Month: August 2014

Letter to the Congregation, One Year Review


They say the first year of teaching is the hardest. I imagine the first year of any new job is the most challenging.  What I have realized, as I come  full circle to a month and a season that I have seen before, is that it has taken me a year to see what is before me.  When you enter a year in a new place, everything is new, even though things are familiar.  Christmas happens, but it’s not the same. Jesus is resurrected, but it’s not the same.  Funerals, session meetings,  process, communication, culture, behavior, expectations, work load, and above all history is not the same.  And yet it is the same.  People are the same everywhere you go.  They all are children of God. They all need to know they are loved and are capable of loving. They all need to be listened to and listen. They all doubt and they all have faith.  It’s a humbling thing, being new.  Your qualities and your growing edges are more visible.  It’s harder to hide your faults when you are new, because your mistakes aren’t easy to hide.  It takes time to become part of the fabric and decide if you fit in. It takes a sense of humor, grace, humility and courage.  It takes a community that is willing to stand beside you.  Above all, it takes a sincere faith and full reliance on God.   

 I am certain that the second year will be challenging. – There are a lot of challenges before us.  But that’s o.k.  It wouldn’t be ministry if it wasn’t challenging.  The breath of God will carry us through.

Dear Friends,

I would like to thank all of you who attended the one year celebration of our ministry together at Orchard Park!  Thanks to the Pastor Nominating Committee for their final work as a committee in hosting such a lovely event!

It seems hard to believe that one year has gone by already!  It has been a fast and eventful year.  Thank you to all of you have served in leadership roles over this past year and kept the ship going!  A special thanks to the staff for sharing their institutional knowledge, support and grace.

As we look to the new year together, I’m curious what you are most hopeful for and what concerns you the most?  What expectations did you have that were not met and what expectations were met?

The first year, I tried to focus predominately on listening, getting to know you, offering strong worship and providing strong pastoral care.  As we turn the calendar to the second year, these will continue to be my priority.

In the second year, we can expect new staff members and a new staff structure.  We can expect some very honest discussions about our financial health and potential consequences.  We can expect greater focus on ministry to families with young children. We can expect greater focus on ministry to parents who are “empty-nesters” with aging parents and we can expect greater focus on our aging population, particular those struggling with dementia.

I hope we will grow in a variety of ways:

I hope we grow in the number of pledging units at OPPC.  I would like to see more people invested in the congregation. Even if it’s giving $1 a week.  People who invest money tend to invest their hearts.

I hope we grow in our faith and prayer life. I would like to see more prayer groups and more opportunities for us to be praying with and for each other.

I hope we grow in our hands on mission and outreach to community. I would like to see us opening our doors to our neighbors and providing genuine hospitality and outreach to our community.

I hope we grow in our study of the Word. I would like to see children, youth and adults engaged in the daily reading of scripture.

I visited a OPPC member in the hospital a couple of months ago.  He said, “Orchard Park is a great place to grow.”  I could not agree more.

Come Grow With Us.Ethan baptism2

Thank you for being with me and my family this first year.

God Bless,



Dear Mr. Keating,


Dear Mr. Keating,

I never got the chance to tell you that you were my favorite teacher.

Yes, I know you were only my teacher for 2 and 1/2 hours.  But seeing as I watched you teach cute prep boys at least 25 times, I have been  in your class for at least 75 hours.

Every time  I visited your class, I was inspired to read poetry, to suck the marrow out of life, to remember that one day I would be food for dandelions and above all to Seize the Day.

Because of your class, I tried to walk with my own gate, change my perspective and to embrace my dreams.

You had a compassion and perception toward your students that I always imagined you had towards me.  You inspired me to love language, to think, and not use the word “very.”

You had an energy for teaching and passion for liturgy that inspired me to open the works of Whitman, Keats and Bronte.

Thank you, Mr. Keating.

I hear that you are gone.  I hear that you were terribly sad and felt you could not face the demons in your life.  You know, many of your students have felt the same.  You were never alone in your darkness.

I wish you knew what a difference you made in so many lives.  Your humor. Your compassion. Your understanding of humanity.

There will never be anyone like you.

Unless we become more like you.

Unless we push the boundaries and allow ourselves to be silly and candid, goofy and vulnerable, compassionate and inspired.

I will seize the day, Mr. Keating.

I will seize the day.

I will seize it for you.


O Captain! My Captain!

