An Announcement

I had almost forgotten to make this announcement, because I was waiting until the folks at First Lutheran and Prince of Peace in Tulsa knew about it. But the letter is out, and the news is even “FBO” (Facebook Official): My family and I are about to become Floridians!

Bokeeelia, Florida

The good people of Christ Lutheran in Cape Coral, FL have extended me a call in their community, and I have accepted! This has been in the works for approximately two months now, and I won’t bore you with the whole story, much of which involved paperwork, telephone conversations, and Zoom meetings. (I won’t complain. The magic of Zoom is that it allows a speedier and much less costly Call process, if it’s conducted well. This one certainly was.)

It also included two trips down to Cape Coral. The first of which took place during the hideous snow storm we had here in Tulsa. When we left for the airport on the way to RSW airport, we faced freezing drizzle. By the time we were meant to return via St. Louis, TUL and OKC and even Dallas were frozen in, and so we were “stuck” in sunny Southwest Florida for several days, tortured repeatedly by beautiful weather, wining and dining by various council members, hospitality in multiple ways by others, and many sightings of Burrowing Owls and other gorgeous birds. It was awful. You would have hated it. Oh, and the seafood? It was fresh and delicious. Just so awful, you guys.

The second trip was similar, weather-wise, but we didn’t get to spend any extra time in Florida. That trip was a bit more business: meeting the rest of the congregation, locating a realtor, doing a little cruising in a borrowed Mini-Cooper and eating more seafood. (Somebody’s got to do it, and I guess we’ll take one for the team.)

In any case, things went well, obviously, and we begin our adventures together beginning on May 1. In the meantime, we’ve had to get home, endure a bit of waiting until the vote became official, informing the people here in Tulsa, starting to straighten up our home in preparation for placing it on the market. Did I mention that all of this is happening in the final weeks of Lent?

It has been crazy busy on both ends of this. The poor people back in Cape Coral have been jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops and ringing the bells in order to get my installation service set up at the same time that they’re planning their own congregation’s 60 year anniversary. It’s an interesting time, and our family is super excited to get down there.

At the same time, it’s hard saying goodbye to the place we’ve called home for the last eight years. We’ve met a lot of really great people here and have formed some friendships that are going to be hard to change by adding distance to the equation. People at church, people in the neighborhood, people at the kids’ school, people around town. It’s a bitter-sweet time, to be sure.

And hard work. Just did a two-day-long garage sale in which we got rid of most of the bulky furniture items that we don’t intend to drag with us, plus lots and lots (and lots!) of accumulated Schtuff from projects that now belong to the past. That, in itself, is hard to let go of.

All of this reminds me of the time when we were finishing seminary and were anxious about our first call. In addition to the school work, we had mobility paperwork to fill out, regional assignments to wait on, and after the regional assignments, synod assignments. Finally came the interviewing process with specific congregations.

During that time, we chose a kind of biblical metaphor to guide us as we waited. While we watched countless classmates getting calls from their bishops, we had to wait on ours. As we watched them getting interviews and first call placements, we had to wait on ours. The most fitting biblical narrative for us seemed to be “Wilderness Wandering.” We had to learn to trust. “Trust the process” was the catch-phrase, but even then I thought that was ridiculous. I did NOT trust the process. But we did trust God.

Eventually we got tired of waiting, watching a new class coming in for Summer Greek classes and then witnessing the fall semester begin. So we chose a new biblical metaphor: “Abram, Go.” We decided to pack up and move to Oklahoma, whether that would be our ultimate destination or not.
We weren’t in OK for more than a couple weeks before we got an interview at First Lutheran, and that’s where we landed. And it turned out pretty well, I dare say.

This move to Florida is out of character for this guy, who was really missing the Midwest, but it was also clear that we couldn’t stay in Tulsa any longer. I think the proper metaphor for this time, considering that we weren’t financially ready for this move and that we had to trust that things will fall into place SOMEhow is simply this: “God Provides.”

We are all grateful for our time in Tulsa. We are also grateful for the opportunity in front of us. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and we are humbled by all of it.

Stay tuned here for more adventures. Who knows what God (as one of our new friends says, “The Spooky Spirit”) has in store for Christ Lutheran and us? We sure don’t know, but we’re confident that God Provides, and we will do our best to serve faithfully among these folks, who have already shown us such love and support. I think it’s gonna be great!

