Often, during Lent, I embark on some sort of project that tends to focus me outward- some sort of special observance that involves service to others. Some of my times of greatest spiritual growth and satisfaction generated from those projects. Last year, I shared that God led me down a path of intensely personal, painful, and healing observance. I called it the Lentiest Lent That Ever Did Lent.

This year, I’ve combined the two perspectives.

I am bombarding Heaven with a continuous prayer for a specific family I know in Pennsylvania that has a specific need. Each day, often several times a day, I send prayers to God, asking for hope, faith, love, comfort, peace, and strength for them. I also pray for a miracle of turned  hearts so as to bring the family to a place of mutual support and collaboration for the benefit of them all- especially the little girl who is constrained by the circumstances around her. Every single time I pray, I add them to my petitions. I have pleaded with my whole community of friends and contacts to join me in prayer. We pray for them in church. My women’s group is praying for them. My Stephen Ministry cohort is praying for them. I’ve asked all my friends to keep them uplifted whenever they talk to God. Today, I ask you to pray for my Philadelphia fellowship.

Another big part of my Lenten observance this year has been visiting other churches. The idea of checking out other congregations to see how they invite, welcome, and connect visitors to their church family has been on my church’s Invite Committee to-do list for some time now. Additionally, I have been wrestling with some questions about whether or not God was calling me to stay with my current church. My experience with my current church has filled me with spiritual growth. I have found many opportunities to use the unique gifts God gave me to serve His people and give glory to His name. I passionately believe that my time in this congregation has been rewarding, nourishing, and fruitful.

I also passionately believe that God sometimes leads us down a specific path for a reason or a season, not necessarily for a lifetime. As a person who loves burrowing into a paradigm, especially when that paradigm includes interpersonal relationships, it is extremely difficult for me to even think about disentangling myself. However, the most important thing is not to root oneself in a specific congregation. The most important thing is to root oneself in serving God. If circumstances in my current church start to curtail if and how I can serve God in the way I feel He wants me to serve, maybe the season is changing for me.

I visited three different churches, with three diverse types of service. I tried to be as open as I could be about the experiences. As I emptied myself of preconceived thoughts about what those experiences might be like and what they might teach me, I made room to simply drink in what God had to show me in each place. I figured out that God had something specific to teach me in each new environment. It was a pretty amazing Lenten journey.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to share what I learned in each of my different worship experiences. I was talking to a friend the other day who exclaimed about what a personal God we serve. The journey I took was uniquely mine. It was God spending some dedicated quality time with a beloved child who needed a little extra attention and TLC. The process was not about the result. It was about the adventure. I realized that God was not suggesting that I move to a different congregation or denomination. He was simply suggesting that I needed to learn some specific things about myself and my relationship with Him that I could only learn by stepping out of the paradigm of my everyday world.

Has God ever taken you on your very own adventure with Him? What did you learn? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have an elevated day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Turtle Herding

Sometimes, weird things just happen, and it takes a hot minute to realize just how weird they are.

The other day, I was driving down Highland Lakes Boulevard to exit my community. Let me explain that the term “boulevard” is a bit ironic. The Boulevard is the main drag that runs through our subdivision- the main traffic artery for those of us living in my age-restricted 55+ plus community. Before we get too grandiose, let me point out that the maximum speed limit on the Boulevard is twenty-five miles per hour. It is one lane in each direction. The entire length of this super-highway to decrepitude is about 1.5 miles.

Anyway, I was driving on my way out of the community, when I noticed two cars in front of me, completely blocking the road. As I mentioned, there is one lane in each direction on the Boulevard. These motorists had created two lanes by expanding the road to include about half the sidewalk on the right side of the street. The two cars also blocked my line of sight, so I could not see what might be causing the delay. I tried to peer around the car parked halfway on the sidewalk, but my eyes apparently don’t see around right angles. I finally noticed the head of a petite elderly woman in the street in front of the two cars. I could only just see her small frame between the cars, shuffling across the street at about the speed that trees grow. I wondered why she had ever started walking across the street since it was clearly a super strenuous and stressful endeavor for her. I also wondered if I should get out of my car and see if she needed help, but I realized there were probably people in the two cars ahead of me who were in a much better position to evaluate the situation than I was.

Just as I was getting ready to open my car door, the lady reached the sidewalk. I saw the reason for her shuffling. Between her feet, as she perambulated onto the grass, was a small turtle. She was using her feet as lane bumpers to keep that turtle on course to get to the other side of the road. Of course, she could not cross the street any faster than the turtle could run. Since “turtle” and “run” are oxymoronic, it was taking quite some time. It turned out that the car on the side of the road belonged to the turtle herder. The other motorist stopped to provide a barrier to keep other cars from running over the lady or the turtle.

It is spring in central Florida, even if the calendar does not quite agree yet. The temperature and humidity are climbing. The pollen is piling. The growing season has started, especially amongst weeds. The alligators are bellowing in search of mates. And turtles are relocating to the next pond down the road. Here are my suggestions on how to survive springing:

Run the air conditioner. Just do it. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t possibly need air conditioning in March. You are not in Kansas anymore.

Take an allergy pill every day whether you need it or not. Trust me, if you don’t take one, you will need it.

Redefine success for your yard work. Consider it a victory if you spend 20-30 minutes a week in the early morning pulling the worst of the weeds and still have a pulse.

