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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Visiting a church Aug 26

Today I visited a small church group that meets in a room in a school. I visited as guest pastor. I arrived exactly when the service was supposed to start, because I had not paid close attention to a small detail on the instructions. I was led to the room (some kind of a music room, judging by the symbols decorating it) and sat down. This did not give me good opportunity to ‘read’ the situation as I arrived. What I did notice and found fascinating was that besides the middle aged and older people in “sensible” semi-above-casual clothes, there were a few teenagers, one in the full goth look. Dark black long hair, full-length black coat with various vivid red symbols painted on it, some looked like chinese characters. I never got the chance to take a closer look or to try conversation with that group. This person was with two others, one was carrying a baby. So it made for an interesting contrast and step out of the ordinary right away.

Even though I was there just on time, the service did not get going for another 10 minutes. One person led the service. A piano led the music. There were several projected litanies to start. The feel was nice and relaxed, a bit interactive. There was no amplification and this made for a more intimate and interpersonal feel to the situation. I am realizing as I write that arriving like I did had me missing many details. For instance, I have no real idea how many people were in that room, I just never attended to that detail, even when I was preaching. When I sat, I sat at the front, and it would have been a bit obvious to turn and count. I’m going to guess it was around 40 people. I knew beforehand there would be a significant number of teachers, and when I asked for a show of hands there were about 7. This Sunday, just like last, there was another pastor in the congregation who was on vacation.

A lady spoke after I did about her family’s mission work in Africa.

There was coffee after the service, and there I had two facinating conversations with retired men who have a passion for ongoing Kingdom work. Both of them have a passion for mission education. One was a retired businessman who in retirement is getting himself theolgocally educated, the other a retired educator. That kind of conversation I could do all day. 

Saturday I assisted a lady in putting on a training workshop on enfolding the marginalized and handicapped into a church setting. She had heard a few of my experiences and asked me to share them. It was an educational time of sharing back and forth. Boy, parents of less-able-to be like everyone else expects children have a real hardship, and the church has a real opportunity to be a haven and a resting place for them, but I learned again that I don’t fully understand as a pastor how best to do that and how often the church’s approach actually causes more hardship than relief. Much learning and work remains to be done. 

Next week, if all goes well, I will have a report on my first experience at a small church in Washington state that I am working on an agreement with to be their interim pastor. I am not sure how I will blog that yet. It may take a day or two before I get to a computer or an internet connection and can post my experiences. There are many uncertain things about this situation yet, for instance, whether I can get a work permit, and other technical details. I’m looking forward to it if it works out.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2007 in Future, report on event, Worship

 

Visiting a church Aug 19

I’ve got a few too many plates spinning, so this will be short.

I was invited to preach at a church about an hour from my home. This group met in a school gymnasium. It is a ‘church plant’ congregation, so it has not been in existence for much more than a decade. I arrived 16 minutes early, and got some last minute details arranged, talked to a few people, and met a seminary classmate colleague who was stopping in on his vacation hoping to meet and congratulate the newly called pastor of the congregation. He was still sorta happy to see me. The set-out  seats were half-filled by the time the service got going. The people attending were predominantly white (those of other colours were mainly some adopted black children) but I did not get a sense they were all of a common cultural background. The music was good, an interesting mix of bongo drums (and a few other percussion instruments creatively used), electric guitar, electric keyboard and violin. We were well-led, but the vast space of a gymnasium, with several rows of empty seats and other space keeping singers far from musicians made it hard to get “into” the singing. I did not know a few of the songs sung. But the one before the message had a strong sense of worship to it, so that put me into an energized frame.

People seemed attentive to the message I brought.

The service was well run for it’s efficient frugality. What I mean by that is, similar to the church last week, there were not a lot of long-winded announcements, explanations or prayers (there were several short prayers scattered through the service, the longest one being offered after a time of hearing requests). I heard key elements of what we take to be Reformed worship represented in the service, but they were not clear and distinct and thus time consuming liturgical components.

I have one more such local engagement next Sunday. After that (this is one of the plates I’m spinning) I might be able to start an interim assignment in a small church about a 5 hour drive from where I am. Details are being worked on.

Another plate is a project of helping coordinate a Cyber-conference. See http://www.crc150.org/wp for more on that. Maybe you want to participate?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Visiting a church Aug 12

I visited a small to medium size church about a half hour from my home on August 12th. I visited as guest preacher. It is a group that began in a school and bought a church building not long ago.

