Prayers for Annual Meeting

by Karen Richter

Good day, SWC friends! It’s Annual Meeting time! Like many of you, I am full-up with travel plans, budgets and resolutions, to-do lists, and tiny bottles of hair products. Instead of the “usual” blog article for this first Monday of May, I’d like to share with you my prayers for our gathering in Albuquerque.

Spirit of Life; Spirit of Love – we ask that you cover our Annual Meeting with good gifts:

  • That a spirit of prayer mark all parts of our time together.
  • That volunteers for the hosting congregations have a good experience and feel appreciated.
  • That delegates and guests are welcomed with hospitality.
  • That all persons speaking in the plenary sessions and workshops feel heard and valued.
  • That relationships with one another and with You are renewed, deepened or begun afresh.
  • That we might more fully cherish our covenants with one another.
  • That each person present listens gracefully to the voices around them, especially when there’s disagreement.
  • That we grasp opportunities for celebration and connection.
  • That our inaugural anti-racism training goes smoothly and that lay and clergy participants and participant/facilitators are energized and inspired to further reflection and to work in counter-oppression movements.
  • That travel is a safe and enriching time for those who are coming to Albuquerque by car or plane.
  • That each person attending leaves with a sense of renewal and centeredness around their calling in the United Church of Christ’s setting in the Southwest Conference.
  • That we each travel home safely with energy to work alongside God and our brothers and sisters to further our mission and vision in the world!

Spirit whose name is mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

Hope, Creativity, and Art

by Rae Strozzo

In the midst of struggle, creativity is where hope finds vision.

We are in need of creativity and compassion in this moment.  This is a love letter to art and creativity that is so essential to all of us. Sometimes love is hard to see, and context is everything.  So first – the bad news.  

The current political moment seems so polarized and almost surreal.  We are at war now.  The U.S. is fighting itself as it has been since its creation but with a scary vigor. Fear seems to trump so much of what is good in the world if we spend our time on Facebook or watch more than 10 minutes of the news.  Shuffling through the lies to try and sort out what might be true feels like the new daily battle.  

The U.S. is fighting and exploiting other countries for the needs and greed of a few and the government and pop culture feeds it back to us as nationalism and what a “great nation” does for freedom.  All the while internally African American churches burn, Jewish community centers deal with bomb threats, and our Muslim brothers and sisters try to cope with threats, acts of violence and destroyed property.   Transpeople of color are murdered, gender expansive people commit and attempt suicide at astoundingly high rates, and lgbtq youth are homeless at much higher rates than their straight and cis gender peers.  

Walls are built to make and keep people illegal and separate, and families fear being broken up by immigration sweeps.  Our country incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and that is also to make a buck at the expense of those people’s lives and the lives of their families – most of whom are people of color.  Many of our neighbors grow up trapped in poverty and in systems of oppression that get labeled welfare, child protective services, and the mental health care system and so on, but work against the people they are created to help and against the people who work in those systems who want to help.  

Many ignore these problems and systems, and we step past the oppression because it is as subtle as “professionalism” in a workplace that really just says look/be whiter.  Or we say we are moving to a better neighborhood or sending our kids to better schools without seeing that those are whiter neighborhoods and whiter schools.  We live in “Right to Work States” that really say it’s okay not hire people who aren’t white enough, straight enough, gender conforming enough, Christian enough because as long as we don’t say it, we haven’t done anything wrong.   

Now is a time when a college education is so expensive only the most privileged can have it without the reality of mountainous debt and where public education is stifled by our system of lack. We live in a time where art and music struggle to find access points to most people’s lives and where the funding for those things are viewed as unimportant and stripped away.   We are taught to blame the poor rather than help. We are taught to walk away from people who don’t see things the way that we do. We are taught that tough love is about shunning people from families, from churches, from communities, so that somehow they will want to come back to us, but in the way we want them and not in the way that the universe created them.  

