Bringing a Child- A New Lens for Mark 10

Felix 4

+ Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

I’m in my 7th week back at Community Christian Church after my maternity leave ended in October. I returned to the church changed.

In the last 3 months- I’ve learned a lot about having a child.

I’ve learned how to translate cries.

I’ve learned about love.

I’ve also learned that some of the catch phrases we say about children are just not true. For example, the phrase: I slept like a baby last night.

WHO thought that up?

That little phrase is usually spoken when someone sleeps soundly all night. Whoever coined that has never had a baby. Sleeping like a baby means getting up every two hours to eat, then play, then look at pictures, then crying yourself to sleep, REPTEAT UNTIL MORNING.

Then, there’s that story in Mark. I think it’s a misunderstood and misrepresented passage about children. People are bringing children to Christ, and he is taking them in his arms and blessing them. When we picture this scene, it’s easy to picture a peaceful, simple, beautiful moment of innocent little babies and children coming to Christ.

But then I had Felix. And I learned that bringing a child anywhere is NEVER simple or cleaned up or serene.

You practically have to pack 4 suitcases to get out the door. Not to mention, it seems to take 3 hours to leave the house with a baby. They need to eat, then sleep, then eat, then be changed, then be changed again, then you’re too tired to leave the house with them anyway.

If you do leave the house with your baby- and you arrive at your destination outside the house- no doubt- your child will either start screaming and disturbing everyone around you, or your child will have a diaper blow out, or spit up all over their outfit, or both.

Bringing a baby anywhere is not simple and sweet and innocent at all- it’s a NIGHTMARE.

There is ONE reason I am able to show up at Community Christian Church each day for work: I have help. Andrew is an equal, loving parent. Our friends offer support. Our churches are compassionate and welcoming when we need to bring Felix to a meeting or when he has a meltdown during a prayer gathering.

One true phrase about babies: it takes a village.

I’ve been thinking about this story from Mark when people are bringing children to Christ, and I see it differently now.

Consider the scene: folks bringing their children to see Christ. This means they were loaded down with baggage. This means it took them 5 hours to finally get out the door to see Christ and likely, their babies were screaming their heads off as multiple people try to calm the little ones.

I can see why the disciples were upset. It was a nightmare!

But Jesus says: let the children come to me.

Think about it: to get to the kingdom of God, we have to come like children.

What does that mean?

It means we come with our baggage. It means we come and it’s messy. It means, we cannot do it alone. It takes a village.

The only way we are going to reach God’s hope is if we remember we must come, baggage, messiness and all- which is good- because that’s the only way I get anywhere these days.

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In the Beginning

ImageThe gospel of John opens up with this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (+ John 1:1-4)

No manger, no shepherds watching their flock by night, no little town of Bethlehem.

Instead, the Gospel of John opens with this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This gospel echoes the scriptures from the very beginning in Genesis that says: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 

The author of the Gospel of John wants us to see this parallel. The author wants us to remember that the words “In the Beginning” indicate a creation story taking shape. God’s work of animating and shaping the world starts in the beginning.

In Genesis, God created the world. Through Christ, God recreated the world and defined all of us as children of God and Children of light.

And in the last two weeks, I began my new ministry as Senior Minister at Community Christian Church in North Canton, Ohio. At my new church, we are all at a beginning. A creation story for the future of our church is taking shape.

I have so much excitement for our future together. I want us to grow in spiritual depth and in mission. I want us to meet Christ in new ways and mimic Christ to our neighbors with new energy. I want us to get to know one another and share our stories over the next few months.

But on my first week at the church, I showed up on a Saturday afternoon to practice my sermon. I wandered out into the hallway to find a drink of water and turn the lights on… and the office door slammed behind me.

I was locked out.

In that moment, I realized a few things as the sun began to set and the building became dark:

1) In the beginning, you don’t know where the light switches are

2) in the beginning, you don’t know anyone’s phone number yet

3) in the beginning, you don’t even know where the phones are in the building.

I finally stumbled down to the nursery area and I found a phone on the wall. I managed to get a-hold of the church janitor. 45 minutes later, after waiting in the dark hallway, Rick came and let me back into the office.

Through that experience, I was reminded- that in the beginning- it’s always a little bit messy.

In the beginning, God hovered in a void of absolute darkness to create light.

In the beginning, God reached into dust and dirt and mud to create human beings.

