Newton musings…Jottings from Judy
The importance of peer groups for pastors
Twice recently I've heard people I respect (Gil Rendle and Peter Steinke) make reference to a couple of Lilly studies about pastoral peer groups and their impact on the congregations the pastors serve. The comments intrigued me so I went and looked up the study: faithandleadership.com is where you can find the details.
Basically there were some significant trends to note: when a pastor participates in a peer group --
1. New members are better assimilated: they attend new members classes, come to worship, engage in community service, are more engaged in service to the church.
2. More new lay leaders step forward to serve in the church (not always the same people leading)
3. Youth ministry is stronger
4. The congregations serve the community, even act as change agents in the community
5. Congregations support and encourage the pastor to take advantages of continuing education experiences
6. CONGREGATIONS GROW!!!
So, congregations do ask your pastor to get involved in a peer group! We have several opportunities that the Presbytery offers: the Church Development Book Group, the Leadership Book and Case Study Group, Indian Summer. I know that some clergy meet regularly with ecumenical lectionary study groups, some meet with a pastoral counselor (BTW the Board of Pensions will help with paying (1/2 the cost) for that kind of group), and some have gathered around gender or ministry foci. It doesn't seem to matter what the focus, the truth is ministry can be lonely. Gathering regularly with people who do the same kind of work can be an enriching experience for both pastors and the congregations they serve.
October 2, 2012
It's been ten years now, but I can still see it. I was in Hawaii on the island of Kauai with good friends celebrating another significant birthday (aren't they all significant, really?)
We were staying at a time share in Princeville at the end of the small island. Whenever we took off to explore we'd begin on a road that went from one end of the island to the other. As I remember it was really the only "main route" all other roads led into lush surroundings where chickens roamed wild and rainbows were constantly overhead. Such a beautiful place!
But the memory I hold dearest was of a small and homemade variety. I can still see it. In fact each time we set out on an adventure, I would look for it. It brought me so much delight.
As we came to a crest of a hill, on the right close to the ground was a small bright pink laminated sign, tacked to a stake like a garage sale sign. In bold letters the sign declared "WE LOVE OUR PASTOR". I remember saying to my friends, "I want to serve that church!" If we had been there on a Sunday, we surely would have worshipped in there. Doesn't everyone want to be a part of a spiritual community where love abounds?
I have sat in the balcony seat since 1993. No longer a parish pastor but privy to pastor/parish relationships in about 300 congregations in the PCUSA...from parishes that sit on the Pacific coast to the middle of the country to those here in Northwest New Jersey. It is my experience that the healthiest, the growingest, the most faithful congregations are those where pastor and people love each other.
What does this kind of love look like?
It's mutual respect that allows the other space to develop as person. The pastor invites congregants to continue to explore their spiritual giftedness and affirms them as they grow in the confidence that comes in practice. The parish encourages the pastor to spend time both in colleague groups and continuing education to grow in the practice of ministry and to experience activities that lead to refreshment and renewal.
It's mutual concern that brings the pastor to the hospital when there is a middle of the night health crisis and makes the parishioner wait until morning to call about a routine matter.
It's mutuality that sees the other as a valuable companion for this particular part of God's journey.
It's a willingness to talk about the pinches as they come, to have the tough conversations before they become impossible, to share and negotiate expectations realistically, to give and take, to flex with the flow of life's events and the confidence to know that the other will be there when you need them...and you will be there for them when they need you.
What a delight it must be for God to see a church where pastor and people love each other. Isn't that how it is supposed to be?
September 24, 2012
A pastor told me she enjoyed the book she received from the free book shelf…the collection continues to grow! Please come and browse and help yourself to the books I am leaving behind on the windowsill of the conference room at the Presbytery office.
Better Together in Change
I drove through the countryside on route 57 on my way to preach and worship in Stewartsville yesterday. The trees are beginning to turn. In fact, when I came back later in the day I believed even more leaves had changed!
My time with Newton Presbytery and its congregations has been all about change. We’ve examined and restated core values , tested new ideas with pilot projects, experimented with new ways of behaving, constantly evaluating and discerning as we’ve gone on this journey. We’ve been through a lot of change.
But we haven’t had much community conversation about the other kind of change…the pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters we have in our pockets. Not to say anything about the folding money in our wallets or the deposits we hold in the bank. It’s time, maybe even past time, to talk about this.