What’s in a Name?

Not long ago, I was chatting with some friends about names, and the topic is back on my mind. It’s really interesting to me to think about names as a label that get attached to a person long before they develop a suitable label. Most likely, that’s why there are naming traditions in families: it’s just easier to call a child after a relative who had that name before. It honors the person a child is named for, and it can also have a hand in shaping the kind of person the child becomes, but you can’t just look at a baby and say, “That one looks like a Brunhilda.” Or a Ralph. Or pretty much anything else. Nope. “We’re naming her after her great-great grandmother on her father’s side.” And there you go. Nothing to do with any innate quality in the child. It’s just kind of random.

And then sometimes there’s a story. My parents named me Robert Paul, but that wasn’t my mom’s first choice. She wanted me to be a John, Jr. My father, on the other hand, hated his name because of its bathroom connotations. Apparently he was famous for responding to people who announced they were going to the John, “Well, I hope you wipe your Mary while you’re in there.” He told my mom that if she insisted on calling me John, Jr., he’d refer to me as Little Toilet.

So they named me after Robert Wilde, my mom’s father, and Paul Martin, my dad’s father. Both of them died before I was born, and neither of them were really talked about much when I was little, so I have zero associations with either of them. Maybe that’s why my name never really felt like it fit. Other people don’t seem to have this issue. Tims and Julies and even Heathers really seem to just kind of go with what names they were given and don’t appear to think twice about it. Must be nice.

I’ve really never associated well with my name. My family always called me Robby, which I pretty much despised. It was so bad that I once tried to sneakily change my name to Rocky. When I met new friends, that’s who I’d tell them I was. Most likely Balboa was in my mind when I came up with that one. Anyway, my mom dashed that almost instantly, and I was back to Robby. But I never was a Bob or a Robert. (Well, I take that back. When I lived in Germany or among Germans, they used to call me Robert – with the German pronunciation – because “Rob” was weird for them.)

Among some of my friends, because they know other Robs, presumably, I’m “RobMartin.” Just one word. For a few others, they occasionally call me “Robert Martin” (pronounced RAW-butt MAH-tin) after the character in Jane Austin’s Emma. (He is not a gentleman, so Emma doesn’t fall for him, but her little sister eventually does. Things end fairly well for him in the novel. Yay, Robert Martin!)

But in any case, names ARE labels that get attached to us, for good or for ill. I always kind of liked how some cultures normalize taking on a new name -maybe a chosen one, maybe one related to one’s character – once they reach a certain age. But even there, I’m not quite sure what mine would be. Complains-a-Lot? Tubby Belly? Facial Hair Guy? Mr. Neurotic? I dunno.

In college, one of my friends told me that Lopaka was the Hawai’ian pronunciation of Robert, so she called me that for a while. It never stuck long-term, but I didn’t mind it. In Irish, the equivalent of Robert is Roibeárd (pronounced Ruh-BARD). Looks cool; sounds weird. In both cases, it stems from Proto-High German and means something like “Bright Fame.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. The Hebrew version of that is זֹהַר (Zohar). Pastor Zohar? Maybe. Apparently Boris is a Bulgarian relative of “Bob.” I kind of like Boris actually. Pastor Boris has a certain sinister Hollywood creep film kind of ring to it.

What about you? If your parents hadn’t given you the name you currently have, what would you choose for yourself? Why that? Interesting to think about.



In-person Worship Dry Run

Hi, friends!

Well, today we had our first in-person worship experience since Reformation Sunday. Had about 24 or so in attendance, and that was pretty nice. Had one guest from Ohio who was just passing through, so he didn’t know to bring his own Communion elements. We got him hooked up just fine. And one of our long-timers had left his bread & wine in the car. He’s an older gentleman, and I didn’t want him to have to go to all the work of retrieving it, so I scrubbed up really well and prepared a cup and host for him.

Music sounded good, as far as I could tell. Somehow, Helper Elf Bob managed to get the sound to come out of the speaker AND through the live stream, but please don’t ask me how he did it.

Our door opener’s alarm didn’t go off, so she was just a teeny bit tardy, but there were plenty of people on hand to cover her until she arrived.

