"What is it like to be married to Kevin?"

I've been asked this question a lot over the past 4 years since Kevin became the Chief Executive Officer at Feed the Children and now at the American Diabetes Association.

The simple answer is: "He works a lot."

Not only is Kevin one of the most dedicated men I know-- being driven toward growth and transformation in all he does which takes a lot of time-- but the demands of the role are great by nature.

Since becoming CEO of these two organizations, hundreds of stakeholders whether they be board members, industry partners or employees all beg for his time on a daily basis. Everyone wants an email reply in . 5 seconds after they send it. Every phone call in his "to be returned" list seems to be urgent. No evening or weekend is sacred. Ever.

It's a balancing act for sure, as I watch, him do it and carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. And it's a lot of weight! Especially leading a mission driven organization, the stakes are high! So in this environment. . .  our days of rest together are few.

Yet as much as I know marriage only works when I'm 100% on his team (and he mine) . . .

There has to come a time for Sabbath, for rest, for play.

I'm learning to help him (and us) find them and savor these moments, even when they arrive on days we wouldn't expect.

A week and a half ago, Kevin and I found ourselves in San Fransisco, CA for the American Diabetes Association's annual Post-Grad course. Over 500 doctors, educators and pharmaceutical representatives all gathered for several days of meetings, lectures and time to be together to talk about the latest research in the diabetes world.  I traveled there to help Kevin host a reception with some of the industry partners and be a part of other conference events.

As an aside, it's amazing front row seat (literally) I've been given to learning about this horrific disease and hearing first hand the stories of those living with its hardships every day. It most certainly keeps my brain churning in new ways about how the church can better serve those living with diabetes (since that's my vocation). 

So all this to say, I didn't expect to have any free time during our trip, especially with Kevin. 

But somehow the stars collided and it happened. We had one morning and part of the afternoon off together. Just the two of us. It was a miracle!

And as we wandered the streets of San Fran doing what we love most: window shopping and nibbling our way through a meal (and of course stopping at every Starbucks for Kevin's tea refill), I felt like we had our first day of rest in a long time. It was fun. It was play. And I realized how little of this we do anymore.

But how much both of us need it. IMG_7282

The body needs rest. It needs diversions. And couples need rest and excursions together. Play is good for the soul as much as medical professionals tell us it's good for the brain. 

So when we got home last week I made a point to bring it up this very topic with Kevin. I told him we must plan another "just you and me" day. And he agreed. We can't go that long again.  And I think we've found another date to look forward to.

We've all got to do it.

Even the types of us that think we get a pass . . . business owners, pastors and CEOs too.

We've all got to make time for play even if it just trying to figure out if this was really Jimmy Fallon or just a traveling exhibit from Madame Tussaud's. 

This Sunday as I preached, I stayed close to the text of Exodus 24-- the story of Moses' sitting with God and being surrounded by God's glory so that he could receive the law. Though there were many ways I could go with the text, verse 16 is what I couldn't get off my mind.

"The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days.”death of moses

Can you imagine it? Moses sitting for 6 days before the Lord with nothing else going on but just waiting on something to happen! Six whole night and days. If you count it up that would be 144 hours. 8,640 minutes. 518,400 seconds. What a long time!

Have you ever sat in silence for this long?

I have not.

However, when I try to take intentional Sabbaths, turning off my phone (gasp, I know!), not making plans with friends it's ALWAYS harder to disconnect than I think. On these days, I often start making lists in my head of what I will do when it over! And if it gets really bad, I trade in mediation for counting the minutes until I can get up. When can I talk again is what I want to know . . .

Anybody with me on this?

Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and spirituality teacher, in the book Inner Voice of Love writes this about this tendency: “We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, but what if ....”

I loved what Nowuen offers because he goes on to remind us that: “God wants to dwell in our emptiness.” We don’t have to bring a thing to be with God. We just have to show up for it and allow the Spirit to help us be still.

And as we are still:

It’s about letting go of fear—the fear of all of the what ifs?

It’s about letting go of shame—oh what will so and so think of they saw how I was spending my time!

It’s about letting go of what we’ve constructed around us: comfort foods, normal routines and making plans for next summer and beyond . . .

For in true quiet, we can't lean on anything or anyone else but God.

Want to give it a try?

It might be as simple as turning off the radio on the car and not making phone calls while you're driving. Just being still.

It might be as simple as telling your kids or grandkids that you've put yourself into "adult time out" for a while and you'll check in with them later. Just being still.

