VOTE WITH CLENCHED FISTS OR OPEN HANDS?

I sometimes ask in worship—especially during the ‘Children’s Sermon’: What comes natural to you—CLENCHED FISTS or OPEN HANDS.

Created in the image of God, we are called to open our hands to family and friends and neighbors. I have to confess, hearing the hate-filled rhetoric of our current President, I have found myself clenching my fists. His speeches make my angry. I don’t like feeling this way. The fear being instilled in hearts and minds of good people, in my mind, is wrong – for me and for our country.

I think of The Westminster Shorter Catechism and the first question: What is the chief end of man.? Making it inclusive: “The chief end of all creation is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.” There is no hatred in loving God. There are no clenched fists when raising our hands in giving glory to God. I must preach to myself! Personally, it’s time to find ways to fight, with open hands, the hate-filled clenched-fist rhetoric dividing our nation.

We currently live in a nation where certain ‘nationalist’ leaders find it politically expedient to preach hatred with closed fists toward people of different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation or cultures. Certain leaders thrive on growing hatred with clenched fists and angry voices. These same people believe in building walls and reinforcing borders to keep people of different cultures or religious beliefs from entering our country. Yet aren’t we a nation of immigrants? Yes there is a need for immigration reform, but to hate people just because they want to experience the American dream?

Now there may be times in our nation for clenched fists. We have enemies. But sowing hatred for large populations and cultures of people should not be a way of life. There are times in this world we must be tough when it comes to addressing divisiveness and terror. My worry and FEAR is our forgetting who we are, constitutionally. To quote the Declaration of Independence, “all people are created equal, endowed by God our creator with certain unalienable Rights –and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Are you happy with the hatred our current President sows? How do we (I) unclench our fists?

The best way I know to give glory to God is to be proactive in finding ways to elect leaders who will build us up and bind us together as we in tear down walls that separate us from neighbors and the love of God. Those who promote fear and hatred toward others cannot represent me. We must elect those who would given with clenched fists out of office.

So back to the question of how I can move forward with open hands. My God, the God who created me to smile upon friends and neighbors whoever they may be is calling me to VOTE for leaders who promote our becoming a more loving, caring, inclusive country. This is an important election. Vote your values. Vote with open hands. May God smile upon us as we work to elect those who promote God’s love and acceptance of all people.

JOURNAL: September 11, 2011 / September 11, 2018

 

What were you doing when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001?

As for me, I was listening to the news in my car on the way to the church when the first plane flew into the first tower.   I had a scheduled meeting with Avis, the church administrative secretary, to work on the church budget. I didn’t stop all that I was doing to keep up with the news.  Was I in denial?  Were my priorities screwed up?  At that point I’m pretty sure I didn’t comprehend the gravity of this situation.

I went ahead with the business of the day—numb—until the phone rang.  Church member, Kevin, called to ask me about my response to this situation.  What was the church going to do?  This tragedy was sinking into my mind/soul!  I have no idea how I was going to respond.  All I know for sure:  Kevin, along with numerous others, were calling upon the church for what the church does best–the offering of pastoral support.  Honestly, all we could do at this time was listen and hear and grieve together the loss we were experiencing as a nation.

Kevin would soon travel to New York as a trained Red Cross volunteer to provide logistical support for the thousands who responded to this national crisis.  The church would join with neighboring congregations in worship and prayer.  Seventeen years later, we continue to grieve and search for ways we can respond to this horrific episode in our past.

What were you doing on September 11, 2001? What are we doing now, personally and as a church and nation, to keep America safe?

When I was 42? (1991 – 1992)

A question for my millennial friends: What were you doing when you were 42? What was going on in your life? Many of us who are retired or approaching retirement have children approaching the age of 42. This in mind, I have been reflecting on what I was doing both personally and professionally.

I find myself braking into song:

“When I was 42 – it was a very good year!
Very good year – for family, church and friends”

Now, I have some free time, in retirement, to write about such things. The years around the time I was turning 42 – 1991 and 1992.

What was painfully obvious in my reflecting on this slice of time was my addiction to my work as a Presbyterian Pastor.

Perhaps, someone who runs across this journal entry will benefit from my personal/professional reflections in asking yourself: What was I doing when I was 42!

Now, a quarter century beyond the age of 42, I can see clearly how I could/should have done some things differently. For the most part, I wouldn’t change a thing!

Personal Highlights

It’s hard writing these “personal highlights” because I don’t have notes or a journal to draw upon in building a chronology of evens.

