It has been quite a party. And I don’t just mean yesterday, which was touching and joyous and beautiful and perhaps another dozen adjectives. But I am thinking of more than yesterday - for ten years, my work with you, friends, has been quite a party. I am grateful beyond words. I tried to express that yesterday, but maybe that is what beyond words means. No matter what I say or how many words come out of my mouth, it fails to convey the depth of what I feel. But let me give it one more shot in this last Wanderings.
First, I am going to set-out some boundaries and rules – I shall not name names. Yes, I was aware of the numbers of people in the building last week: setting up tables, putting on tablecloths, washing dishes, gathering food, decorating and more. I caught glimpses of the sneaking around getting old photos and contacting friends from way back. I overheard some prep for pieces of my favorite music. And more. I may not have had the whole thing figured out, but I caught glimpses of what was happening out and about. But I shall not name names, not so much out of the fear of leaving one name off (which is a worry), but because I have only so much space here. And as I say, my deep gratitude is for yesterday, but even more, for a decade. I know who you are and what you have done for me – recently and for a long time. Thank-you.
Second, I am going to name names. I cannot imagine being blessed by better colleagues. Casey has been a remarkable partner for the entirety of my time here. I came to have confidence in her early on as someone who would trust my impulses for worship and whose instincts I could trust as well. Her passion, creativity and good spirit have been a blessing. Charles came to help me go on sabbatical without too many anxieties, and apparently, he hasn’t found the door out of the building yet. His constant question to me is always, You need anything from me? He has met every want and more. Connie comes in each week and takes care of all things financial– and by all, I mean ALL. It is a tight ship she runs, but she has even forgiven me for a few lost receipts over the years. These three have been more than colleagues – one of the few descriptions I would put above the respectful colleagues is the warm friends. Casey, Charles, and Connie are friends.
I have shared this office with other colleagues through the years, and I have been blessed by a never-ending line of Board Chairs, Officers, Elders, Deacons, Committee Heads, and wonderful people who have shouldered our ministry and served Christ through our common life. I am back to not naming names, but my life is richer for each and every one of you.
Okay – a couple more names. It meant everything to have Kristen and Jeff in for the day; Ryan and Ali tuned in from 1,700 miles west. I hope my children can say that having ministers for parents has not ruined their lives, but I know there have been some days that were bewildering. Plus, they were shamefully ignored for an entire month before all of their formative Christmases. I love these four young people, and the last thing you should want is for me to begin talking about how proud I am of the people they are – you won’t be able to shut me up. And Linda. We were each ministers when we married, which has made for an odd personal/professional stew. I would never have wanted for my work to overshadow hers, but you know her well enough to grasp that such a concern was never well-founded. She has been a Christian educator, church musician, ecumenist, health care advocate, and servant of those who are poor or homeless. I cannot conceive of my ministry apart from hers. She is the love of my life, and I know that the smartest thing I have ever done is say Yes when she proposed to me.
This has become way too long, dear friends, but this is what is on my heart on this last day as your Minister. I look forward to continuing to share life and faith with you in the years to come – in a different role, but as authentically as ever. And may God bless us with something to laugh about.
Blessings and Peace,
We were in Raleigh recently – Linda was there to exchange something at Macy’s and I was there to make our obligatory Costco run. As we prepared to head back east, she asked if I was thirsty. Well, I’m always thirsty, so she steered the car through a McDonalds where you can get any size drink for $1. The problem was that actually you can get any size drink for $1.07. The further problem was that I had a couple of twenties, a ten, a five, and an assortment of ones but no coin. And there was a sign pleading for us to pay with exact change. Do you think there is really a shortage of coins?, she asked. Makes no sense to me, I replied to which she countered, I understand that it is because the pandemic has driven people to online buying so that we are not paying with coins as much.
Ever the thinker, I said, Perhaps, but then again, if we are not dealing in cash as much, we aren’t being given change, right? Well, now we were at the window, Linda apologized while she handed the cashier my three dollar bills, and a moment later got one of the bills handed back to her, thus verifying that the coin shortage is a real thing. Our study of the matter lasted past Knightdale, and I would report it to you except I am imagining that you are all giving thanks you were not imprisoned in our car that evening suffocating with boredom. (Subsequently, I have discovered that early in the pandemic, the U S Mint was producing fewer coins because of worker shortages, but I verified that Linda, as usual, was correct, about the cause of the continuing shortage – we are not circulating coins though I still would argue that businesses aren’t circulating them back.)
