{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

In Transition: What to Do About Facebook When You Move to a New Church

In June I will be moving for the first time and assuming an array of new duties as I transition from being an associate pastor to a lead pastor. So in lieu of this transition, I’ve decided to focus a project I have for a young clergy leadership group on the topic of moving well. I’m calling the next few blog posts In Transition and I will focus on a few things I’m working through as I transition between churches in a few weeks. My hope is to not only grow personally and vocationally as I move, but I hope this series will help generate discussion for others who might also be moving.

What Do I Do About My Facebook Friends When I Leave for a New Appointment?

We live in an Internet-driven age. There’s no denying it. And since we can’t wish ourselves back to simpler times when Methodist pastors could pack up all of their belongings in a station wagon to move, we have to deal with the complexities of itinerant ministry that now extend not only to challenges of family and spouses who work, but also to lives we live online through social media.

Before I begin, I want to point you to a couple of excellent posts by my friend, Rev. Jeremy Smith. Jeremy is a tech nerd in the very best sense of the phrase. He offers some great technical advice on how to go about making changes to your Facebook account as you move from one church to another. This most recent post is an update from previous posts where he addressed the issue. Read Jeremy’s work for details on healthy choices you can make to smoothly transition between churches via social media.

Instead of getting into the technical details, I want to offer you my personal philosophy and the reasoning behind it. You might not agree with me and that’s fine. But this is my philosophy and maybe it will help you better solidify your own as you move now to sometime in the future.

Keep Your Friends While Keeping a Healthy Distance

There are some pastors, DSs, or bishops who would argue that when you leave a church, you need to truly leave it. And that means un-friending people in the process. I’ve known many Methodist pastors who have used this philosophy to set up boundaries from day 1 in a new appointment. When you know you’ll leave one day, why bother becoming friends with people? After all, you’re their pastor and not their friend. It’s about the office of pastor, right? Well yes and no.

One of the primary roles of pastors is to establish relationships with people. Yes, we’re there to be your pastor. But there’s nothing wrong with also being a friend. Personally I find it incredibly unhealthy for pastors to keep a distance between themselves and parishioners in the name of respecting an office. As leaders we need to develop the self-awareness to know where the office ends and where we as people begin. Too many of us see ourselves as pastors only and we forget how to take off the mask and just be ourselves. As a result, we isolate ourselves (and maybe even our families) in a lonely life where we are void of many meaningful relationships. You can, in fact, be friends with church members. You will not break the church or the office of pastor if you become friends with people — so long as you develop the maturity to know certain boundaries and can become aware of how to be sensitive in the gray areas where life and ministry get messy.

A friend recently pointed me to the book Networked where the authors note that a major misconception people have about social media is that we see it as a tool when it’s really a place. It’s a place where people go to see others and to share their lives (even though it’s most often the best projection of their life). To say that a pastor should just unfriend people from their previous appointment is just nonsense. If I’m in a restaurant and I run into a former church member, am I going to turn and run away as though I don’t know that person? Of course not. I’ll stop, say hello, and maybe ask them about their family. I will not, however, ask them about my former church and how the new pastor is doing there. That’s none of my business because I’m gone when it comes to the ministry of that church. That doesn’t mean I don’t continue to care about how people are doing, how their families are growing and succeeding, or how they’re struggling at any given moment. It simply means that I need to exercise the self-control to not be their pastor once I’ve moved — and that is a gray area for many of us.

My Facebook Policy

So what exactly will change about my relationships with people on Facebook? Here are two ways I plan to change my social media relationship with Mulberry members as of June 11 when I become the pastor of Aldersagate UMC in Savannah:

  1. I will “unfollow” people so they will not show up in my news feed as often. It’s not that I don’t continue to care for them. But I’m moving to a new place and I will need the space to fill a Facebook news feed with new people who I will be living with. This doesn’t I won’t occasionally go to someone’s page to check out their latest vacation or grandchild pictures. But it does mean that I will set it up to where I will not have daily or up to the minute reminders of what’s happening in their life.
  2. I will ask that all former church members refrain from commenting to me about what’s happening at Mulberry. I care about Mulberry a great deal and it will always have a special place in my heart. But my focus is on my new appointment and the wonderful things that will happen at Aldersgate — not what’s going on in my absence at Mulberry. This includes pastoral care needs. There are three fine pastors and an incredible staff available at Mulberry to offer pastoral care. As your friend, I care. But I do not need to be the first contact for pastoral care. Count me with the masses of other friends who hear news you share publicly and do not use me for private contact concerning pastoral needs.

