Category Archives: Next Steps

Ritual, Respect, and the Light of “Instead”

After a hearty recommendation from a friend, I recently purchased a book: “To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration”. The author discusses the importance of ritual in our family and worship lives through following the liturgical year, giving ideas for families to enter in without engaging in superficial piety. Due to the length of the title, my friend calls the book by the author’s first name: Gertrud. I think Gertrud would be okay with that.

So Gertrud arrived at my house, and I skimmed ahead to the section on Holy Week and Easter to get a sense if there was anything I might incorporate into our upcoming celebration. Gertrud is very holistic in her life, because instead of simply listing off craft projects and foods that could be enjoyed, she talks about an event and weaves in psychological, community, and personal implications.

Gertrud starts off talking about the procession of Palm Sunday with ideas of making bread dough chicks, gathering branches, displaying banners, and then so slyly delves into a discussion on feeling and passion in the corporate gathering. “The powerful liturgy of these holy days must tap also our deepest and most human place, the feelings of the human heart.” (157)  I remember loving to tear through the sanctuary as a kid: to be as loud as I wanted to be, especially without any adults to tell me to “quiet down, now” (as I do to my kids in the social hall – sigh). Part of that was the rambunctiousness that comes with being a kid, but I also think it’s something more.

Then Gertrud hit me, lovingly:

Indeed, in many cases it takes some educating and coaxing of priests and leaders of public worship not to stand at such a distance from the passions of what makes us human. That education and leadership, in turn, directed to the community assembled, can release a richness and a power, which can only be called a religious experience. Yes, we risk putting ourselves out. But to hold back or deny out of fear is to deny people a form to contain their human expression; it is to rob people of a religious life. (157)

Pow.

In one of his talks Graham Cooke talked about the relationship between worship leaders and the “rest” of the gathering. He said something to the effect that we’re called not to judge how worship is going or meeting our needs, but rather to intercede for the worship leaders that they may create an atmosphere of deeper breakthrough of the Holy Spirit.

My natural inclination is to sit back and point out things that I perceive are wrong or lacking, and then feel justified in disengaging. What if that negative revelation has a place, but rather calling for deeper engagement? What if that message is for me so I know how better to intercede for our worship facilitators? What would it look like to lift up rather than tear down? And what if lifted up, the facilitators can better “release a richness and a power, which can only be called a religious experience”?

One of my dearest friends facilitates worship both on Sunday morning and at our bible study on Thursdays. This past Thursday the songs she chose reflected the themes and fingerprints of God that we’ve talked about lately at our Tuesday night “crafty” gatherings. I don’t know that she did it intentionally or subconsciously, but I did grin as each song was displayed on the projector. I pray for her, respect that she’s been gifted for this task, believe she is equipped, want to acknowledge her blessings and intercede in her places of lack. I see richness and power released into our Thursday morning experience: hosanna!

I’ve been convinced I don’t carry the same posture on Sunday mornings, and this post is an attempt at repentance.

I am sorry for the times I have judged or been critical – that was not, nor ever will be, my place.

I believe God is the God of “insteads”:  Isaiah proclaims God wants to give beauty instead of ashes, abundance instead of deprivation. Instead of judging, I want to respect and honor those who have been chosen to facilitate our worship times. Instead of having a spirit of introspection, I want to have a spirit of communal adoration. I want to honor my leaders’ giftings, respect their leadings, and “coax” them into a deeper engagement and passion through a pouring out of prayer. I want to see us in the light of “instead”.

Then perhaps I, and we, will enter in more deeply to what God is already doing:

“11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 58

All glory laud and honor, to you Redeemer King! Hosanna, hosanna to the Son of David!

Spring Up, Oh Well (splish splash)

“Drench my soul with your living water.”

