As I celebrated my last “first communion” with our children and our various Holy Week and Easter events, it really
began to hit me that our time together is drawing to a close. After twenty-three years of baptizing our kids (and adults), teaching, confirming, marrying, burying and being there through so many celebrations, struggles and sorrows of life with you, it is hard for all of us to prepare to say “farewell.” As we get ready to conclude our ministry
together (in mid-June) I want to share some of my thoughts on ministry. I have never thought of my time with you as “my ministry.” It’s not about me. My aim has always been that what we do is “our ministry.” It is the church’s ministry and my aim has been to work with you and pray with you to discern what God calls Pilgrim Faith to do and be and to help equip you to do it faithfully and well.
When my time as your pastor and teacher ends, you will still be the church and God will still be guiding you in your
ministry. Other pastors will come and journey with you for a while and share that ministry. I pray that you will embrace them and love them and journey with them in being the best Pilgrim Faith God calls you to be.
To help you move forward with new pastoral leadership I must be clear that I cannot serve in any kind of pastoral role with you after June. I must decline to be involved in your baptisms, weddings, funerals, hospital visits and all other pastoral roles. I will not offer advice or counsel. I will always love you and consider you my friends but I must refrain from being in a pastoral relationship with you so that your new pastors (interim and permanent) can truly become your pastor by sharing those moments with you.
I will treasure the remaining couple of months with you as we worship and plan together, enjoy a couple more retreats and confirmation and laugh and cry with each other. It will be hard at times but I also trust it will be good.
I want our celebration on June 10 to be a joyful occasion which will celebrate our ministry together. I expect that we
will have much to laugh about together as we rejoice in what we have done. I want you to be there because you are
precious to me and always will be. We’ll say our goodbyes when it is time but in the meanwhile, we got some ministry
to do together! Let’s do it well with love!
In our Hot Topics group today we discussed “aha” moments we have had that helped us understand why certain language or actions are racist or result in discrimination (intentional or unintentional.) These moments of new understanding often came when someone raised a question about a practice or language that we had not previously thought was a problem.
I know I’ve learned from questions others have asked about wording in some hymns. For example, “O Master let me walk with thee in lowly paths of service free” is the opening line of a hymn I’ve sung all my life, considering it a meaningful dedication of my life in service to Jesus. I didn’t realize how the image of “lowly paths of free service to the master” might be painful and offensive to those whose ancestors were sold or born into servitude as slaves to the plantation master. I’m glad someone questioned my use of this hymn. They gave me an opportunity to see it from a different perspective and thus choose to no longer choose to sing something that was hurtful to others.
I’m grateful for such questions. I find I’m most open to change when the question invites me to understand some-one else’s perspective by giving me a glimpse of their experience and reality. I’m less open if the question is not really a question but is more of an effort to blame or shame me. “How could you DO something like that?” or “how could you THINK that?” aren’t questions that invite under-standing. Those types of questions are really an attempt to make the other feel bad which is more likely to create resistance than dialogue or change.
The other kind of question that can open up a helpful dialogue that might lead someone to change their attitude or behavior is to ask (with genuine curiosity): “Can you tell me more about why you think that?” When someone asks me that and I start to listen to what I am saying, I may begin to see my own thoughts or words in a new way. When I ask someone else that question (with genuine curiosity), I might learn something from them or they might come to an “aha” moment as they listen to themselves.
I hope we can grow together in our ability both to ask and to answer questions that bring greater understanding.
In contrast to the triumphant joy of many of our Easter hymns, I think the first Easter morning was more like a
fragile whisper of hope draped with a heavy cloak of fear, doubt and confusion. That is often the way that resurrectioncomes to us after our world has crumbled.
Those who found the empty tomb were terrified. The angels told them “Don’t be afraid” but of course they were
quaking in their sandals. When the women told the rest of the disciples, the others did not believe them. When Jesus
appeared to them, they did not recognize him. Only bit by bit did they figure out how to live in this new reality, without a living, breathing, Jesus by their side all the time.
