Word of the Week

In the spirit of how glad I am that it is Friday, I thought I'd post a list of some most ridiculous finds this week. Any of you have similar reactions?

1. The organization Baptist Women in Ministry submissive attitude toward men in Arkansas. Read about it here.  Boy, I'm glad to be in the mid-Atlantic region. I don't even thinking about these sorts of issues anymore. People who don't accept women in ministry now baffle me.

2. The fact that I keep getting spam from companies like Gap, 1-800 Flowers, and  Giant Foods even when I "Remove" from their email list. How did some of these people get my email after all?

3. How all of Washington seems to shut down in the rain because of accidents? Doesn't anyone know how to drive in the rain around here? One day a couple weeks ago, it took me an hour and half to get to work instead of the usual 25-30 minutes it normally takes.

4. So many companies are going out of business. I've seen so many of those sign flippers this week advertising "Going Out of Business Sales." Latest on the list, I heard on the news that Ritz Camera will soon be gone. Sad. 

5. The number of trips you have to make the DMV in your county, the county you came from and the county courthouse to officially have all your ducks in a row when you move. (It took three times for me to convince the head manager at our DMV of my correct name. She didn't believe I was married even though my previous state's driver's licence listed my real name!) After many of these, everything is in order for us as offical residents of Virginia. Yea!

Have a great weekend everyone!

bens-bookI love to read, but it always seems that time gets away from me and I'm unable to do so. I made reading a priority for Lent and found myself picking up Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen a couple of weeks ago.

Just to give you a preview, the publishers describe the book this way:

One day a Georgia-born son of an Orthodox rabbi discovers that his enthusiasm for Judaism is flagging. He observes the Sabbath, he goes to synagogue, and he even flies to New York on weekends for a series of "speed dates" with nice, eligible Jewish girls. But, something is missing. Looking out of his window and across the street at one of the hundreds of churches in Atlanta, he asks, "What would it be like to be a Christian?"

So begins Benyamin Cohen's hilarious journey that is My Jesus Year—part memoir, part spiritual quest, and part anthropologist's mission. Among Cohen's many adventures (and misadventures), he finds himself in some rather unlikely places: jumping into the mosh-pit at a Christian rock concert, seeing his face projected on the giant JumboTron of an African-American megachurch, visiting a potential convert with two young Mormon missionaries, attending a Christian "professional wrestling" match, and waking up early for a sunrise Easter service on top of Stone Mountain—a Confederate memorial and former base of operations for the KKK.

During his year-long exploration, Cohen sees the best and the worst of Christianity— #8212;from megachurches to storefront churches; from crass commercialization of religion to the simple, moving faith of the humble believer; from the profound to the profane to the just plain laughable. Throughout, he keeps an open heart and mind, a good sense of humor, and takes what he learns from Christianity to reflect on his own faith and relationship to God. By year's end, to Cohen's surprise, his search for universal answers and truths in the Bible Belt actually make him a better Jew.

I was highly amused with Cohen's experiences in a faith that I've known all my life. (His chapter on visiting the World Wide Wrestling Congregation was the most dramatic). I was also annoyed that he visited churches that would be nothing like Washington Plaza and other like minded mainline churches. (Hey, I think places like WPBC have a lot to offer the faith community in our diversity, openness and acceptance). Yet, the truth that Cohen comes to find in the end-- that experiencing another faith actually made him a better Jew-- is a key to the type of Christians we are at Washington Plaza.

One thing I am was very impressed with this church when I first met its people and I continue to be impressed with now that I'm here is that we are a people who seeking to be deeply committed to the Christian path but at the same time fully respectful of  the paths of other religious traditions.  Though we may not always get things right, we are trying to be Christ centered in all we do knowing that any who join us from another faith tradition than ours may be strengthened in their beliefs by seeing us being true to ours.

Making the journey on the Christian path while at the same time not claiming that we are only ones who are right is an intentional decision. It is the path we are on at Washington Plaza. I'm happy to be along for the ride of all that this means for us.

Like most pastor friends of mine also feel, Sunday nights (whenever it is that you get home from church) are a time when you just want to relax. With Sunday being the "Superbowl" day of the week, there is nothing more you want you to do than not think about church again until Monday morning. If you can take one, naps are good.

Most of the time, I am pretty successful at this because my husband is so kind to me to let me just rest or we plan together opportunities to be with friends of ours from outside the church.

Three weeks ago, we were having a couple friends over for pizza and just a causal night of hanging out and decided to check out a new show that was premiering that evening on NBC: Kings. The previews seemed interesting enough and I was willing to give it a shot.