I attended a conference two weekends ago.  A friend caught me on Facebook in the early morning hours:  she had been praying and interceding, I had been syncing podcasts before making a slew of cheese eggs (because boy howdy, my kids can eat cheese eggs).  She told me about this conference:  The Sound of Heaven.  I knew about it but thought I was going to be out of town at my folks.  I mentioned it to my mama casually and quickly received an email from my dad saying he’d love to go with me, my mama would watch the kids, and Jason could do whatever he’d like:  win for all!

I was scared to go, honestly.  It’s a worship gathering that seems to shine Truth and Love, with a strong abiding in the prophetic, and I was a little scared that I might get scorched … or that I might not.  As we drove to the evening conference, a double rainbow blazed overhead.  No, it didn’t end on the building, but it was the most vivid rainbow I’ve seen in a long time.  Perhaps it’s brilliance was amplified in comparison to the dull grayness I’ve existed in for the past many months.

I remembered the flannel-graph story of Noah that I learned as a child and sensed a voice reminding me:  “The rainbow is a promise:  I promised never to destroy the Earth again.  And I promise not to destroy you.”  I realized I had a fear that God was going to wipe me out:  a lie.  This moment would be the first of the tears that flowed all weekend, and into the next week, and that are still present when I abide in certain moments.

During one worship session the speaker talked about God raining down and wells springing up.  Having grown up in the church, I figured I’d have a mental image of rain falling from the roof of my meeting for worship flowing out into the streets.  Instead, typical of God, it was the complete opposite.  I saw wells springing up in my neighborhood park, flooding the houses, kids playing, adults being drawn out of their closed homes to see what was going on.  I saw wells springing up in neighborhoods all over Newberg.

And I saw in particular geysers in the neighborhoods around Newberg Friends, gushing, flowing over into the streets, parks, parking lots, and into the church building.  Beginning in the social hall/kids Sunday School rooms the water rushed in, flowing upwards to the sanctuary, up past the balcony, blasting off the roof, shooting powerfully into the air and raining back down on the flooded streets.

My hope is kindled.

My family attended a worship gathering on Sunday night.  The theme of the night centered around dreaming about the future for this gathering.  One person commented that he dreamed about the gathering looking more like the people in the neighborhood:  that our physical neighbors would be drawn to participate.  I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my image because we don’t normally worship with this group:  it felt intrusive.

This picture feels like it was meant for the larger Gathering.  So I share it here (if anyone is reading this little blog still). 🙂

I’m not sure what it means:  I don’t need to know.  I get to abide, watch God work, and participate where He calls.  I want to spread the call of Love and Hope and Joy that God blesses us to live in.  Outside of the box.  Magnified in community.  Showering down love.

“Come like a flood and saturate me now:  You’re all I want.”

Next Steps: Stepping into Fast

So, I last left you with the question of what it would be like for a faith community to sabbath for a year:

  • What would that look like?
  • What could be revealed during that time?
  • Where could God take a group who was willing to lay it all out on the table, let God gets His mits all over everything, and wait to receive?
  • Do we really believe that all we do as a church is God’s and for God? Or is it for us and of our own power?

During December I read the book of Isaiah. While everyone else seems to be immersed in Luke, I felt called to look at the “primary resources” behind our Advent readings and meditations. Each day I would read a chapter, trying to figure out what life in Israel and the world at that time really looked like, hoping that would give me insight into how Isaiah’s words might have impacted the Israelites in their day-to-day living. Over my bowl of Bob’s Red Mills high fiber hot cereal with almonds, flaxseed, cinnamon, and blueberries, I’d read and ponder and move on with my day.

Until one day: the day I hit Isaiah 58. The title of the section was “True Worship”. I thought, ‘How applicable to my situation where I’m on a task force discerning the next steps for worship in our community!’ And I ate my gruel and moved on with my day.

Until the next day. When I sat down, gruel in front of my, along with my happy light, and I opened up to Isaiah 59. Except that my eyes went back to Isaiah 58. I tried to move them back down the page: they did not want to budge. It was like that moment in Friends when Chandler proposes to Monica the first time, simply because they had had a fight and he didn’t know how to apologize or make up: everyone was in the room and groaned and turned away except for Rachel who sat at the kitchen table with her hands pressed against the side of her face staring and muttering, “Oh, oh, I can’t not look at it!”

