Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Silence is My Exhaustion

 I am sixth months into my first called position as a pastor. This past week, I led an Ash Wednesday service, presided at a funeral and of coarse led a Sunday worship service. On Ash Wednesday, the day I reminded my flock that one day, they will die too, seventeen people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Now as a pastor, I’m sure there is some expectation that I hop on social media and start preaching in some way; I certainly had that expectation of myself. So, in the middle of preparing for a funeral, I am reading tons of posts, memes, articles, videos, etc. that I could just share instead of having to take the time to write something of my own. Now there were a lot of really good material out there and some of it I “liked.” I did not, however, find anything that I could post that would actually represent my thoughts. And so, I posted nothing and instead tended to my people.

What I’ve learned about social media is that no matter what you say, it does not often change anyone’s mind and it is rarely a platform for any good conversation. The people that agree with you may like and share, or offer a positive comment, and those that don’t agree with you, well, the range of reactions can vary.

The very difficult task of being a pastor is finding that key balance of being both prophetic and pastoral. Because being merely prophetic just draws a line between those who agree with you and those who don’t, and being merely pastoral doesn’t really create an environment for any change of hearts and minds. In order to make an impact there has to be some basis of trust, which isn’t instantly built between pastor and congregants.  

So, as I prepared for Sunday, with my people in mind I did the best I could to maintain the trust I’ve built so far and attempted to be both prophetic and pastoral. I asked teachers and students to light seventeen candles during our welcome music.
A congregant offered to have hearts for us to write messages to the high school and she would mail them. And I prepared a sermon that used the lectionary text, lent and gun control as the message to my people. Was it the best sermon I’ve ever preached? Definitely not, but it was an honest one during my very exhausting week.

Perhaps you are wondering why I bothered to blog since this mostly says why I have not been posting on social media. This is simply for the people who want to hear from me.

Lent is a time to let go of those behaviors that hold us back from honoring God. Jesus has returned from the wilderness and calls us to change our hearts and minds. Change needs to happen. Return to God and believe in the good news with changed hearts and minds.

For from God’s beloved dust you came and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

Keep Me Humble

On Sunday, I stood before clergy, my family, my friends, my congregations and the people of my flock and made promises. I promised to hear and accept the word of God, I promised to be diligent in my private prayers and reading of scripture, I promised to be zealous in speaking the truth in love, I promised to be faithful in preaching, teaching and administering sacraments, and in exercising pastoral care and leadership, I promised to keep silent all confidences, and I promised to regard all people with equal love. I made all of these promises relying on God’s grace.

But before I could make these promises, I spent three-and-a-half years proving I was worthy of God’s call upon my life. And prior to those three years I spent a couple of years running away from God and telling myself and others that I wasn’t special enough.
Though I can understand why we must truly be certain this is a true calling from God and not some personal agenda, this process also made me understand why I have encountered pastors struggling with their ego. When you spend the beginning of ministry trying to prove to others that you are prepared to do God’s work, it’s difficult to be humble.

However, this week spent on the other side has been humbling. I thought that my emotions would calm down and my tears would dry up. Instead I am in awe of the work I get to do and who I get to work with. These amazing people who picked me out of eighty-eight possibilities. The people who love and support me before I even officially become their pastor. These beautiful people who are full of excitement and hope chose me to lead them in God’s work. Five years ago, I would never have guessed my journey would bring me to this point. 

God, I beg of you, keep me humble. Amen. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gone by a Bullet

Last night my twelve-year-old son crawled in bed with me. For him, that happens, well like, never. The night before, our community yet again was hit by gun violence. This time, my son’s middle school classmate was killed. We knew yesterday morning that a twelve-year-old was killed, but we didn’t know if the boy attended the same school. My husband told our son on the way to school that a boy was shot and killed. The first words my son said to me when he got home from school was, “he was in my science class.”

My son is angry, sad and scared. Angry that his middle school only had a moment of silence; angry over the taking of precious life. He is angry that our community has become so use to violence that this tragedy will just be added to the pile. He is sad for the life not lived and for the parents and family that are in great despair. And he is scared that there is no safe place for him or anyone. 

My son's words were so mature, so full of emotion. I told him it was a good time to express himself in song. He got on the computer to create his music. He made the track and then could not find the words to rap. Maybe he will find the words in the next couple of days.

As a mother and a pastor, this tragedy has brought me to my knees. Last night we prayed, thanking God for the boy’s life and love that he brought to his family. We asked God for peace and strength for the boy’s family, the middle school students and for my son. Today I will finish my sermon for Sunday about prayer. After last night, I’m not sure what to say. Yes, pray, but at this point, pray and get to work. This violence has to stop. Now more than ever, we need to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus Christ. We must be one people as God intended. In John 17:11, Jesus prayed for us, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

This boy’s death is not someone else’s problem, not someone else’s tragedy. It is our tragedy, humanity's tragedy. Whether we admit it or not, we are all connected. We are all one. We must be God’s witness in this world. Our witness must be one of community and love. We have a lot of work to do.