Well, that set me to thinking about other shortages. Before our first storm of the year, I paid more than $7 for one of the last two cartons of eggs in Harris Teeter – organic and free-range as it were – an extravagance necessitated by broad supply line problems and exacerbated by weather conditions. There were several other cartons in the refrigerator section, but they all had broken eggs in them. My guess is that every mom in Wilson was planning a special breakfast for the impending snow day.
Any of you who do the shopping for your families have seen it. Brisket was over $5 a pound at Costco—untrimmed brisket which is like $10 per pound when you cut/cook away all the fat and gristle. Gatorade has been sparse on the shelves in the past year or so. I have been able to get it, but a couple of times I have had to drink blue instead of red. Could not find any decent lettuce a couple of weeks ago. Elaine asked me to fetch her some Lactaid vanilla ice cream, but chocolate was all they had. Yes, I have lost some weight, but the truth is that it has been an accident.
Okay, put the trivialities aside and let’s look at a more serious shortage. I give platelets regularly, and I have been getting a constant barrage of messages from the Red Cross about the shortages of blood products. The day after I donate, I get a message pleading with me to donate again. I can’t, I want to say, for another six days. I assumed that they were just doing what they do, but then I discovered that this blood shortage is more than real – elective surgeries are being postponed because blood donations have dropped more than 10% since March of 2020. Before that, the need for blood products had been rising 6% annually while donations were going up 3%.
But here is the hopeful piece in all this. In running through a couple of articles to check my stats, I ran across one person’s reflection about the shortage of blood products who observed that the good thing is that it is in our power to fix. Of course, it is. We are not short of A+ blood, plasma, or platelets because the blood volume of the average American has dropped from 10 pints to 6 in the past couple of years. No, this is a shortage that is eminently solvable. I don’t know about all of the shortages I have mentioned, but my guess is that many may fall into that category.
And theologically, our proclamation ought to be one of abundance. Is that not the whole point of Jesus feeding the multitude? The disciples saw the situation as a problem – we don’t have enough. Jesus said we have plenty if we just come together and share. The possibilities are endless. Let us remember that the next time we feel like running around like Chicken Little. No, the sky is not falling. Together, we’ve got this.
But here is one more thing you can do. The next time one of you is at Triangle Town Mall, go through Mickey-D’s and give them 14 cents. Tell them your preacher is worthless.
Blessings and Peace,
After 10 years as Senior Minister at First Christian, Gary Walling has signaled his intention to begin his retirement on March 1, 2022.
The Shepherd, the Farmer, and the Apple Butter Maker
The shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. This could be a great opening line for a sermon, right? Maybe someone should tell Gary. By the way, you know these three. And, hopefully you will agree that, together, they share a great story…
The shepherd has cared for numerous flocks across the country over the course of his 40+ years in the shepherding business. And, during these last 10 years, he has been the faithful shepherd of a flock he found in Wilson—providing spiritual guidance, abiding love, and comforting counsel.
With a commanding presence for a shepherd, he’s quite gentle in nature. His caring heart guides his words of spiritual influence, and his calm demeanor is welcomed when he reaches out his hand to those in pain or grief. He speaks softly into the ears of his lambs, especially those newborn for whom he prays, as he cradles them in his arms and casually walks down the center aisle of the church to introduce them to their new church family.
Known for his monthly “Wanderings,” this wind-weathered shepherd will be forever young in spirit. He has a penchant for tunes by Jackson Browne, but like Jimmy Buffet, he seems to have “a school boy heart and a novelist eye.” He’s extremely well read, from the masters of great literature to the books of thoughtful philosophers and faithful theologians. Each Sunday, he shares deep thoughts for parishioners’ contemplation, as he combines the sacred Word with engaging questions for our consideration.
