I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Advent Thoughts

On Sunday we went and bought our tree. We put it up with the help of the Scott-Peirces of Medford (Hank, Rebecca and Ruth). Decorating had to wait until Monday, however...

I really love the early weeks of Advent. Things are getting busy but not so busy as to make us incapable of the occasional moment of rest and reflection. People actually take the time to check in with their friends and family. Church people and others even give some thought to the birth of Jesus before the great buying and celebrating rush begins.

While we have these early moments of waiting I, at least, am giving some thought to the call to serve. Many of us give during the holidays to the food pantries, the special collections, "Turkey Boxes" at Thanksgiving, et cetera. The trick is to take the habits we develop now and moved them into the rest of our lives while also deepening the call to address some of the questions that arise from our helping others. Why are there poor people? Why is there discrimination (both individual and institutional? What can we do about the systems that enforce this inequality? How can we create long-term, sustainable solutions to the problems of our towns and communities? Jesus was concerned with many of these issues and we should be, too.

I have been doing some work lately in the realm of Faith-Based Community Organizing. I have been particularly involved in the development of an organization here in the western suburbs of Boston called MICAH. This group and others like it are doing their best to ask the hard questions and to find answers that fit the needs of their communities and regions. There are other organizations as well. In fact, MICAH is affiliated with a consortium of these groups.

If you have any interest in MICAH (whether you are a member of Eliot Church or not) feel free to drop me a line! The call to serve isn't just about giving things (although that is important, too). It is also about advocating for positive change for the entire community. That requires sustained discussion and constructive debate, and, finally, action.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ministry Training

Boy in the Bands has a post about the concept of the Personal M.Div. It has gotten be thinking about how those of us who are in the clergy learn our profession. There are days in which I am pretty sure that I haven't learned anything! But seriously, it seems worthwhile for people, both clergy and laity, to sit down and give some thought to how we go about doing this training thing.

Here are some questions I have had for a long time:

1) Do we all need Master's Degrees? My first settlement was in two churches in northwestern Maine (you can see them here and here). Both are quite small and neither is being well served by the UUA's current structure. It is one that makes it hard for them to find long-term ministers. These are congregations that would work well with a bi-vocational minister or even a lay pastor. Both of these are hard to find and support in the current system. I know that when I was up there very few of the Methodist clergy had been ordained. Mostly they were folks who were living in the area anyway and felt the call to ministry. This didn't mean that they didn't do good work! It was quite the opposite. The UMC had set up a system to support and train them that was continuous and ongoing. They were (and are) an extremely dedicated and creative bunch.

I know that we sometimes worry about uninformed people running roughshod over the tradition, but it seems to me that we could do a better job of helping our small, rural churches deal with the costs and challenges of maintaining a good pastoral presence. They are many. Ministers (though, yes, the salaries are low when compared to many other professions) can be expensive! Also, I think that with the proper supervision, these lay pastors could end up doing a better job than the rest of us...

2) Could there be an alternative way to train? I, frankly, do not see this "Personal M.Div." as anything other than a mildly interesting and pleasant diversion by itself. I know few people who would really be self-starters enough to read all those books! There needs to be some kind of accountability in our education. Scott mentions the old way of doing things, namely an apprenticeship to a senior pastor. Now, I don't think I could wedge anthother person in the parsonage. However, maybe there is a way to train those lay-pastors by combining some course work with quite a bit more practical experience and independent reading. Done right, it could keep the ol' debt load down...

3) Why don't we do that anyway? I read the books and wrote the papers and Meadville/Lombard. It was a blast, really! I wouldn't have missed it for the world. However, there are whole trimesters of that experience that have been completely useless in my professional practice. Certainly it was good for me. One of the gifts I recieved from seminary was the ability to articulate and sustain my own faith, after all. However, my internship at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church and my first ministerial settlement were more helpful. Similarly, the books I read on my own I remember much better (and use more) than those that were assigned.

4) I thought I should briefly piggyback on something Daniel Harper wrote recently about how we trian ministers (I linked in in a recent post). How do we train our ministers to deal creatively with churches that aren't standard to our denomination? That is, UU churches that are economically, regionally, ethnically, theologically, or culturally different as well as those that are growing or (gasp) shrinking may need something different from what we are trained to do. How do we address the continuing education needs of our clergy and how do we pay for it?

Anyway, these are just some thoughts from someone who doesn't really spend as much time as one might think on issues such as this. Also, I shouldnote that I have my "UU" hat on when I write this. I am not all that familiar with the UCC system.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Catch Up

I am running around the office this week playing catch-up. There is much to do before the holiday season gets into full swing (including training our new Church Administrator)! Because of this, Ol' Unity may not be getting the attention it deserves, not, for that matter, are some other things that, through not fault of their own need to be put off... I often find that in church, the calm before the storm is less calm than the storm, itself. Bring on the Holidays!

Here are a couple of interesting weblogs that I will be adding to my permanent collection:

The first is Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, written by Dan Harper, the minister at First Parish (UU) of New Bedford, MA. I actually responded to his post "One Reason Why Liberal Religion is Dying," which is why am not writing a longer post here today.

