Doors Open for Children and Youth

A friend and pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI, Rev. Ted McCulloch, recently wrote about his experience with children visiting his office and his display of Charlie Brown “stuff”.

“…..I enjoy Charlie Brown and I knew I had quite a bit in my office but I didn’t realize how much.  There’s Snoopy on a motorcycle, a couple of different golf and baseball themed ones, four different Nativity sets plus a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and a Charlie Brown pipe organ one……”   (Thoughts from Ted, Happenings, May 2017, Vol. 180, Issue 5)

Ted is a ‘pastor-artist’ with a special gift in relating with children.  Young and old, I hear from others in the community that children are always around him.   I also know that Ted is intentional  in remaining accessible to the youngest members of the Church.

Ted wrote to the congregation to help motivate them in taking time during the summer months to help children continue in their faith journey to know Jesus – “giving thanks for welcoming the next believers in Christ”.

Thinking about these words from Ted, I sat at my desk contemplating my experiences through the years in working with children and youth.  My first call to the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa, forty years ago, was with a focus on ministry with children and youth.  Dr. Marcus Priester from McCormick Theological Seminary influenced my decision to focus my early ministry in working with children and youth.  Do our Presbyterians seminaries still have professors who specialize in Christian Education?     It was early in my ministry I made the decision that the door of my office would always be open to children and youth.

Reflecting on my experiences:  My earliest memories as a child and teenager at the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.  The pastor’s office had an entrance in the hallway leading to a lounge and some Sunday school rooms.  I will never forget the day I walked through that door, at the encouragement of an Assistant Pastor Rev. Robert Meanor, to tell Senior Pastor Rev. DeYoung  I wanted to visit with him about my thinking about ministry as a career.  I was in eight or ninth grade at that time.   From that point on I was invited to be a worship leader.

I will never forget the day Rev. DeYoung told me my paisley tie I was wearing wasn’t appropriate.  He took me to a closet and pulled out a solid black tie for me to wear.  He taught me things I held onto through my entire ministry — the need to keep my feet planted squarely on the floor in not crossing my legs while sitting up front but one example.  He also required me, when leading worship, to come in on Saturday mornings to practice my readings.

Another note from my home church:  These two pastors and Christian Education Director were always in the office on Saturday mornings.  They dressed casually.   It was a good day for people to come into the church to prepare for Sunday!   The doors of all the offices were always open!   A lot of programming, including confirmation classes for youth, took place on Saturday mornings.

How many pastors maintain Saturday morning office hours?

From this point on, as a young pastor, I was sensitive to how pastor’s present themselves, always in appropriate ways, to children and youth.  Where are the offices located and are office doors open or closed?   Are children welcome to visit the pastor?   How often do pastors visit Church School classes or attend youth retreats.

As a maturing pastor, I have always tried to have an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to children and youth visiting me in my office.  When active as a pastor, I always had toys and stuffed animals and puzzles for the kids.  Toddlers would find  in my office a dancing monkey.   Sometimes I would have a small gift – a cross or a “warm fuzzy” or a picture and story about a biblical figure.   I would also let them see and touch things i.e. where I kept the ashes used on Ash Wednesday or the communion kit used to serve the sacrament to homebound members of the church.

All of us as professional clergy need to remember Ted and those pastors who have their doors open for children and youth to enter.  WE need to celebrate having children in our midst.  We must remember, as ‘pastor-artists’, the text:

“Knock and the Door will be opened for you.”  (Matt 7:7)

Thank you Ted and Bob and Tony and Herb and Marcus and many others – for keeping your doors open for me — and all children and youth who long for the desire to learn more about Jesus and the church.

 

 

Remember Your Baptism

Now retired, I am going through some new experiences as a pastor who served congregations dating back to the 70’s.    That’s a long time ago!   In particular, I remember and continue to miss the congregation I served the beginning of my ministry, the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa.  This is the church where our daughter Emily was baptized (April 12, 1981).   I will always remember this day.  Standing as a parent I was asked by the pastor the name of my child.  I answered with confidence – “Susan”!  Everyone started laughing.  I couldn’t understand why everyone would laugh at such a sacred time.  The pastor leaned in and asked: “Isn’t your daughter’s name Emily?”  An Associate Pastor in that church, I’m glad I was standing with my daughter as a dad instead of pastor performing the baptism.  “Susan” is our daughter’s middle name.   I have no idea why my brain told me give the wrong name.  I now wonder what kind of holy-mistakes my nerves would have caused me to make if I was actually doing the baptism of my own daughter?  I will always remember this baptism!