We use our limited understanding of creativity to control other people. We use our limited understanding of creativity for greed.  Succumbing to those same limits causes us to destroy our planet.  Our creativity is limited by what we think we know and it is wasted on anger, fear, destruction, and an illusion of control. We stifle vulnerability because we mistaken it for weakness rather than a place where new ideas are born.  We are strapped down by prejudice and are unable in those moments to be our fully connected and creative selves.  Empire wants us to die for lack of imagination. White supremacy wants us to hold it up out of that same lack of imagination.

That is a lot, especially acknowledging that it isn’t even close to giving voice to all of what is up in the world right now.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I firmly believe this.  All of these situations are things that were set in motion by people.  Logic suggests that if people created it, then people can also dismantle it. So there is hope. If we can be vulnerable enough to hope, then we have a place to start to vision something different, and that means creativity can come back to us and with its divine purpose intact.

Hope is where real creativity comes in.  Creativity, as it meets compassion, produces healing and love. This is where the arts are a healing force. Creativity as it is connected to love gives us the capacity for participation in beauty. It is the ability to turn the wound into a foundation for solidarity and into an olive branch for the “other side.”

As it is said, those with the capacity for great anger hold the capacity for great gentleness. So too those with great creative power towards greed hold that power for generosity. Those with great creative power toward destruction also hold great  power for creation. All of us hold creative power.  It is the link that bonds all of us to each other and to the universe. Creativity is what makes us human. It isn’t just a painter or a musician who holds creativity. Creativity is our mirror of the universe. It is our tether to the divine.  

Artists are a part of the priesthood of the creative and have a connection to the creative energy of the universe. When artists share their work, they open that connection to and establish that link for others.

The creative process and the artistic result aren’t just for the artist. Art is about completing a cycle and about helping other people and the culture it is a part of change, grow, and evolve. Art is a sacred reminder that we are ALL part of the creative flow of the universe. That is its purpose. Art reminds people that they have things to express and to express them. Creative expression is divine language no matter how it is spoken.

The teacher who makes a place for a struggling kid to learn because they take the time to rethink how they teach is a part of that energy.   The police officer who figures out how to stop violence without using it has that energy.  The activist who rallies support while seeing the other side as people and not just an opposing force is a part of this creative energy too.  

These are just examples. All of us have a link to what makes us our best selves. That is our link to the creative energy of the universe. We have been given this gift. But it isn’t about our minds and not even about our skill sets. It’s about our willingness to get vulnerable and listen to what our higher selves are telling us.  To listen to what our souls are telling us. To listen to what the universe is telling us.  

The path that is uniquely ours in life is lit by love and compassion as motive. Come to life with love and compassion and the steps to take become real.  The creativity to make things happen in our lives and in the lives of others becomes real.  Art is made in song, in paint, in photograph, and in every kind word, in every loving action. Listening to the creative energy of the universe and using that energy for kindness and compassion can heal a lifetime of wounds.  

True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art says, “Thinking goes as far as the mind understands. Then what? Art.”

Change for the good of all goes only as far as our ability to create compassion.  Then what? Art.

Discernment as a Visioning Tool

by Teresa Blythe

Many churches and faith based organizations do good work in the present but have difficulty catching a vision for the next chapter in life, be that the next three months or the next three years. Change takes them by surprise, the congregation or group’s anxiety ratchets up, and fear about the future begins to drive decision-making. It feels like a crisis, but is actually an opportunity to rediscover the spiritual practice of discernment.

What Usually Happens

When the crisis-of-change hits, the church or organization sometimes rushes to hire a business consultant for strategic planning only to find the business approach doesn’t quite fit for a group that is—at its core—a faithful gathering of volunteers who want and need to know how to participate in what God is already doing in their midst.

Communities of faith don’t work like businesses, and rarely even work like traditional non-profits.

For visioning in faith communities, I recommend a spiritual director experienced in communal discernment — a guided process involving a group making decisions as one body rather than a group of individuals with strongly held opinions about the future. Faith communities have a lot of experience with the latter! It’s the usual mode for their boards–everyone puts their ideas on the table, pushes for their solutions and then votes so that “winner takes all.”