I couldn’t not look at it.

Same thing happened the next day. And the next. And then one of those days happened to be a Sunday, and so I read it during most of church, wondering if I was meant to share it in service.

But no: I was meant to share it during that afternoon’s Next Steps meeting, when I sat silently stewing most of the meeting until finally someone asked if I had something to say (sigh: seriously – don’t they know better?) and the floodgates opened. I can’t remember all I babbled about – it was a bit of a roundabout (shocking, I know). But I do know that at some point I read Isaiah 58 to the group. Actually, I sobbed it out, having to pause because I couldn’t read through the tears (I remember shaking my head to try and get the tears out so I could move on because, dang it, Holy Spirit, couldn’t you move me in some other way so that I’m still functional and understandable? And not quite so soggy? :)).

Isaiah 58

Fasting that Pleases God

1 “Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
3 ‘ Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

“ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

“ If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
13 “ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

What I didn’t know until after I shared is that another church in our area has been praying this scripture over NFC for almost two years, specifically verse 12 (which stood out to me on my initial reading as well as another person in our group).

A member of the task force suggested we sit with this scripture as a group. We did. As we prepare for our upcoming fast, I wonder if others would be willing to think on Isaiah 58 as well, holding up Newberg Friends as well as your own faith gathering if it’s different. What stands out to you? What strikes you? What convinces you? What does true fasting mean to you?

Next Steps: Pausing to Step

It’s relieved me to hear from at least one that my postings have not been “airing dirty laundry“.  Initially I feared that sharing this journey could seem critical or judgmental of people who have questioned the process.  A number of murmurings of “we just don’t know what’s going on/we need a bigger picture/why haven’t we heard a whole lot from up front?” has been uttered.  Some of the tone has been said somewhat disrespectfully, as though the leadership has handled this incorrectly.  I, too, wondered why we didn’t gather the Next Steps group to share in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning.  But then I realized if I criticized, I, too, would be disrespectful.  So instead I’ve decided to share/question/teach/inform on my own turf, which happens to be this little electronic notepad, with the hopes of edification and not tearing down.

In Permission Granted the authors note that vision for a church only lasts for so long, about five to seven years.  Before that time is up, a new vision needs to be being discerned so as to not leave the church aimless.  And as that vision is acted upon, the church will undergo significant transition and will need to be instructed on how to abide in that transition (like childbirth:  the pain doesn’t go away, but at least education helps cope, abide in the pain, and hope for the coming ending).

The authors also focus on Christ’s illustrations of the church – that of a building and that of a field.  A building is a structure:  rigid, inflexible, unchanging.  These are the values we hold as the body of Christ.  A field is an environment:  fluid, flexible, changing.  These are the manifestations of our values as we respond to our current context.

Thinking about fields and hearing that vision only lasts for so long, I had an ‘ah ha!’ moment:  these things have something in common – sabbath!  In the Old Testament God commanded that the fields not be planted every seven years.  Now environmentally we know this is so that the field doesn’t become totally tapped of nutrients, so that it has time to rest, replenish, and produce well:  farmers employ this method in crop rotation.

But God also commanded the Sabbath for another reason:  as a check to see if the Israelites were abiding in Him rather than their own power.  It’s easy to harvest crops and thank God when you are plucking the bounty; it’s another thing to wait for God to provide.  The Israelites were to trust God that He would provide enough crops during the sixth year not only to provide for the sixth year, but also the seventh . . . and the eighth (because during that year, the crops would be growing).  It was a way of laying everything down and relying on God.  But I imagine it was also a time to regroup, to dream, to change old habits, to plan for new things that couldn’t be thought of during the repetition of the previous year.