It might be as simple as going to your garden alone to plant, weed and water. Just being still.

For me, it's as simple as going to a particular place. It's my place to be still.

I love our oversized green chair in a my room surrounded by my favorite books with a great view of the trees in the yard from the second floor. As I sit and gaze at the trees out the windows I feel like I’m in a little treehouse made just for me. I love going to this chair as many mornings as I can (though not too early). If I'm alone in the house, I often bring my breakfast to this chair. I sometimes read, sometimes write but often am just still with no agenda. I especially love how the brightness of the morning light finds me in the winter time. IMG_6534

It’s often a battle to get myself there (for as much as I love it) because my spirit fights the urge to think it’s not important.

But, in my heart, I know it’s the only way for my communion with God. And I know finding a quiet place is only way for you too.

Can we live with out it? Sure we can. Will God still love us if we're busy all the time? Of course. But without finding quiet, we won’t know God the way God wants to really know us!

Entertainer Will Rogers once said this about quiet: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

And I couldn't have said it any better myself. May God teach us to be still.

There’s a popular poem about JOY which you may have heard before. It's an acrostic:

Jesus first

Others second

Yourself last.

It's another way of saying, "If you really want to be happy in life, you’ll learn to love Jesus more than anyone else, even yourself.”

I was taught this way of life as child. It teaches faith in God and selflessness. But as I became an adult, I began to wonder if  this what Jesus’ own ministry modeled this acrostic of JOY? Did Jesus never eat, sleep, take retreats or be quiet from time to time? Christian culture seemed to teach me that Jesus was a robot of activity, never stopping.

But the truth is: Jesus stopped! He napped. He found quiet time just for himself. He prayed often alone. Go read any gospel and count the references to activities such as this.

Yet, often it's not what we model in the church.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at clergy gatherings where fellow colleagues have boasted of “never taking their vacation” or “working from sun up from sun down.”

I can’t tell you how many church suppers I've been to where there is nothing healthy to eat.

I can’t tell you how many times I've seen the joy sucked out of church folks because they don't ever stop and take a moment to enjoy the life in their own backyards!

What does this say about our faith?

As a child, I was taught salvation is making a stated confession to a community of my sin, repentance and acceptance of Jesus. It was such a big deal that people would ask, “What was the day that you came to Christ?” And, when you appropriately answered with a markable moment, your salvation story was complete.

But, in my third year of Duke Divnity School, Dr. Esther Acolotse, my pastoral care professor, challenged me on everything I thought I knew about salvation. She said:

Salvation is a process of becoming a human being– the human being God designed each of us to be at creation. To be saved, is to be made whole.

There are so many implications of this definition of salvation, if we truly embrace it. But one important one is this: that, yes, God calls us to take care of ourselves.

For, there's no way that you and I can be human if our schedules are out of balance or if we're eating the wrong foods or not sleeping enough. And the list of self-care could go on.

And so maybe what is saving our lives looks like this:

Spending time with people who make us happy (even if they are not the people we should be hanging out with).

Eating foods that our bodies will smile about when receiving (even if it is not what our mamas cooked growing up).

Taking naps on our days off when we are tired (even if it means saying no to grandchildren to hiring a babysitter for our kids).

Staying at home some nights and doing exactly what we want (even if we were invited to an event and should make an appearance).

And, above all, I think activities like eating, drinking, sleeping, walking are not unspiritual.  In fact by engaging in them, we are glorifying God through and with our bodies. We are saying the image of God is in us and so we must rest and love and breathe as God does.

In her book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says about our salvation journey: "My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”

So, I'm taking a week off to do just this-- to become more human. I need more salvation. Like Taylor said- our lives depend on it.

What about you? What is saving your life right now?

Do you remember the last time you experienced a quiet place?

I’m coming off of a really busy week as I shared in meetings at the White House, in the halls of Congress and as a Oklahoma delegate at the National Prayer breakfast as part of my work with Feed the Children.

To make all of these things happen, the pace was crazy around our house. We got up too early. We went to bed too late. And we didn't eat at home every night (if any night at all).

And, it was a week where the title of the sermon I’d knew I’d be preaching last Sunday called, "Finding a Quiet Place" simultaneously felt like just the message I craved to hear and convicted me at the same time.

Mark 1:29-39 had a word for me.

For Jesus, in his early days of ministry, he “hit the ground running” as the expression goes and “there was no rest for the weary.”