In addition to this, I will offer my page for my blog as a great spot to keep up with my writing. I use this page to promote articles and columns I write and I encourage people to engage with it.

Ministry is messy business. It’s complicated because pastors do not just offer religious or goods, we share life with people. And that’s beautiful. But this also makes moving from one church to another a bit complicated. Upcoming posts will try to deal with other issues of leadership in transition.

So what do you find as good practices for social media when you move from one church to another? How do you avoid unhealthy practices while keeping the integrity of a pastoral ministry that fully invests in loving people?

 

Some Things Haven’t Changed: Revisiting The Idea of Splitting the UMC over Sexuality

umc18 months ago, I wrote this article with Jeremy Smith on why we believe The United Methodist Church should not split over the issue of human sexuality. In recent weeks I’ve been reminded that some things never change (or at least take a long time to change) because it seems article after article is being written on why, for some ungodly reason, it makes sense for those of us in The United Methodist Church to pack up our toys, go our separate ways, and play only in the camps where we feel comfortable and everyone agrees with us.

In reading these articles and listening to the recent commentary on this issue and where the Church should go from here, I’m still moved by one of our opening sentences from 18 months ago:

“And we both want a better UMC for our daughters than the one we inherited.”

As young clergy who will have 40 years of ordained ministry ahead of us (although the rising retirement age may be at 86 years old by the time we get there!), we do not find a valid reason for schism. We both hold that the church should resist this and redouble efforts to find unity in diversity.

Most writings on the subject of separation seem to model the church as a funnel, whereby all resources and formation go toward a common mission. Anything that distracts from that mission is dangerous, and thus the talk of schism is attractive and every conflict becomes an opportunity to dream of escape while the idea of covenant becomes an expendable virtue.

So where do we stand on this debate in the United Methodist Church? It seems progressives who want to split forget that the church they leave will continue to have gay children. And it seems traditionalists (not “orthodox” as some claim because orthodoxy is defined by creedal beliefs and NOT social stances) who want separation naively think separation will finally rid the church of the homosexual debate, as though gay persons will no longer inhabit our spaces of worship, formation and service.

Clearly, schism will not end the conversation before us.

If conflict ultimately destroys any hopes of a homogeneous church, what’s a more faithful model? I see the Eucharist as the sacramental and formative model for how we are to be the Church. In the Eucharist, as the worldwide church gathers around the table, unity in diversity is at the heart of what it means to be the Body of Christ. This is why we can say with confidence and hope that the church’s unity is grounded in a reality more determinative than our good feelings for one another. The Church as Eucharist is a guiding model for our inclusiveness and for a demanding call for transformation—it’s what unifies us all as sinners in the need of God’s redeeming grace. The Church as Eucharist means we are continually called out of and sent back into the world as redeemed people.

Stanley Hauerwas writes:

“The church, therefore, has rightly thought confession of sin, penance, and reconciliation necessary for the reception of the Eucharist. How could we dare come to the feast of reconciliation not in unity with our brothers and sisters? The name given to that unity is ‘love.’ The gifts of bread and wine must be brought by those at peace with God and one another. If we are unreconciled, we best not receive; we dare not dishonor the holiness of the gifts of God.”

By having the Eucharist as the central metaphor for the church, it serves as the corrective for both sides on this debate. It means we’re both radically inclusive and that we put the Body of Christ ahead of any individual, caucus or political camp. And it means that through our worship, our service, our lives, and yes, even through our conferencing together, unity is at the heart of it all. We may worship in diverse ways across our connection, and there may come a point where our polity is diverse as well (as it currently is in our worldwide church), and such diversity is not disconcerting in a Church with the Eucharist as its guide.

