Friday, September 30, 2005

A New Observance

We didn't usually have our very littlest kids with us for communion at our church, but a few years ago we made an exception on World Wide Communion Sunday. I visited their Sunday School class to talk about communion and, at the appropriate time in the service, we had the nursery attendant bring them to the sanctuary.

My daughter was around three at the time. It made a big impression. A few weeks later she called me into her room to see her playdough creations. There were variously shaped lumps placed very intentionally around her little play table.

She lifted one lump. "This is the bread." She held up another, "This is the broken body. And this," she flung her arms wide, "is Wild World Communion Sunday!"

I'm all for adding that to the offical liturgical calendar.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why don't I look more like Kate Winslet?

I've been getting "condolence" calls, for lack of a better word, from friends and family both near and far. One call was from a pastor I've known since we were both at the same seminary back in the day. He spent eight years as pastor of another small, struggling church here in Portland before leaving for an Associate job at one of the few big, thriving Presbyterian churches here inside the city limits.

He commented that, while he loves his new job, he often finds himself thinking that all he's really done is move from steerage to first class on the Titanic. The church as we know it is going to founder and the best you can hope for is caviar instead of stale bread while the ride lasts.

Maybe so. It does seem that there are not enough lifeboats for all of us.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Yesterday was the last worship service for my congregation. It was a hard day, but good. It felt to me like a funeral for a beloved relative who had lived a full life and would be greatly missed. The church was packed. The church down the road who volunteered to do the reception for us also cancelled their own worship that day to be with us. Lots of former members and the widow and children of a former pastor were there, as well as some neighborhood folks who haven't worshiped there in the six+ years I've been pastor. I was grateful for the support, but also VERY glad we'd done our grief work on a different Sunday without all the visitors.

I also warned our members: This is not the hard Sunday. The hard Sunday is NEXT Sunday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Of Course!

PRODUCT PLACEMENT! Of course! Why didn't I think of this before. I could have saved my church. Maybe it's not too late to save yours.

On The Writers' Almanac today, Garrison Keillor noted that today is the birthday of Fay Weldon who is known, among other things, for being the first author that we know of to accept payment for mentioning a particular product in one of her novels. (Some Italian jewelry maker.)

You guys! We could SO do product placement in our sermons. You know all those "slice of life" sermon illustrations we do? An interesting thing happened while I was grocery shopping/getting my car fixed/taking my daughter to ballet class . . . It would be easy as pie, (Sara Lee), to specify WHICH grocery store, which auto mechanic, which ballet school--for a small fee. Our congregations would not even notice the change until we produced financial reports showing income up 50%.

Now we would stay away from certain types of business, of course. Ethics are ethics. Come to think of it, though, some businessess would probably pay extra to be brought up in a sermon as examples of wickedness and dissipation . . .

At any rate, all our money worries are over. WE ARE SAVED!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tagged by Mindy

Five things I want to do before I die.
Write/publish a book
Have grandchildren
Travel to the continents I haven't been to yet
Play my guitar well
Teach somewhere

Five things I can do
Tell good stories
Mom stuff

Five things I cannot do
Keep my house tidy
Play sports of any kind
Find my keys when I need them
Keep up with fashion trends
Remember the rules to card games

Five things that attract me to the opposite sex
My husband and a number of my ex-boyfriends all have blond or light brown hair and wear round, wire-rimmed glasses. Yet I find Paul McCartney more attractive by far than John Lennon. I can't explain this.

Five things I say most often
Cut it OUT you two!!
Has anyone seen my keys?
Just a minute, let me finish reading this . . .
Have you actually LOOKED for it?
Who ate all the cookies?

Five celebrity crushes
Alan Alda (in Hawkeye Pierce mode)
Kenneth Branaugh
Denzel Washington
Daniel Radcliffe (if I were fifteen, I'd be a lost cause completely)
The two guys on Zaboomafoo

Five people I want to do this
The first five people moved by the Spirit to do so.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Unfamiliar Money

My seven year old on the walk home from the school bus stop yesterday afternoon:

"Mom? This year for my birthday, I'd like it if you gave me some kind of money I'm not so familiar with."

Me: "You mean like money from another country?"

Son: "No. I mean I'm familiar with one dollar bills and five dollar bills, but I'm not so familiar with fifty and a hundred dollar bills."

Him and me both!

Me: "What about two dollar bills? Have you ever seen a two dollar bill?"

Son: "Do they even have two dollar bills??"

Me: "Yes. Tell you what, we have to stop at the bank on our way to the library anyway. Bring your allowance money and we'll see if they can change it for two dollar bills."

Sure enough, half an hour later my son is the proud possessor of TWO two dollar bills. Momentary satisfaction, at least.

