Archive for the Category ◊ Miscellaneous ◊

• Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Author: Gretchen

I want to tell you about a brilliant book I have just finished reading:  The Underground Church by Robin Meyers.  Every Christian in the United States needs to read this book regardless of denomination, level of conservatism or liberalism, whether you are part of an urban church or a country chapel.

Meyers makes innumerable helpful and realistic observations of the modern day American church in all its myriad forms.  But I have chosen to focus on just one  point which has the potential to transform what he calls our “Beloved communities” into  places of deeper meaning and farther-reaching impact:

At any given meeting of the “church council” or“consistory,” on any given evening in any given year, the focus is almost always on how best (and most cheaply) to perpetuate the “institution” of the church:  repairs for the aging building, salaries for pastor and/or staff, purchasing Sunday school curriculum and beautifying the grounds.   What Meyers proposes is that perpetuating a building and an organization may not be the best use of our time, particularly when right outside our building there may eb people sleeping udenr bridegs in snow and ice, or women being beaten in tehri homes or children trying to sleep with empty stomachs.

Focus on the inner working and beliefs of the church , Meyers suggests, only leads to arguments about money, leadership and theology.  What would happen if we, as Christian communities turned our focus outwards?  What if we made it our mission to do mission?  What if every Sunday morning found us worshipping in a place where others would see us and hear us, and what if we spent  Sunday afternoon together feeding hungry families?  How about canceling the Christian Ed meeting this month and spending that time volunteering together for a literacy program?

If we would take the focus off ourselves and begin actually taking action to make the world that “better place” we all take about, our ministry would take on truer meaning.  And guess what? If we were working side by side building a house for someone who’s never had one, or baking bread for a community dinner, we would not have time to fight over who is Conservative or who is Liberal or who doesn’t like the new pastor, or  which hymnal we should be using.

We should be about love.  We should be about nurturing deep affection for the world and the people God has given into our care.  We should think more about others than we do about ourselves, and more about God’s people in need than about keeping the fellowship room floor shiny.

      Doesn’t that sound more like the life to which Jesus calls us? 



• Tuesday, May 08th, 2012

While I applaud Linda’s perspective on children and worship, I must say that I think there is more to be said. Not necessarily about children in worship, but about adults in worship. There is a plethora of, frankly, obnoxious worship behaviors that I suspect cuts completely across denominational and faith tradition lines.

Some of these bad behaviors/habits come from tradition. While there was a time when ladies wore hats to church on a regular basis. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Just two weeks ago, I went to a wedding the bulk of which I missed because the woman in front of me was wearing a gigantic hat. Everytime I got myself settled so I could see the couple around her hat, the woman would shake her head or readjust in her seat so my view was once again entirely blocked. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I happen to love hats, but if you are going to wear them to church (or to the theatre for that matter), please either choose a classic close fitting bonnet or be prepared to remove your hat when you sit down.

Some bad church attendance habits are relatively new, too. It still astonishes me that in a world where you must turn off your cell phone in every music event and doctor’s office where you might find yourself, why is it so difficult for us to remember to silence our phones during worship?

Then there are the “sniffers.” The folks who spend every silent moment of the service sniffing. Do they like the smell of candles and old bibles? Are they chronic allergy sufferers? Do they resist the idea of Kleenex on some religious grounds? I’m not certain what the explanation is, but the sniffing has to stop! It’s really annoying!

One of my favorites is the whisper fighters. The couple who comes in to worship, clearly unhappy with one another, and proceed to sit next together during church fuming at each other in loud whispers while the rest of us are trying to worship. These folks are right up there with the fellow who has to make an under-his-breath remark about everything the pastor says. Look, if you’ve got an issue with your spouse or your kids, for that matter, resolve it before entering the church or leave it outside the door to pick up later. If you have an issue with the pastor, make an appointment for another time and address it with them directly. For many of us, that hour on Sunday morning is the only true peace and quiet we get all week. You muttering close by kind of puts a damper on my peace and quiet.