Well, this was until we quickly discovered that the story line closely followed the story line of the Samuel, Saul, and David saga from the Bible.

For examnup_130738_00251ple, the pilot is set in a fictitious city called Shiloh. Silas (aka Saul) is king and is in war with neighboring countries whose tanks are named "Goliath." David Shepherd (pictured to the left next to Silas) is a just a regular foot solider in the war but has has a run in with Rev. Samuels, King Silas' adviser, who anoints him for a special task.  David saves the king son in war and is soon brought to court. Jealousy begins to emerge. . .

I was just getting too weird. I began having to be "Bible expert" among my friends, explaining which parts came right out of the book, I Samuel in the Bible. Everyone was very interested in where the story followed and where it didn't. I almost got out my Bible to begin to look things up.

Just when I thought it was night off from my pastor role . . .

Needless to say, I've continued to watch Kings each week since and have found the show to be quite interesting. It is very well done. So, I thought I'd mention it here, in case any of you would like to brush up on your Old Testament Bible stories with an interesting modern twist. I'd highly recommend it, even if it means doing something "churchy" on Sunday night.

I have found myself with quite a sickness and have been at home most of the week.

This week has certainly not gone as planned.

I'm missed work, fun meetings and even a night we planned out with some friends. Though I feel better today, I'm still going at a slower pace.

But, alas, everyone gets sick from time to time. And the best thing to do when you've got a bug, it seems is to embrace it for what it is. Take long naps. Drink lots of hot tea and eat lots of soup. Read a book in bed and count this as your work for the day.

It is hard to be sick for someone who likes to work and loves what they do. But, it is good too.

Being sick  is one big dose of "I'm not in charge" and "Life can go on without me."

These are important truths to remember, especially in the pastorate. Church is never about the pastor. If it was, it would be destine to fail from the beginning. Church is about a community of people coming together for what is greater than just themselves. The pastor is only one small part of this.

I'm hoping, though, that me, the one small part of the community can return in better health and voice on Sunday!  I'm excited to return and contribute what I can.

It seems that most families I know have had some sort of cold/ flu/ virus thing going around recently. I was trying to do everything I could to avoid it, especially when my husband came down with a sinus infection last week. I washed my hands a lot, sanitized the kitchen and bathrooms and did extra loads of laundry. I dranks lots of OJ and made sure I took my vitamins. Can you tell I don't like to be sick? But, by Friday night, I knew I was in trouble. I had my own kind of it beginning with congestion. (I guess, you just can't control these sorts of things. Good lesson to learn, again).

Everybody gets a cold every now and then, so really it should be no big deal, but considering Sunday was only a day and half a way, I was freaking out.

Whereas in previous positions I was surrounded by several other pastors on staff or ordained folks to fill in for me if it was my turn to preach,  this is not the case anymore. It is just me. Flying solo is the name of the game. If I am not able to preach, I'm not sure who would on a moments notice.

While there would be options for if I had a fever or didn't think I could stand up to preach (I could call associational ministers or beg one of my associate pastor friends to come), I woke up and felt like I could go to church.  It wasn't that bad.

Except one problem: I woke up with out a voice. Seriously.

Knowing that you always feel worse in the morning, I got ready for church as if all would be fine. I br6a00e3989f7c4d000500fa96909d560002-500pi1eathed in a lot of steam. I drank several cups of hot tea. I loaded my pocket with cough drops.

Yet, I was afraid of the sermon. I'd never had to deliver a sermon before in poor voice. Voice is everything to the delivery. How you shape your voice to what you want your hearers to focus helps more people to not only stay awake in church, but actually take in what you've worked so hard to prepare.

It is always my goal to present my thoughts in as clear voice as possible. For I believe a sermon is more that just words on the paper: when the words of scripture have a voice, they have life.

So, when the time came for me to enter the pulpit today, I did so with a cough drop in my mouth and water by my side. And, I got through it the best I could. (Though I felt sorry for all the listeners who had to hear my froggy voice for 20 minutes, in the end, I think several people actually heard what I was trying to say from the comments afterwards).

Maybe it didn't sound as bad as I thought?  What a gift to this crazy day!

For, now I'm glad to be resting at home and glad that by time I enter the pulpit again next Sunday, the frog will be gone. I promise to be more grateful for my normal voice when it returns. It is a gift I forgot I was really happy to have!

Today marks the sixth anniversary of American troops being deployed in Iraq.

How has it been this long already? How much longer must it be?

Ann Lamott, one of my favorite spirituality authors tells the following story in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

Since the United States went to war in Iraq, I've been thinking about A. J. Muste, who during the Vietnam War stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle. One rainy night, a reporter asked him, "Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?"

