Pastors’ Blog

From Bill Wilson: The Worst of Times – Really?!?

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I’m sharing with our session (that’s the governing board of a Presbyterian church) articles and insights about the state of the Church in our changing culture. Far from thinking “the church is dying,” I believe there will always be a church of Jesus Christ, although it may look different – eventually. It will evolve as it has for 2,000 years. What will it become? I do not know. But I am certain that responsible and faithful church leaders need to pay attention, be agile and adaptable, and continue to respond to and move with the winds of the Spirit, which blow where they will, after all.

I offer this article by Bill Wilson of the Center for Healthy Churches as a sign of hope.

The Worst of Times–Really?!?
Sep 09, 2014
by Bill Wilson

It happens nearly every day for me. It’s the inevitable conversation about the demise of organized religious activities, specifically local church attendance and giving. The vultures are gathering to feast on the carcass of the local church. Clergy and lay leaders are wringing their hands. Is there any hope? The sobering statistics and gloomy projections made most of us long for some good news.

Well, here you go. I believe there are some very encouraging signs and trends for congregational life in the 21st century. Here are some thoughts to get the conversation going.

The boomer generation transitioning to retirement is going to provide opportunities for churches that prepare well for them.

Much congregational angst is expended on the question of how to attract young adults and young families. Truthfully, aging congregations that are primarily internally focused and dedicated to maintaining programs, facilities and dated staffing structures are highly unlikely to make the radical shifts required to be relevant to large numbers of young adults.

Such congregations are much more likely to reshape themselves to be relevant to the masses of senior adults in their community. While still welcoming the occasional twenty-something that walks into the church, congregations would be wise to invest in the fastest growing age group in their community. This is much more, by the way, than taking senior adults on church-organized vacations or gathering to hear bad music once a month. Relevant ministry with this age group is complex, diverse, and demands excellence.

The demographic data about the surge in retirees may be welcome news to such congregations. (see: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-baby-boomers-retirement-means-for-the-u-s-economy/) The population of the United States is aging rapidly, and congregations who pay attention to the boom in senior adults may be able to provide meaningful outreach and ministry for this overlooked age group.

Congregations that have been divided by worship style are reuniting.

Thom Rainer recently noted something many of us have recognized for several years: dividing a congregation along musical preference lines has negative consequences that many have downplayed. (http://thomrainer.com/2014/08/30/six-reasons-churches-moving-back-one-worship-style/). When the multiple worship style fads erupted among traditional worship congregations 15 years ago, it was based upon the assumption that traditional worship formats and their leaders were increasingly irrelevant to younger constituents. In an effort to remain relevant and appeal to young adults, many congregations started a “contemporary service” as a means of reaching this age group.

While some of these efforts were successful, the unintended consequences were legion. Divided churches, poor quality music, and half-empty worship spaces often resulted.

As we have grown in our appreciation for musical diversity, and as a generation of musical leaders who were the most resistant to change age off the scene, a more rational and logical approach to worship is emerging. I think this is a very encouraging and hopeful development.

The population is returning to the city center, and the churches that stayed there are perfectly positioned for that surge.

Nearly every mid to large city I travel to is experiencing a boom in population in the center of the city. The rush to the suburbs has been replaced by a documentable tsunami of population growth in urban areas. Suburban sprawl is giving way to the new urban growth boom. For the first time since the 1920’s American city centers are growing faster than the suburbs. It’s not just anecdotal, the statistics are impressive:

http://www.veteransunited.com/realestate/suburban-flight-and-what-it-means-for-real-estate/

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304830704577493032619987956

Over the last few weeks I’ve talked with congregations who are watching this unfold in Charlotte, Louisville, Greenville, Atlanta, Nashville, Richmond, Greensboro, Orlando, Pensacola, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Kansas City. The energy and growth and excitement are in the city center. The suburban growth wave has peaked, and people are coming back downtown to live.

Unfortunately, many churches long ago abandoned the city center. A North American Mission Board church planter recently shared with me that, in 1965, there were 166 Southern Baptist churches inside the I-285 beltway of Atlanta. Today, there are 37. Of those 37, only 13 average more than 100 people in worship.

I see an immense opportunity. The city center is re-emerging as a dynamic center of life, and churches that stayed in the city are perfectly positioned to become part of that fabric. One warning: the new urbanites are VERY different than their predecessors and will demand creativity and innovation from established churches in order to get their attention. “Business as usual” will only hasten your demise.

The rediscovery of the neighborhood as our mission.