Generally, Nancy and Emily and I, along with two cats, lived in Saginaw, Michigan. We lived in a beautiful home on Court Street.  We loved hat house we occupied for over 25 years.  We had great neighbors – especially Jim and Loraine and Sandra.

Emily was 12 years old attending South Middle School. An active young girl, she was involved in cheerleading and chasing boys. As with all dads, I was always worried about the “boy thing!” 🙂

Emily loved living on Court Street and inviting friends over to play. Two of these girls are friends to this day – Carrie who now lives in Seattle and Darcy who now lives in San Diego.

Nancy was always active as a mother, wife and leader in the church where I was pastor. She was blessed with an opportunity to get her Maser’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Michigan. Having worked for the Saginaw Public Libraries, she got a wonderful position at the Dow Chemical Company. As an ‘Informational Specialist’ Nancy had opportunities to travel the world. At the same time, she always found time to give 100% attention in supporting Emily and me and the church we both loved.

My biggest regret is in not spending more time at home. How many men say this? I can only hope, now and as a grandparent, that I can make up some of what I didn’t give Emily in now spending quality time with our grandson Tommy. Back in 1992 I could only dream of my little girl growing into the lovely parent and wife and daughter she has become today.

I also had ongoing issues with my health—heart issues and chronic arthritis. I will save discussing these important issues for another time. Needless to say, 1992 was a pretty good year for me health-wise.

One experience I recall and now laugh about: Following my doing a funeral with a good friend and mentor, Ron Watson, I went to my second floor study in the house to do some chores. I gathered some trash and decided to save some time by throwing it over the second floor deck fence. The fence wasn’t that strong. When I leaned against it, this fence gave way and I fell 18 feet to the ground landing on my right hip. How would this be funny? My adrenaline kicked in and I got up and ran up the stairs to my study – and called my wife. She came home and took me to he emergency room. Nothing broken but boy was I sore. I also recall attending a meeting of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly Council within a few days – boy was I stiff and sore! Muscle relaxants did a pretty job of helping me through this tough experience. Who do I laugh? The neighbor who said they thought we had an earthquake when my body hit he ground. I hit so hard my glasses were found twenty-feet away!

Lots of personal things that could be said, I want to move to my passion for doing ministry.

Professional Highlights

A capsule in time between 1991 and 1992 – when I was 42

Ordained in 1977 at the age of 26, I was in my 15th year of ministry in the year of our Lord 1992. This was my 7th year as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw. Having previously lived in Davenport, Iowa and Evanston, Illinois, the Cundiff family, as I mentioned before, was living on Court Street in Saginaw.

Church membership in 1992 was roughly 350 members. We celebrated 11 baptisms the previous year, a statistical reminder that things were going well in the church. We received 9 new members in 1992. Unfortunately, we also had 7 funerals that year. As years went by, we would see the losses surpass gains. The church, 26 years later, would need to make the heart-breaking decision to close.

Back to 1992. One thing I loved about this church was the fact the active membership never let the statistics drive their mission. Of course we wanted to see more members—in bringing more people to Christ. In reality, we were more focused on bringing Christ to people in the community. There was a large number of churches in our community. This being a predominantly African American neighborhood, most of the potential for church growth was with neighboring black congregations. Main-line denominations weren’t doing well when it came to receiving large numbers of new members.

As church leaders, again in 1992, we struggled with budget issues. With a demanding program schedule and full staff we were dependent on an endowment fund –a million dollar bequest that was given to the church roughly 20 years earlier. We had a huge campus, nearly 40,000 square feet. There was always a long list of expensive maintenance projects. The endowment fund was often used for emergency repairs that cost a lot of money to maintain. From the 1992 Annual Report:

“As surely as churches have roofs, those roofs will have leaks. We had to deal with three areas of water damage this year, including the renovation of the organ pipe chamber and repairs to an area in the sanctuary. …. We also did a major re-roofing over he Narthex…..” Ruth Gardstrom.

I also liked to joke with the fact the church, with such a large campus, had 11 toilets…..one for every 30 members.

As a congregation, the intentional decision was made to remain in the downtown Saginaw location in order to use our resources in serving the community—especially the children. We made the decision to maintain a full staff including an Associate Pastor, the Rev. Tony Patrick. The Associate Pastor, in addition to doing general work as a pastor, was called to manage our Summer Magic program.

For years, women and men would return to visit the church talking of he wonderful expediencies they had participating in community youth programming.

The congregation loved Tony Patrick. He was a good friend. One of the best things we did as a church during my pastorate was calling him to serve with me as a pastor. We truly grieved when he made the decision to move to Detroit to become pastor of hi s own church—the end of 1992.

