Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grade Report

The grading period is over. Grades have been averaged and here is the report. With twelve people responding, Rick Warren's inaugural prayer earned a D+, or a 1.6 on a 4.0 scale. Joseph Lowery’s inaugural prayer earned a B+, or a 3.4 on a 4.0 scale. I thank those who submitted grades and look forward to another interactive poll, whatever that might be.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hallowed Walls

Recently I attended a meeting of New York City Presbytery. The meeting was held in James Chapel at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For the record, I am a member of New York City Presbytery. I am not Union NY alum. The meeting was only the second time I had been on the campus of Union and in James Chapel.

Entrance to Union Theolgical Seminary, New York City

If walls hold memories and proclaim their stories, the walls of James Chapel hold a wealth of history and recount significant events in American intellectual, religious, theological and cultural life. Within the Chapel’s walls luminaries of American Protestantism such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich (one of my favorite Theologians) and Henry Van Dusen lectured, worshiped and preached. Could those in attendance at the January 27, 2009 Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of New York City in any way compare?
Presbytery of New York City Meeting

Among those addressing the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was the Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, the sixteenth president of Union Theological Seminary, and the first woman president in the Seminary's 172-year history. Dr. Jones spoke briefly on the contemporary significance of John Calvin and his theology, especially in light of 2009 being the 500 anniversary of his birth. In her comments, Dr. Jones noted the reemergence of classical Reformed theological themes traceable to Calvin during the most recent presidential campaign and inauguration, arguing that diverse voices such as Gene Robinson, Rick Warren, Joseph Lowery and Jeremiah Wright all owe a debt to Calvin. She also suggested that just as Calvin’s Geneva, swollen with immigrants, served as the center of Europe’s Reformation, contemporary New York City, also swollen with immigrants and their descendants, could become the center for an American Reformation. At least that is what I heard her say.
Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary

Dr. Jones was not the only shining light present in the room. Also present was the Reverend Dr. Donald Shriver, Jr., a member of New York City Presbytery. He was president of Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1975 to 1991. The University of Louisville recently named Dr. Shriver as the winner of the 2009 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, one of the most prestigious awards in religious academia. Shriver was honored for his 2005 book Honest Patriots: Loving a County Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds (Oxford University Press).

Dr. Donald Shiver, recipient of the 2009 Grawemeyer Award in Religion

Dr. Shiver and I both served small PC(USA) congregations in Gastonia, NC, though not during the same period. I first became aware of him while I was serving in Gastonia from 1986-1989 and learned of Spindles and Spires: A Re-Study of Religion and Social Change in Gastonia, which he co-authored with Dean D. Knudsen and John R. Earle in 1976. The “re-study” in the title is a reference to the fact that the book updates Liston Pope’s 1965 classic Millhands and Preachers: A Study of Gastonia.

Maybe some of those in attendance at the January 27, 2009 Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of New York City in some way compared. Time will tell. History will judge. Hallowed walls may indeed remember.

More of my photographs from the meeting can be viewed here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pool Session

What could be better on a cold winter’s day then to take a kayak into a pool and practice wet exits, bracing, self rescues and rolling, provided of course that pool is an inside Olympic sized pool with 80 degree water temperature? For the second winter in a row since the pool opened on February 29, 2008, the Sebago Canoe Club is sponsoring kayak pool sessions at the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center. The pool was built with the expectation that it would host water polo competition for the 2012 Olympic Games but London beat out New York as the host. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was home to the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair as well as the 1964/1965 World’s Fair. Practicing kayaking skills in such a venue adds to the experience.

The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park

I went to my first pool session intending to practice wet exits, to learn self rescues, and wearing mask and snorkel to take some underwater photographs of others practicing their skills. I had performed a wet exit before but wanted more practice. Wearing a spray skirt, a wet exit entails capsizing upside down into the water, pulling the spray skirt of the cockpit combing, slipping out of the kayak, and surfacing next to the kayak, paddle in hand.

Capsized Paddler

I had never before performed a self rescue so I worked on the technique first using a paddle float and then without using a paddle float. A self rescue is the techniques a paddler uses to get oneself back into the kayak after a wet exit. An inflatable or Styrofoam float is usually attached to one of the paddle blades. The paddle is then used as an outrigger to steady the kayak so that the paddler can re-enter the boat from deep water. I mastered the technique in one try and performed several more from both side of the kayak for practice.

Pete executing a roll

A self rescue without a paddle float is a little trickier than one with a float, even with a steady boat, and next to impossible with a tippy boat. Thankfully the kayak I was paddling was pretty steady and so I was able to also master self rescues without using a paddle float.