I called my dad to ask him what the Israelites did during their Sabbath year.  “I imagine they rested!” he said.  Actually, they never took a Sabbath year, he informed me:  this is why they were exiled to Babylon for seventh years – they owed God seventy Sabbaths.  So instead of getting to rest every seven years, they instead were enslaved for seventy years:  makes one really think about resting when God commands it, eh?

So . . . if the church is like a field . . . and fields need to rest every seven years . . . and vision only lasts for five to seven years . . . doesn’t it seem like the church should take some sort of Sabbath every seven years? . . .

I put forth this question to the Next Steps group one Sunday.  I tried to hold it back because it just didn’t seem the direction we were moving.  I sat silently and antsy for an hour and a half during one meeting, a meeting that our clerk and our pastor happened to both be absent for (so it was a bit of a shock for them when they got the minutes :D).  But then someone asked, “Aj, what are you thinking?”  I asked them if they really wanted to know.  They should’ve known better than to say “yes”.  🙂

The floodgates poured forth.  I’m part of a program that connects with young moms, but we can’t find folks to fill the steering team for next year and attendance has been down:  could we lay it down?  Typical church fashion would say, “No!  This is a good thing!  Force people into the holes!  Fill the need!”  But maybe the need has been met, and God’s calling these resources to a new thing.  When do we have time to discern that?   Perhaps during a Sabbath?

What would it look like for a church to Sabbath for a year? Would that mean that the pastor stops delivering a message on Sunday mornings and that other forms of worship are used?  Would that mean that Sunday schools would be laid down and community would meet in other ways?  What would happen if programs were laid down for a year – programs that help teens and old people and folks in the church and folks out of the church?

What would we do for the year?  Would we hole up and be antisocial?  Or would we find new and creative ways to meet – perhaps outside the walls of the church?

What would happen to the folks who rely on the programs and services NFC provides?  Would their needs go unmet? . . . Or are we relying on programs and not God to meet peoples’ needs?

Note:  I am a verbal processor.  I was not saying that these things should happen:  I was simply posing the question to think about “what would it be like *if* we did these things?”  And so we left the meeting with more questions than answers, most unsettledness than direction.  Because that’s so like God.

Next Steps: Who to Do What Step With?

So I’ve shared some about the process of the group.  At least, I feel as though I did:  does it make sense to you?  What are you fuzzy about?  What would be helpful to hear more about?

During this process I read a great book called Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century.  It’s written by Gary Goodell, a person I know not a lot about, and Graham Cooke, a person who has become key in my spiritual journey.  Graham Cooke, originally from Great Britain so he’s got a *great* accent, leads a prophetic ministry centered in Vacaville, CA.  Dad introduced me to Graham in the form of videos and audio cassettes which I listened to while going for morning walks around my neighborhood.  He is one of the kindest, to the point, challenging, loving teachers I’ve ever heard.  So when I heard about this book, I knew I’d need to read it.

Section 1:  The authors talk about the “Third Day” church God’s told them that we’re moving into (there’s lot of references in the Bible about moving into something new on the third day).  Development of people and churches; Church as a living system – organic and organizational paradox (the church is a field – flexible and changing (this is the response to our cultural context) – and a building – rigid and unchanging (these are our values) – how do we hold to both?).

Section 2:  Third-Day Worship; God-centric Worship; the Worship Feast

Section 3:  Third-Day Meetings; Embracing the Unpredictable; What’s Really Sacred?

Section 4:  Transition (Oh, my, how people would be helped if they read this – to actually understand what we’re going through.  It doesn’t make it easier necessarily, but it’s nice to understand what is actually going on).

Section 5:  Third-Day Preaching

Section 6:  Third-Day Mission.

Good stuff, eh?  One chapter really struck me:  Groups of Tens, Groups of Fifties, and Groups of Hundreds.  “It is not that we just need more than one meeting.  In fact, it doesn’t matter how many meetings you have in a week or a month.  What is important is to see the potential of different sizes of meetings that create different atmospheres or venues, and thus produce different outcomes or results” (109).  We have different sized meetings at NFC, but I don’t think we know why we do, nor do I think we always have placed the correct desired outcomes on those meetings.