Walt Witman

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!          5
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;   10
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
      This arm beneath your head;
        It is some dream that on the deck,   15
          You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;   20
    Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
      But I, with mournful tread,
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

Whole Hearted People

This is the first of a three-part series on the topic of trust.  Over the course of the past month our congregation has had various discussions on trust.  We have looked at our hymns and contemporary music and explored all of the places trust is part of a Biblical story.  Once you start looking, you see that trust is everywhere! 




“I love you with all of my heart.”  That’s what my mother would say.  “I love you with all of my heart.”  To which I would reply, “do you love Joanie and Rachel (my sisters) too? “Yes,” she would say.  “With your whole heart?” I would ask.  “Yes,” she would reply.  “How many hearts do you have?” I would challenge.    How many people can you love with your whole heart?  And how can I trust what you are saying to be true?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about makes sacred communities of faith thrive and what causes them to die, and I believe the most important foundation of what makes sacred communities flourish and what can cause them to fail is trust or lack thereof.   So this led me to ask, “What makes people trust and what makes people mistrust?”  It’s funny, when you ask people to talk about trust, they usually tell stories of distrust.  Someone once said that  “trust is like clean air:  you don’t recognize it, until you don’t have it.”

About 13 years ago, before children, our home was robbed.  It was one of the most violating moments we had ever experienced. The idea that someone had gone through our home, ransacked our closets, obviously looking for our diamonds and emeralds, made us feel unsafe in the very place we should have felt safest.  After that awful day we purchased a security system and for a while felt afraid when we came home from work alone.   We had lost a trust we had previously taken for granted.

I’m sure you can all think of times we have either been the victim or the violator of trust.

“You said you would pick me up and you forgot!”

“I told you that in confidence.”

“How long have you been keeping that from me?”

Did you eat the browning I was eating?”

The thing about losing trust is that it makes us feel unsafe and when we feel unsafe, we feel afraid and when we feel afraid, we feel vulnerable.

And nobody ever wants to feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability is like those dreams you have when you show up at work in your pajamas, or worse. Vulnerability is the moment people see how human, how imperfect, how normal you are, and you risk being judged, unaccepted and unloved.

Vulnerability is like being in a major storm and risking drowning to make sure that the person you trust most in the world is out there.

I hate feeling vulnerable.  I will do just about anything to stay in control of my environment and look like I have my act together.

I imagine I am in good company.

Peter was an accomplished fisherman and was used to maneuvering through big storms.  He could maneuver himself through rough waves while digging his ores in the tumultuous waves.   Storms came and went and he always lived to tell the tale. That’s just how life was as a fisherman, you learned to ride out the storm.  Nevertheless on this particular night, just before dawn, a storm was raging and they had to have the disciples out to sea and they need to have their wits about them. I imagine that their survival skills were in full throttle and they are using all of their abilities to stay alive. Suddenly this figure appears on the water and that scares them to death. They immediately think it is a ghost and they scream in terror.

The ghost speaks and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

The ghost does not say who he is, only to “take heart” and to not fear. Those lines are enough for Peter to wonder if it is Jesus and so Peter challenges him and says, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.”

Does Peter trust the ghost? No.

Does Peter trust Jesus?  Yes.

Does Peter know it’s Jesus? No

But Jesus tells him to “come” and  Peter obeys the command and Peter steps out of his boat.

Peter abandons the thing that keeps him safe and does something life threatening.  He jumps into the water in the middle of a storm. And once he’s out of his security he sees how bad the storm really is and then he gets really afraid, panicky even and he starts to sink.

You know, you don’t have to be a sailor to be in a storm or be really afraid.

We have all had our moments when then winds pick up and we have been in stormy seasons in our lives.

You get a call in the middle of the night. It is your worst nightmare confirmed. Your son is at the hospital. There has been an accident. The car is totaled. “Come right away,” they say. And when you ask how he is doing they only tell you to hurry. And you strain against the oars and the water seems to be rising, and you cry out in fear and despair, “Jesus, are you for real or you just some ghost?”

Your place of business is having to cut costs and they decide to lay you off and you are three years to retirement and this was not part of your plan. A child gets sick, a car get sideswiped, an accident happens. As you strain against the oars and the water rises, and you cry out in fear and despair, “Jesus are you feel real, or are you just some ghost?”

Let’s be clear, we don’t go find the storms, storms come to us and when that happens we need all of our mind, body and spirit and get through it. We certainly don’t have time to pray, we have to get out of debt. We definitely don’t have time to call on Jesus, we have to get to the doctor. We definitely don’t have time to get out of our comfort zone, we have to protect yourself.

