Word of the Week

What did you do to celebrate Easter this weekend?

I went to Oklahoma.

When I found out I wasn't preaching this Easter (which of course made me sad but is just a par for the course in a free-range pastor life), I knew I needed to do help our family plan something special. I wanted to be with people we loved.  I wanted to act out Easter.

When a friend asked me last week about our plans, I joked that we were making a "resurrection pilgrimage."  At first it sounded like dorky preacher talk but the more the words settled in, I knew I spoke right. That this was indeed what we were doing.

Spending Easter in Oklahoma was a resurrection pilgrimage.

If any day defines who we are as Christian people, it's Easter. Easter tells us that hope springs eternal. And new life is always possible. (Which is no small thing, people!).

As a pastor, I'm known to say to congregations I serve that resurrection is a verb. It's a living action that Jesus took. It's action that changes our living lives. It's an action that we take in response to what Jesus has done for us. It's action that keeps going and going. And resurrection is always personal.

We all have resurrection stories to tell. Here's one of mine:

There was a day when I thought I might not pastor anymore. The 2012-2105 years in Oklahoma beat me down. It had taken away my courage. And it made me feel like I didn't have a lot to offer the world when congregations kept saying to me, "You'll never work in the state as a lady pastor." So much in my life felt dead. Maybe the pastor part of my life was done and over?

Then I met the Federated Church in the middle of Western Oklahoma. They asked me to be their interim pastor.

And this church called out my gifts again and kept telling me how happy they were that I used them. And this church loved through my tears. And this church continued to be in my life (and the life of my family) in very significant ways even after I left my official role. I wrote about my experience of being "Breathless with Gratitude" because of them back in April of 2015.

My life was changed because of knowing this church-- a statement I don't make lightly.

So much so that my daughter's middle name comes from one of the families in the congregation. As she was a resurrection gift in our lives, she needed a name, we felt that equally came from a place of resurrection.

So, as I sat in the pew on Sunday morning, listening to their new pastor (who is wonderful, by the way) share his own resurrection story, a story that had everything to do with his experience of the same love I knew in that place, I couldn't help but think this is the best of what church can be.

Together, in community, we come together to experience new life. And we then share it with one another. We really are never the same!

Resurrection looks like pastors finding their vocation again through congregations that see them as they are.

Resurrection looks like people being joined together in family relationships, though no birth certificate demands it.

Resurrection looks like congregations singing, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" not in memory of some event that happened 2,000 years ago, but as a statement of fact about the present.

So hopefully next year, I'll be preaching on Easter-- for I have so much to say-- but if I'm not, I'll be sure to plan another resurrection pilgrimage.

Because what better way to celebrate Easter than with God's gift of Spirit-given family?  I couldn't be more thankful for mine in Oklahoma.

And I know that more resurrection gifts in my life (and yours too) are still yet to be!

This week like many of you, I'm thinking much about the possibilities of 2016. What joy might be around the corner? What hope might I need to find? What love is yet to be?

But when I think back over 2015, I have to admit though, it has been a TOTAL surprise! But the best kind.

I started the year as the interim pastor of a congregation in Oklahoma. I loved every minute.


Then, early in February, Kevin and I had the professional experience of the lifetime getting to attend the National Prayer Breakfast (and heard some prophetic preaching from the President). We also had meetings with Congressional leaders via our work with Feed the Children at the White House. So cool! 

On February 21st, I celebrated my birthday with these dear ones at a quiet party on top of the Devon Tower in OKC. My dear husband made this lovely surprise possible, a colliding of my worlds!


In March, I enjoyed preaching a Lent series called "First Family" sticking close to the first 5 chapters of Genesis.  The sermon: "We are Clothed" was one of my favorites. Preacher friends: would highly recommend preaching through Genesis during Lent. There's some good stuff there.

Easter was a highlight as well. I led an Easter sunrise service with a fellow female pastor in the middle of Western Oklahoma. (Who would have thought it?) And then a couple hours later I preached one of those Easter sermons when I felt really proud when I was done. I wanted the congregation to know that Easter is a way of life, not just a day and I think they heard me.