In the beginning, God showed up in a filthy, stinky manger as a tiny, helpless, screaming infant.

In the beginning, sometimes you lock yourself out of your office without a phone or a coat… And I’m remembering that there will be messiness yet in the beginning of our journey together.

But the good news for all of us in this beginning is that God is with us, as a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome the light.

The good news for us in this beginning- as we take time to get to know one another, as we navigate the future together- is that God is participating and guiding the creation of our future.

Where there is a beginning, there is God. Where there is a gospel mission, there is God. Where there is Community Christian Church and all our faithful members, there is God.

In this beginning, in this re-creation story at Community Christian Church, I know our future is bright, our foundation is strong, and God is with us.

Goodbye Y’all (a final sermon for Lindenwood)

lindenwood

This is it- my last Sunday at Lindenwood- and how could I possibly begin to say goodbye?

 How do you say goodbye well?

  It’s only been 3.5 years, but for me, it’s been my entire life in ministry. My first call, the place where I was ordained, the place where I took risks, where I grew, where I made mistakes, where I learned, where you all gave me the space to explore ministry.

 This is our 170th Sunday together. For 170 Sundays, I have been your pastor, and you have been my congregation.

 I saw this time as a gift, a privilege, a true calling from the holy spirit. I owe you so much of my heart, so much gratitude, so much appreciation.

 And Y’all have taught me so much, and I realize that now as I’m fixing to leave. I came as a Yankee, but you taught me that I might could become a southern belle with a little effort.

 Y’all taught me that even a few drops of cold rain is plenty a reason to close church, the pharmacy, sell out of bread and milk- and spend the whole day at home catching up on Netflix. Thank you.

 Y’all taught me important phrases like y’all, fixing to, might could, bless your heart, getting my picture made, kiss my grits, madder than a wet hen…

 But more than those “Southernisms”, you have taught me to baptize, to keep vigil at the bedside of someone on hospice or at the hospital, you have taught me to pray out loud, you have taught me how to design worship, how to preach, how to climb up onto the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house, how to bless a baby, how to marry a loving couple, how to say farewell to someone in a funeral, how to grieve with a family, and how to love a room full of 400 people more than I thought I ever could…

 This has been a journey of teaching, of loving, of learning, of growing, and most of all- bringing glory to Christ in all that we do. So how do you say goodbye well?

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 That’s how we did it, anyway.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 I remember my first adult goodbye so well. It was a cold spring. My family gathered around the hospital bed keeping vigil, telling stories, sharing memories, listening to music. The food tasted like rubber, the neon lights offered little warmth, but none of that mattered. My family spent the afternoon in the Cheyanne Wyoming Memorial hospital with my grandfather. We were creating a safe, sacred space for him to let go.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 We all made sure to whisper these words to him that afternoon.

 For some of us, we had no idea what we had to apologize for…

 Well, I had one little thing… I remembered a moment from 10 years before this, when I was an angst-y 8th grader- writing angst-y things in my little journal. I would criticize classmates and critique teachers. And one Thanksgiving, my grandfather accidently picked up this journal and peeked in by mistake.

 I was mortified. I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t want him to see my harsh words written down.

 10 years later, gathered around his hospital bed- we had shared so many more memories and inspiring conversations and family Thanksgivings- I doubt he ever remembered my 13-year-old girl journal- but it didn’t matter- I whispered: I’m sorry.

 Many of us in the family didn’t know what we meant exactly with those words “I forgive you.” But just like ‘I’m sorry,’ they needed to be said. Maybe my grandfather experienced his own private angst for not showing up for some odd ballet performance, or not writing the perfect Christmas card, or….

 Whatever could have been troubling him, we wanted to release it- so we all whispered “I forgive you.”

 And finally, we all said “I love you.” Over and over again, we said “I love you.”

 We did this because it was time to say goodbye, it was time to make sure that our adoration and respect was understood, and believed, and communicated.

 In those final hours, we listened to sacred music. Alleluias and Praise to the Lord’s rang out. I remember when one of my favorite songs began to play in that hospital room as we all gathered. It was an arrangement of a beautiful sacred spiritual by Moses Hogan:

Lord I want to be more Holy, in my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

In my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

I sang along as the song played. It was like the anthem for all of us. I remember singing that song so clearly because that afternoon, as we said goodbye to my grandfather, it was a holy moment, a sacred, peaceful, holy goodbye.