The missional church movement is forcing us to think beyond patriarchal mission endeavors. One fascinating trend I am heartened by is to see local churches take ownership of their neighborhood as a primary component of their missional strategy. The energy and innovation in churches that take seriously their call to their community is palpable and transformative. You’ll find many resources and encouragement for this important shift in attention. http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/leaddocs/2014/140521_article.html

So, when the talk turns negative about the church, these trends (and others) make me say with enthusiasm: “There has never been a better time to be a church on a mission!” How about you?

Bill Wilson
About the Author
Dr. William “Bill” Wilson, the founder of The Center for Healthy Churches, has previously served as President of the Center for Congregational Health at Wake Forest Baptist Health and brings more than 33 years of local church ministry experience to the Center. He is a certified coach and facilitator and has experience as a consultant in numerous settings.
http://healthy-churches.org/worst-times-really/

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The Future of the Church, #1: “RIP Average Attendance”

Today I sent this email to the members of session (the session is the governing board of a Presbyterian Church)

At the last session meeting, I made a statement to the effect that Diana (our associate pastor) and I have absorbed a great deal of information about the trends in the American church that we have not shared with you, and that you as leaders of the church really need to be brought up to speed, so to speak.  In response to these words, Elder Royce Truex said something like, “Well, share with us what you know.”  This email is the first of perhaps many in which we will share with you the latest wisdom about the future of the Church.

First, a preface: If you’ll remember, a few years ago our Officers’ Retreat topic was “Our Iceberg is Melting.”  We know that the culture is changing, and that we need to respond, not react; to adapt, not panic.  Still, the way was not clear.

Last year, our retreat theme was “Why We Start with the Why,” because in order to step with confidence and integrity into an unknown future, we need to know why we exist in the first place.  And, as Simon Sinek said, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

There are still many articles being published about how the church is “dying,” but more and more, the wiser pundits and observers are saying, no, the church isn’t dying, but it is going to look different.  The Church of Jesus Christ will continue to thrive in ways that are faithful to the gospel as long as there are people faithful to the “why” of the gospel – but again, we do not know what that future looks like.  We do know that knowing our “why” and living into it as a community makes us more flexible, more adaptable, more ready to become what God is calling us to be.

(By the way, “look different” is NOT about worship style.  The so-called “worship wars” are behind us, and more and more writers are realizing that liturgy and traditional music have tremendous value.  “Look different” is more about ministries, programming, and people’s connection to the church.  I invite you to refresh your familiarity with “The Missional Church: Simple” video (it’s 2 minutes long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arxfLK_sd68 )

Below I have printed out an article about the end of “average attendance” as a measure of church health.  More and more, I am thinking in terms of lives touched by hope, rather than weekly worship attendance.  The Church is one of the few institutions in the U.S. (and maybe the world) that offers a word of hope, even a plan for hope (we call it “the Kingdom of God”), in this broken and hurting world.

Please read this at your leisure.  Diana and I will not flood you with reading material (or videos) – you can expect perhaps one piece a week from us.  I saw this article but it was Diana who suggested it as something we ought to share with you.

Thank you for being leaders.  Thank you for your vulnerability and courage – for daring greatly along with us.

Together we serve,
— Joanne Whitt Pastor and Head of Staff First Presbyterian Church San Anselmo, California

 

RIP, Average Attendance

by David Odom, August 21, 2014

http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/08-15-2014/rip-average-attendance

The Rev. Dr. David Odom is the associate dean for leadership initiatives at Duke Divinity School, which includes Alban, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity and Faith & Leadership. He blogs regularly on Call & Response.

Average worship attendance was once such an important number. With it, I could predict the size of the church staff, the informal patterns of decision-making, most of the stresses on the pastor’s time, the leadership required for small groups, and more.

Back in the day, church consultant Lyle Schaller was quoted as saying that average worship attendance was a better indicator of congregational behavior than denomination, geography or neighborhood.

Today that number means much less because the definition of an active member has shifted.

At one time, “active” meant attending services three or four times a month. Today people feel active when they enter the church building once or twice a month. Some people engage worship more regularly online than from the pew. Others prioritize participation in a small group over worship attendance. Congregations have multiple services and, increasingly, multiple campuses.

It is more and more difficult to determine what “attending” means, much less judge someone as “active.”

These changes are signs that congregational culture is now less uniform, which has practical implications for things like the development of a Bible study curriculum.

When a denominational publishing house could predict the needs of congregations, curriculum materials could be mass-produced. While the number and variety of materials have expanded in recent years, teachers are often dissatisfied with their options. They then feel obligated to write congregation-specific material for children, youth or adults, requiring a huge commitment of time and creativity.

