After being away for the month of August, it’s good to be back alongside the people of God at Redeemer, New Paltz as we are called together to share Christ’s welcome and love with the world! And I’d like to share some reflections from my time away (which was a combination of vacation and continuing education).
My continuing education during this time included Sunday visits to Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Harwich, MA, as well as St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, NY. These visits to congregations refreshed my sense of the importance of welcome – from the moment when people come through the doors of a church – each of us can add (or detract) from their experience of welcome – this is true at Redeemer, too! Do we keep talking to the people we already know when new people are nearby or drop what we are doing to make sure these newer folks experience Christ’s radical welcome and hospitality through us? Are our facilities in good condition with clean bathrooms and cobwebs cleared from the corners? Will newer people have to juggle multiple sheets of paper and books during worship or find it easy to follow along? These and other questions are worth all of us pondering, praying, and taking action where appropriate to adjust, change, and expand our collective postures of welcome as churches.
Additionally, I encountered some interesting worship experiences and ideas while visiting these other churches, which I’ll be bringing to the Redeemer Worship Incubators Team for them to consider and possibly incorporate here at Redeemer. And I’ll note that at these two congregations I visited, as well as one other, I had the strong sense of how many congregations are either small and struggling or small and vibrant - there doesn’t seem to be much in between.
I also utilized my continuing education time to read the following books: The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The Good Lord Bird, and The Brothers Karamazov (still in progress). Some notable takeaways for me from this reading time included re-discovering the joy of delving into a classic piece of literature that I’d always meant to read (and a quote from this book ended up in my sermon the very first Sunday after I started reading it!), a chance to support my growth as an anti-racist by choosing a title written by an author who identifies as a person of color, and seeing again how reading on a wide range of topics and from different genres can really help broaden how I’m thinking as a person and pastor in helpful and important ways.
While I was away I also worked on a couple of new songs, and was back in the recording studio with local musician and recording studio technician Robert Bard to work on a full-length album that is my first of music composed entirely by me. And I remembered again how there is church music that I’ve composed waiting to be shared here at Redeemer as well in the wider world.
I was grateful for the ability to take time seeing some dear friends on Cape Cod, also pastors, and talk and pray with them, offering blessings as they head to a new call – all the way out in California! And I was also able to devote the time needed to getting twenty-four-hour care in place for my godmother who has Alzheimer’s, as well as support my teens as they learned the news that their maternal grandmother is dying of cancer, and as they headed to down to visit her at the end of August for some quality time and to say their good-byes. And this time apart for continuing education and vacation was enriched and grounded by my ongoing efforts to deepen my practices of prayer, write more, regularly exercise and eat well - and let go of feeling like I have to do everything. There is thankfully only one omnipotent, all-involved-in-everything God, and that is not me!
On my last evening of this time away from Redeemer, I sat by the beach (in my car because it was raining) and as I looked sideways, I saw a seagull take roost on the ground and settle down facing the wind. And I thought about how that’s what so much of this life can feel like - a constant effort to position ourselves facing the wind as the storms of life blow our way. Yet I also know and believe that life, with God’s help, can really be a constant homecoming. Constantly, with God’s help, re-discovering our best selves - our best talents and skills, our best ways to be active and take sabbath rest, our best ways to participate in our calling as God’s people in our work lives, our home lives, as a citizens of the world. And most of all, that our center and grounding for life comes to us through God in Christ. Thanks be to God!