 What is Discernment?

Time-honored principles of discernment help us catch God’s vision. We’re talking about a vision broad enough to allow the community to be agile and move through change with relative ease while also being clear enough to be helpful.

Simply put, discernment is faithful choices. It always centers around a question facing your organization or church. Usually, it is something like, “Where is God leading us in the coming days?”

For that you need a process:

  • Steeped in prayer and contemplative reflection.
  • One that considers as much data and information about your history, your present condition and the gifts within your organization,
  • Weighs the pros and cons,
  • Listens to the deep desires and intuition of the group, and
  • Honors the mystical notion of “call” – What do we, at our deepest core as an organization, believe God is inviting us to be or do? The Spirit uses prayer and discernment to ignite the vision.

 Process Matters

The discernment process is ideally designed to help you unearth what God is up to in your corner of the world because you want your vision to be in alignment with God’s activity. If you are not clear about what alignment feels like, look at how much energy your organization has for the work it is now doing. If energy is flagging, you probably are not in alignment with what God is already doing and you need some time and reflection on how to recalibrate.

To be honest, this work will be more ambiguous than the standard business practice of strategic planning.

Visioning through discernment involves living with the mystery of not knowing what the outcome will be. A willingness to be surprised at where the community goes as it discerns together is imperative.

Although discernment involves mystery, it is also grounded and concrete, designed to move you through to a conclusion. It is neither “woo-woo” magic nor is it a road to pinpointing, with certainty, the “perfect will of God.” It’s simply your work—it’s how you get to know God better by praying, listening to the still small voice within, listening to others’ experiences and questions and paying attention to intuition.

One of the beauties of this process is that when you gather your visioning group, you will have tasks that everyone can relate to in one way or another. Your artists and prayer warriors will be delighted with the amount of time spent intentionally connecting with God. Your engineers, accountants and business-minded people will feel comfortable with the practical aspects. You will have gathered many different types of intelligence and will have used a variety of spiritual and practical tools to reach unity.

Why bring in an outsider?

Anyone can initiate visioning through discernment, however a spiritual director trained in discernment would make an excellent guide. Spiritual directors have studied discernment processes and worked with people and groups in discernment over time.

Spiritual directors stay out of the way of your work. We have no agenda other than to guide you through the process. When stuck, we encourage you. When sidetracked, we redirect. There may be times in the process where you feel “in the weeds” and nowhere near a vision. The spiritual director’s job is to trust and know that God is faithful. You will get there!

Once you feel unity around a vision, you will develop a short statement that can serve as a guidepost for all the projects, programs and efforts you keep; those you release; and any activity you consider in the future. An example comes from the gospels. “We are fishers of people” would be the disciples’ vision statement and “We follow Jesus” would be their mission.

Much like that example, an image may accompany the short vision statement (a net of fish!). This statement and image becomes a benchmark for all you do as you go forward. You have the tools to determine if proposed programs really fit with the vision, asking, “Are we being faithful to the vision here?” (“Is this what fishers of people do?”)

Your vision statement and image are the groundwork for determining your mission statement–what you do in the world right now–and for any longer statements you may create about your life together, things like organizational profiles, search and call documents, and marketing materials.

 Long term benefits

Visioning through discernment has benefits even after the process is complete.

Participating in the process helps individuals learn how to use discernment in their daily lives. They will likely find their relationship with God deepens as a result of doing this communal spiritual work.

The faith community learns what it is like to transform business into an opportunity to live out the faith more intentionally. Once an organization learns how to look at an important question from many different angles and spends time with it in ways they may not have considered before, there is no more “business as usual.”

Discernment will be the only way you will want to work from that point on.

 Learn more about it

To learn more about visioning through discernment, a process I use with organizations, contact me at In fact, if you are interested in any aspect of spiritual direction, I’d like to help.