When our own lives shatter or sink into dark, dank times, seldom do we suddenly burst into joyful dance in an instant. Hope comes more slowly, with tentative times of daring to believe that today’s good moments will happen again soon and will grow into a livable life. Sure, God can throw open the curtain and tell us we will be fine but rarely does our hope burst into full blossom and keep blooming all at once, now and forever more.
We grow into resurrection bit by bit. Resurrection doesn’t mean going back to the way it used to be. Resurrection
means embracing the possibilities that God now puts before us. Resurrection means stepping into the new reality with God and Jesus by our side. We don’t create the resurrection and we will miss it unless we take that step and dare to believe that it is a gift from God.
It begins with fragile hope and tiny steps. God takes us the rest of the way until we are surprised one day by how
much good there is all around us. May every day hold Easter moments for you!
As I prepare to retire in June and our church begins to plan for future, we are wading through a bubbly brew of excitement, sadness, hope, fear and anticipation.
Change is often hard. You are used to me and the way I do things, even when you wish I’d do it differently! We’ve been together through heaven and hell and held each other up. Some have been hoping I’d be here for their wedding or funeral or other celebrations or trying times. You probably know just what I will say and have come to count on that. Saying goodbye and welcoming another pastor will be hard for many.
Change is also often invigorating. We are a healthy, vital church because we are always changing, starting new min-istries, tweaking the old and laying other efforts to rest. The opportunity to work together with a new leader with new ideas and gifts can help Pilgrim Faith reach new people and bring God’s love to a changing world in exciting ways. Your openness to where God leads will move you forward in faith. Our Pilgrim Faith Mission Statement says “We will face the future together in fellowship.” That is one of our great strengths as a church. We not only worship and work together, we are really good at fellowship! We take time to get to know each other. We go on retreats together and eat lunches and dinners together and talk about silly things and important things. We pray for each other and lend a listening ear and a helping hand. It’s more than friendship. It is Christian fellowship, with the Spirit of Christ in our midst.
When you face the future together in fellowship God will hold you together and show you what to do. God’s future is good! So stick with each other and stick with God, while continuing to welcome others into the fellowship. That will lead you to God’s blessed future.
I love the Christmas story about how Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger because there was no place for
his parents to stay in Bethlehem. I love that God came to earth in a little baby, dependent on the kindness and care of
others. I love that someone, probably with their big family already filling their tiny one room house, said “Please come in and take shelter here, the animals won’t mind.”
It reminds me that God can come at any time, on any day, with no hint that this is actually God depending on my kindness. It reminds me to welcome with kindness the homeless who need to shelter in our church basement on Thursday evening. It reminds me fight for the right to continue our shelter program in Oak Lawn. It reminds me welcome the struggling folks who come for our pantry on Tuesday and Friday. It reminds me to be kind to the telemarketer (as I politely tell them don’t call me again) who is just trying to earn some money to put food on her kid’s table.
I love that God chose such an unassuming way to be born in our world because it reminds me that love can show up
anywhere, in anyone. It isn’t just about me showing love and kindness. It is also about me seeing the love that lives
in other people, no matter who they are.
When I look for the love in you, I see you are a fellow human being, not as someone I can dismiss because “you are
difficult to get along with” or “you don’t like me.” When I look for the love in those with whom I totally disagree, I see
them as a fellow human being, with life experiences that made them who they are and who may have an interesting
story. When I look for the love in you, no matter who you are, I see you as a fellow human being and at the same time, I see God in you!
That’s Christmas! That is how God is born into our world. God is born again and again in you and me. Maybe we
don’t embrace God’s spirit of love as fully and completely as did Jesus. Jesus did that perfectly! But make no mistake,
God’s spirit is in you and me, waiting to be born and to blossom every day. Let’s welcome God and make room for
God to live and grow, in ourselves and everyone else!
Dear Members and Friends, My Star Word for this year is TIME. As I’ve reflected on it carefully and prayerfully I have decided that it is time for me to retire after forty years in parish ministry. I plan to conclude my ministry with you at the end of June 2018.
