Something happened – a response to General Assembly Overture 50 

A year ago today, right at the start of worship, two elders of the church I serve stood beforeIMG_8905 the congregation to communicate a resolution that had passed that would make permissible, upon routine session approval, marriages between any two people for whom it is legal.  In other words, the session made the statement that weddings between same-sex couples would be considered and approved according to the same process and standards as weddings between opposite-sex couples.  Our church would not discriminate against same-sex couples seeking God’s blessing on and the church’s recognition of their marriage.  The sermon I preached later in that worship service is here.
Continue reading

The gospel is political.

KEEP CALM AND DON'T READ THE COMMENTS Poster
I read the comments.  I know they say, “Don’t read the comments,” but I read the comments, and now I feel like I need to respond.  The current comments that I read were on a Facebook post under a link to a Louisville, KY news station’s report about the response of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a church asking for a review of Donald Trump’s membership in the PC(USA).  (Spoiler alert: Although he was baptized in a Presbyterian congregation, he’s not currently a member of a PC(USA) congregation, so there is no membership to review or, as the headlines are implying, revoke.)  Mulitple comments, however, didn’t even address this specific question.  Instead they made declarations like “…we as a church have no business in politics.” And that’s what fired me up.

PC(USA) Stated Clerk responds to questions on Trump’s membership.”Leaders at the Presbyterian headquarters in…

Posted by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday, December 11, 2015

Continue reading

Ministry Snapshots: All Saints Day

I’m so grateful for the church member, Bill Lenarz, who snapped this picture during worship.

Today was one of those days where there was a lot going on in the service and behind the scenes. It was the culmination of the first unit of our new children and youth education ministry, Faith Craft, a description of which is coming in a post later this week. That meant the sermon was Be a Miracle – All Saints Day 2015. We were celebrating communion, as we regularly do on the first Sunday of the month. We were taking a picture of the congregation to use in promotional materials after worship. None of it on its own was hard, but it just meant there were a lot of details to remember, logistics to take care of.

But it was also All Saints Day, and over the years I’ve developed a love for All Saints Day. Like many Presbyterians, it’s not a feast day I grew up with. I don’t even know when I first experienced All Saints Day worship. Maybe seminary? Whenever it was it carved a special place in my spiritual life that has grown in importance  over time. I love the dedicated day to reflect on those saints, living and dead,  in my life and in history who have shown me what it looks like to follow Jesus, who have challenged and nurtured my faith in just the right doses at just the right times, who have lead the church to be the Body of Christ in the world. Finding participatory ways to lift up this day, to try to help it be a blessing to others the way it is to me, is a joy.

This year the video was already going to have that participatory feel. The congregation, through the interviews they had already provided was going to do the “preaching.” Including the Cloud of Witnesses banner we have created that bears the names of the saints in our church and our lives was an option. But it was in a conversation with a friend that the plan to light candles in honor of our saints was added to our service this year.

My friend wasn’t going to be in her own home church for All Saints Day this year, and she was down about missing their service of candle lighting. It’s not  rocket science, but meaningful worship experiences don’t have to be. After communion, I simply invited worshippers  to come forward and light candles in honor of the saints in their lives. They could speak the name aloud as they light the candle or light it in silence. If they didn’t want to come forward they could speak a name from their seat, and I would light the candle for them. At the end, after lighting candles for the saints of my friend who was missing this experience in her own worship, I lit a final candle for all those saints who had been remembered in the quiet of our hearts.

The picture above captures the lighting of these last candles. It’s a picture that I’ll treasure because it’s one of those sweet-spot moments as a pastor when the leading of worship and my own chance to feel immersed in the experience of worshipping line up perfectly. It’s a snapshot that will remind me of my call to craft worship that asks for the active participation of the whole Body of Christ, my place in that Body, and the gift of saints who have walked with me and before me on this road of faith.

A New Goal – Part 2

In 2014 marriage equality came both in the denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the state in which I 3721621517_ba1de61c59_olive, Wisconsin.  While my congregation had slowly but surely been talking about marriage and sexuality in one way or another for the previous 12-18 months, this convergence of opinions made the conversation even more important to our context.  Now that same sex marriage was legal in Wisconsin, would our congregation be willing to host such weddings on our property? Continue reading

A New Goal – Part 1

IMG_8905The session of the church I get to serve, First Presbyterian Church in Hudson, Wisconsin, met for a special meeting on Saturday morning, April 11, and something wonderful happened.  About half way through a Spirit-filled 2 hour meeting the session voted unanimously that “At First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI requests for Session consideration of marriage will not be denied based upon sexual orientation.”

It wasn’t wonderful because we are the first church to take such a position.  It wasn’t wonderful because we are the only church to have a unanimous vote. It was wonderful because we somehow got to this place in April that back in August none of us ever would have imagined.  The whole session, even those who personally don’t believe that same sex marriage is part of God’s intention for creation, ultimately agree that same sex weddings could happen on our church property.  We would not categorically prevent same sex couples from requesting a wedding, and most likely, looking at the make up of at least our current session, if a wedding was requested we would vote to allow it.

What made the unanimity of this vote such a surprise and blessing is that our congregation is not an “activist” congregation.  This was in no way a slam dunk.  We don’t have predictable opinions on the hot topics of the day.  We definitely don’t advocate for any political or theological stances as a whole congregation. This is in part because we are true to our Upper Midwestern style of addressing differences.  Which is to say, we don’t go looking for them; we definitely don’t highlight them.  You might even say we consider avoidance a spiritual gift.  It is also because the congregation I serve is a theologically diverse congregation with a theologically diverse session.

Of course, every congregation is in some sense theologically diverse, but for some that spectrum of diversity ranges from the moderate to an extreme, or maybe somewhat left of center to somewhat right.  In our congregation of approximately 220 members the theological spectrum ranges from people who believe in dispensationalist views of the end times (think of the Left Behind series of books and movies) to people who are able to openly express questions about the veracity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. One of the ways we have stayed together, for better or for worse, is by not spending too much time on issues that might divide us.

But avoidance for any reason was not going to work on marriage equality.  Shifts in church and culture were bringing the discussion of marriage equality closer to home. Even two years before marriage equality came to Wisconsin or the PC(USA) I began to look for resources that would help me lead this larger discussion.  I was completely underwhelmed. None of the resources I found  fit our reality.  While I assumed we couldn’t possibly be the only church out there that wasn’t completely “pro” or “con,” in many ways it felt like we were alone as we moved through a season of discernment about same-sex marriage and our worship and ministry.

Most resources had a clear bias.  They all seemed to argue for a particular outcome, either to help convince someone to change his or her mind or bolster an opinion already held.  This didn’t seem helpful for a couple of reasons.  First, I have rarely found it effective to try to teach someone into a new opinion with books, studies, or lectures. Second, I had became more and more certain as we had been having conversations about marriage and sexuality in our church for at least a year that our goal didn’t need to be getting everyone to agree; our goal needed to be to determine how we would live and behave as the church when we all don’t agree.  My goal shifted from trying to get as close to unanimity as possibly to trying to nurture a culture in our church where participants are encouraged to faithfully interpret Scripture according to their understanding of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and live according to their faith-filled interpretation even when that interpretation differs from the interpretation of the person sitting next to them in the pew.

This shift was crucial for what ended up being a unanimous vote that will allow all marriage requests to be considered without discrimination, while also honoring the responsibility of individual session members to vote according to their discernment of the Spirit and will of God.

How I planned and carried out studies and discussions that moved us toward this vote will be shared in my next post.