(Almost) Ordination time

In a week and a half we have a unique occasion for celebration – Pastor Mark will be ordained for pastoral ministry. 

Mennonite theology values the priesthood of all believers.  We all have access to the Divine and share in the call to embody the healing and reconciling ministry of Jesus.  We also recognize certain offices of ministry, among them chaplains and pastors.  The priesthood of all believers doesn’t necessarily mean the pastorhood of all believers!

Our denominational Polity Manual says: “Ordination is an act of the church that confirms those whom God and the church have called to particular roles of leadership ministry – both to build up the local body and to further engage the congregation in the mission of God.”

In our polity, credentialing for ministry is a two-step process.  A pastor is first licensed, a temporary credential for a time of testing and discernment by the individual and the congregation.  And then, if both choose, ordination, which affirms and solidifies this calling.

On Sunday, June 9, during the worship service, we as the church, led by CDC Conference Minister Doug Luginbill, will act and confirm Mark’s ministry.

It’s kind of routine and kind of a big deal.  Routine because this is a common step for pastors to take who decide they want to stick with this for a while.  The words of affirmation and blessing are those uttered in other congregations present and past.    

It’s a big deal because pastorhood is no small task.  It’s a big deal for a community to say they want you to help lead them, to borrow words from our Membership Commitment statement, “toward a more just, peaceful, and merciful embodiment of God’s love in this world.”  That’s a big deal, and can feel kind of heavy sometimes.   

It’s also a big deal because the church as a whole is still fearful and, at times, openly hostile towards queer folks, especially as leaders.  I have a deep appreciation and admiration for Mark and others who accept this calling despite these realities.       

I’m grateful Mark has heard the voice that is deeper and truer than those objections.  I’m grateful CMC has been fertile ground for his flourishing.  I’m grateful for how Mark has been a pastor to me through his caring and thoughtful spirit. 

So let’s celebrate on June 9. 

And remember, if you show up at the church building this Sunday you’ll be singing hymns solo.  We’re meeting at Highbanks Metro Park for the annual outdoor service.

Joel

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Retirements

Yesterday I attended the convocation chapel at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) which honored the careers or retiring professors Dr. John Kampen and Dr. Linda Mercadante.  Both have Mennonite ties.  John and his wife Carol are long time members of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship where I pastored prior to CMC.  Linda and her husband Joe Mas attend CMC.

Both gave reflections.  John recalled what he feels to be the most important accomplishment of his professional career:  While teaching and serving as Academic Dean at Payne Theological Seminary, an African Methodist Episcopal Church school, he helped them become an officially credentialed seminary.  They continue to form black leaders who are shaping communities and institutions.

Linda spoke of MTSO as a haven for her over a long academic career that included personal challenges.  She began her career surrounded by male faculty and has seen the institution grow to embrace female faculty.  It was noted that because of her long tenure, over half of the alumni to ever pass through MTSO would know her, and that her work with those who identify as spiritual but not religious has made a major contribution at the intersection of faith and culture.

Retirement seems to be a major theme these days at CMC as well.  I don’t know how many of you have retired in the last couple years, but it’s a lot.  Which means questions of identity, direction, and calling are all very close to the surface these days.  Where to focus one’s energy?  How to enter into this new stage of life in a way that welcomes new opportunities along with a chance for renewal?  How to let go of professional identities yet still claim the gifts one exercised in those offices?  How to adjust expectations when one’s body doesn’t cooperate with one’s aspirations.  And many other such questions. 

Listening to John and Linda speak affirmed how valuable it is to listen to one another’s stories, and what a gift it is to have this multi-generational community called a congregation.  Since we’re starting to live with the words of our new Membership Commitment Statement, this line especially applies: “Learn from one another, allowing the wisdom of all ages to teach us.”

I’m not sure if we have enough structured ways to learn from the wisdom of all ages, but I want to say for now that it’s a very good thing.  And I’m guessing our recently retired folks are feeling both parts of that statement: That they have some wisdom to share, and that they have so much more to learn.