Pilgrim Faith has been a wonderful place to share in ministry with you for twenty-three years. I came here in 1994
because I loved your passion for ministry and mission both within the congregation and to the wider community and
world. I came because I fell in love with the pastoral search committee and all of you. I came because I discerned God’s call to serve in this faith community which continually welcomes people no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey. We have laughed and cried together many times over the years. We’ve loved each other and loved so many others and honored God with a wide range of ministries and missions. We have done the hard work of rebuilding after setbacks and difficulties, often marveling at what God has resurrected or birthed among us. We made hard decisions to bring some ministries to an end and have been willing to try new ministries to discover what will work. We have been energized and renewed by God’s work with us and among us. We have welcomed almost 300 new members. Through it all we have grown in our faith and faithfulness to God.
I thank you for the privilege of sharing this ministry with you. You have been a blessing and will always have a special place in my heart. During my remaining months here we will be working deliberately and prayerfully to prepare for a smooth transition.
The Church Council will reach out to the Chicago Metropolitan Association for help in securing a skilled “interim
pastor” who can guide the church in discerning directions for the future so that you will know what gifts and skills to
look for in your next pastor. We’ll be planning appropriate ways to celebrate our ministry together and prepare for the future.
I will be making sure that the many responsibilities that I take care of day to day are handed off to an individual or
group in the church who can make sure that important tasks are done. I will continue until the end of June to give my best to my pastoral responsibilities, making sure that we continue to worship, learn, serve and care for one another and others faithfully.
I have great faith in your love of God and the church and in your ability to move into God’s future for this church in a
way that makes the church and its ministries even stronger. Your ministry is so much bigger than me or any one individual! I anticipate a wonderful future for Pilgrim Faith!
This might surprise you but I don’t give to Pilgrim Faith because our church is doing great things. Don’t get me
wrong – I think Pilgrim Faith does marvelous ministry that changes lives and makes the world a better place and serves God faithfully. I get really excited about many of the things Pilgrim Faith does. I totally believe in what we are doing.
But that’s not why I give. I give to my church because of what God has done. I give to my church because God loves
me and you like crazy. I give to my church because I am grateful every day for God’s help and strength and guidance
and love. I give to my church because Jesus came and gave his all so we could know and understand God better. I give to my church because Jesus has called us to be the church, his living body here on earth, to carry on his work. I give to my church so it can do the ministry Jesus has entrusted to us.
I give to my church because I cannot truly be grateful to God and faithful to Jesus unless I put my money where my
mouth is. By giving generously and regularly to my church, I show God and Jesus how much I love them and make it
possible for their work to continue on earth.
Pilgrim Faith does do great ministry! It takes a lot of money for us to share God’s love with so many and be the
hands and feet and compassion of Jesus for so many. I’ll be tithing (giving 10% of my income) again this year, as I always have, because I believe 100% in God and Jesus and what they want to do in the world with my help.
If you are tithing, you already know what a joy that is. If you aren’t, I encourage you to stretch to give more this year
as you work your way up to a tithe. It is amazing what we can do with the 90% God lets us keep for ourselves once we’ve returned our tithe to God!
A big part of Pilgrim Faith’s vitality is the way we try new things in our ministry. Some things are timeless, like
God’s love. The ways we experience that love, share that love with one another, spread that love to others and show
our love back to God are constantly changing.
Children used to sit in quiet rows and listen as the Sunday School teacher told them about Jesus. Now kids learn in active ways by doing. In the 1950’s a Pilgrim Faith pastor went door to door in Oak Lawn inviting people to church. People don’t want a stranger at their door anymore so now we are more likely to connect on social media. New days, new ways!
New ministries at Pilgrim Faith in the last few years include Trunk-or-Treat, Hot Topics discussions, Book Club, a
teen LGBT support group, interfaith work and a Summer of Wellness with a Biggest Loser contest, walking club,
healthy eating classes and strength training group. Some ministries continue for a long time. Some flourish
briefly and then end. Not everything needs to be new. What matters is the willingness to try new things as the Spirit
leads us. When we try new things, we are more likely to attract new people as well as feed the souls of those who have been around awhile.
