I am sitting here this morning drinking my coffee,
and I am thinking about the storm we just came through in light of a prophetic word that came to our church back in August.
That word was “prepare for tragedy and prepare for witness”. It came in varied ways to ten different congregants during the time of our pastoral sabbatical.
I am wondering what does it mean to “prepare for tragedy and to prepare for witness.”
On Monday night the snow began. When all was said and done we had 30 inches of very heavy wet snow that plunged the entire town of Winchendon into darkness for 13 to 24 hours.
My cell phone battery was dead by 6 P.M….hour four of the cold darkness. My daughter was wiser and immediately put her phone into airplane mode and on low power mode. It hardly mattered though the cell towers went down at the same time the power did and internet was completely useless
No cell service meant no way to communicate for anyone who didn’t have a landline. No electricity meant no heat for anyone who didn’t have a generator or alternative heat source.
I was pretty proud that our house with new insulation held the heat pretty well. We were just below sixty degrees in the Vicarage when the power went on. Thinking about it though what if we had had a repeat of the ice storm of 2011? Three days without power? What would we do? Mom is not really mobile any longer. I have to be prepared for the next time an event like this comes. I am absolutely sure that a next time isn’t too far off.
But it is not just about preparing for my household. We must prepare for our community.
I got home from Winchendon’s Special Town Meeting just as the snow was beginning on Monday night. Amanda had already walked Mercedes and Snug so I settled in for a long winter’s nap.
Last weekend was the beginning of daylight savings time, so I overslept Tuesday Morning. I overslept by about six inches, which is what we had on the ground when I opened my eyes. It was six inches of cement, though, as the first bit of snow had been mixed with rain.
The branches started falling just before we had our Zoom staff meeting. No one was getting out of their house yesterday and everyone had trees or branches down in or around their houses.We had a shortened meeting as we were down by two staffers and another was already having connectivity issues from his house in Templeton. I should have known the trouble John was having connecting was a sign of bigger issues to come.
By eleven in the morning we had wrapped up our staff discussion on the upcoming church business meeting, so I went out for another pass at shoveling the snowment. By this point we had a solid foot in the front yard and drifts up to two feet on the left side of the house.
By the end of lunch we were at about 15 inches and the lights had flickered a few times.
The drifts outside had completely overwhelmed the bushes which normally stand taller than I do. The drifts on that side of the house were at least three feet deep. Branches started coming down as our trees began to lean precariously over the power lines.
By 2 P.M. the power had gone out in the entire town for what would be a thirteen hour stint. Mom was super nervous throughout the night. Her mind could not process the loss of power and she was really struggling with the candles, especially one she thought looked like “a dog scratching itself as it burned”. We actually had to move that one out of her line of sight. None of us got much sleep.
The power came back on about 3:30 A.M. It was still snowing. I think all totaled we have well over two feet of the sticky wet stuff.
DID THIS STORM AFFECT YOU? WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST STORM THIS SEASON?
It has been a pretty mild winter up until the last few weeks. Here in Winchendon MA, we have gotten the majority of our snow for the season in the last three weeks. At first it was just dribs and drabs, and then last week we got a foot in one night.
Today will be a day of preparation for the net snowfall which according to my phone is going to start around supper time and the time of our town’s special town meeting to vote on the community preservation act financing.
When all is said and done we will have somewhere between 16 and 20 inches of the white stuff and the promise of rain beforehand means we will be shoveling slush throughout the night and into tomorrow.
Of course that also means that it will be good snowman snow. I haven’t built a snowman in…. forever. Lately I have hand hankering for it. So maybe tomorrow will be the day.
This morning, at breakfast, I was talking with Mom about Amanda’s upcoming ordination. She will be ordained the Rev. Amanda Lillie in May.
At that point she will hold the most advanced credential in our church. I held my first level of credential for nearly 25 years without advancing and now that I have entered the second level of credential I have to hold that for two years before I can be ordained myself.
My mother asked why it took me so long to move forward and my only real answer was a lack of ambition. Always I have been more about the call than the credential. I have ministered and gone where I felt the Lord wanted me to go and very seldom have I thought about my qualification. Honestly, the level of my credential has seldom factored into the call.
I now pursue ordination in order to walk in obedience before my presbytery. It is an act of submission. Amanda feels the same. The call is the thing. The credential feels like an affirmation of that call in the eyes of men, but the call is the thing I must walk out before God.
Just now that call is getting very exciting as we prepare the church to walk in a deeper manifestation of the love of Jesus than ever before.
One of my goals this year is to lose eighty pounds. I joined NOOM and so far I am down about 22 pounds depending on the day.
I am also trying to get rid of joint pain in my knees and hips. I think a large part of the pain is due, not just to my weight, but to what I am eating.
I am a big sweet eater and like most Americans I love my processed sugars.
As I said the other day I am on a lenten fast called the Daniel Fast, which is basically a vegetarian fast. I fasted like this in January and it went very well. This time I am having a hard time staying away from the processed sugar.
My latest NOOM lessons have been on the subject of mindful eating. It involves paying attention to what I am putting in my mouth. One of the suggestions is to increase mindfulness is to actually sit down to table to eat rather than eating on the go.