Developing customized curriculum and activities, such as missions experiences, means that the congregation feels a need for more staff, regardless of the church’s size. The needs are not connected to any predictable ratio of ministers to members, but the costs are.

In the old days, attendance was a good predictor of revenue for the church. Today, revenue can be up when attendance is down–sometimes these trends can go in opposite directions for years.

In a doctoral seminar with experienced pastors last semester, the group begged for help in developing a score card of statistics by which they could monitor the vitality of their congregations. Each was tracking average worship attendance, giving, mission/ministry hours and more. Yet, the relationships between the numbers were not clear.

Church attendance was once a key indicator of a virtuous cycle. If the church could get a new person in the pew regularly, offerings would go up, involvement in small groups and missions would climb, and the church would be healthy. If attendance was declining then everything else would eventually decline.

The growing lack of dependability on attendance is a sign that the virtuous cycles that have sustained congregations since the end of World War II are collapsing. In order to sustain congregations over the long haul, new cycles need to be developed. Once that begins to happen, new measures can be identified.

One place to start is to map all the ways that a person engages a congregation — joining a small group, attending group meetings and social functions, contributing to special causes and to the church’s general budget, reading sermons or other resources on-line, volunteering in a missions project, teaching a class and more.

What patterns of engagement emerge? Which activities encourage participation in other activities? What practices are most likely to lead to spiritual growth? These are the building blocks of virtuous cycles.

Having answered these questions, look at the numbers the congregation is gathering or could be gathering. How do these numbers help track the ways of engagement? What other data could be gathered easily? It is important to gather data that are measurable signs of the engagement that matters most.

Marketing is all about answering these sorts of questions. Rather than seek to master this field, I prefer to ask for help from an expert. No marketing professional knows the church like the leaders, but the expert can ask the questions and organize the data into something that can be tracked over time.

Yes, this is a lot of work. I wish we could go back to the good old days and track a couple of different numbers. But, most people know that is no longer working. What will we do about it?

 

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Easter Crafts

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It’s almost Easter and there are a ton of interesting crafts that might be fun to do at home (but not quite right for children’s worship). If you try one of these, please post with how it went and take a photo, email it to me (dianabell@togetherweserve.org), and I’ll post it. 

Together We Create! / Diana

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DIY Mini Resurrection Garden
Or, a Long term planter

 

 

 

 

crosses craftFinger Paint Cross

 

Water Color Cross
(Image above. Paint with or without the body on the cross)

 

 

ETREmpty Tomb Rolls
(delicious!)

 

 

 

 

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Bird Nest Treats (w/ Easter candy)
Pick your favorite snack materials:

Shredded Wheat & Coconut

Coconut  

Chow Mein Noodles (scroll down)

 

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Resurrection Egg Hunt (courtesy of Inspired blog)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*Tree w/ Eggs telling the Holy Week story…cannot locate directions! Look closely and be creative!

 

 

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Why Christians Need to Speak Out – and Take Action – On Global Warming

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Many of us have heard plenty about global warming.  That’s certainly true in environmentally-aware Marin County, California, where I live and lead a Presbyterian congregation.  Sometimes I wonder if people have heard so much about it that they’re either paralyzed by fear or numbed by boredom into non-action.  Sometimes I wonder whether people are thinking, “If I don’t think about it, won’t it go away?” or “Why should I worry about it when there’s nothing I can do, anyway?”

There are plenty of good scientific answers to these questions.  I will not repeat here the scientific research about the current impacts of global warming and what we can expect in years to come if nothing changes.  There are loads of articles by scientists that document these facts and offer predictions.  I even found a “Global Warming for Dummies” website, if you want the facts plain and simple.  What I want to address is why this is an issue for people of faith; specifically, for people who are Christians.

This question has come up recently because in 2014, our congregation is sponsoring a series of speakers we call the Green Chautauqua.  The speakers, starting with Union of Concerned Scientists climatologist Melanie Fitzpatrick on January 31, will speak about how we can respond to global warming – not just why we should be petrified by the prospect, but what we can do.  A number of people have asked me, “So, why is a church doing this?  What does global warming have to do with the Christian faith?”