I was disappointed in my sermon. It made a LOT of sense in my head, but didn’t come out of my mouth quite the way I had hoped. In my defense, I had been traveling this past week. As a result, my confidence in my ability to coherently put together something meaningful in a short period of time was a bit stronger than it should have been. Lesson learned. Although, to be completely honest, sometimes the best sermons are the ones where I don’t know at all what I’m going to say until I say it. Hmm.

Overall, I’d give the morning a thumbs-up, and look forward to next week for our “hard opening.” There’s no telling whether we’ll get more people for Palm Sunday, but I think we have plenty of room to still meet with reasonable safety. This has felt like a long time coming, and it was really nice to see people in the flesh again.

Not a very inspirational post today, but I just wanted to drop a wee line to keep myself in the habit and to give all of the two of you subscribers a bit of something to go on. 🙂

Building Use Partners

Six years ago, right around this time of year, I put up the sign you see in the image above, “Is your congregation looking for a home? Call 918-582-0917.”

The first call I got that Lent was from Bonnie Childers (now Bonnie Lebak), Lead Pastor for a group that called themselves House Church Tulsa. Pastor Bonnie and I had a great 30-minute conversation on the phone in which we talked about why I was looking to rent out space in our building at that time. I remember saying very specifically that I wasn’t looking for renters. Not at all. But rather, I was looking for ministry partners. Yes, we would remain our own separate entities, but whoever would wind up sharing the building with us would also commit to worshipping with us from time to time, as well as engaging with us on various ministry endeavors.

Also during that conversation, Pastor Bonnie said, “Let me stop this conversation for a minute, because what I’m about to say might be a deal-breaker for you. We are a church made up primarily of lesbians, gay men, and their families. Is that going to be a problem for your congregation?” The first words out of my mouth were, “Of course that’s not a problem! The Holy Spirit LOVES diversity!” But then I had to backtrack a bit and say that I needed to have a conversation with the congregation. We needed to have a conversation anyway, because Oklahoma was legalizing marriage between same-sex couples, and I had to talk to First Lutheran about what that meant for us, for the building, for my own ministry.

Long story short: the conversation went really well, and House Church Tulsa has been SUCH a blessing to us these past six years, and I hope we have been a blessing to them, as well.

Quick side story: The first Sunday that they were meeting, I had invited Pastor Bonnie and her co-pastors to come to the front of our sanctuary for a blessing on their ministry in our midst. Bonnie said, “Do you just want the pastors, or should the whole congregation come up?” We decided to invite everyone from House Church, knowing that some might have trepidations entering into a “traditional” church community, because of past and present wounds that they had received from the words and actions of traditional churches. I think everyone came up, nevertheless.

When it came time to offer the blessing and all those people came forward past the First Lutheran members seated in their pews, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. The healing that took place in that moment was like something I had never seen and, to be honest, I haven’t seen since. That, we all knew immediately and deeply, was what the kingdom of God looked like. I’m tearing up, just from the memories.

Anyway, House Church is our longest-enduring building use partnership, but it wasn’t our first. Before then, First Lutheran had housed Comunidad de Esperanza, Tulsa’s first Latino mission-start. When none of the other congregations in town were terribly eager to take on the project of hosting an as-of-yet non-existent worshipping community, the people of First Lutheran were pleased to reach out and lend worship space, an office, and a ministry partnership in what way they could, in spite of a language barrier. Comunidad moved on to a more suitable part of town for their community, but they had blessed us richly while they were here, and we will always have a warm place for Pastor Alvaro Ochoa-Nova and the people he serves.

We also offered space for New Life Church for a time. This was a group of recent inmates on probation and their loved ones, pastored by Chris Stevens, a guy I had met at Panera Bread, I think, during our weekly Community Coffee gatherings. The logistics of that gathering were a bit complicated, not because of the background of the men involved, but simply because finding transportation to the location was very challenging and frustrating. This was a Charismatic community, which meant that they worshipped VERY differently than we did, but the worship they offered was beautiful and life-changing for them. Another blessing for us.

And we also hosted the marvelous Jonathan Martin and a community called The Table, which he had started with Nicole Nordeman and some friends of theirs. It was a praise and worship congregation who numbered more than 250 people on their first night here! It blew us all away. Simply gorgeous worship. They have since moved to Oklahoma City because that was more fitting with their needs, but again, they blessed us richly with their presence while it lasted.

To sum all of that up, First Lutheran Church, in the past seven years or so, has developed a fantastic habit of open-armed welcoming of diverse worshipping communities, and now we get a chance to do it again!