Stevie offers assistance

I spent the rest of my first pool session trying to learn how to roll. A roll is when a kayaker capsizes upside down into the water and rather than wet exiting combines paddle, boat and body movements to roll the kayak and oneself back into an upright position. I worked on the technique for about thirty minutes during my first pool session but even with some help and coaching from Pete was not able to successfully roll.

Rollling in the pool

I went to my second pool session intending to learn how to roll and to take some more underwater photographs. After warming up by practicing bracing and hip flicks I was ready to try to learn how to roll. Practicing in an Impex Montauk and using a wooden Greenland style paddle, I was once again patiently coached and assisted by Pete. My technique seemed to have improved since the previous session but I was still having a problem putting it all together. After about an hour I was ready for a break. I wet exited, took of my life vest, put on mask and snorkel, and photographed others practicing their skills.

On the water

With about twenty minutes left in our pool time, I asked Phil if I could practice in his Necky Chatam. A couple times I had paddled a polymer Chatam owned by the club and really liked it. Phil’s Chatam was a composite but the same design. I had discovered previously that when I paddle a boat after Phil that I do not have to adjust the foot braces, as we are about the same size, so I was able to quickly slip into Phil's Chatam.

Phil

Practicing in Phil’s kayak and once again using a Greenland style paddle, I was coached and assisted by Stevie. Since the Chatam fit better than the Montauk the practice seemed a little more fruitful. Stevie at first had me practicing a sculling brace with my shoulder, head and right arm in the water. Eventually I would practice capsizing and try to move into the sculling position. On one attempt, without thinking about it or realizing it, I rolled upright! I had executed a roll without intending to! Does that count as a success? Unfortunately I was not able to repeat the maneuver during the time remaining.

Will my third pool session be a charm?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thai Anniversary


One of the blessings I enjoy as Pastor of North Church Queens is the opportunity to interact with the Thai Community Church of New York: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which rents worship space from North Church. On Sunday, January 18, 2009 the Thai Community Church celebrated its 7th Anniversary. It held its first worship service on Sunday, January 6, 2002.

The Church’s Pastor, the Reverend Pongsak Sintumat (to the left in the photo), had invited me (to the right in the photo) to participate in the anniversary worship service by offering the Pastoral Prayer. After doing my best to offer a Thai welcome and congratulation I prayed in English. Worshippers welcomed my invitation to affirm the prayer with an audible “Amen”.

Helping to add to the festive atmosphere was the presence of the Royal Thai Consulate-General in New York Mr. Piriya Kemphon (center in the photo). Also present was New York City Presbytery’s liaison the Reverend Allen Thomson.

Worship was conducted mostly in Thai with a spattering of English. Music was a blend of traditional hymnody and praise choruses, some in Thai and some in English, accompanied by cassette tape, piano, electric guitar, and drum. Children, young adults, middle aged and elderly comprised the congregation. Leadership was shared by lay leaders and clergy.

Following worship we moved downstairs for a pot-luck Thai fellowship meal that rivaled any Thai restaurant. Mr. Kemphon cut an anniversary cake. Speeches were made. Gifts were given. Photographs from congregational events were projected onto a large screen.

Thais are known as happy, smiling people, and the Thai Community Church of New York is no exception. Their worship and fellowship exude joy. If I weren’t an American I might choose to be Thai.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grading Inaugural Prayers

The Reverend Rick Warren offered the invocation and the Reverend Joseph Lowery offered the benediction at yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s 44th President and the nation’s first President of color. Controversy over the selection of Warren has been well documented in the media. Not much press was given to the selection of Lowery.

If you watched or were present for the inauguration, imagine yourself a seminary Professor of Worship or Liturgy. You have assigned your students the task of composing and delivering a prayer for a presidential inauguration. If Lowery and Wilson were two of your students, what grade would you assign to their prayers?

Assign you grade at the top of the right hand column. The semester ends and grades are due by noon January 31, 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration of Change

The pre-Socratic Natural Philosophers struggled to understand apparent changes in nature. If they were living today, would they ponder the political and social changes marked in Washington this day.

Much has been made about Barack Obama being the nation’s first Black President. If I am not mistaken, he is our first President of color, any color other than white. With his inauguration the all white boys club of the American Presidency has been integrated. How long, however will it take for the now racially integrated all boys club to welcome its first woman? Will that woman be Hillary, Sarah, or another? When will it admit its first Native American, Hispanic, or Asian? When will it admit its first Jew or Muslim? When will it receive its first agnostic or atheist? When will it accept its first open homosexual?

