Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A song will outlive all sermons in the memory

"A song will outlive all sermons in the memory." Henry Giles

This quote came from Terry Hershey, who used this quote from Giles as a reminder for his clergy friends who are crafting meaningful worship for this week. Hershey is an author and speaker on matters of faith.

The view from the pew is likely a different one than the view from the pulpit for the Christmas Eve homily. For my clergy friends preparing worship, this is one of the big ones of the year. What to say to those twice a year attendees that will make them want to come more often? The sanctuary is usually blessed with many, many more in the pews than on a Sunday in July. This service demands extra attention because it carries a lot of weight in the course of the year. 

I would echo Terry's advice to all my clergy friends planning a moving and heartfelt worship for Christmas Eve. Leave room for the Spirit to move. As wonderful as your words are, as gifted you are with the ability to preach and share the good news, recognize that the presence the person in the pew is seeking comes during the reading of the beloved story, the time-honored carols, the memories that rise from beneath the surface. Its the moment when we all sing "Silent Night" by candlelight at the end that brings the emotions, the hopes and fears, and ghosts of Christmases past. The glow of that light in the face of our growing children, our aging parents, ourselves. On Christmas Eve, most especially, this is the night when the words that are sung are the ones we take into our hearts most readily. 

May the peace of Christ be with you and may you always dare to choose love. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sticking with my view from the pew


No, thank you. 

Actually, no, I'm really not. But thank you anyway.

These are my new responses to the question, "Laura! When are you going to seminary?"

Honestly, I have wrestled, analyzed, discerned, prayed, and tried every which way to make myself fit into a box that really and truly looked like it had my name on it. 

Do you have any idea how liberating it is to recognize that it really is NOT a call? Others might be horribly disappointed. I'm not. Really. It hasn't happened yet because it really isn't going to. And that feels very good.

Yes, I can read well from the lectern. I like to write and I'm not bad at leading worship. I enjoy doing it. I LOVE church and I am the biggest non-clergy UCC polity nerd you will ever find. Dare ya. 

This doesn't mean I won't continue working on my Center/Learn studies but do I need to be licensed? I dunno...maybe.  

God knows. And that's enough. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Chance to Be Yourself

When you first see the youth gathered for last week's regional youth event, they look like a typical group of midwestern high school students. All shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds, abilities, interests, and personalities. Dancers, musicians, theatre students, trekkies, athletes, teens who are popular in their school and those who are not, all came together to participate in a church youth event with other teens from Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. 

Here's the thing:  Everyone fit in here. Ask any of the youth and they will tell you how easy it is to make friends at these events. "People don't judge me here like they do at school." It is a safe place for teens to be themselves. At their age, this is huge. Someone likes me for who I really am, that person I don't share with the rest of the world unless I feel very safe. 

In addition, youth and adults attend workshops on what youth can do to prevent HIV, what it means to be a progressive Christian, how to be a straight ally, wondering if God tweets, and many others. They learned about immigration issues and environmental justice. And at the end of a particularly intense day, they did what more adults should do. They hit the slip n' slide, play volleyball, throw water balloons, and have duels with inflatable swords for hours with kindergarten rules. 

Nicole Havelka and I laughed that in the midst of all the heavy topics of discussion, probably no other topic had as much discussion as who calls it "pop" and who calls it "soda." 

These can be mountain top experiences for many of these youth and the return to reality can be difficult. Making friends is very easy at events like these and saying goodbye to return to what may or not be a positive situation at home can be difficult. But keeping in touch with new friends is very easy these days. All the way home, the youth in my car slept and texted those friends. 

Experiences like these are intense in many ways, spiritually, intellectually, and sometimes physically. Every person I had a chance to visit with was amazing. My dear friend Elizabeth Dilley is very good about stating that the youth of the church are not just the future of the church, they are the present. I reminded them that they are not leaders at some other time, but they are leaders now and they are needed and wanted. My hope is that our churches will see it that way, too, and be open to the ways in which the spirit moves them. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

He's just one of 'The Boys'

When I was growing up, my dad's brother and his family lived a block away. They had three boys. The oldest boy, Steve, was two years older than me, then Mark, then me, and then Chris. When we were kids, they were the closest thing I had to brothers. We were together a lot when we were growing up.

Over the years, we moved on and moved away to college and marriage and children of our own. We only seemed to see each other at funerals. 

