Sunday, October 26, 2014

After Four Months as a Part-time Pastor

A reflection on serving East Tenth United Methodist Church

East Tenth UMC has some really striking old stained
glass in its 1911 structure. The simplicity of the old
sanctuary invites contemplation and reverence.
I've been serving part-time as Pastor of East Tenth United Methodist Church since the first of July. These four months have flown by. Though the time I have to invest is very limited, I enjoy preaching and facilitating weekly services again, as well as basic pastoral care. I also enjoy participating in the open community dinners the church hosts every Sunday evening. Forty or so folks attend the 10:45 am service, but about 100 nearby neighbors come for good food and gracious hospitality at 5:00 pm each Sunday evening.

The work I have committed myself to in leading Near East Area Renewal is top priority for me, but the fact that NEAR is developing affordable housing and building community relationships within St. Clair Place--the neighborhood in which East Tenth UMC is located--creates good synergies. Both keeping the two roles separate and working the angles of them together when appropriate is a fun challenge.

I've been following the full range of Sunday by Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and preaching from one of the texts. I'd forgotten how intriguing and fun this can be. Each week is an adventure as I let the texts work on me through the course of my daily work in the community. Throughout the summer and early autumn, I've preached from the Old Testament stories in Genesis and Exodus. They naturally reflect on the history of salvation and the liberating acts of God that create opportunities for community.

These are lovable and caring people. On the one hand, disparate, few, and somewhat fragile; on the other hand, steady, informed, and with a persistent sense of belonging. My sense is that they've hung in there through an unusually high series of pastoral changes and unusually diverse range of pastors. I'd like to think that I could offer them a long-term pastoral tenure, even as part-time, but we'll take it one year at a time. First things first.

I've been fascinated by East Tenth since my days of serving at Shepherd Community in the 1980's. East Tenth represented to me a church that "gets" loving its community and neighbors. It still does. I've enjoyed friendship across the years with its 1990's pastor Darren Cushman-Wood (now Senior Pastor at North UMC). I've enjoyed my numerous opportunities to preach at East Tenth when its pastors have been away. I never imagined serving as pastor of this historic urban neighborhood congregation.

My sense of the East Tenth Street UMC community is that it's life and future is connected intimately with it being turned inside out in neighborly love in the larger Near Eastside community. It's own internal life is limited, but it's direct and indirect reach into the community is rich. I imagine a spiritual formation that reflects an historic Wesleyan ethos and first-generation Methodist practice of social holiness and service to low-income and at-risk neighbors.

At the same time, I am anxious to initiate a few home-based small groups or clusters that will reflect something of the class meetings that also historically defined and catapulted Methodism to its earlier effectiveness. Accountability and encouragement within a group of 8-12 people meeting weekly is a powerful thing. We'll see how that develops over the next six months.

In all, I've clearly bitten off more than I can chew. I cannot invest the time I feel is needed to turn some corners that need to be turned. I accepted the assignment thinking I could help the church remain viable and grow as one of the last mainline congregations on the Near Eastside. There is a slew of new neighbors in St. Clair Place to consider. New folks are attending church steadily and core church folks are clearly and naturally expressing care in the nearby community. This is promising to me. I hope growth and renewal continues. For now, I'm just happy to be reconnected and serving. After being on the bench or sidelines for a few years, I think it's good for my own soul.

If you're not doing anything on Sundays at 10:45 am, you might enjoy what we're up to at East Tenth.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Monday, October 20, 2014

Grace in Autumn

Wendell Berry reflects on autumn's glory in the woods

A brief bicycle ride in nearby Eagle Creek Park brings the presence and power of autumn to my senses: the crisp-cool air, vibrant colors, falling and fallen leaves, and a realization of this necessary dying turn of life's cycle. Later, I came across this poem by Wendell Berry titled, simply, "Grace."

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.
It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking,
the way is the same. Be still. Be still.
"He moves your bones, and the way is clear."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn as Metaphor

Parker J. Palmer challenges us to see the paradox of dying and seeding in this incredible season

"Autumn is a season of great beauty, but is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer's abundance decays toward winter's death.  Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn?  She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring--and she scatters them with amazing abandon."

"In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface experiences--on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of a vocation.  And yet, if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come."

"In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time--how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the 'road closed' sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know. On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sewn."

"In a culture that prefers the ease of either/or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together.  We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter, and the Faustian bargains we make fail to sustain our lives."

"When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows ever more terrifying as we try to hold it off.  Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing."

From The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.  Parker Palmer's books include Let Your Life Speak, The Active Life, In the Company of Strangers, and The Courage to Teach.