Barack Obama might be our nation’s first Black President, but that is not what is bothering me about him. What is bothering me is that when he was inaugurated he became the first President of the United States younger than me! Ouch!

In May of 2008 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) elected the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow as moderator of the 218th General Assembly. The grandson of Filipino and Chinese immigrants, he represents the racial ethnic diversity the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is seeking to more fully attract and embrace. And he too, like Obama, is the first Moderator of the General Assembly that is younger than me. Ouch again.

Many years ago a member of a Pastor Nominating Committee that ended up calling me as their Pastor later told me that the PNC had initially been concerned about my youth, equating my youth with inexperience. He told me that he pointed out to the other members of the PNC that his Physician, Accountant, and Lawyer were all younger than he was, so why shouldn’t his Pastor be younger as well?

With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, much has changed. Unfortunately, part of that change is the recognition that I am aging. The pre-Socratic’s might be able to explain aging but they cannot stop it. President Obama might be able to reverse the many excesses of the former Bush Administration but he cannot reverse the aging process.


God bless President Obama and God Bless the United States of America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

In Memory of King

I was only ten years old when the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. I vaguely remember my sister, eight years older than me, running from her room where she had been listening to the radio, frantically announcing ”Martin Luther King has been shot!” At the time I had no idea who King was, why he would have been shot, or why it mattered so much to her.

Dion’s recording of Dick Holler’s Abraham, Martin and John lyrics later that year help me connect King to John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. While in high school and learning about the philosophy of non-violence, I first associated King with Mahatma Gandhi. In seminary I read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and thereafter also associated him with Henry David Thoreau and civil disobedience.

I am young enough to never have attended a segregated school but old enough to have seen the Klan, dressed in their white hooded robes, handing out racist literature on street corners in Dallas, NC. I am also old enough to remember the day when there existed side by side in North Carolina, Black Presbyteries (Regional Governing Bodies) and White Presbyteries, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would not begin to heal the wounds of the Civil War until 1983, and in North Carolina would not integrate its Presbyteries until 1989.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and most if not all American churches as well as our Nation has made great progress regarding civil rights but not nearly enough. The United States is about to inaugurate its first President of color but Sunday morning is still one of the most segregated hours in America. Towns and cities across our nation are still often marked by segregated neighborhoods. Even progressive Presbyterians in New York City are plagued by racism.

In many respects, King’s dream is still a dream. The civil rights movement may have dismantled legalized racism, but history has shown that it is much easier to change laws than hearts and minds. Tomorrow, maybe a few more minds and hearts will be won over by the power of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and justice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson – What’s in a Word?

I was on my way to a 5:30 PM meeting at 475 Riverside Drive, a.k.a. “The God Box” on New York’s upper west side. Just minutes from entering the subterranean world of the New York City subway system, I heard over my headphones that a commercial airline, having just taken off from LaGuardia, had come down in the Hudson. The earliest reports included accounts of passengers standing on the wings, so it was apparent not all passengers perished.

Radio and cell phone reception is nonexistent underground and it was not until an hour later, when I emerged from the subway, that I learned more about the breaking story. It was being reported that all the passengers and crew had been safely evacuated with only minor injuries and hypothermia.

At the God Box I talked with someone who worked on the 16th floor. She had not seen the plane as it descended but knew others who had. After seeing the plane flying low over the Hudson their first reaction was “Oh God no! Here we go again. What building is going to be hit this time?” 9-11 still haunts the minds and emotions of New Yorkers. When the plan passed and there was no explosion their fears subsided a bit.

Back home later in the evening I was watching television news coverage of the accident and heard Governor Patterson proclaim the event was “The miracle on the Hudson.” The phrase makes for nice PR, but was it true? Was it against the odds that all passengers and crew survived? Probably. Had the pilot demonstrated excellent skill, reflexes, and judgment in safely bringing the plane down in an urban area without any damage and death? Undoubtedly. Was it a miracle? If you define a miracle as anything contrary to the laws of nature, then this was no miracle.

Early news reports referred to the passengers as “victims”. As my wife opined, they were not “victims” but “survivors”, a nuanced difference she had learned to make from her Katrina recovery work.

Was this a plane crash? No. It might be called an emergency water landing.