Every time you make a leap of faith, or make a decision under the foundation of believing that you are walking toward Jesus you will realize that you are really vulnerable, and when you realize how vulnerable you are, be prepared to sink, because you are a human being and human beings don’t walk on water.   Don’t try this at home. Human beings are vulnerable.

All human beings are vulnerable. Not all human beings believe they are loved and accepted for their vulnerability. Some human beings embrace their vulnerability, take heart and do not fear.

Writer and researcher Brenne Brown calls these people “whole hearted people.”

She asks the question, “What separates the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging from those that don’t?”

Brenne found that whole-hearted people had three things in common:

  1. Courage –  “A strong sense of courage.  … They had the courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart … These folks had very simply the courage to be imperfect.”
  2. Compassion“They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”
  3. Connection – “And, the last was they had connection.  And this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity.  They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were, which is, you have to absolutely do that, for connection.”

The other thing that “Whole Hearted” people have in common is “They fully embraced vulnerability.  They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating, they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say I love you first. … The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. … The willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. … Be willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

The church needs to be place where we practice being whole-hearted. It needs to be a place where people believe that they are worthy of love and belonging. It needs to place where people have the courage to show their imperfections, show compassion and be authentic. Moreover it needs to be a place that embraces vulnerability. A place filled with whole-hearted people.

So that when the storms come. And God knows they will come, we can step out,whether the storm and be saved. Jesus said, “Trust. Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. I love you with all my heart.”


Letting Go

One night at dinner this past spring, we had the rare occasion when we were all at the table together.  We were just about to close up a year of school in a new town and so I asked our three kids:

“When you look back over your year,  did you feel you were too busy, just busy enough, or not busy enough?”

“Too busy!” They all shouted.

“O.K. Well, what do you want to let go of?” I asked.image

The list came out.

I had bought, and I mean literally bought, into the belief that my job as a parent was to give my kids every opportunity possible, and if I didn’t sign them up for that camp, sport, instrument or activity, I was some how denying them the opportunity to live into their full potential. After all, what kind of parent was I if I didn’t put them in that sport or sign them up for that class?  What if there was a hidden tennis champion or concert pianist in there and I denied them their Gold Medal or moment at Carnegie Hall?!  AND, they if they aren’t playing Mozart by 2 or hitting the ball by 4, they will never be able to compete with those other kids, whose parent’s clearly are more put together than I.

Welcome to the World of Parent Projection Land, where parents make their child’s achievement their own. Where kids are valued for how awesome they are, and parents look awesome by making their kid awesome.

I realize I was way too invested in my children’s extra curricular activities when one daughter told me she wanted to quit piano and the other daughter wanted to quit the swim team, and I grieved to the point that I wondered if I was slightly insane.  I cried in the bathroom, the car, and on the phone with my friends.

I loved playing the piano with my daughter and practicing with her every day and I got such a rush out of watching my other daughter swim. But, my job is not to use them for my own, personal joy or feeling of achievement.  Their successes are not my successes and their failures are not my failures. I realized I was using their successes to make me feel good about myself.  That’s messed up.  My job is to be a parent not to relive my childhood through my children.

Remember childhood? Remember  play? Remember free time? I don’t mean screen time. I mean bugs in a jar, art on the table, balls in the yard, bikes on the driveway, experiments in the fridge, chalk on the sidewalk, forts in the living room, and magic lands in the closet.  I mean time to create, imagine, explore, hunt, organize, and dream.  This year our calendar is still full. We still have sports, dance, instruments, church and, oh yeah, school. But we also are letting go of a lot  so we can make room.  By letting go,  we make room for more family dinners and evenings at home.  By letting go,  we say “you should,” less and  “let’s be” more.  By letting go, we create the story of our home, we don’t let the calendar run our lives.


Parenting is hard work and we put this unbelievably heavy  blanket of  should, ought, what if, what about, beware, be aware, be careful, don’t you think, and pressure on ourselves and our children to be more than just individuals who are special, but no more special than anyone else.  I am more interested in the people my children are becoming, than the program they are attending. It’s not about quitting or giving up, it’s about teaching balance, rest and self-worth and remembering that kid’s are kids and the pressure we put on them in childhood become the mental tapes they will play in adulthood.

We will see how they feel when we check in next spring…..

Blessings to you and your family as you venture off to another school year!