I took a little trip with my mom and a friend recently. I was taking them for a visit they had arranged which didn’t quite turn out the way we had planned it. The visit didn’t happen. A sick day for the host. But what emerged was extraordinary. A trip up another mountain and down memory lane. A visit to old homes and haunts for my mom that I had heard about, but never seen. A homestead now flooded, not just with memories, but with the water of Riffe Lake. Locations and images to tether stories I’d long heard that existed only in the ether of my imagination. It was a truly rich, and unexpected day I will treasure.
It got me thinking that this is the way of this journey of ours anyway. Despite our plans—good ones, flawed ones (usually a bit of both)—the Spirit of life comes to us where we least expect it and summons us (thank you John Bell, GTG 726) to destinations we “don’t know” finding we will “never be the same.” Abram becomes Abraham, and Sarai, Sarah, the parents of a sky-full of promise because they sat out on a journey with no assurances, no visible end. Let’s face it, in wilderness and in promised territory alike, Israel wanders. In Luke, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, but then travels this circuitous journey that is anything but a straight line geographically, or existentially, most surprising of all through death to new life. I don’t know if we’ll ever get comfortable with this one.
Seed scattered and sown…emphasis on scattered.
I hadn’t caught before the odds in that familiar parable of the Sower—one that each of the synoptic gospels thought important enough to include in their narratives (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). Here’s a section from Matthew’s version:
A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
Seed sown on (1) the path, on (2) rocky ground, (3) among thorns, and (sigh of relief) on (4) good soil. One of the four produced a return. That’s a twenty-five percent success rate. If you’re big league, a .250 batting average might be good enough, depending on other production metrics at the plate and in the field, to keep you from being sent down to the minors. But we expect a little more when it comes to things of the Spirit, don’t we? I’ll admit I do; the insight and the odds caught me unsuspecting.
I decided to look a little further. Surely this wouldn’t be tolerated when money is at stake. So I searched on google: “what percentage of startups fail.”
The featured result:
I think it is fair to say that if you are reading this you have in one way or another supported this long Doctor of Ministry process I’ve been engaged in since Fall 2009. You’ve provided financial support; you’ve asked questions and demonstrated your curiosity; you’ve been gracious and even picked up the slack when my time has been divided and stretched; you’ve sent me on a sabbatical to read and reflect; you’ve provided specific support based on specific expertise; you’ve preached and taught and encouraged and connected with others in my place; you’ve encouraged me and challenged me and given me much to think about. Assuming a successful defense of my project, I will still have three more classes, spread out over the next academic year before graduation in 2017.
This Wednesday, March 2nd, I’ll present my doctoral project, and I’d love for you to join me! The title is a long one: “Ordination: A Delphi Study Examining Understandings of Pastoral Ministry in the Seattle Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, USA.” I’ll take about 45 minutes at the beginning to present the project with another 15 minutes or so of questions, followed by a break during which I’ll meet privately with my project committee. If all goes well, we’ll know soon after if I’ve passed that portion. We should be done by 3:00 pm or soon after.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 1:30-3:00 pm.
Hunthausen 100 on the Seattle University Campus
Off street parking is often available in the parking lot off 12th avenue and E Marion Street, although it can sometimes fill up. The cost for parking would be about $10, or a little less for on-street parking nearby (2 hour max). Carpooling is encouraged!
If you can’t make it, don’t worry. If there is enough interest, I suspect I’ll present the project again at St. Andrew. I'd love to share it with you.
Grace & Peace,
It’s one of my eternal moments. Perhaps you have them too, those memories that live through the years. October 1987. I’m in Old Testament Survey in a second floor classroom of Peterson Hall facing SPU’s Tiffany Loop. The late Steve Hayner, then a VP at SPU and pastor at University Presbyterian Church (later of Intervarsity and Columbia Seminary) is unpacking the narrative of God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:
[God] said to [Abram], “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other…”
If you knew Steve, you are familiar with the ever-present, deeply dimpled smile that was a constant feature. And he is wearing this smile as he acts out the grisly narrative in the front of the classroom: “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. Steve, his arm around an imaginary companion, walks through the imaginary pathway created by the imagined severed sacrifices, one half of each unfortunate creature on one side, the other halves on the other. Steve explains this was a customary way in which two parties in the Ancient Near East made a contract—sealing their agreement by walking together through the path of sacrifices, arms draped over the other’s shoulder, eyes locked, close enough they can smell the breath of the other, that dazzling Steve Hayner smile (I imagine) directed at the counterpart to the agreement, the implicit message: “You see these animals? So shall it be with you if you break our agreement.”
And then Steve drops the conceptual bomb that lives with me still:
In recent years we’ve gone multi-media. By that I mean that at our annual congregational meeting we’ve turned to pictures to remember much of our story understanding that the gospel is told in life better than on paper. What we see with our eyes (and this year, heard with our ears too—thanks for the live music, Eric Weber!), do much more to evoke who and what we are becoming.
I suppose that has something to do with a needed adjustment after so many centuries of being so word oriented as a people of “the Book.” We are learning once again that the Word is incarnate—alive, dynamic, embodied in a way that so many words (so many words!) don’t do justice. So, if you haven’t seen it, or perhaps just to see again, I hope you’ll take a little time to view the slide shows we’ve put together over the past five years to remember some pretty astonishing “actors” and evocations of even more astonishing acts of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and many more virtues of a “Spirited” community walking the way of Jesus: http://www.standrewpc.org/media.html.
As I remember it, back in the spring of 2007, Lisa Phillips was the one who first mentioned Maggie as a candidate for the newly created youth director position at St. Andrew. The idea seemed like a fine one to me. The interview team agreed. She had already been engaged in a growing leadership role. She had ben a Deacon. With young kids, she was already attuned to their world, questions, and needs.
