Friday, March 28, 2008

Easter was Good, AND I've Slept Since Then

I've mentioned to many of you the ambitious Holy Week schedule last week, with services Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, plus various Easter activities Sunday morning.

Here is the prize comment from one member of the congregation, who participated in all of the services. After the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, he said (and I quote), "I don't think I've ever looked forward to the resurrection as much as this year."

The comment was meant to be humorous (and those who heard it laughed, myself included), but there was a seriousness behind it too. We spent an awful lot of time remembering Jesus' final week during our Holy Week services. The church had never done that.

The great news: it worked. I cannot tell you how many positive comments I received from people who attended all of the services (or at least 3 of them). Several comments like: 'this is the best Easter I can remember,' 'this was the most meaningful Holy Week/Easter I've ever experienced,' etc. Which is a testament to three things: 1) they stretched themselves, by being willing to try this Holy Week schedule, 2) the significant planning that went into these services (by myself and certain key others) was well done, and 3) what you get out of something is generally directly proportional to what you put into it. If any of these three things had been missing, the experience would have been diminished. To give you an idea of how positive it was, I've already heard from people that they expect to do all of the Holy Week services again next year.

The not so great news -- I was a little unprepared physically for the week. I know exactly when it happened, after the second reading (about Noah and the ark) during Saturday night's Easter Vigil -- my mind went completely blank from exhaustion. And it didn't come back Saturday night. And most terrifyingly for someone who preaches only from a mental outline, it didn't come back at all on Easter Sunday.

But beyond the exhaustion, it was a very good week for me. I was pleased with the way each of my solos went (which was good, given that they were all in prominent places in the service), pleased to be able to share them. The Thursday evening service of communion and tenebrae was one of the most moving worship experiences I've ever had in a church (and I've been told that I was not alone in sensing that). By design, you are asked to leave the church in silence; in practice, this usually lasts until people get to the parking lot. Not this time. There was silence. I didn't feel like hearing anything for the rest of the evening, and I was told that others felt this way too -- felt uncomfortable turning on the TV, radio, etc.

Easter morning was very successful too. I was able to reuse an Easter play I had written for the youth in Country Club Hills, which was very well received. And Easter worship was strong. Despite my mental limitations, the sermon was well received (and I think, having listened to it, well done). It was a challenging sermon, perhaps the most challenging one I've preached since coming to West Virginia, which is an odd (or maybe just wrong) choice for an Easter Sunday. But I still think it was the message I was supposed to offer, so I can't worry about it. This Sunday, surprisingly, will be simpler and more uplifting and dwell almost entirely on the hope and sustaining comfort of the resurrection in our hearts.

One Easter morning story: during each service, there is a children's time during the service. I was able to borrow one of my friend's great Easter stories to begin (it goes like this: a group of kids were asked what happened on Easter. A young girl raised her hand and said, "Easter is the day that Jesus came out of the tomb. And if he sees his shadow, they'll be six more weeks of winter..."). But this was not the funniest moment with the kids. No, when I asked them to look around and see what all was different in the sanctuary (flowers and streamers had been hung, the color of the paraments was different, etc.), one of the boys said, "There are a lot more people here this morning." Fantastic. Brilliant. You can't script it any better. And, if the recovering youth minister might add, here's a key reason why some adults don't want to let kids speak -- they rationalize that kids don't have anything worth saying, but the greater danger is that the kids just might tell the harsh truth.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I was privileged to have my first visitors from the west last weekend. Bud and Barbara and Laurie made the trip out from Chicago during their spring break (their students went to Florida, but they came to WV, hmm). It was great to see them and to spend time with them (though it was not as much time as I would have liked, given my schedule). And it was a great comfort to have old friends around -- I'm working at making new friends here in WV, and that is coming along better than it might -- but I do miss my friends in Chicago and elsewhere.

This week, I have tried to recover. I have slept more, and read more, than I did last week (though not quite as much as I had hoped). I took a nice 2 hour hike on Tuesday in the middle of a very relaxing day off. And despite the leisure, the newsletter got finished and printed earlier today (for distribution Sunday).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Week 2008

I must keep this week's update brief. It is Holy Week, which means that I am busy. I think I was behind already on Monday, and I've slipped further behind a little each day. I'm leading an ambitious series of services, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a full Easter Vigil on Saturday, plus an over-size Sunday set of activities.

So far, I've got a pretty good handle on these services. But during this time, I also need to be thinking about the service bulletin for Sunday, March 30, all of my contributions to the April newsletter, and next week's Bible study. I'm not complaining. I'm just a little behind. But I know everything will get done.

That's where I am this day. I'm excited that I long ago covenanted with God, and then with the congregation, to spend Good Friday in prayer and meditation. If I hadn't, I would be writing newsletter items all day, but I think that this will be better for me spiritually, and I think that everything else will benefit (even if Tuesday will be a much busier day).