He recruited his disciples. He organized them into a group. Together they, attended services at a synagogue and Jesus healed a person with an “unclean spirit” on the Sabbath.

And by Mark 1:29, Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to the house of Simon where he lives with his wife and his mother-in-law. We learn that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Verse 31 says that Jesus takes her woman by the hand and lifts her up to healing.

So, without taking a breath, Jesus is at it again. Word spreads about this miracle. Other sick ones or possessed with evil spirits come to find Jesus. They seek healing too. Everybody wants something.

And: “the whole city was gathered around the door.”

Was Jesus claustrophobic? I hope not!

People gathering for miles and miles, desperate to see him, desperate for a cure, desperate most of all for seeing, knowing and believing they were loved.

They come at sundown.

And we get no indication that Jesus turns any way. They stay for hours. Burning the midnight oil . . .

Can you imagine how Jesus felt after the last one left his door?

Sure, it was exciting.

Sure, it was full of the power of God. Lives were changed forever!

Sure, it was what he came to earth to do.

But, remember Jesus came to earth with a body like yours and mine—a body that required food and water and rest, especially after long days.

And, so I know Jesus must have been exhausted.

The kind of exhaustion that would have made anyone want to sleep in the next day or take the rest of the week off or not answer the door the next time someone knocked on it.

But this is not what Jesus does.

No, verse 35 tells us this, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed.”

Jesus counteracts the pace of life that might have reflected back to him: “Go, go. Do more. Do more. You’re only going to be on earth for a short time. Make every minute with people count.” And seeks out a quiet place.

Alone.

And in this quiet place, Jesus centers his life on its greater purpose.

Why?

Do you remember the last time you were on an airplane? There’s the standard, the plane is about to take off, speech, isn’t there?

Buckle seatbelts. Put up your tray tables. Store away your carry-on bags.

And then, if there’s a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling.

But, this part of the speech comes with it’s own unusual instructions. When it comes to the oxygen masks, what are we told to do?

If we are sitting with children, we’re supposed to put our own masks on before putting on theirs. And such seems so counterintuitive to our protective love, doesn’t it?

Yet, we learn we’re asked to do this because if we’re running out of air, there’s no way we’d have breath to assist them.

And in the same way, such is the principal Jesus modeled for us.

He says: put on your own oxygen mask first.

Find your quiet place. Find your deserted place.

Slow down. Reflect. Renew. Do all of this before you charge forward into another commitment, another to do list or another email.

It’s so much easier to ignore that tug of the Spirit on our hearts.

We make one more phone call. We read one more chapter in a book. We watch one more hour of TV.

And by the end, there’s not space for a quiet place.

IMG_1585

But, if we are going to follow in the way of Jesus, then finding our quiet place is a must.

Though some churches might tell you otherwise, I don’t think there’s some magic formula for finding quiet places to be with God.

For some of us, it might be rising before the sun, sitting on the couch by a window watching the sunrise with prayer list in hand.

For others of us, it might be taking a walk in our neighborhood midday with the dog, breathing in and out deeply being still enough to know that God is God.

Or, for others it might be simply pausing before you let your toes touch the floor to say “Thank you God for this day. Use me in it.”

For me, one of my favorite quiet places is in an oversized chair in a room surrounded by my favorite books with a great view of the trees in the yard with the squirrels who run up and down the branches at rapid pace, depending on the season.

I love going to this chair as many mornings as I can (though not too early).

I bring my breakfast to this chair. I sometimes read, sometimes write but often am just still.

It’s often a battle to get myself there—as much as I love it! Oh, I can come up with thousand excuses NOT to be quiet.

But, in my heart, I know it’s the only way for me to find communion with God.

Where's your quiet space?

It has been over a month now since I preached my last sermon at Washington Plaza. It's very different life from how it was only a few months ago when I was asked to stand in pulpit every week and give an account of my faith while lovingly finding a way to be a presence of care for others. And although I jumped back into the pulpit last week as a guest preacher, my life in general has been lived out of the spotlight and I think will continue to be such for a bit longer. Sabbatical 2013 is on full-time.

Now, I go to church on Sunday and sit in the back pew and get up to walk out the door when the pastor says amen. I blog and write for online publications less, instead focusing on my goal of finishing my book manuscript by March 31. I spend more time than I have had at the gym. Maybe a 5K is in my future soon?