The first group is groups of ten.  “These smaller groups are home-based, intergenerational meetings, where we share our lives on a regular basis, make our needs know to each other, and bear each other’s burdens.”  This seems to happen with small groups and Listening Life groups and some Sunday School classes.  “These groups are not cell groups, or even home groups; they are real churches – complete and autonomous churches.  They have leaders; the often receive offerings for missions, the poor, the needy.  They evangelize the lost, baptize converts, dedicate babies, marry the wed and bury the dead, and obviously celebrate the sacrament of communion.  These small groups are not just extensions of the ‘mother ship’ local community church that has a central campus around which all life swirls.  They are the Church” (111).  He then goes on to talk about the theological importance of having The Meal together.  “The local church does not do small groups; the local church is a small group where everyone participates” (117).

Groups of Fifties:  “This is the group where everyone worships” (117).  “These groups are not meant to replace the whole body, but rather make possible a type of meeting in which all ages, including children, can participate” (118).  There has been a concern voiced about what to do with the kids during our six-week fast:  people are concerned for their spiritual welfare if they aren’t in Sunday School.  I’m a bit concerned for their spiritual welfare if they don’t know how or get to have an opportunity to contribute to the larger body!  “This meeting is based upon the full priesthood of all believers with mutual edification and mutual up-building for the purpose of personal strengthening” (118).  And Goodall notes that this is not the entire body, but a gathering of several smaller churches or simple churches in a larger setting (even a home, a park, a backyard).

Groups of Hundreds:  “This is the group where everyone listens and learns.”  The point of these groups is for the larger body or network of churches to consider direction.  They are generally led by teams, not an individual, embodying fivefold ministry.

The other week my husband was getting poked by God to consider the point and purpose and elements of worship.  He was questioning the focus on the sermon:  is that very worshipful?   We do need to be taught, but perhaps we have been putting the wrong function on the different group sizes.  It’s like putting a wrong car part in a car engine:  I will probably be frustrated when it does work well, but can the part change to meet my expectations?   Not so much.  When we try to wed worship and teaching, the focus is divided.  When we aren’t being church in small group ways, we’re probably not prepared to worship:  we have to play catch up in worship to get to that worshipful place.  When we try to get our individual needs met in the large group, people will fall through the cracks:  people can’t be held accountable very well in groups of hundreds.

So, as we think about where we are stepping next and who we are stepping with, perhaps we need to make sure the “parts” are serving their intended function, otherwise we’re going to get stuck on the side of the road, and I don’t think Click and Clack will be able to gufaw our way out of this one.

Next Steps: Room to Step

Now that you’ve heard a bit of our process, you may be wondering where our recommendations came from. Remember: I’m sharing only from my experience and journey.

I shared with the group some about my thoughts on worship and community as I experienced them as a child. I also wondered if such an experience would be possible at NFC. We have three services with half and hour in between. The service structure is packed: not a lot of time for flexibility.

And not a lot of space to congregate, so if service runs over, people are backed up everywhere — and not in a good way when it’s commonly known as the “cattle shoot”. When I first experienced worship at NFC, I was floored at how quickly folks vacated the sanctuary. I figured it was to congregate somewhere superdupercool because why else would people run out as though their pants were on Holy Fire? Because where I came from, the earliest we got home from church was about an hour and a half *after* service had ended. People chatted; kids played; kids maneuvered their parents into going out to lunch with friends so that the conversation and community didn’t have to end.

As the Next Steps group shared their longing for community, we recognized we didn’t really have either the space or the time. So folks began to brainstorm: what would it look like if we went to two services and had a longer time for fellowship? What if we knocked down the walls to the library and built out onto the lawn? What if we removed the pews from the sanctuary and installed interlocking chairs that could be moved around for fellowship time? Should we remodel the Friends Center to make it more conducive to congregating for a longer period of time?