Quite simply, by seeing the church as the Eucharist, we become the means of grace to a broken world. In a world of polarizing politics, widening chasms between the “haves” and “have-nots,” demonization of the “other side,” what better means of grace could the Church offer than how to hold together unity in diversity, to welcome the varieties of the United Methodist experience around the Communion Table?

Through our liturgy, every time we gather around the Table we declare that we long to be made “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” Are we serious about this longing for oneness, or do we simply give lip service to the idea of unity? If we’re serious, then members of both the progressive and traditionalist camps will have to come out of their respective camps and join together—maybe at the Communion Table—and decide whether our identity as the people called Methodist is more important than any issue that could divide us. It won’t be easy, but no one ever said being the church was supposed to be easy.

And this unity is grounded in holiness marked by our common love for God and one another — something sadly lacking in the way(s) we talk and write about those we disagree with.

I was encouraged by a Facebook post Rev. Adam Hamilton wrote last week talking about a meeting he had with someone he disagreed with but who shared a common interest in trying to love and listen to him:

“I flew to Memphis on Thursday to spend time with Maxie Dunnam, an elder statesmen in the UMC and its most influential conservative. I love, value and respect Maxie. He’s done a great deal in his lifetime of ministry to help people know Christ, to grow in their faith, and to prepare leaders for the church. We don’t agree on everything, though we agree on far more than we disagree on. We both love Christ, we are passionate about evangelism and church renewal, and we care deeply about the United Methodist Church.

Over Memphis barbecue, long walks, and glasses of iced tea we discussed what we share in common, our hopes for the church, our differences and if there is a way forward for the UMC that avoids dividing over the issue of homosexuality. I’m not sure that is possible, but I hope and believe it is. It won’t come from name calling and demonizing those with whom we disagree. If there is a way forward, I believe it will come out of conversations like these that begin with mutual respect and a focus not only on our differences, but on what we share in common. I also believe it will only happen with the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us.”

We want our generation to be the last that has been broken by the homosexuality debate. And we know more conversations like this need to happen. You can’t rush unity, but you sure can take the baby steps necessary to attain it — especially when those baby steps mean checking your own self-interests at the door in the process.

Jeremy and I don’t know our daughters’ sexual orientations yet, and we want a church committed to relentlessly loving them regardless. They both have, however, been baptized which means they will be named “Christian” by less than perfect churches who are a part of a less than perfect connection of churches. So our greatest hope and most fervent prayer is that it’s a connection that will seek unity—not because it’s expedient but because it’s difficult and ultimately faithful.

We want more for our daughters. We want more for your sons and daughters. And we still hold out hope that God is not yet done with the United Methodist Church.

We believe that the United Methodist Church, united in common mission, but not uniform in its expression of that mission, will serve a polarized world better than two Wesleyan traditions who took their toys and bitterly retreated to their respective camps.

On Being Deferred in the Ordination Process

manprayingSpring is the time of year when new things come to life and we’re reminded that our hope for warmth and restoration can, in fact, be a reality even after a cold winter.

However this is also the time of year when Conference Boards of Ministry all over our connection are meeting to evaluate candidates in the ordination process. And all of this talk about spring and new life and hope doesn’t carry much weight if you’ve just received the hard news that you have been deferred in the ordination process.

For some, these first days of spring are tough because you’re now learning to live with the sting of rejection. You feel like one who has failed in your calling to ministry. Your emotions range on a scale from anywhere between frustrated and devastated. You’re trying to pick up the pieces of your shattered ego in order to find some way to faithfully serve and pastor during the rest of this Lenten season and into the glory of Easter . . . and that’s a lot harder than it sounds.

I know exactly how you feel. Last year I was deferred in the ordination process. I know how much the news stings. I remember how I felt when all at once my heart started pounding and my stomach started sinking. If you were told the news in person or on the phone, it was hard to even put words together in response. If you found out by way of a written notice, you probably stared at the page and read it over and over just to make sure it was real and not some sort of trick your eyes were playing on you. As one who was where you are just a year ago, I can tell you that I know just how much this hurts.