People who know me well ask one of two questions:

1. Are you bored?

2. What are you doing next?

These are normal questions to ask. But I'm not very good at answering them. Sometimes I miss the pace of what my life used to be, but most of the time I don't. As much as I am cheering on my favorite clergy pals and churches for whom I have rich histories, I have no envy of "I wish I were you." (Well, of course I could feel differently by Easter). And for the record, I no I have no 10 step plan for what is coming next.

I've had several pastor types say to me recently, "I could never do what you are doing. I could never leave what I know by choice." But, I made this big leap with Kevin's full support and I need to tell you that I'm still alive (imagine that?)! I'm also breathing, smiling, laughing and crying through the joys and sorrows of life just like everyone does, maybe though a richer level than before.

In taking this time to learn to exist and move in this world without a title or a traditional job to call my own, it has its scary moments of course. Sabbatical times are not for those who like hanging on to ego, public recognition, or even a "can-do" spirit.

I need to tell you that I worry if I stop blogging all the time many of you will stop reading altogether (and I like this conversation we're having). I worry no one will ask me to write for them again if I don't keep reminding them to ask me. I worry I might just have a completely new take on the church as an outsider that may never allow me to come back as the insider I once was. But in all of these things, Sabbath time is all about letting go and having faith that as you move through the rhythms of each day more will be revealed.

One of my favorite Sabbath authors, Wayne Muller writes:

“All life requires a rhythm of rest. . .
There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. ”

Instead of moving slowly and listening to these rhythms, it would be much easier to start marketing myself for what is next (I know how to do that). Or, try to find some part-time job so that I could say I'm doing ___. (I know how to do that too). Or, even to be online every five minutes posting my accomplishments ("See, look at me, I'm as busy as you, just not getting paid for it right now") so others can validate my existence. But, such is not Sabbath's way.

Sabbath's way is about saying "no" so that we can say "yes" with greater confidence.

There are times of course when I feel guilty about my place of privilege-- I know countless others would love to have this kind of time a part from the norm and their financial, family or other life circumstances simply won't allow such. But, I have to keep reminding myself that Sabbath is a gift. God gave me this gift. It would just as wrong not to receive it.

And, as much as I would just like to crawl in a cave with my most favorite people in the world and call this Sabbath, life (or least how I experience it) can not be totally lived in a bubble. There are bills to pay, food to prepare, clothes to wash, events to go to that help support the work of my husband, and people who come out of nowhere and hit my car while I was minding your my business and as a result now require long and dramatic conversations with insurance companies to get it fixed. As we all experience, life happens. Even in Sabbath, we can't control.

Thanks for stopping by to sit in Sabbath with me for just for just a bit. Now, out of the spotlight I go again.

peace
People have asked me, how is it going? How is your Sabbatical time treating you? Are you going nuts not officially working? Well, I have to say though there have been several rocky moments of "oh my goodness, I can't do this. I need to work!" most of all it has been wonderful. Oklahoma City hasn't killed me yet either . . . I am breathing in deeply, deeper than I have in years on the plains. I am learning much about myself, God and what spiritual practice is all over again. I am loving spending more time with my husband.

I've been collecting quotes and thoughts of mine as I think of them and posting them on twitter. I thought I'd share them as a litany here.

“Sabbath is about the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption” ― Walter Brueggemann

Life is not about what you do. It is about who you are.

It is hard to be silent. It is very very hard. But I want to try it. I want to really do Sabbath.

Sabbath means your life is more private. That's ok. The good reflections and insights often come when you are quiet and alone.

Sabbath is breathing deeply into all will be well, all matter of things will be well. (Thanks, Julia for this).

When partaking of Sabbath time, days on calendar don't matter and sometimes you book a flight for the wrong week and have to stand in line for hours to change your ticket. Oh, well.

Sabbath doesn't change who we are. It reminds us whose we are.

Sabbath is not bring afraid of being alone. You can be alone and not lonely.

“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception far to see Sabbath can invite a healing" -Wayne Muller

Sabbath is thinking you are writing for fun and drafting out a new chapter for your book long project. Inspiration finds you when you least expect. Productivity is not something to be worried about. It comes in its own time.

A gift of Sabbath is contentment. I don't know the future but don't have to.

God gives us everything we need as we rest.

We can not know God unless we know ourselves. In sitting with ourself long enough to listen, we hear God.

"Caught up in our own busyness running from one crisis to next looks less like loving God and more like trying to become one" - Phileena Heuertz

Sabbath is good. It is really good for the soul.