Never a loner, this shepherd often reaches out into the community to serve in a variety of roles, including but not limited to emceeing “Seeds of Hope’s “Family Feud” fundraiser and overseeing Hope Station’s annual Halloween Golf Tournament. And, following a season of community-led Lenten services, he’s often found helping to carry the cross with fellow Christians on Good Friday.
We know the farmer as a multi-tasker. His work ethic is strong; he’s up early and often home late from weekly meetings. He can always be found among volunteers on selected Saturdays, spreading bales of pine straw, trimming shrubbery, applying a fresh coat of paint where needed, or helping to re-wire a light. He’s been known to jump on a tractor and till the rows for planting come “sprouting” season. And, he’s planted a bounty of crops over the past decade, including hope, gratitude, choices, and even imagination — always harvesting during the “Season of Faith.” Even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he harnessed his team to glean the fruits of past harvests so that the congregation could celebrate its milestone Sesquicentennial Celebration with joy and thanksgiving.
The apple butter maker always finds ways to nourish others. He knows the right ingredients and spices to blend the perfect batch of ribbon-worthy apple butter. So too, he recognizes what his FCC family needs. Whether through food, or fellowship, or comforting conversation and prayer, he’s always reaching out. He’s quick to suggest “tossing some hotdogs on the grill” to feed the crowd bringing donations for Hope Station. He keeps spirits high with his tongue-in-cheek sarcasm while supporting the Boston butt grill-masters, and he never misses an opportunity to praise the bakers that donate their famous coconut and chocolate cakes and sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies. He loves to fill the fellowship hall with his FCC family and tables laden with bountiful spreads. And, at Christmas, he joins his flock to serve lunch and offer fellowship to those from the surrounding community whose spirits are in need of warmth and kindness. However, this apple butter maker serves best when he presides over The Table where everyone has a place. He never tires of reminding us that the Lord has prepared a meal for all who are hungry and all who thirst.
You know the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. They are in our midst as a man of God - perhaps even better known as the Reverend Gary Walling, Pastor Gary, or just “Gary.” He is all three, faithfully serving our congregation for the past decade.
This month, we celebrate the Reverend Gary Walling’s multi-talented ministry, and we thank him for his many gifts and graces shared with us for these many years. You will not want to miss this last month of Sunday services led by Reverend Walling. No doubt, the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker will make us feel welcomed, nourished, and loved.
We prepare to enter into another Season of Faith which, of course, is about stewardship, but under Bob Kendall’s guiding hand, our SOF is always about far more than money. (The designers of every commercial campaign will tell you that it is really about faith rather than money, but in how Our Season has been conceived over the years, that is true.) Anyway, my angst this year is that OSOF, coming as it is after the hoopla of the Sesquicentennial Celebration, will get no more than a cursory glance. Let’s all slow down enough to let Our Season speak to us.
This year, we are being challenged to reflect upon our personal Founders – those men and women who helped give us the gift of faith. I encourage you to have a seat, to take an hour, and to think about your journey . . . to evaluate the ones that helped show you the way.
Parents will be on many of our lists – they are on mine. Grandparents perhaps. Aunts or uncles or such. Youth sponsors. Ministers are apt to make the list, I suppose, and my list would include Myron Willard, Edwin Kirtley, and David Matthews – preachers from my childhood, youth, and college years. Al Pennybacker, my mentor, is way up the list. And because I love words, I can quote portions of sermons I have read or heard from the mouths of Carlyle Marney, Frederick Buechner and Fred Craddock. All of these, and many more, are due some credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) for who I have become.
In recent days, I have been thinking about some words spoken by one of those others – a fellow by the name of Gilbert Davis who was a minister, but whose ministry was mostly devoted to raising money for Texas Christian University and Brite Divinity School. Gilbert and Hilda were members of University Christian Church where I worked during and after seminary, and I got to know them during those years. But it was much later that Gilbert spoke the words that have bounced around in my head and heart since. He was preaching at one of our General Assemblies, and the closing words to his sermon went something like this:
When we die and our will is read, our boys may be in for a big surprise. Oh, there will be something in there for them, but it may not be as much as they were anticipating. I hope they won’t be shocked and I hope they won’t be hurt. But of all things, God forbid that in that moment what they learn is that their old man preached one Gospel and lived another.