2015-04-26 18.14.29April, sadly was a month of treasuring our last days as a resident in Oklahoma in beautiful scenery like this and saying a lot of "thank you's" to God for the gifts of the journey. Most of all, the word, "Beautiful and Terrible Things Happen" was on my mind-- one of my best blog posts of the year, I believe.

May was a month of rest and travel, saying goodbye (at least from our official duties) as President and First Lady of Feed the Children. I preached this sermon at the Dagoretti Children's Center in Nairobi, Kenya with tears in my eyes: "Why are the Hagans Leaving Feed the Children?" Proving yet again that I can't be in Kenya without having wet eyes.IMG_5345

But, as much as I was saying "goodbye" to Oklahoma friends in the move, I quickly found out it was more like "see you later." It's a beautiful thing when God gives you community all over the world!


Once back in DC, God kept giving me places to preach. One of these places was at my home church, Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian in Reston.

Early in June, it was my beloved Pastor Jean's anniversary Sunday and  I boldly proclaimed, "How long will you grieve?" It was one of those sermons though that made people wonder if I'd lost my mind when I started and my soul sister, Amanda and I still laugh about it. 2015-06-14 13.33.16-2

One of my favorite memories of the summer included being the Baptist House chaplain at The Chautauqua Institute in New York. Not only was it a life changing week with a friend but it was the moment I heard a word of direction about starting something new.

A HUGE NEW PROJECT is in the works and I can't wait to tell you more about it in 2016!

2015 was also the year I got over my fear of riding a bike! Look out world . . .2015-07-03 18.16.45-1

In September, Kevin and I bought a new house and prepared to move across town. After living in two states for three years we were ready to slow down and be in ONE place. Though there were bumps along the way-- the house buying process is never for the faint at heart-- we made it through and soon were settled in (though of course we have tons of work to do in the future!).

I refreshed my commitment to writing in the fall-- trying to only BLOG when I had something really burning to say and re-submitted my book proposal for publication (fingers crossed for 2016!).

And as far as the blog goes, these were three of my most read posts:

"Staying in Your Own Lane"  (jealous anyone?) and  "It Gets Better" (a post about marriage) and "All of Life is a Gift" (after visit to Riverside Church in NYC).

This Advent season I was asked to preach at Springfield Christian Church in Springfield, VA for the whole month. I had fun with it! My favorite service was Christmas Eve-- a service in English and Spanish.  Yakelin, the ordained minister and translator I worked with was so full of the Spirit and made the experience one of my favorite of my life. We were so in sink with each other. It feel like a work of art to go back and forth between Spanish and English. I wanted to cry tears of joy when the sermon was over.

And now, we're celebrating the holidays with a beloved friend of ours from Kenya that we met in Nairobi 4 years ago. Sherlyne has brought our home so much joy and we love her very much.


If there is anything I've learned in 2015 is to live in the moment, accept what is and cling to the good.

It could be SO easy for me to be anxious on a regular basis because so little about my life or ministry is planned or settled.

But, I hope as this post shows that when you follow God, things happen. Things you can't dream up happen! So it's only our job to hang on for the ride!

A friend of mine recently told me 'I'm his favorite circuit riding preacher." And I liked that. I can't wait to stay on the move in 2016. Coming to a town near you soon!

It's very easy to judge the surroundings of a place by the people, politics or your perceptions of the people or politics.

It's easy to say "this place is ugly" or "this place is so inviting" based on the welcome you receive.

And it's easy to fly through life with such a speed that you don't even notice the night sky.

Such was my story with Oklahoma.

I pouted when our car first crossed the state line about how flat it was. I begged my husband often, "How soon can go back to a place with trees?" I used descriptive words like God's wasteland.

Simply put: I could not see. I could not see at all. Though there was so much raw, natural and inhibited beauty, I walked around with my eyes shut. I imposed my frustrations with human things unfairly on the things of nature.