Sabbath-RestWhen most pastors leave congregations and don't have another official job to go to, it is for one reason: burnout. They've worked too hard. They've shepherded congregations through major change which has taken a toll on their own health. They've made the church a greater priority over their family or own emotional wellbeing and simply need to re-prioritize. Or, they're simply bone tired for a thousand different reasons. And they can't imagine setting foot back in a church building for a really long time (for the sake of the church's wellbeing many of these folks don't need to). In fact this article has been all the buzz with my clergy friends over the past several days as one high profile pastor has left his post for not taking care of himself or his family over the long haul.

But, as I stand (or sit on the couch in all accuracy) on this my first week officially off duty-- when I'd normally be getting the swing of the Epiphany season at church and now am not there, I need to say that I'm in this place of life not because of burnout. Sure, I needed some rest from the craziness of balancing this huge tradition for our family with Kevin's new job and living a part for some time, but burnout, no.

I really liked being a pastor. I really liked my job. I left on great terms with the congregation. And, as much as I know my leaving WPBC at this time was the right thing to do, I still miss it. (I really didn't know what to do with myself yesterday when there wasn't early church responsibilities to get up for. All I knew to do was try to enjoy the break by eating waffles and watching my favorite political news shows, thanking God for the chance to be in my pajamas at 11 am-- something I never, ever get to do). Then, as I was listening to the radio on the way to the gym this afternoon, I heard a song and my first thought was, "That would be a great piece for a call to worship." (And I teared up a little thinking that I no longer had anyone to suggest that we sing it to).

So, what do you do when you are not in a church by choice-- or any 9 to 5 job for that matter-- for a chunk of time when you aren't experiencing a burnout?

Though I'm sure many would say things like, "volunteer!" "get busy making connections for your next job in your new town" or even "hurry up and get back in the saddle because you don't want to lose your relevance," I just can't make myself do any of these things.

I don't want to rush into filling my days with thousands of lunch appointments or extracurricular activities-- even if I could.

I don't want to rush into commitments for work to come.

I don't want to have to be asked to have a spiritual word for anyone other than myself for a while-- even as much as this I'd really rather not go down this silent path.

I need to work on my book long project-- but I'm not even pushing myself back into this yet. "Breathe, Elizabeth, breathe" is what wise ones have been saying to me.

We all need Sabbath. And apparently it is my time.

I've always been a much better do-er than I have a wait-er or rest-er. As a child, I hated dates off from school like federal holidays because they really seemed to throw me off of my routine. I begged to go to school even as my parents thought I was crazy. I really wanted something to do. I couldn't stand to be idle.

And on this day, I need to tell you that I really want something to do. Please don't roll your eyes at me when I say, it's so hard to rest! In fact, as more as I've gotten into it, I've realized that I'd rather not have Sabbath. I'd rather hide behind work. I'd rather avoid myself. I'd rather avoid God. But, I trust that Sabbath will be good for my soul and the future souls of those in whom I care for, so I will try.

I will try to see what Sabbath teaches me about my value and worth-- and from where it comes.

I will try to see what Sabbath teaches me about the gift of time-- what it is I really need to do and what I don't.

I will try to see what Sabbath teaches me about calling-- what is the best use of my gifts and what is not.

Most of all, I will try to listen. I will fight the fear that my voice will be weakened if I don't use it for awhile. I will try to remember this is only for a season. I hope you can too-- in the Sabbath moments of your life schedule that find you this week.

So, if you don't see me blogging as much as I normally do, you know where I am: breathing in Sabbath. Remembering that my value is not based on what I produce. I promise, I'll share with you whatever I learn when I return in a couple of weeks or whenever . . .

You are out of words.

People seek from you what you don't have anymore.

You plan retreat and they come and find you.

Pray for me, pastor.

Visit me, pastor.

Solve my problems, pastor.

What do you do?

With compassion, you keep going.

You get out of bed.

You bathe.

You get dressed.

You show up.

You keep trying.

"The peace of Christ be with you."

You search the far corners of your heart, hoping there is some gem there.

You hope your morsels are enough to feed the five thousand sitting at your doorstep.

And, you plan vacation again.

You count the days.

You look for light.

You run toward it.

And you hope when all is said and done that there will be a good story to tell.

A really good one.

A story of unbelievable grace.

A story that feeds the five thousand with your morsels that have become loaves of bread.