God? For my next job I would like a salary range I'm not so familiar with . . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bandaged Paws

Last week SpookyRach posted about Smokey the Bear. I grew up with Smokey smiling benignly down at me from various campground billboards, solemnly reminding me that only I could prevent forest fires.

But I haven't seen him around much lately. As I understand it, the big push to prevent forest fires at all costs and to ruthlessly suppress any that did break out turned out to be a mistake. It turned out that fire is actually part of the natural life cycle of a forest ecosystem--clearing out what is dead, nourishing the soil with ashes, clearing areas for new growth. Apparently Smokey's initiative to prevent forest fires actually messed with the forest ecosystem big time, eventually leading to widespread tree blight of various types and to truly catastrophic burns.

I think we may have made a similar mistake in our thinking about church vitality and viability. For many years, we seem to have taken a Smokey Bear approach. We thought that congregational decline and death was the worst possible thing that could happen--something to be avoided at all costs. So much money, energy, reasearch, etc. went into figuring out how to turn around congregations that appeared to be dying. There have been some small and a very few spectacular successes. But mostly we seem to have paved the way for an awful lot of despairing church members who believed Smokey and now think they could have prevented the decline of their churches if only they had more vigilent. And some experts think we are now facing a tsunami of church closures in the next 20 years.

But what if death is part of the natural life cycle of congregations --being the human organisms that they are? What if congregational deaths are part of what keeps the whole body of Christ healthy--clearing out what is dying, nourishing the church ecosystem with their legacies, clearing the way for new seeds to find good soil for growth. What if, in our emphasis on "saving" every dying church, we've messed with the ecclesiastical ecosystem and made ourselves sick? What if, instead of proclaiming that every congregation must survive and thrive, we let the natural cycle take its course--allowing congregations to live and to die at the acceptable time. Would more death bring more new life?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Comedy Central

Oh dear. We have hit the age of gross kid humor here at our place. Yesterday my second grader came home gleefully singing,

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a heater
Accidently turned it on
And Barbecued his peter!

What to do? Chime in with a number from my own vast repitoire of gross kid songs collected in my own youth and my years in youth ministry? Would it take the wind out of his sails to know that Mom has known those songs for years, ho hum--yawn. Or would it just spur him on to greater grossness efforts?

Maybe I should sign him up for that fundamentalist military boarding school that advertizes in the backs of magazines . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fall Meme

Favorite fall dessert: Apple Crisp with carmel sauce and vanilla ice cream
Favorite holiday: All Saints Day
Best fall memory: Two fall babies
Worst fall memory: Two bad break-ups back in college/seminary days
Most puzzling fall memory: Trying to explain pumpkin pie to a chef in Zagreb, Fall of 1983
Best thing about fall walks: cool, dry air
Favorite fall chore: Buying blank notebooks for school
Least favorite fall chore: Stewardship Campaign
Best change in the home: Cat sleeps on our bed again
Favorite flower: Sunflowers
Best tree in the fall: Maple
Fall ritual: Pumpkin Carving
Most frustrating thing about fall: Rain returns to Oregon after the dry season
Favorite childhood game: Inhaling Helium from Balloons at School Halloween Carnival, then talking funny and laughing hysterically.
Favorite childhood memory: Gypsy costume from second grade
Favorite decorations: Luminaria
Favorite clothing: new sweater
Best scenery: First new snow on Mt. Hood
Best fall travel tip: Thanksgiving is a good holiday for clergy to take off
Favorite drink: Buy unpasturized cider from Amish farm, put it on the windowsill until it starts fizzing. (Old Ohio college kid trick)
Best method of transportation: Feet
Traditional fall candy: Candy snitched from kids' trick or treat loot before they were old enough to notice what I was up to. Those days are long gone.
Favorite Sound: Geese over Willamette River
Best for fall sex: Put the flannel sheets back on.
Fall song: For All The Saints
Reliable prediction: Cat will protest when we start closing the windows at night.
Best fall television show: Any M*A*S*H Thanksgiving episode

Monday, September 12, 2005

Home Stretch

My church is headed down the final stretch. Our final worship service is September 25th, although the dissolution will not be official until the next Presbytery meeting in November. There are some good things about being in a Presbytery that only meets three times a year, but the downside is that you can spend a loooooooooooong time in a holding pattern for a process that requires Presbytery action and can't be delegated to a committee.

I attended, (and blogged about) another closing service for a church nearby last spring. This service made me wary of final worship services as "celebration". The service at the other church was planned primarily by folks from around our Presbytery. They did a good job under the difficult circumstances surrounding the closing of that particular congregation. Still, there was a sense that we were desperately trying to feel "okay" about what was happening, when we were all very sad about it, really. Even those of us, (myself included), who believed that closure was the right thing to do, wished it weren't happening. And the remaining members of that church, (they were down to about a dozen by the end), were all kinds of angry, bitter, grief-stricken, etc.