And then I look out at all of you here today, and it almost feels the same.

When I think back to that song: Lord I want to be more holy, in my heart, in my heart, Lord I want to be more holy in my heart…

It reminds me that this was our biggest task together at Lindenwood. We all had the privilege and the honor of seeking holiness together, of trying to be more faithful, more loving, more compassionate and gospel-oriented together.

In the same way that we gathered that afternoon in the hospital room, we are all here today to say a goodbye.

I chose Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this morning, partly because it is a scripture for the 2nd week of Advent (well, last year anyway), but mostly because I couldn’t have composed a better letter myself. Our brother Paul wrote this letter generations ago, but I wanted to borrow his words and recite them to all of you today:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 Theologians agree Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a friendship letter- it expresses the deep love and connection between Paul and this community. This letter is sustained and rooted in their shared memories- Paul recalls with joy all that they have shared together and endured together.

Paul has 4 main points throughout the letter to the Philippians:

1)      he expresses gratitude that they have shared the gospel together;

2)      he expresses his love for this community;

3)      he tells them he hopes their love will overflow;

4)      and finally, he tells them he hopes they will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

This letter holds the longest expression of thanksgiving and love to any community that Paul writes to. There is a special intimacy and love reflected in this letter that goes beyond any of his other writings. The church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe, and Paul has a particular connection and respect for this church, because it’s where he felt he did some of his best work.

He writes to them knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their good ministry, instead, he says, he will pray for the church until the day of Christ arrives.

Today, I can relate Paul’s situation and sentiment in this letter. I want to share a message of friendship with each of you because of our deep love and connection that is sustained and rooted in shared memories and joy. I want to express the same message Paul writes:

1)      my gratitude that we have shared the gospel together;

2)      my love for this community;

3)      my hope that your love will overflow;

4)      and finally, my hope that you will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

And, just like the church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe for Paul, you, Lindenwood, are my first church. Because of this, there is a special intimacy and love from me, for you.

Finally, Paul writes knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their ministry- and I will not be with you all as you do your best ministry ahead.

So how can we say goodbye?

Let me say to you the goodbye I learned at the bedside of someone I loved: I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you.

I am sure there are those here who I offended, or hurt, or disappointed, or worse. But today, as we go our separate ways, it feels vitally important and appropriate for me to say: whatever has been said or left unsaid that caused upset: I am sorry.

And, I forgive you. Just like ‘I’m sorry,’ these words need to be said.  I leave with no grudges or unresolved relationships. I am sure there are those here who think we might have had a past concern, or issue, or conflict. Whatever could be troubling you, I want to release it- so believe me when I say “I forgive you.”

 And finally, the most important message of all: I love you. I do. I love this entire church for all my relationships, my memories, my joy, my laughter, all that we have shared, all that we created, all that we witnessed together.

Lindenwood, on this final Sunday, may this be my lasting word of good news: we can say goodbye well. Even the apostles and prophets before all of us knew how to depart well. And this is an opportunity for us to do the same. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Amen.

Answering a New Call

Sarah

A Letter To My Lindenwood Family:

Over the past 3+ years, you taught me how to be a minister. You allowed me to lead you in worship, prayer, and small groups. You ordained me in your sanctuary. You offered me the privilege of blessing new babies and marrying committed partners here. You invited me to your bedside for pastoral care. You included me in the intimate moments of grief and loss that you endured.

You gave me space to try, to fail, and to achieve. Thank you.

Every minute of my ministry at Lindenwood Christian Church felt like a gift, a privilege and a true call from the Holy Spirit.

Today, I write to tell you some exciting yet bittersweet news. In prayer and partnership with God, Community Christian Church in North Canton, Ohio has called me to be their next senior minister. I joyfully accepted this call. My last Sunday at Lindenwood will be December 8th.

We will have time to say goodbye well. We will have time to remember, to grieve, to worship, to celebrate and to pray together over the next 8 weeks until my final Sunday.

When I leave, I will take your teachings with me. I will remember the sacred moments of ministry we created together. And most of all, I will carry love and appreciation for each of you with me on my future path.

You are in good hands here at Lindenwood. I know that God embraces this thriving church with compassion, mercy, adoration and grace. You have great leaders, dedicated staff, clear vision and a bright future.

