Life is a Pilgrimage browsing by category

experiences from my life story as they unfold.


The Day or The Way?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Last year we baptized two young people at a church member’s farm. In the creek, full immersion, on Pentecost! All the right pieces just fell in place last year. The farmers were having a family reunion anyways and said “sure use the place.” Pentecost happened to be the second Sunday of June last year which made the water not so cold. And, not to mention, we had two young people to baptise! It was a blessed event fresh in everyone’s mind.

Wouldn’t you know two more folks want to get baptized this year! They are new to the church, they saw the pictures from last year’s baptism and and sorta just assumed thats the way its done around here. Well, Pentecost is May 27 this year and the farm is not available that day. This dilemma causes me to pause and reflect: Is it more important to baptize on a significant day like Pentecost, or is it more important to baptize in a significant way like full immersion at the creek with a big party? This year it would seem that either one can happen, but we can’t have both.

The Day. It is certainly possible to baptize on Pentecost at the church. Our church has a very small baptistry font; I’d be surprised if it held more than a quart of water.  Now, I don’t believe that there is any deficiency in using the small font. Pouring and sprinkling still work for baptisms. But human beings are visual and tactile creatures, and I do believe that the meaning of baptism is more easily declared with more water, much more water. My (Disciples of Christ) roots are showing here. Besides, these are adults we are baptizing and the practical matter of “how do I dunk this baby without drowning it?” is not an issue in this case.

The Way. It is certainly possible to baptize the same way we did last year: Full immersion at the member’s farm. But it would be the second Sunday after Pentecost. Now, I do not believe there is any deficiency in being baptized on a “normal Sunday.” Baptism spans all seasons. But, human beings exist in time and space and I do believe it is easier to see our place in the larger story when something like a personal baptism happens on a date significant for the universal church that extends beyond the gathered community on May 27 this year. Not to mention it will be easier to remember that baptism anniversary as “Pentecost” instead of June 10 (or was it the 17th?…).

The Way & The Day. We could also find an alternate location, but this of course would be outside of the Sunday morning gathered worship community (unless everyone does indeed decide to go to this off-site baptism). We could have a full immersion Pentecost baptism. But I don’t think we could have it all: we risk losing the connection with the local church that these folks are joining. The farm has deep (very deep) roots to the story of how County Line Church came to be, and everyone goes to the farmer’s reunion on the second Sunday of June – the church will definitely be there. I’m not so sure that the church would venture out for an extra service in May- to a disconnected location, and for “outsiders” of the church. Is that pessimistic, or realistic?

No matter how it happens or when it happens the Body of Christ is getting bigger, praise God for that!

What do you think is more important in this situation? The way or the day?

Baptized at (not in) The Roman Catholic Church

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Next Saturday, my daughter will be baptized. We chose to have the baptism at the Roman Catholic Church where my wife is a member. I also attend Saturday mass with her when I can. This of course raises the interesting question about the nature of baptism and where one finds a faith home, particularly as an inter-church family. We do plan to raise her in the Roman Catholic Church, though of course how could I not share my own faith with my own child as a Protestant Christian, and as a pastor at that? We’ll just have to wait and see what that looks like as her faith grows.

The church where I am currently serving as pastor practices infant baptism, so that particular issue isn’t so challenging (I wonder what challenges would have presented themselves had I discovered my first call in a Disciples of Christ context where infant baptism is not practiced). Still though, I often wonder if all things Catholic may prove to be initially suspicious for a Protestant congregation. I invited my congregation to the baptism.

Penny’s baptism does come shortly after the reception of Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism, approved at this year’s General Synod. The Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Traditions mutually recognize the validity of one another’s baptism. It is the sacrament we are able to already share. There is one baptism after all, and she will be baptized into a body of believers that is so much bigger than any one manifestation of the church (denomination) that happens to be able to gather next Saturday at any one particular place on the map.