Words have meanings and even in the aftermath of extraordinary events we ought to be careful about what words we use and how we use them to describe such events. Otherwise a sometimes apparently meaningless word will continue to seem meaningless.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jones Beach

My wife Vicki and I joined five other intrepid kayakers braving 37 degree water and 31 degree air temperatures, snow flurries, and an impending winter storm to kayak with harbor seals near Jones Beach State Park, NY this past Saturday. The trip was a Sebago Canoe Club trip organized and led by Tony and Walter. Other participants included Bonnie, Stevie and Jim.

Vicki on smooth as glass South Oyster Bay

We were immediately encouraged that our trip would not be in vain when from the put-in we spotted a harbor seal even before a single boat was in the water. Once all seven kayakers were waterborne and further out unto glassy smooth South Oyster Bay we found ourselves among ten or more harbor seals. At times it seemed that the seals actually encircled us and eventually came in among our group. They did not seem at all bashful but were cautious. For awhile the seals followed us as we paddled, occasionally diving as they approached about ten yards from a boat only to surface another ten yards on the other side.


Harbor seal following my kayak

As we kayaked among the seals I heard kayaker exclamations such as “awesome”, “”amazing”, and “magical”. I found the convergence of clear, glassy smooth cold water; still and brisk air; snow flurries; impending winter storm, nearly silent experienced kayakers, and harbor seals a somewhat transcendent experience. Here we were, human powered watercraft inherited from the Eskimos paddling among wildlife which summers in the Arctic but winters in the bays along Long Island. At the time it seemed life could not get much better than this.

Breaking for a snack and a stretch

Looking out toward the Atlantic from Jones Beach Inlet

From a more technical aspect, we put in around 11:20 AM and paddled until around 2:40 PM. We paddled about 7.2 miles round trip, heading toward the west toward Jones Beach Inlet, where we beached for a short food and stretch break before heading back. While all paddlers were wearing dry suits and some sort of neoprene foot wear, it seemed that by the end of the trip almost all the paddlers were complaining of cold feet.

Bonnie demonstrates her watertight dry suit

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism of the Lord

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2 NRSV)

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.” (Psalm29:3 NRSV)

Approximately 80% of Earth's surface is covered with water.

The human body is about 60% water in adult males and 55% in adult females.

People have been known to survive without food for weeks or even months, but go without water for even just one day and you can become physically incapacitated. Drinking a minimum of two quarts of clean water every day is the recommended minimum to maintain health and efficiency. In very hot or cold or very dry environments, or if you are physically active, two quarts of water a day may not be enough.

As far as we know, water is essential for life. It is essential for life to begin and it is essential for life to be maintained. This is the reason why exploration of the Moon and Mars has focused on the search for water in one form or another. Although it appears that life does not now exist on either Mars or the Moon, if evidence that water once existed there, that means that life could once have existed there. If enough recoverable and usable water is located, that means human colonies could be sustained.

“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” (Acts 19:4 NRSV)

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mark 1:9 NRSV)

An average bath requires 30-50 gallons of water. The average shower of four minutes with an old style shower head uses 20 gallons of water. I wonder, however, who showers for four minutes or less? I certainly do not. With a low-flow shower head, only 10 gallons of water is used. Until recent liturgical reform it was not uncommon for a Presbyterian Minister to use as much as three drops of water, or as little as a few wet fingers when baptizing.

The Didache, a late first century to early second century Christian writing, describes the procedure for baptizing as follows: “immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. If neither is practicable, then pour water three times on the head ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’”

Having been influenced by the liturgical reforms of the past few decades introduced by the publication of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Supplemental Liturgical Resources, I follow the rubric in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship to “pour or sprinkle water visibly and generously on the candidate's head” by using a large shell to pour the water. The shell is an ancient symbol of baptism and enables me to cup more water in my hand than my fingers along. Using the shell, I visibly and generously pour water on the candidates’ head, so much so that parents and sponsors as well as the candidate have been known to get wet.

God’s grace is so abundant and inexhaustible that I see no need to conserve or ration the waters of Baptism. Let us be generous and extravagant, as extravagant and generous as the God who created the heavens and the earth by sweeping over the face of the waters.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Synchronicity

Less than twenty-four hours after I stated blogging, the January/February 2009 issue of Presbyterians Today arrived in the mail. It contained a short article by Jody Harrington entitled “Best of the blogs: Blogging 101.” Jody is an elder at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, and past moderator of New Covenant presbytery. She writes the blog Quotidian Grace . That same day, Psalms Modern, a blog of Presbyterian Welcome, published a meditation I had earlier submitted to them. Was this a mere coincidence?

