strategized to connect all of those in attendance with someone they had never met before. I met a man who had been a server for the catering company that provided the meal for family and friends of this host after her husband’s funeral. As the house was being cleaned up one of the caterers asked about her piano. It turned out he was a professional pianist and thus the host asked this man back, this time not as a server but as the entertainer. The music was festive and lively.

Last night was the 22nd Annual Bethany Old Fashion Christmas celebration, youth lead in worship and then there are snacks, cider, games, Crafts for all ages, Christmas carols and Santa! It was a multi-generation event, children, youth, parents, single adults, seniors, grandparents and staff were on hand. All of the items collected were given to Phoenix House programs to help youth at risk in our city. While there I met people of all generations and engaged in deep conversation about grief, community, relationships, mission and theology. I met people from my past, my current work and new people I have never met before. I know I made some solid connections.

After the day had ended I was struck by how connections come to us and how we offer them. There was a couple who attended most of the church activities for the day, they are recent arrivals to Bethany, and they had no direct connections to anyone at the church, except me. Yet I did not need to talk to them, at every occasion they made their own way and engaged in everything that was offered.

Finally, I met a woman who occasionally “drops off the radar” of the church when she is feeling low. I asked about her and expressed delight she was there. She told me a friend called her and strongly suggested this event would be life-giving. Now that she was there the woman who has her share of hard days was feeling connected.

Connections offered and connections received.

The Church in the Wilderness

There is a thirty year old story that has been shared with me by multiple sources about an Anglican Church in downtown Toronto that was about to receive their new Rector. This former church of the establishment had fallen on hard times, you might even suggest these were the wilderness years in the parish. But their search committee had selected a new Rector and the church had high hopes that at long last the Spirit would return to the congregation.

The search committee had been bold. They had selected the parish’s first woman Rector and thirty years ago that was considered a revolutionary move. This new rector was due to begin her ministry on Christmas Eve, she would meet her flock on the most well attended service of the year. The anticipation and excitement at the church was electric, everybody showed up, and many came early. On this cool evening as parishioners climbed the steps to the front doors of the church they passed by a small woman dressed in rough clothes who called out, “It’s Christmas, I’m lonely, please sit and talk with me for a while?” Some smiled and told her they were busy but wished her a Merry Christmas but most hustled by without a glance. The woman on the steps did not ask for money, she was not demanding, her tone was measured and warm, “It’s Christmas, I’m lonely, please sit and talk with me for a while.”

As the service began a Parish Warden stood before the congregation and led them through the Prayer Book liturgy. You could hear the murmurs, “Where is the Rector?” “Why isn’t she here?” This continued until the Eucharist was about to be celebrated. As the hymn was being sung and the elements were being prepared the small woman in rough clothing walked up the centre aisle to the Altar. In the last verse of the hymn she dressed herself with vestments over her rough clothing and stood behind the Altar and began the Eucharistic Prayer.

Karoline Lewis, Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota writes of our Gospel text this morning:

Mark asks us to view God's good news in a different way. We find God's good news not in Jerusalem but in the in the wilderness where the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to meet John the Baptist. God goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be. We find ourselves not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside of her city walls, in the margins, on the sidelines. The good news of God brings hope to those who find themselves in the peripheries of our world, but it also belongs there. God's good news of grace announces God's presence on the fringe, God's love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God's promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us.

Jesus carried out his earthly ministry by going to rich and poor and telling each Good News. To the woman who was bleeding he touched and healed her. To the man who had been begging he said, “Take up your mat and walk.” To the woman at the well who was a Samaritan and had been married many times Jesus explained that he knew her past and the differences between them but wanted to give her “living water”. As soon as she drank it she knew he was her Saviour. Jesus also saw a rich tax collector up in the tree and went to his home, this connection changed the tax collector’s life as he immediately became more generous.

Jesus did not come in a palace or appear exclusively to the powerful, nor did he carry out his ministry in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Jesus made a way where there was no way. And John the Baptist came to announce this ministry was coming.

I remember a conversation I had with an Elder in a previous church about the men’s service organization this man served as a leader. I asked him why he enjoyed the service in this group. He responded, “Because we take good men and make them better.” That has always struck me as real mission of the church over the last several hundred years, “To take good people and make them better.” That was certainly the theme of services I remember from the church in my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. The church attracted people who were living by the rules of our time, doing reasonably well and encouraged them, us, to do even better.

There were many positive outcomes of this approach. It created a warm and supportive community for Christians to rely on and be inspired by. Many of us have great memories of that model of church, it is likely why we are here today. The downside of this approach was this; the folks whom Jesus spent much of his time with, the places Jesus spent much of his time visiting, were largely absent from this model of church.

When my mentor, the now 90 year old retired United Church minister Nathan Mair was studying at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown he went to the large church in the downtown where the establishment came to worship. As a poor student from a small town the only place he felt he belonged in that church was the balcony. There with him in the balcony were others who did not feel like they belonged down below.

And here’s the interesting thing I have observed in my 28 years as an ordained minister, the good middle-class people like me who want to be better have stopped coming to church. But those who used to sit in the balconies, who were rarely noticed in our churches, they are still coming and they are now assuming more leadership roles in the church. Of all the years I have served as a minister the single largest increase in attendance occurred the year a low-income apartment building opened next the church. Many were persons 55 years and older who were on a disability pensions and could only afford to live in that building. They were lonely and started, one by one, to come to the church, join the choir, attend Bible Study.

