Life-status update

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

It’s been a while since I posted.  I’ll give you an update on what I’m up to.

The pre-seminary process is in full swing.  I’ve filled out all of the forms and got all of the vaccinations (an over-40 returning student missed a few that are now required for school).  After a long process of talking to current and former seminarians and professors and pastors, I chose and registered for summer Greek – a year’s worth of Greek language taught in 2 months.  So for me school starts on July 11.  I’ve also been up to the seminary a few times in the last few weeks – to attend Theologiggle, the play (The Merchant of Venice – excellent production!), and a BGLASS event.  Princeton Seminary still feels comfortable to me.  I continue to be amazed at how many people there I already know – most from non-seminary connections.

Next week I’ll be there again for most of the week for the Institute for Youth Ministry forums.  During that week I’ll be meeting with my mentor for the Youth Ministry Certificate.  I recently asked a number of folks at my church to complete a 360-degree review of me in my ministry and I’ll receive those results.

In the middle of May I’ll be attending a laid-back ministry conference.

At the end of May and early June, Carolyn and I have scheduled a pre-seminary vacation.  We figure that with Princeton Seminary’s schedule, there are very few breaks of over a week (the exceptions being Christmas and June).  So we figure we’d better take a vacation now while we can take the time and have the money.  Our goals for the vacation were to disconnect from the world, spend a lot of time with each other, and get out of our regular environment.  We’ve booked a cruise from NJ to Bermuda and back in a week.  I’m not sure that I’ll be able to handle the twitter and Internet withdrawal (ha!), but we persevere.

I’ve also had the opportunity to connect with my CPM liaisons and that process is started and continuing.

In conclusion – everything is pointed in the right direction and moving for my seminary time and the future.  The obstacles so far have mostly been minor and surmountable.

 

2010: My personal Year in Review

December 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Candidate Process, Job Search, Life, Religion, Seminary, Work 

I haven’t done a Year in Review post for a few years because I didn’t have any good news then. The two New Years after the layoff were times that I survived rather than showing improvement. This year was different. Very up and down, but averaging to up.

I started the year still looking for a secular job and having little luck, depressed after just barely missing out on a job right before Christmas. (Irony: after I made my decision to change direction, the person that they picked left and they wanted to interview me again.) That all changed with two days close together in January. One day a good friend accompanied me to a job fair at Rutgers, which turned that day from a depressing trip to a job fair to a day with a friend and by-the-way time at a job fair. We also had lunch with the campus Protestant chaplain at Rutgers and I found myself asking her to have the local seminary contact me. Later I realized that I had no idea why I’d asked for that. A couple weeks later I had a rough Monday morning and the same friend met met for coffee. That conversation led me to make the decision that I had to do serious vocational discernment and seriously consider seminary. What followed that decision is a long story that gets told as the year follows.

February found me stretching in many ways. I started auditing a class at Princeton Seminary and meeting with folks from the seminary and my church about my sense of call. I started serving on my first presbytery committee. I started spiritual direction. And at this point in my journey I was on a dual track – religious vocational discernment and secular job search.

March found me working a part-time job for a local ecumenical group serving as the project manager for a June justice revival weekend. It also found me working full-time (to start) for the US Census counting noses at group living facilities and service-based locations (shelters, food banks). Regretfully the Census job didn’t pan out as advertised and the “full-time” work ended up being at best 15 hours a week and only lasted 3 weeks. But it did give me a technical break in unemployment that allowed me to form my own small business. That business continues to provide a small amount of income and will hopefully do so as I go forward in school. March also found me being approved by the Session of my church to apply to be an Inquirer in the PC(USA).

April found me making what was nearly the final turn to the new direction. The justice revival work got going in earnest. I started the Youth Ministry Certificate program at Princeton Seminary with a retreat before the annual Youth Forums. And I started some steps to take care of the space between my ears.

May was packed with growth for me. The work between my ears got going in earnest. My justice revival work was in high gear before the June weekend. I got to be in the audience of The Daily Show and spend a great evening with two friends. And I got to go to the Unconference (in Maryland in 2010) and make new friendships that I hope to have for years if not forever.

In June the justice revival happened and was an amazing and tiring weekend.  And I began preparations for July.  Also in June I began working on the family stresses that were created by my discernment process and change of career.