Another church I that will always be close to my heart – the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.   I served this church as pastor from 1985 until my retirement in 2013.  Through Facebook, I recently experienced the birthday of a member of this congregation who just turned 30.  I will call him BJ.  In looking at all the people wishing him a “Happy Birthday”, I realized with a smile on my face that this church continues to be BJ’s “family’.  All the congregations I have been blessed to serve through the years of ministry are members of this family.  And this is the truth:  I remember your baptism!

Honestly?  I remember BJ’s baptism because one of the cherished files I keep is a written log of all the baptisms I have performed throughout my ministry.  I often find myself looking at this log of baptisms.  I don’t remember the actual day this young man, as an infant, was sprinkled with sacred water with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.   I don’t remember what he was wearing or what I was preaching.   I do, however, know he was baptized the same day another baby was baptized.  I remember the parents of these children who continue to be active members of Christ’s family.  By the way, BJ was baptized on September 20, 1987.  He is still an active member of he Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.

BJ and all those baptized on the chancel steps of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church and churches around the globe are members of the huge family named “Christian”.  This 30 year old man, BJ,  is now a police officer.  I am sure proud of him and all of his accomplishments!  I thank God for the opportunity to watch him grow as an active member and officer in the church I once served.

And my point?  REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM!   Remember who it is who pronounced faith in Jesus Christ prior to your being sprinkled with sacred water–your parents.  Remember who continues to hold you and protect you–God.

This Holy Week, remember who lived and died and rose from death to be our Lord and our Savior.

 

I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing in this blog.

Birthday-December 7, 2016

I just turned 65.  Medicare is in place.  Now on a fixed income, Social Security and Pension checks will be arriving.  It has always been hard to imagine this day.  With a host of health issues, I have learned to live life one-day/week/month at a time.   Blessings abound with my anchor and beloved wife, Nancy. 

emily-and-tommy-073015In 2010 I was blessed to officiate the wedding of daughter Emily to a wonderful young man Ken.   A true miracle baby and blessing to us all was the birth of grandson Kenneth Thomas in January of 2013.  We will never forget the rough time both baby and mother had in bringing this young miracle baby into the world.  Tommy will be four in January.   

Moving to Rio Vista California  six months ago was a momentous occasion.    WE found a beautiful home in a 55+ community called TRILOGY.  While leaving our home of Saginaw after thirty years, getting close to our California family was the right thing to do. 

011Professionally, part of me regrets not making it a full 30 years as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.   Going on disability after almost 40 years of ministry was the right thing to do.  

 

My heart will be with the church I most recently served, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, as they celebrate 150 years of ministry and service in the year of our Lord 2017.  I wonder if any celebrations are being planned!  Under the leadership of a new pastor, Jim Williams, I know this church will be faithful to the end in serving God with energy, imagination and love.   

I now focus on living life to the fullest with our California family.   Grandson Tommy gave me some special birthday hugs this past weekend.  Christmas, with my sister Susan coming to be with us, will be a special holiday—the first chance she has had to meet her great-nephew Tommy. 

All in all, life is good.  Thanks for all the birthday greetings.  My heart-felt prayers are with all who have a chance to read this.   

Thanksgiving Vows 2016

007As a Christian and an ordained officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I affirm the sacred vow affirming:  “Jesus is my Lord and my savior.”  Through over half a century of life on this earth, I continue to grow in accepting all that this affirmation means.

 

American FlagNext to placing my life in the arms of God……I affirm as an American and citizen of these United States this sacred vow, the fundamental principle found in the Declaration of Independence:   “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

 

II. Church and Family-“Christ in My Life”

At this junction, I want to share some of my thoughts about my early faith development.  I didn’t have a ZAP-BANG conversion or experience when I suddenly believed in Jesus Christ.   I learned of Christ over time.  My affirmation in affirming Christ was more a process in building up to a point of being able to say “I believe”.   I continued and continue to struggle with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.  What I recall are a variety of experiences throughout my teenage years that brought me God and belief that Jesus was, for me, the living Christ.  Feeling the presence of God and learning of Jesus from scripture, in the context of the church, brought me into this relationship with what I describe now as the “living, vibrant presence of Jesus Christ.”

