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.

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

.

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.

img_2858

 

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!

CAN A PROGRESSIVE ALSO BE AN EVANGELICAL?

What part of me and my identity as a Christian is evangelical?   And Progressive? The Greek verb Jesus uses is evangel from which the word evangelism is derived.    I am called to preach the good news as an evangelical.  I am also called to be an advocate for that which I preach.  More than words, I am called to live the gospel.  As a Presbyterian (reformed) Church pastor, I believe the gospel motivates our living what we believe.  This makes me a progressive.  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?

While I see myself as a progressive evangelical, I can in no way align myself with all evangelicals….especially the conservative right.

DIGGING DEEPER:  I have invested over forty years preaching the “good news” of the Gospel.   I continue to believe God’s ancient, unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ—words of scripture that speak to and live in the lives of people with hearts open to hear what ancient scriptures say.  I search for what Christ says to me within the context I now live!  As an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, I continue to open my mind and heart to what inspired words of scripture can teach me.

As a preacher and pastor, I have always believed myself to be a quiet progressive—if that is possible.  Maybe it’s more accurate to call myself an introvert progressive.  I like the image used by a colleague—couch progressive.  Perhaps I am a covert, couch progressive who tries not to wear ‘progressive’ as a badge?   As a couch, covert progressive I try not letting my personal views interfere with my being an effective minister.

Scripture has long informed who I am and what I preach grounded in this text:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free.  Luke 4:18  (also Isaiah 61)

Doesn’t this sound progressive?  And Evangelical?  While I rarely (if ever) use this term “evangelical” to identify myself as a Christian, I have found myself aligned with much of what I believe true evangelicals represent.  Back to the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?  

Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners (www.sojo.net) has this to say:

What it means to be ‘evangelical’ is changing — it’s reverting back to its original meaning.

The new evangelical statement attempts to clarify who evangelicals are and how they should be defined: not as a people beholden to any political party, but as a people who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that always seeks to lift up those on the margins of society — not deport them, or scam them, or attack their professionalism because of their ethnicity or gender. These evangelicals are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. They are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians from a wide range of denominational and political backgrounds.  (www.Sojo.net, March 6, 2016, ‘Evangelicals:’  You Keep using that Word.)

WHAT I BELIEVE:

Now for these thoughts in an attempt to answer the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?    Yes, if one lives his or her life grounded / centered in the love of God.   God is more than words or ideas found in the pages of ancient scripture.  Love binds us together and builds us up. Love lives in and between us relationally and in our experiences.  We learn about this love of God through many people, past and present, including a famous man believed by Christians to be Lord and Savior—Jesus  Christ.  I  believe Christ lives in and between us sharing with us the love of God that binds us together and builds us up.  More at another time on this subject of the ‘living Christ’.

This is why I created this blog.   God lives in and between us.  Love exists in and between us.  Love connects us.  Love builds us up.  WE ARE BOUND AND NURTURED IN GOD’S LOVE!

The scripture that teaches us this concept informs who I am as an evangelical and progressive:

Hear O Israel…. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  …. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.  Mark 12:29ff

We cannot separate what we know of God from how we live with God!

It is from my perspective,  perhaps as both an evangelical progressive, that I can preach the good news to the poor;  proclaiming release to captives living in a broken world and recovery of sight/vision to those who are blinded by brokenness and sin.

Yes, I believe I can be both an evangelical and progressive — if I work at both!  If I let God’s love speak and live through me.

Does this make sense?

 

The Emotions of Letting Go…..

Our 35 year old daughter, wife and mother writes a monthly article for the Mount Diablo Mother’s Club blog (www.mdmcmom.org).  She brought tears to the eyes of her mother and me in writing about her son, our grandson Thomas.        

emily-and-tommy-073015

The emotions of letting go

Thomas has been in daycare and pre-school since he was one and a half. While it has gotten easier there are still days that it tears my heart out to walk away and leave him for a few hours at a time. I know the separation is good for him – and for me – but what is he doing while I am not there? Is he eating what he is supposed to? Is he making friends? Is anyone picking on him? Is he learning enough? Does he miss me? The questions are endless. Some days there are tears, but most days there are not. It is the days where he cries and says, “Mommy don’t go” that are the hardest. However the grief for him lasts maybe five minutes, for me it lasts a bit longer. On the hard days, I usually text his daycare provider a few minutes after I leave and ask if he has calmed down. He always does. She says the tears usually stop within minutes of me leaving. On these days that drop-off was so hard it is always exactly the opposite when I go to pick him up “no mommy I want to stay, I am having fun!”

I know this will never end. He will start elementary school and I will worry about him adjusting to the academic world and making friends. Middle school where I will worry about bullying and if he is listening to his teachers or just talking with his friends instead. High School where I will worry about his preparation for college or whatever life after high school will bring. College where I will have empty-nest sorrows and miss him terribly. When he gets his first job, I will worry if he is paying his bills on time? Is he impressing his boss?  Is he happy? I think it is in our nature as parents to worry and to have trouble letting our babies move on to each stage of their life with the fear that we might be left behind.

When the emotions start to get the best of me I just try and remind myself that I am raising a caring, independent and smart boy. He will always be my baby – through every up and down, even after he is long over the phase of telling me how much he loves me and hugging and kissing me with wild abandon. Part of being a parent is learning the balance between letting go and ensuring that our children know that we will love and support them no matter what.

So if you are facing the first days of daycare or school just know that it is normal to feel emotional. It is normal to go and sit in your car in cry. Heck, it is even okay to cry as you turn to walk away. They will be fine. They will still love us. They will thrive. 

