SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Tag: Gordon Lathrop

Becoming A Feeding People

“In short, the presider is a guardian to all those who are in need.”
(from Justin’s 1 Apology 67 in Gordon Lathrop’s The Pastor: A Spirituality)

It has been an exciting day! Tears came to my eyes as I observed all those who gathered this morning around food. Some gathered to serve, others gathered to receive. All shared stories, smiles, and difficulty. A vision, a vision from God, was becoming a reality in our midst.

I am amazed that we are here. It all started with conversation about God and about what God was doing in someone’s life. It all started with the realization that although a ministry had been ended, another one was emerging. It turns out that God was speaking, clearly, about our life together. Little by little opportunities came our way, partners appeared, others called came forth, and preparations got on their way.

A decision was made to become a community that fed people . . .

So I became the spokesperson for this call of God in our midst. Little did folks know at first how close this calling is to those of us who are set apart to be “gatherers of people.” It turns out that this incarnate call to “feed” is truly at the center of our identity as God’s own people. After all aren’t we at our core a people of table?

Time and time again I reminded the assembly that we were becoming a “feeding people.” And so as I headed to the pantry this morning, right before opening time, there were people gathered, waiting. Hungry people, people in need, people wandering what this “place” could provide.

So we said words of greeting, cut a huge yellow ribbon, and then invoked the holy into our space. It was amazing to hear those gathered praying along, giving thanks to God, praising the one that gathered us there. For a moment it was as if we were gathering around the great table, in that moment we knew that the presence of Christ self was there among us.

As I put my “apron” on for a few pictures and some greetings I was told that I was needed to help with the intake. So as I helped to  fill paperwork, ask questions, and help pave the way for food, I was encountered by stories. I was encountered with real life parables, struggles, blessings, and thanks. So my apron was an extension of the stole that I wear around my neck week after week as I lead the assembly into its sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

I am sure that there will be many stories to share in the years ahead. We are becoming a “feeding people,” I am becoming a more faithful “presider,” all of us growing together in our discipleship as we allow the Spirit to shape us in the way of Jesus.

Leadership as “Vision Casting”

"Whitby" by James Whitesmith

I’ve been wearing glasses since the 8th grade. I can still remember attending chapel with my parents during my 8th grade year and having my dad ask me if the preacher always wore the same suit and tie to chapel to which I responded that he was too far away for me to see him, he looked blurry. The next day I went to the eye doctor for the first time. A week later my first pair of glasses arrived and when I put them on it was like a miracle! I could see far away, I could see the leaves on the trees, and the birds flying in the sky. I also could see that the preacher did wear the same suit and tie to chapel every week.

To cast something is to make a copy of it, a representation in three dimensional form, from a mold. The mold is not the actual item, the final product is, but the mold itself has to be made, has to be formed by an original of something.

Another definition of casting is throwing a fishing line. Here the fisherman chooses the bait that will be attached to the line and casts that line with the bait in the appropriate place for a successful catch.

I’ve heard many congregational leaders refer to vision casting as the second definition. Here the leaders chooses the bait and throws out the vision in hopes that the congregation will “bite.” More often than not, like fishermen, the leader finds him/herself bringing the line back and throwing it out there over and over again. Frustration sets in, the bait is changed, but little else does. Is the congregational leader really a “vision caster?”

Yes!

I’ve been thinking that the casting that we do is not of the fishing type but of the mold type. The mold is the shape of God’s kingdom and we as pastors come with the symbols, images, stories, and gestures (thanks Gordon Lathrop) of the Christian faith and begin to give shape to God’s kingdom in a particular place at a particular time. The vision is cast and if observed carefully and interpreted, the vision will begin to bear fruit in its particular place and time.

The leader is constantly pointing back at the vision of God’s kingdom. Constantly reminding the community of its shared story, of its identity, of its mission in the world. At each turning point there are decisions to be made about life together, about bills, buildings, resources, and relationships. The pastoral leader goes back in each case to the cast vision, to how these characters of life together can best be utilized/deployed for the vision that has been cast, for the re-presentation of God’s kingdom in this place.

Many times as pastoral leaders we find that the vision is fuzzy, blurry, in need of adjustment. Our temptation is to cast it again as in fishing, changing the bait, or maybe changing the location. I am reminding myself that no such movement is needed. Instead I’ll immerse myself in the narrative of faith, in the symbols and gestures of the assembly, and in the life and work of the people of the community around me. Each of these will allow me to help the congregation “see” their way forward, see God’s kingdom made flesh by their life and work.

May God give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hands to cast a vision of God’s Kingdom through the people of St. John’s UMC, knowing that

“. . . no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.”

Wendell Berry (Sabbath Poem X 1979 in A Timbered Choir)

Holy Saturday: Dressing the Church

A nod to my brother Josh Hale (expatminister) who has written a wonderful post about how pastors can observe Holy Saturday.

His post got me thinking about what I enjoy the most as a pastor on Holy Saturday. I especially enjoy sleeping late (by sleeping late we mean till around 7:30 am due to our living alarm clocks), spending time with the family listening to music, and taking extra time drinking my coffee with Shannon.

Yet, my favorite part of Holy Saturday is dressing the church for Easter. This started some 3 years ago when I was appointed here at Squyres UMC. In a small congregation we need all hands on deck and after a very busy Friday (which includes an amazing fish fry & Easter egg hunt) everyone in the church is exhausted. So my first Holy Week I volunteered to be the one to come in on Saturday evening and dress the church.

Maybe it reminds me of those wonderful days at Candler School of Theology where I served as the sacristan for the Office of Worship. There I prepared the space for worship every week. I would walk into that sacred space and take my time, almost as if each movement was a prayer, getting the space ready for the community to gather.

All these years later it is still a prayer. I walk into a bare space (it was “stripped” on Holy Thursday) and begin to bring back signs of celebration. Banners, paraments, fine linen, candles, the cross that will hold flowers, the book that holds the Great Thanksgiving.

Each detail reminds me of the events of the past season. I can remember my dirty hands on Ash Wednesday, what seemed like an endless set of Lenten Sundays, the Hosanna’s of Palm Sunday, our re-membrance of the Last Supper, and the blowing out of candles last night.

Now little by little it comes to life again.

I am thankful for this time in an empty sanctuary. A time to reflect and remember the great honor that it is to be a pastor. I am thankful that this time reminds me of these words from Gordon Lathrop:

The pastor lives among symbols. The pastor cares for symbols, sets out symbols for other people, hopes these symbols may hold people’s lives into meaning. Symbols are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, the “gear and tackle and trim” of pastoral ministry. Or they ought to be. Words, stories, sacraments, images, gestures: pastors have really nothing else.

(from Pastor: A Spirituality, pg. 1)

As we continue on this journey to Easter, may we take the time to reflect, rest, and be thankful. And for those out there who will be walking into empty sanctuaries to prepare, may dressing the church become your prayer today!

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