My interest in blogging, dare I say even my familiarity with it, was sparked by an article in the November 3, 2008 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook. The article quoted blogger Shawn Coons but did not give the name or location of his blog. I wanted to engage Shawn in a conversation so I initiated a search of the internet and discovered Shawn Coons Newish Blog. His links directed me to more blogs, which I also perused. I had entered the world of blogging for the first time and without realizing it apparently had become hooked.

Not long after first discovering the world of blogging the December 2, 2008 issue of The Christian Century arrived. The back cover featured information about the online magazine christiancentury.org, the blog of the Christian Century at theolog.org, and Century community of bloggers at ccblogs.org. I looked at some of the blogs at ccblogs.org and was impressed.

I sent an email to CC requesting more details about CC hosting my blog and hosting a domain name at no cost. CC responded that there had been a slight change to policy regarding hosting and domains, that CC would do this but only for established bloggers. CC suggested I start a blog at blogger or wordpress or anywhere, blog for a time, and get back to them.

After looking at both blogger and wordpress I chose blogger because it was free and I already had a Google account. I started my blog Monday evening, January 5, 2009. The following day’s mail delivery included the most recent issue of Presbyterians Today which ran the article about blogging. That same day Psalms Modern, a blog of Presbyterian Welcome, published a meditation I had earlier submitted to them.

The article in PT is the first in an ongoing column promising to “highlight blogs of particular interest to readers of Presbyterian Today.” This leaves me wondering if my blog will earn being mentioned. Maybe grace will prevail and it will be mentioned even if it does not deserve to be.

Was it coincidence that within the time frame of a month I read about and discovered Shawn Coons Newish Blog, started reading other blogs, saw the back cover of CC about blogs, started my own blog, received the most recent issue of PT with the first article in a new column about blogging, and had a meditation published on another blog?

Generally speaking, I am a Jungian. I am also an Intuitive on the MBTI. I see connections others do not normally see and invent them were there are none. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes, well. There are coincidences and there are coincidences. When the same word, symbol, sign, emotion, or thought seems to be manifesting itself in numerous and generally unrelated events and mediums, pay attention! You might end up starting a blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bumper Sticker-less Evangelism

(The following was recently published on Presbyterian Welcome’s weekly devotional blog called “Psalms Modern”. It has beens lightly edited for posting here.)

By the early 1980’s the Presbyterian Church had been declining in membership for years. Thinking that I would need a theological grounding in and programmatic familiarity with Evangelism in my ministry, I enrolled in Richard Stoll Armstrong’s “Service Evangelism” class at Princeton Seminary. I was one of only a few students to enroll in the course, a course which was one of the few Evangelism offerings. A few years later and early in my ordained ministry I participated in the Evangelism Consultant Service Training which was part of the PC(USA)’s old New Day Dawning Evangelism Program. Energized and informed by my training, I led the church I served in a “Friend Maker for God” visitation evangelism program and consulted with another congregation to help them think about and plan for evangelism.

A few years later the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) produced a vinyl peel-n-stick bumper sticker. In bold white letters on a deep Presbyterian blue background it proclaimed “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” on the top half and “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” on the bottom half. I have never thought of myself inclined toward “bumper sticker theology” but as the proud Pastor of an open-hearted and open-minded congregation that was one of the fastest growing congregations in the presbytery at that time, I put that bumper sticker on the bumper of my car because I thought it was true. It was my own subtle form of evangelism.

All that changed the day the presbytery of which I was a member voted to send a form of G-6.0106.b to the General Assembly for approval. After hearing vitriolic and misinformed arguments for why we needed such a constitutional provision, and unable to believe that we had actually approved the overture (I officially dissented), I peeled that “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” bumper sticker off my car’s bumper because I no longer believed it was true. I was no longer proud to be a Presbyterian. I could longer engage in ministries of evangelism with passion because while I still believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life that will set us free, I no longer believed that the Presbyterian Church knew such a Jesus.

Over ten years later I am still waiting for us to once again be an “Open-Hearted Open-Minded” church.

How long, O Lord, How long?
How long must we wait for justice?
How long must we wait to once again be proud Presbyterians?
How long must we wait to evangelize in good conscience?
How long must we wait to put bumper stickers back on our cars?
How Long?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The More Things Change – The More They Stay the Same

I recently relocated to the New York City borough of Queens after nineteen years of ministry in West Virginia. West Virginia, with a population of 1.8 million, 94.9% white, is the fourth least ethnically diverse state in the country. Only Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are whiter. As an example of this lack of ethnic diversity, the touch screen ATM at my former bank in West Virginia offered two languages, English and Spanish.