Visit or the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction for more information.

Living Under the Threat of Violence

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons
Designated Conference Minister, Southwest Conference UCC

Preached February 21, 2016 at Church of the Beatitudes, Phoenix, Arizona

Birds go to the most incredible extremes to ensure the lives of their chicks.

A Mistle Thrush had built her nest in the end of a rain gutter. “The nest was tucked away from the weather in the shade of the roof,” said amateur wildlife photographer Dennis Bright. With the rain, “It was only a matter of seconds before the [gutter] flooded, and water cascaded over the sides.”

Desperate to protect her young, the mother Mistle Thrush puffed herself up to twice her size and sat in the drainpipe to stop the tide of rain water swamping the nest. She was so occupied with her task that her mate was left to feed her and their young.

“She had to come up with a solution so she puffed herself up so she was twice the size of her mate and used her body as a cork to stop the water,” said Bright.”It was absolutely amazing.”

Hester Phillips, from the RSPB, said she had never seen such a situation. “We’ve heard of them nesting in some unusual sites before, namely on the top of traffic lights, but we’ve certainly not come across anything like this before.

“Birds can be amazingly hardy creatures,” said Phillips, “their endurance is incredible – especially when protecting their young.”

Jesus described himself as a hen gathering her brood under her wings. Jesus – source of belonging, bringer of love, creator of creator of community.

But his allusion to the blood-bathed image of a fox among the chickens is his description of a violent world’s response to his mission. Thus the friendly Pharisees’ warning for Jesus to flee in the face of Herod’s royal rage.

But Jesus would have none of it.

[Jesus seems to] shrugs his shoulders [and intensify his gaze] when he says, “You go tell that fox from me that I’m going right on doing what I’m doing, casting out demons and healing the sick, and I’ll still be doing the same tomorrow, and the next until I finish my work, by which time we’ll be in Jerusalem.”

No fleeing. No hiding. No being intimidated. No pursuit of his own privilege thus pretending it’s not happening.

Jesus’ vision and mission remains resolute in the threat of escalating violence. Casting out demons: the vision of a world freed from the powers of oppression and exploitation. Healing the sick: restoring to wholeness ones whose bodies were broken, whose souls were scarred, whose place in their community was confiscated. “Jesus is going to do what he’s come to do, and he’s not going to be bullied [or scarred] out of it, no matter how big and [how] real the threat.”

With all the flare of LaWanda Page’s portrayal of Aunt Esther on TV’s sitcom Sanford & Son, Jesus says to the henchmen of hate:

“Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets,
abuser of the messengers of God!
How often I’ve longed to gather your children,
gather your children like a hen,
Her brood safe under her wings—
but you refused and turned away!
And now it’s too late: You won’t see me again
until the day you say,
‘Blessed is she
who comes in
the name of God.’ ”

As the Keresan Pueblo story goes, Qi-yo Ke-pe was the most powerful medicine person in the world. She lived far to the west. When the daughter of the chief in the village of Kush Kut-ret fell ill, none of the medicine men could heal her. So the chief sent his bravest warrior to bring Qi-yo Ke-pe to his daughter’s bedside. When she arrived she asked for water and bathed the girl. The medicine men laughed. “If all our songs and incantations didn’t work, ordinary water could not possibly have any effect,” they said. But after four days of this bathing ritual, the girl was restored to health and beauty as if she had never been ill. The grateful chief commissioned his bravest warrior to escort the powerful Qi-yo Ke-pe back to her home, but the jealous medicine men followed them at a distance. After the brave warrior had departed her company, the medicine men came to Qi-yo Ke-pe’s home. She invited them in and offered them a meal and rest. They refused. “We have come to kill you,” they said to Qi-yo Ke-pe. “In four days we will return. Then you and your family will die.” Four days later the medicine men returned and were as good as their word. From then on there was grief. Many times when people fell ill there was no one on earth to heal them. Qi-yo Ke-pe was gone. The medicine men had killed her.