Now let me be clear – I am not quoting Gilbert to anchor this year’s OSOF. We are not talking about money, because he wasn’t talking about money either. Not really. What Gilbert was saying was that the easiest thing in the world is to announce what matters to us, but the world will see what we hold dear by the way we live.
And I don’t offer up the words to suggest that I am the best example of stewardship or that my life should be the model for how all Christians should live. No, I suppose the reason I have remembered Gilbert’s words all these years is not because they validate my life but rather because they press me to constantly question my living. What I mean to say is that I can declare for all the world to know that I love Jesus, but would anyone know that if I did not shout it? I can wear t-shirts with holy slogans and I can put bumper stickers on my car; I can even put it all out on Facebook, but that is not nearly enough. I can say I care about the poor, but do I act like I care: do I support local hunger and housing programs . . . do I lobby for legislation that is compassionate and vote accordingly? Saying I believe in prayer and praying are two distinctly different things. Promoting the virtues of forgiving while not speaking to a half-dozen people rather leaves your conviction about forgiveness out in the cold.
I trust you get me, or more accurately, I trust you get Gilbert. So, I hope that you will spend a little time to consider and name your personal Founders. My strong suspicion is that when you have your list and you review your names, you will discover that the chief reason those people made your list is because they have lived the same Gospel they spent their lives preaching.
Blessings and Peace,
We are going to house The Arc this summer. Not that ark. The Arc . . . of Wilson County.
This organization serves those people in our community who have developmental disabilities, and two summers ago, FCC provided space for their day camp. So, I can speak firsthand to what a remarkable job the staff and volunteers do with these young people.
After a year off due to Covid, it is good to have them returning this summer.
And some of that is what is on my mind. I am thinking about this past year when The
Ark – and pretty much every other group – was absent. When we think about the past year, much of what grieves us is what we personally have missed: family get-togethers, holiday gatherings, favorite restaurants (some of which did not survive), movies and popcorn in a bigscreen theater, workouts at the gym, and much more. As for me, my sabbatical imploded . . .
my modest string of blue ribbons from the county and state fairs for my apple butter was
nipped. And, of course, here at 207 Tarboro St., we have mourned our inability to worship together, to study together, and to eat together. We have been left to care about our sick and homebound from afar, and we have laid some dear friends to rest in cemeteries standing at a distance and forgoing hugs with others who shared the loss. We have missed so much – personally and collectively.
But if we can hit the pause button on that, maybe we can get out of ourselves enough
to recognize that loss which has been more communal. Our building has been something of a ghost town for many of these months, missing not just our folks but missing those who we have welcomed to do good work, even ministry, in this place. Like The Ark . . . and the Girl Scouts . . . and others. Advent/Lenten noon concerts and community worship services went virtual if they happened at all. We have missed hosting Music for Hope and other community concerts. We have shelved our annual summer food drive, and without people passing through the building, our regular food collection has been meager. With schools closed, our schoolyear CHEW program was not possible. Oh, we managed to open the doors for critical blood drives and pulled off a variation of our Christmas Community Lunch, and volunteers have continued to help at the Hope Station food pantry, with the summer CHEW program and elsewhere in the community. But you grasp my point – the loss we have suffered because of the Virus is not just personal but is collective and communal.
You have seen on the front page that we are taking a giant step towards a more normal
church life. I am overseeing this step with some angst and worry, but also with some significant relief . . . with the hopefulness that as our building begins to fill again, our sense of discipleship and commitment to serve and compassion for those given to our care by Christ himself also will swell. I am filled with optimism that First Christian Church is not just open for business, but that we are open for ministry.
So, welcome back to our blessed friends from the Arc. And for the rest of us, remember
to snag a bag of groceries next time you are coming to church. Paint a wall or clean the
kitchen or plant some flowers – whatever you can do to welcome people to FCC. Because if this resumption of church life and activity is only about what we personally have missed in the past year, then why would we think it even matters.
Blessings and Peace,
There is a flow to our worship life . . . a mood, if you will. Not every worship experience is supposed to be the same as the one before or the one to come. And so, there are seasons for our worshipping.