Queen’s County, with a population of 2.3 million, has long been listed by demographers as the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. 31.3% of Queens’s population is white, 20.9 is Black, 26.5 is Hispanic, and 21.3 is Asian. 46.13% of the Queens population is foreign born. 53.64% of the Queens population speaks a language other than English. The touch screen ATM at my Queens neighborhood bank illustrates this diversity. It offers ten languages; English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Russian, Greek, Portuguese and Polish. The Chinese restaurant around the corner from our home offers its menu in English and Polish. The Roman Catholic Church in the neighborhood offers Mass in English and Italian. My wife’s church, in whose manse we live, rents its worship space to a Romanian Orthodox Church, most of whose members speak very little English. This extraordinary breadth of diversity in the racial, religious, and nationality backgrounds of Queens provides an exciting environment in which to work and worship.

In West Virginia I served four small churches ranging in size from 46 to 160 members and in two different presbyteries over nineteen years. My shortest service was a 13 month Interim. My longest was a ten year pastorate. From all those churches, consisting of over four hundred members, I can recall one member born in Spain, one in France, and one in England. As far as I knew, all the rest had been born in the United States. Many were from families that had been in the United States and in West Virginia for generations.

In the 38 member Queens church I now serve as half-time designated pastor; one member was born in Spain, and two in the Philippines. Our one member born in England recently died. Of the non members regularly or occasionally worshiping with us, one was born in Russia, one in Italy, and one in the Philippines. Many of the American born members and other worshippers are first or second generation Americans, their parents or grandparents having emigrated from various European and Pacific Rim countries. In addition to our own ethnic diversity, we lease worship space to a Korean speaking congregation and a developing Thai speaking Fellowship.

West Virginia and Shenandoah Presbyteries, two of the three presbyteries with churches in West Virginia, both of which I served in, are as equally white as West Virginia. Shenandoah Presbytery has no racial ethnic churches. West Virginia has one, a small Black congregation. All the churches in both presbyteries worship in English.

New York City Presbytery has no racial ethnic majority. While Whites are the most numerous, whites make up less than half the presbytery’s membership. Many of the presbytery’s churches are ethnically diverse. Congregations worship in Éwé, French, Urdu, Hindi-Punjabi, Korean, Arabic and Thai (just to name a few) in addition to English.

By most comparisons, ministry in a small church in Queens ought to be extremely contextually different than ministry in a small church in West Virginia. Surprisingly, however, there are many similarities. Small churches in both Queens as well as West Virginia face financial, membership and staffing challenges. Membership in both contexts is generally growing older. Sharing the good news of the Gospel with a younger generation is a primary challenge. Members in both contexts become ill, are hospitalized, and need visited. Sermons, session meetings, and special services demand a pastor’s attention in both settings. Because of the limited number of people available in a small church to attend to the “necessary” tasks, active members often balance numerous church responsibilities and are overloaded and overworked, which leads to burnout.

The context of small church ministry in West Virginia is very different than the context of small church ministry in Queens. Nevertheless, many of the challenges remain the same. Yep, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monday, January 5, 2009

ex nihilo


In the beginning, God created by speaking, and from nothing came the cosmos. Godlike, I write and this blog, my first, comes into being. Whether one uses a chisel to carve hieroglyphics into stone, an ink pen to write words onto paper, or a computer keyboard to organize electrons in cyberspace which appear on screens as characters recognizable as words, authors create a world of their own in and of words. Readers enter into that world and in a blog, through reflection and feedback, help shape and create that world.

"Summit to Shore" is a multi-valiant reference to two of my loves, mountaineering and sea kayaking, the fact that I grew up in the mountains of Appalachia but now live on Long Island, NY, and Jesus' ministry which encompassed the shore along Lake Galilee and the summit of Mount Tabor, not to mention the summit of Calvary. Summit to shore seems to cover the full geographical lay of the land, so to speak, as everything else falls between, beneath, or above.

Shores and summits are liminal places where elements meet and mix, where the veil between worlds and realities can often be very thin and one’s awareness of the divine can be heightened. At least that is how I have experienced such places.

My hope and prayer is that through this blog I might create a world in which to share my Philosophical and Theological thoughts, reflections, musing and opinions from a progressive perspective, and that readers might by chance, upon entering this world, catch a glimpse of something higher, deeper and more transcendent.