As they say, one thing led to another. Most of you have walked this story with Maggie and with St. Andrew as she has walked alongside our kids and invited us to do the same, as she had integrated them deeply into our life together, as she has taken on not only a greater leadership role in our midst, but in the larger Renton community in our service to others. You’ve supported her as she discerned a growing call to ministry and headed to seminary. You’ve celebrated with her as she was named a Renton Citizen of the Year. You’ve prayed for her as she traveled to South Korea with the World Council of Churches.
June 27, 2013
What a gift you have given in this upcoming sabbatical! First of all, let me say thank you. Thanks to all of you for the endless ways that you have supported this opportunity for study, rest, and renewal for me, and for clarity of mission and strength for the future for the St. Andrew community. As you know, I’ll be away on sabbatical Monday, July 8th through Sunday, October 6th. I’ll use this time in a few interrelated ways. Near the beginning, we are taking the opportunity to travel in Europe. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our family as Claire makes her transition to college, and Peter to high school (Barb and I also celebrate our 25th anniversary in September!). The travel will support my research by getting me to the birthplace of Reformed theology in Scotland and Switzerland. The remainder of my sabbatical will be spent reading and writing in fulfillment of the Doctor of Ministry degree through San Francisco Theological Seminary, which I began in 2009.
I can imagine many of you have questions. When Session first discussed the possibility of a sabbatical in 2010, we produced a policy that includes a wonderful rationale that gets to its purpose. (You can find the full document on “Sabbatical Policy” – along with all our other policies and procedures – on the St. Andrew website in the “File Cabinet”. You can also find a link to the document here (– call the church office if you don’t have the password yet.). It reads in part like this:
Sabbatical Leave for pastors is a planned time of intensive enhancement for ministry and mission. Sabbatical Leave follows precedents in the academic community and among a growing number of private sector groups. This “extended time” is qualitatively different from “vacation’ or “days off.” It is an opportunity for the individual to strategically disengage from regular and normal tasks so that ministry and mission may be viewed from a new perspective because of a planned time of focus.
Sabbatical Leave is an extension of the Biblical concept of a Sabbath day and a Sabbath year for renewal. It is both an act of faith that God will sustain us through a period of reflection and changed activity and an occasion for recovery and renewal of vital energies.
I love what I get to do with you, but there is no doubt that the work, by its nature, tends to be all-consuming. One of the great gifts of a sabbatical is the ability to rest for a time from the constant reflection and discernment involved in the ongoing, daily work of ministry. While Maggie and Julie Kae remain with you in a pastoral capacity for the three months I’m gone, I will be able to give myself more fully to the work of the dissertation/project. I do not expect to have it completed by the time I return in October, but I hope to have made some significant progress.
In order to successfully give myself to this work, it is necessary for me to “disengage from regular and normal tasks.” That means that although you may see Barb and the kids—as much as it is a loss for me!—you will not see me at church during this time period. That’s where Julie Kae and Maggie come in. They will work with Session and the Deacons. They will guide the work from day-to-day, along with Rosemary and the rest of the staff and leadership.
Now, you may see me around town. If you do, let me ask you a big favor. Please say “hi.” Please feel free to tell me how you are and what’s new. But as much as you may want to talk with me about particularities of the church’s mission and ministry, do your best to resist. The problem is I care a great deal about these things, and once I get thinking about them, it takes away energy from my more specific sabbatical work. Helping me to “disengage” from these day-to-day issues serves the larger goal of the sabbatical. Maggie & Julie Kae will be responsible for keeping me apprised of anything I may need to know.
We are fortunate in having in Julie Kae and Maggie, profoundly gifted ministers who will continue to be your pastoral presence in my absence. As I think you know, Maggie, Julie Kae and I work as a pastoral team in all we do. Even though I am absent, you have two-thirds of that team that remains, fully capable to continue to serve and guide St. Andrew’s worship and work and to be present with you individually. You have heard about the additional fundraising for my sabbatical. That money will be divided equally between Maggie and Julie Kae to pay them each for roughly 12 additional hours per week while I’m gone. In my absence, they will oversee the most essential aspects of my work with you: worship, preaching, pastoral care, spiritual life, leadership, administration, and the Session and Deacons. Let me encourage you to contact them with any pastoral concerns you have, just as you would me. They are both equally available to you.
Finally I want to give thanks to your leadership, and particularly that of the Session. Much of the credit for our process goes to your Session who has crafted a sabbatical design and a manageable and creative funding structure to allow it to happen for a church such as ours with limited resources. And our ability to see it through has much to do with all of you and your roles individually and together in creating a community of generosity, self-giving, truth and love.
See you soon!
Grace & Peace,
At its last meeting the Session approved the creation of a youth minister auto expense fund. It came about at our realization that in the course of her work Maggie was putting many miles on her car transporting our youth without reimbursement for gas or vehicle wear and tear. As a Session, we decided it was an oversight on our part not to have a reimbursable account in place, so the decision was made to correct that with a temporary fix for the remainder of the budget cycle which ends in June 2012. The personnel committee intends to recommend a budgeted amount in our next budget cycle for travel, much like you have approved as a congregation in my own salary package. But we'd like to start sooner than that... which is where you may come in.
I love the idea of church! I love this sense that we are gathered on a Sunday morning (and other days) not because we are all alike (although, to our detriment, we too often are!) not because we have responsibilities to fulfill (although, admittedly, that is sometimes the reason we show up), not because we have simply developed a habit (although that can actually be a help when we need to show up but don't feel like it), but because we are hungry and thirsty for a deeper and more durable truth and a more sustainable life in the world. And at its best, the Church has something deeply important to offer here.
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