Archive for ◊ October, 2011 ◊

• Monday, October 17th, 2011

Post by
Gretchen Switzer

Co-Author of “Finishing With Grace”

For years I have been asked about the difference between religion and faith and I have never felt I have had a satisfactory answer. But the other day, I found a pretty great one: “In religion, people tell you what to believe. In faith, you figure it out for yourself.” (Tom Ehrich)

Religion is that thing which gives us a framework for sorting out our ideas about and our experiences of the divine. Religion gives us sacred words to describe spiritual experience. It relates our own very personal encounters with God to the historical teachings and stories found in scripture and the doctrines and rituals of our faith tradition. Religion gives us the context of a community in which to share our faith and learn from other people sharing theirs.

Faith is that thing some of us learned in childhood from adults who trusted God, who found strength in adversity, and who consistently taught us what they believed. Faith is also that thing inside many of us that we always kind of knew was there, but there was no one there to provide an example or give us ideas about God until we grew older. In either case, faith is that thing which grows inside us slowly, often without our even noticing it, until a profound event forces us to lean on it and thereby discover it is there.

Faith grows in as many different ways as there are individuals, and yet, the role of other people in teaching us, showing us, loving us is an ever-present part each faith story. We need each other to help us understand what faith is when we feel it; to give us language to describe it; to reflect back belief to us when we begin discovering we’ve developed it; to help us understand and learn how to express our experiences. The community often provided by “religion” becomes a catalyst and companion to spur us forward once that first spark of faith, trust, love, is lit by God.

Most Christians have properly sensed a difference between religiosity and faithfulness. While they are not the same thing, both are needed to help us fully realize our personal capacity for faith and to teach us how to move from faith to meaningful action.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

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• Monday, October 10th, 2011

When Gretchen and I started this blog, we didn’t know what to expect. Our web guru suggested we not allow feedback on the theory that it’s difficult to filter out all the potential spam messages. However – after a few months, we decided we’d risk the spam because we wanted to hear what our readers (if we had any readers) had to say.

Truthfully – we thought we might not have any blog readers. Really – what would bring you to our little blog? Who would care what we had to say? However, once we allowed your responses to come through, we were thrilled. There were dozens of emails from readers – all kind and supportive!

Obviously we are pleased that you are reading our blog. But – more important – we are heartened at some of your comments. Clearly the issue of churches in transition is huge – and is being ignored by many in the higher echelons of church leadership. The churches that are going through challenging times are desperately looking for answers and places to find answers. Gretchen and I are touched to think (and hear from you) that our book – Finishing with Grace – is filling a need.

Below is one comment we have received. Our prayers go out to this pastor and the challenges facing that congregation.

“I want to thank you for this blog and for the book “Finishing With Grace”. I am a first call pastor called to an urban congregation that is about to vote on dissolving their congregation. I feel overwhelmed, humbled and blessed to be walking with a congregation through this time of it’s history. When the conversation started through the congregations “Turn Around Team” and was brought to the council for discussion it seemed that there was a release of pressure in the air – that a weight was lifted off the leadership’s shoulders. As I started to look for resources to help us organize and figure out was to begin conversations of this hard topic – letting go of this ministry with grace and hope that our assets of money and energy can be given to other ministries – I found very little out there. And, when I say very little, I mean a few articles and one book. I just happened to stumble on this blog and I ordered your book right away, got it in the mail the next day and read it in one sitting. I am giving it to my council president tomorrow. Before I found this blog I started my own blog as a way to organize some of the physical and legal process, but also the emotional and spiritual process and my hope was that if there is another pastor or lay leader in my situation they could maybe stumble upon my blog and find some helpful words. I found that here! Thank you so much! This is a church ministry topic that is not discussed in the open but there is so much care in the ministry that needs to happen. More pastors that have walked with congregations through closing should speak out more, write more books, write more blogs so this ministry can be done in a way that has God in the center and the Holy Spirit guiding it. Without resources pastors just end up trying to get through one process before they figure everything out for the next step of the process and there is very little time for much else. Again Thank You and God bless you and the ministry you provide.”

Please keep those comments coming. As Gretchen and I are increasingly invited to lead workshops and programs for churches in transition, it’s a big help to hear what all of you have to say.

• Monday, October 03rd, 2011

I went to see my cousin this weekend – in an Alzheimer’s unit. I hadn’t seen Nancy for about four years, although I was aware that she had this devastating disease.

My grandparent’s family was large and my generation had many cousins. Growing up in the same town, we were close as children. As we grew to adulthood, most of the cousins moved away from Framingham. Nancy stayed somewhat local, married and had three children and, eventually, many dear grandchildren. Nancy had been a nurse all her life – greatly beloved by her patients. On the rare occasions our large family would gather, it was often at her home. She and her husband were generous and welcoming hosts.

Still – as so often happens in today’s world – staying in touch with cousins, aunts and uncles finally comes down to the annual Christmas card with the “All The News This Past Year” letter and a family photo enclosed.

Seeing Nancy this weekend saddened me. It is the sadness of seeing a bright mind shut down forever. Nancy always had a wonderful welcoming personality and caring ways. This should not have happened to Nancy – nor should it happen to anyone. Nancy is only 73 – way too young to be lost to all of us.

My sadness is only partly for her. Nancy is safely in another world and is not tormented by her own condition. My grief is for her family and friends who have lost her so totally. And for my cousins and me. Nancy was an integral part of all our shared memories. She was in our childhood playing together at our grandparents house on a Sunday afternoon. She was part of Grace Church’s Sunday School – and holiday fairs – and ham and bean suppers. At family gatherings, Nancy made that fabulous trifle that we all loved and “had to have the recipe.” In later years, when we’d get together, Nancy could lead us in the “do you remember . .. “ discussions. Our shared memories have now been diminished – we cousins will never be as complete again.

Nancy is in a lovely facility. She’s able to wander freely in a secure area. Her room looks out onto a gardened courtyard. The staff at her facility is caring. Her family is supporting her – and loving her. Surely – she can feel that love.

And she is physically beautiful – as she always was. Her eyes still crinkle when she smile, a smile that lights up her face. I understand that sometimes with Alzheimer’s, patients can become negative. Not dear Nancy. At one point someone asked if she recognized me. And her eyes lit up and she said “Of course I do.”

To my beloved Nancy – you will always be in my memory. Those who have shared your life will always remember you.