There is a preschool in our church. Kids and their parents are coming and going all day long.
My office window looks across the street at the middle school. I can see the parents picking up and dropping off kids. I can hear the loudspeaker calling kids to the office.
Our Open Gym program on Wednesday afternoons usually attracts 70 or so middle schoolers.
On Sunday evenings I work with a great youth group of 25-30 young people.
I went and saw Children of Men last night and I hope to never again take for granted the presence of young people.
Children of Men was a moving and thoughtprovoking film. It was beautifully and arfully filmed even thought the first hour or so of the film was full of despair and hope seemed distant. Violence and corruption were ruling the day and there seemed no escape in sight. And then a child was born.
What impressed me the most about this film was the fact that it was able to avoid a simple over-dramaticization of this birth and the impact it would have. There was a minute or two of a moving awe struck silence as both sides of the battle stopped firing and looked at the child with admiration and wonder. Just as this scene was about to drag on for too long a shot rang out and the violence errupted again.
It seems as if the birth of a child wasn’t enough to bring peace – there needed to be a human response to the child. A response that the humans weren’t willing to make.
As I reflected on the film over pie with friends I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas story. Barely a month ago we celebrated the birth of a child and had hope for all of the ways that things would be different. Are they different today? Unfortunately, not in many ways. As humans we’ve had opportunities to respond in ways that would further hope, but we’ve continued to further our own agendas before being concerned about the needs of others.
And so as I see the children come and go from the church, as I watch middle schoolers get picked up from school, as I hang out at open gym, as I work with my youth group, I hope to never take for granted the gift that these young people are and the hope that they symbolize for a tomorrow that could be – if only we would open ourselves to the possibilities of that tomorrow.
Over the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of my time and energy building up the youth ministries at Ridge UMC. Things are in a great place right now, but I fear that, in more than one way, we’re about maximizing our current potential. I have very few adult volunteers who help and getting them to commit to anything of any length is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating.
If I could clone myself I might be able to give the attention I’d like to the people and programs and plans that need it, but realistically, probably not. What I’m increasingly feeling like I need is a core of dedicated volunteers who want to commit to this ministry and to the youth that it serves. I know, I know – duh! Anyone got ideas where to find said adults? Anyone got great ideas about where to even begin recruiting?
I have tried getting more parents involved with some success, however I know that’s not ideal for the youth or parents. I have also tried recruiting some young adults, but in general we’re an over committed, overworking, transient group of folks – I haven’t had a ton of success there.
As I keep brain storming and researching ideas, any feedback or suggestions that anyone has for recruitment strategies or resources would be greatly appreciated!
Every year since 2002 I have had to write some kind of a “Spiritual Autobiography.” Each year in Seminary I had to write something like this (at least once) and since graduating I’ve had to write something like this every year for the North Indiana Conference as a part of the ordination process. In a lot of ways they’re a pain in the butt! This morning I just finished my 2007 update though and am relieved to have it finished – now I just have to write two chapters worth of responses to theological questions and a Bible study to submit to the Board of Ordained Ministry. Honestly, I can’t get all of this done soon enough!
Anyway, writing “Spiritual Autobigraphy 2007″ this morning allowed me to spend some time reflecting back on my Christmas Resolutions. It has been a great last month and 2007 seems off to a great start. The process of blogging has been a great one for me as it has forced me to organize and process my thoughts. It has also been fun to reconnect with old friends.
Specifically regarding my resolutions: I have spent more time at my favorite coffee shop reading, writing, and visiting with friends, more time reading, and less time watching tv. A workout this afternoon or tomorrow will mean three weeks in a row when I’ve had three good workouts. And the change of eating habits has been going quite well too. I’ve brought my carb intake down to between 20-30 grams per day and have seen great results. My energy is great, I am eating a lesser quantity of food thanks to the increased protein, and I have lost approximately 15 pounds in a little more than three weeks.
So, life is good. And these Christmas Resolutions have lasted longer than any New Year’s resolutions I ever made! Again, life is good!
