For more information about the event visit: here.
I'm planning on posting more after the event.
This weekend, July 29, I'll be presenting a talk at the Pioneer Valley History Camp. I'm working on a project looking at the winners and losers of the Great Awakening, here in western Mass. I've been really interested in looking at the life of Rev. William Rand, of Sunderland, who lost his job after opposing the Great Awakening and its traveling preachers.
For more information about the event visit: here.
I'm planning on posting more after the event.
Over the span of a year, I read dozens of blogs, hundreds of church related stories, and am on the look out for stories that are worth passing along. A few days ago, I combed through my email to see, what I had passed along to friends, family and colleagues in ministry. Here are the best from 2014.
The year's headline might be: being church was tough again this year.
One of my clergy buddies sent me this link in March:
I liked this comment best:
"It seems to me that one of the shifts that has happened is that the leadership within churches has become more long-term, fixed (even bylaws have been changed in churches I have served to allow for continuous terms), the pastor’s tenure has become shorter."
"In congregations with history of long pastorates, often the leadership within the church went through periods of transformation and change. New people were brought into the lead, new styles brought on, new models tried out. Now, in my experience with congregations with shorter term pastorates, the leadership has stayed the same, but the pastor is the one who changes. Sometimes this is good; sometimes this is stagnant and the problems are associated only with the pastor."
A short term pastorate is not necessarily a sign of an unhealthy congregation or pastor—sometimes, the Spirit is doing something new, and the work that was done between the congregation and pastor needs to shift or move on. And often, in places where there perhaps was an unhealthy element within the congregation that didn’t get addressed by an interim (and intentional interim ministry is a key point that I am not addressing at this time) a new pastor is able to help the congregation move forward and become healthier, and once that new health is achieved, it may be time for a new transition, a new shift.
Turns out, in April, that contrary to all the hubbub the internet is not killing churches.
"The problem is noncreative leaders who fear new ways and have concluded that new means wrong."
Back in August, I was interested in this new approach to media from the Washington Post.
My mother was nostalgic for the old.
"To Baker, much of a newspaper's appeal rests with the size of the page and how the reader can get a measure of the major events of the day simultaneously."
"It speaks of the entire day all at once," he said, "while the screen gives you only a little window of that day."
Still being a pastor was tough in 2014
Half want to quit.
Another group are lonely.
More are bothered, with church disruption becoming the norm.
Still there were some bright spots.
(Although, any time dying and church is used in the headline. It can’t be all that good.)
Although, honestly, work was hard all around.
With millions more still unemployed.
But, the future looks cool.
Or, there’s always the internet.
I'm always interested in the nation's changing demographics. I found this to be an interesting article about Millennials and individualism and how they have new markers of adulthood.
The year ended with seminaries under fire.
Andover Newton Theological School
Episcopalians facing similar woes.
Although, really who went to church to notice?
The year ended with a fascinating look at the next trend: streaming funerals.
That's my list. What made your church headlines this year? Any that I left out? Share your best of in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
This month, dear reader, I'm taking a brief break from these weekly updates to work on a new novel that's been kicking around in my brain. I'll try to post occasional updates, but suspect my writing brain will be tired from all the exercise required to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
For those unfamiliar with the practice here's a link: http://nanowrimo.org/
I heard the founders of this organization give a talk on Youtube recently, in which they said something like, creative projects so rarely have a deadline. The genius of this program is it gives people a deadline to meet, a chance to risk creating something, and a community to become a part of during the struggle. That almost sounds like what the church could be, at least if the mission, is seeking something like justice, or offering mercy, or showing love to the world.
So, dear readers, wish me luck!
And, if I might give you some homework for the month, find a deadline for something that matters to you, be it in church or your life. Give yourself both permission and a reason to take the leap and fight the good fight.
First of an occasional series of long pieces, white papers, about pressing topics of ministerial concern.
From a ministerial perspective, the problem, on the ground, often comes as one of discernment. My proposal is to tailor traditional Christian spiritual discernment practices to help better inform decision making processes around this issue.
This white paper is designed for the people of the upper Pioneer Valley, principally those who live, work, or visit the communities of Greenfield, Montague and their surrounding communities. The paper is written for the general public, who might be interested in issues surrounding homelessness and poverty.
This paper is not just designed for experts in the field, who are already well versed in the problem facing the Valley. However, my perspective as a minister in the community, might offer some further light for a well-informed reader.
For many, the Pioneer Valley has been a home for generations. It is a place, which while the poorest in the state, has often felt like a refuge from the more urban problems associated with the Eastern half of the state. However, increasingly, the state’s homeless service providers are looking to place people from “away” into the Valley’s motels.
I don’t expect this trend to change, however, I do expect more local nonprofit agencies will become involved in caring for this population. Partnership is at the heart of the community response to homelessness, and, rightly will play an increasing role in helping these people.
This paper takes the issue of homelessness to be a “wicked problem,” one which no one group, agency, program, or individual can fully grasp. The problem of homelessness is simply too complex to be considered by anything smaller than an entire community or small region.