Why didn’t we have it while we were working on everything else, you might ask? Because shortly after I arrived the economy collapsed. Endowment funds took huge hits, one pastor lost all his retirement savings and we had ways to address the financial crunch at least temporarily.
We reduced administrative costs.
We chose not to fill the vacant Associate EP position,
we chose not to fill the Pastoral Care position when it became vacant
we reduced the Financial Administrator’s time from full to part time (during a vacancy)
We continued to look for the best deals on office equipment
If old equipment still worked “well enough” we chose not to replace it (the phone system, the LED projector)
We reduced the budget
We asked committees to provide realistic estimates of budget needs each year based more on what they truly needed to do their work and less on what would be nice to have
We invited chairs of committees to work collaboratively, to work together for the common good so that the leanest budget possible could be brought to Presbytery.
We had operating funds in reserve—a “rainy day fund” saved from previous years’ budget surpluses
We decided that the economic climate had given us rain
We maintained the same level of per capita request my entire five years even when General Assembly and Synod raised their per capita
It is interesting to note that during these five years, while we have been working to reduce costs so that we might stay even, the giving of the congregations of the Presbytery (per capita and mission giving) has plummeted to more than half of the amount that congregations were giving in 2007! More and more of the reserves have been used to balance smaller and smaller budgets.
Now is the time to reverse the trend! The design focuses on the ministry and mission of the congregation with the Presbytery providing resources when needed. That means every congregation may not (and should not) have the Presbytery holding its hand every step of the way. God calls us and places us in communities called the church. But no one congregation (or for that matter, no presbytery) is the whole church. We are called to larger communities for times like these (to name just a few):
when disaster strikes,
a pastor leaves,
a disciple decides to pursue a call to ministry,
new pastors come,
a communal discerning decides there is a need for specific training or resourcing,
a need to borrow a book,
a pastor needs someone to talk to,
an emerging idea for ministry or mission needs a collaborative “think tank” prior to taking wing,
a desire to seek New Beginnings
The financial support for the Presbytery is completely dependent on the disciples and congregations within its bounds. Think of it not so much as “paying your dues” but rather as supporting a larger community of disciples of which you are a part, of sharing the joys and burdens of all. Together we can do more. Please give generously…more than your “fair share”. We are, all of us, better together!
Mrs Pigglewiggle Comes to Presbytery
Have you noticed how today's church has become a community of lament? We grieve what used to be:
You know what I mean...
It used to be everyone went to church,
It used to be that the church was the only place to be on Sunday...everything else was closed
A reading from Matthew, the International
"The eleven disciples went into Galilee to the
hillside to which Jesus had directed them.
When they saw him, they worshiped him,
though some had doubts.
Then Jesus came up and told them "All
authority in heaven and on earth has been
given to me. Therefore, as you go, disciple
people in all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father, and the Son, and the
Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything
that I've commanded you. And remember, I
am with you each and every day until the end
of the age."
It used to be that kids played soccer after school during the week
It used to be when the minister talked, people listened
It used to be that kids knew bible stories so well that you could reference a biblical story in public
discourse and people understood what you meant
it used to be the church could bring its influence to the public square.
It used to be that people did all their charitable giving in church
It used to be that we had to set up chairs in the aisles on special Sundays.
It used to be...
we've watched the church lose members, and dollars, and authority
we've seen old church buildings become bookstores or law offices or b and b's
and we've lamented, we've yearned for the used to be's
We've watched as the church we love and are a part of has dismantled itself. Used to be that we could
count on the brightest and best leaders in the church to come and give us the answers from New York,
or Atlanta. It's easy to point to particular times in the life of the church and assign blame...if only we
hadn't had reunion or if only we'd gone to Kansas City...
my friends...all this change we've found ourselves in is more than the little decisions we've made about
where to place national headquarters. We are living in and through a major cultural shift and the church
is not and cannot be immune to what else is going on in God's world in our here and now.
All kinds of scholarly people have tried to make sense of where we are: Gil Rendle, Brian McClaren,
Carol Howard Merritt, Ronald Heifetz, Margaret Wheatley. You know me, I always can come up with a
book or an author ..I'm in the middle of a great new book by Phyllis Tickle, called The Great Emergence
I commend it to you.