My friend Andy is working to start up a new company that is going to be doing some really cool things with clothes. For example, for every shirt that is bought from Interwoven Threads, one will be donated to people in need of clothing. Check out Interwoven Thread’s myspace and stay posted for more information to come!
Help us spread the word too – tell your friends, your family, and anyone else who might listen!
My friend Dave is a self proclaimed music snob. Ever since college he has had an ear for up and coming musicians and he’s even recently been hired by a local magazine in Charleston, SC to attend shows and write reviews – admittedly his dream job!
A few days ago he posted the most recent U2 video – a video in which U2 doesn’t even appear, but which is by far one of the coolest videos I’ve seen for a long time. They have edited other musicians, singers, and performers so it appears as if they are singing the song – wonderful editing – very entertaining!
Admittedly I haven’t seen very many music videos recently and the ones I have seen haven’t been on television. However, the last music video I remember really enjoying was also by U2 (with Green Day). Heather forwarded this to me several months ago as we began making plans to take our sisters to New Orleans for a work trip/ vacation.
Both of these videos are creative, touching, and fun. Take a few minutes to watch them. Your day will be better for it.
Yesterday afternoon as Heather and I sat on the couch watching the Bears win their way into Super Bowl XLI I was reminded of a great blog Joel Mathis wrote last month. When I first read Joel’s defense of bandwagon jumping I was amused and found myself nodding my head with agreement. Yesterday, as my mind flashed back to his blog, it hit me that I was a bona fide jumper of bandwagons.
When moving to Chicagoland in 2002 I began rooting for the Cubs. Heather and I were going to school on the northside, we took trips with friends to Wrigley, and we had great hopes of a World Series appearance until Steve Bartman messed that all up.
After moving more permanently to Northwest Indiana we watched the White Sox win the 2005 World Series with great enthusiasm. It was exciting to be around that kind of energy and excitement.
And this year I’ve jumped on the Bear’s Bandwagon. I’m sure there are diehard Bears fans who have been with the team every painful step of the way since 1985 who would scoff at me and even be upset by my pledged allegiance to Da‘ Bears. To be honest, I don’t really care. Come Super Bowl Sunday I’ll be rooting for Da‘ Bears like most of the rest of the good folks in Da‘ Region.
I had a thoughtful and well crafted blog put together regarding something I read yesterday – and I lost it. I don’t have time to rewrite the blog now, but want to at least point you to its inspiration. Andrew wrote yesterday about the need for churches to find ways to reach 20-35 year olds and included a profound illustration. I’ll let you read it yourself here and draw your own conclusions.
For me it raised more questions than answers and reiterated the need for the church to be proactive in creating comfortable spaces for people.
This morning I had the opportunity to share an opening prayer at a faith based prayer breakfast held by The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. It was a nice event with speakers about Community Partnerships, Government Partnerships, and Faith Based Partnerships. The Food Bank is doing a great job of connecting and networking with persons from a variety of sectors as they seek to provide food for hungry persons in Lake and Porter Counties.
At the breakfast this morning our church was named one of three Faith Based Partners for 2007 because of our work in 2006. I was honored to accept a certificate on behalf of the church and am proud of the work that we have been doing. Receiving this recognition in front of other churches took me back to a meeting I had last night…
Last evening I met with a few folks from the Salvation Army Church here in Munster to talk about a youth ministry they have called The Fire-Escape. They essentially host a venue for all ages shows. The bands aren’t explicity Christian and their hope is simply to provide a safe and a fun place for youth who might not otherwise ever set foot inside a church – a very cool idea if you ask me. As they gear up for 2007 they invited myself and some others from the community to dream and talk about what kinds of new and creative things they might be able to do.
As we sat in that meeting last night we realized that, in the span of less than a mile, there are six churches that line the east side of Columbia Ave – A Ukrainian Orthodox Church, The Salvation Army, Trinity Reformed, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Ridge UMC, and Westminster Presbyterian. All of these churches are essentially in the same neighborhood, we all share a relatively common list of concerns about our community and our members, and we do little to nothing in cooperation with one another. It’s sad really.
I am sure that we’re not unique. I am sure that there are other churches and religious institutions throughout the country that are physical neighbors but never take the time and energy to be neighborly with one another, but why is this? What is it about the way that some institutions are wired that makes us more concerned about our internal affairs than the external possibilities? How will the possibilities for a more hopeful future ever be realized if we don’t find ways to look beyond our ownselves to the outside community? Loaded questions, I know.
It is often said that our United Methodist Church is connectional. However, that connection often goes little further than some lip-service. However, I’ve experienced two things this morning that reinforce my appreciation for the connection at it’s best.
I had a voice mail from a woman at the church yesterday calling with some questions about a youth mission trip to LA. I recognized her 402 area code as being from NE (where I went to college) and so I returned her call this morning with great interest in seeing who she was and what she was up to. She works with youth in a United Methodist Church in Hastings, NE. She had called Project Noah at First UMC in Slidell, LA and talked with them some about mission opportunities. She was told she might contact “Jeff Clinger at Ridge Church in Indiana.” That was all she was told and thanks to the power of the web she was able to track me down from there. We had a great conversation and there is much enthusiasm about possibly working together this summer.
This morning, while working from home, I spent a little time catching up on some of the blogs I like to read. One that I have recently started reading is “Thoughts of Resurrection” by Andrew Conrad an Associate Pastor at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, a congregation I spent a summer working with in college. He has a blogrole on his site that lists a bunch of other United Methodist related blogs. From there I stumbled onto, “My Emerging Mind” the site of one of our friends from Seminary. Heather and I were neighbors and friends with Chris and his wife Sara while in Seminary and it was great to find his little corner of cyberspace.
Both of these connections – one with a new colleague and one with an old friend – have something to do with our United Methodist-ness. Come to think of it though, they have just as much, if not more, to do with our use of the web. Increasingly the potential exists for us to use websites, blogs, and other technology to connect with one another in ministry and in life.
I am reminded today of the power of connections, through the church and the web, and would encourage people and churches alike to make sure that they’re doing what they can to utilize the tools that exist for their own good and for the sake of the greater good.
I’m working from my favorite coffee shop this afternoon – have I mentioned that I love my job! I took today as a planning retreat day to do some long range worship, administrative, and programming planning and scheming. I started this morning @ Panera to drink their coffee and mooch off of their free wi-fi. After leaving Panera I went to Borders, grabbed some lunch, and then headed to The Blue Room Cafe in Highland. I love coffee shops – the music, the art on the walls, the coffee noises and drinks being prepared, the rich aromatic smells, and the coming and going of people. Today there was even a reporter/cameraman from the Times. It seems that John and Paul (the brothers who own The BRC) are opening a second location in Hammond and have stirred up a little press.
Anyway, one of the things I did while here this afternoon is write a letter to all of the people who serve as greeters at Ridge UMC. What follows is an excerpt from that letter.
I am writing today to thank you for serving Ridge UMC as a greeter last year. I am writing from one of my favorite places – The Blue Room Café in Highland. I love coffee and I love the atmosphere of coffee shops in general, but I have a particular affinity for this place. I love coming here because when I walk through the door I’m greeted by name, offered a handshake, and treated as if they’re genuinely happy to see me. Regardless of how busy they are I’m given a cup of coffee and a comfortable place to sit, they ask me how I’m doing, and they tell me about and invite me to upcoming events that they think would interest me.
My appreciation for and comfort in this place has got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone who visited Ridge UMC felt so warmly welcomed? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when people came through the doors of our church, whether for the first time or the five hundredth time, they were greeted this warmly and passionately?
I have every confidence that churches can be just as welcoming as coffee shops, but it will require a shift in focus that is more than overdue in many congregations – a shift from an inward focus to one that is more outward. This shift is a difficult one to make, but one that is essential when it comes to transforming individuals and communities.