I have, like, the best job ever.

I really do enjoy my job.

It amazes me sometimes. Sure, it’s difficult, and draining and chellenging some days. Sure, there are times when it seems like many of my days are filled with finding (and losing) paperwork, looking for prayers to go with a particular theme, and attending marathon meetings. But around that stuff, between the forms and the bulletin-making, there are the times when I dream and vision and imagine and strategize and listen and get excited and strategize some more. There are the times when I hear someone talk about an idea for a ministry or an outreach or a worship component, and their eyes positively light up. Then there are the times when I help that person work toward that idea, and I see on their face the joy and satisfaction of getting to do what they love. And I know it’s mirrored on mine.

I wrote a little earlier that I felt like I was ready to kick things into high gear and start in on some projects. This is what excites me most about ministry– the opportnity to listen to and with people for what God might be calling us to, and then together create something new that helps bring the blessing, joy, and love of God to another little corner of the world.

The current big project is the Trinity Community Thrift Store, a dream that came from Paul, a member of Trinity in Montpelier. Paul imagined that we might stop putting on 4-5 thrift sales a year as fundaisers for the church, and start offering a year-round thrift store as a more premanent source of inexpensive, quality clothing and household items in the downtowm Montpelier area. This is the best kind of project; it’s Paul’s dream, so he feels fulfilled and inspired about it, it helps the church in some ways financially and in terms of public relations, it helps people around the world because 10% of the income of the store will be given to a mission project outside of Trinity, and it helps the immediate community because there is a great need for an inexpensive shop in the town, so that folks can buy the things they need without using up all the money they have on hand for the week. I’m honored to be a part of making this happen, and to see and hear the buzz of excitement as this new thing unfolds.

And that’s just one new thing I see us doing together right now. There are a lot more ideas and there’s a lot more energy!

What about you? What exciting things are you doing in your church or would you like to do? What exciting things do you do with your work or your volunteer time? What makes (or would make) you say you have the best job ever?

Day Off

Mondays are my sabbath days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a day of rest. Sometimes, what really rejuvenates me is getting to do projects I love or to dream about ministry (and maybe even do a little of it, which I don’t consider cheating) without being ‘on the clock.’

So for example, today, on my day off, I:

  • took out the garbage. Okay, it doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s very purging.
  • did some weeding in the vegetable garden and put down some landscape fabric to keep the weeds down in the future. Again, it may not sound like rest, but I was out in nature, getting some (rare) sun, and had a great feeling of achievement.
  • had an impromptu video conference to discuss ideas about a program to help agencies and their resources better interface with people without housing or on the brink of being without housing. A passion of mine, and a discussion made possible by the wonders of internet technology.
  • talked with another group at church about rearranging some space use for a new project, yet to be unveiled. That might sound like work, but it was so uplifting!
  • called the congregant whose dream is the aforementioned new project, and asked him to come in tomorrow and begin the process of making it a reality. I didn’t see his face (no video conference, sadly), but even the sound of his voice was enough to know that moments like that are why I went into ministry.
  • managed to utterly confuse myself with my bills and checkbook, but sort it all out in the end, which again, is such a feeling of accomplishment (and relief!)
  • thought a little more about the ideas I’ve been having for sermons the next two weeks (I’m never that far ahead!) and for a series in September.
  • ran a mile and a quarter.

Now that’s a day that gets me feeling refreshed, revved up, and ready for the week ahead!

Sermon: Fools and Fools for God

dancer joy“Fools and Fools for God”

(July 12, 2009) David goes all out, dancing his heart out for God. Some thought he looked a little foolish, perhaps, but Paul reminds us that God uses that which is foolish to accomplish divine purposes. Are we ready to go all out, to live our faith out loud without caring if others thing we’re foolish, to take some risks, to (metaphorically speaking, of course) get on up and dance? (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

(credits: music by C&C Music Factory, mega thanks to the first member of the congregation to jump up and dance; she knows you don’t leave a sister hanging!)

Warning: Pastor on the Loose!

Maybe a church or two on the loose, too!

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because they ordained me and now I’ve got an extra shot of the Spirit in me or something. Maybe it’s because I took a little time off over the past couple of weeks and got more rejuvenated than I realize. Maybe it’s the weather– well, I doubt that, since there’s not much inspiring about 2.5 straight weeks of rain. Maybe it’s because I’ve been here ten months, but it feels like a one year anniversary, since July is the normal moving time, and I think my one year of getting to know people is up.

I am a ministry fool this week.

I’m excited. I’m focused. I’m driven. I’m pulling no punches, going for broke, not taking no for an answer. I’m ready to push up my sleeves, rub my palms together and make a little ministerial magic. I’m ready to set things (metaphorically) on fire. I’m ready to shake it up, kick it up, make some changes, and get busy living the ministry we are called to live. Let’s do this thing!

