Saturday, March 15, 2003

It's a golden sunrise day. The snow is melting (finally) and today will actually be in the 50s! Even though a lot of the ground is still covered by many inches of snow, there is a "Welcome, Spring!" feeling to it all!

Today, there is lots going on here! It is recycle day! Yea! I have missed the last two, so I am very ready for that.

It is also Penny Social Day! (Another yea!) You may be saying: "Huh? What's a penny social?" That was me, the first weekend I was here when I had the chance to experience my very first penny social. A penny social is a really fun event that organizations use to raise money. It is like a garage sale without leftovers -- with a little bit of the lottery thrown in. This penny social benefits the youth group, and it's the third one they've had and the third one I've gone to. Here's how it goes: People have been saving up their "junk" (well, OK, "items to give away") and brought those to "the hall" last night, or they've left stuff at the church for a few weeks now. The only rules about that (that I can figure out) is (1) no clothes and (2) no broken stuff. [BTW -- "the hall" is the community hall that is right next to the church.] Last night the youth and adults gathered to set it all up. The set up is 4 or 5 rows of tables that run the length of the hall. Going down each side of each table are little piles of stuff with a cup next to each pile. There are hundreds of those little piles. One pile might be a sewing machine with accessories. Another pile might be 4 paperback books and a stuffed animal. Another pile might be a waffle iron, a vase and a collection of key rings in a zip-lock bag.

Tonight, doors open at 6:00. People from the church and from the community will arrive over the next hour and a half. When I get there, I will plunk down a dollar for each envelop I want. Each envelop is numbered (say, with the number 53) and contains 100 little tickets with the number 53 on them. (In reality, I will get about 5 of those envelopes -- or maybe more -- it IS for youth!). I will then browse through the hall and figure out what I can't live without! I will put some tickets in the cup beside any pile of things I want to leave with -- more tickets beside things I really want to leave with! At the first penny social, I put about $5.00 of tickets beside a brand new down comforter and went home with it! After I distribute all my tickets among things that I am interested in, I could buy a hot dog, chips and Coke to snack on. Sometimes there are raffle items (new, donated items), and chances can be bought for $1.00 each.

At 7:30, the drawing begins. The youth will go down each table and, at each pile, they will pour that cup of tickets into a big coffee can to mix and call out a number. The number is the winner of that stuff. All of the "used" tickets go into a very big can to be drawn for new items that are door prizes. So, at the end, all the stuff belongs to someone and is taken out. The youth get the money for their fund.

I was over at the hall last night while they got set up. So I got to look over the stuff, although it could change slightly before tonight! I saw a couple of plants that looked appealing and I wondered if the waffle iron works, since ours no longer does. I always think there is nothing that I will find there, and there are always a few things that really appeal to me. I have gotten crocheted doilies that I really love and some little lamps that I really like and some children's books that included Big Bird's Red Book which I think is a classic, and I had lost ours somewhere along the way. Mostly, it's just fun!

Friday, February 07, 2003

It has been many months since I've posted to this online journal. I don't know why that is or why I'm least for today...

We are getting more snow this morning. We've had something like 50 inches of snow this winter (maybe more). And February is typically a big snow month!

I can't describe how much I am enjoying living in this place. There are so many things to love about it. The church I serve is a very wonderful place to serve and worship and learn. I lead a Wednesday morning study using the Brueggemann book The Bible Makes Sense where we are looking at ways to look at the Bible and understand it. I also help lead a Sunday morning group that looks at the lectionary text for the following week. People in the church are loving and energetic and so much fun!! There is always lots going on--more than I ever imagined!

This area of Pennsylvania is called The Endless Mountains, and that pretty much describes the feast of beauty that this place serves up. If the weather had cooperated today, I would have spent the day driving and doing errands and goofing off--a great way to spend my day off. My new plan is to stay cozy inside.

I have been here 9 months and I sense a shift just now in my ministry here from the "honeymoon" period to "real life" ministry. That definitely doesn't mean that anything has gone wrong or gone sour, but that things are starting to get very real (and more even paced, maybe) between the congregation and me. That feels good ... and right.

Friday, October 25, 2002

...there was a church that truly enjoyed children? All churches seem to want more kids (usually stated as "we want/need to attract more young families"). And then, having declared that, children are relegated to the sidelines of church life, it seems. We love to see them in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Children's Church, and (on occasion) "performing" in the worship service.

The last two churches I have served have had a good number of children and have been especially adept at knowing how to welcome them into the life of the congregation. Here at the Dille Parish, they have been welcoming children so well and for so long that they don't even seem to realize how well they do that and how unusual it is!

Last Sunday, there were probably 20 kids (maybe more) in the worship service, about 1/4 of the congregation. In something we have occasionally, called "Sunday School Surprise," the 2 & 3 year-old Sunday School class (there were 4 little kids) sang a song they have learned "The B-I-B-L-E" (with congregational help). The congregation was delighted! We also celebrated, using the UCC liturgy, the adoption of a Chinese-born toddler.