It took a trip last year to Africa and a hard conversation with a friend stopped me from complaining anymore by saying, "Why are you hating this land? It belongs to God. It's God's land, not anyone else's."

As these words started to seep in, I saw anew! My long drives to work were no longer dreaded but treasured time for contemplation of beauty. I saw for the very first time that Oklahoma is truly a gorgeous state. Who cared what the politics were? Who cared that so and so just said this horrible thing? I had an appointment to keep with the sunrises, the clouds and the stars.

Oklahoma is a state full of brilliant night skies. It's a place where the horizon goes on and on and you think you might be able to walk to the end of the earth. It's a place that brings Psalm 19:1 to mind: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands"

Once I began to take more moments in my days to pause and to look up, I saw views like this.

IMG_5640IMG_1475 11156405_10153253637774168_7604563101475887746_nIMG_6475image1And as I took each one of these moments in, I saw God.

I saw God in new colors and shades.

I saw God in the fierce moments of winds.

I saw God in the expansive views from east to west.

And all I could say in response was "Thank you."

So, on this earth day, what are you seeing? Even if you are in a place that might not be your favorite, remember the words of my wise friend, "The earth belongs to God." And for this, we can be grateful.

A friend recently asked me how I felt about leaving Oklahoma soon.  This is what I said: "I am breathless with gratitude."

I think it surprised her that I didn't give a simple: "I'm happy" or "I'm sad" about it answer. I think she even would have been satisfied with a "Change is hard" statement from me or something like "I'm excited about the future."

But I said none of these things. Not even close to "I'm jumping for joy. Thank God I'm getting out of here" (as I would have said 2 years ago).

No simply: "I am breathless with gratitude."

For when the day comes that our packed car pulls heads back East for new adventures, I won't be leaving this state wiping the dust off my feet as I once thought I would. I won't be leaving with a face of disgust. Nor, will I be leaving with all the pain of these 3 years (and it's been a lot!) at the forefront of my mind.

No, I'll be leaving saying, "I am breathless with gratitude." And my little NF heart just might burst as I do. (By NF I'm referring to Myers Brigg language). There's much to be grateful for!

I'll be leaving this way because faces like this:


And this:

IMG_5238And this:


And these as well:


And countless others I'd still like to get photos with!

These faces have been love to me. They've seen me for who I really am-- flaws and all in a state where I felt unseen for so long. And they've affirmed me as their pastor, their friend and their fellow traveler on the journey of life in Oklahoma.

Recently I told them this in a newsletter.

When I think of what it means to live into our calling as Easter people, the one word that comes to mind is “surprise!” Because when you think about it, the resurrection, as the first disciples experienced it, was most certainly a surprise. Resurrection was shocking, overwhelming and most certainly not what they expected. But yet, when they learned the great news, it was their job to live into it. They were charged to go and tell what they saw!

As for me, in looking back on the short but oh so meaningful time that I’ve spent with you, The Federated Church, surprise is the one of the best words I have for describing it.

From the first time I learned about you, I was surprised to learn that a church like Federated existed in Western Oklahoma. I was surprised that you wanted me to be your interim pastor. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed preaching every Sunday again. I was surprised at how flexible you are. I was surprised how quickly I grew to love you all so deeply. I was surprised to tell a friend recently that “The Federated Church has changed me. I know now that I can’t not pastor when I go back to Virginia.”

Isn't this God’s Spirit at work? If we believe that God’s mercies are indeed new every morning, then, surprise is what we’re all about!  And it’s not just for pastors, but it’s for EVERYONE.

As you and I enter our next chapters, my prayer for you is one of continual surprises! The best is yet to be for both of us. All my love to you, Elizabeth

I talk a lot about being "Easter people" because I just love the metaphor of Good Friday/ Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday a paradigm of how we move through our lives. And as for our time in Oklahoma, we've experienced all of these movements.