I've been thinking a lot about Sabbath keeping recently. Maybe because holy week is coming soon:  the busiest week of a pastor's year, the time when bulletins after bulletins and services and services must be planned and planned some more.  Maybe because it is something that our household is trying to be better at after my husband ended up in the hospital on Monday morning due to exhaustion and  dehydration (a preventable condition if he'd just taken better care of himself the week before). Maybe it is just because it is a topic we seem to talk about a lot in the church, but rarely put into practice. 

Can I just say that sabbath frustrates me.  It is easier to be "good" at work than it is to be "good" at rest. No one is ever going to praise you for rest the same way they are of work. But, the longer any of us go without rest, our work will of course suffer. So, why not get the hint and embrace it? 

But, after all, as people of faith, Sabbath keeping is not a suggestion but a command.  Keep the Sabbath day holy . . .

So I ask myself and my congregation regularly: "How can we live into Sabbath more often?" And, by Sabbath, I don't necessary mean one day (though one days of Sabbath are good), but a Sabbath filled life.

This is what I am noticing-

Sabbath finds me when I stop and listen to the voice that says, "Why are you in such a hurry?" 

Sabbath looks like turning off the radio in the car. Sabbath looks like not rushing out the door in the morning on the way to work; instead getting up early enough to just be. Sabbath looks like saying lots of "No's" to meetings that just aren't necessary. Sabbath looks like turning off the tv more often and reading a book just for fun. Sabbath looks like walking down the bakery aisle at the grocery store, just to smell the bread. Sabbath looks like finishing my sermon on Friday so Saturday is really a free day.

Sabbath looks a lot like a Mary Oliver poem.

“Just a minute,” said a voice…
By Mary Oliver

“Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

So, what about you: experienced Sabbath lately? What has it looked like? Any surprises?

Yesterday was the last Sunday in our "Sanctuary on Sabbatical" worship series. After four weeks of worshiping in the Plaza Room sitting around round tables in a participatory style of gathering, we will return to the sanctuary this Sunday  to resume "normality."

This idea for summer worship emerged out of several conversations with my clergy group during a retreat last May, and as much as I was excited about it and found the worship ministry team excited too there was fear in me about this "shaking things up" idea . I wondered what it would feel like to worship in a different space. I wondered how the congregation would respond to the intentional change. I wondered how preaching without a manuscript and notes only would feel, and could I really do it? I wondered what first time visitors would think and if they would be scared away by what one member called "coffee hour church."

Yet, unless I just haven't heard-- there haven't been too many complaints. Several folks have expressed how much they like the "close feel" of the service and how they liked how personal and engaging the sermon and music was.

I would love to hear from others about what you thought of worship this July. This is what I am thinking, though:

1. I delighted in having the personal interaction with the congregation during the sermons. Instead of going through a manuscript and wondering at times what the congregation was thinking, during the past several weeks there would be times when I would stop and ask questions and actually get to hear what the gathered community thought. Loved it!

2. With that said, my love of a manuscript has grown. As good as it was to have spontaneous responses, I look forward to getting back to having words carefully chosen. Manuscript preaching is simply my style. But as I go back to my style, I hope to incorporate a type of sermon delivery that makes space for more causal moments from time to time.

3. It was beautiful to hear Ken, our music director lead us through moments of singing that felt more worshipful than I've experienced at Washington Plaza in a long time. I look forward to the congregation singing more response songs such as "Hear Our Prayer O Lord" (which we sang every week) in the future.

4. I felt closer to my church family, their needs and prayers throughout the month. There's something about sitting close to people in worship-- you begin to realize that this "following Christ" thing is not something you are doing alone.

5. Communion was served every week, and I'm still processing how I felt about it. My goal was to offer a teachable moment between the spiritual food of communion and the physical food that we eat together each week as we gather for lunch. I'm not sure I found a way to make this connection explicit and I'm unclear if anyone in the congregation found meaning in the greater frequency of taking communion.

6. To my surprise over the past four weeks, there have been fewer people saying for lunch after the service than usual. Maybe it is because folks have gotten their "fellowship fix" during the course of the service or maybe it is summer and folks just have other places to go. The lack of people sticking around for lunch after worship has been a disappointment.

7. I will be glad not to worry so much about the room set-up. As is the case with many small churches, the pastor and a few others do a lot of the work when anything new is attempted. It took a lot of time on Sunday mornings to transform the Plaza Room (where we normally host classes and meals) into a worship space. A few of us did a lot of the work, and this always brings cause for concern and exhaustion afterwards.

So, will we do it again next summer? I hope so. All in all, it was a refreshing break, a good sabbath even with the challenges. But, see you on Sunday UPSTAIRS!