There is a two-part answer to this question.  First, Christians believe that we belong to God.  As the psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”  (Psalm 24:1)  Everything belongs to God, who created us and entrusted this beautiful, blue-green planet to us to enjoy and to thrive.  A faithful response to this blessing is to be good stewards; to be caretakers of the creation: the air we breathe, water, the oceans, wild and domesticated animals, plants, minerals, agricultural land, wilderness – and human life.  My denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, has a long history of activism in social, political and environmental justice issues because we believe that God calls us to take care of what God has given us.  Christ set the example for us, by healing, telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and speaking out for the outcast and the oppressed.

And so because global warming affects people and the other creatures, and threatens God’s good creation, we are called to respond.  To act.  Depending on their location, people may be affected by disease, rising sea levels, drought, extinction of species, reduction of food supplies or major storms.  The impact of these effects will be greatest on those with the least financial resources to adapt to or recover from the effects. 

We Presbyterians are committed to the truth in both science and faith.  Our Green Chautauqua speakers are not what you would call “faith-based.”  They may or may not be people of faith; they will speak about responses that anyone and everyone can do.  Regardless of your faith, the Green Chautauqua is offered to our friends and neighbors in Marin and beyond as a challenge to think critically about both the issue of global warming and our responsibility to respond. 

For the details about our speaker series, go to http://www.togetherweserve.org/green-chautauqua/.

 

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The Atheist on the Radio

On my way home from church on Sunday, I listened to “City Arts and Lectures” on public radio.  The guest was evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has been described as an evangelist for atheism, although he denies this.  He says he doesn’t stand on street corners and harangue people, after all.  Which points to the first of two problems I have with Richard Dawkins.  When he talks about “religion,” he sets up a straw man and then knocks it down.  He pretends that all people who are “religious” are politically conservative creationists (that is, believe God made the whole cosmos in six days a few thousand years ago) who knock on people’s doors to ask whether they are “saved,” who care more about what happens to people after they die than before, and who need to believe in a higher power because they are unwilling to address the world’s problems with political or economic solutions.

If Dawkins had to deal with actual religion instead of these stereotypes of religion, his case would fall apart.  As Texas pastor and activist Jim Rigby puts it, “Most of the ‘New Atheist’ books don’t even define what they mean by religion.  It’s just an amorphous image of all that is superstitious and oppressing.  Most of those books would fail a Philosophy 101 paper for failing to define precisely what it is they are attacking.”  It isn’t that the “superstitious and oppressing” aspects of religion don’t exist.  It’s just that there is so much more that Dawkins conveniently ignores.

He ignores religious movements like the Quakers and the Mennonites, with long histories of focusing on peace and human rights.  He ignores the fact that King George III, king of England during the American Revolution, called that conflict “that Presbyterian rebellion” because the cause of freedom from tyranny was so identified with Presbyterian principles.  He ignores religious leaders like Bishop Romero, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, all shot down because their religion called them to risk death itself for the cause of human liberation.  He ignores Jim Wallis and Sojourners, long the voice of faith in action and ethics in public life.  He ignores Gordon Cosby and Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., an icon of Christian activism addressing real needs of real people.  He ignores the way neighborhood churches all over the world are doing the same thing, in bigger and smaller ways.

There’s a second problem I have with Dawkins.  When I was 8 years old, my sister and I were in a high school production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”  We played two of the king’s many children, and each of us had a short, easy line (probably because we were the principal’s daughters).  The scene was in the classroom, where Anna was teaching the king’s children about the bigger world beyond Siam.  My sister’s line was, “I do not believe in such a thing as snow!”  A child growing up in Siam (present-day Thailand) would never have experienced snow.  How could anyone expect her to believe it existed?

Dawkins has never experienced the presence of God, so how could he be expected to believe in God?  It doesn’t follow that because he has not experienced God, God and the experience of God are not real.  I suspect Dawkins would argue that the people who claim to have experienced God are making it up, are delusional, or have some pathetic need to believe.  But this argument is just a belief.  It is a belief, just like the belief in God.  Dawkins can’t prove he is right about the non-existence of God – that his belief is true – any more than I can prove to him that God exists and I have experienced God’s presence.  He is operating under a belief system, just as people of faith are.  His brand of atheism is just another kind of religion.

Would Dawkins say that qualities like love, trust or loyalty don’t exist because you can’t see them?  I suspect not.  I suspect he’d say that you can tell they exist because you can see the results.  That, however, is a belief, as well.  No one knows the truth of an individual human heart.  No one can know for sure that someone’s actions are motivated by love as opposed to, say, greed, self- interest, fear, etc.  We have to decide based upon belief.

