Flashback: Extracurriculars

Flashback Friday buttonPrompt: What type of extra-curricular school activities did you participate in during your school days? Clubs? Spelling bees or other contests? Cheerleader or drill team? Sports? Journalism? Choir or theater? …

I was one of the “big kids” in a big homeschooling family, and when I was in the “extracurricular” phase, Mom had babies–and then preschoolers–and then elementary-schoolers.

My extracurriculars in elementary school involved…well, I’m not sure I had extracurriculars in elementary school. We belonged to a small church and with Mom being busy with babies, there wasn’t a lot of extra.

When I was a fifth or sixth grader, our church closed its doors and most of the parishioners went to another, larger church. Me and my older sister began attending the weekly “Missionettes” girls group there.

After I completed the Missionettes program as a seventh grader, I chose to volunteer as a “helper” in a Missionettes classroom. I helped in the kindergarten-aged “Daisies” classroom for five or six weeks before the teacher had some difficulties arise and had to quit.

I became the teacher of six to eight kindergarten girls. And I loved it.

I continued as a Missionettes sponsor through my senior year of highschool–and I absolutely adored it. I worked with every age-group of girls over the course of my sponsoring “career”, and was delighted to lead them through a variety of badges–and life experiences.

My other extracurriculars were along a similar vein. I volunteered in the church nursery. I taught Sunday school for a stint. I ran the PowerPoint projection system at church. I played the tambourine when called upon to do so.

In my last couple of years of high school, I developed a passion for discipleship and began meeting with a younger girl to study the Bible together. We met weekly for almost four years–and now I’m pleased to have her as a sister-in-law!

So I don’t have much by way of “extracurriculars”. I was in our church’s youth group and served on our “youth council.” And I volunteered. Apart from that, I read, I rode my bicycle, I walked all over town, I made paper, I wrote.

I didn’t have the traditional high school experience, I know. But I don’t feel deprived. I chose what I wanted to do and took great pleasure in what I did. I wouldn’t trade it for all the clubs and activities in the world.

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A Little Country Church

Yesterday, I attended the morning worship service at the little country church my mother grew up in.

A cousin hands us the program before we file in to the back row, where a shortened pew leaves room for Grandpa’s wheelchair. We open our programs and find the hymns in the hymnal. An older parishioner realizes that the hymn board still lists last week’s hymns. He corrects the board as I idly wonder why Virginia has not yet taken her place at the organ.

My cousin and another man act as the accolytes, and we wait for the pastor to appear. When the vacancy pastor emerges from the back room, my unasked question receives an answer. Virginia is gone, so we’ll be singing with a CD recording.

We sit for the opening hymn and the pastor cues up the CD player with a little remote. As strains of an organ diffuse through the building, I sing unfamiliar words to a familiar tune, played with unfamiliarly correct timing. The timing throws off more than just I and we lose ourselves a couple of times.

Nonetheless, the service flows smoothly enough. The new hymnal throws me off a few times. You’d think that I’d be more flexible than I am. After all, I only worship with a liturgy when I’m here at St. Paul Venus. I am only familiar enough with the liturgy to be distressed when something changes–it throws me off when the words I’m reading don’t jibe with the words my head thinks they should be speaking. It’s the little things that throw me off–a “You” where I remember a “Thee”.

When the service ends, we make our way to the narthex. The men open both doors to get Grandpa’s wheelchair through, then circle at the bottom of the steps to discuss whatever they do. We women bunch up in the narthex, exchanging greetings. One woman says she remembers my older sister from Bible study, but Grandma’s pretty sure she’s actually remembering me. I vaguely remember being rather talkative at an after-church Bible study during one visit.

I remember us kids swinging on the rail along the front steps. We’d play on the green indoor-outdoor carpeting until one of the ladies told us they had Sunday school ready for us. So we trooped down to the basement for Sunday school. At first, there were other kids; but by my later elementary years, we were the only kids in Sunday school. Whoever was in charge of Sunday school had something ready in case some kids showed up, but children were few and far between. I no longer fill the “kid” category–and Marlene and Richard were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with donuts in the basement–so there wasn’t any Sunday school following our service.

St. Paul Venus celebrated 95 years this spring. 95 years of baptizing babies, confirming young eighth graders, sending graduates off to school. 95 years of returning children, new grandchildren, great-grandchildren home on holidays. St. Paul reflects the neighborhood–aging, dwindling, reluctantly changing as necessity demands.