"Oh," Muste replied, "I don't do it to change the country, I do it so the country won't change me."

In times like this, I think the best we can do as people of faith seeking God's peace is to stay true to our course and to our own unique voice. Jesus after all, the greatest peacemaker that ever walked the earth, right?

As I wait, I think of our Washington Plaza friends who are there specifically and lift up a prayer for their safety. May this war not go on for six more years . . .

In September of 2003, I signed up for what Duke Divinity School called "field education" eager to get some experience in a pastoral role. I had no idea where this placement would take me or how I would forge a relationship with a congregation that would continue to be a blessing to me for years to come, especially this weekend.

When I first arrived at New Sharon United Methodist Church in Hillsborough, NC, I didn't really know what to expect. I'd never regularly attended a Methodist church, nor had I ever been in a setting where I was called "pastor." I was still adjusting to the rigor of the graduate school life being miles from home. It was a bit overwhelming at first on many levels.  But, by Christmas, things were good. I found myself loving being a part of this faithful and loving congregation. I found them encouraging me in my studies. They were teaching me as much as I was serving them. It was a great partnership in the works.

Sadly, it officially ended in May of 2005 when I finished my second academic year placement there. The field education office sent me somewhere else. But, really my relationship with this church was not over.

I continued to stay in touch with several of the folks at the congregation. Two of them even came to be readers in my wedding. I have continued to think of them fondly.

Then, in January, one of the members of this congregation emailed me to tell me that the youth group and their leaders was thinking of coming to DC in the spring. They'd wanted to visit my church as a part of the trip. They were excited about all that was happening in my life and wanted to share in it. Would I help arrange for them service projects for Saturday morning and afternoon?

I was excited to hear about this possible reunion and had just the idea. . . . why don't they come serve with us?

And, this is exactly what happened. The group arrived in Reston on Friday night and came to the church bright and early on Saturday morning. Several Washington Plaza folks got up early to make the group of 13 youth and adults a hot breakfast. And then we got to work, together.

It was a beautiful site for me to see. My beloved New Sharon folks raking leaves, cleaning tables and toys, and painting alongside my beloved Washington Plaza folks. 40 of us in all worked hard from 9-2 pm on Saturday getting the building and grounds in better shape. Some of my New Sharon friends told me as we worked, "I really like this place, Elizabeth. You are such a great match for each other. I am glad to see you here and so happy."

Then, on Sunday morning, both the New Sharon group and the Washington Plaza adults shared in Bible Study led by current New Sharon student associate pastor (from Duke Divinity), Jesse. In worship, the Washington Plaza choir got a bit of a rest as the New Sharon group provided two pieces of special music complete with several instruments in accompaniment.nc-group-trip-0131

It was one of those weekends where all you could see was blessings. Blessings for the two churches sharing in fellowship. Blessings for inter-generational service, study and worship going on. Blessings for Washington Plaza to see once again what the worship would feel like with children and youth leading it. Blessings for New Sharon to see a multicultural multiracial congregation in action. Blessing for the pastor with the connections to these two churches, saying prayers of thanksgiving for God's Spirit doing more than she could have ever asked or imagined.

New Sharon folks, you are welcome anytime-- we were so glad you came. You encouraged all of our spirits and humbled us by your gifts of service and we hope your visit with us encouraged you to continue to dream big about God's future for you too.

I have had several conversations of late where people have asked me how I got to be pastor at such a young age.

It seems that when people speak to me on the phone or over email and then meet me for the first time in person, there is a gasp that comes over them (some hide better than others) about how young I look.  I think I deal with ageism more than I do sexism in my geographic context (which is progress I guess).

This question comes to be asked over and over: "How could you be the pastor already?"

It is hard to know really what to say. Sometimes these are the responses that come out of my mouth:

 a) I look younger that I am really am b) I have my master's degree and several years of experience with some difficult pastoral situations c) listen to me preach and then let me know if you think I'm too young.

Yet, somehow I don't think any of these answers are exactly what I mean to say.

I want to tell folks that I am a pastor because as I've learned about myself by just being- this vocation is the best way I know how to give back to the world in authentic ways. It is who I am.

I think I can be a better pastor because I've lived (and continue at times to live) through the struggle of people wishing I looked more conventional. I know what it is like to feel frustrated when people don't take your ideas for your life path serriously.

As a result, I find myself having conversations with church members often about their own sense of calling. I often want to learn what makes people excited about their lives, their communities and being in church. The goal with all of this is to aid individuals in just being a little bit more too.

I hope that as my journey to be my best self with God's help, I will (if I'm nothing else) continue to encourage others to do BE themselves. For this is exactly what the world needs more of!