Otherwise, I've gotten words that friends will visit this weekend, which is exciting. My Easter sermon finally began to take constructive shape late last night, which relieves a great deal of stress. And I get to sing a lot in church this week, which I find spiritually helpful and fulfilling in the midst of this work and the events we remember in the church this week. Sunday was "Via Dolorosa," which went very well. Tonight is "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar, which is I think the most powerful interpretation of Jesus' prayer -- Luke relates that after this prayer the sweat fell from Jesus' brow in drops thick as blood. Tomorrow will be the spiritual "Crucifixion," perhaps better known as "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word," which I've never sung as a solo before; it's arranged by Moses Hogan, so it's quite powerful.

Anyway, I should send this out and get ready for tonight's service, which is now less than two hours away. Blessings to you all this Holy Week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cinema Utopia -- New Review

I have posted a new review at Cinema Utopia, this one of the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. I liked it. Not everyone will. Frankly, it's an odd choice for Best Picture.

Here is a link to the review at Cinema Utopia.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Reviews Posted

Since moving to West Virginia, I have become a much more active reader. (This is only partially due to a lack of Internet and mostly due to my making it a priority.) I have decided, using the LibraryThing service (through which I have catalogued my books), to post brief reviews of books I read. Since I read fewer books than I watch movies, I have high hopes of posting reviews of all the books I read (but we'll see).

Anyway, I posted the first batch of reviews today, of the following books:
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
  • Home to Harmony, by Philip Gulley
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963, by Taylor Branch
  • 100 Essential Lincoln Books by Michael Burkhimer
  • Almost History: Close Calls, Plan B's, and Twists of Fate in America's Past, by Roger Bruns
  • Just Shy of Harmony, by Philip Gulley

You can read the reviews here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A No-Fuss Wedding without Buying Tickets to Vegas

I love American ingenuity, especially people who take ordinary products and market them in a unique way. Bottled water, for instance.

But one of my favorites is an ordained minister outside Chicago whose full-time job is weddings. No sermons, no funerals, just weddings. This is, by the way, a brilliant solution for people who don't want a civil wedding service, but don't have close ties to any church. And judging by the minister's website info, he clears six figures annually. Brilliant.

But now a story out of Montana, which takes the marriage industry one step further. If you want to get married, but you'd prefer to not bother showing up for the ceremony -- now you can! That's right -- marriage by proxy.

Here's the story here (courtesy of the grey lady).

All I have to say is that this small-town lawyer -- brilliant. Can you imagine being a small-time lawyer, taking whatever legal work comes your way (accidents, divorces, lawsuits, maybe some small criminal work, etc.), and instead being able to simply process proxy weddings. Keep up with the state and county law, sign and properly file the papers. And collect your fee. Brilliant.

Isn't America great?

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Couple of Pictures

Several people have asked for pictures. I don't yet have any with people in them, but here are a few of the church building.

Here you can see that the building is on a hill. This is the entrance to the parking lot.

Another view from just past the church sign. the front part is the newer addition with the multi-purpose gym and kitchen. At the far end is the sanctuary.

This is a view of the inside of the sanctuary (all decked out for Christmas). The choir sits on the right side (as you face) up front, while the organ and piano are on the left side. The baptistery is behind the stained glass window under the cross.

So there you have them. Imagine me there (that's funny, I'm there right now). Now that I have Internet in my office, I might be there a lot. Who knows.

Things seem to be going well. The new secretary began this week, so this was the first "normal" office week (at least hours-wise), and it seemed to go well. I haven't been quite as productive as I would like, but that's an old story.

I'm catching up on my movie viewing and starting to write some reviews. They should start appearing next week. I'm also doing a better job on my reading (both for study and for fun); I'll try to post some of those reviews too.

As I mentioned last time, I've begun my "Pastor's Blog" and it seems to be going well. It is a new thing for the church, but the reception seems mostly favorable. I'm glad of this. Anything to try to improve communication further is a good thing in my book. (Regardless of their size, regardless of their age, regardless of their social structure, churches are always worse at communication than they should be. It seems to be an age-old, never-ending struggle just to keep your head above water.

CASE IN POINT, I announced the Holy Week schedule in January. It has been in both the February and March newsletters. It has been mentioned in the bulletin for three weeks already. I mentioned it in worship the past two Sundays. We've had sign-up sheets for readers. This week we put out sign-up sheets for the Easter Breakfast and Easter lily order forms. It has been discussed at committee meetings, choir rehearsal and Bible Study. I kid you not, someone who has been faithful in attendance in worship and other activities, who has mentioned items in the newsletter, and who has attended a special three-hour rehearsal to prepare for Holy Week was totally unaware of the Holy Week schedule. I don't mean confused about the times of the services; I mean unaware that the services were even happening. And this person is supposed to sing at all but one of the services. [Also, I know that I'm not the only one talking about the schedule. It's ambitious, and I hear through the grapevine that it's being discussed.]

It's frustrating, not in an angry way, but just in a smiling, "I can't believe it" way. It just happens so frequently in churches. Maybe you've experienced it (either side of it).

Anyway, it's getting late and the snow is threatening, so I should try to get home while I can still drive up the hill. More to come....