It’s a wonder the St. Paul Venus congregation still exists. In a rural community where most of the parishioners are retirees–or would be if they could afford to retire–there’s hardly the money to support a pastor. In fact, it’s been years since St. Paul has been able to pay a pastor’s salary. A nearby parish shares its pastor for an hour and a half every Sunday morning. Tithes pay for heating and electricity.

I don’t know how much longer this little country church will stand. Venus, Nebraska is little more than a historical postscript. Who knows how much longer before St. Paul follows the town.

I can’t help but feel melancholy as I think of this little church someday being forgotten. For when it is forgotten, so will a great deal of my history and my family’s history. St. Paul Venus features prominently in the stories of my past.

Grandpa’s favorite story is of looking at a cute young Carol Pierce on the Sunday school bench. They were both preschoolers, but Grandpa says he looked over at her one week and thought “My, that Carol Pierce is awful pretty. When I grow up, she’s gonna be my girlfriend.” The next week, he looked over and thought a variation on his first thought: “My, that Carol Pierce is awful pretty. When I grow up, she’s gonna be my wife!” And sure enough, when they were grown, Carol Pierce became his wife.

They were married in the very church where at least fifteen years prior Ronald Cook had decided he would like to marry Carol Pierce. They baptized each of their twelve children in this same church–and saw them confirmed there. At least two of their daughters were married at St. Paul, and a few grandchildren were baptized there as well. When Grandma and Grandpa’s progeny expanded to no longer fit within their home, they moved family gatherings to the church.

I remember playing games in the church basement before moving upstairs to sing hymns around the organ or Aunt Nellie’s electric piano. We all rifled through the hymnals, searching for our favorites, while the kids threw out suggestion after suggestion. There wasn’t a dry eye in our familial congregation when Grandpa asked for his favorites: “In the Garden” or “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand”.

I remember Grandpa standing up to tell his stories after dinner. He’d tell us the story of Grandma and him on the Sunday school bench, and the story of the man who encouraged him and Grandma to “Be fruitful and increase”. He’d tell of how proud he is of his sons-in-law–he feels that they take more after his father-in-law than him.

And I remember the slide show Aunt Martha put together for their wedding anniversary celebration one year. We were watching it in the church basement when a reproduction of a the postcard he sent Grandma from Korea came onto the screen. “Turn it over,” Grandpa yelled. Sure enough, the next slide showed the back of the card–Grandpa was coming home. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one crying. He made it back safely after his time on the front lines in Korea–back to his bride.

My memories of the little country church are only the beginning of the histories that building could tell. The photo albums I perused yesterday held few familiar faces–but I could recognize St. Paul Venus in the background, telling the stories of the generations before.

St. Paul Venus

Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church

Church was nice. We were at Kernan Blvd Baptist Church. The people seemed friendly, although somewhat old. I met a nice older couple named Gloria and Charles. They weren’t members of the church since they actually are just in Jacksonville for a while as Charles is awaiting a medical procedure. But they were quite nice. I got a hug from another older woman who seemed to be in her early seventies. She said she doesn’t believe in handshakes. I don’t think she gave me her name though.

Our group goes to church with Clint’s group–Bryce, Jared, and Patrick. They are the same group we had our date with on Friday night. It was kind of neat to spend a bit more time with them between the service and lunch afterward. One of the guys said that he shook the hand of the person next to him no less than 3 times. Wow! I was glad to have been sitting on the end, with only one person I knew beside me. That enabled me to get to know the people I didn’t know better. Hence meeting Gloria and Charles.

An interesting note about Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church is that their statement of faith proclaims that they “DO NOT BELIEVE THAT SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS SCRIPTURALLY ACCEPTABLE FOR OUR DAY AND DO NOT PRACTICE OR TEACH IT.” (Their emphasis.) I’ve seen a lot of churches and para-church organizations that “don’t talk about what they don’t talk about”, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen the fully ANTI position laid out in a statement of faith. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to stay a bit quiet to avoid getting kicked out! Just kidding. I’m sure they wouldn’t kick me out, but I don’t doubt they’d be praying hard for my salvation!

They have a orchestra concert for their Sunday night service tonight so Amy and I are going to check it out while Veronica attends mass. Perhaps some other week we can join her for mass–which is in English, you know, due to the decision of the second Vatican Council to affirm proclaiming the word in the vernacular.

