Thursday, January 29, 2009

Miss Myrtle

One of the most remarkable people I've ever met died yesterday. Myrtle Rice succumbed to cancer at the age of 102. Yes, you read that right ... 102! And up until about one week ago, she was living on her own in a senior citizen's apartment complex.

She was a really neat lady who lived most of her life on a dairy farm in Urbana MD ... which is now a planned housing development. She attributed her long life to hard work. She took care of her brothers and her parents - both of whom died in her arms. She has two surviving daughters, but outlived her only son and her husband. She was a devoted member of Calvary United Methodist Church and had a strong faith.

She didn't like doctors much, especially when they wanted to put her in the hospital. She loved the Orioles and going out to Red Lobster (she even had her 102 birthday dinner there!). Myrtle had a sense of humor and could see the absurdity in life.

Even in the end when her cancer was quite painful, she told me she was grateful to God for everything God had given her. She was just curious as to why God let her live so long. She asked God to just let her go to sleep and not wake up because she'd done everything she wanted to do.

God answered her prayer. I'm sure she heard Jesus say, "Well done good and faithful servant."

I went out to scrape the ice off my sidewalk this afternoon. It was hard work to crack the ice and shovel it into my yard. I broke of large thin slabs and flung them onto my ice covered lawn. They shattered and the pieces scattered and slid all over the yard. There was something really fun and childlike about doing this. As I did it, I could sense Miss Myrtle watching this and laughing. As my back got sore, I could hear her say, "Come on, you know hard work won't kill you."

It's been a privilege ... thanks Miss Myrtle!

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I can relate to Jonah. I don't think I'm as cranky as he was (Beloved Husband might disagree), but I do understand his reaction when he was told to go to Nineveh. "I don't want to go to Nineveh! Hmmm ... Tarshish is nice this time of year."

Everybody has a "Nineveh." For a long time, becoming a priest was my "Nineveh." I had a lot of great excuses, but God kept coming back when I least expected it and stayed on me about it until I gave in. Fortunately, no big fish were involved, but it was my "Nineveh" nonetheless.

A big part of it was fear of the kinds of things priests have to face. The thing that scared me most was being with someone facing a tragedy like a sudden death, death of a child or a terminal diagnosis. Once I was ordained, I knew at some point I'd have to face this. Clinical pastoral education helped me face some of this and learn how to cope, but you never master it.

Last week, I had to go to "Nineveh" with the folks at Calvary United Methodist Church. On Monday, we had a huge 50 car accident on South Mountain just west of our house. Two people were killed - one was a prominent member of Calvary. Lori Shipley had been the church council president, sang in the Gospel Choir, taught the middle school youth ... she and her husband been involved in everything. The next morning, retired Judge Herbert Rollins died after battling cancer. Two huge funerals back to back on Friday and Saturday. Later that week, we had another member die ... she'll be buried on Monday afternoon. In addition, two other Calvary members lost close family members last week.

Nobody wants to go to their personal "Nineveh" - whatever it is. But I've learned from Jonah and last week that God gives us what we need to get in and out of our "Ninevehs" alive. Jonah had good reason to fear going into that great city ... the people had a violent reputation and he was bearing some bad news from God. I know I haven't mastered this whole pastor thing in times of crisis ... but God will make sure I get out of it alive.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Endings ... again

I just learned yesterday that our bishops have called a new priest who will be serving both St. Luke's Carey Street and Holy Nativity, Pimlico. The Reverend Glenna Reed is a young African American woman from Atlanta and I'm sure she will be a splendid pastor for these two congregations. St. Luke's has been yoked before, but this is a new experience for Holy Nativity. They are a yoking of equal partners, so this bodes well for the long term sustainability of the relationship. They are going to be a new inner-city mutual ministry model for our diocese - so that means no roadmaps or "tried and true" methodologies.

This is a lot like God's call to Abram:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Genesis 12:1-4
The LORD did not say, "Hi Abram, it's me ... you know God. Listen, I have an idea I want to pitch to you and see what you think about it." Nope. God said "Go." No introduction, just a command and a promise. Abram went, and "believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

Believing in the LORD is to trust in God. Abram trusted fully and went, even though the roadmap was not given to him. God didn't give him the full plan, just go to a "land that I will show you." He didn't get the Google driving directions to Canaan! He didn't even get a hint that he should head westward ... just go to a land I will show you. It's as if God said, "Just start walking Abram, and I'll reveal it as you go."

Ministry is that way. We are all called to a land that God will show us. That land is the place of possibilities that do not exist right now, but will emerge as we take each step on faith. Just start moving ... God will reveal the possibilities as you trust God enough to take the steps.

I think God did it this way to make sure that Abram's ego didn't get in the way. Let's be honest, don't we all really just want God to write out the whole plan in the sky so we can get the "big picture?" The problem is, if we had the whole "big picture," we'd get our egos involved and wrest control from God to make it happen on our terms. Instead, God doesn't give us the whole picture ... just the next step. The challenge is to trust enough to take the first step, not worrying about where it goes, and trusting it will land where God wants it to land. That's a tall order.

This is true for St. Luke's and Holy Nativity, and for me too. It will be hard to say good-bye to St. Luke's. Honestly, I won't miss the haul down I-70, but I will miss the people, especially the kids. I have a few more weeks there (I think ... still waiting for final instructions on that), but it makes me start thinking about my future.

I was at Fresh Start today (our new call support group) and all this was announced. I told them the "Mercenary Presbyter" was back in the house! I'm keeping my Reverend Mom blog moniker this time though. Beloved Husband and I are opening ourselves to options which, like Abram, may ask us to get up and go to another place. If God wants us here in Maryland, a viable full-time call will open up here. But, sitting around waiting for that to happen isn't showing a lot of trust either. I need to make myself available to any possibility and see if God may be up to something unexpected.

Then again, isn't God always up to something unexpected?

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year, New Blog ... yadda yadda yadda!

A big shout out to everyone reading this blog (all three of you) for a very blessed New Year! Last year was certainly a roller coaster for me. January - May: Vicar of Gathered by Christ. May - October: Mercenary Presbyter preaching for the highest bidder (crass as it may sound, it's better than "unemployed"). October: Interim Rector of St. Luke's, Franklin Square. November: Minister of Visitation at Calvary United Methodist Church. Now? Still in search for a full-time call to a significantly extended interim rector's position (when I say "extended interim," it's with the existential understanding that all rector's positions are interims ... some are just longer than others!).

OK, so what's with the "new blog" thing? I've started another one this weekend where I'm posting my sermons and homilies. It's found here.

I just found that posting sermons with all the flotsam and jetsam in my brain was a bit too confusing. And, considering that I am currently in a search for a new and ... drum roll please ... full-time call, it made sense to put the sermons and homilies in a separate space.

So check out Proclaiming by Word and Example and leave me some feedback on what you find there. Homiletics is an interactive sport and I welcome anyone visiting to "lay it on me" and let me know what you think.