Luke is clear that Jesus knew he, too, would fall victim to the violence. Not by Herod’s hand, but Jesus would indeed die. For not everyone is able to understand and accept Jesus’ offer of liberation and healing. And with his killing came consequences of his killers’ own choosing.

Still, Jesus expresses a commitment to his vision and mission with all of the conviction and groundedness of the Poet who penned Psalm 27:

Your light leads me to safety, LORD;
I’ve got nothing to fear.
You shelter me like a fortress, LORD;
I’m afraid of no one!

Vicious thugs can close in like sharks,
ready to eat me alive;
but savage violence is no match for you;
they’ll fall flat on their faces.

They could give my name to a death squad
and I’d still be at peace;
their armies could lay siege to my house,
but I’d still feel safe with you.

Only one thing I ask of you, LORD,
the one thing that really matters:
let me live out the whole of my life
right here in your presence;
let me lose myself in your beauty,
and abandon myself to prayer.

Let me hide here in safety with you,
when trouble gets too much;
You are as secure as a bomb shelter,
a protected place to rest and recover.

You have lifted me beyond the reach
of those who wanted to tear me down,
so I am here to express my thanks,
to offer you whatever I can give;
to sing your praises till I raise the roof,
to put on a concert in your honour.

Don’t ever stop being generous, LORD;
hear me and answer me when I call for help!

My heart tells me to search for you.
Please don’t stay hidden from me.
My desire is to know you, face to face.

Don’t slam the door on me in anger;
Help me again and I’ll go on serving you.
Don’t give up on me now,
don’t turn your back on me;
You alone can save me, God!

Even if my own parents kicked me out,
you’d still be there for me, LORD.

Give me clear directions, LORD;
keep me on the right track
so I don’t stumble into the path of my enemies.

Don’t let them get their claws into me.
With every breath they fill the air
with false allegations and violent threats.

I know I can rely on you, LORD,
I’ll see your goodness win out
and live to tell about it.

I wait patiently for you, LORD;
I’ll hang in there and keep my chin up;
I’ll sit tight, and trust in you!

Beloved, the world is still a violent place. Before preaching this sermon I woke to the news that a gunman had committed a string of random murders in Kalamazoo, Michigan leaving 7 dead including an 8-year old and a 14-year old.

One need not live in ISIS controlled territories to experience religious violence. One need only to have been on the campus of Independence High School last Monday. After the tragic murder/suicide of 15 year-olds May Kieu and Dorothy Dutiel, Christian extremists spewed homophobic hate over megaphones at grieving students returning to classes. One need only to be a woman reading the Bible and realizing that “there are only 93 women who speak in the Bible, 49 of whom are named. These women speak a total of 14,056 words collectively — roughly 1.1 percent of the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, speaks 191 words; Mary Magdalene gets 61; Sarah, 141 (Freeman, Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter).7

“Communities of love and belonging are beautiful yet rare; necessary, yet elusive; desired, yet seem always met with stipulations. You know what I mean, right? Communities of love and belonging are those places and spaces of gathered folks that give you life, that nourish your soul, that remind you of who you truly are. Because there is no love and belonging when there is no regard and respect. There is no love and belonging when you are overlooked and dismissed. There is no love and belonging when you are told you don’t measure up, don’t meet expectations, or that you are not enough.”

How do we as Christians live in such a violent world?

We live as Jesus in the world! You and I, us together, we are the Body of Christ, the living Jesus in the world.

There are ones around us who point to the Church’s shrinking influence, who cite our words and our actions as too political, who call for us to run away, to hide under cover of private religion or in the safety of siloed spirituality and thus escape the wrath of powerful and powerfully offended ones. Let us have none of that! We are Jesus in the world!!

This world – this violent world – needs a Jesus – a living body of Christ on the earth – who risks our very lives to gather under God’s outstretched wings vulnerable ones, poor ones, rejected ones, and lonely ones, hungry and thirsty ones, threatened ones, blamed ones, guilty ones, and ones with no other place to belong.