Thank you for carrying me, teaching me, shaping me, and preparing me for this next call. You have been Christ’s heart and Christ’s presence to me.
Much heart,

Reverend Sarah Taylor Peck

Doors Open. Doors Close.

doorway

 

+ Matthew 7:7-9 ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?’

 

Doors open. Doors close. Will we ever fully have peace in this rhythm?

The door opened onto a cobblestone street with mopeds and voluptuous women selling bright textiles, chatty students learning Spanish and rich tourists admiring the brightly painted buildings. Two weeks ago, 25 of us opened this bed-and-breakfast door over and over again in Antigua, Guatemala on our Lindenwood Mission Trip. More than the door to our lodging- this was a doorway to our calling, our work, our service, our ministry.

The door closed between my Nana and this world while I was in Guatemala. That door that once revealed a compassionate, bright, generous, comforting woman closed slowly through years of dementia, constant disorientation and fear. Even though this door crept slowly to a close, when it latched, I cried.

For the first time in their whole lives- a door will open and close, open and close- for four Guatemalan families who received new cinderblock houses on that mission trip. Hanging, torn sheets that they used to call ‘doors’ are now folded inside these humble, quaint homes we built among the piles of trash and treasure in Guatemala. More than a door that locks- these families received the gift of security and the promise of shelter.

Doors open. Doors close. Isn’t this the truth of our lives? Our stories?

On the fourth of July, my family gathered to celebrate a huge, beautiful, bright door opening for my brother and his sweetheart. After plotting, planning and praying- my brother knelt down on one knee to fling open the doors of commitment, faithfulness and partnership with his love. She said yes.

Just as we all gathered to embrace my brother and his beautiful bride-to-be, I received word that a bold, courageous, young, hopeful woman in my congregation slipped away in her sleep. This news felt like a huge, angry door slamming shut and shattering our hearts and our faith and our dreams for this young woman. Tomorrow, we will gather to memorialize her, and even now- I struggle to write sufficient words to comfort her family in the service.

Doors open…  doors close… when we make decisions, when we say goodbyes, when we lean in, when we step out, when life surprises us, when we surprise ourselves…

Tonight- my spirit is full with the weight, the blessing, and the privilege of this life, this ministry, and these doorways I continue to encounter. I’m mumbling my own serenity prayer:

God, grant all of us the serenity to accept the doors that must be closed,
The courage to explore the doors that are waiting to swing open,
And peace in knowing that You hold the ultimate set of keys… Amen.

Guatemala Mission 2012

For Spring Break, I traveled with the Collierville Christian Church Youth Group to Antigua Guatemala on a mission. My husband, Andrew, created and organized the trip. He put me in charge of our worship and devotion time. Leading up to this mission, in our house, dreams and visions for this trip filled our dinner table conversations- and the trip finally happened!

We set out on Sunday, March 11th. We drove to Little Rock Arkansas for our flight. After church, we hurried to our cars and on to the highway, rushing through construction that boiled the roads down to one lane.

Just when we thought we might not make our 2:45pm flight to Houston… we found out our flight was canceled. So, the mission trip began with 24 hours in a St. Patrick’s Day themed Comfort Inn near the airport and an 8 hour layover in Houston. Despite the stress, all of the youth kept their spirits up.

I planned a worship service in the Houston airport. We meditated on Jeremiah 29:11-14 “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” We commissioned each youth group member for God’s work, we wrote out our worries on prayer flags, and we prayed through the question: Where do we believe we will see God in Guatemala?

Our flights finally matched up, and we landed in Guatemala City late at night just as the city settled into sleep. We went from the airplane to a tightly packed bus as we drove into Antigua. Even in the moonlight, we could see the brightly colored buildings and the glimmering cobblestone streets as we entered.

We stayed in a hostel near the heart of Antigua. We all fell into our pillows when we arrived, preparing ourselves for the ministry and service ahead.

Tuesday through Friday followed the same structure. Every morning, we woke up at 6:30am for sunrise, rooftop devotion. Then, we moved to a simple breakfast prepared by the hostel owner. Following breakfast, we walked into town to begin our ministry and service. We had two mission sites every day: one group built 2 houses with the organization From Houses to Homes; another group held orphans, folded clothes, and fed the malnourished. (Andrew managed the house building site, and I managed the orphanage site.) After our long days of working, we returned to the hostel for dinner, 1 hour of free time, followed by nightly worship.

