Church

Sunday

One of the advantages of serving a church with multiple pastors on the staff is that you function in a variety of Sunday roles. You may preach in one service, lead worship in another, and conduct an officer training this week, and then next week lead youth groups and have no role in any worship service. Every Sunday is unique.

This weekend my role during the 9:30 and 11:00 services was the one where you don’t function in the service at all but are in the sanctuary, doing whatever is needed. Make sure there is water in the font for the baptisms. Make sure the microphone is set up and where it needs to be. Greet everyone you see.

It’s actually a great way to experience a worship service in a church you serve, and when I call it an “advantage” of being on a multi-pastor staff (there are disadvantages too) I mean that it’s a personal advantage, because the role allows you to see and experience things going on during worship that you simply can’t know about when you’re leading worship. It broadens your sense of what “church” is for people on Sunday morning.

People are talking with one another in the fellowship hall. The ushers in the narthex preparing to collect the offering are enjoying one anothers’ company as they take up the plates (I’ve only ever seen them serious-faced, striding down the aisle with those plates). Youth and children are spread around the sanctuary, worshiping with their parents.

“Church” includes all the things happening the worship leader’s designs and outside the sanctuary doors. It’s quite lovely.

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The End of The Mission Trip Pre-Meeting

For the fist several years of leading youth mission trips, I leaned heavily on the pre-trip meeting(s). I shared all the information about the trip with parents, answered questions, and started to build some community among participants. Even when these trips involved multiple churches spread out over two counties, I still insisted on the meeting.

But man does that feel difficult now. I’ve scheduled youth trips for late June and mid-July this summer, and either people can’t get to a pre-trip meeting or I’m simply not scheduling one. People are busy with the end of the school year, and I’m working on more than these trips, so the meeting has ended up something of an assumption, if not a complete afterthought.

That’s not working.

It’s still important to get young people and adult leaders together with parents and staff for some face time before embarking on a week-long service trip. You can share the schedule and gather all the medical and consent forms without a meeting, but you can’t really allay a parents’ concerns about power tools or stoke a students’ excitement about using them without one. You need to be able to tell the story of the trip in this preparation stage. It’s about more than firing off information and collecting forms.

For two consecutive summers our high school youth went to Cuba, and those teams met at least three times together prior to wheels-up. It felt critical that they learn some things about the context and the partner church they would be working with. Also, it’s a big commitment on the church’s part, and those meetings are reliable indicators of students’ comparative commitment.

We make participation in those meetings pretty easy, because they’re on Sundays after youth group and they are scheduled and publicized weeks out. This is basic work we should have lined up for all our trips, no matter where they’re going. I need to do better.

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Plans

June is my month to go crazy with calendars and schedules for next program year. In the early summer sun, no event conflicts with any other and every lesson idea is fully-formed. Retreats are well attended. Everything that didn’t work this year works next year–no, gets replaced by a brilliant new idea that does.

This kind of advance planning is important and helpful. It creates a feeling of sturdy scaffolding for the work you want to do. With each passing year, though, I admit into my consideration of the metaphor some new things holding the structure up that have nothing to do with my dates and lessons. The vagaries of life in a human community and my limited attention for complexity have to be accounted for in that they can’t be accounted for.

Back-up plans are just as important as the ones on paper.

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Telephone

It is more convenient to communicate today than it ever has been before, and therefore the less convenient communication media are more valuable. Calling instead of emailing means something. Calling instead of texting or messaging means something.

There’s more here than meaning, though. The telephone is auditory, and thus a whole range of expression, emphasis, emotion, and meaning are experienced that simply cannot come across in text-based media. If you need to have a precise record of a specific communication, send it in writing (don’t text it). If you need to make an ephemeral human connection, get the phone out of your pocket.

Our work needs more ephemeral human connection. It’s being lost.

The telephone feels more critical to my work as a pastor than it did when I started 15 years ago.

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Benchwarmer

Daughter left cheer practice injured by something, and she wasn’t telling me what. Her manner was short and clipped. Inquiries as to her well-being were all met with, “Uh huh.” The whole ride home she said nothing, and I stopped trying to make her.

Climbing the stairs to our apartment I could hear her sniffling and taking deep breaths. I knew she would head straight for her mother as soon as we were through the door, and of course she did. I could listen to the tearful account from the hallway, but, as with most of her displays of emotion, mom was the sole authorized confessor. I was not welcome.

It’s all to do with competition and the awareness that some of your teammates are better than you and thus get more attention from coaches and more first team reps. As a seasoned benchwarmer from my Little League days, I get this. It hurts, and the way an 11 year-old’s mind deals with it is as grievance: it’s not fair.