So here's my word-

Oklahoma, you've given us one hell of some Good Fridays!  But you've also given us some glorious Easter Sundays! And with breathless gratitude, I say thank you. For all Kevin and I have endured. For all we've seen and experienced. For all those who have loved me into becoming authentically present here, I say thank you.

Because of the community of Christ, I am no longer in the ashes and for this I can't help but be breathless with so much gratitude!

Back for my birthday in February, I got a new toy: a Fitbit. It's a activity tracker that I wear on my body at all possible times. Kevin already had one for a couple of weeks. A true competitor at heart, I happily accepted the gift and the challenge of walking my way to a more active life and of course seeking to out step my husband!

Since the addition of the Fitbit to our lives, I've needed to rediscover the neighborhood where I live. You can only pace around the grocery store and your house for so long before you need a wide open space to quickly accumulate your steps. So off I've gone pacing around my Oklahoma neighborhood on a daily basis.

There's so much to enjoy about the beauty of the neighborhood where we live (we will  miss it so when we move), especially early in the morning and late at night. Oklahoma sunrises and sunsets are bar none! And around our family friendly subdivision so there's always so much joy to take in from the kids running around barefoot in their yards or playing soccer and basketball with their friends in the community park.There's grandmothers tending their flowers with such zest that make me want to garden again.

But as I'm doing my laps, there are moments when I quickly am shocked back to where I am: the buckle of the Bible belt. Being a Christian in this state it seems is something you drink in the water. You can't go very far without someone saying "God bless you" or telling a story that begins, "Well, it's just a God thing."

And then yesterday on my walk, I noticed this in front of several of my neighbor's homes.


A white wooden cross in not one yard but multiple yards throughout my neighborhood.  With each passing one I saw, I started making up stories about how one of the local mega churches (and there are so many!) must have distributed them on a Palm Sunday and told congregants to place them in their yards as a way to "mark their homes as Easter celebrating Christians."

The thing is about Oklahoma that I've learned during my three years here is that it doesn't need a white cross campaign to identify some households as Christians and others as not because for goodness sake, we're in Oklahoma! Being a democrat is a sin!

You may think I've gotten off my whacker here. "Aren't you a pastor? Wouldn't you also promote a white cross campaign?"

No I wouldn't. It's true, I am a pastor. But this is the thing: I am not a showy pastor.

In my experience, I've never made anyone "won over" the gospel by the fact that I wore a "Jesus Saves" t-shirt or put a fish symbol on the back of my car. No one has ever wanted to talk to me about my relationship with Jesus because I wore a cross necklace or made a dramatic entrance to a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon while wearing my Sunday best.

Faith, you see, for me is about how I treat you. It's about how I quiet myself before God. It's about how I give back in my time and finances. It's how I love all my neighbors, especially those of a different faith from me or no faith at all. It's not about outward acts of piety or my church attendance record.

I believe when folks see that you are the real deal-- that you love God and love others--- they want to know more.

So my friends, this Easter weekend before you consider making resurrection Easter eggs and taking them to the neighbors' kids or posting comments on Facebook about your holiness activities, stop and ask yourself the simple question: "Why?"

Maybe if we all spent less time concentrating on what hung on our exterior, we'd have more time to ready our interior for the great JOY that is ours to have on Easter morning.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

On Monday, these words appeared in the feeds of so many of my friends all across social media. We tweet and retweet them because we love the power Dr. King’s words conveyed. We love the hope that he inspires us to. We love the picture of equality that he creates.

But, recently in Oklahoma, Senate Bill 13, proposed by Sen. Don Barrington says this:

10915195_10204292567007396_7425862387777345019_nWhere is the dream in this?

Beginning with a Disciples of Christ Church pastor, then supported by the United Church of Christ conference of Kansas and Oklahoma, a group of pastors and churches said no.

Hoodie Sunday on January 18th asked pastors and church members across Oklahoma to protest.

On the Facebook page created for the event, “Wear a Hoodie at Church Sunday” said it is not about the hoodie.