Within the last month, we've spent some time at happy family occasions. Their parents had their 50th wedding anniversary and Steve's oldest son got married. It has been wonderful reconnecting with them, getting to know their nearly adult children and watching the next generation get to know each other. 

I've included a link to an article about my cousin Mark and the ministry he founded in Des Moines. Mark is a man of deep faith who is living that out everyday. Congratulations to Mark and all the staff and volunteers who make Freedom for Youth so important for so many. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Are We There Yet?

I've shared before that Lent is not my favorite season of the church year, but it's working this year. The liturgy of the season is helping focus my mind on the things I need to sort through, edit out, strip down so that I can make room for the good stuff.

We're about halfway into Lent and I'm enjoying the weekly community Lenten services and LUNCH. Like having lunch at Grandma's once a week - church ladies' lunch. Enough said about that. Angel food cake, come on, where else do you get that except a church basement or at Grandma's?

Right now, Lent feels like my neighborhood looks. There's mostly just the bigger piles of snow left and it's warmer, but the sun hasn't really shone in days. It's really very gray out there. The things that have been buried under the snow since December have been unearthed. It's thawed out enough that I can get my Christmas lights out of the shrubs now. The neighbor's blow up Christmas tree. A downspout in the middle of someone's yard. All the things that were covered by two feet of snow for months are now exposed. It's a mess, really.

I'm kind of at that place in my Lenten journey. I've uncovered a lot, and there's still more to go. There's hopeful signs that Easter will come, like the spots of green in the grass and seeing tiny yellow-green daffodils pushing through the mud at Sally's house. But it is muddy, damp, and not very pretty right now.

I'm ready to move on to the next leg of the Lenten journey and this Sunday, that means planting seeds with the children at church. Planting seeds is a way of planting hope. There's no guarantee they will sprout but we certainly hope they will. It's time to start thinking towards the hope of new life on the journey. What are the seeds God is planting in you?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


My experience with walking a labyrinth has been positive. They have all been of the Chartres Cathedral design, circular and large. They've mostly been portable, with the design painted onto canvas and stretched out in a large room. I used to work close to a church that had one painted on their patio which made for a great lunchtime escape.

I had the opportunity to step on one recently at the college student wellness fair in our community. The room that included the labyrinth is a wonderful space, modern design, warm with rich wood, beautiful lighting, and the music fit the walk beautifully.

I started the walk with three other young men. They just wanted to be done and were almost hurrying through the curves of the labyrinth. They did not like meeting each other or their paths coming too close to each other. They were clearly uncomfortable with the process and one actually asked another about a short cut...I said there was a shortcut, he could simply step off the mat. But he kept going without waivering from his path.

There were a few new students who joined the labyrinth as I spent time in the center. Meeting each other, passing each other's path, all parts of walking our journey on the labyrinth. By the time I finished, there were nearly ten others walking the labyrinth - more than I have ever experienced on the labyrinth at one time. A young woman walking backwards. Two others in the center in silence. Others dancing in and out of each other's paths. The energy was amazing. I walked out of the labyrinth energized and tingling from the experience. The students were much younger than I. In fact, I am very aware of the fact that I am old enough to be a mother to a college student. I clearly soaked up their warmth and energy that affected me for a couple of days.

Wrestling with the journey in the beginning, finding some peace in the center, a new awareness of the turns and twists brings me to the end of the journey with an energy and often feeling lighter than I did when I stepped into the labyrinth...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Broken and Whole, All are Welcome

I don't normally get a lot of time in worship on Sunday mornings. It all depends on where the children's message is in the order of things. Today, it was really a good 30 minutes or so into the service, which doesn't often happen.

As I sat there, I got to thinking about today's view from the pew. What I saw made me feel very good. Families, wonderful and unique. Single parents and their children. Two moms and their children, sitting with their chosen family. Children interspersed, quietly engaged in activity, all sharing snacks. Everyone feeling comfortable.

Directly in front of me were a father and son I enjoy sitting near. The father is older, and his twenty-something son has special needs and limited communication skills. The son loves music and enjoys being in worship. He takes his father's hand and brings it to his head, wanting his father to stroke his short hair. The father lovingly does so. A few moments go by and the son puts his hand to his father's head and returns the gesture and says, "Dad." I felt the lump rise in my throat and the tears to my eyes.

When they sit in front of me, I am an intimate witness to the father singing hymns to his son, holding his hand during prayer, or serving him Communion.

Coming to worship, being accepted for who we are with all that makes us unique Children of God is comforting and peaceful for me. Today's view from the pew was all that.