Father Dewayne Messenger and Brother Ray Knapp recently began developing a new mission start in the Ecumenical Catholic tradition, and these folks have chosen the name Todos Los Santos (All Saints) for their community. They are our newest building use partners, and it is going to be such a pleasure to work alongside them! I’ve known Fr. Messenger for several years, having met through the Tulsa Christian Ministerium some time back. He is a thoughtful, generous, reverent leader, and I believe under his leadership, along with Br. Ray’s and that of their council, this community will thrive.

I want to take the time to thank all of you at First Lutheran Church for your patience and for your willingness to embrace the role of host that I have kind of thrust upon you in the past. It’s not always easy to share the things that you’ve long considered your own, including the building where you gather. You’ve poured money, blood, sweat, and tears into building this place since you moved to this current location from downtown back in the 1950s, so it’s understandable that it might sometimes be difficult to share, but you have undertaken the task with incredible grace, and you deserve to be recognized for it. So, again, thank you all.

In that spirit, I know you will welcome Fr. Dewayne, Brother Ray and Todos los Santos with open arms (albeit at an appropriately social distance for now) as we come to know one another.

Blessings to all,

Pr. Rob

“Layers” or “Levels” of God Encounters

Hi. I’ve been away from the blog for a little bit, kind of doing some thinking in a lot of different areas. I’ve mentioned here before that this search for Wisdom in my own life is – as one would expect – spilling over into my thoughts and understandings about my life in ministry.

In pursuit of that type of thing, I ran across an old video of a panel discussion that featured, among several other people, Cynthia Bourgeault, who has been leading my spirit in some fairly interesting directions for the last several months. In this video, someone mentioned how she seems to have left the old model of the church behind in favor of a more direct encounter of the Divine through various spiritual practices, including Centering Prayer, The Work (what students of G.I. Gurdjieff call his “Fourth Way” practices of involving all three energetic “centers” of the human being: heart, intellect, & emotion), chanting, etc.

Cynthia offers a gentle correction, and she does so by mentioning having learned about three “levels” of the church: The Exoteric, The Mesoteric, and The Esoteric.

“The Exoteric church, the one with the doors, that people come into off the streets, the one that needs pastors, the church that’s there when you’re ready to put a bullet in your head in the middle of the night — that church serves an extraordinarily important function, and without access to it, people aren’t ready to go further. Its role is to create a basic welcome container, basic pastoral/ethical nurturance, and a sense of devotional reference points.

“From there on, it opens into the Mesoteric, which is about Path; which is about practice, and that’s where you really sort of bring in the Centering Prayer, the chanting, the psalmody, the Orders of Life. And that, then, drives and makes possible the gateway into the Esoteric, which is badly understood in our culture. It’s sort of equated with the ‘secret knowledge,’ these ‘cosmic PIN codes,” where it really just means the deeper: the deeper understanding, the deeper immersion in what was there all along in the Exoteric, but you didn’t get it before.

“So, the Mesoteric is the real bridge. And I think it’s that bridge that people are hungering for. That’s the place we try and give them in Wisdom School, and that’s certainly the bridge I crossed without ever looking back when I became a teacher of Centering Prayer. [Centering Prayer does most of the heavy lifting] because it begins to change the way people think.

“There’s brain science now to show that meditative practice increases our capacity to bear paradox, to live in ambiguity, and to not immediately react from defensive postures. And it’s the part that was missing from the church. Nobody knew how to do this. Nobody made time and they were drowning in their own sort of ‘surface-ness.’

[There was a comment about the dying of the institutional church. ] “It’s not an either/or. Maybe there will be <strong>fewer</strong> churches. I think the <strong>parish church </strong>may be belly-up. The movement towards greater and more powerfully diverse and impassioned centers – kind of cathedrals in the old way of thinking: vortexes of human energy and then a lot of Mesoteric groups spinning out — that would be the model that I see as viable.

“But I certainly would never recommend going back and starting with ‘the Jesus church,’ because there’s no such thing, at least in our own culture.”