I applaud all the wonderful new ministries you have brought to life with God’s help in the past few years. I’m
eager to see what God will do with and through us in the months and years to come. I’m also thankful for those who
continue our important long-standing ministries of music, mission, worship, pantry, homeless shelter, youth groups,
camp, retreats and Christian education for all ages. It all adds up to a vital church that lives God’s love in countless
ways to serve God and others!
As we ramp up for the fall, it’s a new day! I hope you will look around and find where you can serve, be it an important old faithful ministry or a new initiative that offers new ways to God. Both ways matter a lot to God! You matter a lot God! Find the way God wants you to serve!
My Star Word this year is “time.” I groaned right out loud last January when I finally peeked at it on my way up the aisle at the end of the worship service. My first thought was “Oh, no, now I have to have a discussion with God every time I say ‘I don’t have time to do that.’” (I say that quite a lot because my plate always seems full.)
I’ve said “no” to some things this year and I’ve said “yes” to others. In recent weeks I’ve spent extra time making it possible for a visiting youth choir to serve a meal and give a concert for our homeless guests, I’ve stepped up to organize this year’s Southwest Suburban CROP Walk so it can happen and I’ve spent lots of time preparing for a transition to a new Office Administrator for the our church. Having said “yes” to all those things, I had to say “no” to hosting this fall’s UCC Chicago Metropolitan Association Meeting at Pilgrim Faith. And I’ve spent less time creating new Facebook posters for every event at our church.
That conversation with God about what I have time for and what God wants me to do with my time is always interesting. It doesn’t always end up the way I’d like but when all is over, I’m usually glad I said “yes” to the things I did. And somehow it seems to all work out, with God’s help.
Have you talked with God about how you use your time? Some of us are afraid God will tell us to do more. That isn’t always the case. Sometimes God likes exactly the way we are using our time. At other times God wants us change what we are doing with our time: less time spent on one thing so we can spend more time on something else. In this “Summer of Wellness some are shifting how you use your time so your can take care of ourselves.
In the midst of this summer, I hope you will “find some time” to talk with God about what you do with your time. Take a deep breath of God’s goodness and trust that God will lead you to do what matters most to God right now. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “there is a time for every matter under heaven.” No one can do it all at once. Ask God what it is time for you to do at this point in your life and then give it your best! You can’t go wrong with God!
If you want to know where God is working, listen for laughter. Not derisive, hurtful laughter that puts other people down or puts them in their place. That kind of laughter has nothing to do with God. It simply kills the spirit. Rather, listen for the kind of laughter that arises when people are enjoying each other, the laughter that erupts when we remember together some special shared moment or just relax enough to be silly together.
I imagine that God grows weary when we become so burdened by everything that is wrong that we forget how to laugh. Laughter brings life. Even as we mourn the death of loved ones, laughter and tears often chase each other as we recall the time Dad fell out of the fishing boat or Mom got all dressed up as a hippie for a Halloween party. Laughter heals. In the midst of bitter battles and harsh rhetoric, politicians can learn to work together and appreciate each other when they tell jokes and laugh at themselves over drinks or dinner.
Try never to laugh AT another person – that only destroys. That is not God’s way. Learn to laugh at the absurdity of life and even the horrible times will be more manageable. Learn to laugh at yourself and you’ll be a lot less anxious about all the mistakes you make. Learn to laugh with others while playing silly games or doing board business (as we often do at Pilgrim Faith) and you’ll end up loving each other more.
There is plenty in life to stress us. Look for what is funny in the midst of it all – that is what the comedians do. They make us laugh at life and at ourselves and in doing so we are set free from the things that otherwise would tie us up in knots.
I’m pretty sure God is laughing along with us. Otherwise, God would have given up long ago. But God does not give up. Instead, God gives us the gift of laughter so we can find the joy in life, even in the midst of struggle. So laugh, and give thanks to God! Pastor Peggy McClanahan