“Hoodie Sunday” isn't really about hoodies – it's about sticking up for each other; empowering our communities to come together in love, reconciliation, and understanding; equipping our police to serve and protect us all as fairly.”

So, during the pastoral prayer time on Sunday morning, I put on my hoodie and told the congregation, The Federated Church (A PCUSA, UCC, Disciples congregation) why.

I said part of what it means to be a person of faith is to use our voice to speak truth to power. When our lawmakers propose legislation that goes against the teachings of Jesus—as we’ve come to understand them—that God loves and affirms the gifts of all people, we’ve got a serious problem.

This is what I most know: Oklahoma Senate Bill 13 is merely a diversion to the real issues that need to be addressed in our state—as UCC conference minister, Edith Guffey has recently remarked. And it's a bill that further discriminates against people of color and those whose religious practice includes covering their heads (not two groups of people Oklahoma is friendly with in general already).

I have to admit, I’m not the most political pastor. I believe, it’s a fine line to walk when you bring opinions about legislative actions into the pulpit. As an ordained American Baptist I believe in the separation of church and state. Never do I want to be known as a person who is campaigning from the pulpit for any one political party or candidate (not to mention it’s illegal). When I speak to something “political,” it’s not a decision made in haste.

But, I left church on Sunday glad I wore the hoodie in the pulpit, at least in a small way to have conversation about race and the laws of the land in Oklahoma.

And, I was even more thankful for this decision on Monday when Kevin, a friend and I attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in downtown Oklahoma City.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was. Kevin, my friend and I were some of the very few white people there (beside the police). What??

In contrast, you could just feel the restlessness in the air as we walked toward the parade’s start on 7th and Broadway, side-by-side several African-American families.

As I observed the by-standers picking up candy and dancing to the beat of drums, eyes spoke to me. And what I heard was:

“Nobody cares.”

“We’re in this alone.”

“Dr. King’s dream has not yet made it to Oklahoma.”

I remembered why such ridiculous legislation called Senate Bill 13 existed. It’s normal for many operate in Oklahoma from the perspective of an all-white bubble. White tunnel vision does not receive a challenge.

But, if we truly are going to be people of Dr. King’s dream—what are we going to DO about it?

Hoodie Sunday in Oklahoma was just a start . . .

What's next?

This week, our the Epistle lesson from the lectionary took us to I Thessalonians 2: 1-8

It's a passage that we don't often hear preached in church or a book we often study in Bible classes-- but it's a passage that has a lot to say to us about the nature of ministry and what the gospel of Jesus Christ asks us to do.

It's it comes from a context by which many of us are familiar: the Apostle Paul's 2nd Missionary journey. Paul is seeking to preach the gospel to the unreached and lands in Thessalonica alongside his traveling companions Timothy and Silvanus.

And as he visits Thessalonica Paul begins with his standard operating procedure. He preaches in the synagogues. Then, either the people believe or they don't. But in the case of this particular town, the opposition to Paul's message was fierce. He quickly had to leave-- though he truly wanted to stay and nurture the new believers there.

Yet, in his absence, he writes a letter back with words of testimony and instructions. Saying words such as this in chapter 2 of his first letter:

"As you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition." 

Or in other words church: I want you to know that I was faithful to preach the Word of God to you, even though I faced opposition doing so.

In a couple of days, we'll mark as the church Reformation Day-- the movement that started with Martin Luther holding the church accountable.  And as we mark this occasion, it's a day to remember that sometimes what God needs most from followers of Jesus-- both individually and collectively is to call into question the ways that the culture has watered down our faith. And to stand and proclaim the gospel-- even when it is unpopular.

But as I began to think about the context in which I would preach this text-- a gathered community of believers in Oklahoma-- I wondered what in the world do we know about persecution for our faith here?

We live in a very Christian society.

Just last week, I was at the gym and noticed the Christian radio blasting from the speakers. I asked a staff member why, for I didn't know that this was a religious gym. He replied, "Oh everybody in Oklahoma likes Christian music right?"

