Today was my first day back at worship/church after being away on vacation: it was a joy. Our new music director started today - and played like a jazz angel! Our band worked in the songs we were going to do but couldn't because of the hurricane in August - and they rocked! Three women's voices singing a capella jazz/chant harmonies on Bobby McFerrin's "23rd Psalm" setting was heavenly.
We even had a chance at some blues/gospel improvisation for "Soon and Very Soon" as well as some beautiful traditional organ hymns, too. It was profoundly moving for me to be back in communion with my people: I used to think that was a paternalistic expression, but now I affirm it as a part of the tender connection shared between pastor and the congregation - mostly because it rings true. I have come to love them more and more.
+ Today we dedicated our teaching ministry to God's care this morning - and started a new year of Sunday School. It was a delight to see our children gathered after a summer a part.
+ A young couple celebrated their one year anniversary with us today, too. I was blessed to officiate their ceremony last autumn and they came back to mark the day by joining us for worship.
+ Next week the new choir begins a season of bringing beauty to worship - and the band regroups, too.
+ I received email updates today from our two young seminarians - one beginning her third year and the other his first - and in their very different ways, they are signs of hope and integrity as they move into their own unique ministries. I look to visit them both as the fall ripens.
+ And we'll consider and discuss the simple but moving Open and Affirming statement crafted for our congregation after worship next Sunday. (NOTE: my message will be part biblical reflection and part personal testimonial concerning the way the Holy Spirit has helped changed my heart and mind on this matter. As St. Paul once wrote: when I was a child I thought as a child... but now that I have grown I have put childish things away.) I look forward to this small but loving step towards greater compassion and hospitality.
So, as the day closes, I found myself reading a brief reflection by Eugene Peterson. He says that "in every visit, in every church meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is he doing? What is he saying? What is going on?"
Peterson closes his encouragement for pastors to regularly remind themselves that Christ has already entered a room, a home, a meeting before us with this:
We are always coming in on something that is already going on. Sometimes we clarify a word or feeling, sometimes we identify an overlooked relationship, sometimes we help recover an essential piece of memory - but always we are dealing with what the risen Christ has already set in motion and brought into being. Remember: the angel spoke to the women at the tomb: "There is nothing for you to fear here. I know you are look for for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross, but he is not here."
There is always stupid shit at church that can be a hassle - and this congregation is no different in that respect - and the stupid shit is always a drag. But blessings abound... and tonight I am grateful.
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