My take-away or reflection on this multi-structured way of looking at the church and spirituality is this: 12 years into my “pastoring gig,” as I like to call it, there are aspects of the Exoteric church that trouble me (institutional racism, institutional sexism, traditionalism over tradition, protection of the institution over living the gospel of Jesus, etc.), and much of it leaves me weary and empty. I NEED that Mesoteric church and sort of aspire to Esoteric practices and embracing integration. At the same time, what the Meso- and Esoteric churches teach me is: IT AIN’T ABOUT ME! There is clearly still a role – “an extraordinarily important function” – for the “regular ol'” church in this world, and I remain committed to it. My hope is that my ministry will help some “transcend” – or maybe simply go deeper into – the traditional church, rather than to just accept it at face value. If I can do that while also being there in the middle of the night, as Cynthia says, when someone wants to put a bullet in their brain, or when Grandma dies, or when someone wants to celebrate new life, I am content. It all belongs.

Upcoming Worship Gnus/News

Hi! It’s been a while since I’ve checked in, so here we are. Plans for Epiphany and the weeks after (leading up to Lent … which begins in the middle of February, if you can believe it. Just around the corner! Eeek!) are coming together nicely. Week one is already planned and we have the skeleton for the rest of the weeks after Epiphany.

With the exception of Epiphany Sunday itself, we’re sticking with Worship Design Studios and their version of a liturgy. The series we’re using is called “God is Holding Your Life.” Since we’re in the grips of this pandemic – still! – and because we’re moving into a new and hopefully better year, this message just seemed really appropriate and needed.

Below is a wee trailer that ought to give you kind of a taste. But Catherine will be playing the music. It won’t be “piped in” via video.

Video Series trailer for “God is Holding Your Life: A Journey of Assurance for the New Year” from Worship Design Studios.

I mentioned that Epiphany Sunday will look a little different from the rest of the weeks. That’s because the first Sunday will be a bit of a hybrid/amalgam worship service, combining elements of Worship Design Studio, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and a book of liturgies and prayers by Brian Wren. I think it will be nice. Familiar enough to feel pretty good, but with a couple things that are just different enough to (hopefully) keep your attention.

So that’s Epiphany and the weeks leading up to Lent. Lent itself is going to be VERY special this year, because the liturgical music will come from the heart and pen and skilled musicianship of our very own Catherine Conger! I’m really excited to hear what she is putting together for us!

In-person Worship, part deux

Hey, all. Been a little quiet here lately as the Looking Forward Taskforce gears up for some phone calls to set up interviews with folks from FELC and PoP, and also since I’ve been on the road to visit my mom.

First thing: Mom update. Apparently there is an appointment with a vascular surgeon floating around out there somewhere. When my niece tried to schedule it, the appointment was sent in the new year, but the doc said that was too far out, so HE would schedule it. Haven’t heard anything since. So that’s about all we know. Thank you again for your indulgence while my family wrestles with all of these health concerns.

Now, onto the update. Last night the CORE COUNCIL met to talk about the usual CORE COUNCIL things. Lately, in-person worship has been one of the recurring topics. House Church, one of our Building Use Partners, would like to do an Advent event, a bit of a self-directed, possibly timed event with various stations for candle lighting, silent prayer, Communion, etc. It sounds like a fantastic idea. However, the CORE folks were concerned about opening the building to Building Use Partners when we weren’t even using the space ourselves yet. So, based on how things went last time, with somewhere between 19 and 23 people in the sanctuary for 40 minutes, we’re gonna try it again.

Beginning on the 1st Sunday of Advent, November 29 (the first Sunday after Thanksgiving), we’re going to try in-person services. The only things I’d like to change, based on last time, have to do with singing, the call-and-response sections, and reading/assistant ministering. Since the space is “small,” the less vaporizing of particles we do, the better. IF you MUST sing, please try to keep it “in your mask.” No diaphragm singing and projection, please. Same with the spoken responses. Your “and also with you” is understood, so there’s no reason to shout it out. And if you’re reading, it would be better to have you come up to a microphone to do it, than to have you standing among the people, masked or not.

Oh, one other thing: you might want to anticipate standing in line before we let you in. In order to keep the time indoors to a minimum, we won’t let people in the door until five minutes before start time. That will avoid having folks breathing in the space for longer than the allowed 40 minutes.

One more note on the service: Our theme for Advent this year is “I Believe Even When.” Week One will still be based on Hope; Week Two on Faithfulness, etc., but the overarching theme is belief in the face of reasons NOT to believe. On our Facebook page, I invited people to contribute their own “I believe even when” statements, and we got a few great submissions. I’d like to extend the invitation again to send yours in, either to the link on FB, if you can find it, or directly to me at pastor@felctulsa.org.