I have experienced what I believe to be a divine presence at work in my life – something bigger than myself; something that is a power for good; something that inspires me to be better.  I call this presence God.  As a practicing person of faith, I am humble about defining God and claiming that my definition and my understanding are better than anyone else’s.  I practice my faith within a community and within a particular tradition.  This keeps me grounded and on track.  In my experience, faith practices developed over centuries by faithful people have survived because they are effective practices.

Like most people of faith, I continue to have questions and doubts.  Doubt is not the opposite of faith.  In my community of faith, we like to say we don’t have all the answers but we try to ask the right questions.  I continue to see the very real evidence of the power of God in the lives of individuals and communities.  I can’t prove it.  Neither can Richard Dawkins.

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New Look at the 7 Deadly Sins

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I’ve been thinking about the so-called 7 Deadly Sins.  I’ve been thinking that perhaps it’s time to revamp the list.  After all, Pope Gregory revised an older list to come up with the traditional 7 in the 6th century. 

First of all, I know lots of folks have trouble with the word “sins.”  Let’s move beyond that by saying there are things people do that hurt themselves, others and God’s world, and a traditional way to describe those actions is “sins.”  In my theology, sins are not deadly because committing them sends the sinner straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200, because I don’t believe in hell.  However, I do believe people can do things that are deadly to human relationships, to human life, and to the survival of God’s creation.  So I’ve been toying with this new list:

Aggression

Callousness (including disregard for the suffering of others, and conscious refusal to act when action is necessary)

Cruelty

Denial

Entitlement (encompassing lack of gratitude, unexamined privilege, selfishness and arrogance)

Prejudice (including all forms of closed-mindedness, deciding without exploring, and judgment without understanding)

Tribalism (xenophobia, jingoism, white and every other kind of supremacy, and super-patriotism)

I prefer these to the traditional 7 because these imply a particular action or set of actions – or inactions.  The original list of 7, for example, includes wrath.  Sometimes the feeling, the emotion of wrath is appropriate.  What matters is what you do with it.  Do you lash out cruelly?  Do you attack aggressively?  The old list also includes pride, which can be a very positive quality – depending on what you do.

I also prefer this new list because these are the sins that break down connections, that deny our oneness with each other and our world.  That is what is deadly to humanity, and to our planet.   

What do you think?  What’s missing?

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Facing Up to a Hard Question: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”

D6797 Joanne Whitt

What will happen to all our stuff when the time comes that we need to downsize, move into assisted living – or die?  Derek Penwell, author, activist and pastor at a mainline church in Louisville, Kentucky, points out in a recent Huffington Post article that our kids may not want all those precious family heirlooms, like Grandma’s china or Grandpa’s golf clubs.  Not to mention the furniture and other piles of stuff that we worked so hard to acquire.  It doesn’t suit their taste.  It doesn’t fit their lifestyle.  It will end up in a garage sale or perhaps at the Goodwill.

And then he raises the painful and provocative question: “What if the kids don’t want our church?”

Dr. Penwell concludes: “In fact, in many ways, these [younger] generations increasingly think the church has been running toward the wrong finish line for years – concerned as it seems to have been not with figuring out how more faithfully to live like the Jesus of the Gospels, but in acquiring bigger and better stuff to hand down to a generation that doesn’t particularly want to inherit it.”

“You could try to convince the emerging generations that they ought to value the tools you’ve always used, that they should want to take care of them, that they’re going to need them someday, that they should want to pass them down to their children.”

“Or, you could complain about the fact that these kids just don’t appreciate what you’ve done for them.”

“Or, you could suck it up and bless them on their next wild adventure.”

Food for thought with the clear ring of truth.  Except for that part about not trying to figure out how more faithfully to live as Christ’s disciples.  That is exactly what we strive to do at First Presbyterian Church.  No one does it perfectly, but it is our goal.

So, given that, what is God calling us – our congregation – to do?  Certainly, to let the world know in whatever way we can that in fact we are striving to live the Gospel faithfully, which, to us, means loving our neighbors, “neighbors” defined as everyone regardless of any human condition, and “love” defined as taking action (not just having warm and fuzzy thoughts) to be good stewards of God’s earth and to work for justice and peace.

But also, perhaps we are being called to continue to treasure the gift that church is to us, the gift it is right now to so many people, at the same time that we let go of fears for its future.

How do we do the work that God is calling us to do within the body of Christ, at the same time that we bless younger generations in their next wild adventure?  What does that look like “in real life?”