Joel

Membership, Centers, and Boundaries

This month we’re welcoming 16 new members into CMC.  Four joined this past Sunday.  Another 12 will join this coming Sunday.  As has become our custom, we’ll hear brief reflections from each of them.  We’ll share Communion, served by new members.  And we’ll recite together our Membership Commitment statement – an old practice with new (and fewer!) words.

Membership actually seems like a bit of an anomaly for how we generally do church.  About 30 years ago missiologist Paul Hiebert proposed the now-common categories of Bounded Set and Centered Set.  Groups that operate as a Bounded Set actively define who’s in and out.  They emphasize lines and boundaries, and what criteria determines those boundaries.  A primary image here is a fence.

A primary image for Centered Set groups is a well.  There are no limits on how far away you are from the well, but if you’re thirsty you’ll move toward it.  I also like to think of Centered Set communities in terms of a gravitational force.  We’re all orbiting, in our own ways, around a common center of love/community/Christ/justice/peace. It’s the strength of the center, rather than the fences around it, that holds us together.

CMC is definitely a Centered Set kind of congregation.  Yet membership is closer to a Bounded Set way of operating.  You’re either on the role or you’re not. 

I don’t find this slight hybridization overly problematic, just worth pondering.

Membership is a way of publicly claiming affiliation and affinity with this congregation.  In reciting our Membership Commitment statement, we’re literally making commitments to one another, with the acknowledgement that we often fail, and that the whole endeavor is energized by God’s grace.

And perhaps membership can be done as a Centering exercise.  Its our way of claiming that we are all orbiting around a common Center, that we are consciously choosing to be a part of that orbit, and that we’re giving one another the grace and space needed to do that in the most authentic way.

Joel

Sketching the story

Even though I’ve had my back to it for much its creation, The Sketch (feels like it should be capitalized) has been a rich part of Lent worship.

The idea came out of an initial observation that the scripture readings for each week of Lent this year contain key images that fit together into a coherent landscape.  That landscape is now complete.

In the upper left is the wilderness of Lent 1 in which Jesus fasted and listened for the Spirit’s path.

Lent 2 featured Abraham looking at the stars and Jesus walking toward the city of Jerusalem

Lent 3 included the parable of the unfruitful fig tree (left foreground) and an invitation to the living waters.

In Lent 4 we pondered the parable of the prodigal son (or species) where the field on the right and animals took shape.  What an adorable pig.

The story of Lent 5 took place around a table where Jesus was anointed with expensive perfume by Mary.

And last Sunday, Palm Sunday, the path into the city was paved with palms and cloaks.  This path leads to the cross.

It’s not a mistake that the table lands in the middle of this image.  Surrounded by all this beauty and trouble, we gather to eat and fellowship.  The table – and the bread and cup it holds – is one of the central images of our faith.  It was around this table that Jesus gathered with his closest companions on this night of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday.  At this table he assured them of his love for them, offered them bread as a sign of his body, and washed their feet.  Common and holy things happen around tables.  We believe with Jesus that the table is wide enough for everyone, and there is enough for all to eat their fill.

The Sketch will also play a part in our worship for Easter, and then it will remain up front throughout the Easter season until summer.

If you’re able, join us for the Good Friday service tomorrow at 7:30pm.

Joel

Retreat and vision

Last Saturday the CMC Leadership Team had a retreat.  For newer folks, LT is the church board. 

An annual board retreat is part of a church structure model we’ve been moving toward in the last couple years.  We’re taking our cues from Dan Hotchkiss’s book Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership.  He emphasizes the centrality of 1) setting policy and 2) visioning for a church board.

This was a visioning retreat – our attempt to listen for the ways the Spirit is at work among us and direct our collective attention toward a few primary areas.  Practicing awareness!  Melonie Buller wrote a piece about this in the Lamplighter that went out this week. 

In short, LT will be guiding the congregation in conversation over next year regarding how we respond to growth, how we might better form leaders among us, and discernment for how we focus our energy beyond our walls.