There is a flow to our worship life, and this, of course, derives from the fact that there is a flow to our lives and hence to our faith. While we may strive for some consistency, the reality is that we find ourselves up or down at any given moment which means the particular word that we most need may differ in any given moment: encouragement or caution . . . forgiveness or a calling to account . . . a plea for understanding or a push toward conviction.
There is a flow to our worship life, which is why I have found the lectionary so useful over the years of my preaching. It covers the landscape. It takes me to the passages I might not have gotten to on my own. And it has born out my belief that rather than vertical, truth is always discovered in the tension of opposing attributes. Grace would seem to be everything, yet it means nothing without taking judgment seriously. Guilt and
Forgiveness are both true, but each is revealed in its relationship with the other. Get too far to one side of the tension, and the truth erodes.
There is a flow to our worship life. This notion presses on me especially during Holy Week each year. It is easy to be in such a rush to get to Easter that we rush through the week . . . we just drop the palms and run to the empty tomb . . . move straight from our hosannas to our alleluias. Of course, the opposite can be true. Some people are mesmerized by the thirty-nine lashes and the nailed hands – it is all sacrifice and suffering. And, we have witnessed people whose faith is expressed in each of these extremes – a dreariness that pushes people away or an enthusiasm that cannot relate to real life.
Take the week – the entirety of it – as the horrible and lovely gift that it is. Hear the shouting crowds – plural remember – the crowd that shouted for him and the one later in the week who called for his crucifixion. Consider whether you can hear your own voice in the screams of either or both of the masses. Go to the upper room – chew and sip. Visit Gethsemane. Stand out in the cold and see if anyone accuses you of being one of his followers.
Get acquainted with Barabbas and make up your mind again about which man you prefer to see set free. Do what ever helps you to experience the highs and the lows of these days. (I will confess to having spent some Holy Saturday hours walking through cemeteries.)
There is a flow to our worship life.
Blessings and Peace,
I forgot Ash Wednesday. A year ago. I was in Chicago for the first week of my sabbatical, untethered from every device and schedule that frames my days and weeks and months. I even remember walking out of the Divinity House where I was staying, glancing across the courtyard and seeing some lights on in the Chapel. I thought, I wonder, but I was headed out for a walk and I just took a left and kept on stepping. Sometime later, for the first time in forty-four years of congregational ministry, it occurred to me that I had forgotten Ash Wednesday. For the first time since I can remember, Lent began without my assent – I went to bed without washing off any smudges.
It occurs to me that I only did what we are prone to do as we live out our days. I forgot as we constantly forget. It is not that we don’t carry the marks of our mortality constantly, but nothing forces us to take notice. Though we may rarely be aware and probably have no mind of it most of the time, we are creatures. We have been created by another whether we are focused on that truth at any given moment or not. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. And sinners – we are sinners whether we have considered that reality or not. We live much of our lives having forgotten – not a day so much as the truth of our existences.
Lent offers a possibility to be intentional – an opportunity to take our lives off cruise control. It invites us to spend some time thinking about those truths in our beings that we regularly forget. Some years, I do better than others. Some years I have gotten down to the probing of who and why I am; other years, I have just let my busyness rule.
That is one of the aims when we choose something to “give up for Lent.” Those who have more expertise than I in this discipline might tell us that within the act of giving something up lies the opportunity to turn away from some bad habit (smoking) or even some sin (gossiping) . . . or doing without might in some very small way lead us to connect to Jesus’ suffering . . . or it may be an act of giving up something insignificant because we are called to something better. But for me, giving something up for a time – like any act of fasting – puts an ever-present reminder in our days. Giving up chocolate, for instance, may not move you one step closer to sainthood. But for forty days, every time you see a piece of fudge pie or a Hershey’s bar, every time someone offers you a brownie or a chocolate-iced doughnut, your obliviousness is cracked. Oh yes – a mortal creature . . . a sinful being . . . that is who I am. Wow.
It strikes me that if ever there was a year to forget Ash Wednesday, this is it. Keeping our distance . . . worship services shipwrecked . . . and enough other misery in the wake of the pandemic to keep us self-absorbed. If ever there was a year when the pain of the season could slide right past us, 2021 is probably the year.