Throughout the service, there was a low background noise of children--whining, talking, walking around. The parents were attending to them, but with kids, there is some "buzz." At times, it was distracting, and even humorous. This sanctuary has no sound system, so I tried to make sure to use a very big voice during my worship leadership and preaching. I was wondering if anyone actually heard the sermon (which I thought was pretty good and definitely worth hearing!), and I was especially concerned that the kid noise might be bothersome to people without kids of their own. Though we have all those kids and their families, most of the congregation is empty-nest.

So I asked around to a few people and figured I would "step into" how people REALLY felt about the children. I expected to hear some irritation and frustration, and (I confess) I thought those feelings would even be kinda reasonable, given the numbers of kids and the constant noise.

Here's the amazing part: NO ONE even hinted that there was one thing negative about the children's presence, for them personally, and certainly not for the worship service or for the church. One very wise woman in the church put it this way, when I asked her if she could actually hear the sermon: "Well, I could hear just fine, and there were empty seats in front of me. If someone is having difficulty in the back, there are many options for them up front."

OK--so it bruises my ego just a little to figure out that maybe my voice wasn't the most important voice in the worship service last Sunday (maybe not ANY Sunday!?!). It's not the the first time I have made that discovery. And a little ego bruise goes pretty well with a warm heart!

My take on this: I don't know that any program (or lack of program) will make children feel welcome in church life. They either are, or they aren't, welcome, and I think they know the truth of that, no matter what we tell them. But I do believe that children only learn to worship "like we do" IN THE WORSHIP SERVICE! If children and youth can't worship there, we need to find out why. And, if we really want "young families" (with their kids) in our church, we might be willing to change the worship service so that children and youth can worship with us. OR...use this church's model: Let children and youth know that they are welcome (no matter what, all the time) and encourage them to participate (at their level) in the traditions we hold dear.

That's the church part. The parent part is simple--and even more important: Bring your children to church, regularly. Teach them, each week, to worship, by encouragement and example. And talk about where God is in your life and theirs, regularly.

And the pastor part (I think): Love them all, enjoy them to the max, and leave "what ain't broke" alone.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Amy & I went to Philadelphia last weekend to visit zha (Matt) and Suzanne. It was a vacation weekend for me so I read, and we ate Philly food, and took some walks around their neighborhood. We also looked around the University of Pennsylvania, in case Amy decides to go to college there. On the trip home, we saw some incredibly colorful fall foliage. Here, the color hasn't yet peaked (they say), but it is also very pretty.

About the missing horse hitch in front of the ATM....
The walkway to the bank that was between the ATM and the horse hitch was an unsafe, narrow, partially-asphalt path that the bank decided to upgrade. It is now a for-real concrete sidewalk and had to meet requirements for handicap accessibility, which meant a wider walkway. Now, there would be no room for a buggy to be hitched safely without being in the street. I wonder if any thought at all was given to the demise of a buggy parking space in the planning and design phase of the sidewalk. It's like a lot of what we humans do--nobody gave it a thought. The sidewalk is nice, though. I will forever regret not taking a picture of the sight of a buggy hitched in front of the ATM.

This weekend, we welcome Ben Alderson into our congregation. Ben is the newly-adopted son of Beth and Larry Alderson who traveled to China several weeks ago to bring him back to their family which includes their birth children, Laura and Brian. Ben's parents have requested a dedication service for him in worship, where parents and congregation will promise to support his growth and nurture in the faith. Then, we will have lunch afterwards (in the Parish House) and greet Ben officially and see the Alderson's pictures from their trip. The congregation loves to celebrate special occasions of all kinds! This weekend is also Rob and Georgia's wedding, so it is a celebration weekend from start to finish.

It's a rainy day in LeRaysville. We have had our first frost this week and expect some snow showers this weekend. The "Ninja mowers" (as we fondly call them) mowed our summery-green and thick grass yesterday, perhaps for the last time this year. There are two riding lawn mowers that make quick and loud and artful and anonymous work of mowing this whole corner, around our house, the church and the bandstand. They buzz around with their mowers and weedeaters with such purpose and efficiency that is amazing to watch. So, we call them the "Ninja mowers." Yesterday, I first knew they had been here because fresh-mowed grass here smells really good--and I could smell it before I saw it.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

It's already sweatshirt weather here in the Endless Mountains! Front porch sitting now requires that, since we are not ready to give up that favorite place to be. It's also great sleeping weather!

It's now dark at 6:00 a.m. My early morning activity today was disposing of our paper trash in the burn barrel. We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that a scout group organizes a recycling day each month and it is practically right next to our house.

I wonder if anyone else in town has noticed that there is a horse hitch missing. There were three in town--one in front of the fire company, one next to the bulk food store, and one at the sidewalk in front of the ATM (honest!). These are used by the significant Amish community when they come to town. I don't know if the Amish actually use the ATM, but their buggies were regularly hitched there when they came to town. The sidewalk was recently replaced, and the horse hitch is not there. I can't seem to find anyone who knows how (or why) that happened--or anyone who cares.

