Friday, March 29, 2019

The Hospitality in Introductions

The other day I drove past a bulky SUV with a prominent bumper-sticker that said “Pro God. Pro Life. Pro Gun.” That is quite an eye-catching introduction. Now that you know where this person stands on three big topics, I imagine you could fill in the gaps on their other interests and opinions. You probably already know if you would get along with the owner of this hulking vehicle.

By the mere fact that you’re reading this blog, I can probably guess where you stand on the first of those three statements. The other two are a different story. You may agree with all three, or disagree, or allow room for a little more nuance. But if you had the choice, would you introduce yourself with these exact three phrases? The whole thing rings with so much dissonance and overtone that there is no doubt in my mind the driver hopes to not only make themself known but also unsettle a few folks in the process. These are not benign interests but bold proclamations. I, for one, cannot imagine shaking someone’s hand and saying “Hi, I’m Chad. I love Jesus, and here’s what I think about gun control.”

Introductions are vital to hospitality. They can either be an invitation to relationship or a gate to divide. We can screen someone to see if they are someone we agree with, or we can meet one another with genuine curiosity in each other’s lives. I would like to think that when first-time guests come through the doors of St. Mark, they feel that open welcome which won’t turn them away because of their beliefs or their history or the way they look. Bumper-sticker introductions, on the other hand, might as well be locks on the doors.

These days, it can be hard to find common ground with those who hold differing political convictions. And yet, I see so many do that very thing every Sunday. There is more to your identity than the stances you take on the current political climate. That is especially true for us Christians who are to hold Christ above all other things in every aspect of life.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul talks about dealing with a hot-button issue of the day, specifically eating meat from the pagan temples. It’s a complicated situation, and he basically says that no matter what side you stand on to consider how your actions affect others. If our convictions in worldly things harm and divide, he says we are essentially harming Christ himself.

You may have convictions that are deeply rooted in your faith. And I am sure you have opinions about worldly affairs as well. We do not always need to agree in order to have authentic relationships. In all these things, Christ is best served when are slow to voice our views and quick to listen with care to those who think differently than us. As Paul writes in another letter, this time to the Philippians, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Pastor Chad McKenna

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pastor Mark's Sabbatical

Dear friends,

In less than four months, I will embark on a much-anticipated sabbatical.  While I provided the following information in our recent Annual Report, I want to include it here so that everyone has an opportunity to be informed.  I would be delighted to discuss this sabbatical plan in further detail, should you wish to know more.  I am deeply grateful for this purposeful time to step back from the daily demands of ministry in order to reflect and write.

2019 Sabbatical Plan

Theme:  The theme of this sabbatical is one of spiritual discernment: both vocational and personal.  I intend for this sabbatical to allow me to further discern God’s leading and direction in my calling as senior pastor and in my calling as a supportive spouse to Naomi.  A major activity will include the writing of a personal reflection on loving and serving Naomi on her prolonged journey of Alzheimer’s Disease, while at the same time loving and serving the St. Mark community on our exciting journey of renewal and growth.  Specifically, I will reflect on the unique roles that our Christian faith and eschatology play in shaping our personal and communal hopes/expectations.

Rationale:  I have given this sabbatical much thought and prayer.  As a pastor and a husband, I strive to find and maintain a healthy balance of these two enormous responsibilities.  This time away from the rigors of daily pastoral ministry will provide the space and time to engage the Spirit in further discernment of our past, present, and future together.  I also plan to read a limited number of books, but to do so with a light hand so as not to overshadow the other goals of my sabbatical, which include time away from the perpetual demands of ministry for the sake of renewal. 

Plan:  Spiritual discernment will be the underlying activity that provides the crucial rhythm of balance in my work and my rest, my thoughts and my prayers, my time alone and my time with others.  I will provide for this discernment process by setting aside twelve weeks from my pastoral duties.  I will begin by traveling west to Holden Village, a renowned Christian retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.  I will also stop in Seattle to visit our oldest son, Brett, as well as numerous pastoral colleagues and friends in the Puget Sound area.   I also plan to set aside time for motorcycling and camping to refresh my inner child.  The final portion of my sabbatical will be spent in southwest Colorado.  Throughout this time, I look forward to exploring new opportunities for worship, prayer, and faith conversations.  Each of these endeavors will provide a distinctive setting to read, write my reflections, and to engage in the discernment process with trusted family, friends, and colleagues.  

Benefit:  I pray that the writing of my personal and theological reflections would provide confidence and hope to others in some vital way, especially to those who share in the difficult journey of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease.  This sabbatical will provide an extended opportunity to discern afresh God’s grace-filled presence and leading in the personal and vocational dimensions of my life…providing renewal for the significant work of our shared ministry ahead.  I also look forward to exploring new opportunities for worship and prayer, conversation, recreation and well as coveted time among dear family and friends.

Timeline:  St. Mark provides twelve weeks for pastoral sabbaticals.  The schedule for my sabbatical is July through September, 2019.

Walking this journey of faith with you,
Pastor Mark

Looking Back

Dear St. Mark friends, 2019 is a year I will never forget.   On January 13 of last year, my second granddaughter, Madlyn Olivia Hagen,...