But we can read and read and read about this context in which we are living
we can read from now until doomsday and I don't think it will help one bit.
Oh, but I just thought of another book that might help... what would happen if we presented ourselves to
Mrs. Pigglewiggle? Do you know Mrs. Pigglewiggle? I see some of you do...but just in case you aren't
quite sure let me introduce you to one of my favorite literary figures:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a small lady who lives in an "upside-down" house in a lively neighborhood inhabited
mainly by children who have bad habits.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a treasure chest full of magical cures.
When parents are having difficulties with some of their children's habits, they often come to Mrs Piggle
Wiggle for advice. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle offers one of her cures.
For example there's the story of the young boy who never seemed to hear exactly what his parents said.
They would say "please pick up your room" only to find him racing around on a broom. He claimed (no
doubt a stalling technique) that he heard them say "Please go ride a broom." So, Mrs. Pigglewiggle offers
the Thought you saider cure--a little magic powder that helps the young boy's ear every little noise,
magnified. Soon he no longer pretends to hear something other than what his parents say.
Mrs Pigglewiggle has cures for everything: the interrupters, the whaddle I doers, the never want to go
to schoolers, the won't pick up the roomers...and lots more!
Do you suppose Mrs. Pigglewiggle could come up with a cure for the used to be-ers?
It might be that every time the lament in the church begins "it used to be " a huge wind will blow
through the building and the doors will be blown wide open and all the people who were sitting in pews
will find themselves out there in the real world rubbing elbows with the non churched and the
unchurched and the dechurched and the spiritual but not religious.... all God's people living lives with
spiritual, physical, emotional needs, working through struggles and seeking answers to questions, living
daily lives in our neighborhoods just outside the church building. And the church people will rediscover
what it means to be the people of God on a holy journey with Jesus.
And if the Spirit's wind does manage to blow us out into God's world,
the same preparation that Jesus offered those early 11 disciples is sufficient for us.
Say what? But things have changed. Life is far more complicated now...exactly
In all the changes that we endure and the fast paced lives that we live with tweets coming every
nanosecond and foursquare notifications every time we move from one place to another and the
internet giving us up to the minute news and
television programs offering opportunities for real time interaction.
In the fact that the world seems smaller every day...we skype with people across time zones and
cultures, we truly live in a global village, we rub elbows day to day with people whose life styles, belief
systems are so very different from ours...
and the prep Jesus offered those early 11 will be sufficient for us today?
"As you go"...life is a journey, we are part of a movement..which will be from time to time encrusted as
institution, but institutions come and go, they form and crumble.
We're learning it again right now....It's not about members...its about disciples..."as you go disciple people
in all nations"...no longer is the ministry of Jesus exclusively to the lost sheep of Israel. Here at the very
end Jesus commissions the 11 to do what he has been learning about the expansion of his own call. Early
on Jesus thought he was called to only the house of Israel...in fact earlier in Matthew's gospel Jesus
sends the disciples out...and tells them to stay away from Gentiles, to focus only the house of Israel. But
Jesus own experience expanded his sense of call... Remember how he interacted with the Samaritan
woman? how he used a Samaritan as an example of one who does the right thing? His ministry has
expanded and he expands the vision of those who follow him...discipling...continuing to learn all you can
about the one whom you follow and invite others to do the same "teaching them to obey all that I have
So, that would mean we are sent as agents of Jesus into a broken and fearful world,
Are the teachings of Jesus enough to direct and motivate us in this modern world we live in? What
did Jesus know about nuclear weapons and technology and cyber ethics and God knows what else we
will have to deal with?
Jesus said it all comes down to this "love God and love your neighbor as yourself" Like the young
lawyer, we want to make it more complicated...who exactly is my neighbor?
Is it the person who dresses funny, whose body is covered with piercings, whose lifestyle is strange to
me... is that my neighbor? What about people whose skin color is different, who speak a language I
can't understand or who are different gendered,claim different sexuality, or who live half way around the
world...are they my neighbors? Yes...indeed. Each one, every one is a child of God.
So it is simple, but not simplistic. Sometimes it is downright difficult to figure out what would Jesus
do...but don't forget the rest of the commission...we are not alone, this whole discipling thing places us
into communities of those who learn and teach and participate in ministries and mission that make the
world different, that help to make the world better, more like the world God had in mind back at the
We live in times that call us to give up lamenting "used to be's" and invite us to discover what can be.