Keep your eyes peeled for more updates!

Peace,

Pr. R.

Task Force, part 4

Another productive meeting yesterday. This time we talked about the Guide to One-on-One conversations, why to do them, how to do them, what we’re going to do with the information we gather. And we put together a list of partners for doing a dry-run. That’s our assignment for a week from now: to have called our partner, practiced a one-on-one with them, and then report back next week what we all learned about what drives and motivates our partner.

The following week we will assign people from both congregations to call and set up a time to meet (in person, over electronic meeting platforms, or on the telephone) to do a (roughly) 45-minute-long one-on-one with them. We’ll talk about that more next week.

Just to fit this into a bigger picture, we discussed how the information that we glean from our wider-reach one-on-ones will help us get a picture of what kind of Bible study we want to do. This way, we’ll be listening to one another (on the horizontal axis through one-on-ones) and listening to God (on the vertical axis through Bible study and prayer), and this will help to guide conversations along into the future. So this is going to give us plenty to do over the course of the next several weeks. As our cross-shaped listening (horizontal and vertical) unfolds, a plan will start to come together. (There IS, indeed, a method to our madness!)

We forgot (Pr. Rob forgot) to ask for a descriptive word from each participant. D’oh!

Task Force, Part 3

Well, our happy little Looking Forward Task Force is growing! In addition to the First Lutheran folks, we enjoyed the company and great input from Prince of Peace members Gayla and Vernetta (and Ava, of course, but she has been with us since meeting #2, anyway).

This meeting moved us a little closer to first action steps. Next time we get together, we’re going to do a little bit of learning about One-on-One conversations, then move into a little bit of practice doing those. That may be the focus for our next two meetings. After that, this group will begin scheduling One-on-Ones with folks from both congregations … and possibly some other people from outside our church communities who might be interested in partnering with us in the future.

What’s the purpose of these One-on-One meetings?

  1. Establishing or deepening relationships and building confidence;
  2. The listener will want to learn some significant things about the person they’re meeting with: what makes them “tick”, what they
    value, who they really are, and what has brought them to this point in life;
  3. The conversation partners might find commonly held interests, goals or values that can lead them into new opportunities for collaboration and community building inside and outside the congregation;
  4. There’s an opportunity or a possibility at least that, while a person begins talking about their story, they might actually learn some things about themselves that they didn’t realize were true, leading to new clarity and self-appreciation.

There are a list of questions … well, not really so much a list, but a number of conversations starters to ease folks into conversation, so nobody will have to go deep diving right off the bat. But the goal, really, is to find out what motivates people in life, what gives them joy, what makes them sad or angry, what it is that they really value and are willing to commit to, especially in terms of their faith life. If we want to have vibrant communities (and we do, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of church?), we need to know these kinds of things, so that we can shape and form community to be what we are longing for.

Once we learn some things about folks, the Looking Forward group will do some looking back, specifically to the Scriptures, to find biblical models that share the faith goals that OUR people have identified. This won’t look like a pastor teaching about a biblical model, but rather it will be collaborative and interactive searching of the scriptures for something that we relate with in practical ways. In any case, a biblical grounding will be necessary for informed community-building. As will prayer: both prayer that asks and prayer that listens. Listening to God through scripture and through one another will lay a great foundation for the future.

So, for the moment, that’s the plan.

One of the really neat/interesting things about the timing of all of this is that ACTION (the Tulsa area community action group to which both congregations belong as part of “Lutherans in ACTION”) is doing some training on One-on-One meetings right now, as well. Synchronicity! (Or, more likely, the movement of the Holy Spirit!) And so some of our folks have already started thinking about their own motivations right now.

I just wanted to share a little bit of that with you. Within our group, because this is a multi-racial gathering, we’re experiencing both anger and hope. Anger, because the era of racial tension we all thought we had outlived is still a going concern. Hope, because some of us who are privileged enough not to have to live the racial tension on a daily basis, seem finally to be hearing our siblings of color when they tell us how exhausting that is. The cry, “How long” is something folks will probably have to shout out for a long time to come, but at least there is some hope that times are slowly beginning to change. The church ought to be a group that champions justice for the historically marginalized and oppressed, calling for a leveling of the playing field. (Reading Luke’s Gospel gives us great insight into this.)