The Church–past, present, and future

As I look at the variety of books on church growth, church organizational patterns, church trends, and church management, I see an unsettling trend. Either the book is focused on maintaining the past–reliving the traditions and experiences of the past–or it is focused on continuing what is currently working–maintaining forever today’s models–or it is focused on pressing past everything that we have known to find an entirely new way of thinking. You may ask, “Well, doesn’t that cover all the bases? One of them should be right.” But my fear is that in the press of conversation about the church, we lose balance.

A church that is focused on the past cannot be a living church. Instead, it is a re-living church.

Just as a person with Alzheimer’s can waste away while reliving the experiences of the past, a church that focuses on reliving the past will die. This church may be living off of fat stores for the present, but it does nothing to ensure for itself a future. This church will die.

The church that is focused on the present is a selfish church. It is the narcissist church that insists upon forever maintaining itself as the star–not realizing that as the context changes, it must change to be effective. This church is forever keeping up with itself–never looking forward with dreams, never looking backward to correct mistakes. It is rudderless–directionless. This church will fail.

The church that is focused on the future is a pointless church. In its quest to be church of the future, its only definition is in rejecting past and present. This church dreams but does not accomplish, plans
but never executes. How can it, when the moment the future arrives it becomes nothing more than the present, and swiftly the past? This church is anchorless–having nothing to keep it from being blown about by every wind and wave.

What then should the church look like? How does a church avoid these pitfalls?

One of the most common injunctions throughout the Scriptures is to remember. Exodus 13:3 gives a stirring command to remember: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place.” In Exodus 20, the people were told to “remember
the Sabbath.” Throughout Deuteronomy, the injunction to remember brought with it both a warning and an encouragement. Remember God’s judgment and fear. Remember God’s mercy and obey. Remember what God has spoken. Remember God’s greatness. In the New Testament, we are told to remember Christ’s words. We are given the rite of Communion “in remembrance” of Christ. The church can not and must not disobey what is so obviously a part of the Christian life: Remembering the Past.

Paul’s life and letters clearly demonstrate the importance of the church being within the present. Paul’s epistles were not so much letters of remembrance or letters of vision casting than letters grounded in the current events of the church. Paul was busy dealing with the contemporary needs of the church–II Corinthians 8 refers to the physical needs of the church in Jerusalem and how the Corinthian church was going about meeting them. Galatians
addresses the immediate theological needs of the church of Galatia. The words of Christ also portray this present tense activity of the church. The teaching of Christ is not merely stories of the past nor prophecy of the future. Christ commanded concerning the present. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “When you bring your gift to the altar…” “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” These are not injunctions of the past, nor dreams for the future. This is a present day command. The church can not and must not stray from what is so obviously a part of the Christian life: Being relevant in the Present.

One cannot read the Bible without gaining an overwhelming sense of the future. The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation put shivers down spines, but even without getting into “end time theology”, the future is an integral part of Scripture. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is directed not only at the current believers, but at those who would come. The Great Commission, while being a present command, conveys a heady promise of the future. “And Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Paul preached of the greatness of the inheritance that will be revealed. Romans 8:23-25 says, “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for
it with perseverance.” The church can not and must not fail to possess what is so obviously a part of the Christian life: Hope for the Future.

As a church, we must press past a time frame or a verb tense. We must refrain from arguing opinion. We must lay aside the idea that progress comes by throwing out the old, or that continuing the old is progress. We must recognize the value of God’s progression of history–how the past shapes our present, which in turn shapes the future. We must recognize our role as facilitators of the narrative of God’s story. We are not the author of the story, we are merely participants in a chapter of the story. We cannot break out of the narrative to begin a new story. No, we must take the chapter we
have been given and continue the story on.

On revival, renewal, and reformation

There was a day in the life of my church when we talked about revival, renewal, and reformation a lot. Now that day seems like only a memory. We ached for revival–the refilling of old wineskins, the refueling of empty lamps, the reenergizing of old and weary Christians. We longed for renewal–when new wine would be poured into new wineskins, when new bodies would be exchanged for old. We prayed for reformation–when the old would be put away with for good and we would be victorious forever. We saw that something was wrong with where we were and we desired that God would move us from where we were.

Somehow, though, we lost that yearning for a move of God. As church size dwindled, we started to look for church growth strategies. Lost in a mire of books and problems, we asked ourselves not “where is God?” but “Where are the people?” We forgot that where God is, He grows. And church size continued to decline. We were in maintenance mode and no one knew it. Maintaining the nursery, maintaining Sunday School, maintaining the youth group. We were maintaining much as a Nurse readjusts a barely living person in there hospital bed in a desperate, last ditch attempt against bed sores. But it hasn’t helped. The programs may still be holding on by a thread, but the church within is practically dead.