We are called into risky conversations giving up what we know to be comfortable but no longer working
--for something that we can not yet describe. Has the church the future? Yes indeed. Will it look like
the church we know and love? Probably not...but it will be okay...because we are not doing this new
thing all by ourselves. We are not alone. We have each other and Jesus promises to be with us, every
day until the end of the age.
Trust God to show us the way...and as you go, remember to be faithful to the God who called you and
who promises to walk with you into God's own future.
Preached at the time of my retirement at Hackettstown, Newton Presbytery
September 12, 2012
I was in St. Paul just before Labor Day for a continuing education event. It was good to have an opportunity to catch up with the yard on the weekend. This "turning lawn into garden" has been an adventure. My son, Steve, the landscape architect advised me earlier this summer to get rid of the "snow on the mountain" that I had planted as ground cover in my yard. He warned me that the only way to get rid of it was to dig it up...because it had such an extensive root system. So dig I did, and boy did I feel it! I think it is gone, the yard is mulched and it looks more and more like a garden with each passing gardening day. (Of course my curious squirrels dug little holes in the mulch, checking to see if I had planted any tasty bulbs...sorry squirrels!)
Someone asked me the other day if I find it difficult to say goodbye. Of course I do. As a transformational leader I have learned that it is important to sink my roots deep and spread them wide when I arrive in a new place. Leaving means pulling up the roots and that can be very painful. I treasure the conversations we've had, the tough times we've pulled through tog ether, the challenges we've faced and the new pathways we've discovered. I will miss you all!
I cherish the opportunity to work with such a wonderful staff team. It has indeed been a privilege! I will miss them! You will continue to be blessed by their presence and support long after I have gone.
I have moved enough to know that the God who brought us together for this little bit of time will go with us as we go separate ways.
Over the next few weeks I will continue to do my "usual" work, but there will be a new dynamic as together we do the work of saying good bye.
My last day in the office will be October 29, 2012. I will clear the field so that my successor has every chance to do his/her work without any interference from me. In these days of social media, it seems to me that "clearing the field" includes Facebook. If you are one of my facebook friends, don't be surprised to learn that I have "unfriended" you (although I have to learn exactly how to do that!) A year from now if you want to look me up, please do. For now, let's all give the one who comes next into Newton's leadership have space to form treasured relationships with you.
September 10, 2012
People who know me well know how much I appreciate good books. I think most pastors would agree that one of the most arduous chores of moving is packing up the library: Bibles and commentaries, systematic theologies, books on leadership and pastoral care, all kinds of books!
As I prepare for this move it dawns on me that ALL my books don't have to come along. For the first time in my ministry I can downsize my professional library.
I'd like to share my library with members of the Presbytery. Professional books that will stay in New Jersey will be on the free shelf in the meeting room at the Presbytery office. You are welcome to take them. I am packing very slowly...check back often! I'm donating novels, poetry and cookbooks to the home.
Please check the shelf and enjoy!
August 13, 2012—Planning for Start Up
Thirteen of our congregations are engaged in the New Beginnings initiative. Those who began the part of the process called “House Meetings” are beginning to see themes for future ministries. It is exciting to read words of self-discovery, to read how hope and commitment to Jesus Christ will help to shape future ministry and mission.
Many of our congregations are dreaming and planning for a difference in their communities with the September Presbyterian Mission Blitz www.newtonpresbytery.org/upcomingevents OR http://images.acswebnetworks.com/1/1977/volunteerday2ReadOnly.pdf)
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the church year, at least liturgically. But practically it is a Sunday in September when congregations begin the traditional programs: church school, Bible study, women’s and men’s groups and kick off new ideas. Some churches call that new start Rally Day, some call it Homecoming—whatever the name you use, it is the time when we regroup for the next “program year”.
So, we all have a possibility for New Beginnings, don’t we? Sessions can dream together about how better to be the church in the 2012-2013 program year, how better to be the community of faith and how better to bring that community of faith into the community (read neighborhoods) in which we find ourselves. What is God calling you to do in this next year? How will you make a difference in the lives of those who seek to know Jesus in the living of their days? How will your congregation make a difference in your community?
June 19, 2012
Last winter I invited pastors of the Presbytery to consider the Symposium on Preaching and Stewardship as a continuing education event. I was intrigued by the subject and thought perhaps others might be too.