This trip felt like a dream come true, and a homecoming.

Andrew lived in Guatemala 7 years ago and he worked with From Houses to Homes during his stay. When we checked in for our first day of work, the directors of From Houses to Homes treated Andrew like a celebrity- he was their first volunteer just as this ministry launched in 2005. They celebrated his return and gave us all the royal treatment.

I did not see the build site until the day of the house dedication, instead, I spent my days guiding students through the emotional and taxing work at Hermano Pedro- an orphanage and hospital in near the town square in Antigua. Every single day, 4 youth would rotate out of the build site and stay behind in Antigua with me, as we worked with the lame, the crippled, the blind, the deaf, and the broken.

Franciscan monks and nuns manage this place of refuge called Hermano Pedro. 230 residents live in this beautiful, ancient facility with open courtyards and high ceilings and rooms lined with 30-40 beds each.

The residents all suffer from serious ailments. We tended to a 14 year old boy who weighed only 12 pounds. We would cradle his fragile body and gently offer him a bottle of nutrients.

Most residents suffer from cerebral palsy or spina bifida. Every day, we would untangle these residents from their complex wheel chairs and hold them in our arms, or stretch and massage their crumpled limbs as we sat on cushioned mats.

When the patients were sleeping or resting, we would fold their laundry or sing quietly in their rooms. Our orphanage ministry was not physically taxing. Most patients weighed less than 40 pounds. However, our hearts ached for these beloved children of God. Our spirits were stretched. Our work was emotionally exhausting. And yet, God’s light shined so brightly at Hermano Pedro.

When I wasn’t directing the daily work at the orphanage, I was planning our daily sunrise devotions and our nightly worship. The group that stayed at the orphanage each day planned the elements of worship with me based on our devotion scripture.

Our morning devotions always set the tone for the day of ministry ahead. I loved planning this element of the trip.

In our devotion time, we started out by studying that vivid story in Luke 10:29-37 when the lawmaker asks Jesus ‘who is my neighbor?’ and Jesus reminds him that our neighbors are those who we shower with mercy. We all asked the question- who are our neighbors? That night, the group that planned worship with me built an altar with the words Neighbor, Gospel, Mercy and Action on it. They read the scripture in Spanish and in English. One student offered her testimony from her work in the orphanage.

On the second day, we moved to Isaiah 58:6-10, where God reminds us all that God’s plan is to loosen the bonds of injustice and care for the afflicted. We asked the question: what does injustice mean and what are we called to do about it? In worship that night, we built an altar with the words Healing, Light, and Service. We shared communion of tortillas and salsa.

On the third day we recounted that beautiful scene in John 13:12-20 where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. We asked the question: what would it look like to take on the servant heart of Christ? In our worship that evening we all took turns washing each other’s feet- using the prayer flags we made in the Houston airport to wash- as we all transformed our burdens into service.

On the fourth day we remembered Jesus’ words in Luke 14:13-14 that we must invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to our banquets. We asked the question: do we ever invite the broken into our lives? How can we do this daily?

And on our final day we turned to Proverbs 31:8-9 where we are called to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. We asked the question: how will we speak up for all those whose stories we heard on this mission trip once we return?

In our final worship, we combined these two final scriptures as we all journeyed to the cross. We sang “Spirit of the Living God” and we remembered all the places we saw the Holy Spirit in Guatemala. We gathered around our cross- made up of all our prayer flags washed clean- no more burdens written on them, no more grime from our foot-washing.

This cross was the reason we traveled all the way to Guatemala on a mission trip. The cross is the reason we continue to renew our faith and put our prayers in motion. In our worship on that final night we understood the purpose of trip as we came to that cross.

We remembered that this is what the cross is all about: turning our burdens into hope, transforming our ministry into the good news of the Gospel, and shining God’s mercy and grace into all the broken places we encounter in this world- so that all of God’s people are lifted to their feet. May our ministry continue to bring us to the cross. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

Organizing for Compassion

 

Organizing for Compassion: Newspaper article June 10, 2011

Reverend Sarah Taylor Peck 

On a beautiful, boutique -size winery in the middle of Ohio this month, I fell in love with Week of Compassion.

 At the beginning of June, I spent 48 hours with Brandon Gilvin, associate director of Week of Compassion (WoC), Amy Gopp, director of WoC, and a handful of bright, open hearted Disciples of Christ.