I got there 15 minutes before service time, and met with some of the leaders to touch on some final details and to set up my dirty cup props. Showing my traditionalism, I was at first thrown by the lack of a pulpit to place them on. But I adapted quickly.

This was a wonderfully casual church situation.They had coffee out and available before the service, and many were getting a cup and taking it with them to their seats. I got one too.

The worship leaders had a prayer a few minutes before the service started. We did this right on stage at the front. I like that. I’ve often wondered why we hide away to pray. A few minutes after the prayer we began singing. The leader gave a brief and warm welcome and led in a set of worship songs. Most of them were not familiar to me, but were simple enough to catch on to quickly. There were three vocalists, two female and one male, and one of the females – the worship leader – also had a regular guitar. The women had a unique vocal style, a higher, airy way of singing that added a sense of intensity. There was also an electric guitar and a fellow on a drum that was more in what I call a bongo style (though the skin was a larger diameter than we might usually think of when Bongo is mentioned) and he could get some good solid thumps out of it for emphasis.

What was interesting and new was how the worship space filled up as we sang. When it started the place was maybe half-full and when the songs were done, it was three quarter full. Those attending, I’d guess about 50 or 60 people, I was thrilled to see later, were predominantly youth. A lot of 20-somethings there. That’s exciting to see and a good sign for the future of this group. It made me a bit nervous too, because I did not know if I could be engaging enough for them.

After the first set of songs, a Psalm was read and we sang again, and then an offering was taken up while the worship leaders sang. I was introduced, and I gave my “Cleaning the Inside” message using the dirty cups illustration. Because there was no pulpit, I made this an opportunity to challenge myself to not look at my notes. I slowly got over my jitters as the congregation was clearly attentive, relating to and even responding to some of what I spoke about. There is a point in this message where I talk about the ‘inspection’ Mothers used to make of the children in the car on the way to church, and I asked if anyone knew what happened if Mom found dirt on the face of a child. Well, a young woman came right up out of her pew and came at me licking her thumb, ready to demonstrate on my face, and the congregation laughed as I made haste to get away from her. So from that I could tell they were ‘into’ what I was saying and were having no trouble being engaged.

It is interesting (maybe only to me) how when I depart from my notes a sermon can take a whole different direction than usual. That happened here too. I just listened to the mp3 of it, which is on their web page. I’m not into self-promotion, and in fact am pretty uncomfortable giving out printed or audio copies of my sermons, so to find it if you’d like to hear it you will have to do some detective work and figure out which church it was. Fact is, when I listen to it, I feel terrible in part, because I think of how I could have said it different or better. But those listening don’t know that, I’ve learned. Mostly only preachers hear their sermons and those of others that way.

We sang one song after the message, and then I was asked to give a blessing and the service was done. Another good Sunday.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2007 in Reflection, report on event, Worship

 

Visiting a Thursday night 12 Step DTE meeting

On Thursday night I attended a “meeting” in the Down Town Eastside (DTE). I have been once before and found an email about that visit which I will paste at the end of the report on this one. I arrived a minute or two before the start time, and on the sidewalk I spotted the two people I know (Murray and Wally) who go there regularly, who had just arrived. We exchanged greetings and updates as we entered the modified storefront where the meeting was to be held. They had been attending the Leadership Summit Satellite event in Vancouver so they had some neat inspirational stuff to report. Wally went to talk to someone, and Murray and I selected three seats and sat talking. The atmosphere was calmly chaotic. There was Christian worship music playing, and someone was setting up chairs and two people were tinkering with a laptop that was running the projector. The type of people here were not what you would expect to see in a worship service. The irony is that thinking that exposes your hidden biases. There were people of a wide variety of skin tones, ranging from never-been in the sun white, through in the sun a lot white, to native complexion and Asian and East Indian. Some were decorated with tattoos, some with piercings. Running shoes and caps or hats were common on the guys. Some averted their eyes if you looked at them, others caused my eyes to be averted when I saw them, for fear of them feeling provoked. I just can’t step out of my stereotypical white middle-class-suburban thinking very easily. Those who were not sitting quietly or chattingly waiting were milling about. Each chair had two sheets of paper on it. One was a page in a plastic sheath that had the Twelve Steps and Bible Principles on one side and the other the name of the organization and explanation of Christian 12-Step Meetings with 3 Life Affirmation Statements and the Serenity Prayer. The bottom of the sheet had a list of “Some areas of Addiction/Dependency”, a list that included things like “Control, illness (Hypochondria), Rage, Religion, Television, Abusive or Toxic Relationships, and Approval” among numerous others. The second sheet had the evening’s topic on the one printed side. We were told we could take that home. The Topic was “Facing Fear.” I joked about this with Murray a bit, because I had been struggling with fears this week, and that morning on my walk had listened to the next two talks I had downloaded onto my MP3 player, and they were both on dealing with Fears.