I went to the event last week. It was quite good. Faith and Giving will attempt to provide videos of the preaching and workshops on their web page.(They are in the process of getting permission from the presenters) As soon as I receive notice that they are available, I’ll let you know. There is other good “stuff “ on the web page you might want to check out: www.centerforfaithandgiving.org
In the meantime, I will tidy up the notes I took and ask Sonja to post them on the Stewardship page of our web site.
The next Faith and Giving event is July 14, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. Walter Bruggemann will be addressing issues of creating a culture of generosity in the context of the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. I asked if outsiders were welcome, and they said yes.
February 28, 2012
I love to travel! A couple of summers ago I realized a goal of seeing every state in the USA. Now it’s on to continents…I still have Antarctica, and Australia on my “yet to see” list. If I ever get to go “down under” I want to go during Advent or Lent.
I’ve always wondered how it feels to live out the liturgical year in the Southern hemisphere. We who live in the northern hemisphere have it easy. We can harmonize the themes of scripture and the reality of nature’s rhythms. As the daylight hours of December dwindle, we preach light coming into our darkness. Now in these early days of Lent we look for nature’s signs of resurrection—daffodils and crocus peeping through winter’s soil.
What if the daylight were beginning to increase just before Christmas and the garden flowers were withering during Lent?
Is it a question of preaching in context or do we rely too heavily on the “props” nature affords? I wonder … I’m going to keep these ponderings in mind as I prepare my Lenten sermons.
January 11, 2012
Yesterday’s Presbytery meeting was a good way to begin a way of looking beyond ourselves. I’ve heard a lot of positive remarks about the opportunity to break bread and worship with our brothers and sisters at Abraham’s Table.
Think about how you and/or members of your congregation might connect to the ongoing possibilities in Newton Presbytery in 2012. Each of the following opportunities has been advertised separately…but let’s consider what particular outcome you might expect:
If you want to know more about your neighborhood and are interested in discerning God’s preferred future for your congregation consider on or a combination of the following—
Come and See about New Beginnings on January 27 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Wharton Community Church. This is the most comprehensive opportunity we have to learn about our communities and to learn how to make discerning decisions about God’s preferred future for each congregation. The $2800/congregation fee will be split 50/50 using Church Redevelopment funds;
From the Outside In (CDRC’s book of 2012) Read it just for yourself or join a Book Study Group that meets on the third Wednesday of each month from 10 until after lunch—first meeting is Janaury 18-- at Wharton Community Church. Lunch is served for $5…and there are bagels and coffee when we gather.
We are pleased to have Doug Anderson on the docket for the March meeting of Presbytery. The following day, March 14 he will dig deeper into his topic of becoming missional church. That event is also at the Wharton Community Church from 9-3.
Discernment often leads to change and change often leads to misunderstandings. If you want to learn some ways to plan for change and manage healthier interactions in your congregation:
Plan on attending the Committee on Ministry sponsored Healthy Congregations Workshop March 2 from 6:30-9:30p.m and Saturday, March 3 from 9:00-4:30. Richard Blackburn, Executive Director of Lombard Mennonite Peace Center is the presenter. The workshop is fully subsidized by the COM which allows every Newton Presbytery participant to come to the event for $30, the cost of the workbook and lunch! The event is planned to accommodate groups from congregations. Bring a Session, bring members, COME!
Registration Forms are on the web page. We are still seeking a site for this event.
A couple of other events that are sponsored by others are worth mentioning:
Friday March 9, 9:30-2:30 Gil Rendle , the author of Leading Change in the Congregation, will be featured in the Weber Memorial Lectures of the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem. His topic is “Conversation as Courageous Discernment for a Wilderness Time” It’s free and available as an in person event or as a streaming experience.
Thursday, April 23, 9:30-2:30 Carol Howard Merritt will speak on “Christian Community and Practice for a New Generation.” It is also free and at the Moravian Seminary. www.moravianseminary.edu/crossroads
In June(12-14) in Indianapolis there is a great opportunity for all of us who shake our heads and say “we haven’t got the money” or “sounds good, but we can’t afford it” The Center of Faith and Giving is presenting a Symposium on Preaching and Stewardship featuring James Forbes, Lance Pape, Carol Johnston, Ronald Allen and Bruce Barkhauer. The early bird registration is $99 and they are providing special rates at near by hotels. I keep watching for registration…should be open any day. Check www.centerforfaithandgiving for more information.