Currently, several state agencies and nonprofit groups are doing good work in this area, but are often limited to the various institutional silos they maintain. Partnerships and referrals between agencies happen, but not with enough scale.
Consider this, from an Oregon based study on leadership and runaway and homeless youth. The study is useful reading when considering this problem. The author’s point is that “every interaction is an opportunity for leadership.”
I use this study as example, because it studied a more rural area similar to the Pioneer Valley.
From a ministerial perspective, I have been trained to view each person as a whole person, not as a collective of symptoms, diagnosis, and associated problems. On paper, many of the area agencies have a similar stance, but often, in practice, the work on the ground is one of finding and meeting the presenting needs. I believe, long term, this does an injustice to the various people involved as it fails to adequately consider the whole person.
The working assumption seems to be similar to the Oregon perspective, which suggests “public policy problems cannot be definitely described in a pluralistic society… [since] there is no such thing as the indisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity.”
My suggestion is to make use of the various discernment processes that have supported people of faith for millennia. I believe these techniques, which are largely based on listening and creating space for change would work well in helping people make better decisions. I have often sat through client meetings, discussions, and lectures, which fail to make adequate room for discernment to take place.
My suggestion is a simple one, but one that requires the traditional boundaries in the helping processions to be crossed. I believe that something as simple as a listening circle, or a silence interspersed in discussion, or better discussion framing could make a huge impact on a host of outcomes.
Consider this adopting this simple technique:
Discernment Listening Guidelines
1. Take time to settle in.
2. Listen to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition, imagination, and rational faculties.)
3. Do not interrupt.
4. Pause between speakers to absorb what has been said.
5. Do not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.
6. Speak for yourself only, expressing your own thoughts and feelings, referring to your own experiences. Avoid being hypothetical. Steer away from broad generalizations.
7. Do not challenge what others say.
8. Listen to the group as a whole – to those who have not spoken aloud as well as to those who have.
9. Generally, leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before speaking a second time yourself.
10. Hold your desires and opinions – even your convictions – lightly.
The specifics of the technique matter less than the notion of listening first and problem solving second. Too often, behind the scenes at least, the particular client/participant/individual is seen as a problem to be solved and less as the whole person God created them to be.
Aristotle thought that everything we do aims at some good, or some goal. The choices each of us make help to define the identities we shape, the legacies we leave behind, and the shape of the world we collectively share. The reality is people are often not as good at determining those goals, especially when under the stress of something like homelessness.
Sadly, our society’s collective answer has been to leave these issues to be addressed by those in the helping professions. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is increasingly true, as one author notes, “the revolution will not be funded.”
Nonprofit mission and vision statements are filled with whole person language, but the reality, from my perspective, is the particulars become the problems to be solved.
If we are honest, this is how each of us, as citizens of the world, also faces the issue.
Do we put money in the cup on the streets of Northampton? Do we ignore the crowds in Greenfield’s public places? Do we see the collective Lazarus on our doorstep?
This is where a faith perspective, and a more intentional discernment process, could be helpful. There is nothing mystical in my method here, just an earnest desire, for each person to see in a new way.
Thanks for reading, Pastor Jeremiah
What are your thoughts? How do we tackle this collective ‘wicked problem’?
Here it is: the pivot we are all facing.
As Church, we are in a place where the magic words have failed. The plans we made don’t match the geography we are living in. And, the hopes we had, where we placed our faith, might not be the plans God has for us.
Makes no difference what denomination, creed, or congregation you belong to.
This is the pivot.
Looking back over these little pivots, these points when my life changed, I tried to impose some order. I wanted to find a great story that encapsulates them. Some great Biblical truth, or truism, or some great slogan that will tie my life up into a neat little bow.
I don’t really have one.
The best I can do is offer what I did in a previous post: Notice. Love. And Let Go.
When we talk about spiritual transformation, when I do at least, it is this process that I am mostly referring to.
So, what is the Good News?
The Good News is these pivots are never really what we think they are. We know what they feel like. We worry about what they mean. We try to approach them the best we can.
And We Let Go.
Honestly, openly, humbly and faithfully.
Because, friends, the world is watching.
The church has never been more exposed to the world than it is right now.
Every wart, bit of tarnish, and blemish will be drawn out for the world to see.
And, the world will sneer. Is this the best your God can do? Fallen. Sinful. Broken people. Living lives worthy of scorn?
And, we will answer: yes.
And, God will answer, yes, and Not Only That, I will still send my only son.
Because, whenever we feel alone, broken, and battered, and the darkness is closing in…
The Good News, friends, is that Jesus is right there beside us, crying with us, loving us, and urging us on.
And, that friends, is what we offer.
Not gold or silver. Large crowds. Or, the latest and greatest.
This humble savior is all we have ever had, and we only keep him, by giving him away.
Looking back over your own faith, what sorts of pivots stand out to you? Leave a comment. Share a story. Touch a life. And, thanks for reading, Pastor J.
A friend in ministry, once asked me of a congregation I was serving, “have you ever really told them your story?”
And, I have come to think, I think so, but then, I’ve made that mistake before. I always assume that my life and its story is sort of an open book, which most of the people I know can just pick up and know. I think this might be the age in which I have grown up in, filled with instant access, shocking public exposure, and places, like Facebook, which tell you far too much about just anybody.