In addition, LT is asking our Commissions – and everyone – to think intentionally about the many dimensions of sanctuary, and how we address the needs and gifts of all ages among us.

Some of this will lead to the making of goals and plans, as organizations tend to do, and some of this will better prepare us to be ready and open to the unforeseen new movements of the Spirit. 

Joel

Swamped

These past two weeks I’ve had an unusually high amount of conversations with CMC folks who are overwhelmed with their jobs.  Overly busy, swamped, worn down, exhausted, exasperated.  I started noticing a pattern last week, then it kept coming.  This is likely not an unusual condition.  It’s just unusual for it to dominate the content of so many of my own interactions with CMC folks. 

So I’m highlighting it here.  Since we are Practicing Awareness during Lent, I’m passing along what has come to my awareness.  In case you thought you were the only one.  Or in case you thought it was mostly your problem rather than a persistent and rampant systemic reality.  As you well know, it most definitely is your problem.  It is most definitely our problem, collectively, as a society.

Sometimes it’s just a busy season, with relief in sight.  Sometimes there are do-able steps one can take to delegate responsibilities, say No more often, shed tasks down to what is most important.  And sometimes it’s time to get the hell out while you’re still alive.

One of the things I most appreciate about Lent is the constant reminder of our mortality.  We begin with the words of Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We end with the cross, witnessing the death of Jesus who said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” 

A contemplative awareness of death does wonders to bring life into focus.  What and who is most important?  How can I be of service to humanity and not a slave to the man?  How can I provide for myself and those I love with time for what brings me joy?   What am I to do with this miraculous dust of my body while I still have breath?   

I continue to believe that Sabbath is one of the most radical forms of resistance in our time.  A day when non-market values rule the day, and life is lived for its own sake. 

How are you doing with all that?!

Joel

A big breakfast table

This morning I attended the Interfaith Justice Table.  It’s a monthly breakfast, convened by Rev. Dan Clark, Ohio Director of Faith in Public Life.    There were about 30 of us – mostly clergy and leaders of various faith driven not for profit advocacy groups.  There were some common commitments that initially drew this group together – especially regarding racial bias and police accountability.  The group has been very supportive of Edith and Sanctuary work.  It has also become a gathering point for various concerns and efforts.  Plus Dan makes a great breakfast casserole.

Today’s meeting had a wide variety of reflections, updates, and invitations.

Imam Horsed Noah of the Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center reflected on the shooting at the Al-Noor mosque in New Zealand and the persistence of Islamophobia and white supremacy.

Our host, Rev. Eric Brown of Woodland Christian Church talked about his role in the search for an Assistant Safety Director, a new position that will enable Columbus police officers facing discrimination within the police force to have someone to report to other than their commanding officer. 

Marshall Troxell of Equality Ohio introduced their advocacy for SB 11, the Ohio Fairness Act, which would update state anti-discrimination laws to include LGBTQ persons.

Tara Polansky of Hand in Hand Domestic Employers Network shared the victory that, after intense public pressure, JP Morgan Chase has stopped giving loans to GEO Group and Core Civic who operate the majority of US for-profit prisons and migrant detention centers.

One of the reasons this group is so important to me is that it provides a space not only to share information and motivation, but relationship building, mutual learning, and blessing.  After Imam Horsed Noah spoke, one of the pastors requested we all share a moment of silence for our Muslim friends.  I was sitting beside Horsed and placed my hand on his back.  I was able to speak to him the same words we speak to one another on Sunday: “Peace be with you.”

As a final word for the morning, Rabbi Jessica Shimberg noted that she is fasting today as the feast of Purim approaches this evening, based on the story of Esther.  To paraphrase her words: “Esther survived initially by passing, blending in.  But she saved herself and her people when she revealed her identity and acted out of her deepest self.  In her case, her Jewishness.  This is the challenge and calling for us.”   

I’m grateful there is a community like this breakfast group.  Despite all the work to be done, just being in the same room together, sharing a meal, sharing a blessing, feels like its own kind of victory.

Joel