People got excited. But they also felt bogged down by the idea of fundraising: did God want us to spend our time raising money to build a bigger building? Is that what would help us reach out to those in our community, or would that weigh us down?

I started to wonder if the setup of Newberg created an environment for fellowshipping for longer periods of time. If we had space, would we actually use it? When I lived in Boise, I lived 20-25ish minutes away from the church. After getting up, getting dressed, getting fed, getting in the car, we weren’t going to go anywhere for quite some time after arriving at church: we were settled. So we’d go to children’s church and then Sunday school and hang out with friends and come home after a long bit – enough time to make the drive “worthwhile”.

But in Newberg, everything is close and convenient. A drive across town is about seven minutes. It’s easy to have a ‘drop-in’ mentality: I’ll drop in to church, and then drop in to the store, and then run back home. If I forget something at home that I wanted to take to church, I can make it there and back and not miss any significant amount of time. I don’t know that people would come and stay for fellowship at NFC.

So what does that mean? I started thinking about Newberg in general, noticing the types of buildings and establishments. And you know what’s abounding right now? Empty buildings. A number of businesses have moved or closed, and empty facilities are left standing. I wondered what it would be like for faith communities to move into those empty places: not necessarily as a church building, but perhaps as a ministry, creating space for the community of Newberg as a whole to fellowship. What would it look like if we moved into one of those buildings as a community center? And on Sundays we could set up activities for fellowship after church (to “drop in”)? Or what would it look like if some folks from different faith gatherings took on leasing a building and putting in a business that helped those who needed a job have one? Or make it a place to teach? Or just hang out (a bowling alley? Hello!).

There’s an empty building I pass every day as I drive from Newberg to Dundee, and I’m so moved to pray that God will fill that building with something that will bless the people of Newberg. I hope my faith gathering gets to be a part of that – the redeeming of the empty places . . .

Next Steps: The First Steps Continued

The whisks have been rescued, and the boys are fitfully slumbering for the moment (kinda like our weather:  all blusterylike).

Meeting the folks nominated to be on the Next Steps group was similar to meeting folks from any newly-formed group.  Some of them I knew, some of them I didn’t.  Some of them I’d never met before and had no clue that they attended my church (probably at a different service gathering).  A few folks had been on the previous committee, and others had no clue that there had been any sort of group exploring a sense that God was calling us to something different in the area of worship.

Mark Ankeny had offered to clerk.  I grew up with his daughters, and my dad had worked with him previously with yearly meeting business, so there was history.  However, I hadn’t known his personal story:  that he felt called to start a sort of alternative service a few years ago and did not receive a blessing or encouragement.  This (and job changes/moving) led to him exploring other faith gatherings.  To me, this was huge:  Mark had been our Yearly Meeting business meeting clerk *and* he’s an Ankeny (who seem to be an old time Friends family) . . . and he’d been attending a non-Friends gathering?!!  And had been frustrated by our faith community to the point of attending elsewhere?  His sharing of this really set a tone of transparency and creating a safe place to question and discern.

The first meetings were really hard for me:  I felt like I was spinning wheels.  Part of it came from having thought about this type of stuff a lot, while this sense of an itching frustration was totally new to others:  they sensed NFC was in a good place, and why would we need to change, and just scratch the itch and move on!  We explored our values, as a church, as Quakers, as Christ-followers, and were supposed to come up with some statements.  Of course, in my group, we came up with questions (because I’m difficult like that):  we didn’t know that we were even asking the right questions to begin with.  The idea of having a task of looking at models of worship seemed so off the mark:  so what *should* we be looking at?  What was bringing this task force together?  What was at the heart of the issue?  If we could figure out what the *right* question was, perhaps the answers would fall into place — or at least we’d know better how to equip to embark on the journey.

And so we shared our stories — about community, about true worship experiences, about the ideal worship experience for us personally, about places we felt worshipful, about ways to prepare.  We started to read — books like Permission Granted (if folks at NFC would read this, I think that would really help prepare us for the road ahead), The Shaping of Things to Come, Present Future, etc.  We attended other worship gatherings:  some Quaker, some non-denominational, some young adult-oriented, some multi-generational.