Baptism is so much bigger than all that. Our faith fathers and mothers who went on before us, the saints, and all those who will come after us – all Christians throughout the entire world – this is the body of faith she will be incorporated into. The Body of Christ so expansive, yet so intimately near as to care for even the tiniest of babes placed in it’s care. We are very much looking forward to celebrating Penny’s baptism in just over a week.

Baptism reflection

Monday, June 20th, 2011

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, but the water was cold. All of County Line Church was gathered together at the Mill Creek (of course, we sang “Shall We Gather at the River?”) for a Pentecost baptism at the Tusing farm.

This was the culmination of a multi-generational baptism class – our opportunity to receive new members, to celebrate the forgiveness of sins, and live the Great Commission given by Christ to “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It was the first baptism I performed. It was the first full-immersion baptism many church members have ever seen.

I was overjoyed to see the look of excitement in the young people’s eyes; and to hear the loud “Whoa!” as they felt the full force of the life-giving baptismal water. Their mom and dad were proud, and they were in the water too. Church members were proud, excited, and energized to see young people saying “yes” to church membership in a generation where that is so rare. I could feel the Body of Christ expand that day.

We had an impromptu hymn sing while waiting for folks to change into dry clothes. “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.” Other hymns too, but I’m not sure because I got wet too.

We celebrated Holy Communion. When I offered them the Bread, I looked the newly baptized in the eye and declared “The Body of Christ,” and they said amen – because that is what they are; that is what they received. The two newly baptized young people then served the bread and the cup to the rest of the Body of Christ; also sharing the same declaration. They served their parents, and they all shared a smile.

We sang. Outside, no piano, and no printed music for the communion liturgy. And we sounded great! We sang from a place deep in our hearts, with real and honest joy. Gifts and cards were given to the newly baptized. I gave them the printed liturgy book I used for the occasion (it was from The Book of Common Prayer – I love the language of the prayer book). They stayed and ate some more picnic food, spent some more time outdoors, more sharing in the new life in Christ.

Ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I was ordained on March 19, which was Saturday of the Lenten Embertide, at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Hagerstown, MD. My family, friends, and church members helped to celebrate the occasion.

I am told too that my 3 month old daughter physically jumped from a still-quiet sleep in mom’s arms during the laying on of hands – perhaps babies are quite receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit?

It was an ecumenical-liturgical service. Afterward, Christians of various traditions commented on the service: Catholics recognized it as a Catholic service, Lutherans recognized it as a Lutheran service, Episcopalians recognized it as an Episcopalian service, Methodist recognized it as a Methodist service, and Disciples… well few Disciples seemed to recognize the service as something of their own, but they joined their hearts in a worship form which was new to many of them.

I am very thankful for all the support I had both in the years leading up to this celebration, and the ordination service itself. We were blessed with the musical talents of Matthew Albright and April DeShong (both on staff at F.C.C. Hagerstown); the preaching of The Reverend Ken Collins, pastor of Garfield Memorial Christian Church; and the ministry of the Christian Church Capital Area with Reverend Lari Grubs, the regional minister. Rev. Harris who was pastor of FCC Hagerstown when I first heard the whispering of the Spirit’s call to the ministry, the nurturing committee, and all those faithful Christians I have met along my spiritual journey thus far.

My mother-in-law made a beautiful red chasuble for the occasion. It’s Gothic-style with an embroidered dove and flame. This liturgical art piece comes with an interesting story. She said she got the pattern and material form a convent in New York which specializes in making vestments. She was in conversation with a nun who taught her how to make it. It took her three days to work up the courage to cut into the beautiful fabric.

The interim-pastor’s wife made the stole for me which is embroidered with my name, date and occasion. It also has a nice chalice with St. Andrew’s cross (The symbol for the Disciples of Christ) at the neck.

My mom (also with my sister from AZ who could not join us) presented a beautiful print of the Saint John’s Bible Gospels & Acts. View it online.

Also my dad presented a Holy Communion set for travel. I am looking forward to using it at an outdoor baptism service later this Summer.

Unfortunately, few photos exist for whatever reason. My father-in-law took some pictures following the laying on of hands when I shared some words with the congregation (the photo above). Perhaps no one was Spirit-led to snap some photos, or perhaps folks felt awkward to interrupt with photography, and maybe it simply slipped everyone’s mind.