So I was very supportive of the member of our session who said, as we planned for our final month of worship, "I don't want to celebrate. I'm not happy."

Yesterday was a Service for Healing and Wholness, with a bunch of time set aside for folks to share their sadness and anger about what was happening. Next week will be a Comissioning Service where we send each other out to take the love of God that we have found in this place into the wider church and world. Then the last Sunday we will invite all comers to come help us Remember, (we're not using the word celebrate), the 111 years of our church's ministry in this place.

Another small church not too far from us, one that has also come to the brink of closing and recovered, called and volunteered to take on the reception and clean-up following the final service. This kindness warmed our hearts.

Keep us in your prayers.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lowered Security

Okay--I'm going to try taking the 'blogger only" filter off my comments. But if I get heaps of mean annoymous comments it's going right back on, so be nice.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Boy Named Sue?

So my second grader's seatmate this year is a recent immigrant named Abdik Hussein. Poor kid. Abdik, not my son. I don't care how culturally sensitive the teachers are, this kid is going to get teased and taunted about the Hussein thing.

We've all rightly done some soul searching in recent years about the horrors heaped upon immigrants in the name of the great American Melting Pot. But really, an alert Ellis Island clerk who could have transformed Abdik Hussein into Alan Harris with the stroke of a pen might have been the best thing that could have happened to this kid-- at least as far as his social life in elementary school is concerned.

Now before you all pound me, let me explain that I am the child of an immigrant as well as the bearer of a "distinctive" last name. When my grandmother and my father arrived here in 1946, having just barely survived the Holocaust, my grandmother did a little reinvention. She changed their fairly obviously Jewish name to a fairly obviously Italian one. I can see how this made sense at the time. They were settling in New York City, she had lived in Italy for many years after leaving Russia. An Italian name would allow her olive skinned boy with curly black hair to pass, (sort of), as a less dangerous ethnic group to belong to-- at least based on her recent experience. She also packed him off to Catholic boarding school to complete the protective camoflage.

She could not have known that, one day, her son would find himself in a North Carolina mountain town filled with the descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants. She could not know that the Italian name she had chosen as protective camoflage would cause the granddaughter who would begin her school career in this town to stick out like pasta primavera at an apple pie festival. She could not know that this "safe" Italian surname she had chosen would be like Christmas everyday for the teasers and taunters stalking the halls of Scots Creek Elementary school.

So--I don't know. Maybe changing Abdik's name wouldn't be a long term solution after all. It might work for him, but not for his grandkids.

I will say that when I had the chance to switch to a truly safe last name--one that usually has nearly a whole page of its own in the phone directory--I didn't do it. This was partly on feminist principle, but even more so on the theory that a name you've suffered for and defended every day of your childhood is not something to relinquish lightly.

But my kids got the easy name.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Kindergarten Rubicon

So--as of 8:00 a.m. today I stand on the other side of the great river--looking on as diaper bags, baby bjiorns, strollers, tellatubbies, pre-school, tricycles, sippy cups, and mommy and me classes recede into the distance, turning toward where high school and drivers' licenses appear on the far horizon. No more having one foot on either side of the divide. Our baby/toddler/preschool years are over. My baby is in kindergarten. She doesn't even want me to drive her the next day. She wants to ride the bus and have big brother escort her to her classroom. Ms. Independence. Wonder where she got that from . . .

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Modest Proposal. . .

. . . That in lieu of overturing General Assembly one way or another on Ordination Standards, Covenant Network and Confessing Churches spend 2006 sponsoring joint service teams to New Orleans and Coastal Mississippi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

There must be fifty ways to lose your church . . .

I think the truth for my congregation in the Katrina disaster is that, while it is right and good for us to feel sadness and grief at the loss of our church, self-pity is not okay.

We are "losing" our church through a rising tide of budget difficulties, massive neighborhood changes, flagging energy, and Presbytery's closing off some options for us. All along the Gulf Coast there are Christians who have lost their churches to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Sure, many of those churches will eventually rebuild and ministry will go on more or less as before. But I'm guessing many churches will not reopen. For many that were on the edge of viability anyway, this will be the coup de grace, (or not so grace). Some churches will discover, once the dust settles, that most of their members have left the area for good. Some congregations will decide that, since they have to rebuild anyway, they ought to look for a better location. Presbyteries, Diocese, Conferences, etc. will have to make painful decisions about where scarce aid resources can best be put to use.

And if we widen our circle of concern, we can remember those whose churches have been destroyed in war, or declared illegal so their property could be confiscated by the powers that be.

The truth is, churches--with a small c--get wiped out all the time by various forces human and natural. Even the Church--big C--will disappear in the fulness of time. Our hope is in God.