Now, let’s pray and get to work.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Beginning the Search

Dear Search Committee,

Welcome to my blog! I hope this page will help you get a sense of who I am and will be a tool for your discernment in your search for pastoral leadership. This blog was originally created as an assignment for my public theology course at Chicago Theological Seminary. Most of the early posts were subjects that were assigned by my professor. I have continued to blog occasionally as time allows. I have kept up with my sermon links so you have all the newest sermons available. If you are viewing from a mobile device, you will have to scroll down and click view web version for access to my sermon links.

Some of my outside interests are singing and playing tennis. I am a trained first soprano, but I haven’t kept up with my voice as I should have. I will occasionally participate in choir, but I mostly just karaoke. I haven’t played tennis in a while either. I have participated in adult leagues in the past and my intentions are to get back into some kind of league or lessons. I love all kinds of tennis: singles, doubles and mixed doubles. I like to watch it on television and hope to get to be in the stands for the US Open someday.

I am a very busy mom and wife in a very sport centered family. My boys play baseball, football and basketball. My husband also coaches all three. If they are not playing sports, we are watching sports on TV.  My husband, however, is the only one who will watch tennis with me.

My blog name, Julie On the Creek was named because I was born into the United Church of Christ congregation, Spring Creek UCC. They have baptized and confirmed me, and they have encouraged and shaped me as I have been on the path towards God’s call. As I move forward in ministry, there will be a piece of them within me as I embrace a new congregation to grow in faith with.

May God lead us and guide us along the way….


Pastor Julie

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My Neighbors: Clinton and Trump

It’s six in the morning on a Saturday and I am wide awake writing this blog post. On my one day to sleep in I am awake because I am extremely scared and deeply saddened by the state of my Facebook feed.

If I was an average person, I would simply block the updates of people that were troubling me or I’d just delete them altogether. Being a follower of Jesus however, I just can’t bring myself to do that. There’s this whole love your neighbor thing that gets in the way. And according to Jesus I have to love the ones I don’t really like all that much.

Some people are posting how they can’t wait for this election to be over. I’m extremely scared that my Facebook feed isn’t going to look that much different after the election.

Instead of posting the positive reasons why they are voting for their candidate they are posting stories, articles, memes, you name it about how bad the other candidate is. It has become a dirtball fight and neither side is coming out clean.

But not only has this election been about the candidates running for office but how horrible the current president of the United States is. President Obama is doing the most difficult job in the world, making decisions no average person would ever have to make and yet any average Joe who has a Facebook account feels no remorse for showering him with utter disrespect. Forget the whole if you don’t vote, you can’t complain rule. If you’ve never held public office and don’t plan to, then show some respect. If you want change, it starts with you.

And it gets worse. These same Obama bashing people are the same people who will defend every police officer simply because that person is a police officer. We have a problem when there is more respect for the police force than for the president of the United States. We have a problem when we can support the injustices in our police force but we cannot support our president. We have a problem when we think a presidential election is about stepping on, tearing down and ripping apart the opposing candidate.  

As an almost pastor, I am about to take on the pulpit. In accepting that role, I am bound to speak the words of the Bible and live by the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus would not be happy with my Facebook feed. Will the church I serve be half empty because they don’t want to hear the message of Jesus Christ? Will I be fired because their right to free speech is more important than loving God and loving their neighbor?

I realize that I too am part of the problem because I have kept silent this entire election season out of fear. When Jesus came knocking on my door this morning, I could no longer hide behind my “almost a pastor” status.

So, who is knocking at your door this morning?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Sacrifice of Seminary

Last spring we found my mom dead on her kitchen floor. The last conversation I had with her she told me that family and friends were asking about me and what she thought of me becoming a pastor. She said she told them that she was so proud of me but wished I had more time with her.

This summer, I am taking a course called Teaching Bible Basics to Congregations. This week we are covering violence. I in particular have trouble with animal and the occasional human sacrifice in the Bible. A sacrifice, in general terms, is something made sacred by offering it to God.

As I have been working on sacrifice this week, I am reminded of the sacrifice of seminary. As an on-line student at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), I’ve heard my fair share of criticism for online learning. The most common concern is the lack of community with other seminarians. Recently however, I’ve been disturbed by a recent article by a UCC pastor and author that I admire. I just love how people who have never done online learning or at least not done the online program at CTS think they know all of the things that it lacks.