It bothers me. I just finished reading Lies My Teacher Told Me which showed how the history we know and pay attention to is (partial, hero-ified) Euro-American history. The consequences of that to all groups (including the dominant group) are significant and heartbreaking. I have noticed that the Amish here are often the "invisible" people; that is, they are not considered to be part of the community. And sometimes they are the "other" people; that is, they are talked about disparagingly ("They don't take care of their horses" etc.). There are some ways that people openly affirm the Amish. The opening of the Amish store has been applauded, and lots of people use the store on a very regular basis. Our church has offered financial support to some Amish families when they have faced crises. However, most of the ways that Amish "come up" in conversation reminds me of the way the dominant culture generally refers stereotypically of blacks, Native Americans and welfare mothers. I have been unpleasantly surprised to discover this.

It's just a horse hitch, but something has been erased from the picture here. I'm not sure that I want to let it disappear without notice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

My computer crashed again last week and had to go to the Gateway Country Store (again). It's still not healthy, just working. The store is 47 miles away and it takes an hour and 15 minutes on mostly windy 2-lane roads. On the way back from picking up the computer yesterday, I got a drive-through donut from the new Krispy Kreme place in Clark's Summit.

On Sunday evening, Amy & I had just finished watching a movie on TV when I got a phone call saying that there was a window open (no screens) at the Parish House, which is the church office building across the street from our house and the LeRaysville church. I thought I would just run across the street to close it. So I grabbed my keys and didn't bother to change from sweatpants and night shirt, but just threw on some flip flops and headed out across the yard. It was getting dark, but I could tell that there were several people hanging out in the rocking chairs on the porch. People from the community frequently gather there, and I couldn't tell if it was some of the local teenagers or some of the residents of the multi-family unit that is next door. So I went back in the house and changed into an actual T-shirt before going back across the street.

The "rockers" turned out to be three wonderful women from the church who were talking and laughing together out there. I ended up sitting with them for another hour or so, and it was so much fun to just sit there and laugh and talk and watch the stars come out and wave at the people driving by. The weather was perfect and so was the company. We finally realized how long we had been there when Amy came over to find out what had happened to me. Spending a Sunday evening that way was so unexpectedly WONDERFUL!

That experience is pretty typical of how lives interconnect here. No one is anonymous. When people say that "everyone is related to everyone here," it is not an exaggeration. If you count the marriage ties, at least 95% of the community is actually, literally related. In the mornings, the Parish House (where my office is located) is buzzing with people and activity. There are always voluteers from the church who answer the phone and take care of whatever needs to be taken care of there. Meanwhile, the phone rings and people show up there on a regular basis to do a project, to share a story, to drop off or pick up something or someone, to bring some cookies or something delicious, or to update the prayer list on the wipe-off board. I rarely stay sequestered back in my own office in the mornings. Even when I go back there, I always end up out in the part where the big oak table and the kitchen and the people are.

Today, the office staff was called into duty to help with a certain woodchuck problem in the neighborhood. I am not at liberty to divulge their role or the details of today's exciting installment of Operation Woodchuck Be-Gone, but let's just say that it was a success. Woodchucks, I have discovered, are incredibly destructive (dig under houses, dig up gardens, make dangerous holes in fields) and it is an understatement to say they are universally despised here. They are pretty ugly, too.

Tonight's supper is omelets (thanks to the sweet person who brought in eggs today) and some delicious turkey bacon from the Amish store across the street.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

People keep asking me about what is happening here, what we are doing, how life is. And there is SO MUCH to tell! I thought this would make it easier to let people know (if they want to)--without boring anyone who truly don't care. Besides, it feels like a new beginning for me technologically since I just got my computer put back together after a major hard drive crash.

Yes, it happened at the worst possible pastoral moment--about 3 or 4 weeks ago on a Sunday morning--just at the satisfying moment I was booting up the computer to print out my sermon! I had gotten up early to get news of the Pennsylvania miners who had been trapped, so I had some extra time to call the computer technical support people, after I had tried all of my remedies. They quickly declared my hard drive dead with only about 2 hours to go before the worship service would begin. I felt like my own brain had crashed--I was that disoriented! I was able to reconstruct a lot of what I was going to say, since I had lived with it all week long, and since I had one good long story that I had taken out of a (real) book.

The good news was that I was able to (supposedly) retrieve the documents off the hard drive. The bad news is, my Quicken (financial) files seem to have "problems" so they won't load. But the good news is that the hard drive was covered under warranty (so no charge). The bad news is that the computer store is near Wilkes-Barre which is a good hour and a half away. But the good news is that it's a beautiful area to drive through. The bad news is that I got lost on the way back from dropping it off, but the good news is that it was a long and beautiful drive (can't say that often enough) and that I didn't get lost on the next trip where I picked it up.

I don't know how I got started on that "good news-bad news" thing, but it seemed like too much fun after I got started! It would have been nice to play with the "(computer hard) drive-(beautiful car) drive" thing, but that would be over the top!

Amy & I went down to the Red & White (country market store a half block from our house) and got a pizza for supper. We came home and ate it on the front porch (pepperoni & mushroom--her favorite--and it was delicious!) while we enjoyed the cooler weather and waved to a surprising number of people we now know &/or recognize.