This brings me back to kids in church. Kids who feel welcome in the sanctuary during worship seem to me to behave better than those in congregations who clearly think children should not be seen or heard during that sacred hour. One of my fondest memories of going to church with my parents when I was a child was a man named Jack Tucker. Jack was probably 50 or 60 when I was a kid in that congregation. He had no children himself. And yet, as the head usher, he never failed to say good morning specifically to me, using my name and bending down to look me straight in the eye. This was long before children’s bulletins or worship bags were given out to keep the tykes quiet. This was before children’s sermons. Jack always made sure I had my own worship bulletin, and it was never an afterthought. He would speak to me and give me my bulletin before my parents ever got theirs. That small act made me feel more welcome and more special than I felt anytime the rest of that week. Because I was treated with affection and respect, I wanted to behave well during church. But you know what? Whenever, I would become bored and squirmy and start looking around, I would inevitably notice Mr. Tucker standing in a doorway smiling directly at me. Then, suddenly, he’d wink with a knowing nod and I could settle down for a bit longer. Jack Tucker made kids feel welcome at my home church for over fifty years, and I never remember a kid acting up in the middle of a service at that church!

The thing is that children know when they are not wanted. They see you rolling your eyes when they kick the back of your pew, even by accident. They can feel you scowling at them when they try to stand up on the pew so they can share the hymnal and the singing with Mom or Dad. Kids know when people don’t wish to have them around. But if that’s the image of God’s love we leave children with as they grow up in church, what is it that will bring them back to church as teenagers, adults, parents and grandparents? Nothing.

The key idea here is that a congregation is a place where we should be loving and respecting God’s people, no matter what. So please, take off your hat, silence your cell and take a minute to smile kindly at the kids in the next pew. Do your part to make worship respectful, peaceful and loving for all.

• 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

Click here to email  Gretchen

• Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

If you have grown up in and stayed involved with a particular congregation for all or most of your life, the affiliation you feel is first and foremost to your personal experience in that specific setting.  In your mind and heart, your congregation has a clear identity all its own which it has nurtured and exercised for many years.  You may be known in your community as the “mission church”  or the church who has that great Christmas Bazaar every year.  Maybe yours is the breathtaking sanctuary where every bride dreams of getting married, or the fellowship hall where AA has met for decades. The primary emotional, and even spiritual, angst people feel around the concept of merging with another community of faith  is that your church could lose that unique identity which its members value so highly.

Another primary emotion  church members experience when considering a merger is the same one felt by folks who must leave their building for any reason.   Like a home,  a church building can become an anchor for its members.  Bolstered by vivid memories of personal and family events, our attachment to the physical space can be every bit as powerful as our attachment to each other.  Sometimes, more so.  We sit in the same pew every Sunday and have the same view of worship every Sunday.  We have memorized the backs of the heads that sit in the pew in front of us.  We know which kid always kicks the back of the pew in which we sit when he or she becomes bored with the service.  Myriad family connections exist in memorial gifts and commemorations and stained glass windows.  We have worked tirelessly to keep the pews polished and the altar cloths clean and beautiful.  This is our place, our spiritual home and in many ways, our emotional home as well.

In an ideal merger, two congregations will both give up their physical homes and move into a new home which is evenly shared by all.  That sounds good, but what happens when we sit down in a strange seat with a new view?  When we don’t recognize the backs of people’s heads or their faces either?  Will we miss Little Joey banging his feet on the back of our pew?   The truth is we will  miss little Joey.  And we will miss trying to see around Mable’s fluffy head of hair and Sam’s balding noggin.  We miss all of that because it is familiar and warm and meaningful to us.

However, our missing what is familiar is a small price to pay for doing what we believe God is calling us to do.  In every major, life-changing decision a church makes,  the congregation must have the opportunity to work together to discern where God is calling them to be and with whom God is calling them to join their journey.  Without the assurance and confidence, on the part of both congregations,  that God is calling us to join with each other, we will not fully engage in the merger and it will not work.

Category: Miscellaneous  | One Comment
• Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

A story told by Reverend Susan Nachtigal, Senior Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, ELCA, in Worcester, MA

Dr. Horrigan, as a young priest –
was assigned to start a congregation.
So the people gathered and worshiped for 6 ½ years –
and began to shape the life of a parish.
After some time,
a local reporter was curious about what was going on –
so he visited Dr. Horrigan and asked:
“So, are you going to build a church?”
Dr. Horrigan replied:
“We’re actually building a church right now…
….eventually we will put a building around it.”

His answer was not meant to be flip.
It was to get at the church
as something more than a location –
marked by bricks and mortar,
but the people.

…it was to reflect the essence of the Holy, Blessed Trinity –
…the God of the church…
as being, not a doctrine –
but the Living God…!
the Ever-creating God…!
committed to BEING –
in relationship with the people:
energizing, …knitting together…
redeeming… and making new .