But, perhaps it is a good thing that there aren’t photos that I might dwell on a single moment in the past. This past Sunday’s Gospel about Nicodemus reminds us that the Spirit blows where he will; you cannot tell where he comes from or where he is going. I, along with all those who joined in the celebration on Saturday, will have that shared experience of the Spirit. We won’t be able to look back at a moment frozen in time; instead we are challenged to remember the experience and to seek the Holy Spirit’s movement in this life of ministry ahead of me.

My first year in ministry, a look back at 2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Google’s 2010 Zeitgeist video inspired me to take a look back at my first year in the ministry. Here are some interesting mile-markers along the way:

We lived in the parsonage which is next door to two other churches, but neither is the one I am serving. The church immediately next door is the same denomination, and was even the same parish years ago. St. Luke’s got the house in the split.

Our neighbor on the other side is the mayor of Timberville.

My first funeral was scheduled three months in advance. Someone had donated their body to science, and then her remains were cremated. They had a service when she died. Now a year later the family wished to inter the cremains. Because the time was flexible they chose a date which was suitable for the family. The week of the service a parishioner died and the family choose to have the funeral on the same day as the pre-planed service, earlier that morning. I went from a leisurely three month planing of my first funeral to a few days of planning and two funerals in one day!

I worked for the 2010 US Census. This was a part time ministry so I sought other employment to supplement my income. What a great way to learn about a new community.

I was the only person who wore a clerical collar at the Annual Meeting of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ (even though the collar is not all that odd in the UCC tradition around here).

I discovered the Order of Corpus Christi, a group within the UCC who shares my affinity for liturgy and a discipline of prayer.

I was elected (perhaps by default) to serve as the president of our local ministerial association. I’m sure it was because I am the newest and youngest clergy person in town.

The first wedding I officiated was on October 31, Halloween, which was a Sunday in 2010.

I preached at the Ruritan Community Thanksgiving service where I learned that I don’t like ham pot pie – a local staple.

I did not preside at a Christmas Eve service this year. Our church was gracious enough to grant me a month of family leave for the birth of our first child Penelope – in the month of December (certainly the most busy church season).

I met and prayed with a parishioner in the hospital the day after our daughter was born. He was on the floor just above us. He died three weeks later on Christmas day. His wife died exactly 10 weeks prior. Both funerals were an occasion to worship our Lord Jesus Christ who is the first born of the dead. The services were the same except for the scripture reading. They were married for 64 years, together for three quarters of their lives. They were to me an example of faith and love.

My last paycheck of the year was accidently post-dated by six years, a simple mistake by our treasurer.

Praying for a spirit-led 2011.

The Parable of the Lost Digital Voice Recorder

Friday, August 20th, 2010

You may have noticed (is there anyone out there?) that I haven’t posted sermons for nearly 3 weeks. Sadly my digital voice recorder has gone AWOL and the model I had, which I absolutely loved, now sells for $150. I just could not drop that kind of money for something I know I only spent $47 on a year ago. So I have been holding out hope for its prodigal-like return.

In the mean time I have bought a microphone adapter for my ipod and will record sermons that way. And I will post at least the outlines I have for the past few weeks of sermons.

Come back digital voice recorder!

What’s your ministry? What’s your super power?

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

I had the opportunity to meet many new people at the Central Atlantic Conference gathering recently. Or, to be more accurate, many people had an opportunity to meet me as a new guy in the Conference.

Introductions seemed to be somewhat awkward. People wore name tags so I at least knew names and which church someone was from, but how do you introduce yourself at these church events? “So, where is First Congregationalist UCC?” “Are you here as a clergy or lay delegate?” “How far of a trip was it for you?” “Boy, the weather is nice, huh?” All were quite inadequate.

Then, the last day of the conference at breakfast, almost as if by inspiration I asked someone at the table “What’s your ministry?” They hesitated slightly and said “Oh, I’m not the pastor there or anything if that’s what you mean.” So I persisted “Everyone is a minister.” And so she went into how she was quite passionate about immigration reform and organizing marches with her church.