I know that there is a lot to do in ministry. I also know that none of us is in this alone. We need opportunities to reflect, time to breathe, and challenges to prod us along. Please consider taking advantage of at least one of these opportunities!
Here’s a summary chronologically:
January 27 --COME and SEE about NEW BEGINNINGS
March 2 and 3 --HEALTHY CONGREGATIONS
March 9—Gil Rendle at Moravian Seminary
March 13—Presbytery Meeting with Doug Anderson
March 14—Digging Deeper with Doug Anderson
April 23—Carol Howard Merritt at Moravian Seminary
June 12-14—Symposium on Preaching and Stewardship in Indianapolis
December 12, 2011
2011 is coming to an end…plans are in the works for 2012
Two opportunities are coming soon to the Presbytery. Mark your calendars now and plan to be present at both:
January 27, 2012 at 7p.m. : Elders on sessions and Pastors are cordially invited by the Church Development and Redevelopment Committee to come and see about New Beginnings. New Beginnings staff will be present to answer questions about congregational participation. Don’t miss out on this…CDRC will match dollar for dollar for each congregation who does decide to be a part of the initiative by February 27th.
March 2 and 3rd we will host a Healthy Congregations Workshop presented by The Reverend Richard Blackburn, Executive Director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. Some of you have met Richard…he presented the Conflict Mediation workshop last Spring. This workshop is for Pastors, Deacons, Elders, and church members. Watch for more information after the first of the year.
November 15, 2011
Purple crayons and the church…
I was at a meeting of NJ presbytery leaders yesterday. Those who attended the recent Synod Assembly were talking about the new transitional leader…”George, Robert, no Harold is his name”, they told us. I asked quietly “Is Harold bringing his purple crayon?” Only one other person in the room knew what I was talking about.
Since then I’ve been thinking about Harold and his Purple Crayon. Do you remember the children’s book? Perhaps you got a glimpse of the TV show. Maybe you saw the DVD. A quick google revealed that the book has been around since 1955! The premise of the Harold and his Purple Crayon adventures is that a “four year old boy can create a world of his own simply by drawing it.”
Of course underneath the drawing is Harold’s capacity to notice, to imagine, to envision.
The church needs more purple crayons!
I visited Oxford Second Presbyterian Church last Sunday where I learned about the progress they are making with a purple crayon project of theirs, The Time Bank of Warren County. The idea is not unique, there are time banks as close as Lehigh County in Pennsylvania. Their vision is a bit different than the Lehigh model. In fact one who works in the Lehigh time bank told them that their model allows more freedom and flexibility…it’s better than the prototype.
Here is one more way that this church has pulled out their purple crayon to invest in ministry to their community…not just to their church, but to their neighborhood as well. I talked to Joicy, the Pastor, and she said they would love some other Warren County congregations as partners for this venture. You can learn more at www.timebankwc.org.
Maybe a time bank is not on your horizon. What is? Think about it, dream about it, envision it, and then pull out your purple crayon and create a new reality.
November 1, 2011
The Importance of Colleague Groups
Early in its American history, the Presbyterian Church was organized into Presbyteries small enough to offer ministers a colleague group. These groups of colleagues met weekly for worship as well as peer support, peer challenge.
Isolation is not the best crucible for effective ministry…or for life in general. It is important that we continue to find groups of colleagues whom we can count on for both support and challenge.
Colleagues, by definition, are those who are engaged in the same profession. A colleague group may take on many forms. Some of our ministers meet once a month for a social gathering. Informal conversation usually includes something about their work. Others meet weekly in interdenominational groups where they study together to prepare for that week’s sermon. Still others have contracted with a pastoral counselor and meet as a therapeutic support group. I’m told there is even a group that combines Bible Study and target practice.
Three years ago the Presbytery’s members identified a few topics of interest and we began a variety of groups to address those topics. Most of those groups have run their course.
Two remain. The CDRC book group currently finishing up their study of Embracing Hope, the Presbytery’ book of the year. A new book will be given to all pastors at the January meeting of Presbytery and a study group will begin.