To be clear, it’s nothing extreme; it’s just a little bit of everything– starting projects I’ve been wanting to start, having conversations with members of my congregations and with strangers on the street that really needed to happen, brainstorming sermon series and uses of space and community events. Nothing that’s never been done before, but all together, it’s exciting and invigorating, and I’m ready to take it out for a spin.

So beware, Gracies and Trinitarians! Beware, friends and family and support team members! I’m pumped and ready to go full steam ahead. I recommend getting on the train or getting off the track!

(mostly cross-posted as a discussion topic on the Trinity UMC Facebook page as well– what gets you excited about church? what do you want our projects to be?)

When life gives you lemons…

… make a giving program out of lemonade!

Stewardship Moment: “Be Peculiar”

I needed to share some information with one of my congregations about some strange letters we’d received, and not make it too scary, and also take an opportunity to teach about tithing and challenge folks to greater giving in a fun way, so I thought I’d combine all three!

(My friend, who also happens to be the chairperson of our Conference Council on Finance and Administration, has already pointed out that I should clarify that tithing is based not on what one has, but on one’s income, which is a different thing indeed.)

Design your own church

blueprintsIn the middle of last week, the church Office Manager at Trinity and I were talking about use of space in the church and how we would re-design the building if money was no concern. This quickly became a conversation about how we would design the building if we were starting over from scratch.

So I want to ask you: imagine you were given an unlimited budget and an ideal piece of property (wherever that is) and told to design a church building from the ground up to suit the ministry you think the church needs to be doing in that place. Where would it be located? What kinds of space would it have?

Our office manager has a heart for food and feeding people. The church building of her dreams would have a huge kitchen–maybe two, and lots of storage. Local farmers and restaurant owners would bring their extra food to the building for storage and redistribution to those in need, whether through a food pantry program or a community meal, or more preferably, both. Sanctuary, schmanctuary. In her church, the main space would be a dining room and fellowship center where anyone hungry could eat their fill.

My church would be located in a downtown of the community, so that people could easily walk to it. It would have a parking lot, preferably underground (can you tell this has been an issue for us?). It would have a lawn, but not much grass; most of the lawn would be devoted to a community garden, maintained by church members but available to people in town who are hungry to harvest it. It would be three, maybe four stories, and the roof would sport solar panels, while further heating needs were met with a grass-pellet burning stove. On the lowest level, there would be a sizable food pantry and storage area, and a community thrift shop, and a couple of meeting rooms or small library. Also, there would be bathrooms with showers, just in case the church was being used as a shelter for a time. The next floor would be the social space: a large room safe to run around in for kids to play and learn (which could be broken up with dividers for educational times) and a fellowship/dining area with lightweight tables and chairs near the large kitchen. The fellowship hall would be equipped with a small stage, and a sound and projection system, for community action meetings, classes on cooking or garndening or parenting or resume-writing, movie nights, and open mic events. The sanctuary would be above that, with movable seating (rather than bolted-in pews), lights on freaking dimmer switches (for Christmas Eve and Good Friday!!!!!), an embedded projection screen, a sound system that doesn’t make the pastor’s voice sound like she’s preaching from inside a tin can but can record her sermons direct to mp3 (or dare we hope record the service to video for local access or for the homebound?). The altar area would be open, flexible, and movable, with a stand-alone cross and a window opening out into God’s world, even if that means the bustling street– especially then. There would be a side chapel for smaller gatherings or personal prayer. The building would be accessible at the front without steps (maybe a ramp) and would have at least two elevators, one of which would be large enough to accommodate a coffin, to save the backs of pallbearers everywhere. Somewhere there’d be an office, I guess, but I bet the pastor would only rarely sit there, instead preferring to tend the garden, hand out food, or pray in the chapel. And the doors would have no locks.

Okay, I dream. But that’s the point in this case.

What’s your dream church? Or, if not a church, what would it be?

Maybe this means the powers that be are listening!

As I posted earlier, the news that the work on a new United Methodist Hymnal has been postponed generated many ideas about what might spring up in the meantime, including a couple of great discussions over on the facebook group for the new hymnal.

This morning, Dean McIntyre from the General Board of Discipleship emailed that group and asked us (all 1800 of us!) what our ideas are. I hope this means they’re willing to take some of ours into account! Here’s my response to his question:

Dean, I am so glad you asked!

A member of this group named Steve has a great post about what he dreams the hymnal might be here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=828639436#/topic.php?uid=49135229167&topic=8993. Likewise, Jeremy has another thread about how we might proceed here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=49135229167#/topic.php?uid=49135229167&topic=8988.