1992 was the year the work of a long-range planning committee came to an end with proposals forwarded to the Session in redefining how we would manage bequest, memorial and endowment funds. The church still had an endowment valued at roughly 1 million dollars. This number, however, was misleading given the amount we chose to use to support our annual budget. In 1992 12% of the Market Value of he Endowment was used to support the church operating budget.

1991 Endowment Fund $ 965,175
Amount taken for operating budget $ 115,820
Payback of Renovation Loan $ 40,000

1992 Endowment Fund $1,052,913
Amount used for operating budget $ 126,349
(Numbers from Annual Reports)

In 1992 we adopted a new Mission Statement:

Mission Statement

“We are a people of God rooted in a commitment to use our human, physical and spiritual resources to enrich the lives of our members and our neighbors, near and far, in creating a sense of community. We shall invite and welcome all who profess Christ to join us, to be a witness for Almighty God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, that we might serve the poor, heal he broken and create a community and world filled with God’s justice and peace.”

I must not forget this important fact: I begin service as a member of the General Assembly Council and Committee on the office of General Assembly in the year 1992. Serving the church at the national level was an honor of a life-time!

In 1992 we celebrated our 125th Anniversary. Some of the guests we invited to be with us in celebrating this anniversary:

September 13, 1992 Dr. Clinton Marsh, former PCUSA Moderator and brother of former city mayor and church member was invited to preach.

September 15, 1992 We were host to the meeting of he Presbytery of Lake Huron with Dr. Clinton Marsh preaching.

October 11, 1992 Rev. Timm High from the Community Presbyterian in Flint was invited to preach on HOMECOMING SUNDAY.

November 15, 1992 Dr. James Andrews, Stated Clerk of he PCUSA was our guest preacher. (Note: A perk in serving on the General Assembly Council was in gaining access to national church leaders. Rev. Dr. Ken Hall, another former Moderator, was also scheduled to speak.)

All of these reflections, from my perspective, paint a positive picture. We had (and would always have) an enthusiastic core of church members excited about all the things we were doing in and beyond the community. With a lot of factors working against us, we never lost HOPE in the work that would be accomplished in coming years because of the endowment funds and because a core group of members would never – ever waver in their commitment to be Christ’s Church in the neighborhood.

While I am no longer pastor of the church, I know this church will be closing the end of this year (2018). Yet I have to CELEBRATE all the years we were able, with God’s sustaining help, to move for another 25 years beyond where we were in 1992! Many thought back in the early 90’s that the church was dying and that there was little hope. I now thank God for all the decisions that allowed this wonderful church to serve Christ for many years to come. Everyone who reads this should be proud of all that the church was able to accomplish in its first 125 years in serving Christ. Another 25 years would follow.

As a pastor I loved everything I was called to do. We had, in the church, way too many funerals. I would delight in monthly meetings with the “Lunch Bunch” – seniors who gathered regularly for lunch. I loved leading worship and preaching.

The weekly gathering of members for worship was the highlight of every week in my ministry. I enjoyed greeting members before and after worship.

I enjoyed all the meetings – not because of the work but because we shared in fellowship every time we gathered to meet. I found a great deal of satisfaction in seeing church members gather to do Christ’s work.

One guiding principle in the work we were doing as a congregation and disciples of Jesus Christ was in having fun! In my mind none of the hard work we were doing was worth anything unless we had a sense of satisfaction – and having some is and having some fun in the process. For me Worship was in giving glory to God.

I end this journal entry with this – from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

What is the chief end of man (humankind)?
To glorify God and Enjoy God forever!

 

My Friend — Lottery Winner

 

Are you a lottery winner?  Yes!  I join with my friend from College, Tom Crisp.  He has given me permission to share his FB personal reflections.   I commend him in taking the time to write this insightful piece.  I’m amazed he has such a wonderful memory.   He has giving me cause to reflect on my life filled with blessings – for yes, I am a lottery winner.  Every breath I take proves this fact.  Please read and enjoy.  (a bit long but worth taking time to read it to the end) 

 

 

 

If I win a lottery……by Tom Crisp

If I win a lottery, it won’t be because I deserve it.  The knowledge that lotteries are not a prize for the deserving is probably part of what keeps me playing.  I have as good (or as lousy) a chance as anyone, saint or sinner. 