Someone came around and asked Murray to lead a prayer later, which he agreed to do. The person had a sheet with a pre-written prayer on it, but Murray said he would not need it, and some fun comments were made back and forth among those who were the organizers of this event, affirming that indeed Murray did not need a pre-written prayer. The organizer who asked Murray to pray, went around the room and asked various people to do various such tasks. One person was to read the “Welcome” and another a statement of guidelines or explanation about why they come together.

Then suddenly three people had Guitars they were strumming and we sang some songs, several of them quite exuberantly and expressively. The first was “Fear not I am with you” and another one was one we had sung the previous Sunday morning, the one with the phrases “you are my rock” and “an anchor for my soul.” I should be ashamed for thinking it, but I was astonished at both the familiarity with the song, and the enthusiasm with which it was sung. People kept arriving, and by the time the singing was done I guess there were about 30 people present. I don’t know if I”m supposed to count the person sleeping in the doorway.

After the songs everyone was welcomed the opening prayer was prayed, the two statements already mentioned were read, and we were asked to go around the room introducing ourselves by our first names. Then a list of Addictions and Dependencies was shown, with a logo of a fast food outlet shown in the middle. Many started joking about that, and the key organizer said there was a reason it was there, because she struggled with that area, and had broken down and gone there the past week, and had convinced others to join her. There was joking about her being a pusher, and enabler and a dealer. Then a big laugh went up when a lady came and made a quick presentation to the key organizer. She talked about how her daughter had met the lady for the first time recently and wanted to give her a gift, and it was coupons for that very Fast Food outlet. After that we were asked to take a few moments to ponder the list and have God speak to us indivitually about what areas we needed to work on. After that a few announcements were made, a styrofoam cup collection receptacle was passed around, and we moved to the topic. People read from the handout a paragraph at a time. I was surprised at the complexity of the language. Here are a few samples:

“Many of us identify a fearful person as a coward, someone who is not assertive, shyness or someone cowering at intimidation. But fear can also be expressed by unrealistic bravado, excessive talking, work-aholism” …” Three forms of defensiveness include: Denial – refusal to acknowledge…, Evasiveness, Reversal – we assume others are out to get us so we become offensive whenever delicate matters are mentioned.”

There were a few bible passages in the text (from Ps 27 and 56) and it finished with a description of what a God based self image was like. Then there was a list of 7 questions. The faciliatator drew our attention to the two she wanted discussed that night, leaving it open for any comments if people felt so inclined. She also mentioned this topic was very closely related to the Fourth Step.

The facilitator then spoke about how she had lived with fear, and how she learned to overcome it. Then she asked various others to talk on the topic or what they were thinking related to it. This again was the most astonishing and refreshing and convicting part of the meeting for me. One after another person spoke, not about the issue of fear, not about the idea of fear, not about how others have fear (or not solely about that) but about their fears, past and present, and how they were learning to trust God in them. I am not used to such refreshing openness and vulnerability, and I was not prepared either for how that kind of talk began to speak to my life, because as they spoke about them, they were speaking about me. And I began to wonder if they knew what they were saying! People were free to speak as long or short as they needed. People could pass, or ask to have the privilege of speaking back later if they got stuck in what they wanted to say.

There was a short coffee break, then the guitars started us on a song again, and there was a closing round of talking on the subject of fear. The 12 steps and their associated scripture sample were read one by one going around the room. We then stood, held hands and read/recited the Life Affirmations and the Serenity Prayer, and the meeting was over. It was refreshing, humbling, and somehow closer to how I feel church should be, an unpretentious and raw gathering of unabashed, unafraid-to-admit-it sinners in need of and receiving grace and grateful for it.

That was this past Thursday.

It is interesting to me that the only other time I had been there we had exactly the same topic.