The Sermon on the Mount found in ancient New Testament scripture, was the basis, from what I recall, in accepting Christ in my life.   I recall a Sunday worship service, fidgety as usual, thumbing through the Bible looking for a text I had remembered the preacher use in a previous service.  Thumbing brought the Bible, I found the text I was looking for, Matthew 7:7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  NIV

It was at a later time, perhaps that same day, I found myself sitting in my bedroom looking, once again, for this verse.  Hoping to remember it, I went looking for it once again.  I liked what this scripture said about God opening doors.   I suppose I was carrying with me some questions looking for some doors to open in revealing what God would have me do in searching for some answers in my life.
Active in the church youth group, we had regular camps and retreats.   My parents were always open to my attending these church-related events—they kept me out of trouble.   Living in the Denver area, many of these retreats were in the mountains.  One of my favorite activities during some of these retreats was worship when we were asked to go off by ourselves for a few minutes of private prayer and mediation.  There would often be scripture or a question we were asked to contemplate.  We would then come back to discuss our thoughts in a larger group.

One recollection was a warm day, fresh air, with the sun coming up over a grand mountain.  Pine trees covered the hillside.  Majestic mountains could be seen all around.  There was a small stream separating me from this majestic view on the other side.  I found myself trying to imagine what it was like for Jesus to stand on this mountain preaching to the crowds – a sermon on a mount:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you

This leads to part of the story I’ve never shared before — questions I would ask over and over again:

Who am I?

What am I going to do after graduation?

Do I leave home?

What does God have planned for me?

Will I fall in love and find the girl I will marry?

There was some pressure from my mother to live at home and attend a local college.   This was one reason why I made the decision to find a college away from home.  My mother, a teacher herself, wanted me to be a teacher.

I had in the back of my mind being a music teacher.  I liked to sing.  I played the baritone.  I even took a class one summer on “Music Theory” – one of the most valuable classes I ever had during High School!

I also had in the back of my mind the idea of becoming a minister.  I was clueless as to how this could be done.  College was going to have to come first!

What I new for sure was the fact that I had loving, forward thinking parents who would help me with whatever I wanted to do.  I never felt the need to worry about money – that was my parent’s job!  I also knew, somehow, that God was going to be part of whatever decision I made!  Perhaps a bit naive, but I thought everyone carried God with them in making important decisions!

I had some close friends with me on this spiritual journey.  Casey and Darrel and Doug – we were best friends and “partners in crime”.   There are some things we did as teens that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in this journal.

Casey and I went to the same church.  As a group of friends, Casey and Darrel and Doug and I did lots of things together.  We played handball and tennis.  We would see movies together.  We enjoyed going camping.  It was on these camping trips we would explore our closet beliefs and what we would do with our lives.  All of my friends, seeing how active I was in the church, affirmed my thinking that ministry might be the right thing for me.

How close were these friends, my peers, my earliest spiritual advisors?  Later in life, December of 1976 or six years after we graduated from High School, these good friends would all make the trip to Pittsburgh for my wedding.   As I write this, Nancy and I will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary.  Our daughter Emily just turned 36!  J

Rather than get ahead of myself with my writing, I want to back up and describe a particular retreat when I was in high school. While on this retreat I again found myself on the side of a hill preaching to the trees.  Sound goofy?  I could imagine my friends laughing at me…..but when I told them what I as doing, they took me seriously.  I was discovering, with the affirmation of good friends, that I had a voice and heart for preaching.  I started to think I could be a pretty good minister.

Two things came to the forefront in my thinking.  Ministry, for me, would need to be grounded in relationships and experiences.   I can see now that I was beginning to develop my own theological  approach in becoming a “process theologian” – God’s love is known through the processes that evolve and grow with us as we live through various stages in life.

I don’t remember the day or time.  I do, however, remember that I was attending a “Young Life Camp”.  It was a cold winter day.   There were dozens of youth from churches around Denver gathered in a lodge listening to a guest speaker.  We were sitting on the floor with pastors from our various churches sitting or standing around the edges of the room.

While I don’t remember the specific theme that day, I know that this speaker was going to ask us to consider, privately, dedicate our lives (give our lives) to Christ.  The powerful moment came to me:

This speaker asked us to bow our heads in prayer.

We were instructed to keep our eyes shut.

We were also asked to raise our hands if we were ready to give our lives to Christ.

I raised my hand.

Later that day my pastor, I think it was Dr. Blackstock, came to me and said he noticed I raised my hand.  I had a brief conversation with him about my contemplating ministry as a possible career.  He told me I should plan a visit with the senior pastor, Rev. DeYoung, about my feelings.  He also totally floored me in sharing:

“You were the only one to raise his hand

when asked to give /  dedicate your life to Christ!” 