Will you be that Jesus? The Jesus – the Body of Christ in the world – unwaveringly committed to liberating oppressed and exploited ones by risking the tasks of healing broken ones. And doing so from such a place of deep peace built on the bedrock of justice that you cannot help but share a song with her brood as they gather in safety and community:

Under His Wing

Under your wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and violence is wild,
Still I can trust you,
I know you will keep me;
You have redeemed me,
and I am your child.

Under your wings, under your wings,
Who from your love can sever?
Under your wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

5 Gifts for Postmodern Faith Communities

by Karen Richter

First, gentle readers, a confession:  I’ve got a lot at stake in this whole church thing working out.  I suspect that most of you do too.  I begin by letting you know that this might be way off-base as I definitely have a pro-church bias.  You’ve been warned.  I also begin with a bit of clarification; in the title I mean “all churches doing ministry in the 21st century, in this time of movement out of Modernity and toward whatever is next.”  To state the obvious:  some churches are already postmodern and some are not.  The clarification wouldn’t make a very good permalink.  

So what is church?  What’s the purpose?  What are we doing and why do we do it?

In my own answer I’m indebted to teachers in the tradition of the Ecumenical Order and its contemporary offspring:  Realistic Living  and Profound Journey Dialog.  This is a whole rabbit-hole, but I tell you this just to make clear that these ideas aren’t my own.

Church is people who are watching, waiting, and acting.

by Peter on Flickr
by Peter on Flickr

In the words of H. Richard Neibuhrchurch are those sensitive and responsive people who are first to perceive God’s work in the world and first to respond.  To me, this is beautiful imagery.  I imagine millions of sensitive and responsive people, those who care, looking around, finding God at work, and joining in.  Church folks are the “what’s next?” people.  In my mind, all of us sensitive and responsive ones are pausing every once in a while, looking toward the horizon, testing the winds… to see if God is moving in a new way in our world.  

Despite this lovely calling to pioneer God’s work in the world, the church isn’t doing so well.  You don’t have to look very far to find various bloggers, authors, ministers, and public personae having a big conversation about how close to death the institutional church is in our time.  I’m not interested in having that debate.  It’s clear that church has changed, is changing, can anticipate additional changes.  Because I believe in celebrating and being thankful for what is, I’m looking for the gifts in all this change.

Gift #1:  Smallitude
One of the biggest challenges facing the church is the commoditization of worship and community life.  A couple of examples will give you a feel for what I’m getting at.  I work at a church with an unabashedly progressive theology.  Every summer, some of our families attend Vacation Bible School programs at other churches with very different dogma and cosmology.  It’s something wholesome for the kids to do in the summer.  A couple of years ago, I got an email right before Christmas from a family explaining that they would be attending Christmas eve services at a church closer to their home.  Every church has candles and Silent Night, right?  I’m not criticizing these families’ decisions, but I am pointing toward an idea that, for many people, church is something that fits or doesn’t fit the family’s needs and schedule, much like sports teams and music lessons.  Folks shop around, and churches put their best foot forward to get in on the action.  It’s consumerism and it seems so natural, so much ‘just the way things work,’ that we can’t see it.

We’re better when we’re smaller.

Last year, I got a birthday card with a cartoon of Jesus on the front, captioned ‘Jesus on Twitter.’  His little thought balloon said, “Twelve followers… Sweet!”

Smaller means more intimate, less pretentious.  Smaller means more consensus and fewer committees.  Sometimes smaller means more REAL.

Gift #2  Permission to put Vision in the driver’s seat… and stop using the R-word!
Big churches have lots of programs.  There’s not a thing wrong with programs.  But programming (lots of Bible studies, small groups, family activities, fitness plans, travel) can be a distraction from a congregation’s shared vision.