I have to admit this is a great challenge for me. I have years of ingrained on the go eating. I seldom sit at table to eat almost always choosing the grab and go method, the watch TV and eat method or the multitasking eating method.
But I do realize that the idea of slowing down to be intentional about eating is not only healthy but it is one of my three mandates of living from God, “SLOW, CONSTANT AND INTENTIONAL”.
I am going to try shifting this eating habit. I’ll let you know how it goes.
My professor for Sermon Preparation in bible college was a big proponent of planning ahead. He felt that as pastors part of our responsibility to our congregations was to take a month at the beginning of every year to plan out our sermons for the entire year. He went so far in his ministry as to instruct his secretary to clear his January schedule of all non emergency meetings. He sequestered himself in his study and spent that month actually writing out every sermon he was planning to preach through the following Christmas from outline to three point essay format.
In my 32 years of ministry I have never gone that far. I modified his ideas to better fit the rhythm of my ministry. As a youth pastor I would sit with my team each year and plan out the year in group meetings, leadership trainings and youth events. Then I would use that calendar to plan out my teachings for the year by subject and how long I would give myself to teach the series I was planning. Then I would write the sermons weekly or a few weeks at a time. Sometimes I would get a whole series written just before I launched into it. This gave me a strong structure to work from while at the same time offering me flexibility required of youth ministry.
I am finding that planning the course of the church as lead pastor uses pretty much the same principles I learned in youth ministry. For me, planning is one of the main uses of sabbatical. Last August(2022), I planned out my direction for the year (through Christmas 2023).
I suppose some think the structure would lend itself to limiting the move of the Holy Spirit (it’s actually a criticism I have heard). I find it is actually the opposite. I spent a month praying about the plan. I trusted that God had the ability to tell me in advance what He was planning to do. I also held the plan lightly enough that I was prepared to shelve it if God chose to do something different.
We are currently in the middle of a series called, “Jesus Doing Life”. It was originally meant to take us through Easter and then we were going to launch directly into a walk through The Revelation.
God has changed up plans a little. The last three weeks have been divinely interrupted. Twice I have preached extemporaneously and the third service I gave the pulpit to a staff member to share thoughts that came as the result of her trip to a conference in North Carolina. These three services affirmed some things the leadership team has been looking at and we have decided to finish up with “Jesus Doing Life” and then to launch directly into a study on healing offenses entitled, The Bait of Satan.
This decision means the study in Revelation will carry us well into 2024. The plan stands but it is adapting. It is a part of ministry I like to call planning by the seat of my pants.
I have returned to fasting for the lenten season in preparation for a deeper work of ministry coming after Easter. I have to admit it is not going well. I find myself struggling with my appetite and failing to control it, especially at night after times of ministry.
I have learned over years of practicing the discipline of fasting that the struggle with appetite is perhaps the most important thing in the fast. Not giving up in the midst of momentary failure is almost as powerful in the work of fasting as fasting perfectly. There is so much to learn about oneself in the midst of failure. The failures and the reasons for those failures reveal to me what God is working on inside of my heart. Fasting shines a light on the shadowy places of our hearts, and the centering prayer that must always accompany fasting shows us where the shadows are extending from into our lives.
In this season, I am practicing seven times of daily prayer with varying degrees of success. The night time prayer sessions of Compline, Matins and Lauds are the most difficult for me to practice. Again the night time is revealed as my time of spiritual difficulty and weakness and I am seeking God to help me discover why that is so and how to send spiritual balance into that part of my life.
DO YOU HAVE A TIME OF THE WEEK OR OF THE DAY WHEN YOU FEEL SPIRITUALLY WEAK?
“My first breakaway after I became the lead pastor of Cornerstone Church was to a place called “The Grain Bin”. It was an air B&B in the middle of nowhere upstate New York. The nearest mall or grocery store was 45 minutes away. A cup of coffee and a loaf of bread could be found in the nearby village store but little else. There was a river at the back of the property and lots and lots of quiet.
In those five days I was placed in a shell of protective silence away from the din of the world that would not be replicated in the rest of my experience to this date. I sealed myself away during that time and established an inner sense of quiet that would have to carry me for the next two years. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. I am so thankful for it now.
The quiet of the grain bin brought to the surface something inside of me that I would not have seen had it not been for the extended period of solitude and silence. That something was a core of serenity, a sense of personal destiny, an affirmation that what lay ahead was not my work but God’s and a certain knowledge that I was His vessel.
Quiet these days looks nothing like the grain bin these days. Even during my sabbatical I did not achieve that same level of solitude or silence.
Quiet these days is an early morning time of meditation before the dogs get up or mom stirs. It is a door closed to the world for 10 or 15 minutes each day for Matins & Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. It is listening to the Bible while I wash the dishes or watching a movie while Mom snoozes on the couch.
Church work does not lend itself to contemplation or prayer as easily as some would think it does. Quiet must be sought. Quiet must be prioritized. Quiet must be adapted to the life we live. It can look like anything that brings forth the core of serenity, destiny and affirmation to which we are called.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL PEACEFUL WHEN LIFE GETS CRAZY?