We examined the good work of Week of Compassion. We celebrated our denominational response to the Gospel through sustained, long term action in corners of our world that are hurting. We praised the immediate emergency responsiveness of the Disciples after earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and floods.

I fell in love with Week of Compassion as a movement.

Don’t get me wrong, falling in love can be easy when you are surrounded by beautiful landscapes, delicious wine and extravagant food.  On our first night, the group worked with a chef to cook our own delicious meal. Our menu included soy glazed salmon, homemade empanadas and spicy shrimp. This experience would make anyone’s heart flutter. 

 Throughout this first night, between Amy Gopp’s deviance from the marinade recipe and Brandon Gilvin’s slow and strategic ‘mincing’ with a knife, we began to set the tone for our “Organizing for Compassion” training. The retreat started out with this experience where we explored global tastes and multi-cultural flavors as we built relationships. We developed strong comradeship in a collaborative framework. We began with this model of partnership and collaboration because WoC works through covenantal relationships.

In our newsletters, prayers from our pulpit, and announcements about WoC stewardship, many of us picture Week of Compassion as solely a disaster response ministry. We think of WoC when tornadoes rip Joplin, Missouri apart. We think of WoC when a tsunami washes away thousands of people in Japan. We think of WoC when wildfires spread or epidemics break out or the earth trembles in Haiti. WoC works tirelessly to offer refuge, resources, and supplies to the victims of these disasters.

But beyond this, WoC focuses on deep, covenantal relationships with people across the world. WoC invests in long term partnerships with communities desperately trying to rise above hunger, poverty, disease, illiteracy and all forms of suffering that destroy human dignity.

As a denomination, we should take pride in Week of Compassion. WoC makes one of the largest impacts in outreach ministry across denominations by contributing 94% of all donations to the work, God’s work. For every dollar an individual, congregation, or community gives to WoC, this is how it is spent:

-50 cents- emergency fund

-25 cents- sustainable development

-8 cents- fund to settle refugees around the world

-10 cents tithe back to Disciples mission sites, Work trip grants in our congregations

-6 cents- administrative costs

 I take pride in this generous, extravagant use of donated funds. And our entire denomination should, too.

When Amy Gopp offered a blessing on our meal that first night, she prayed to our gracious and loving Creator, for the meal we were to enjoy, for the hands that prepared it, for the farmers who picked every bit it, for the workers who bent down in the soil and planted the seeds and tended to the first buds of our abundant resources. She reminded all of us of the long term perspective the development of our meal, and interconnected human stories that shape every action we take in this world.

Week of Compassion is about telling the story: the story of sustainable development and rehabilitation that empowers people and communities as they transform from suffering to abundance; the story of long term assistance to people and communities in the aftermath of natural disaster; the story of our denomination fearlessly working to change the world as it is to the world as it should be.

Throughout this weekend, nine of us were invited into the movement of Courageous Compassion. We tethered our hearts to this thriving ministry within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We learned about the impact that Week of Compassion makes around the world, across the entire body of Christ on earth.

I left this weekend with a conviction on my heart. How can I support Courageous Compassion? Can I commit as much support to this movement as I do to my weekly coffee treats? Can I donate a few dollars a month to support this ongoing, long-term mission in the world?

 How should our church respond to this important branch of our denomination that acts as the hands and feet of Jesus among us? As the Associate Minister overseeing our Outreach, I will offer prayers without ceasing for our mission and service in the world, our call to courageous compassion, and our commitment to the good work of our denomination in God’s world.

 If your heart of service is tugging at you to act on or support the work of Week of Compassion, contact me through the church office.

Planting Tiny Seeds of Green

I continue to take baby steps in the direction of my dreams of a Green Church. In January, David Waters, the faith writer in the local paper, contacted me for an interview for an article he was writing on Green Faith. This opportunity gave me the chance to publicly associate my church with the green movement in a small, nonthreatening way. I invited my supervisor to sit in on the interview too. I wanted to make sure Lindenwood as a whole appeared in line with Green Faith, not just their wild haired associate (me!).

On January 8th, David Waters published his editorial about green church in Memphis! On my first day at Lindenwood, we used Styrofoam cups and refused to recycle our 1,000 bulletins each week. Four months later, we are featured in the newspaper as one of the local churches striving for sustainability. These are the tiny seeds of green I continue to plant on my ministerial journey. Here is the article. Enjoy!

