Today marks the official day that I am officially back from a four-month sabbatical - a total of 16 Sundays! On my installation at Bethel, my mentor, the late Rev. Dr. Frank Johnson told the congregation that I needed a two-three month sabbatical every five years. Sixteen years later, I was supported by Bethel to take a four-month sabbatical.
Thank you to the leadership of Bethel who stepped right in and planned worship, preached, and provided pastoral care for the faith community. Iwon't mention names here, you know who you are.
Although there was a rule not to talk to me about church if you saw me during our sabbatical, some of you managed to sneak in a few snippets on how well Bethel did in caring for each other.
So what did I do?
I will confess, I did not go to church every Sunday. Rather I slept through the night on Saturdays. No sermons to think about! Went to a couple of church worship services led by colleagues. Prayed a lot for Bethel and wondered about the future of Bethel's faith community. I read! I watched marathons of NCIS, Bones and Castle. I went on three camping trips with my family. One of those trips was part of a road trip Joel and I took up the west coast to British Columbia to visit Dave and Sherry Hawbecker. The trip took us 25 days! The longest time Joel and I have been on a trip without children in our whole life together. Good news! We came back together!!
I played with grandchildren. I worked and continue to work with others to advocate for Primera Iglesia's right to own its home that for the last 15 years they have been caring for. I blogged, sharing my DMin thesis and other thoughts I had about church and people. I used this time to wonder what God has in store for me and continue to ask God for where she wants me and Bethel to be in the future. I did a lot of thinking and I also came up with new things for Bethel and me to do to help us with our faith and our service to the community.
What did I think about?
Interpersonal relationships in the church. One of the cardinal rules that Iwas told that we should never break was "don't become friends with people in the congregation”. When I first heard this, I agreed. It gets messy if you have friends in the church and decisions or actions happen in the church that affect them, then the friend becomes the Pastor and it gets messy!!
That might work in a church with hundreds, but it doesn't work in a small church like Bethel. However, it does create tension when the line between my role as pastor and friend are blurred. I continue to pray about this and ask that you share with me your thoughts. Here is an example of the blurriness:
One of the human behaviors that we all share is to talk about someone who has hurt our feelings or has done something we didn't like. When we don't direct our concerns with the actual person that has just hurt us or disappointed us but instead go to a third person to share, that's triangulation that usually ends up as gossip.
I am your pastor and I am here to listen to your hurts and pain, but not to take sides when you are sharing about another person. Share with me questions about your faith journey! Share your doubts about God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit, I welcome that!! Ask me about scripture or why I have a certain perspective about scripture, I would love that. But what do you want me to do when you come to me to complain about someone? I definitely won't go to that person and tell them you told me and Idefinitely won't tell you that you were right. My assumption, if you are telling me, is that you are seeking affirmation and approval. However, if you want me to moderate a conversation between you and the person who you have concerns with, I will do that.
Only while on sabbatical did I get a real grasp on how I have encouraged triangulation which is not good for the church, me or you. I'm still puzzled when its triangulation and when it's just sharing. If I respond with, have you talked to "X" about it, then that's when I think you are trying to get me involved. Don't get me wrong, if its an issue of health, safety and Bethel in the community, I definitely will act. But please, if you don't like the way someone treats you, tell them! If you don't like the way worship runs, tell me, not someone else. For example: If you have a concern about the Community Food Pantry@Bethel, please contact Carol Taylor. If you have heard that someone has said something ill of you, go to the source. If this becomes the norm of the community, then gossiping will stop and building relationships will begin.
My other thoughts were focused on the many things that happened in our nation which have affected our communities: Ferguson, #Black Lives Matter, Same Gender Marriage, Presidential Election in full swing, Immigration, Refugees and much more. All of these issues have me pondering the role of the church, I will share more in future Bethel News. I am encouraging you to talk to me, to share your thoughts on these issues. We may not agree but we can come to an understanding of what it means to be faithful to Christ in our world and communities today.
And what new things did I come up with? In no particular order…
1. While I was on sabbatical I invited the San Leandro Police Chief, Sandra Spagnoli to share her thoughts about what has been happening in our country and how it affects our local communities on World Communion Sunday, October 4. Plus, its my first Sunday back!! We will have a great potluck, pray for the first responders in our community, celebrate World Communion with our sister churches all over the world. If you have a special bread from your culture you can share with the church, bring it. And of course there will be lots of music.
2. We will prepare for Advent by folding paper cranes to hang during the Advent Season. The Cranes represent peace and the tradition comes from the children's story, Sadako and the Thousand Cranes. You will receive instructions and origami paper on October 4. As you fold the cranes, place a name or issue that you want prayers for on your crane. All the cranes need to be delivered to the church on November 30.
Sunday, November 30 will be the first Sunday of Advent. We will be worshipping with Mensajeros that afternoon at 2PM. We will have a gathering in the morning for those who want to help prepare the sanctuary for our first Fifth Sunday Joint Worship Service.
In addition, to focus the faith community on the time of Advent, the four weeks or so before Christmas, coffee hour will be very simple. No desserts, just plain bread and fruit with water, coffee, tea. If I heard a big GROAN, remember that this practice is in response to concerns that Coffee Hour has become lunch hour and places undue burdens on the few that have stepped up to host a coffee hour. Advent is a time for reflection about who Jesus is and how he has influenced our lives. Advent is also an opportunity to begin our wondering about where God in Christ will lead Bethel into the future. After coffee hour during advent, I will gather folks to talk about the future of Bethel.
3. I will be leading a book study that will tackle issues of the day in the church, community and your life.
In 2016, at noon on the 3rd Tuesday of the month, a group will gather to read books on immigration, Islam and racism. For those who cannot make a Tuesday afternoon session, I will have a 3rd Monday evening group. The process as I imagine it, will be this: on the first 3rd Tuesday in January we will receive/bring the book and discuss all about the topic. We will go home and read the book and ponder. In February, we will gather again on the 3rd Tuesday, to discuss what we have read. Reading the book will be required, it is important if anyone wants to be part of this group,
4. Participate in Bible Study - If you want to host a Bible Study in your home, let me know and we can invite people. Pick the day that is convenient for you and we can plan. I am looking to hear from folks who often wonder what the text really meant and to come and be part of an inquiring community. The future of the faith community depends on the depth and practice of our study of scripture supported by our service to the community.
5. Mark your calendars for every 5th Sunday in 2016, We will have a joint worship service with Mensajeros.
6. Our communications will go through Noel Moritz for emails and Lauren Gibbs-Beadle for our webpage. I will have the opportunity to review any communications sent out on Bethel's behalf. I am thankful for the folks who did send out emails in my absence.
7. Instead of just reading scripture in worship leadership, I will be asking you all to share a brief reflection on the scripture.
8. In 2016, once a month a group of folks from Bethel and Mensajeros de Dios will be meeting to share thoughts about what it means to be a Presbyterian and share thoughts about what it means to be a member of a faith community. If you are willing to make the commitment to meet one Sunday a month, please let me know.
9. I also started working with my home church, Trinity in Stockton, with their pondering about the future. I will be meeting with them once a month for the next few months.
10. I said yes to serving on the General Assembly Urban Initiative . This Initiatve will gather folks in different regions of the country to share the concerns about churches in the urban setting. I will be working with churches in the San Fancisco Presbytery. I will be attending the organizational meeting in Chicago on October 26-29.
11. Stay tuned for more….
I am so happy to be back!!