It is two o:clock in the afternoon on Monday. I just finished my daily devotional video for the church. I am standing at the kitchen island as I type trying to stretch the soreness out of my legs.
The soreness comes from two things: weak legs and Sunday church service.
As I have started my weight loss regimen, using NOOM, one of the things I have noticed is that I do not walk enough. My goal is 10,000 steps a day. So far I haven’t it made it up to 4,000 steps a day. Generally Sundays is my biggest day for walking especially if I pace a lot during the sermon.
I keep thinking I might solve this problem as the Spring sets in, and I can once again take the dogs out around the park for walks. Mercedes doesn’t tolerate the cold well at all anymore. Of course the old girl is only six pounds so it is not like she has a lot to protect her against the ravages of the winter wind. Snug, the younger of the two, would probably walk until he was an ice block if I let him. Anyway the lack of walking the dogs except around the yard is the excuse I am making for not walking as much as I should and the lack of walking enough is what makes my legs weak.
That takes us back to Sunday church service. If standing up for long periods of time was a NOOM goal I would rock that one on Sundays. I am generally in on Sundays by 9 A.M. and from 9 to 10 I stand around greeting people as they enter the church. Service starts at 10 and from the moment the service officiant says “Could we all stand for the reading of God’s Word?” until I say “Be Blessed and Be At Peace. You Missions field is waiting. Bring them your blessing and your peace. Catch you later.” at the end of my preach I am on my feet.
Yesterday we had an all church fellowship after church. We call these gatherings “DLT mixers”. My job is to try and stop at every table before they head out the door after lunch. I didn’t quite make it to every table yesterday and I was still on my feet at 1:25 in the afternoon.
When I got home, I probably should have done some stretches.
Instead I fell asleep on the recliner while binge-watching “Call the Midwife”.
I am not sure if this is completely normal for all pastors, but sore legs in the kitchen on Mondays is a part of my life. I wonder…when I have reached my 80 pounds weight loss goal, will this reality change?
IT IS ONE OF MY HOPES FOR SURE!
WHAT ARE COME OF YOUR MOTIVATORS TOWARD YOUR GOALS?
My cousin Kathy passed from this life into glory yesterday afternoon. She was the primary caregiver for her mother, my Aunt Gloria, for the last several years. Aunt Gloria passed about two weeks ago.
No one knew that Kathy was battling lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain and bones, all during the last years of her mother’s life. Even Kathy was unaware of the truth. Instead she had been in treatment for a bleeding ulcer, which apparently masked the symptoms of her true disease.
When Kathy was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia a few days after Aunt Gloria’s death, we all just thought she needed rest because of her work with her mother through hospice. That Kathy’s body was only holding out for Aunt Gloria’s passing never crossed any of our minds. The news was a gut punch to her husband, her brother, her sons and to those of us who watched her life from a more removed distance. Most of all it was a gut punch to Kathy.
I got to sit with Kathy last Saturday for about an hour. We talked about faith. We talked about family. We talked about anger and the deep struggle with how unfair life is. We talked about healing and miracles. We talked about being ready for the walk into eternity. We prayed. Tears were shed ,and then the hospital chaplain, who is also a relative, came to bring Kathy a word of comfort.
I spoke with Kathy’s brother, my cousin John two days later by Facebook video. I got a chance to speak with Kathy again in that video. By that point the doctors had spoken with the family about doing hospice in hospital, as Kathy was no longer strong enough to be moved. It was another blow to Kathy who wanted to pass at home as her mother had.
I brought supper to Kathy’s husband, Jaque,s and her son, Todd, last night. As Kathy was passing, Jaques’ brother also passed away. This family now has to face three funerals at the same time. They are reeling. Decisions are piled up on top of each other and are being triaged into “what has to be done now” and. “what can I do after I have slept a bit”.
My cousin Nada is bringing supper tonight, and Beth a dear friend of Kathy’s from high school, who now owns a local grocery, is bringing supper on Saturday. I am preparing the church for a double funeral or for perhaps two back to back funerals.
In all this I recognize a shift in me and in church ministry. As a pastor in town I am connecting with the town to bring ministry to my cousin’s family. The family is being ministered to by the community, by the family, by friends and even friends of friends. The church is part of that not the center of it.
I was sitting with my mother yesterday watching an episode of CALL THE MIDWIFE. In the show I caught a glimpse of what I think God is doing in our church and town. He is not a God a who dwells in buildings. The richness of His love cannot be contained in even the most sacred of spaces. He is love. He is relationship. He is moving in our church as He moved through the sisters of Nannotus House in East London. We are coming to see we are His love flowing in and through the very center of our community.
What does the move of God look like in the days ahead? It is sitting beside the bedside of a dying loved one praying with them, crying with them. It looks like spaghetti and meatballs ordered from the local pizza place and delivered to a family that is too overwhelmed to cook. It is engaging people who don’t even see how close they are to God, in the work of God they long to be involved in without even knowing it. It is watching Murder She Wrote or Call the Midwife with people who have no one to watch it with them.It is love being recognized and brought to the surface of our everyday lives and showing the redemptive love of Christ in the darkest places.