Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Things I Didn't Learn in Seminary #......

There are, of course, a multitude of things I didn't learn in seminary but the most pressing one this week is whether or not to accept the gift of a cut spruce tree for decoration in our sanctuary for Advent & Christmas. On the surface this sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it? I mean how can you turn down a generous gift, in this case someone in the church who has for the past 20 years been growing a spruce in her yard for the express purpose of donating it to the church.

But the more people talk about it the more difficulties arise: people who are allergic to evergreen trees, the size of the tree and getting it up into our second floor sanctuary, the daily watering and monitoring a cut live tree requires, and then there are the clean up issues just to name a few. On the up side there is honoring the generous gift of a caring member of the church, coupled with the "traditional" feel of a real tree along with the beauty it would add to our worship space for a few weeks in December.

The tough thing for me is I don't simply think its a matter of making a "pro" and "con" list. Is that really how we should be making decisions in the church? Sure we've done it that way for a long time or at least for as long as people can remember. But is there any where in the Bible or in the early history of the church where leaders made a pro/con list or allowed a simple majority to win? No, it seems like prayerful appeals to God and God's Son relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit are the foundations of decision making in the Old and New Testament communities of faith.

So where does that leave us in twenty-first century Southern Idaho? Can we get past a simple issue of whether or not to put a spruce tree in our sanctuary in a way that honors Christ? Should such considerations even matter? Or do we simply let people's opinions or a majority of pros versus cons rule the day?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Great Day!

Today has been one of those awesome, incredible days that keep me going. In worship the handbells offered a very stirring piece, the chancel choir did a great job, the younger elementary kids sang The Lord's Prayer with gusto, folks responded positively to the sermon and we baptized a mother and her daughter! And during fellowship time one of our young moms took me up on the offer of having her six month old baptized on Christmas Eve at our 5 p.m. Lessons & Carols service.

This afternoon the weather has been unreal for mid November. With temperatures in upper 50s, plenty of sunshine and very little wind I joined Rob Blackston for 18 holes of disc golf and had a great time. Then when I got home Kathy had mowed the lawn and while she rested from that Eric and I threw frisbee in the front yard for half an hour or so. He's not really into catching, but he really can throw quite nicely. So we laughed and enjoyed ourselves as a family.

Which brings me to this afternoon and evening's Church Officer Training about to start in twenty minutes or so. Even though I'm pretty tired I know how much folks appreciate the training so we're off to a few hours of reformed theology and the ordination questions. There ought to be some really good discussions and I know when I go home that I'll be tired out, but that it has been a stellar day thanks be to God!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Urban Renewal & Church Renewal

While I really should be working on my sermon this morning another idea popped into my head as I was thinking about an outline for this Sunday's sermon. It popped into my head because last night the Price family was invited to an election wake. One of the men in our church ran for city council and lost by a scant 120 votes out of about 2500 votes cast and one of the issues he was running on was how to go about redeveloping and renewing the downtown area of our small city of Twin Falls. It was a nice affair with he and his wife's neighbors and supporters from around town sharing our condolences over the loss and speculating on what might have been.

Remembering that this morning as I woke up got me thinking about how Twin Falls has (from what I've heard) over the years tried various strategies, hired different consultants, and gone with different approaches to get people back to downtown shopping and living. Of course the reason that business and community leaders have been working on this issue in towns and cities like Twin Falls all over the country is that years ago shopping downtown was the thing to do and these leaders would like to recapture something of those glory days if not at least bring some of that energy back.

This made me think about how downtown churches have gone to similar approaches in renewing their ministries in historic buildings in downtown Twin Falls as well as across the country. Just as downtown businesses have had to struggle with the big boys like Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, so too have historic downtown churches had to deal with comparisons to large big-box churches in the suburbs or outskirts of towns and cities.

This really hit home for me yesterday afternoon while sitting down with a couple who are preparing to have their infant daughter baptized this Sunday. After a very cordial and friendly conversation the young mother asked, "When does your young mother's group meet?"

Earlier in the conversation they said that they had attended one of the big-box churches on the edge of town for a few months but that they want to be a part of our church for how welcoming and hospitable it is. But the thing about our warm and hospitable church is that while we have young families we also have many middle-aged families and quite a few much older couples and widows/widowers; not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that after their big-box church experience they were looking for something similar in our historic downtown church that simply can't offer the same amenities as the big boys.

What we do offer however is that we do several things well, much like some of the downtown businesses in Twin Falls. For instance, if you want to buy new kitchenware in Twin Falls you can always go to Wal-Mart or Target and find a really good price but then again you could also go to Rudy's on Main Street who specializes in and knows all about a whole range of kitchen needs. Or say its time for a new grill, there are three dozen different models available at Lowes, but downtown on 2nd Avenue Brizees specializes in some really amazing grills that will last a generation.

So too, if someone is looking for many niches under one roof there are several big-box churches that offer every conceivable niche ministry under the sun. But here at First Presbyterian there is high quality music, hospitality that can't be beat and people who want to know your name and who you are.

I don't if I have any answers, it just seems that the urban renewal movement and church renewal movement might have something to learn from one another.