But I’m writing not just to affirm your feelings and remind you that you’re not the only one who’s ever felt the brunt of this devastating news. I’m also writing to let you know that new life is, in fact, possible even when you’re deferred in the ordination process.

As I prepared for my interview a few weeks ago (where I would come back and face the same committee that deferred me the year before) I realized that even though I did not want to sign up for another year in the wilderness of deferral, I would not trade the previous year for anything in the world. As I’ve thought on it, I realized that I learned several lessons during my year of deferral.

First, I learned the value of what it meant for pastors to be pastored by others. In the immediate aftermath of our board’s decision, the members of the church I’m serving rallied around me to express their care and even their frustration over the news. Their warm words served as a balm for my wounded soul. If I knew nothing else, I knew the next year of growth would be spent with people who loved me and believed in my calling to ministry no matter what.

Secondly, I now know that seasons in the wilderness can actually be the grounds for new life to spring forth. God just has a way of speaking life into the most barren of circumstances. So I use the term “wilderness” on purpose – being deferred places you in a position to question and  grow in ways you may not have imagined before. While I worked on the specific areas for my ordination work, I also experienced the grace of growing personally as I turned especially to the spiritual writings of people like Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. I look back and see this past year not only as a year of growth professionally or vocationally, but also as a year of personal growth. And for that gift of grace, I’m very grateful.

Finally, I learned that while being deferred by the board of ministry can be devastating, life beyond deferral is possible. And by life I don’t mean pretending as though this never happened or that you’re perfectly okay with being deferred in your process. I mean it’s possible to find new life in light of this setback. There is hope in a Risen Lord who carried scars with him. Life and ministry have a way of helping us learn to live with scars, and sometimes we even find those scars are beneficial to our sense of compassion and love for others. So please know that life after deferral is not only possible, it is at the heart of what it means to be called into ministry by a crucified and risen Savior.

As you spend the coming days and weeks healing and growing remember a few things: First, let people love you and pastor you. Merton reminds us, “We do not find the meaning of life alone – we find it with others.” Let others help you heal and grow. Second, as you address the shortcomings of your ordination work, be open to the work of God in your personal life. The work of transformation in your life is even more important than your ordination work that you’ll turn in next year. Let yourself be open to personal growth through grace. And third, live into the mystery of this growth knowing that you will come out on the other side a new person. Listen for those who have gone through this before you. And know that you’ll be able to help those who will come after you.

Oh and one more thing…know that you’re not alone. God is with you and is still calling you as part of your baptismal identity. And the Church is longing for your presence and willingness to serve even (and especially) when setbacks happen.  For that mysterious hope all we can say is, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Calvin vs. Wesley (A Book Review)

Wesley_vs_CalvinAs a United Methodist pastor just three years out of seminary, it is a daunting task to go into a local church and teach people the ins and outs of what it means to be a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition. Adding to the difficulty of the task is the fact that so many people who occupy pews in our United Methodist churches come from varying backgrounds — some are raised Baptist, others have left the Catholic church, some were Baptist and then married a Presbyterian and found the United Methodist Church to be a “compromise church,” others are working on their third or fourth denominational affiliation. Being a Christian these days can be complicated considering how The United Methodist Church is for so many a “big tent” tradition where folks from all sorts of backgrounds can find a home.

I am currently serving in South Georgia which means I’m serving right around the right hand side of the buckle of the Bible Belt — a setting where Calvinism in both the traditional and neo sense is very much alive, well, and prominent in religious culture. So when I was pointed toward Don Thorsen’s little book, Calvin vs. Wesley: Bringing Belief in Line with Practice, I was thrilled to find a book that might help me undertake this monumental task of clarifying what it meant to be a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition.

And I was NOT disappointed.

Not only did I read this book, I taught it in a Sunday School setting. Our group was largely made up of upwardly mobile 30, 40, and early 50-somethings. On the first day we did an experiment to see how many denominational traditions were represented in our group and we found that only 4 out of 20 of us were “cradle Methodists.” 80% of our group had spent time in another denomination. So that became the launching pad whereby we jumped into Thorsen’s concise, yet comprehensive work.