In July I got an opportunity that I’d been hoping for since I returned to the church and started working with youth – I got to go to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium.  The youth director at my church wrote the Small Group Manual, and as a result I was able to attend as Small Group Staff, Small Group Leader Trainer, and as a Small Group Leader.   My presbytery’s delegation was housed across the street from the dorm that I was in, so we got to spend a lot of time together.  I had a blast, and attending Triennium cemented my sense of call.  After that trip, the last obstacle between me and my new career path was resolved, and my new journey began.  At the end of July, Carolyn and I got to take a short vacation that we desperately needed – giving us time to reconnect and re-explore each other.

August was a quiet month of preparation work.  I spent the time getting ready for the new year at church (in my new role as President of the Deacons, and with new youth staff) and preparing to meet with CPM.  The Committee on Preparation for Ministry of my presbytery approved me as an Inquirer at the end of the month, beginning the official process towards ordination as a PC(USA) minister.  I also began my work on applications for Princeton Seminary.

September was a very busy month with the beginning of the church year and with seminary application preparation.  At the end of the month I submitted my Princeton Seminary application and kicked off the process of obtaining references.

October was a time of celebration.  Carolyn and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary.  We also one week later spent 3 days visiting Princeton Seminary in the role of prospective student and wife.  Both of us felt very comfortable with that visit and very much at home.  And the big celebration happened a week later at the end of the month, when I received my acceptance for the MDiv program at Princeton!

November brought a chance to enjoy success and reorient myself to my new direction.  I delivered my commitment letter to Princeton Seminary while attending the Emerging Adulthood seminar early in the month.  The rest of the month was spent completing some work between my ears and preparing for the holiday season.

December has been a time of waiting and preparing.  With the help of friends, I’m working on preparing for seminary.  I’m building lists of books to read before I start.  I’m trying to decide about whether to pursue Summer Language (an intensive 10 week program for Greek or Hebrew) or take one last summer trip with my church youth group.  And I’m reorienting my thinking.  One bright event of December was a chance to meet a Twitter friend from Atlanta, one of her friends and a local friend for lunch at Drew University.  I also unfortunately spent the end of November and most of December fighting a sinus infection that took a lot of my energy.

Overarching the year were a few events that do not fit the chronology well.  From late spring until today (and continuing) I’ve been doing a lot of work in my head to grow, and to process the changes that such a large career shift creates.  That large shift has also produces some stresses – in family, in friendships, and in relation to my church.  I’ve worked hard with those involved to try to navigate the emotions produced and the logistics involved.  This in turn has created further growth and improvement in me, in my relationships, and hopefully in the others impacted.  This work has been HARD, but well worth it.  And the relationships that have been involved I believe to be stronger now.  I won’t say that pain is necessary to growth, but I will say that getting through pain successfully often produces growth.  Last, a note that a few serious illnesses of family members came in the fall and that was rough too.  Those family members are on the mend.

Also not fitting the chronology well were the growth of a few new and old friendships through shared experiences.  I can only hope that I have given to them as much as they have given to me.

All in all, this year was a very up and down year.  I am thankful for my wife and friends who supported me through it, who listened to my ravings and pain, and who continue to stand by me.  While it has been rough most of the roughness has taken place in the service of growth in the right direction.  And there have been some glorious moments of celebration and happy-dances.  I’d never have believed that I’d jump up and down in my kitchen past age 40 until the day I opened my seminary acceptance letter.

I end the year with a new direction when I had no direction.  I end the year with strengthened relationships.  And I end the year with new friends that I value greatly.  And I end the year with a much, much stronger sense of the direction that God wants me to take, as well as many reminders that God is always with me.

I’ll take it.

Montreat Youth Conference 2009 – week 5

June 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Travel, Youth 

Some very bright news (and only somewhat related to what I mentioned in the last post) is the fact that I’m going to get to go back to the Montreat Youth Conference this summer.

With the support of my youth director at church, I decided to apply to become a Small Group Leader this year.  I got the letter yesterday telling me that I was accepted.  This is a small step outside of my comfort zone.  I was considering it last year after the conference, but decided not to apply at the time.  Now I’m in.  I loved my time at the conference last year, and my small group was one of the best parts.  I want to give back.