On Friday, March 31 2006 I wrote this report after my first time there.
Authentic Worship

I attended a rather different service last night. The liturgy was deep and meaningful, but the most precious moments were improvised, as several people became astonishingly exposed and naked over the course of the night.
We came in to the ramshackle facility to find a few early birds hanging around, one or two were praying, one or two were singing along and or making physical motions that coordinated with the music that was playing from a PalmPilot connected to a BoomBox. Tables were set up in a U shaped arrangement, with chairs around them, and then another set of chairs around the walls. A background info sheet and a topic sheet were laying ready at each seat. The projector showed a calming water scene, with welcoming words laid over top. Several cultural backgrounds were represented, including native and Jamaican, and even the white folk were of diverse origin judging from a few accents. We were about 30 in number by the time everyone arrived.
Elsie, the leader, the key figure most say is who makes this meeting unique because of her way of connecting people with Jesus, was wandering around greeting people and making some last minute arrangements. Eventually she began, from a seat at the front, to speak words of welcome. Some there maintained conversations with their neighbour through this, but Elsie showed no disturbance about this whenever she was speaking. She eventually picked up her guitar, began playing, and a single mother who had brought the only present child – a boy of about 10 – began to arrange for the words to show up, doing her best to keep up with Elsie’s jumping around in the songs.
After a few songs (most of which I knew) sung with individual range levels of enthusiasm and familiarity which combined into intense, not necessarily melodic praise, a few liturgical pieces were read by pre-selected attendees.
Then the topic of the night was introduced. It was “Facing Fear.”
Appointed attendees took turns reading portions off the topic sheet, words which showed up on the overhead as well. They read about how fearfulness is expressed both by non-assertiveness and bravado. “Fear identifies itself by defensiveness” we heard, and defensiveness comes in three forms: Denial, Evasiveness and Reversal. Then we heard how God has something “richer and safer in mind for us” and quotes from Ps 27 and 56 were read. We heard how fear can be contagious, about the danger of having our emotions hinge solely on the opinions of others because “we can never be sure when we might be rejected or criticized or ignored.” Then we heard about what a God based self-image is like.
After that, Elsie posed this question: How does fear work in your life, and how does God help you in that?
She asked specific people to respond. Some declined, one said get back to me, but we heard three or four awesome, personal, vulnerable, nothing-to-lose-hearts-on-the-table responses. One responder talked about how he deliberately surrounds himself with God-connected people so that when a crisis of fear comes, he has someone near at hand. Another said “My biggest fear is a fear of actually being loved, which creates obvious problems between me and God.” The honesty and authenticity was awe inspiring, and it was very clear that God’s Spirit was at work. Also the room was amazingly silent and patient, though no one had commanded it be so.
We then had a break, after which we returned for more responses to the question, some more liturgy, some prayer and closed with a song.
One of the most inspiring services I have been part of in a while.
It was a Christian 12 step meeting in the downtown EastSide in Vancouver. My friend had invited me along to show my why he preferred this to a CRC bible study. I totally see why.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2007 in Reflection, report on event, Worship

 

Visiting a church Aug 5th

Today I went to visit a large church about a half – hour drive from my home. I arrived about 12 minutes before the stated service start time. I got to a seat on the high end of one side of the worship space via the balcony access before an usher had taken his station. The worship space is designed in a ‘theatre’ style, with a flat floor area, and then two wings and a balcony rising over that. The wing I was not sitting in was predominantly filled with young people in their teens and twenties. Anyway, even though I had read the bulletin online the night before so I wasn’t too worried about getting one, once the usher got in place I went and got one from him. 