I cannot begin to describe the thrill a pastor can feel when topics like the sovereignty and love of God are debated (Ch. 1, God: More Love Than Sovereignty). I cannot tell you how exhilarating it is to have people passionately talk about the power of grace in their lives even when they do not realize it (Ch. 4, Grace: More Prevenient than Irresistible). And then for a group to be encountered with what it means to live a life of holiness marked by the love of God and our neighbor (Ch. 6, Spirituality: More Holiness than Mortification)? Well, you get my point. Seeing the light bulbs go off as people grew in both clarity and conviction about why they are uniquely Christian in the Wesleyan tradition is an experience Methodist pastors long to experience.

Thorsen’s work is accessible to both clergy and laity alike. And despite the adversarial cover and title, he is very hospitable to Calvin. At the same time he makes no bones about what makes Wesley’s perspective unique and, in the end, superior. As Thorsen reminds us, “From Wesley’s perspective, there should be no ‘half a Christian’ — that is, one who receives justification by faith but fails to go on toward sanctification by faith” (p. 82). In other words, believing the right stuff and agreeing with the right stances does not make us Christian if our lives do not reflect the holiness of God. Thorsen reminds us that Wesley’s emphasis on practice and growing in grace more fully tells the story of what it means to be a Christian. The wonder of being a Christian is working out our salvation, empowered by God’s grace and in union with the church made up of fellow sojourners, and lived in a spirit of humility marked by a distinct love for God and our neighbor.”

In just under 150 pages, Don Thorsen writes a brilliant account of Wesleyan theology for both the new and more seasoned Christian. He deals with the matters of God, sin, grace, salvation, holiness, the Church, and how we live the beliefs we profess in remarkably clear and direct ways. It has been a book that will have a reserved spot on my bookshelf for years to come and in many ministry settings yet to come. So I strongly recommend you not only read this book yourself, but include a small group of friends in your reading as well. And that advice doesn’t just come from me, I have 20 friends who would gladly agree.

Christmas Eve Liturgy 2013

christmascandleWell it’s that time of year for pastors. Somewhere in the chaos of parties and special events you have to find time to plan multiple worship services. With Christmas Eve on a Monday this year it makes for a lot of printing to be done this week. For those who are still looking for liturgy for Christmas Eve, I wanted to share some liturgy we’ll be using in our Christmas Eve service this year at Mulberry. – See more at: http://mastersdust.com/2012/12/#sthash.F2IpAx39.dpuf

Opening Prayer

O God our Father, you have brought us again to the glad season when we celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant that his Spirit may be born anew in our hearts this day and that we may joyfully welcome him to reign over us. Open our ears that we may hear again the angelic chorus of old. Open our lips that we, too, may sing with uplifted hearts. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Good news! Good news! Our hopes and fears and all of years have met in this place tonight. And we have beheld the glory of the coming of God’s Messiah. Sing for joy! Salvation has come!

Light the Christ Candle

We light the Christ candle as a sign to the world that today, in the City of David, a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. We no longer have to fear the darkness for our Light has come.

Glory to God in the highest heaven! And on earth, peace to all of God’s children! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
Invitation to the Table

Christ our Lord invites all – all who wait for the coming of Emmanuel with hopeful expectation; all who repent of their sin; all who long for peace on earth. Let that peace begin with us as we confess our sins together.

Confession and Assurance of Pardon

When we allow darkness to overcome the light,

forgive us, Lord.

When we reduce Christmas to plastic and tinsel,

have mercy on us, Father.

When hardness of heart keeps us from seeing

and hearing and touching the needs of others,

 let your grace consume us, O God.

When the wars around us are of no concern,

forgive us, Lord, and move us to compassion

        for those who suffer.

When our caring is not extended to action,

move us to seek justice for our brothers and sisters.

We come to confess our sinfulness

      before you and before each other.

Remove all barriers that divide us,

      and let there be no obstacle to our love for you

      and for one another. Amen.

All pray in silence.

People of God, through the coming of Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, the Lord has comforted and redeemed us!

Recall the words of the angels: Good news…Great joy…All people…

In Christ we receive the salvation of our God. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Glory to God in the highest!