Faith in Memphis: Churches move to live lighter on the earth

By: David Waters, Commercial Appeal

Is there a more common symbol of fellowship on God’s green earth than the simple, disposable, environmentally sinful polystyrene foam cup?

Creation is littered with these byproducts of countless congregational coffee hours, committee meetings and covenant groups, not to mention the occasional communion ceremony.

Most of these common cups will be as old as Methuselah by the time they biodegrade.

Waste not, want not, the Bible says. Or was it Benjamin Franklin? In any case, trashing God’s creation is not an expression of faith.

That’s why folks at First Unitarian Church of the River, Lindenwood Christian Church and St. John’s United Methodist Church — to mention a few — are now clutching newfangled compostable paper cups or old-fashioned, reusable ceramic cups.

“International Paper makes the compostable cups, so we’re supporting the environment and the local economy,” said Bill Landers, a business consultant and one of the leaders of Church of the River’s effort to become an accredited Green Sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

If any sanctuary in Memphis should be green, it’s the Church of the River and its environmentally sublime setting on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff just south of Downtown. It’s getting greener every Sunday.

In addition to raising coffee-cup consciousness (and using only fair-trade coffee), the church replaced three of its four boilers with more energy-efficient units, replaced all of its incandescent light bulbs with LED lighting, and installed programmable thermostats.

The congregation hosts the Sierra Club’s annual Environmental Justice Conference. Nearly all weekly newsletters are e-mailed, not printed. The first Sunday of each month is Green Sunday, which includes lessons and workshops on composting, recycling and other acts of faith.

“The way to greening our habitat will not necessarily come from more technology or reverting to a romanticized past,” Rev. Burton Carley said in a sermon that launched the Green Sanctuary program.

“The root of the matter is spiritual . . . Seeing ourselves separate from nature and believing that nature is here only to serve us is at the root of the spiritual problem.”

That’s not an easy lesson for many congregations, especially in a highly charged political context that equates environmental concerns about global warming and carbon emissions with government controls and economic interference.

So instead of using politicized terms like “environmental justice” or “eco-justice,” some clergy have turned to kinder, more personal and faith-friendly terms to engage congregations in conservation efforts.

“Words like ‘stewardship’ and ‘creation care’ resonate more with people of faith,” said Dr. Ron Buck, Lindenwood’s senior minister. “We are starting with small steps.”

Lindenwood is taking steps to reduce, reuse, recycle — and reconnect with creation.

A common chalice has replaced plastic communion cups at two Sunday services. Church officials are using smart-phone apps to control heating and cooling. New bike racks, as well as the church’s proximity to the Green Line, encourage members to cycle to church.

Lindenwood was one of the faith-based sponsors of last fall’s Gather at the River conference. On March 6, it will host Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of the interfaith advocacy group . Among the church’s small groups is one devoted to Care for Creation.

“We’re taking a gentle approach,” said Rev. Sarah Taylor-Peck, Lindenwood’s associate minister. “We’re trying to get people to realize that 400 people changing their light bulbs or not using plastic cups will have a more positive impact on the environment than four people moving off the grid.”

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Repent.

The end of polystyrene foam cups is near.

Commission on Ministry- Passed!

A smile from ear to ear is plastered on my face as I write this: Andrew and I were approved for ordination by the Eastern Region Commission on Ministry! We flew to Boston with 36 hours notice for our final interview.

Originally, we planned to skype into the interview, but the COM experienced last minute technical difficulties that required us to be there in person (thank goodness for credit cards!).

Every dollar was worth it. Every hour taken off from work was worth it. We were accepted by the Northeast Region as Candidates for ministry! After nearly a decade of discernment for both of us, we received an invitation to walk through the next open door to ordination.

A million dreams becoming real. A future, distant goal becoming reality.

The interviews were separate. We each met with the Commission on ministry for a little under an hour. We talked about the arc of our in-care process. We discussed the challenges we anticipate in ministry. We re-stated our vocational callings.

After each interview, we were asked to leave the room. When we returned into the interview room, the leader of the COM simply said, we unanimously voted you forward to ordination, congratulations!

As we left the interview site, the COM left us with this blessing and charge: the only thing left to do is plan your ordination ceremony!

We’re ready. We’re excited. We’re full of glee.

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