Life… with this Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Life …in the Church …with God’s people
has as a part of its very nature and identity –

an abandonment of solitary-ness –
an abandonment of self-centeredness –

and CELEBRATES the commitment and identity
of BEING community….of BEING in relationship.

Reverend Susan Nachtigal

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• Monday, May 09th, 2011
Linda Hilliard
Co-author of Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church
I am going to add to the blog that Gretchen wrote last week about community – both church and the broader community.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998.  As anyone who hears the cancer word knows, once a cancer diagnosis is made, the medical establishment springs into action.  The patient is pulled into a medical time warp.  From a normal life one day to facing surgery – immediately.

That happened to me – on a Thursday my cancer was confirmed and I was on the surgeon’s calendar for the following Monday.  Of course family becomes involved and is supportive.   But how do you let others know that you have cancer?

I live alone – so although my married daughters were very much there for me, that Sunday after my diagnosis, I went to church alone.  It was June and when I arrived at church that morning – the glass double doors were open.  I was touched by that sight.  Those doors are often open, but that time I felt a special sense of welcome to my religious community.

I sat with my usual gang of friends, but didn’t say anything.  During the prayer concerns, I asked for prayers for myself because of an upcoming surgery.  Those near reached out to touch me.  As soon as the service was over, I was surrounded.  I told my story and felt many warm embraces. There were offers of transportation, providing food, staying with me.

And I heard again and again: “I will pray for you.”  “Pray for you.” What an amazing statement to hear. Imagine – being in someone’s prayers!

During treatment, I continued to work as I could.  What surprised me was the number of business associates – people I barely knew – who knew of my illness and would say “I will keep you in my prayers.”  Although I go to church regularly, I’ve never been a vocal  “I’ll keep you in my prayers” kind of person.  I might privately pray for people, but as an old Yankee – I’m a bit taciturn in talking about my prayer habits.

I underwent the surgery – had chemo – had  radiation – it was nine months of the medical community and my friends – and strangers – helping me fight cancer.

I’m 10+ years cancer free now.  Of course I thank modern medicine for my survival, but I also credit both my church community – and the community of kindly associates and strangers for helping me get through a terrifying time in my life.

The other day I talked to a neighbor who was facing some surgery and I quickly said “I will pray for you.”  Funny – I’ve said those words comfortably for well over 10 years now – and I mean it every time.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Linda

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• Wednesday, May 04th, 2011

Gretchen Switzer

Co -author of Finishing With Grace: A Guide to Selling, Merging or Closing Your Church

I went to do the grocery shopping on Monday morning and all I expected was the regular stuff … lots of shoppers, a minimum of courtesy, folks in a rush, stockers blocking the aisles with their gigantic carts, and running into the occasional friend or neighbor. What I did not expect was to run into a woman whom I consider more than an acquaintance and almost a friend, and for her to  tell me that she has just been diagnosed with cancer.

As she explained the situation, I wondered in my own mind what the truly appropriate response would be.  I did not want to be over-sympathetic and set the poor woman to sobbing in the dairy aisle, but I did not want to seem cavalier about it either.  The truth is I was already quaking inside at the thought of this fortyish mother of five, ages 3 through 13,  having to face surgery and follow-up treatment with no assurance of success.  The image of myself, ten years her senior, had set up residence quickly in my head – thinking about what a cancer diagnosis for me would mean to my two school age kids.  I really did want to cry right there between the eggs and the orange juice, but I knew my crying would do little more  than cause her great embarrassment.  So, I offered calmly to take her to coffee or out for a drink or to watch the kids whenever she needs a break.  She thanked me profusely and then said something that struck a deep cord with me.  “I just don’t know what I would do without my community!  My husband, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, neighbors like you, my church — I know you all ‘have my back’ and my kids’ backs.  That’s what is getting me through this so far.”

And suddenly, (thank you, God)  I knew the right thing to say. “Remember,  we’ll all be with you the rest of the way, too!”

When we are faced with devastating news, poor health, the deep disappointments and griefs which mark our lives, there is nothing more powerful we can offer each other than the assurance of our presence and the promise to stick around even when it gets really, really tough and we might want to run away.  To remind each other that the presence of God promises never to abandon us is a gift only a community of compassion and true friendship can offer.

Whether we gather in a church or we’re standing around leaning on our carts at the grocery store, you and I often have the privilege of offering and receiving the reassurance of family and fellowship, of human presence and touch and affection and faith –  let us continue to remember the importance of  being community to one another.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

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