 

Benediction

May the peace of Christ be with you all both this night and forevermore.

Alleluia! Amen.

Just a quick note: If you offer a morning or midday service, why not instead of singing “Silent Night” you sing “Joy to the World”? Context is important and it is a bit awkward to sing about what a holy night it is at 11 in the morning.

Also, here’s a poem we’ll read this year. I’m a big, big fan of incorporating poetry into corporate worship and this is a real gem from Madeleine L’Engle

“First Coming”

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

I hope this series of worship planning ideas have helped your planning this season. Most of all, I hope through the singing and praying and preaching and sharing of the bread and cup you have experienced and helped others experience the power and grace of Emmanuel, God with us.

Why a Service of the Longest Night?

Candles Burning in Dark ChurchThe Christmas season is often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness. It’s a time for family to gather and for churches to worship pointing to the hope that is found in the coming of the Christ child. However, this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season, when the world’s merriment puts their grief and sorrow in start relief.

One of the greatest acts of pastoral care in the Advent season is to offer a service known as a Service of the Longest Night. It’s a worship service scheduled around the winter solstice (the longest night of the calendar year) and it just happens to fall on or around December 21st every year. As Dan Benedict notes: “it is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas’s struggle to believe the tale of Jesus’ resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss.”

Author Taylor Caldwell writes, “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

This season is still the time God chooses to bring the world’s greatest hope into the very darkness of life that can seemingly weigh us down every day. There is, indeed, hope for those who live in darkness. But part of being encountered by that hope is telling the truth about those moments when we feel nothing but hopelessness. Maybe this year isn’t your year of feeling hopeless — maybe you’re ready for a holly jolly Christmas with all of the trimmings. But being Christian means thinking of others besides yourself. And being a Christian during Advent means being willing to stand in the darkness with others because that’s where Emmanuel promises to show up first. While Advent for many churches is little more than a pre-Christmas celebration with festive traditions and rituals, the Service of the Longest Night gives space for the real meaning of Advent — our saving hope promises to come as a light that our darkest moments cannot conquer.

Below is our order of worship for the Service of the Longest Night to be held on Sunday, Dec. 22nd at 5pm:

Prelude

Words of Welcome

Call to Worship

            Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor

                  and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

            And so we invite each other to this time of peaceful worship.

            Flee for a while from your tasks;

            Hide yourself for a little space from

                  the turmoil of your thoughts.

            Come, cast aside your burdensome cares

                  and put aside your laborious pursuits.

            Give your time to God, and rest in God for a little while.

* Hymn No. 211

             “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”         (stanzas 1, 2, 6 and 7)

 

   A Liturgy of Remembering and Lighting of the Advent Wreath

            This first candle we light to remember

                  those whom we have loved and lost.

            We remember their name, their face, their voice,

                  the memory that binds them to us in this season.

            May God’s eternal love surround them.

            This second candle we light to redeem the pain of loss;

                  the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs,

                  the loss of health.

            We gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God,

                  asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.

            Refresh, restore, renew us O God,

                  and lead us into your future.

            This third candle we light to remember ourselves this Advent.

            We remember these past weeks and months;

                  the disbelief, the anger, the poignancy of reminiscing,

                  the hugs and handshakes of family and friends,

                  all those who stood with us.

            We give thanks for all the support we have known.

            Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.

            This fourth candle we light to remember our faith

                  and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us.

            We remember that God who shares our life promises us

                  a place and time of no more pain and suffering.

            Let us remember the one who shows the way,

                  who brings the truth and who bears the light.

 

   Act of Praise  

            “We Shall Walk Through the Valley”             arr. Burroughs

 

   Responsive Reading from the Old Testament                  Psalm 121

            I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.

            From where does my help come?

            My help comes from God who made heaven and earth.

            God will not suffer your foot to be moved.

            The one who keeps you will not slumber.

            Behold the one who keeps Israel shall not slumber or sleep.

            The Holy one is your keeper.

            The Holy one is your shade on your right hand.

            The sun shall not hurt you by day nor the moon by night.

            Our God shall preserve you from evil

                  and shall preserve your soul.