Through some rather unusual situations, our church group going to the conference has found itself short of one male leader.  So I’ll also be going as a Back-Home Leader.  Because we have another male leader and 2 female leaders, I will most likely be staying at Assembly Inn with the rest of the small group leaders, and doing some meals and evening Back-Home time with my church group.  If nothing else, it should get me more sleep.

I’m really impressed with how much impact the conference has had on our youth group.  100% of the youth from last year’s trip are scheduled to go again this year, and we’re adding more youth (mostly youth who are just now old enough to go) to increase the group by 50%.  I could see the difference that last year’s trip had in each youth’s life in the way that they interacted with each other and the church in the year since.  Some changes were bigger than others, but all were changed.

I’m really excited about the trip, and already annoying my wife with disjointed thoughts about it.  I really feel like it may be a make or break experience for one of my options for the future.

Introverts and Youth Ministry

May 13, 2009 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Youth 

Grier Booker-Richards – a friend, seminarian about to graduate (hire her now, ask me how!), and experienced youth ministry veteran – has given me another blog challenge.  “Write something about introverts and youth ministry”.

Now, I’m no expert on youth ministry.  At best I’m a somewhat gifted amateur.  So I will write about what I can clearly write about – my experiences and what that leads me to think.

Background:  I’m just over the border to the 40’s, I test clearly as an INFP (strong I, strong N), and I’ve been a camp counselor and more recently a volunteer youth advisor to a Sr. High youth group at my church.  My return to church after a long absence also marked my first journey into youth ministry as an adult.  That was about 2 years ago.  (Wow.  Only 2 years?)

I’ll divide the rest into 2 areas:  Introverts entering youth ministry, and Introvert style in youth ministry

Introverts Entering Youth Ministry

I’ll admit it – I was very nervous when I started doing youth ministry again.  The last time I had done it was when I was a youth.  I remembered it fondly, and most importantly I was invited in.  Alicia, who I knew from camp, invited me to try out the youth group for a week or two.  She told me when to arrive and how to prepare.  She was there the first evening.

I was feeling a bit worried because my youth relational skills were VERY rusty.  Carolyn and I don’t have children, and I had very little interaction with anybody under age 25 for almost 20 years.  I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the youth.  I was feeling all of the same fears that any new member of a youth group would feel.

I overcame that, and discovered (mostly in the 2nd week, when we broke out into groups) that the youth were fantastic people.  No, I mean REALLY impressive – better than I remember being at their age.

The key for me was that I had someone who invited me in.  Without Alicia I’m not sure that I would have taken the step.  It’s really funny to think that after my experiences.  Today, as I go through my career transition, I’m told repeatedly that if possible my new career should include working with youth.  There are people saying that they believe that I have a gift for this.  And I never would have found that out without Alicia pulling me in.

If you are an introvert (or just “shy”) and are considering youth ministry, try it.  Do it on your terms – make sure that you aren’t making a permanent or long-term commitment and just try it out for a week or two.  You’ll find out very quickly that you love it or hate it or can do it but it doesn’t excite you.  See where God is calling you.  Peek out of your shell.

It’s also important to remember a few things to be more comfortable.  First, you are an adult.  You are the authority in the room (maybe not the top dog, but certainly above the youth).  You have a life outside of the group.  You can walk away if you feel that you need to.  Second – you aren’t alone.  Something like 20% of the youth AND adults in the room will be introverts, too.  Other youth workers are trained (to some degree) in working with people of different types and they’ll be able to “read” you too and help you find your place.  Third – everybody (God included) wants the best possible experience for you and the youth.  They’ve got your back.  Fourth – be yourself.  If you are considering doing this it’s likely that being yourself is good enough (or better).  Youth need different kinds of adults in their lives.  By being yourself you provide them the strong example of authenticity when interacting with others.

In short – entering any new situation is hard.  This one can be easier than most.

Introvert Style in Youth Ministry

One of the great “truths” about ministry is that its easier for those who are outgoing or extroverted.  There’s some truth to that – ministry requires you to meet many new people and understand their needs and to give your message to the world.  It’s real, but not absolute.

Youth ministry is one place where being an introvert is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand the youth minister is expected to lead a group of people in need of direction and guidance.  You can’t live completely in your shell to do that.  But on the other hand, youth ministers are expected to be able to take a deep dive into the lives of their youth – particularly those who need more guidance or help or a shoulder to cry on than the average.  This is where introverts excel.

