Great Day

Well, it probably wouldn’t look like it on the surface… this week was dominated by the sudden passing of Gilbert Smickle, the brother of our clerk of session at UPC.  It was painful, and it certainly was occasion for more than a few tears and sighs too deep for words.  And yet, I am consistently overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the power of community in this sad times.  For quickly on the heels of the tears were stories with great power, power enough to sustain and remind us of connections between the family and friends of the departed, power that knit us all together as one family, a body of Christ, rather than isolating any one person.

I am amazed, I must admit, by the sacred space that I am privileged to inhabit as a pastor.*  I get to be a part of this journey in a way that I could never have anticipated.  Sure, I sit with families in the midst of terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching grief, and sometimes it is true that I am asked to ferry the lost and the despairing the through the dark night of the soul that seems it may never end (in case you are wondering:  I have not special powers or experience in this mysterious territory–all I can do is point to the light and hope folks someday will see it… all I can do is be honest and real and present, which often feels like doing nothing, feeling helpless, and holding trembling hands or rubbing tired shoulders).  But I also get an inside look at the joy that the departed has left behind–and when we are lucky, there is much joy to go around.

This week was tearful, yes, but it was also one of great joy.  I was and am honored to have been able to be a part of it, and it is my prayer that all such departures can be as graceful, faith-filled, and beautiful as Gilbert’s was in our beautiful sanctuary, with these beautiful saints, today.

*speaking of which, who would have thought that the rites that come at the end of life would end up being a space in which I felt so at home?  Death seems scary when it only happens to other people, and by the grace of God I count it a blessing that in my work death comes running straight at me, and those who are left behind cannot be ignored.  I think many more on this earth might feel less scared of death if they were given the opportunity to face it and talk about it as openly as I need to in my own ministry.

Ministries of Misery

So I finished my Ord exam today (whoopeee!) and am now back in that blissful state known as pure summer… which means that i finally have time to write a bit of substance.  So what has been on my mind?  Lots of things, actually.  Due to exegesis exam, for starters, my mind is focused quite a bit on questions of justice and fairness (which in turn makes me think of Rawl’s “Justice as Fairness,” a classic in modern philosophy which I practically inhaled in college).  Also due to the exegesis exam, I have been thinking a bit about hospitality.  I say this not because of the question offered in the theology exam on the christian practice of hospitality, but based upon an experience I had while turning in my exegesis exam to the Office of Ministry Studies at HDS.

The details aren’t necessarily important, but the gist of it was a question I found myself asking as I left the room-  how does one minister to others in the context of work?  Yes, it is indeed true that we all have bad days, or that it is difficult to come back into the bustle after a long and luxurious vacation, but the question remains: how?  My experience today informed my impressions about the Office of Ministry Studies in a way that made me feel unwelcomed and uncared about.  What about new people, or folks who don’t have the benefit of knowing a person well enough to see when they might be having a bad day or a rough transition back into work?

I know I was on the administration end of the same thing this summer, for it was often the case that I was tired out of my mind and conveyed precisely that message to others in my way of relating.  For me, the issue is therefore one in which I am aware of how I feel when others treat me less than hospitably, paired with a desire to not induce the same feeling in others.  I know that I am called to welcome others and to be a presence that reflects Christ, but it gets freakin’ hard when you are sick or exhausted or burnt out.  Those are the moments when I feel my most challenged (I know I am not alone!)  So how do I, as my friend Steve put it, resist the tendency to project a ministry of misery and instead maintain an air of hospitality in the face of my own demons?
It is a question I will struggle with, I am sure, my whole ministry.  Still, I put it out there… how do you (whomever you are) deal with your demons?

Thanks be to GOD!

I don’t know the details yet, but I do know this: I got offered a job on Broad Street Ministry’s Youth Initiative Staff for the summer!!!! This is gonna be awesome… I have been praying about it and hoping for it, and I am so super stoked to get the opportunity to do this.

Thanks be to God, and Philly here I come!

One less hoop…

So today, whilst many a folk was probably enjoying the weather, or reading a nice book, or whatever folk do, I was doing the final preparations to send my forms for candidacy to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in San Jose, CA who oversees and handles my ordination. It was a pretty big deal, because this year I am requesting to be moved from the status of “inquirer” to “candidate”, indicating that I am fairly certain that my call is within the church and request that they confirm that call. Overall it requires a lot of paperwork and even more spiritual discernment. And to be honest, it took me over 3 months to finally finish the questions, because I found that whenever I sat down to write about them I would end up reflecting on the meaning of the questions for hours. I think that is better, actually, but it ended up being an intensive process that I, for one, am relieved to take out of my own hands and finally place in the hands of the committee.

I guess I thought that, in honor of finishing that process, I might finally make public my statement of faith, probably the most important part of this process. I am quite proud of it, but I also know that it will probably change as I learn more about God and faith and the church. I also have realized in writing it how valuable of a process it is, because by writing a statement of faith I had to think about what I really do believe and then find a way to express that belief.

So here you go. Enjoy. (as a note, the references in my statement of faith are to places within our Book of Confessions that are in line with my theology).


I believe in a “living and true God” who was and is ever present in the unfolding drama of this world, a God who “created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image,” a God who does not love a single created thing any more or less than any other and whose “sovereign love is a mystery beyond the reach of our minds” (WCF, BSF, Conf. of 1967). That same God cries out in solidarity with a world that is lost, a world that often fails to see God’s grand vision for this place. This God seeks constantly to “act with justice and mercy to redeem creation,” to set right what has been wronged, to teach us to live not in this world but in the possibility of this world (BSF). I believe in a God who walks beside us, who both rejoices and laments with us, who seeks always to challenge us to imagine and to work towards a way of living that more fully realizes God’s vision for this beautiful but fragile planet.

I believe in a God whose “reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery,” a God who loved this world so much as to be willing to die for it (Confession of 1967). God’s sacrificial love for this creation was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s “eternal wisdom, the substance of God’s own glory,” the one called “Immanuel” by the prophets (SC). Christ lived and worked alongside creation, giving of himself completely to those whom God loved. Christ taught us how to build up the kingdom of God here and now on earth through love and humility and self-sacrifice. Christ’s life and Christ’s message of hope are recalled to the church through the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s act of reconciliation, both in death and life, makes possible the reconciliation of humanity to God through grace, love of justice and love of neighbor.

I believe in the Holy Spirit who moves within the lives of us all, “comforting us and abiding with us forever” (HC). The Holy Spirit is the still small voice of God in our hearts which “creates and renews the church as the community,” encouraging us in our lives as we seek to live more fully in God, with God, of God (Conf. of 1967). That Holy Spirit guides us through our daily living as divine inspiration, lending us vision and courage as we seek to love our neighbor and our God more fully. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts as we are born into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.

It is in this God, a God of infinite and indescribable love and grace, a God who inspires me to look beyond myself and to participate with my whole mind and soul in the glorious work of reconciling the world “to whom alone I must cleave, whom alone I must serve, whom only I must worship, and in whom alone I put my trust” (SC).