We live in a place where there are churches galore on almost every street corner. Every flavor at your doorstep!

We live in a place where celebrating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter bring us no ill will. In fact, our children get off these days at school.

So what about declaring "the gospel in spite of great opposition" as Paul speaks of? How do we do this?

The last time I read the gospel though, the message of Jesus was always about standing with those who are ignored, those who are marginalized and those who may be different from the norm. So who are these people in our context?

It's no surprise to say that Muslims/ Christian relations in Oklahoma are at an all time low.

After the brutal workplace murder last month of  Colleen Hufford in Moore, OK by an alleged man with extremist Muslim views-- all Muslims in our area have grown to have targets on their back as if the actions of one spoke for all.

In fact soon after this horrible murder, OK Representative John Bennett said that Muslims in our country were like a "cancer that needed to be cut out of American society." And many agreed with him.

Some with similar views began making threatening calls to local mosque leadership, sending hate mail and warning children not to attend school in their traditional dress. One group calling themselves "Patriot Pastors" even organized hate rallies at a Baptist Church in Edmond, OK.

But, there are other voices in this conversation-- other voices who believe the Christian message is one that always begins in love.

Many of these have come from  ministers like these from this church standing beside Muslims who are a part of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations).

But this is the story I most want to tell you:

There's a group of Oklahoma University students who began organizing recently to say that all people of this state are not hateful toward our Muslim neighbors. They began asking fellow students to sign a petition of solitary with Muslims. The university president even signed!

But then they took their "solidarity" one step further-- they began organizing students, faculty and other area pastors to attend Friday Prayers at Oklahoma City's mosque. They wanted to show in person that acceptance stronger than prejudice.

I can't imagine what some of their parents and relatives must have thought when they found out.

But yet they did it, in spite of the opposition to come as Paul speaks about.

And I'm so glad they did, even if their small and courageous act didn't make the headlines on the news. Isn't this what the gospel is all about? Even if we have disagreements, God never wants us to be hateful.

The reformers long ago didn't ask the church to change to be static. No. They reformed so that the church could continue to reform.

So I ask you, in your community what reformation is the Spirit asking you to make?

As for me here in Oklahoma, I want to find ways to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Muslim neighbors so the extremist voices aren't the only ones we hear!

imageI wasn't sure I'd ever do it again. I wasn't sure if it was ever possible in Oklahoma. I wasn't sure how all the duel state life would come together.

Too many people laughed at me when I asked them if they would hire me. Too much crazy travel has become the norm in our household that I didn't see any time available for a weekly committment. Too much uncertainty about the future.

But, it happened this week.

I accepted an interim position as Pastor of the Federated Church in Weatherford, OK. Weatherford is a small but growing town that hosts the college Southwestern Oklahoma State. It is also home to part of the historic route 66.

Yesterday, I was shown to an office, given keys and told the password for the church WiFi. People started visiting with me in my office. It became real fast! 

Pastor Elizabeth is back in the regular business of church life.

Over the next several months, I'll have the opportunity to do more of what I love: preaching, pastoral care and assisting with administration.The church leadership has been kind enough to want to work around my schedule of all things Feed the Children and honors the fact that I want to stay connected as much as I can to my life in DC as well. So, I'll just be working part-time. I've noticed their favorite word so far is flexible and this really works for me!

Interestingly, this church is aligned with the United Church of Christ (UCC), Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) and the Presbyterian USA. And though my ordination is through the American Baptist Churches USA and I've served in United Methodist Churches before, they want me to lead them.

It feels like a great chance to live into what I say I believe: that I am an ecumenical Christian. What matters most is not the name of the church type on the door, but that we love Jesus and love each other.

Most of all, I'm so thankful to the Oklahoma/ Kansas UCC conference minister, Rev. Edith Guffey for connecting me to this open-minded congregation!

Stay tuned for more stories from this latest pastoral adventure!image

Some school children in Edmond, Oklahoma wrote these notes to be put in a disaster relief box given out by Feed The Children this week. Words to live by: