Enjoying Winter and Getting Ready for Spring – Jan/Feb 2014

Enjoying Winter and getting ready for Spring go together for me. I nearly always enjoy Winter –  it’s just that sometimes it seems to go on a bit long. (Not as long as I was once used to, living in Vermont – though there are days on which it can feel almost as long…)

When I was younger and single and living in Vermont, my basic concept was to stay warm and keep winter moving along by staying busy. I’d stack firewood, exercise, read, go to work.. play pick-up basketball week nights, and be part of a weekly fly-tying session, spreading hooks, hackle-feathers and other tying materials across a table by a wood stove, talking and tying flies for the open-water season ahead, in anticipation of ice-out sometime after mid-to-late April…

Now keeping busy enough is never a problem. Staying in the right frame of mind for the season can, however, still be a challenge… With colder weather everything seems to take a little longer. (I even procrastinate longer in winter.)

But I’ve been noticing that it’s less difficult to do something I’ve been putting off (like writing a newsletter article) when I notice something beautiful happening.

This morning I stood warming oatmeal on the stove, sipping coffee, looking out the kitchen window at snow falling and birds feeding… As usual on snowy days, there’s abundance of birds – chickadees, taking turns at the feeder, junkos, preferring to eat their seed off the floor and rail of the porch, a tufted titmouse (we had to look that one up), a brilliant cardinal…a robin farther off in a tree.

Wind-blown swirls of snow rise and fall from fir trees. Oatmeal starts to bubble. I turn the stove down, stirring, saying psalms, singing Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name… Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads us into life…(#2013 in The Faith We Sing.)

After breakfast we read from The Upper Room, Rohi singing an opening prayer, me doing the bible reading, Reah and Rohi together alternating lines reading the devotional, all joining in the closing prayer. Then it’s out to shovel the walk and car and church porch steps, snow still falling, so light it’s still fun to shovel. (How quickly snow can get heavy and no-fun-at-all-to-shovel if I leave it too long…) Back inside, reading psalms and the Sunday readings…Finally I’m ready to write…With less now to say, but more focused…

After thinking of many other possibilities… I’ve come around to just one short book that I’m suggesting we read and discuss: Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase (Methodist Bishop of the Missouri Conference). When I think about what’s beautiful in our churches and how to bring the beauty into better focus, these five practices are all in view… And when I pray about how to get there from here, I think of John Wesley’s phrase, “holy conferencing” – meaning talking prayerfully together about God’s desire for us and our desire for God. So I am hoping and praying that we will commit to reading the book together and discussing it prayerfully. We can work out the details of when and where we meet; first we need to commit and start reading… Meanwhile, just a very short preview…

The first of these five practices described by Bishop Schnase is called Radical Hospitality. The hospitality word usually gets me thinking of Hebrews 13:2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. But Schnase has selected, I think, an even more excellent text – Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7). Reading this chapter I’ve noticed that the word radical doesn’t mean wild and crazy or extreme – Schnase uses it in its original sense of “getting to the root” of the matter. Reading and discussing this chapter together will help us learn from real life examples how to be welcoming more people into our church communities.

Then comes Passionate Worship. We have good worship on a regular basis in both our churches. Passionate worship? Schnase’s use of the word passionate is designed to get our attention more than to prescribe particulars – but he is drawing attention to the importance of every aspect of our worship, the spiritual glue that holds us together. The scripture quote for this topic is How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD. (Psalm 84:1-2) As I hear the psalmist’s words, I feel like dancing… There was a time when we Methodists were famous for preaching in fields and writing hymns set to the tunes of popular songs and seeing the lives of whole communities changed through passionate worship.  Are we ready to risk some holy conferencing to get started?

Then there’s The Practice of Intentional Faith Development, which, in contrast to the first two chapters, doesn’t sound radical or passionate to me… But the scriptural heading comes from Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers – which in the context of Acts does turn out to be both radical and passionate – and – we’ve actually done all that – though there’s surely always more to learn – especially about how we can get others doing all that along with us. Let’s pray and read and discuss together in holy conferencing.

Then the familiar words of Matthew 25:40 – Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me – introduce us to The Practice of Risk-Taking Mission and Service – which, if we remember the rest of the Matthew 25 parable –  is a whole lot safer and less-risky than not being missional and hospitable in our practices. We’re doing some of this already for sure. Let’s read and revisit our heritage and go deeper. Remembering –

The Practice of Extravagant Generosity is again all about getting back to our religious roots. Let’s revisit, reconnect, and revive our living heritage.  As we experience the pleasure of growing in grace and fruitfulness, the scriptures assure us – You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity. (2 Corinthians 9:11)

I am persuaded that reading and discussing this book together will help us grow as a congregation. We have a great opportunity to learn from what others have done…And now, while the snow is metaphorically light… and the vision of a beautiful future is before us…  Now is the perfect time to start.

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations can be ordered on-line from many sources or by phone from Cokesbury (1-800-409-5346). Winter will go faster, Spring will spring-forth sooner, all our shoveling will be lighter… if we go at it now, together, without delay. My request is that we all get the book, read, and discuss, chapter by chapter, together.

Please let me know your thoughts and prayers on this…

Grace, peace, and joy in Jesus be with you,

Pastor Tim