When I think about all the small steps we are are making at Washington Plaza together toward the greater things God has for us, this is the song that keeps coming to mind.

It is written by Sara Groves (dear friends of mine please don't laugh) from her 2005 album: Add to the Beauty which is one of my favorite of hers.

Community life is hard. Feelings easily get hurt. Miscommunications happen. It's hard sometimes to keep putting yourself out there in sharing your gifts with the world when sometimes others don't understand. It is hard to recover from such anxiety producing moments. But, I would not be in the vocation called church if I didn't think such hard work was all worth the effort.

I think this is the sentiment that Sara writes the song: "Kingdom Comes."

What a beautiful thing she writes when she says after a time of hurt "you still extend your hand, you open up your home." I hope that Washington Plaza continues to be this open and loving type of community. Often times following in this way is exhausting. But, I think this is what Christ means when he spoke of his kingdom coming on earth.

If you'd like to have tune of this song in your head too, click here to get a preview. If not, read the words in a spirit of mediation today.

Kingdom Comes

When anger fills your heart
When in your pain and hurt
You find the strength to stop
You bless instead of curse

When doubting floods your soul
Though all things feel unjust
You open up your heart
You find a way to trust

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

When fear engulfs your mind
Says you protect your own
You still extend your hand
You open up your home

When sorrow fills your life
When in your grief and pain
You choose again to rise
You choose to bless the name

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying

That's a little stone that's a little mortar
That's a little seed that's a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom's coming

6fb24aee23fde296One of the exciting things going on at Washington Plaza last week was the beginning of our second season of our concert series on Saturday evening.

The concert series began last year as a dream of several more musically minded members of the church as a way to a) give non-professional musiciansan opportunity to play in a welcoming venue b) bring more music to the historically arts loving area of Lake Anne c) do some community outreach in a non-threatening way.

I have to say that after experiencing my first concert, a tribute to Black History, which included two gospel ensembles and one jazz group, I am so happy that we do these events!

Not only was the music fabulous thanks to the hard work of the Music and Arts Committee, as they recruited some very talented folks, but I had the opportunity as the pastor to greet the congregation gathered.  During the reception the Outreach Committee put together, I met several people who do not attend our church or any church at all.

We even had several new folks attend church yesterday as a result of the concert and we even have some potential new choir members! Very exciting stuff.

Every concert in the series is free due to the generous donations of time by the musicians. Attendees are only asked to bring a canned good to help the food pantry at Reston Interfaith, one of our partner organizations.

It is great to see our congregation growing in its identity, realizing that the ways that God has blessed us in the area of music and the arts and really be of service to our community.

If you live in the Washington, DC are and might be interested in coming to one of our future concerts, check out this website. The next event is schedule for Saturday, May 2nd at 7 pm. The theme for this concert will be Chamber Music.

It's timdaylight-savings-time1e to change your clocks this weekend.

Remember that Daylight Savings Time begins on Saturday night.

See you at worship at 11 am.

As many of you have also experienced big life moments, you understand me when I say they are absolutely wonderful yet exhausting.

I remember how I felt on my wedding day. I could hardly sleep for weeks. I was so happy, but full of lots of nerves on the inside. So many people I loved in one space= joy but so much joy that I was overwhelmed with it all too. It was that gut in your throat type of feeling weighing on your shoulders. In the aftermath, I was tired for weeks to come.

This is how I've felt this week after the events of Sunday.

It has been my dream ever since I said "Yes" to this crazy thing called being a pastor that a group of people would actually acknowledge in me what I knew to be true about myself and call me to be THEIR pastor. 

And, on Sunday there was just no question that this actually happened. In front a room full of colleagues, dear friends and parents, I signed a pastoral covenant with Washington Plaza Baptist committing my best to them. It is as official as it is going to get now. manhattan20chair20pottery20barn1

So, all I know to do now is to sit and allow the goodness of the experience to be taken in.

Yet, the problem for this process to occur has been that I've experienced one of the craziest weeks ever, going nonstop with urgent concerns on my plate in the work of community building we're about at the church. (No rest for the installed pastor is the life I've signed up for . . . until vacation week comes, I guess).

Today, however, I've carved out some time to sit because I know this is exactly what my soul needs and even more so what the church needs from me. In between answering calls and emails and editing the newsletter, I'm finding some afternoon hours to just be. I'm just going to sit and find quiet again.

And as I sit, I'm going to continue to "ponder in my heart all these things" in a spirit of thanksgiving of all that has happened in my life over the past several months.

Though the wait seemed long for this moment in time, in the end all IS well. I can't ask for more than this. . . except maybe that the church leadership continues to be nice to me . . .