I have always figured that I won the lottery when I was born in the U.S.A. just as the post war economic boom met the baby boom. I won by being born male, white, on-time, in a hospital, to parents who would remain married. With four living grandparents, 16 aunts and uncles and eventually about 26 cousins, all of whom I got to know, some of whom I grew up with.

 

Being white I had the win of being majority, but more than that, being the status quo. Generally discovering that the person in charge was … like me. Whatever battles lay ahead, I wouldn’t have to fight that one.

 

Not everyone would agree that I won the lottery being raised Catholic, but everyone I knew at the time would say so, especially after JFK broke that barrier. I didn’t know until much later that we were a group hated in some households. (In case we forget, the KKK despised us as Papists, and the John Birch Society was pretty much aligned with that.)

 

I grew up with a library card, in a home with some books, with the World Book Encyclopedia, with some records to listen to, a piano, and a TV that delivered the westerns, the comedies, the variety shows, the late-late-shows and the news shows. Magazines that inspired my need to make art, my love of buildings, my infatuation with cars. Morning and evening newspapers delivered daily.

 

We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor, and if we had been poor an effort would have been made to see that we kids wouldn’t know it – and that we didn’t look it. And definitely that we didn’t announce it. Not that we were pretending to be MORE than we were or had, never that – although it became a game for me later, when I was just old enough to wander into a place like the Waldorf Astoria lobby and act like I belonged there, until I believed that I did.

 

When I was born we lived in a tiny and rather shabby house, but 5 years later moved into a new house my folks had built. We had the same used furniture as before, but new carpet, and slipcovers made from Grandma’s curtains, and 6 of us would share one bathroom – as in most of the houses we visited.

 

The first time I remember looking at the earliest “studio” photo of me, my mother shared two comments: it was not a baby picture (I was about four years old) because we couldn’t afford to have it done sooner. (Finally Grandma ordered it done.) Mom also said that she always was a little embarrassed by the picture because I was wearing worn out tennis shoes. (To this day I look at that photo and can’t tell.) Apparently we couldn’t afford a new pair of shoes for me right then, and after all the waiting for the photo, I guess Mom felt guilty. But they had their priorities straight, saving up for the down payment on the new house that was then just a plan.

 

I was already a repeat lottery winner. One night in the year or so before that photo I had fallen out of the car on a busy road – at dusk, a chancy time to be a small person lying in the middle of the street. Because Mom happened to be driving, and thanks to my brother yelling, “There goes Tommy!”, Dad was able to jump out of the car before it even stopped, flagging down traffic and averting what In my personal opinion would have been disaster. I spent the night in the same hospital where I was born, and possess the bill to show for it: eleven bucks, and Blue Cross paid nine of it.

 

I won again at eleven or twelve. After I contracted rheumatic fever, thanks to antibiotics and our good family doctor, I spent much less than the average time out of school with a disease that less than a century earlier was near certain death. And I escaped any permanent effects to heart and lungs.

 

I didn’t quite win on teeth. I was cavity prone. But they grew in more or less in a straight line, and l did always have dental care. A few years ago my hygienist told me I inherited very good gums. So there, cavities.

 

I won the teacher lottery, that’s for sure, and still remember the names of all my teachers, K-12, and most who came later, from Sister Irene in kindergarten to Simona Volpi, my beautiful Torinese Italian tutor of 16 years ago. I had wonderfully nice friends through all those years, even after changing schools twice in one year, and changing towns, too. Thanks to FaceBook and reunions I regularly get to touch base with some of my earliest friends – the very first children I played with.

 

I was a kid attracted to cities, but happily growing up in small towns, in an era when all summer we ran free, once the morning chores were done, and where we knew it might be reported to our parents if anyone saw us get out of line. We got out of line anyway, of course, but we were lottery winners, and we escaped alive and intact, uncorrupted by our associations.

 

Despite my intention in high school to go to college a long way from home, I ended up an hour’s drive away and ended up happy about that. Thanks to my parents’ sacrifices and some scholarship help I also ended up debt free at graduation, whereupon I began making up for the matter. (My folks did their best to get us all through school without debts – I didn’t know how lucky I was.)

 

In the middle of that, the draft lottery drew some lines and let millions of young men know who could expect to go to Vietnam, and who could likely expect not to. At number 221 I was on the “not” side; like some of my friends, and unlike others. Many waited with resignation for the yellow envelope to arrive. Many others rushed to enlist in order to give their service a measure of self-determination. A few of the young men I knew then did not come back; some others, who I would meet later, had returned not always whole.