Don’t let it happen. Do better than your minister did last year in the Windy City. On Ash Wednesday, we are going to do open a few stations in the sanctuary for some of us to pass through – you may have already read about it on the front page. We will be keeping our distance in both time and space that afternoon and evening, but still, we know this is not for all of us. And if your health makes it unwise for you to participate in person, just know that there are other, more private ways to enter into this season. Just do it. Find a way to remember the creature that you are.
Blessings and Peace,
What is the definition? A one-hundred-and fiftieth anniversary.
What is its part of speech? Adjective.
What is its language of origin? Latin.
Use “sesquicentennial” in a sentence? This year, First Christian Church will cele-brate its sesquicentennial anniversary.
Yes, in 2021, our congregation will be 150 years old. The hard date was Thurs-day evening, April 27th, 1871 when seventeen people met and signed the Charter through which First Christian Church came into existence. Two months later, a piece of property at the intersection of Goldsboro and Academy (now Vance) Streets was se-cured. The rest is history, though it is history that we will have ample time upon which to reflect this year. We will launch our formal celebration on Tuesday, April 27th, and a series of events will take us to the weekend of September 24th-26th, when we plan to blow the roof off this place.
Kathy Daughety has been leading a committee that started planning our celebra-tion. The group includes Doug Boone, Todd Brame, Casey Childers, Jeannette Ether-idge, Patsy Ferrell, Bob Kendall, Theresa Mathis, Cathy Mount, Linda Walling and me. Very soon, we will have some smaller groups working on some of the activities that will be part of the grand celebration, so there is a place for you as our work proceeds.
There will updates and promotional information every month, beginning here in January. But our work has already begun, and you can help. First, start helping us compile information about the church’s history – photographs, written materials, newspaper clippings . . . whatever you may have tucked away in your drawers, closets and scrapbooks. We need to assemble and document these resources soon. Second, we are trying to compile a list of people who will be interested in celebrating our Ses-quicentennial along with email or mailing addresses – former members and people who grew up in the church, those who married or had babies dedicated in our sanctu-aries, friends, relatives, former staff members and more. Our sesquicentennial is not just for us – it is for all of the people who have been part of or been impacted by the faith and witness of First Christian Church. So, start your rummaging, check you ad-dress files and let’s get to work.
Your first assignment: make sure you can spell “sesquicentennial.” It is going to be a huge word for us this year, and I don’t mean the number of letters it contains.
Blessings and Peace,
A few days ago, I ran into Katie Brinson as we were walking into Harris Teeter. She may have been trying to dart in and out quickly for something, but I brought her errand to a standstill. I peppered her with questions – how are you? . . . how is your family? . . . are you working at home? . . . and so forth. At one point, she looked at me and said, I see you every Sunday; I guess I forget that you haven’t seen me.
Well, I guess that is right.
So, it was wonderful to sit on the church lawn this past Monday and see folks I have come to love over the past nine years. To be close . . . as close as experts advise we should be. To hear their voices. We talked for 45 minutes or so about what these months have been like for each of us. A little irritation got shared . . . and a little frustration . . . and a little fear. All of that, I expected. Whatever church has been in this past half-year, it has not been what any of us want it to be. And there was a yearning to come together again . . . kind of. And we are moving in that direction, with Monday’s gathering as a good start. It was a manageable size – 19 people – and it was outdoors, and we maintained our distance. But it encouraged me that perhaps we can do more of the same in the next few weeks.
Staff is looking at getting together again soon to talk and listen . . . to share a devotion or some vespers . . . to begin again. Towards that end, let me update you on our progress toward resuming worship. (It seems that this is my only topic for Wanderings of late.) With delays in getting the equipment we have ordered delivered, along with the shifts in how community behavior is evolving, we have shifted our efforts from creating worship in the fellowship hall to resuming our worship in the sanctuary. Our first attempts to record worship in one take (over against our current piecemeal recording/editing approach) is scheduled to begin next week. When we feel confident that we can conduct and record a service in one continuous session and make in available on the Internet after minimal editing, we will move those recordings back to Sunday morning, hopefully by the middle of this month.
At that time, we can begin to consider having small groups of worshippers participate, as the state of the virus allows. Our target-date for resuming worship as usual (though no such “normal” will exist for some time, of course) is currently Nov 29th, the First Sunday of Advent. This timeline is built on using the equipment that we are currently using, which is essentially Charles Cauley’s cameras, tripods, and lights. When we begin running worship straight through, of course, we will have to stop moving cameras around the sanctuary.