Whew!  I was the only one!  This powerful experience would remain with me the rest of my life.  I never saw this as a “thunder-bolt experience” with flashes of God’s spirit swirling around me.  It was a quiet experience – me and God – and a decision – a decision to continue exploring what it would mean to give my life to God.  My life would never be the same!

 

 

 

I. Church and Family-“I Belong to God”

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I’ve given my life to the church.   I also know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement of family!  This is a first of many entries under the theme:  Family and Church!   

I thank myimg_2854 parents, Sanford and Helen Cundiff, for being parents who made sure church was part of my life.  Born in 1951, my parents introduced me to the church through baptism on April 15, 1953.  I was baptized in a small chapel by Dr. John M. Pattison at the First Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  While born in Cheyenne, our family soon moved to Denver.  I was only three or four years old.   I had an older brother, David, and a younger sister, Susan.

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It was in Aurora, Colorado where my parents introduced me to another Presbyterian Church—the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.   I belonged to this church until I was ordained.

 

 

When we moved to Colorado we initially lived as a family of five at the Ranger Motel on Colfax in Aurora.   My dad was busy helping to build our first Colorado home.  That motel is still located on Colfax.   I remember, in our downstairs room, the pay-television.  If I recall, we had to put a dime or quarter in a small machine on top of this television order to get thirty minutes of programming.  This was much like the machine that controlled a vibrator on the bed. 🙂

This motel was across the street and of block away from the First Presbyterian Church on Kingston Street..  As a family, we were active in this church.   I have always been a Presbyterian!   While we never really talked about it, this Presbyterian church was an anchor for our family.  With my family and this church I discovered early in my life, to borrow from some creeds, “that I belong to God”.  Church became for me, through this First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, a second home.

I attended Sunday School classes and youth fellowship.  I sang in the youth choir.  I remember, as a fifth grader, shooting a rubber band at my dad who was a Sunday school teacher.   Everybody learned that he had quite the voice when it came to showing his temper.  I may not remember the lessons taught in those Sunday school classes, but engrained in my heart was this sense that I belonged – and family church were the core of this belief.

While we moved into different houses that my dad helped to build, this First Presbyterian Church remained my church home until I was ordained in 1977.  I remember the long Saturday morning sessions in confirmation class – and learning and memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism—confirmed in the mid-60’s.

I was introduced to worship leadership with the Rev. CVR DeYoung.   I would read scripture and sing an occasional solo with the choir.  Oh yes, private music lessons and choir under the direction of Ken Graham were an important part of my life in belonging to the church.

Rev. DeYoung and Rev. Meanor, the Assistant pastor, were always giving me opportunities to help lead worship.  This was unusual in the 60’s in Presbyterian Churches!  Rev. DeYoung once took me to his office on a Sunday morning.  Opening the closet door he pulled out a black and blue tie.  He had me pick one.  The paisley one I was wearing wasn’t appropriate for a worship leader.    I learned many things in leading worship.  For example, I must always sit with both feet flat on the floor in front of me.  These pastoral mentors saw what my parents always knew – I was a wiggly, squirmy kid always on-the move.   They also saw some potential in my becoming a leader in the church.  They may have been wondering:  “Would I become a pastor?”

From early in life, I learned that I belonged to God.  I was greatly influenced to be open minded, if you will, a progressive thinker.  I also learned to accept others from where they were in their faith journeys.  These teachings came from both church and family.  I had people around me, family and friends and mentors, who helped me recognize a “calling” to be an ordained pastor.

Now forty years after ordination I am turning 65.  Thanks to my mom and dad for introducing me to the church through baptism.  Thanks to the church for giving me a life-long sense that I belonged to God.  In retirement, I now have time to write about this journey – and what better place to write than in this blog.  There will be more to come!

If the Answer is “Yes.”

Words to help guide and inspire us in electing the next President of the United States.

Hold to the Good

I have resisted the temptation to weigh in more than I already have on the Donald Trump phenomenon because we are saturated. Television news and the newspapers can’t keep their eyes off of him and I confess that I watch the 7:00 a.m. news because I don’t want to miss the latest outlandish thing he has said or done. I am changing my mind about writing because I heard a superb sermon yesterday by the Rev. Shannon J. Kershner, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Shannon skillfully inverted the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and unresponsive judge who finally gives the widow the justice she is pleading for simply to make her stop asking and go away. Shannon said that maybe God is not the judge here. We are the judge. God is speaking through the widow, persistently urging and pleading to us for justice…

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