The other continuing group is studying leadership. The latter is about to begin a new book, Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz. I checked to be sure…the group would welcome new members. This group meets at the Macaroni Grill on the fourth Thursday of month. They have a fellowship lunch, discuss the assigned chapter under the leadership of one of the group and engage another member’s prepared case study that reflects some of the chapter’s focus. They will begin their new study on Thursday, January 26th at 12:30. The assignment is Chapter One. Leaders have been assigned for the first session. If you’d like to be a part of this group, please let Sonja know and she’ll put you on the reminder e-mail list.
Not too long ago during a reference check with one of my colleagues I heard about a minister that had had a really tough time in his congregation but had made it through better for the experience. I asked how he had managed. The referencer’s response? ”He belongs to a group of colleagues that meet for about four hours every month. They study together, they support each other, they share their struggles. Each member of the group is better and stronger because of their experience in the group.”
These are challenging times in the church, please find someone with whom to share the joys and struggles of what it is to be a leader in our particular time and place. If you are currently trying to ministry alone, I encourage you to find some colleagues with whom you can share, learn and laugh. If you’d be interested in starting a new group, I’ll be glad to help.
October 24, 2011
One Size Does NOT Fit All!
I’ve been doing a lot of knitting recently--getting ready for Christmas (shhh…don’t tell anyone on my gift list). I just completed a “one size fits all” garment that I intended for a my daughter in law. She would swim in it!
One size fits all--really? How can that be? Just look around. We are all different sizes, different body shapes. Some of us need to learn to push back from the table, others would do well to add a few calories to their daily intake. Some need to exercise more, others need to learn to sit still! One size certainly does not fit all.
The same is true for church growth. There is no secret formula that will make a church grow numerically or spiritually. One program, one plan, one method will not fit all. And that, my friends is the beauty of the concept Ann Philbrick will come to talk about with us on November 2, 1-3 at Wharton Church.
Plan to attend, plan to bring others. Please call Sonja at the Presbytery Office 973-361-0084 to tell her you are coming and if you would like to have lunch before the workshop. Lunch is at noon. The workshop is 1-3 p.m.
October 11, 2011
I am looking forward to time at home this weekend. I plan to plant some tulip and daffodil bulbs. Nothing says Spring like tulips and daffodils!
I admit that I am a bit anxious about this weekend’s planting. I am not concerned about the 100 holes I will have to dig, or the sore muscles I’ll acquire. I am more worried about the outcome. My personal experience has led me to believe that when you plant a bulb in the ground a flower will result. However, it appears times have changed. Last spring I planted 100 lily bulbs…and only 7 lilies came up! Seems Minnesota squirrels find lily bulbs an epicurean delicacy. Many of the bulbs didn’t even stay in the ground for 24 hours. The squirrels no doubt had a scout in the trees that marked every implant.
I don’t want to repeat my past mistakes. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. I have to think of new ways of approaching the challenge.
I googled “planting bulbs with squirrels” where I learned that tulips are the number one choice for the squirrel’s palate. They don’t like daffodils…but they insist on digging them up just to be sure they really are daffodils and not tulips! I sense trouble ahead.
What can I do to guarantee that I will see 100 tulips and daffodils in the spring? There are no guarantees. But there are some things I can do to improve the chances that growth will occur…and I plan to employ every one of those options. I’m going to wrap the bulbs in wire mesh, plant with mothballs and sprinkle moth crystals on the top soil. If you know of a trick I am missing, please let me add it to my strategic plan!
Why? You might ask. Why go to all that trouble? Because after a long white winter in Minnesota, the tulip and the daffodil are indeed harbingers of spring that cheer the soul proclaiming change is on the way.
All this thinking about spring flowers made me think about church growth.
After all is said and done a tulip is still a tulip, a daffodil is still a daffodil…but a new disciple is God’s hope in a stuggling and broken world. God only knows what can become of an infusion of new disciples! Why would we want to stand in the way? What can we do to open our hearts to new possibilities?
What are we doing to improve our odds of having success when it comes to growing the church? What options do we have?
If you’d like to see your church grow…I’d suggest you plan on spending the afternoon of November 2nd with Ann Philbrick ,a member of the GA staff, and members of the Church Development and Redevelopment Committee at the Wharton Church. Save the date!
September 12, 2011
It takes a long time to recover from a disaster. I was struck at how fresh the grief was as loved ones read the names one more time yesterday, September 11th in lower Manhattan. How can ten years ago seem like just yesterday?
