Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Church Building

This week I had breakfast with a clergy friend in the next town. Over basted eggs, sausage links, potatoes and English muffin, I shared a longing for something more (and not just more coffee). After months of community events and meeting lots and lots of people casually, I am longing for more spiritual depth and connection. I’m missing those conversations that go deeper into people’s thoughts, feelings, and lives. I miss journeying with others through significant times and issues of faith. Church planting has certainly been challenging and rewarding and significant, but there is something missing for me in not regularly leading classes on spiritual living, or preaching on eternal concepts from God each week, or being able to share soul-deep prayers back and forth with others. It’s not that I’m tired of meeting, greeting, and serving; I’m just hungry to go deeper with these new friends.

At our last meeting, my coach helped Janet and I to realize that everything we do in these preparatory months need not be about gathering together large crowds at safe points of first contacts. Four or five of these might be sufficient in the first year. These then need to be offset with small group times: times to build friendships and community; times to share stories, beliefs, and values; times to journey together, encounter Christ, and grow in faith. This is a refreshing thought for me at this point.

Here is another point of refreshment ...

Last night we received some good news. The lease on the space in which we have been hoping to set up shop was approved by the conference Board of Trustees! After eight months of searching and discerning, six versions of build-out drawings, twelve pages of legal dissections, and hundreds of prayers from people like you, the nod was given to move ahead. The contractor predicts readiness for occupancy to be in March. Now we can truly begin to put visions-for-ministry into actions-for-ministry.

And yet, I remind myself that the church is not a building, it is the people. Although a space to call our own will make ministry easier and more effective in some ways, Christ and people are the essential building materials. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home (Ephesians 2:20-22 MSG).”

Therefore, even though I am excited to be building structures without, I am hungrier to build souls within. I feel we are about to move into another phase of this church-planting adventure. Please revise your prayers and keep them coming!

Monday, November 3, 2008


(Reflections from the Pastor's wife, Janet)

Happy November and Daylight Savings!
As the saying goes, I have good news and bad news, but Jim and I decided yesterday that even the bad news could have been so much worse! So, here's the story...

First, the candy bar hand out at Coborns last weekend went very well, although it was a bit exhausting! As it turned out, Saturday was a BEAUTIFUL fall day which was perfect for standing outside and greeting people as they came to shop. However, the manager thought the weather also kept the usual number of customers low. So after about 5 hours, we still had a couple of baskets of candy bars left, but were tired and losing a bit of the enthusiasm needed to continue. So, we quit for the day.

As those of you in MN know, Sunday dawned cold and SNOWY! Not so nice for standing outside! The Coborns manager graciously let us stand just inside the doorway to greet people and we managed to get all the candy bars into people's hands in a couple more hours Sunday afternoon. The response we got from the people we actually talked to was very positive and the candy bar was a great means of getting the word out. It was also really fun to "treat" people - it felt like handing just a little bit of God's grace to some! I spent the majority of the time in front of the entrance near the gas pumps and it was very interesting how many people (especially the men) started to give a donation. It took me completely by surprise the first time! They were often shocked to hear that the candy bar wrapper was an invitation and the candy itself, a gift - no strings attached!

So, the week flew by, and by Thursday night most everything was prepared and ready, except the number of volunteers. Many of the "maybe's" had turned into "no's" and even many of the "yes's" were delayed and couldn't arrive for the set up time. There were enough, however, to make the event happen and we just trusted that things would work out.

Halloween arrived, warm and sunny, and we packed up our two vehicles to the brim and with a prayer and a few deep breaths, off we went! Well, (here's the first bad news!) we arrived at the school by about 3:15 and by 3:25 our main adult volunteer (Jacob, manager at Caribou Coffee, who had been helping with a lot of the prep and ideas and was so excited about this event), sliced open his finger while hauling in the popcorn maker. UGH! The poor guy! I saw it happen and was trying to tell Jim that "We have blood, there's blood!" without getting too hysterical and (being Halloween) he thought I was talking about an unwanted prop or something!! Anyway, the photographer volunteer arrived at just that moment, so she took him to the hospital and (see, it could have been worse ☺) he did make it back later in the evening after 4 stitches and a tetanus shot!

The set up, however, was suddenly a bit more stressful than planned - with just the two of us and 3 youth! However, 39 hay bales got hauled in and set up, blow-up pumpkins and straw scarecrows and welcome arch and lights and fog machines all were displayed, candy and other treats were prepared for trick-or-treaters, photographer, games and Charlie Brown video were set up in the center room, hot cider, apple juice, coffee and popcorn were all ready to be served and, although it wasn't perfect, by 5:00 we had people waiting at the door and so, with another prayer and no time for a breath - it began!!

We were still missing a couple of volunteers, and Paula, the lady from Community Ed who was our link to renting the space in the school, graciously pitched in and manned the popcorn machine. Paula is what I call tangible grace as (here's the next bad news!) by 5:20, between the popcorn machine and the fog machines, we had set off the fire alarm! YIKES! And it was this moment that Jim was standing in his underwear in the men's room trying to change into his costume! Good grief! Fortunately, (see, it could have been worse - imagine sprinklers and WET hay, firemen and sirens, naked pastor running the halls, etc.! - and here's the grace) Paula immediately called the fire department and the custodians called Honeywell Security to let everyone know that it was a false alarm and within just a few minutes, without any major fuss, everyone was back inside and we continued on - fog and popcorn moved outside!! (Thank goodness for the nice weather!) And thank goodness for Paula's presence!

By 7:30, by counting the pieces of candy in my basket, we figure we had seen about 120 kids and nearly all had parents along - over 200 people total. We were blessed by the presence of at least 15 spirit-filled volunteers at various points throughout the event whose energy, enthusiasm, joy and laughter filled the space with God's love. And we also received several candy donations from various sources which allowed us to be very generous with treats. I would venture to say that nearly all who attended had fun, felt the warmth of God's love (whether they identified it or not) through some aspect of the event and left with a little more info (and positive impression) about New Day UMC. Whew!

The struggle, once again, comes in comparing our visions and expectations to harsh reality. And sometimes even our two (Jim's and my) expectations don't coincide! Trusting God that the harsh reality is exactly what was needed at the time, regardless of our individual expectations, can get tough when we are faced daily with so much "unknown". It will be helpful to gather a community of more "committed" people (hopefully in December) to get a sense that we are "succeeding" in truly impacting lives and to get some meaningful feedback on our attempts to reach out. It's a slow process which we know in our heads; our hearts just need a little encouragement! We do believe, Lord, help our unbelief...

The other thing that keeps surprising us is that many of the people we are meeting have few expectations, since most of what we're doing is totally new to them. (Seems like "old hat" to us!) Many have not experienced the blessings of vibrant, alive, meaningful, loving faith and fellowship, so even the little bit we are trying to provide seems to make a bit of an impact for those whose hearts are open and who are seeking deeper meaning in their life journey. That's what truly gives me hope - and I pray that God will lead those open hearts to intersect our path, that His love can be shared and His kingdom come...

And so, as these events take place, I find that I can't think too hard about what's happening at the moment - only go with the flow relying on God's love through me to encounter all that transpires. And laugh A LOT - thank goodness for a sense of humor and God's grace to use it!

May you find the humor and the blessings on your journey,

Janet :->