Stay well clear of alligators. They tend to get cranky when they aren’t getting any.

Look both ways for turtle herders!

What does Spring bring in your neck of the woods? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy Springing!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Church Ownership

In my last post, I wrote about personal agency- the notion of taking ownership of one’s  life. We have options and we make decisions to shape our lives. Life is not something that simply happens to us. God gives us the tools to change our own circumstances in many instances. He gives us the right to change our own circumstances in many instances. He also gives us mercy and grace to adapt when it is not possible to change a situation. He provides multiple ways forward after difficult experiences that can either build us up or destroy us, depending on how we exert the agency we have in our lives. I suspect that God even expects us to select the circumstances and experiences necessary to live a life that is rewarding to ourselves and pleasing to Him. That is agency. If God expects us to have agency in our own lives, surely we should expect the same from the world… and from ourselves.

 This concept of agency also has implications above the individual level.

I’ve mentioned that my church adopted a ministry called Invite, Welcome, Connect. The ministry’s founder, Mary Foster Parmer, spent a weekend with our congregation helping us strategize ways to grow our church in membership and vibrancy. Her message is that people usually only truly engage with a church on a deep, abiding level if the congregation meets the newcomers’ needs in several phases of their discerning and bonding process.

First of all, the church members must invite people in their secular lives to come to church. Most of the time, people who join churches begin coming to that church because someone they know invites them. Secondly, the church needs to make sure that the newcomers feel welcome. That means being friendly and genuinely interested in new people, but it also means considering more subliminal conditions. For instance, would someone who is on a lower economic level feel welcome in a church if the only fellowship activity of the year is a fund-raising auction, which tends to put a person’s financial status on public display? Finally, it is not enough to simply invite a person to church and smile at them kindly, authentically, and enthusiastically. People come back to a church and contribute their gifts (time, talent, connections, disposition, financial resources, etc.) when they connect with the church’s theology, mission, activities, and people. When we form longer term, genuine relationships with people who are considering joining our church, it is more likely that they will strengthen that bond by joining the family.

I think all of this is absolutely true. I love the ministry. I notice more engagement, more excitement, and more ownership in our congregation. I would add a  fourth element that we should consider, as well…. agency.

Newcomers in a church should not feel like they are couch-surfing in someone else’s domicile, living off the generosity of the owners of said couch. They need to believe that they have real agency in the life of the church if they are to embrace that church as a core piece of who they are. A congregation that wishes to grow and fill hearts cannot only accept and welcome people to serve in ways that they are inheriting from past generations of church membership. They need an opportunity to sow the unique gifts God has sent them to plant, especially if they are not planting in a field that is already growing some other crop. Remember, even if the crop they are growing does not appeal to your palette, it is likely- especially in an expanding church- that someone else will gladly feast on it. Providing an abundant smorgasbord for the people of God is a reason for the church to rejoice!

It is important that new people have a true sense of ownership. They must have a meaningful voice. They must have the power to not just inhabit the pews in the church, but to shape its future.

Allowing newcomers to shape the future of the church can be scary. Despite good intentions all around, people don’t always get it right. A church that is vibrant becomes fertile because of the rich spiritual, social, and emotional ground on which it stands. That legacy of knowledge, history, and traditions is trustworthy and good. Fertility does require more than just the ground, however. It also requires ever-renewing rain, sun, and nourishment. It also requires the continual inspiration and blessing of God. Finding a way to combine those very necessary elements is difficult and sometimes messy. However, if a church just turns over the existing soil and refuses to provide the other resources that need constant renewal, that church may wither. Also, to God, no offering is unacceptable. If we refuse offers to provide all the recurring resources needed for vibrancy, God’s blessing may also be in short supply. Maybe the organization becomes less God’s church and more the people’s church. Such a transformation does not suggest health or longevity.

So, if you are part of the foundational congregation of a church that wishes to thrive and grow in the future, engage your newcomers in leadership intentionally. When they volunteer to head up some program or project, support them by sharing your experience. However, don’t wield the past like a weapon. Support their vision. Elect them for your vestries and parish councils. Stay open-minded to their perspectives. Do not minimize what they say or feel because “nobody would feel that way”-  just because you would not feel that way. Accept that their perspective may reflect the perspective of other people coming into your church who do not have the same background and history that you do. You do not have to accept the position of the newcomer as to how to meet everyone’s interests, but you should validate that the interests they raise are legitimate.

I suggest that it might be worthwhile to sometimes accept a newcomer’s vision, even if you are skeptical about what the outcome might be. Yes, the end result might not be exactly what you would have envisioned. Sometimes, the end result might actually be objectively “better.” Even if the end result turns out objectively “worse” than if the congregation had taken the more traditional path, the church derives intrinsic benefit from granting true agency to all its members. Yes, there is risk. But there can also be great reward.

A church can always decide what they want in terms of vibrancy. Some churches would just as soon stay small and intimate, content with ministering to the congregational family that traditionally populates their pews. However, if a congregation genuinely wants to ignite an outpouring of the Holy Spirit beyond their traditional congregation, it will be necessary to build agency into the growth plan.

Are you a member of a church that has grown and thrived? How did your congregation accomplish this? On the other hand, if you have seen “dechurching” gut a congregation, what was that experience like? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a Spirit-filled Day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