Friday, July 26, 2013

Mission? Transition!

I've probably washed enough dishes to fill the Grand Canyon, served enough breakfast tacos to feed every inhabitant of the State of Rhode Island, and Merry Maids has nothing on me for numbers of toilets cleaned.  "Why would anybody do such a thing?", you ask. 

Over the last 17 years I've met religious leaders, literally, from the four corners of the world.  I've made dear friends by the boatload. Many come to Cross Roads yearly. We swap stories and share Christ and our lives.  Several women have come "with child" only to return with their child in tow. I am blessed to watch them grow.  A youth pastor who lost a toddler, a budding trio of pre-teen guitarists, a parent volunteer going through a divorce, some sr. high "clowns" in training, a young woman with cancer, a potential author needing encouragement, a depressed empty nester, a teenage 'cutter', God sends them all all, adults, children and youth.   I am blessed to share their joy, sadness, hope, faith and love as they pause briefly at the Cross Roads.  I watch kids pass through these gates and journey from goofy junior high schoolers to confident adults leaving for jobs, college, marriage, or the armed forces. It makes me cry to say good-bye.

But, life is change. Transition or die - or at least get left behind. 

I am not as young as I used to be and putting in those long physically demanding hours have worn me down a bit.  It's time to pass the torch to a new, younger, and more energetic generation, so they can experience the absolute JOY that is Cross Roads.  Cross Roads has been my life and for now I will continue as director trusting God to show me who is to follow me and how. But, change is in the air.

I am in a major transition right now between the first ministry God called me to at Cross Roads Retreat and the second, the book He called me to write, Stand at the Cross Roads.  You would think that after watching God vanquish every obstacle that stood in the way of His building the camp and then experiencing His abundant blessings through it, that I would be an old pro at being ready for whatever lies before me in a new ministry.  Not!  While I am apprehensively excited about what God has in store for me, I find myself consumed once again with self-doubt, insecurity, fear of rejection and even sadness at letting go at Cross Roads.  

When I wrote Stand at the Cross Roads I was turned down by a prominent Christian publisher who said the book promoted divorce. That rejection re-ignited my worst fears. I was on the firing line for years, enduring criticism, backbiting, gossipy naysayers, modern Pharisees, and most debilitating of all, rejection by many family and friends who thought I was either a women's libber gone mad, a trouble maker, man-hater, or just plain crazy. So, I’m not too excited about stirring all that up again.

My path led me to the Cross Roads, and for 17 years I have been faithful to, and been healed through this ministry, but I also know you don't say 'no' to God.  Plus, if you're not making waves, you're probably not riding in God's wake! 

When recently asked why I wrote Stand at the Cross Roads, I said, “It’s simple.  There seems to be a common belief that God no longer does anything spectacular in ordinary lives.  My story shatters that misconception and proves that God is still a faithful, prayer answering God.” That is the message God wants me to help Him get out there.  No other.

So, here we go – me and God – round two!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Spiritual Pilgrimage

"God does not call the equipped; He equips the called" - Anonymous

I never maintained any desires or ambitions of becoming a pastor - it just sort of happened. And, I certainly never harbored any belief that I had the capabilities to actually be effective in that role, either. However, I do believe in God, and that through Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Thus, seemingly, He has accomplished what I believed to be the impossible in me. More than anything else that I have learned through ministry is there are no exceptions to this verse found in Matthew's Gospel. Had I never embarked upon this particular pilgrimage I most probably would still be living in denial of what God can accomplish through others - especially as it pertains to me.

I've also discovered that I am not alone in this manner of thinking - it's actually quite commonplace in the church.  A couple of years ago I met the pastor of a declining African-American congregation in my parish. As we began conversing about outreach opportunities in the community he told me of a summer camp his church had hosted two years ago for the at-risk children in the area. These were the children on the school lunch program during the school year and many were now missing those meals now that it was summertime. The pastor wanted to host the summer camp again. His church, which not only supplied children with two meals a day, but it also sent additional food home with them. Unfortunately, the church lacked the financial and human resources to make this vision a reality on their own.  

He also confessed that as result of their limited resources his church had partnered with a non-profit agency to staff and fund the camp held previously. Unfortunately, the site coordinator for that agency absconded with the funding midway through the summer and left the church liable for payroll and other expenses. Still stinging from this experience, the church had not pursued hosting another summer camp even though the overwhelming need was evident. I responded by pledging my support if the church could be persuaded to host a summer camp for the coming year and we agreed to see if we could elicit support from our perspective churches to this end.

After fledgling support was garnered at my two churches my brother-in-Christ died of a massive stroke and left his church without a pastor. Suddenly it was just the "crazy-talkin' preacher from the Methodist church" trying to lead the project forward and I encountered the same lack of confidence in this small congregation as I had always harbored about myself. Finding myself in familiar territory, I led the congregation in prayer and organizational meetings and let the Holy Spirit due the rest. Miraculously, funding and volunteer support materialized from the other churches in the community. God's hand was clearly already at work before we even began.

I took a week of vacation from work to get the program off the ground. Launching the program was not without pitfalls and hardships but it was awesome to witness the young lives being touched everyday and give the other congregations an opportunity "plug-in" for hands-on mission and outreach in their own community. It had been this side benefit of the program that had been a real motivator for me to partner with the little Baptist church - I wanted to give my congregations a chance to respond to an apparent need and get their hands dirty doing the work of Christ in their own backyard.

Through the pursuit of this ministry the little church has discovered that God has given them all the resources needed to carry on His work, even without a pastor. They have already announced that they will host a summer camp next year.  My two congregations have discovered that they, too, have been entrusted with confidence that only comes through Christ while serving their community in ministry and outreach - they CAN do it.  As for me, well, I just stand in awe once again of what He can accomplish through seemingly unwitting individuals, who with one step of faith, become shaped by His transforming powers in their lives. People like me. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Evolutions of a Blog

It’s been a year since my last post and in all truth I haven’t had the time or inclination to make a contribution to a blog which seems to have lost its identity and purpose.

This blog saw its greatest popularity during the year of its inception as the CLMs of West District Class of ’10 became engaged in trying to revitalize the Lott Church. It was a noble project but ultimately failed and this event cast a pall over the participating members of the class, as well as others.

Ultimately, our class graduated and we embarked into ministry. Two went on to become licensed local pastors and one left the United Methodist Church to develop a new church start in Caldwell. All these events contributed to a change of identity (and name) for the blog from “West District Class ‘10” to “Ramblings (and some rumblings) From Around The West District.”

Much of what has been posted here represents my own journey in small, rural church ministry in a declining mainline denomination. I tried to glean the full meaning from the events and the articles posted here and how they might speak to the effectiveness of my ministry. Ultimately, I’ve come to understand that my primary directive is still the same – go and make disciples - we now just have to accomplish this with fewer denominational resources, and that’s okay.

While we like to tout our “connectionalism” as a denomination we still have an individual responsibility to fulfill that directive – especially as resources diminish, leaving less and less to “connect to.” So, we can’t afford to sit around and wait for the cavalry to arrive and assist us in the building of the Kingdom here on earth, it’s up to us. The success of my former classmate’s new church start is a good indicator that God certainly doesn’t need denominations to make disciples, anyway.

May we each seek our Lord’s will through discernment and then pursue that which He wills with our lives through the ministry He has entrusted us with in this season.

- Shalom -