A young person today is very much like young people of all times – a bundle of new feelings, new hormones, a need to find a direction, and a hunger for connecting with others.  Today’s youth also have something that I don’t remember when I was their age – a drive to make the world a better place and ownership of the world that they are inheriting.

Youth today need breadth and depth.  Breadth is something that the extrovert large group leader is good at – energizing, motivating, teaching and entertaining a crowd.  The extrovert leader is able to communicate with the mass of youth and mold them roughly into better disciples, while gaining energy.

Where the introvert excels is depth.  Introverts are very comfortable delving into the deep corners of the soul, and often make very good listeners.  Introverts who trust others can build relationships that are long-term, deep, and very meaningful to both parties.  The introvert in youth ministry is less a sunny day or a thunderstorm than a rock or a tree – a solid (but not unchanging) structure that a youth can choose to linger near or cling to.

Please note first that these are gross generalizations and not true in all cases.  Sara Ferguson, one of my fellow youth advisors, is an extrovert with a capital E, and a capital X, and a capital T … you get the idea.  Yet she has formed the deepest relationships with our youth and is a strong and deep presence in their lives.  I’m getting better at working the group instead of working with individuals myself.  It’s an experience thing.

Also please note that breadth and depth are not the same things as quantity and quality.  Breadth and depth in youth ministry work are different kinds of quality.  Quantity does influence style – the extrovert is somewhat better with large groups and the introvert may be better with an individual.  But quality is in my opinion more important than quantity.  Breadth and depth are both different and non-contradictory measures of quality.

I also firmly believe that anybody can love anybody else (that’s what we’re doing – loving the youth).  Some relationships are natural and a few are almost automatic.  There’s no truth to the idea that introverted leaders work best with introverted youth, or the opposite.  It’s just a matter of style.

I do have a few tips for introverts in youth ministry, particularly those new to it:

Sitting on the Couch – Grier (remember Grier – she asked for this) taught me in an e-mail message that I received on the way to my first Montreat Youth Conference a ministry style that works well for me.  It’s called “Ministry by sitting on the couch”.  The idea is to simply be there, be available, and the youth will come to you.  At Montreat that took the form of sitting on the couch at First House (often recovering strength) and being open to speaking with the youth.  At my church youth group it means being loose and approachable – being there for someone to talk to.  If a youth wants to speak with you, they will find you.  This really works!  I had a few youth approach me at Montreat and we had some really deep conversations.  The same happens back at home – particularly with the youth who arrive early for events.  A few other thoughts on this – boundaries are important.  Don’t get hounded into giving up all of your free time.  When you are there for them, you have to give them your FULL attention.  Introverts are generally good at this unless socially exhausted.  Also, a little bit of followup privately (as opposed to in the middle of the room in a crowd) is important.

You Won’t Connect With All of Them – One thing that I find periodically frustrating is an inability to connect with all of my youth.  I truly love each of them in a way unique to the individual.  Realize this – you couldn’t possibly connect with each youth even if you wanted to, unless your group is VERY small.  And there’s no reason to expect to either.  This is why having multiple volunteers is important – different people click with different youth.  Don’t be upset if you fail to make a strong connection with any given youth – it’s more important that the youth connect with SOME adult.  Just be there for the youth that you do connect with.

One related issue common to INFP’s is the typical inability to accept yourself.  INFP’s are never satisfied with themselves – there is always a way to improve.  For me this means that the way that other people see me is a blind spot – I have trouble seeing myself as others see me.  Seek a safe person to check your assumptions with – they may see your interactions with others differently (and more accurately) than you do.

Help the introverted youth – You know what it’s like to be new in a group, and what it’s like to be an introvert in a crowd.  Be on the lookout for youth going through the same things.  Sit next to the new kid and just be there.  You don’t have to make endless small talk.  Just be there.  And if a youth reaches the “people overload” point and has to leave the room for a while, be the person who follows them for safety reasons.  Find a reason to go in the same direction (cleaning up dishes often works) and just bump into them in the hall.  Give them the space that they need without needing to round them up to rejoin the group.  You’ll need to bring them back at some point, but you’ll have some idea of when their batteries are recharged enough.  This requires some trust of both the leaders and the youth, but you’ll reach the “it’s OK – Mark is handling it” point pretty quickly.