As we read and pondered and talked with our spouses (who are probably all honorary members of Next Steps) and questioned our small groups and prayed and listened, we began to notice threads —

  • of wondering what true hospitality is
  • of thinking about what elements of worship truly are important
  • of noticing that we don’t have a good space to congregate
  • of recognizing that we desire to be together and hear each other’s stories
  • of feeling moved to be more present in our community
  • of wanting to repent of spiritual pride that holds us back from worshiping fully
  • of wondering how our Quaker distinctives can be tools to help us and others encounter God more fully rather than plaques on the wall

So, what to do with all of those threads . . . .

Next Steps: The First Steps

I don’t have a pulpit, but I do have this blog that can be used as a place to share my story, explain some thoughts, prompt questions, encourage action and contemplation.  If I were a really quality blogger, I would have the journey planned out into a series of blog posts that fall into a theme.  But instead I have brief moments between chasing a magazine-eating bebe, playing instruments with a preschooler, and wondering what it would take to start making my own condiments.

I must confess:  I rarely answer my cell phone.  I don’t answer our landline either, mostly because I don’t have one.  🙂  People may think that I’m ignoring them, but actually I have a very selective window of being able to talk on the phone, because when I talk on the phone, this strange condition comes over my household in which people under four feet are compelled to demand my attention and/or destroy things.  It does not make for ideal conversation.  So I use my cell phone as a really expensive answering machine and often respond to folks by email, because for some reason, the small people don’t realize that I can communicate with the outside world through my computer . . . yet.

Gregg called and left me a message.  It was a long message as I sat waiting for the “whirl” of the phone to say that I had a “new message!”  When I listened, I was a little flumoxed.  “The elders have appointed a group to look at worship at NFC. . . . Called “Next Steps” . . . Next step after the first worship assessment group who did the surveys . . . Going to be implementing things . . . Hadn’t included you in first group because thought you’d be more suited for implementation than assessment . . . Elders wondered if you’d be part. . .”

First, I felt flattered:  it’s fun to be included.  Second, I felt relief about why I hadn’t been included in the first group:  honestly, my feelings had been a little hurt because, hello:  who babbles about worship stuff all the time?!!  And then came the conflicted feeling:  you know, that feeling of “oooh:  do I *really* want to do this?”  Yes, it sounded like a natural fit.  But . . .

  • Did I really want to spend *that* much time thinking about Sunday morning worship?
  • Did I really want to get into looking at “models of worship”?
  • Did the elders really think that a plan of changing worship, kind of like changing a business plan, would really make a difference?
  • Is that what God had in store for NFC – an alternative service, or more upbeat music?
  • Was that really it?

I had chatted previously with my hubby about this sort of stuff, and he seemed to have a lot of opinions about it, which, if you know him, is a bit shocking:  he tends to be an opinion-withholder.  As I listened to Gregg’s message, I had this sense that perhaps Jason should be on the committee instead of myself:  my attitude seemed more frustrated/jaded than his.  Gregg talked with the elders, but the elders felt that the folks being asked to contribute had been prayed about and led to be asked specifically.  So, I figured:  enh, it can’t hurt…

Our first meeting took place on a Sunday afternoon.  The meeting began at 2:00, but folks were encouraged to gather at 1:30 to pray for the church and the group and the process.  Elders and a few others were present:  a little disheartening.

The same structure was set up for each following meeting, and only one or two people in total showed up to pray beforehand.  I understand that it was most likely not an easy time to gather, but I also wondered if the congregation really knew what we were being tasked with and how God could be leading us to a place that could shake us to our core.  When that few of people showed up, was it because our individual schedules were more important than the corporate schedule?  Or had it not been communicated well to the congregation what was going to be explored?  Or did the faith community just not care?

Little People are playing drums . . . with my good whisks.  Look for the next installment in a bit.