What’s starting to coalesce from the task force is that the congregation that comes out the other side of our Looking Forward process will need to be one that exists for the sake of others. (See Bonhoeffer’s answer to the question: Who is Christ for us today?) That means we will need to stand for racial reconciliation in Tulsa. Some other things we’ve identified so far include intentional “charity” work, intentional advocacy work, work to alleviate loneliness in our communities, and undergirding all of this, there lies a need for deepening spirituality. This is an opportunity for church to be more than something we do on Sundays, but really something good and meaningful that we could incorporate into our daily lives. That kind of purpose and that kind of mission is going to make a difference in terms of success and growth.

Emotional health of the congregation(s) is one final area we talked about. There is a program called “Healthy Congregations,” which is really a congregation-based approach to Family Systems Theory, and this can be very helpful in terms of dealing with conflicts that inevitably arise in community, ways to avoid unnecessary conflict and ways of dealing with conflict in ways that can lead to better understanding and deeper growth. It’s a huge field and deep work, but we would definitely benefit from it.

So, the last thing I wanted to mention was that we once again ended the meeting asking each participant to share how they were feeling by the time we finished up. Here’s how we shook out: Good, hopeful, excited, interested, relieved, thoughtful.


Task Force, Part 2

Do you remember on Happy Days when Richie, Potsy, and Ralph were in a band that occasionally sang at Arnold’s diner? They always closed their sets by thanking the audience on behalf of “Me, Potsy Webber, and … the band.” The band had no name. That sucked. Our task force also has no name, so for the moment I’m calling us … no, not the band, but that’s a good guess. I’m calling it the Looking Forward Task Force because we’re literally looking forward to the next stages of ministry for both First Lutheran and Prince of Peace.

Tonight we met for our second time, though two people had scheduling conflicts that came up at the last minute. That shifted our agenda some, but it wasn’t much of a problem after all, because we’re like guerrilla church that way: small, flexible, agile.

As we met tonight, we talked a little about resources and creating a resource bank, not only for the current crop of Looking Forward folks, but for all of us to draw on as we envision where to go next.

But the biggest chunk of the meeting was the sharing we did, and the chance to get a little cohesion as people on a common mission. We shared some of our hopes, some of the things that give us the cold anger (as opposed to hot-headed anger) to motivate us to action. The continued racial divide in our city, state, and country … and now that I think of it, our Synod and Cluster … is one source of that anger. For people living more than a half century after the great progress of the Civil Rights Era, and for people who claim to follow Jesus, a dark-skinned, Middle Eastern man, we still tend to be divided. We haven’t been willing enough, committed enough, to risk the comfort of worshipping alongside people who don’t look like us or travel in our social circles. We’d like to make a concerted effort to see that change.

Why change at all? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to see that both of our congregations follow the downward shift in weekly worship attendance. We’re also greying in both churches. We’re at that point on the church life cycle – the one that begins with growth until it reaches a peak, then begins to decline, and from that point can either continue the decline unto death or intentionally engage to revitalize – where we’re clearly on the decline side. Nobody wants to see their congregation die, and so the question becomes: do we just do hospice until we’re gone, or do we want to fight for something that stands for Good in this place? That might lead to one kind of death (i.e. church as we know it now) but result in new life (church in a new form, new place, with new people, new energy, new passion for the gospel). That’s where we’re at. The people in this small group are dedicated to the latter. So we talked about it.

We also talked about food in a number of ways. Nicole has been working with PoP to reinvigorate the little garden on their property. Right now it’s loaded with jalapenos, but usually there are other food items in there, as well. And Ava remarked that she has been able to observe movement in the neighborhood, noticing that there are a number of people who come by the little garden almost on the daily to see if there’s anything they can harvest. That’s a great thing.

As part of our food talk, we discussed things that tend to bring us together the most successfully, at least historically speaking, and that tends to involve pot lucks. People who normally won’t come to worship will come to enjoy fellowship and food. And Nicole discussed some work that her former congregation in OKC did in partnership with Life.Church to open a grocery store in the East OKC food desert. Food is where it’s at, and that might give us some kind of clue about how to move forward.

Even though we started the meeting somewhat inauspiciously, we all were able to share a word that described or defined how we felt about tonight’s gathering and prospects for future ones. Here they are, for your edification:

Bob: Progress
Nicole: Energy
Ava: Connected
Rob: Hopeful