You are not just an introvert – Everybody is different.  Everybody has different talents.  You will form relationships with all types of youth – both the introverted and the extroverted.  That’s a good thing.  You may have to extend yourself a little more than you’re used to, but it’s totally worth it.  You have something to give to the group that is unique, and you need to share it with all.  For me, it’s a love of sci-fi and anime, drumming, and flying.  For you it is probably something else.  Share yourself with all.

To sum up – introverts are a bit of a special case in youth ministry, but it is not a negative.  Introverts bring unique skills and viewpoint to any group, and can balance things.  Introverts can minister to other introverts, but are most effective when providing a quiet but strong presence to all.

Staying Busy

Recently I have been thinking about what I do with my “non-work” time.  With my career transition, I’m able to use time for “non-work” activities during the day, hopefully to the benefit of others.  Someday I hope that I can combine my vocation and avocations.

This led me to thinking about listing all of the various things that I do.  Some people put them on their resumes, but mine is already too long and I’m not sure what it would add.  So I’ll list my “sideline” things here for your interest/amusement.  I know that once I find a job I may have to cut back on some of these (indeed – several of them have been started since my career transition started with the caveat that I may have to stop at some point).

Work-related

Recently I’ve been providing computer services to others as a sideline.  Mostly this consists of PC maintenance, including some hardware work, installing software updates, and a lot of fixes to things like “my computer does X when I do Y – can you fix that?”.  This is done for various forms of renumeration including lunch and good will.

I’m also going to be helping another church do some brainstorming of what they want on their church’s website.  And yet another church has asked for help with their website, but I don’t know the specifics yet.

Local Church

I have a lot of roles at church:

  • Deacon – currently serving on the Board of Deacons, assigned to the Prayer Team and enjoying serving Communion on occasion.  I’m also the designated “e-mail reminder” person who sends a note to the people assigned to jobs each Sunday.
  • Open Door – recently completed a stint as co-chair of a task force studying issues of hospitality to visitors and the community.  I’m likely to serve as a member of the new Session committee being created to continue this work.
  • Webmaster – of the church website and the weekly e-mail that goes to almost 400 people.  This role also has me serving as the social networking expert surrounding our presence on Facebook and such.
  • Youth Advisor and member of Youth and Young Adult Council – nothing that I do at church brings me more joy than my work with the Senior High youth group.  I’ve also been involved in supporting the youth director with strategic planning for the youth council lately.
  • Percussion – most members of the church have been surprised to learn that I was classically trained as  a percussionist in high school.  I’ve been using those skills on snare and cymbal, djembe, congas, and other instruments in both the alternative and regular service.  Apparently I’m not as rusty as I think that I am.

Greater Church

  • The God Complex – serving as Webmaster for the new weekly Internet radio show that is hosted by Bruce Reyes-Chow and Carol Howard Merritt.  This involves blogs, web hosting, e-mail and other stuff that I don’t even know about yet.
  • I will be assisting my local Youth Director with the Small Group manual for the next Youth Triennium.  Not in a major way – just reading and editing.  I hope to turn that into a trip next summer, but that would require some creative planning (anybody need someone to man a booth or serve as a chaperone?).
  • This blog seems to provide value to some.  I’m also on Twitter and most of my friends there are church-related

Other Stuff

  • I’m a member of the Delaware Valley Ham Radio club.  I’m a general-class ham – KC2SMS.
  • I’m one of the keyholders for the ham radio emergency equipment for the local Red Cross office.  The Princeton Red Cross chapter is the “center” for ham radio for the state’s Red Cross groups, mainly because we are centrally located.  Monday night will be the monthly equipment test for the Red Cross and the NJ State RACES/ARES folks.

So, I’m keeping busy.  If I were being paid for all of that at a reasonable salary I’d have a full-time job.  As it is, it’s more like 1/2 to 2/3 of my days and some of my non-work hours.  I like to help people, and I usually don’t care whether I get paid or not (though getting paid is important for other reasons).  My hope is that someday I can use these skills for a paying position with some meaning to the world.

Feeling a little itchy

August 15, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

I’m feeling a bit emotionally/spiritually itchy.  You know – not quite comfortable.  I suppose it’s a bit like the ailment of the month – Restless Legs Syndrome.  Something is not quite right but not such a problem that it’s acute pain.