When a faith community puts an emphasis on programs, they run the risk of people leaving when the church down the street offers a program they like better.  So program planning becomes a vicious circle:  offer more, fancier, more polished programs in brand new buildings or via shiny fast technology.  Church leadership becomes focused on numbers and fear.  A church focused on numbers and fear – no matter how nice their brochures or how hip their website it – is dying.  We are tempted to measure success with spreadsheets and numbers rather than with transformation.

The alternative is to let vision run the show.  A shared, energizing, hopeful vision for the future – not just the future of an individual church, but the future of a movement, the future of the earth community.  It’s risky, occasionally chaotic.  But it’s exciting.

When vision drives the church and becomes the center of decision-making and resource allocation, the church no longer needs to worry about being relevant.  (Side Rant:  I HATE talk about getting relevant.  Bleh.) We get behind the vision, do the work we are called to do, and leave the judgments for history to decide.  In other words, when we are busy working, we don’t have time for hand-wringing conversations about being relevant.  

Gift #3  Relationship gets more than just talk
All churches talk about relationship.  It’s a buzzword.  The hype around relationships is crazy-making.  A friend of mine had an interesting experience with a large Phoenix church.  The relationships this church seemed ready to build were with her husband (with a manly, trade show vibe) and with her children (with contemporary music and lots of technology).  When they stopped attending, no one noticed.

people huggingEveryone’s a pastor.  Everyone is a caregiver.  I struggled with this in my first year as a church staffer.  I had this idea that I would swoop in, fix the education programming (meaning, that I would fill a calendar grid with classes and speakers), and things would just get magically better.  Caregiving was just not in the picture.  Then I helped lead a retreat (more programming!  LOL) in which there were two people in a lot of pain.  One was grieving; the other was working through some painful experiences in her past.  This second participant had an obvious ‘tell:’ when she would talk about her family life and the difficulties they had experienced, she would grin largely and nervously.  The grin masked, just barely, the struggle.  I did a lot of caregiving that weekend and since.  It’s changed the way I listen, the way I show up, the way I measure my accomplishments in any given week.  I’m still growing in this area and feel so grateful for the grace my community shows me as I learn.

Everyone is a caregiver.

Gift #4  Getting Creative… because it’s required
In the 1950s when everyone went to church, I imagine that creativity was a luxury.  When everything was going well and the church was ahead on budget items, the staff would get creative.

These days, creativity is an everyday thing.  Newly minted M.Div. graduates get creative when putting together their call to ministry in order to become ordained.  Children’s ministry teams get creative when they don’t have a budget for the off-the-shelf pageant or VBS curriculum.  Churches discover that they have gifts sitting RIGHT THERE IN THE PEWS!  Chefs, teachers, organizers, plumbers, drivers, engineers pitch in to do the work we are called to do.

Gift #5  Lay Leadership Gets Real
Again, I imagine that in days gone by, lay leadership was something a little extra.  Churches set aside a day in the fall to recognize the church board chair and the Sunday School teachers.  Isn’t that nice?  The niceness was propped up by a culture of single income nuclear families and at-home caregivers.

Now, there is less of a division between authorized ministry and lay leadership.  More ministers have day jobs to pay the bills.  We are getting rid of the idea that being called to ministry requires a Rev in front of your name.  These are “fighting words” for some of my friends and colleagues, and this warrants much more digital ink, but this is what I see.

Additionally, despite the necessity of intensive volunteer work and expertise and involvement, there are fewer June Cleavers in our pews.  There’s a squeeze of time that we are all living with.  AND YET… I see busy and passionate people at board and team meetings every week, prioritizing God’s work over the millions of distractions technology and culture afford us.  


UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Church is people who are watching and waiting – looking toward the margins to see the next place where God is at work.  Church is people who are acting – serving peace and justice on behalf of all.  These pioneering actions continue to happen despite the naysayers who are ready to write the church’s obituary.  A smaller church for postmodernity can be MUST BE a visioning church, a caring church, a countercultural church, a serving church.

I hope I’m at least a little bit right.  I’m leaning in with this church thing.  Peace to all.