“What’s your ministry?” is the Christian equivalent of the secular world’s “What’s your business?” or “What do you do for a living?” Or, if you were at a Justice League meeting, “What’s your super-power?” It reaffirms the truth that all baptized Christians are called to ministry (some even with super powers). It is an invitation to hear about how God is working in another’s life and church. It is an opportunity to go into deeper conversation than the weather.

I think that will be my standard intro the next time I have the opportunity to meet new people at a Christian gathering. Or maybe it is just the next silly Facebook quiz app.

What’s your ministry?

No Sermon This Week

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

This past weekend I attended the Annual Meeting of The Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ. That means I got a little break from preaching. I also had an opportunity to meet others in the conference, hear Dianna Butler Bass, and represent our congregation at the Conference.

The Conference inspired a few blog post ideas I hope to explore in the coming weeks. Overall, it was a wonderful experience.

Be. Not Do.

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Rest Area AheadI attended the Central Atlantic Conference United Church of Christ clergy retreat this week. The theme was “A Cathedral in Time” which focused on Sabbath keeping. It was quite relaxing and energizing all at the same time. Being new to the conference and ministry I found it to be a wonderful opportunity to connect with fellow clergy.

The Sabbath is rooted in history and the wisdom of God. It is given to us for our own good so that we might embrace that rest. I hope to approach my ministry with a Sabbath attitude: “Be. Not do.” In sermon preparation to focus on the text and let it speak rather than run on the hamster wheel of selecting the perfect words and illustrations. In visitations to focus on being present rather than again finding the right words or prayers.

I made a significant connection with a retiring pastor from whom I attempted to absorb 40 years of ministry experience. I met another new pastor who shares a passion for Catholic spirituality and the power of well-thought worship. I am quite thankful for that retreat opportunity.

Search and Call Reject

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I have sent my ministry profile -it’s like a divinely-inspired resume- to about a dozen churches over the last couple of months. Of those, I’ve met with two search committees. Of the rest, half ignored me all together and half sent rejection notices of one form or another. In this post I am going to share with you some of the most interesting, and egregious, examples of how churches reject a potential man of the cloth. Please know that this post is all in good humor and I mean no offense to the churches which asked me to “keep looking” (and especially those who are still considering me). Because everything is done by committee in the search & call process I got nothing but time on my hands to write all about it.


5) “The ministry position is filled, I just forgot to remove it from the job board.” This one is more of a timing issue. It’s not so much that I am not called there, God just didn’t call me soon enough.


4) “Your prior military service may be a problem” (from a traditionally nonviolent denomination). A catch-22 if ever I heard one: God called me to ministry within the military, and yet that same military service prevents my call to the ministry. On the other hand maybe I am called to put the “fist” back in pacifist. Maybe the denomination should have a “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy concerning military service.

3) “While we recognize and appreciate your willingness to serve wherever and however God calls you, we do not believe your experience matches the qualifications we are seeking at this time.” I forgot all about that part in the Bible where it says, in Hezekiah 3:16 “Then the Lord commandeth Moses to produce a resume listing his qualifications. Upon determining that he was well qualified and experienced at freeing other enslaved peoples, The Lord called Moses to Egypt to set his people free.”

You latte sippin-lefty!

You latte sippin-lefty!

2)  (a VERY loose paraphrase) “We know all about that latte-sippin, tree-huggin, sushi-eatin, bleeding-heart, liberal Disciples of Christ denomination. We won’t have you coming in our church jeopardizing our immortal souls!” Oh the tragedy – we may have been made for each other. If only they knew me better, perhaps by reading my blog? I need to put more effort in advertising.

1) “The search committee…regrets to inform you that the call the Lord has placed in your heart is not for our church at this time.” Man-up, search committee! Take some responsibility. Do I have to remind you that you are congregationalist, that means you have the final say. You can’t have it both ways.

What about you? What’s the most memorable way you have been turned down?