More on that in a minute.  First an update.

Camp went well on Sunday.  This was a really rough week for check in.  There were 21 units, and something like 225 kids to check in.  The Leadership Training Program (for the oldtimers – that’s Counselor-in-Training) participants were all going into units for the week, so they weren’t available to help out.  With that many units, all available staff were going in unit.  Volunteers were all pressed into service.  I trained my wife Carolyn to be my assistant, and gave her all of the Elementary (grades 1-5 this fall) and Junior (grades 6-7 this fall) units.  I took the Jr. High and Sr. Highs.  First rule of check-in – the little kids show up first.  Carolyn quickly got behind and I found myself with free time.  My campers all came later.  I finally ended up taking the Juniors from her in order to get us finished.  She kept asking if she was being too slow but the truth is that it was just a really rough week.  We had to hand out paperwork to the counselors and age-group directors at dinner after cross-checking the medical information against the nurses and medications received.  We finished 5 minutes before dinner and walked in just after grace.  Whew!

Last night I helped out at church.  For August we’re doing Movie Night on Tuesdays for the Jr. High and Sr. High youth groups combined.  It’s really simple – there is a different PG movie each night with a message and a few questions to discuss at the end.  Last night we got 2 kids.  This was not entirely unexpected – I had checked in 6-8 of the regulars at camp two days earlier.  The movie was Pride – the story of the 1974 Philadelphia Department of Recreation swim team that was built out of an abandoned rec. center and went on to win the regionals.  Nice evening.

Also this week I’ve been making the rounds of blogs.  This week the Presbyterian blogging community (or at least some corners of it) are fighting again.  The question this week is whether or not the denomination can abide people who push the boundaries of Presbyterian belief (if you’re a progressive) or are heretics (if you’re a conservative).  The question is to what degree is each of us responsible for disciplining these people.  The conservatives are making noise about how they can’t stand to be part of a denomination that includes these folks.  The progressives question back – “Why aren’t you filing charges?  Oh yeah, you only file charges against gays.”  It’s all very ugly.

This led me to go back to foundations.  One blogger made the statement that we are all collectively responsible for the pastoral care and discipline of people who stray from the essential tenets.  I went back to the Book of Order (having determined that going back to Scripture is pointless in these disputes – any given verse has different meanings depending on who you talk to) and sure enough, there it is:

That our blessed Savior, for the edification of the visible Church, which is his body, hath appointed officers, not only to preach the gospel and administer the Sacraments, but also to exercise discipline, for the preservation of both truth and duty; and that it is incumbent upon these officers, and upon the whole Church, in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing, in all cases, the rules contained in the Word of God. (G-1.0303)

Yikes.  I’m one of those officers, as a deacon (though I suspect the author of these words was thinking of elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament).  I’m supposed to censure or cast out the erroneous!  I AM the erroneous to some extent.

My beliefs are that faith is intensely personal.  Each person is responsible for his or her own faith.  Ministers are only responsible for our faith up to the point where they educate us on what they believe Scripture is saying and what they believe to be true.  From there it’s up to us.  We as members are responsible for listening, thinking, praying, and building our own faith.  The Presbyterian denomination has always been a thinking denomination – we don’t assume that we are ministering to people who need to be led by the nose.

If you read the BOO passage above and the comments of my fellow bloggers, we are each responsible for applying the disciplinary system of our denomination to anyone who strays from the essentials of our faith (which we can’t agree on either, and I prefer it open-ended that way).  According to these same bloggers, failure to take such action amounts to an endorsement of the other person’s ideas.  That seems to be the justification used by those who are filing heresy complaints against people across the country that they’ve never met.

This is what’s making me itchy.  I’m pretty uncomfortable being in a position where I’m responsible for the beliefs of ANY Presbyterian.  I’m also uncomfortable that if I say the wrong thing my Session may get complaints about me.

I’m also profoundly bothered by the natural conclusion.  This says that our officers are responsible for controlling our behaviors and beliefs.  If you remember things I’ve written earlier, I left the church 20 years after I concluded that church was all about a small group of people controlling the beliefs and actions of a larger group of people.  This seems to confirm that – the church really IS all about control of one group by another.  Please note that I’m completely comfortable with God’s control – it’s the control of my peers that bothers me (particularly when a number of them want me to believe and do the exact opposite of what I feel God is calling me to do).