Combining these two, I want to strongly suggest that the hymnal go super-digital. Using open source technology like Wikipedia does, you could have Methodists from all around the world suggest new songs for review, post alternative lyrics to classic tunes (or gender and ethnically sensitive lyrics for classic hymns), submit alternate psalter settings or uses, and write prayers for inclusion in an online-only hymnal supplement, and so much more! Imagine a truly global hymnal for a truly global church! People could tag hymns with keywords for faster indexing (still no index for The Faith We Sing, which is a huge hindrance, and whatever mind put together the 89 Hymnal didn’t use the keywords I want– where do I find hymns about ‘inclusiveness,’ or ‘diversity,’ or ‘mother’s day’ or ‘Native American heritage’ or a slew of other ideas? If I could add keywords or tags, and so could everyone else, suddenly we’d have many more ideas about which hymns might best fit the Word of the day.

As we build an online coalition of ideas and resources, available as it becomes ready, perhaps for an annual or one-time access key fee but produced at very minimal cost, this material could be culled, refined, and gathered for use in a printed hymnal in the future. Churches like mine would purchase probably half as many hardbound hymnals no matter what’s available online (we have probably 200 UMHs but found we only needed 60 FWSs since we use the projector screen now), but would regularly access the digital online hymnal for lyrics to paste into PowerPoint, prayer ideas, to listen to alternate tunes, and to search the ever-expanding index and find a beloved song that fits perfectly with the message that the worship team is trying to communicate through the service. At the same time, nothing would prevent a church from remaining with the hard-bound hymnal, and using the new paper hymnal when it comes out, never needing to spend the extra for the online resources if they weren’t planning on using them. I think you’ll find that even though the median age of this facebook group and other online United Methodist communities is relatively young (compared to, say, the median age of United Methodists in the U.S.), many if not all of us are still very sensitive to the needs of older print-based generations to keep the hymns, tunes, and media formats (i.e. books) that move and shape them in their faith. So while I personally cringe at “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I would by no means recommend striking it from the Hymnal– although I hear there are some lovely alternative lyrics out there that might interest me.

And ditch the hymnal on cdrom. That Folio view format used for the UMH&FWS, as well as for the NIB is just horrendous and unhelpful. Again, better to have it online and ask for an access fee. Then glitches and typos (o so many typos in the FWS!) can be fixed quickly, and the user interface can be improved in terms of searchability, bookmarking, and so on. All of this for the cost of a couple of web developers and some moderators (many of whom might be hanging around this group just waiting for an opportunity to moderate a conversation about sacred music).

While the print version of the hymnal may be becoming less cost-effective and less frequently used in worship, United Methodists are still people who sing in large part so that we can express and grow in our faith. Sacred music is alive and well–hymnody is alive and well–and you have literally thousands (almost 1800 right on this group) of people who are willing to help and share their creative ideas about how best to do that in an ever-changing context. The Gospel the Wesley brothers brought to bar music, I’m betting we can bring to the web database, the iPod, and the mp3 archive.

Blessings to you and your colleagues in this important work, and thank you again for asking. We hope you’re listening to our ideas here. It gives me tremendous hope and excitement about our church and its musical gifts to the world.

Shalom,
Becca Clark
pastor, Troy Annual Conference
Trinity UMC, Montpelier & Grace UMC, Plainfield VT

Finding Jesus Update

I did find Jesus today.

First of all, I found my actor to portray Jesus (and a robe for him to wear).

And I went to a slew of meetings, including two back-to-back at the church (worship and Staff-Parish), and ended up feeling really great about the vision and progress and excitement of the members of those teams, working toward a stronger and more vibrant church.

I told them that I found my Jesus. But they may have assumed I meant the one for the skit and not the one who was present at the meetings.

To Press

While I’m (laptopless) in Florida, I leave you with a couple of things I’ve recently published.

Ministry in the age of online networking (article for my Annual Conference’s website)

“The Birthing of a Mother-God” (essay for “Mama Says” a local publication for mothers, in their edition on mathoerhood and spirituality, re-work of an earlier blog post or two)

Continue reading

Feedback wanted

Hi folks, when you have a few free minutes (this week? ha!), could you do me a favor and check out my ‘Virtual Worship‘ link on Trinity UMC’s website?

For the second week in a row, we had little or no heat in the sanctuary, and this week there was a severe weather warning, so we went home from church early. I wanted a way for people to feel like they’ve participated even if they couldn’t make it to church or had to leave early due to weather (or temperatures below 50!), but I also wanted it to be engaging, and I’m finding text to be a hard way to do that.

This was something I was planning to leave up all the time, only changing prayers every once in a while (the sermon will be updated because it’s a link here), so it’s relatively low maintenance.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

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