Since, we’re in stewardship season now; it seems fitting to offer some of how I have lived these years God has given me. If only, because, I think, if I were you, I might like to know a little more about this guy who came last September.
I suspect, I hope, I figure, most of you will know some of this, but, frankly, I honestly suspect you don’t really know. And, for my new readers, I apologize in advance; I’m not usually this self-focused or self talky.
Into all this expectation: here goes.
I’m a Connecticut Yankee, a grandson, of two old Connecticut dairy farmers. I lived down the road, less than a mile, from my Grandfather Rood, Gampy, as we called him. (No idea)
Our family plowed, hayed, and tended that little plot of land for generations.
Same story on my mother’s side, only, in Washington, CT.
Some farming connection brought my parents together.
I attended a local regional school. Went to UConn.
Moved to New Hampshire after school. Became a reporter. Went to seminary. Searched.
And, moved to the Pioneer Valley.
Ordained in the church I grew up in; where I was baptized; and I suspect where they will hold my funeral.
So, that’s my basic biography.
I suspect you could draw a circle around all the places I’ve ever lived and it wouldn’t be very big. Maybe a few hundred miles?
Not much of interest there, beyond the fun of geography and dates, maybe the “did you know, so and so…”
Not much new there either. I suspect all of you know this sort of information.
I think what interests me, at least at this moment, are the pivots.
The places where things change. Where I was something, or lived somewhere or did something; and then things changed.
To make this a little more Biblical: Mark tells us the Rich Man had been living one way, had an encounter with Jesus, and decided to go back to living the way he did before. Jesus gave him that out: sell your stuff, give it away, and follow me.
And, the guy couldn’t.
These little pivots, big and little, are what make life interesting, right?
Looking back over your own life, what sorts of pivots stand out to you? Leave a comment. Share a story. Touch a life. And, thanks for reading, Pastor J.
Hi there. Rev. Jeremiah here.
So another Pastor Jeremiah fast fact is I’m a sucker for any new sort personality test; the latest being the one offered from Strengthsfinder.com. (You do need to buy the book, get a secret code and log in before taking the 35 minute test.)
I would recommend it to folks and to congregations looking for something positive to build upon. All too often in church land, we tend to focus on what’s missing and not what’s possible. This book would force a governing body, a small group, or a clergy gathering to focus more on the strengths present in the people in the room.
To give you a taste, here are my own top five: futuristic, input, strategic, includer, and learner. I know it sounds like a salad made of the latest business buzzwords, but I found it to be an affirming test and worth your time.
The beauty of this time is it has never been easier to connect the various strengths and needs, or to put it in Paul’s language, for the foot to find the ankle and the leg.
Here’s a link: www.strengthsfinder.com
Let me know what you think? Tried it? Liked it? Hated it?
Sitting here on Labor Day: I realize that I have never been able to see the parking lot across from me empty before. It’s usually overflowing with cars looking for takeout from Mesa Verde.
It’s Labor Day in the Pioneer Valley and I’m stuck working.
There is something calming about how the blue of the sky hugs the orange siding and the exposed brick of the building next door.
Downtown Greenfield, MA is a fascinating place, but when it’s basically empty of people. It is possible to see both the beauty and the need more clearly. Beauty in the old buildings. Scratch the need bit. Add, more beauty.
People being people despite the heat of the day. Riding bikes. Running. Walking slowly. Or, merely, there in the aching absence a public square feels without people to fill it.
This afternoon I’ve been reading a book about bringing the arts into spiritual direction. The author describes how there are really two approaches to living the spiritual life: kataphatic and apophatic; or receptive and expressive.
Sitting here, watching the day slowly turn from hot afternoon to more shadows and threat of thunder storm, I am struck by the idea that places some time also need the empty spaces to come into their own. Perhaps, this is another way of understanding place, by looking deeper at what a particular space is waiting for?
Speaking about my home in the Pioneer Valley, I’m thinking this place is waiting for something to happen. The region’s older mill and industrial towns especially almost seem to want to let out their breath and let something go. I see this in the struggle the older generation clings to itself. I feel it in how relations, well known family groups, and friends have a tendency to burrow into themselves. The implied fear being: the next breath might send them spinning away.
Call it the fear of the emptying spirit.
There is another story happening in this little valley, which I am only lately coming to understand. There is a stream of people that come down from places like North Adams, slips into Greenfield, flows down to Holyoke, and settles in Springfield. This is the stream of the poor looking for opportunities, jobs, and better housing, a stream that all too often gets trapped in places this older generation wishes not to see.
My eyes have seen the glory of God and I am ever watchful for God’s new song. I hear the echo of God’s work in this river flowing down.
I suspect, can’t know for sure, that this great flow of people is part of a much larger pattern that could be discerned for the people and places all across the nation. We are a people once again on the move: seeking new jobs, new families, and new hope. Few now are those that live and die in the place where they were born.
This emptying spirit has made many of us pilgrims again.
I have a hope and prayer that, years hence, we will be thankful for the space this gives.