 

I wrote that among my chance winnings was being born a male. True then and still true for those born today, around the world and in the US. This implies that females are on the losing side, which is both far too simple to be a rule and, by numbers, also true. For reasons ranging from the traditional to the pseudo-logical to the preposterous, women of all ages are systematically put on the margins. We’ve seen steady if hard-won improvement for women in the “first world,” but the numbers say it is still a plus to be male on this planet, and in many places a life (or death) sentence to be female.

 

These propositions are loaded with exceptions. Because life itself is a game of chance, and advantage occurs on a broad spectrum, not all males feel or are privileged, or blessed with choice and freedom and advantage, and not all women are or feel held back and denied justice. Poverty/wealth, illness/health, love/neglect, all can make or strip away the sense of rightfulness that comes with the birth lottery. Wealth, talent, intelligence, looks, drive, supportive adults – are all distributed unevenly. But that combination of numbers on my first ticket: American, male, 20th century, hard-working and generous parents, strong early education, opportunity, freedom of expression, good health … these were such strokes of great fortune that to think today that I have anything else “coming to me” that does not involve very hard work would be greedy to the nth.

 

My lottery has continued. I’ve been able to pursue dreams, even if I’ve fallen short. I’ve been loved and have given love. I’ve laughed, and been disappointed, and learned, and made things. Making things is the big deal for me, to write something, make a painting, design, build. I’ve seen a lot of the country, a little of the world, and had all the good books anyone could hope to read, with no one telling me I couldn’t. I’ve had the ballot in my hands for almost 50 years; when my vote was for the winner and when it was not, I’ve always believed in it and the power it gave me.

 

I was young and gay in an era when that meant steady change and progress, and I was lucky enough never to hate myself for it. I was also gay in the age of a plague. I won the HIV lottery, whether because I was lucky in birth again, and have something that defies it, or because I was in some way more moderate, or because I was, actually, just plain lucky, and I’ve felt the unreasonable responsibility to live well for those who died young. Because I lost on the other side of that ticket: friends and acquaintances gone too soon, quite knocked down in the prime of life, and in the beginning under a cloud of mystery and suspicion, and no recourse to fight it.

 

“Winning” isn’t all rewards. In any field of play, it carries the burden of “what next?” (Losing has that factor, too, but we know the difference of the meaning in each situation.) And though I believe that life is hugely influenced by habit (much more than by luck), winning is accompanied by loss. Anyone who has loved and lost – which is, face it, everyone – can tell you that. Winning has responsibilities, if you’re made of anything but selfishness. It also provides opportunities, whether to share the money-wealth outright, or to share your intangible wealth: exchanging knowledge, creating opportunities, bringing joy, saving or sparing lives, inspiring the dispirited. Share spendable riches but also share the wealth of skill, experience, time, listening. These things are nothing less than “affirmative action”, or as otherwise named, the Beatitudes.

 

The humorist Fran Liebowitz told David Letterman, “I don’t consider the lottery gambling: when you gamble there’s a chance you might win.” By that wise measure, gambling includes investing in or starting a business, writing or producing a play, making a new product, expressing a new thought, sticking your neck out for somebody, putting your time into someone else’s growth. You are quite likely to lose those gambles. But when you win, it is extra rewarding, because it is so much more than chance. There’s minor satisfaction in betting and winning on a sure thing. Bet and win on a long shot if you want to know elation.

 

So, though no doubt some “deserving” people win the lottery, it’s not BECAUSE they deserve it. God isn’t handing out the winning numbers as a reward any more than He is handing out hurricanes or diseases or football losses as punishment. In fact, if only truly deserving people won the lottery, the rest of us would never play, and the jackpots would be modest indeed. We KNOW we don’t have to be deserving. It is the ultimate egalitarian roll of dice, on the billions-to-one scale of solar systems.

 

As in life, whether you “deserve” to win is probably something you demonstrate afterwards. Few of us have been prepared to live in a “worthy” manner if landed on by extreme, sudden wealth. We imagine we could handle it – I for one have better answers for “what would you do if you won millions?” than I do for the more likely question, “what do you plan to do since you won’t be winning millions?” It would be a tremendous challenge, but I think the only way not to be ruined by a super prize would be to give a whole lot of it away very fast, then keep giving more away slowly, always with the steadfast conviction that you didn’t deserve it in the first place.

 

Knowing that, what I’d try to do, just as I hope to do with my lifetime lottery winnings, which are so intangible that no one can take them away, is not deserve it, but serve it. So there’s the plan, whatever the bankroll I’m working with. ~ Tom Crisp NY NY 8/24/17

 

 

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”

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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!