 

TOOLS IN ADDRESSING CONFLICT

This past few weeks I have learned or heard about some minor conflicts between neighbors in the community where I live.  It has become way too easy to voice grievances using Social Media Networks.  Others have been more formal in writing their complaints.  While not a desired result, personal feelings have been hurt.

While this has only happened with a small number of people in the community where I live, I have decided to take a few minutes to write on the topic of “Addressing Conflict”.   Some basic, common sense guidelines:

1.  Direct Communication!  Two-way dialogue with those whom we disagree is the first and most desired first step in resolving conflicts.  This is preferably done face-to-face.       

 2.  Be sensitive to the reality that there will differing opinions when it comes to issues and conflicts.  The more diverse the community, more likely opinions will exist.

 3.  As neighbors, we need to listen and hear what others are saying—especially those with whom we may disagree.   Use of hateful or demeaning rhetoric will never be helpful in resolving conflicts.  

 4.  As leaders in the community, we need to be open to the possibility of adapting or changing ones viewpoint or opinion.  We must also be open to apologizing when it is discovered we have been wrong.     

 5.  We need to be open to the idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in avoiding the escalation of a conflict.  

There is a wonderful document published by the Presbyterian Church Mission Agency titled, “Seeking to be Faithful Together”.  Persons who wish to explore the subject of managing disagreements may wish to look at this link.  This PDF document is free.

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/seeking-be-faithful-guidelines-presbyterians-times/

When it comes to living in harmony in a community—whether it be a neighborhood or church or some other type of business or organization, a typical goal is the uplifting of people and their relationships with others.  To this end, I hope this blog will help in underscoring the need to resolve conflicts in applying the “Golden Rule”:   “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you!” Luke 6: 31  NIV (New International Version)   “Face-to-face” conversation is the best tool we have in resolving conflict.

Thoughts After Dallas Shooting

I am spending time today reflecting on the death of five police officers in Dallas.  Two civilians also died in this shooting that took place the evening of July 7.  Words cannot describe the depth of my feelings.  Let these five devotional thoughts be a beginning:

1                    My prayers are with the five police officers who gave their lives in serving the Dallas community.  Lord, hear my prayers for these officers and their families and friends.   Lord, hear my prayers for all the officers who put their lives on the line each and every day protecting citizens—both black and white.  Hear our prayers!

2                    My prayers continue to be with the two young men who were shot in Louisiana and Minnesota:

Hear our prayers for Alton Sterling (37) shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.    Be a source of strength for his family and friends.

Hear our prayers for Philando Castile (32) shot near St. Paul, Minnesota.  Surround family and friends with your love.

3                    My prayers for the communities around this country struggling with a wide range of race-based issues dividing us as a nation.  I pray for those who fail to see this as an issue that belongs to all of us.  From the co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Tawnya Denise Anderson, who had this to say on Facebook on July 8th.

“For those of you who ask “How long?” or “How many times must this happen?” I’ll tell you precisely when it… will stop. It will stop when people en masse are aware of the ways in which whiteness/white supremacy have shaped the way people of color are viewed, engaged, and treated in this world (even by other people of color). To come to this realization, however, white people will then have to be self-aware and convicted of the ways in which they have benefited from and promulgated the lie of whiteness. As necessary as this is for the well-being of society, it is also an uncomfortable undertaking and there is literally nothing forcing white people to do it. White people, then, will likely have to create the force.

 White people, you have heard it said that you must talk to other white people about racism, and you must. But don’t talk to them about their racism. Talk to them about YOUR racism. Talk to them about how you were socialized to view, talk to, and engage with people of color. Talk to them about the ways you’ve acted on that socialization. Talk to them about the lies you bought into. Talk about the struggles you continue to have in shedding the scales from your eyes. Don’t make it “their” problem. Understand it as your own problem, because it is. To not do this would put you in danger of being yet another well-intentioned racist, convinced of their own goodness and living a life wholly unexamined and unaccountable to anyone. We don’t need anymore of those. It’s confession time.”

Yes, Lord, I have to acknowledge that I too am complicit as a citizen of this world with these issues that divine us.  As a white male, I have not always had an open heart and mind to hear what others of various races and religions and cultures are saying about these deep-rooted conflicts that divide us.      Hear my prayers for my brothers and sisters struggling to understand what it will take to mend deep wounds in bringing about unity and peace.

4                    I look to what President Obama had to say this morning, once again, in responding to these tragic shootings.

“I spoke this morning with Mayor Rawlings of Dallas to convey the deepest condolences of the American people. I told him that the federal government will… provide whatever assistance Dallas may need as it deals with this tremendous tragedy.

 We still don’t know all the facts. What we do know is there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement. Police in Dallas were on duty doing their jobs, keeping people safe, during peaceful protests. These law enforcement officers were targeted and nearly a dozen officers were shot. Five were killed. Other officers and at least one civilian were wounded, some are in serious condition and we are praying for their recovery.

We are horrified over these events and we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas.

According to police there are multiple suspects. We will learn more about their twisted motivations, but let’s be clear there is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.

Anyone involved in these senseless murders will be held fully accountable. Justice will be done.

Yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned as all Americans, about racial disparities in our criminal justice system. I also said yesterday our police have an extraordinarily difficult job and the vast majority of them do their job in outstanding fashion.

 Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us.

 We also know that when people are armed with powerful weapons unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well. In the meantime our focus is on the victims and their families.

Police across America, it’s a tight knit family, feels this loss to their core, and we are grieving with them. As a nation let’s remember to express our profound gratitude to our men and women in blue, not just today, but everyday.”

 5                    Finally, love is that which binds us together and builds us up.  Hate is not the answer.  Love is the bond that will unite us in times of national strife.   “God is our refuge and strength—a very present help in times or trouble….”  (Ps. 46). 

 

In prayer…..