            Our God shall preserve your going out and your coming in

                  from this time forth and even for evermore.

           

* Reading from the Gospel                                                John 1:1-5

 

   Meditation                                                             Rev. Ben Gosden

 

   Hymn No. 230

            “O Little Town of Bethlehem”                              (Stanzas 1 & 4)

 

   Invitation to the Table 

            Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,

                     who earnestly repent of their sin

                     and seek to live in peace with one another.

Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.

 

    Confession and Pardon

         Merciful God,

            we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

            We have failed to be an obedient church.

            We have not done your will, we have broken your law,

            we have rebelled against your love, 

            we have not loved our neighbors,

            and we have not heard the cry of the needy.

            Forgive us, we pray. 

            Free us for joyful obedience,

            through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

            Hear the good news:

            Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;

                     that proves God’s love for us.

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

            In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

            Glory to God.  Amen.

   The Peace

            Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.

 

   The Great Thanksgiving

            The Lord be with you.

            And also with you.

            Lift up your hearts.

            We lift them up to the Lord.

            Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

            It is right to give our thanks and praise.

 

            O God, you created the universe with a shout of joy,

                  a word of delight, and a big bang.

            You made gravity holes and antimatter,

                  swirling electrons and dancing quarks,

                  shooting stars and sapphire blue planets.

            You filled the ocean with clown fish and sharks,

                  with dolphins and killer whales.

            You filled the air with doves and hawks

                  songbirds and hummingbirds.

            You covered the land with shimmering aspen

                  and weathered pine.

            And You blessed all the children of the earth

                  every shape and size, every color and complexion,

                  every makeup and mood, every style and substance.

            When we walk through sorrow and chaos,

                  You are with us.

            When we live through moments of war and acts of terror,

                  You walk with us.

            When we face death and loss, loneliness and grief,

                  you stand with us and finally lead us home to you.

            And so, with your people on earth

                  and all the company of heaven,

                  we praise Your name and join their unending hymn:

 

            Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might,

            Heaven and earth are full of your glory,

            Hosanna in the highest.

            Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

            Hosanna in the highest.

 

            In the right time, in the fullness of your time,

            In the nick of time, you sent your Son to bring us back to life.

            He opened a window into your new creation.

            He showed us a vision of your way:

                  where every child has enough to eat,

                  and can sleep safely all through the night,

                  where every graveyard is a front porch of heaven,

                  where the untouchable and unloveable

                        are given the seats of honor,                                      

                  where tears of mourning become tears of laughter,

                  where grievous wrongs and horrid suffering

                        are made right and fair,

                  where children hunt Easter eggs on playgrounds

                        made from battlefields,

                  and where everyone is welcomed and loved.

           

            And so,

                  on the night in which he gave himself up for us,

                  Jesus took bread, gave thanks to you,

                  broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said,

                  “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.

                  Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

            When supper was over, he took the cup,

                  gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said,

                  “Drink from this, all of you;

                  this is my blood of the new covenant,

                  poured out for you and for many

                  for the forgiveness of sins.

                  Do this, as often as you drink it,

                  in remembrance of me.”

 

            And so,

                  in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,

                  we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving

                  as a holy and living sacrifice,

                  in union with Christ’s offering for us,

                  as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

           Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

            Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,

                  and on these gifts of bread and wine.

            Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,

                  that we may be for the world the body of Christ,

                        redeemed by His blood.

           

            Renew our communion with all your saints,

                  especially those who now live with you.

            Since you have refreshed our souls from the waters of life,

            Help us refresh and renew others.

            Since you have given us strength for the journey.

            Help us to strengthen others on their journey.

 

            Send your Spirit to renew our faith and transform our souls

            So that we may hear your music,

            Work for justice, delight in heavenly food,

            And strengthen one another in love and grace.

            Thanks to be God.  Amen.

 

   Giving the Bread and Cup

           

* Hymn No. 218

            “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”

 

* Benediction

Go forth into the world in the loving strength of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Go forth to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.

And may the peace of Christ surround you and enfold you this night and forevermore. Amen.

 

**Great Thanksgiving: Copyright © 2001, 2002 Mark Wiley. Reprinted with permission.

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