The other is im/practical mysticism, the blog of my long-time friend and ministerial colleague, Dave Sheuneman. Dave has a very interesting ministry. Sometimes I like to check out what he is up to and get ideas...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Chretien and the Celts

I am feeling a bit nostalgic today as Jean Chretien is in the news again. Granted most Americans remember him merely as "Prime Minister Poutine," a name conjured up by This Hour has 22 Minutes for its interview with now President Bush. Of course, that was never his real name or it wouldn't have been funny (this is poutine). Now he is back...sort of.

I am feeling nostalgic because I was living in Montreal when Chretien was elected for the first time. Chretien, in case you do not know, is a member of the Liberal Party. It was neat to see anyone get called a liberal and win! I loved living in Canada and--while most of them have nothing to do with the former Prime Minister--I have a lot of good memories of my time there. After all, it is where my wife and I decided to get married and that seems to have worked out well!

Also, I watched one quarter of last night's Celtics game. I am starting slow, I must admit, but last year, during the playoffs. I wrote that it might make sense for me to give the Celts another chance. It was OK, too. However, after that first quarter I realized that I had an hour of Colbert Report waiting for me on DVR...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Are You There God?...Still Speaking?

Here is an article about the fundraising shortfall for the Advent ad-buy for the UCC’s “Stillspeaking” campaign. As I have mentioned before, Eliot Church isn’t participating in this initiative at the moment, nor is it doing the UUA’s “Uncommon Denomination.” However, that is not because these are bad ideas so much as they do not necessarily reflect the realities of our congregation. We have, instead, started to find ways in which we can do something ourselves.

We understand, of course, that what we do will be on a much smaller scale and will, in many ways, be less effective because of that. It does, however, have one big advantage for us. It makes us take the time to define ourselves. Who are we? That is the question, after all. When we start with our affiliations it is hard to tell. We are constantly saying to ourselves and others, “Well, we are kinda like X, but we are also sorta Y.” This isn’t always the most helpful course when trying to attract folks and to keep them.

So we are looking at ourselves as a unique entity. We are The Eliot Church. We aren’t hostile toward the groups that support us. In fact, we love them all! We just want to be loved in return for who we are, not what others want us to be.

Anyway, I didn’t mean (too much) to digress! Even though we aren’t participating in Stillspeaking right now, it is a worthy program and one that I believe is crucial to the future of liberal Christianity. So, if you have the will and the interest, please give

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Phoenix Affirmations

Here is something that seems to be making its way around the blogosphere. I was first made aware of them by Scott Wells over at Boy in the Bands (check my permanent links). After thinking about them for a bit, I rather like them. I post the "Summary Version" below as I think they are worth reading and I know that I don't always hit all the links when I visit someone else's page. However, this is where I got them. I am pleased to see that there is some action being taken with this, rather than merely positive thoughts. As I mentioned in my sermon post on Halloween. One thing that we human beings cannot seem to stop doing is producing "statements" (mission, political or otherwise) and then placing them in the ol' fireproof file cabinet for our successors' enjoyment...

Also, here is a description of "Cross Walk America" from UCC Seminarian and blogger Chuck Currie

So, here it is! What do you think?

I'll tell you one thing, as the minister of the Eliot Church, I am particularly pleased by #1 (both parts)...

Summary Version 3.7
The public face of Christianity in America today bears little connection to the historic faith of our ancestors. It represents even less our own faith as Christians who continue to celebrate the gifts of our Creator, revealed and embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Heartened by our experience of the transforming presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit in our world, we find ourselves in a time and place where we will be no longer silent. We hereby mark an end to our silence by making the following affirmations:
As people who are joyfully and unapologetically Christian, we pledge ourselves completely to the way of Love. We work to express our love, as Jesus teaches us, in three ways: by loving God, neighbor, and self.
(Matt 22:34-40 // Mk 12:28-31 // Lk 10:25-28; Cf. Deut 6:5; Lev. 19:18

Christian love of God includes:
1. Walking fully in the path of Jesus, without denying the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity;

2. Listening for God’s Word which comes through daily prayer and meditation, through studying the ancient testimonies which we call Scripture, and through attending to God’s present activity in the world;

3. Celebrating the God whose Spirit pervades and whose glory is reflected in all of God’s Creation, including the earth and its ecosystems, the sacred and secular, the Christian and non-Christian, the human and non-human;

4. Expressing our love in worship that is as sincere, vibrant, and artful as it is scriptural.
Christian love of neighbor includes:

5. Engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God’s very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class;

6. Standing, as Jesus does, with the outcast and oppressed, the denigrated and afflicted, seeking peace and justice with or without the support of others;

7. Preserving religious freedom and the Church’s ability to speak prophetically to government by resisting the commingling of Church and State;

8. Walking humbly with God, acknowledging our own shortcomings while honestly seeking to understand and call forth the best in others, including those who consider us their enemies;
Christian love of self includes:

9. Basing our lives on the faith that, in Christ, all things are made new, and that we, and all people, are loved beyond our wildest imagination – for eternity;

10. Claiming the sacredness of both our minds and our hearts, recognizing that faith and science, doubt and belief serve the pursuit of truth;

11. Caring for our bodies, and insisting on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship and recreation in addition to work;

12. Acting on the faith that we are born with a meaning and purpose; a vocation and ministry that serves to strengthen and extend God’s realm of love.