Plus, when we shift back to Sundays, we will have to be able to turn around an edited version much faster than we can do that now so it can be made available almost immediately for those who will continue to view the service at home. When the equipment we have ordered does arrive, it will have to be tested, installed and integrated into our sanctuary worship structure. This is to say that the timeline I am laying out is flexible as it depends both upon elements we can control and elements we cannot control. I expect that we will begin to be able to worship soon, at least in small gatherings.
A whole other checklist of procedures will be instituted to keep us safe – cleaning, what will replace those items that require multiple touches (bulletins, communion trays, offering plates and such), flow and movement, marking pews to ensure distancing, and much more. I do know this: there is a hunger in me and in our staff and in the people who are sharing with me for that day when we will be together again – the church in body as we have been in spirit.
Let that day come, O Lord. Let that day come soon.
Blessings and Peace, Gary
Wanderings . . .
Sunday morning, my day began like this:
Linda: I can’t offer you a choice between good and bad news. The only news is bad.
Me: OK, hit me with the bad news.
Linda: Greenlight is out.
Me: Well Linda, it is not going to kill you to go without a Hallmark movie today.
Linda: Fine, wise guy, but how are you going to do the Zoom wedding without the internet.
Me: [XX – language not appropriate for decent Christian people – XX]
Okay, the backstory. Meagan Crowley and Kristen have been friends since elementary school, and our families have spent more than a few holidays together. A typical year was Easter at the Crowleys, Memorial Day at the Nezamzedahs July 4th at the Wallings. We repeated the schedule for Labor Day, and Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grace Loudenstein was usually there . . . the Phelps if they were in town . . . other families depending on travel plans. The key with this collection of families was the abundance of children roughly in the same age range. Anyway, the Linda and I have treasured Allen and Valerie as friends for 25 years.
So maybe 10 months ago, I get a phone call inquiring as to whether I would travel to Texas to preside over a wedding. March 29th. Yes, I would. And all was set until . . . well, you know. The Covid-19 thing – it has been in all the papers. Meagan and David rescheduled . . . for August 30th, because really, how long can a pandemic last? (Answer: longer than 154 days.)
So, my plans were to be in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this past weekend. Until a couple of weeks ago when I checked in to say that I was not liking the numbers I was seeing. They assured me that they understood and asked if I could help locate a minister in the D/FW metro area. I’ve been thinking, I said, what about a Zoom wedding. They bought it. I get to do it, distanced not 6 feet but like 6 states. And, after all, what could go wrong with an internet wedding? (Answer: well, now we know.)
Anyway, I finished getting dressed and went to the church. I worked with Greenlight to resolve the outage – their technicians worked madly, and I strummed my fingers. At some point, unbeknownst to my local internet provider, I gave up on them and set Plan B into motion. Plan B was taking my laptop to a different municipality and tapping into their internet. I called Morgan Daughety and inquired about using First Christian, Farmville’s internet. He agreed. (He agreed though I suspect he spent the rest of the day bemoaning the quality of friends he has acquired to this point in his life . . . who calls up someone on a lovely weekend morning to ask that you drop all of your plans so you can do what he wants you to do?.)
I end up in the Farmville FCC sanctuary, on Wi-Fi to an Internet connection linked to a video company out of Texas. We – meaning “they” – spent an hour troubleshooting a series of glitches while I stummed my fingers. The ceremony launched 32 minutes late. About 20 seconds into the processional, I realized that I could neither view nor hear the wedding venue. I was without sight and hearing. I spent the next 25 minutes estimating: Repeat after me, “I David take you Meagan to be my wife” . . . 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . . to be my wife . . . Too long a pause? Did I cut him off? Who knows? Anyway, I did what ministers are so adept at doing – I faked it. I bluffed. I acted like I knew what I was doing.
And this morning when I awoke, David and Meagan were married. And Greenlight was back on and Morgan was working on getting a higher class of friends. And like most days, I am in my office, still acting like I know what I’m doing.
Blessings and Peace,
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.