There was a very very casual and friendly feel to the place. But it was hard to identify why that was. There was some recorded music softly playing but that alone wasn’t it. There were people moving around on the stage area casually making last setup changes. The stage was not bare, but somewhat decorated in a manner that I assumed was supposed to look like a public park, with some (artificial) plants and some rocks in kind of a simulated garden in front of the piano, and a park bench off to one side. But that wasn’t what made it feel warm by itself. I decided, while sitting there watching people arrive, that it was the ‘ordinary’ clothing many were wearing, moving towards casual and relaxed. There were both men in shorts and bold Hawaiian shirts and sandals and men in dress pants and summer dress shirts with shoes, there were women in modest summer-wear, and women in more recent summer fashion modes. Yet none of this was either flashy or trashy. Besides that, what contributed to the friendly feel was people kindly and warmly greeting one another, not in the exaggerated, overstated “California Girl” style but just a friendly “hello” or a reaching out with a handshake or a pat on the shoulder as they went by. Another notable part of this was that it was happening cross-generationally. That casualness and camraderie was key to setting a mood. As I write I wonder why I did not have a feeling of ‘exclusion’ that I was not greeted that way. It never occured to me, maybe because I was already seated. Later, when  the service was done and I went for a coffee and walked around a bit, there were a number of people who said ‘hello.’ There was a ‘meet and greet’ time within the service and this is one where people wander freely for a few minutes saying hello. At this point I discovered that some guys sitting behind me had the look and behaviours of ‘people in recovery’ and the interesting thing was that none of them were caucasian, in fact none of these guys were the same race as each other. Later, after the service, I saw them standing with a larger group of ‘guys’ on their own. I was curious what kind of agroup they were (to know if I had read them right or something else was going on). I noticed when I wandered by with my coffee that only one person who looked like a ‘church’ person was engaging any of them in conversation.

This church has a box of flags or banners at the side of the stage that people can come up and wave during the singing if so moved. Only one person did so in this service for a while, but another time I was there the children were lining up to contribute to worship with that kind of action. In that other service people were worshipping with their full bodies – or praise ‘dancing’ – in an open space in front of the stage as well. That did not happen this time. I noted that in one of the prayer times some people went to their knees. I appreciate that openness to individual types of expression of praise, where there is not a huge ‘conformity’ expectation.

Musically I found the service awesome. There was a grand piano (with an elecronic keyboard on top of it that the keyboardist alternated with), a bass guitar and an electric, with the bass guitarist leading singing along with a female vocalist, and there was a very enthusiastic young man on what seemed to me a quite sophisticated drum set. The sound system and the acoustics together delivered the bass guitar very well to where I was sitting. I like ‘feeling’ these instruments in my gut when they are played. The keyboard and regular electric guitar were also easily heard. I found the vocal sound seemed somewhat murky or burried from where I was sitting, which made it a challenge to listen and pick up on the few new-to-me songs. The musicians did some very interesting transitions from one song to the next, where a note was held from the last completed song, or one instrument would keep playing, and somehow they would all end up in another song. I would also give kudo’s to the team or person who chose the songs and compiled the service. I listen and watch for the service to have a consistent theme, for it not to be all “light and happy,” and for images and phrases or ideas to recur. This team did a very very good job, either by thought and prayer or by the Spirit’s accident. The musicians, like the congregation, were mainly casually attired, mostly barefoot or barefoot in sandals but were clearly intensly focused on ‘feeling’ God and focusing on ‘presence’ rather than on how well they were performing. That was refreshing and enhanced the worship experience for me. 

It became apparent that someone key in the congregation had died and been burried in the past week, I think it may have been the spouse of a staff person, and one of the things the worship team did that I found very good was they addressed that, they took time to acknowledge the struggle and hardship of such a loss. In fact after the opening songs they took time to minister to the congregation, to sing a song to us instead of having us need to participate, and it was a song that acknowledged the storms of life and reminded us that God is our foundation, our hope, our anchor. It was at this point I started noting a nautical theme was recurring. (That theme came back when, during the taking up of the offering, a video was shown about how “When Peace Like A River” was written, a story that has to do with ‘act of God’ calmity and  a man losing his children at sea and passing the point where they died and having that song come to him.)

The person whose spouse had died had been scheduled to preach and so the person who preached was a last minute fill-in. Clearly he had not had a chance to communicate what he planned with the other worship leaders (he said as much himself, and the message he delivered was changed from what had been in the bulletin), but here I found it evidence of the Holy Spirit having stiched things together, and his message on one of the Psalms touched on the same themes we had been singing, emphasizing God’s love, compassion and mercy on us struggling sinners.

The service closed with a version of “Our Hope is in You Alone” a powerfull song to take out of worship into life. It was good to have been with that group of God’s people this morning.

Tonight I preach at the same church as last week again, but I don’t think I write about it unless something unusual happens.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2007 in Reflection, report on event, Worship

 

Changed the Header Picture

I changed the picture at the top of the page. The double Rainbow that was there was a picture I took from my front deck a month or so ago. This is from one I took in Ontario somewhere. Yes, it’s real.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2007 in Event report, Pictures