Children's Sermon on June 12, 2016 in my home church.
Let me first tackle the sense of community. If I sat in a classroom each week with my seminarians, I would most likely listen to lectures by my professors and hear from a handful of my fellow seminarians that get the opportunity to speak in class. As a part of online learning, we still have class online where we can see and talk to each other, but we also post on average five hundred words per reading, our classmates read them and then thoroughly comment on them. We still have group projects to complete and present to our classmates. So yes, we still have community, but we also have another community. We still have the community of our home congregation. And because we are still there in the congregation, and particularly for me, I still have the community who baptized and confirmed me. I still have the community who pushed me into seminary. They are there to witness the struggle, the doubt, the growth and the faith. They are there when I need to preach, when I need to teach or when I need to practice pastoral care for an assignment. They are invested in theological education because they see it happening right in front of them. They didn’t just send me off with prayers.

And let me address sacrifice. Uprooting family life for a small three year “sacrifice” doesn’t go away with online learning. Online learning is a minimum of fifteen hours per week per class. Therefore four classes at a time is sixty hours a week minimum of coursework. So yes, I still had to quit my job, I have had to miss a countless number of my boys’ games and school programs, and I’ve had to say no to spending time with friends or family. Last summer we sacrificed a family vacation for me to work sixty plus hours per week as a hospital chaplain. My family spent a year not worshipping at the same church as I completed my field placement as a student pastor. I am well aware of what being a pastor is going to be like. I know it will often end up being sixty hours or more per week, I know I will be uprooting my family every five or so years, and I know that very few marriages survive the ministry. My boys are already experiencing the kind of expectations of them as “pastor’s kids.” Why should I uproot them for the “training” portion?

What is most painful for me is I have to live with knowing how much my mom missed me while I was in seminary fifteen minutes from her house.

That is my sacrifice.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Secrets, Sex and Church

“Mom, they can’t play this commercial!” “Why, what’s wrong,” I asked. “They can’t say sex on the radio.” “They aren’t,” I replied. “This is for Sexton Orthodontics.” I hesitated. “Do you know what sex is?” “Yes my friend Billy from school said he’s having it.” I started to panic inside. My third grader may know what sex is and he didn’t find out from me. I pull the car into the garage, run inside and yell for my husband. Long story short, yes my eight-year-old has learned what sex is from another eight-year-old from school. I go into panic mode, mostly because I failed as a parent. Why is my son talking to another boy about sex and why is an eight-year-old bragging about his sex life?

I found myself panicking mostly because I didn’t know how to appropriately talk to my sons about sex. I don’t remember much about how I discovered sex. I think it was sex education at school that scared me about pregnancy and STDs. I didn’t get any education elsewhere. In terms of my Biblical and moral understandings I made my own conclusions about the “virgin” Mary and what wearing a white wedding dress meant. Most of my friends and I wanted to wait until marriage but that rarely happened. In college, my husband as part of his football scholarship at an evangelical university signed a “no sex” agreement. We made it to our wedding day, I could wear my white proudly, but in looking back, did it make a difference?  I can’t honestly say.

I turned to my United Church of Christ denomination for help. I ordered some information called Talking With Your Child About Sexuality. I read it and realized that I had missed the boat. Talking with my boys shouldn’t just be a onetime event. I should have been giving them honest information from birth on. Yet I still wasn’t comfortable giving them information. I made an excuse that I would talk to my younger son when he entered third grade.

Now as a seminary student we have spent the last two weeks covering sexuality; all kinds of sexuality. And for the first time in my course studies I felt like a prude. I was reading about sexuality from different perspectives and I felt my face turning red; partly because I have been closed off to some of it before and partly because my youngest son is now halfway through third grade.

Why do I feel compelled to be a part of this big secret called sex? Sex has either been a big secret in churches or grossly misrepresented. Actually, many denominations demonize sex and sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage.  But let’s be honest, that isn’t really working for most Americans. And no one needs another reason to feel ashamed. I think it would be far more helpful to everyone, including this mom, if churches would have open and honest discussion about sexuality.

Obviously, being secretive and demonizing about sexuality has not been beneficial for the church. It has been horrific; sexual abuse, cover-ups and silence. What more has to happen to children and others to get the churches to wake up to what is not working? Let us all go back to scripture and reexamine past interpretations. Adam and Eve did not get married, marriage was not about sex and love but a property contract with several women and Jesus did some very “loving” things with his disciples. Let us look back at art and see how sexuality was portrayed. Some of that art would be labeled as pornography today. Let us examine ourselves and discover what is truthful.

I know I’ve been trapped in this secretive mindset. If I want the church to be more open and honest, it has got to begin with me. I commit to talking to my sons about sexuality, puberty and what is safe. I’ve ordered books and I’ve got a plan. And I pray that I do.