Somewhere, in the midst of our trials, we forgot to hope in God. We forgot that the one who began a work in us has promised to be faithful to complete it. We got busy trying to do God’s job. And we failed miserably. Instead of joining God in what He’s doing, we decided to think something up and ask God to join us. Instead
of asking for direction, we started looking behind us, asking Him to clear up our mistakes. We lost the sense of God, and we stagnated. We shunned the Holy Spirit, and we are dying. We tried to save on our own and have found nothing but bondage.

What has happened to the God who does miracles? What has happened to the God who speaks to His people? What has happened to the God who changes lives? Nothing has happened to God. It is only that the church has failed to reflect Him.

I was a young teen during those days of longing for revival, renewal, reformation. I was overwhelmed by the story of Moses on the mountaintop, who after seeing the glory of God, came away with a shining face. His face was so bright that they had to stick a veil over it so that it did not hurt the eyes of the Israelites. I wanted so badly to have an encounter with God that would leave me blinding. I wanted an encounter that would make everyone around me know that I had met God. I still think that kind of encounter would be cool, but I gave up hoping that it would happen. II Corinthians 3:18 reminds us of this encounter and points us forward, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we look at God, we are changed into His likeness. We are transformed to be more like Him. And our faces are not veiled–we are a shining example of Christ’s likeness. Why is it then that when I walk into church, no one has a glowing face? Why do not more lives show the transforming power of Christ?

Perhaps it is because we fail to behold the glory of the Lord. To walk into our churches, could anyone tell that a powerful, living God dwells therein? The cares and worries that overwhelm the church clutter the power of God. The multitude of our words clamour above the still small voice that speaks a Living Word. Our prayers are not accessing an all powerful God. Instead they exhort a weak man. But what are our words, what are our cares, what are our prayers if God is not our Life? We are pointless, dead, dying, irrelevant.

Lord, awaken in Your church a hunger for Your face. Teach us to desire Your presence, to long for Your voice. Help us to seek Your presence, and the transformation that only You can bring. Let us grow tired of man’s answers, and instead let us thirst for Your voice. We don’t need a new program. We don’t need a new solution. We don’t need more people. We need You. Teach us to desire You with all our hearts.

The beauty of the church

I know, I know. I didn’t actually post this on the 20th. But I wrote it then with the intention of posting it. That’s got to count for something.

Walking through campus today, I saw two young boys following their dad, looking about with amazement at the wonders of a college campus. I was struck by the amazing way God put this world together.

A college campus is a fun place to be. Students walking about, milling, talking. Parties and concerts and benefit bashes. Gatherings, projects, classes. But the college campus isn’t complete. It’s too homogeneous to be so.

The majority of college students are single, childless people in their late teens or early twenties. There is very little variation. It’s understandable that a college campus should be so; but if
college is the extent of your relationships and involvement, you are missing out.

I think the same thing when I visit nursing homes. There’s something missing here. It’s too homogeneous. Yes, there are younger workers in addition to the older residents, but just like professors and students on a university campus, they are separated. They belong to different classes, different positions, and very few meaningful relationships are formed across these barriers.

This is one of the reasons that I so love the church. Church is a family affair. It encompasses a wide variety of ages and roles. Everyone has their “position” but this does not limit their relationships.
Elders hang out with those who clean the church building, teachers with pray-ers. Young children relate to retired members and young adults to 40 somethings.

Go onto any college campus and observe the modes of teaching and learning–lectures, projects, papers, reading, discussion. But the teaching method most universities lack is relationship. Life on life.
Discipleship. This is a great strength of the church. Walk into any nursing home and you will see a variety of ways the nurses and service staff help their patients. But the serving method many nursing homes lack is relationship. Life on life. Iron sharpens iron. Listening and encouraging. Serving out of relationship. This is a great strength of the church.

You see, friendships within the college campus are good. There’s nothing wrong with having relationships with people who are the same as you–going through the same life experiences. But if your only relationships are with a group of people homogeneous with yourself, you miss something powerful.

If you aren’t already connected with a local church, I encourage you to do so. And don’t just get involved with their college groups–get to know the families: children and parents; introduce yourself to the young couples; become friends with those who are “older and wiser.” Take the opportunity to experience the power of the church through relationship.