You can read the article yourself by clicking on this link: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”

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Good Friday Service of Taizé and Tenebrae

Blessing Journey, by Juliet Wood

We are doing something a little different for Holy Week this year.  In years past, we have had both an evening Maundy Thursday service and a mid-day Good Friday service.  Most recently, the Maundy Thursday service has been a tenebrae service (more on tenebrae below) and the Good Friday service has been a Service of the Seven Last Words of Christ – seven different preachers over the course of three hours, interspersed with hymns and worship music.

We have learned a handful of things over the past years: People love the contemplative darkness of the Maundy Thursday tenebrae service, but there are a number of people who have a hard time fitting in worship on a “school night.”  Here at First Presbyterian Church, the Maundy Thursday service always has ended with Jesus’ arrest, and so those who attend worship on Thursday but not on Friday never reach Golgotha – the place and events of the crucifixion.  The Service of the Seven Last Words focuses on the crucifixion and has the appeal of spanning the hours that Jesus is traditionally believed to have been on the cross – noon to 3:00 – but relatively few people can take off work or school to come to a service in the middle of the day.  Further, the Service of the Seven Last Words revolves around sermons – words, words, and more words – when, perhaps, observance of Good Friday is more appropriately contemplative and even emotionally evocative.

Read more →

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One Great Hour of Sharing Video

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Every year on Palm Sunday we participate in the ecumenical offering, One Great Hour of Sharing.  This year they have made a stunning video, which you can watch here.  Do it.  It is lovely.

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Ten Good Reasons to Bring Your Child to Church (well, our church, anyway)

Last Sunday night a group of parents gathered at our church to discuss Madeline Levine’s new book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.  It was a very affirming experience for me, as both a pastor and the mother of an eleven-year-old, to be in a group of parents working hard to be good parents.  And when I say “good parents,” I mean people working hard to love their children well, and to raise them to be moral, productive people who can cope with what life throws at them.

And it occurred to me that church is a resource for these parents in so many ways, besides the occasional book group, and we don’t lift that up often enough.  So that is what I am doing.  Here are the 10 reasons that bringing your child to church is good for you as a parent and good for your child.  I am only speaking about our church, First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo.  These reasons may or may not apply to other churches, and if they do not, well, there is a good opportunity for conversation.  These reasons are in no particular order.

1.  At church, your child will become accustomed to the benefits of silence.  We don’t sit in silent prayer every Sunday, or for very long.  But we do most Sundays.  This is positively countercultural.  On a recent trip with my son’s school, I found fifth graders to be essentially incapable of silence.  Maybe it’s because no one has ever shown them it’s a good thing.

2.  At church, your children will learn stories that are deeply a part of our culture.  They’ll certainly need to know them to be a literate adult.  They might even need to know some of them for the SAT.

3.  Not only will they learn the stories, they will learn that these stories have meaning and hold truths, even if they are not what 21st century people would call “facts.”  At some point, when their brains are sophisticated enough to handle it, they might even learn the difference between “truth” and “fact.”  They will learn to think critically about these stories, and to apply them to life.

4.  You as a parent will be around other parents who support limits and value morals and ethics over SAT scores and trophies.  And your kids will be around other kids for whom limits and ethics are “normal.”

5.  You and your child will be plunged into a multi-generational environment.  They might even end up with a few extra “grandparents” who take a special interest in them, as many of our kids have.  These folks have a lot of parenting wisdom to share.

6.  You and your child will be around people who emphasize and value hospitality – not in the Martha Stewart sense, but in the welcoming sense.  You and your child will be in an environment where differences are valued – differences in ethnic origin, economic circumstance, developmental ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, physical disability, and even faith, as many of our parents are married to people of different faiths or no faith.

7.  You and your child will be encouraged to build bridges across these differences as well as across other divides.  I can think of no more important skill for the 21st century.

8.  You and your child will find role models for faith in something larger than we are who loves us beyond our imagining and draws us together.  These role models help us see that “faith” does not mean “certainty” and that questions and doubt are valued.

9.  You and your child will find role models for responding to God’s love by loving back, giving back, being good stewards of the gift of life and the gift of this good earth, and caring for all of creation, including God’s people (which is all people).  And you will be given opportunities to do just that: serving meals to people who are homeless, participating in rebuilding after natural disasters, looking for ways to end hunger …

10.  Once a week, your child will hear music that is not hip-hop, rap or pop/dance music.

Our church is not perfect – no church is.  It is not Utopia.  It is filled with humans with human flaws and frailties.  And many, many other churches could offer you this same list and maybe even a longer one.

I’d love to hear more reasons.  What are yours?  Let’s add to the list.

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