I still remember the name of the kid who took my rightful spot on the 11 year-old All Star team: Jaime Masters. For 32 years his name and face have been associated in my mind with injustice. That’s done nothing for me.

Daughter will grow through this, and I hope I will too. She went to bed still in tears and we let her. It feels important that we be her allies and supporters, but not her co-conspirators. It feels important that we accompany her through encounters with her own limits, encouraging her to do her best for the sake of it, and not to win a coach’s nod or a roster spot.

That will be as hard for us as it is for her.

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More

Daughter and I have established a Monday post-school ritual: we go to the little bookstore in our neighborhood and sit in the cafe, where she does homework and I have a coffee and peruse the shelves. We’ve been doing it all year.

Two things about yesterday agitated for a change, though. Daughter’s homework was already done by the time I picked her up, and the weather was that kind of early summer Chicago gorgeous that makes you want to be outside, not burrowed in among books. She proposed the frozen yogurt shop a few storefronts down from the bookstore and I easily yielded.

It’s on a corner, and its west-and-south facing windows look out onto a busy intersection of pedestrian and auto traffic, overhung by an elevated train track. It was the perfect view for a perfect afternoon with the perfect companion, who chatted eagerly about her diverse yogurt toppings and roller coasters she wants to ride.

More afternoons like that, please.

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Yard Sale

Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” is a memorable song released in 2016 on her album, Puberty 2. I played it a ton, and I devoured the Song Exploder episode about it. So I recognized the vinyl of Puberty 2 as someone carried it past our yard during Saturday’s community yard sale.

“I love that album,” I called out from my folding camp chair, almost involuntarily. The woman carrying it stopped and looked amused. I pressed ahead. “‘Your Best American Girl’ is amazing.” She nodded assent. “Do you know the Song Exploder podcast? They did one about that song.”

She cocked her head to the side and looked upward like she was trying to remember something. “Yeah,” she concluded. “I think my friend had a song on that podcast.”

This just got interesting.

“Really?” I chuckled. “Who’s your friend?” When she answered, she elevated her pitch, like to ask if I recognized the name: “Jeff Tweedy.”

This just got really interesting.

I’m not a Jeff Tweedy superfan, but I’m music fan enough to know he’s a big deal. He was in Wilco, and he’s released two solo albums, including one earlier this year. Jeff and I have three songs from that album on our collaborative playlist.

My chuckling now sounds nervous as I ask, “How are you friends with Jeff Tweedy?” It’s such a stupid sounding question, like, “How is a famous musician friends with the likes of you?” She’s kind, though, and she doesn’t take offense.

“Well, you know [famous music producer]?” ( Famous music producer has worked with the likes of Nirvana. When I told Jeff some months ago that he lived in my neighborhood Jeff kind of lost his mind.)

“Yeah, I’ve been told he lives in this neighborhood.”

“I live with him,” she explains. “We live right behind you.”

Now this is a fanboy conversation, and I’m really uncomfortable. I’m desperate to change the subject and transition to a neighborly “have a nice day.” So I offer the other rumor I’ve heard about famous music producer: “I hear you guys have really amazing Halloween decorations.”

She confirms the rumor and then mercifully says goodbye and moves up the block to the neighbors’ yard. As soon as she is out of sight I seize my phone and text an account of the conversation to Jeff. His reply is brief:

“I’m dead. You just killed me.”

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Fast

Three times now I’ve made the seven mile trip downtown and back by bike, not nearly enough to answer my colleague’s accusatory question–“Are you one of those bike people?”–in the affirmative, but enough to have learned something.

Faster is actually safer in some contexts. More daring and presumably more experienced cyclists than I pass me in the Lincoln Avenue bike lane all day long. The come to intersections where I hesitate or stop, and they zip right through them. They are decisive and quick, and they do not hesitate. I am exceedingly cautious, and yet, watching them, I get the impression they are the safer riders.

Sometimes waiting is dangerous.

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Have Fun

Daughter prepared a bottle of cucumber water and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. She taped a torn fragment of spiral notebook paper to it on which she wrote “have fun.”

It was for her mother, who, motivated by the warm weather and a recent visit to the doctor, signed up for a kickboxing class, starting today, at 5:15 in the morning. It was a total surprise.

Maturation sneaks up on you. You push and push for kids to grow and develop in particular directions, and they sneak up behind your pushing, straining, parenting frame and present themselves mature in ways you weren’t even thinking about.

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