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Thursday, March 13, 2014


This wasn't the greatest week ever.

But Wednesday was wonderful ... really it was.

Ben traveled to New York for work on Tuesday, leaving Jake and I to fend for ourselves on Wednesday, as yet another snowfall hit Chicago, and I had our first Lenten Healing service at church that evening, at 7 p.m., right when Jake normally goes to bed.

A few hours before church, I was about to take Jake out to play indoors when I noticed his plate of bananas tinged with green snot he'd just coughed up. Sorry for the visual - motherhood tends to reduce any gag reflex I once had.

So it was off to the dr. We found out he had two ear infections: "Just a part of daycare!" the doctor said gaily. I felt bad. It was his first time to have two at once and I probably should have taken him sooner.

(A day later, Ben and I found out we too had double ear infections. It's a real Amoxicillin party over here).

So we went to CVS, picked up Jake's prescription, and headed off to church. Believe it or not - the first-ever service I had as a pastor without Ben there to watch over Jake.

I'd never done a Holden Evening Prayer service before, had no idea of the flow.

I walked into church to do the prayer before dinner, and quickly I realized how different it was to do ministry without Ben. Instead of being able to talk with everyone and prepare for worship, I was being pulled into the nursery, then down the hall. Jake loves seeing everyone from St. Philip, but he also loves Mommy's attention to be on him - 100 percent.

Even as the evening began though, I could tell something was different. God was here - this Wednesday - in the darkness, in the snow, as Ben's flight home was cancelled ... God was here.

Because here it was - this crappy, cold, snowy day in March; and the amazing folks of my congregation came together anyway because THAT'S WHAT THEY DO and they care about this church and they care about each other. Everyone formed a circle to pray before the service and as I prayed it was one of those times where your prayer is being answered AS YOU PRAY IT. I prayed for our church, for love, for care - and that love and care was happening as I prayed. Brand-new members, a few couples and a widowed woman who brings her grandchildren; stood right next to congregational stalwarts who have held this place together since 1968.

You wonder what makes a church? The building? The sanctuary? The hymns? The music?

I guess a sign out front tells me it's a church, but what makes us a church community could all be felt in that moment of pre-dinner prayer.

The ones preparing the dinner waited patiently in the kitchen for the AA meeting to end right at 6:30, and then as the meeting attendees rushed out, the soup rushed in like a well-oiled machine. At least one man stuck around, not for dinner but for service, and in his quiet acceptance God's bridge was being built - from one meeting to another.

The mood was relaxed; folks ate soup; our pianist, song leader, and flutist rehearsed in the sanctuary and reassured me that they had all this under control.

They did.

See that's the crazy part. I preach every single Sunday at St. Philip, and I pour myself into the texts every week, learning, gaining, sifting the Gospel through study and story and images and I love it.

But something different happened this Wednesday.

As the service began and I really had no idea what was coming next; I welcomed everyone and then I was following along with the rest of the folks in the pews - I heard the music with them and as it moved along slowly, mindfully, beautifully - I became not just the pastor of St. Philip but a part of St. Philip.

I didn't preach yesterday but instead read a selection from Matthew 9 about Jesus' healing a woman who had suffered bleeding for 12 years. That was followed by a testimony written by a couple in our congregation who had undergone much suffering and much healing in their 30-some years at St. Philip. Their son suffered drug addiction; their son-in-law nearly lost his life in a motorcycle accident; only to have the husband be struck with cancer a few months later.

This couple is of the quietly courageous sort, outwardly jokey and jocular and inwardly gentle and powerfully faithful.

I did nothing that service but read their words, as they felt they'd become too emotional to read aloud.

It was an honor to read their words and an honor to sit after that and let the music carry us through the rest of the service again. It was so effortlessly faithful that in the exchanging of the peace at the end of the service God's peace seemed to have blanketed the sanctuary just as completely as the morning snow had blanketed our roads that morning.

As I walked out I was greeted by four kind folks who'd spent their service in the nursery with Jake, whose music was not quite so peaceful and calm as the flute I'd been listening to in the sanctuary. Apparently Jake heard my voice and would not be satisfied the rest of the service. But they hung in there with him nonetheless, making me see that my family may consist of more than just Ben and Jake.

So Wednesday, simple, calm, peaceful, surprising, tiring as it was - Wednesday was for me a turning point - the beginning of a new chapter here at St. Philip - where the heart of this little church attaches itself to my heart, changes my heart, and changes me even as I change it.

See sometimes when you start a new call as a pastor, or when you start any kind of new job, there's a sort of honeymoon period - where you meet folks and they meet you and you slowly tell jokes and stories and warm up to one another before the hard times come and tough decisions and conflicts twist up our hearts.

We didn't really have that here - not because it was anyone's fault - but just because of circumstances and tough financial decisions and the early, sudden departure of a longtime, talented staff member. We met each other somewhat in the midst of turmoil, and sometimes that's not the easiest way to meet - even if we can grow closer through it.

So I'd been praying to God, especially earlier this week, for a glimpse ahead or a vision of what we might work together to drive St. Philip to be.

But God didn't give me a glimpse of the future. Instead God gave me a true view into the present, and just the stuff this faith community is made up of. Nobody's perfect - not me, not St. Philip - but the thing that we both are is here. Week in, week out, snowstorm, plumbing explosion - people show up for God and show up for their church.

And sometimes we stand in a circle and pray a prayer that's being answered as we pray, and sometimes we enter a service we didn't plan, we didn't preach - and the church whispers to its pastor: "We know love. Let us love one another."

As a polar vortex winter slowly succumbs to spring, the last pieces of snow on my heart are melting, too. I don't know all that's ahead for St. Philip, but I do know that powerful love - the love of one another and the love of our Savior Jesus Christ - is in the cards.

Perhaps this is not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.


  1. Beautifully written. You have discovered the true meaning of church. "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there is love. " Blessings on your ministry.