I am certainly not ready to compare our brush with earthquake, hurricane and tropical storm with the magnitude of an event like September 11, 2001. Still when it is your disaster, it is big.
It was a busy weekend in Newton Presbytery. On Saturday Diane Curtis traveled with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team as they visited Blairstown, Parsippany and Whippany, surveying the damage of storms named Irene and Lee. I understand that the team was able to offer advice as they went. I am still waiting for a report on their tour.
Pastor Don Mossa offered three opportunities for people to walk through the Whippany building. I took advantage of one of those tours. So far they have filled seven huge dumpsters like the one in the picture with things that cannot be refurbished. They have removed soaked carpeting and much of the flooring. Parts of walls have been torn out so that drying can take place. Huge fans hum throughout the space. The cabinets in the kitchen and fellowship hall are beyond repair. The Pre-school sustained a significant damage and suffered a great loss as well. Things that can be refurbished (porcelain sinks, toilets and the like) are stored in a trailer in the parking lot. The congregation is worshipping at a neighboring Roman Catholic chapel while they await the word that things are “good enough” to return to the building.
Sunday I visited the Blairstown Church. Although the condition of some equipment in the church building is still unknown (as in, will it work?), the congregation’s primary loss was in the Outreach Center on Main Street that was hit twice…once by Irene and then again by Lee. During Sunday’s prayers, Pastor David Harvey, remarked on the resiliency of the human spirit as an invitation was extended to come and clean up the food pantry and the outreach center one more time.
Although we know that our disaster does not equal the magnitude of an event like 9-11, we are not overlooked. We’ve received many notes from across the United States indicating that we are being held in prayer. A small church in Ohio asked how they might help. Davidson College called to offer the assistance of a work team. A group from The Presbyterian Church is Madison wondered where clean up muscles might be put to work. PDA provided monetary grants for congregations to continue ministry as well as suits to protect the workers cleaning up Parsippany.
For years we’ve given generously to One Great Hour of Sharing. This time we are grateful recipients. And still we pray for the people of God in other parts of the world who are suffering from flood, famine and fires. The Body of Christ: where the joys of one are the joys of all, and the sufferings of one are the sufferings of all. Thanks be to God who binds us together in this bundle of life.
September 5, 2011
One week after Irene...
Pastor David Harvey in Blairstown
Sunday was my day to be with the Belvidere congregation. They did remarkably well during the storm. They reported some water in basements as well as the frustration of no electricity and residual loss of refrigerated foods. Many of us have experienced similar challenges. A few members are still without power.
Images are beginning to arrive. We welcome your pictures along with your updates.
The good news is that Blairstown has electricity again. Diane is our PDA contact. She reports more good news: hazmet suits will be sent to Parsippany to protect those engaged in clean up and PDA is standing by to assist Whippany FPC as they make pending decisions about space for worship and ministry.
September 1, 2011
Newton Presbytery and its congregations weathered the storm called Irene fairly well.
Special thanks to Diane and Sonja who were our front line for communication over the weekend! Diane and I checked in with every church yesterday and learned that most of our congregations were on top of whatever clean up they had to do. Even the folks at Whippany, (Whippany First was our hardest hit church building), were moving right along. Diane’s conversation with Don Mossa indicated that there was a plan, there were volunteers to work, and they could see progress!
We do have some communities that experienced significant loss and trauma. We’ve invited PDA to come and see. Don Bragg’s experience with Katrina relief came home to roost. He is working in partnership with Parsippany officials to respond to the deep need of that community.
Rockaway is gearing up for the influx of people whose pantries and refrigerators are depleted.
A letter went to all churches yesterday suggesting ways for those of us who live in the area to help. This morning we got a phone call from a church in Virginia who has a group of youth signed up and all but packed to come north and help!
And we know of individuals whose lives have been forever changed. Stories are coming in from churches about people who were already living on the margins who literally lost everything they had except the clothes on their backs and life itself. One poignant story was about a single mom and her daughter who had just returned to a home rebuilt after fire only to see the house float away!
Communication is still difficult…internet service is spotty, some don’t have telephone service and electricity is still off in a variety of places.
One thing we know for sure…God is with us in this disaster and the people of God are channels of God’s grace and mercy. For that we give God thanks and praise!