I tried in vain to convince the Nominating Committee to appoint some of these new persons to leadership positions in the church. At coffee hour the people who had been attending the church for years had difficulty making conversation with these new members. The model of church then was still to attract people who looked and sounded like the people who were already in the church. It was nice to have more bodies in the pews but when it came to leadership and making new friends that was a harder sell.

I am convinced that issue would be easier to resolve today. Necessity makes virtue less challenging. With fewer people and more persons who previously sat on the margins of the church community assuming more leadership roles what we think of as “good Christian woman and men” has evolved. But there is still much work to be done.

Advent is a season of preparation and getting ready for the celebration of a birth that would remind us “God is with us” Emmanuel. I know you come here every Sunday looking for a connection with our God, hoping God will touch you, know you, and perhaps heal you, even save you. I pray that will be so. But know that God comes to us outside the walls of our established churches too, and many times I believe God goes to the wilderness places quite intentionally.

Church sign.jpg

When I first came to Bethany I put a sermon title on our large outdoor sign that read, “Looking for Jesus, he is on the #15 bus.” I received a lot of email and letters asking how this could be true. If Jesus were among us why would he ride the #15 bus? My answer to those inquiries was this, if John the Baptist came dressed as oddly as he did, in the wilderness, if Jesus came to a manger and was raised in the most ridiculed town in the middle east, Nazareth, if Jesus ate with the outcasts and told people that if they were looking for God they should know the story of the Samaritan who helped the Jew, then why wouldn’t Jesus come to ride the #15 bus.

Look where you normally would not expect to find Jesus. And find church where you would not normally expect to meet your new best friend. God will surprise you. Amen.

The Lifespan of Church Events

Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

I had a question this week about a church tradition that no longer receives the attention it once did. While there are examples of annual church events that regularly occur with limited planning, organization or promotion my experience is this, if the event is truly valued by the church such chaos will be corrected the next year. Often some team of volunteers who run an event like a well-oiled machine pass on their leadership to another team. The results of such a hand-off are usually uneven with gaps and uncertainty and confusion. The next year is the tell-tale sign of where this annual event is going. One of three things will happen; 1) the new team will find their legs, the church will adjust to the new approach, the gaps will be filled, the confusion will end, and new life will come to the event or 2) some combination of the former team and new team will evolve and a hybrid of old and new will emerge that will rescue the event and a sigh of relief will come to the church who value this annual program or 3) the event itself no longer holds the attention and affection of the church and the reason for its ongoing existence has less to do with its original purpose and now is a creature of pure nostalgia and pride.

As a church staff member I can inject a lot of energy to the execution of an annual church event, I can help recruit volunteers, promote the event, make sure the organization is running smoothly by “checking in” with the leadership, in short I have the face time with the church to make something a priority. I use this resource with intent and try never to overdo the privilege. If I did overdo it the risk is people will stop listening, all calls for immediate action will be heard the same, in a world where everything is a priority nothing is a priority. If my analysis of the annual event is that we are dealing with 1) or 2) as described above I will move heaven and earth to keep this valued event afloat and alive so that an evolving leadership can “right the ship” and offer said event in the way people in the church are so eager to engage. BUT if we are dealing with 3) (see above) I see it as a palliative experience and I offer only the necessary care so those involve feel supported and the event itself can die a dignified death.

There is truly a season for everything and some events that are highly valued in one season live out their usefulness in another season. Part of the job for a church leader is to affirm this seasonal understanding and explain that letting some things go is not failure or somehow failing our ancestors. Previous generations of church leader also let things go and started new ventures. As long as there is energy for new events letting go of the old is not a worry. Again, as a church staff member with face time with the congregation my goal is to share a narrative that new life is still present in this new event or that one so that the church is aware that what we experience as God’s presence is not static or museum-like but rather blowing like a life-giving wind through our season and giving vision and energy to our existing mission.

My leadership approach is one focused on vision. I am relational and gifted in forming, maintaining and affirming healthy and growing sisterhood and brotherhood within the church. I try to understand the value of tradition and nostalgia, with limited success and less and less effort. And I am rarely emotive or driven by emotion. The relational aspect to my work is important but not as important as the overall vision and mission of what we do together. Thus annual events for me need a “reason to be” or they will slowly, or quickly, unravel and die. I am always on the lookout, discerning, the Spirit at work in existing and long-standing events and the emergence of new ones.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…


People like to make fun of me for my “compulsive lists”. I write down on a piece of paper, usually a sticky note, a list of things I need or want to do this day. The list is never less than five or more than ten. I carry that list with me throughout the day and whenever I get a chance to make a dent into that list I do...

Getting Older

Lately I have been wondering why 60+ year old men I know all seem so…grumpy. Many have good pensions, wonderful families and relatively decent health. The opportunities that surround them seem endless. But they are grumpy. Moreover they frequent these radio talk shows listening to angry men get them even angrier...

Making a Difference?

How do we measure our lives? What is the yardstick we use to determine if we have lived a good life? There are so many different ways to answer this question; were we honest and followed the “Golden Rule”, did we work hard and play by the rules, did we look after our family, were we faithful to our God...