I’m also a little itchy in that I’m not sure that I’m “good enough” for the church work that I’ve been asked to do.  I watched our seminary student intern last night working with the youth and he seemed so comfortable.  I’m still feeling my way around (not literally – that would get me in trouble!) with youth work and I’m not completely comfortable leading.  I’m pretty good with being the second or third or fourth banana, but not the main guy.  Thankfully I’m not expected to be one at the moment.  This in turn leads me into a spiral where I wonder if I’m even competent to lead the committee that I’m leading.  These worries aren’t paralyzing me, just making me spiritually and emotionally “itchy”.

The Lighter Side

I just got an e-mail from a co-worker that read “Sorry for the incontinence.”  It appears that if you misspell “inconvenience” in a certain way, Microsoft Outlook gives you “incontinence” as the first choice in spell check.

It’s Friday afternoon, it must be time for a roundup

August 10, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Sports, Work 

You may be wondering why I do these on Friday afternoons.  You see – my employer does something called Summer Hours between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Employees who choose to take advantage of the program work an extra hour Monday through Thursday and go home at noon on Friday.

I do not choose to take advantage of Summer Hours, so the place is quiet on Friday afternoons.  I have time to write a little on break.

Work
I had a good conversation about career paths and discovery and discernment with my boss this week.  This is probably setting off alarm bells in most of your minds, but we have a really good rapport (we’ve worked together since about 1996) and I fully trust her to be discrete.  There are benefits to both sides in being open and honest with your boss, and we plan to make good use of them.  I can’t say more here.  I’m glad that it went well.

I had a medium-sized project go live today.  It was a bumpy installation – caused mainly by a consultant who doesn’t know our setup and change management package.  It’s not his fault – everybody has a hard time the first time.  Once we got the issues worked out all is running correctly.  I have another one going live soon, and a third larger project going live at the end of the month (with pieces continuing to be worked on into September).

I am getting a brand-new laptop at some point in the next few weeks.  They’re here, but I’m a low priority replacement (others have broken systems or are new employees working on “loaner” PCs).

Work has been generally busy.  In the last 2 weeks I’ve had an overwhelming number of problems, issues, and small requests.  It’s like everybody decided to hold them until the last week of July and then dump them all on me at once.  I think I’m through most of them, but the workload did increase for no apparent reason temporarily.

Weekend
This weekend is a bit active.  My parents are coming over on Saturday evening and we are headed out to see a Trenton Thunder baseball game.  The Thunder are the AA affiliates of the NY Yankees and have been playing in Trenton since 1994.  Our seats are behind the 1st base side dugout and I think they’re the 2nd row behind the dugout (or maybe the first row).

Then on Sunday I head up to Camp Johnsonburg for check-in for the last week of regular camp.  I’m going to be in charge of medical form paperwork this week due to my friend Jill’s vacation – she is usually the person doing the job.  It’s looking to be a bit warm.  I think there are lots of kids from my church going this week, but I’m so far away from the actual check-in tables that I probably won’t see them.  This isn’t my last visit for a long time – I’m also planning to attend the Youth Worker Training on September 7, and I’ll be chaperone when my church’s Sr. Highs attend the camp Sr. High Retreat in November.

Church
We’ve finally got the Welcome and Outreach Task Force started.  We have 8 members with 2 outstanding invitations.  For the month of August, we’re doing optional reading assignments on our topic.  I’m reading The Present Future:  Six Tough Questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal.  In September we’ll get everybody together face to face and really get started.

The Youth Director came all the way to Bristol for lunch earlier this week.  We talked about my career search and the upcoming Confirmation Class.  He had lots of good input on the career discussion.  For the Confirmation Class, he’s asking how he can get me involved without overbooking my time.  At this point it looks like I will end up being the Cat-Herder for the group of mentors assigned to the confirmands.  That’s an easy assignment – a bit of work up front but after that just keeping people on schedule and watching for problems.  I’m also probably going to teach a few lessons – probably polity and beyond that we’ll see.  I really want to be involved in this process because the youth that I know who are the right age are really great!

All other areas of my life are fine at the moment.

Have a good weekend!

Another Roundup

August 3, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

I’d like to apologize to my readers for the lack of deeply thoughtful articles of late.  Life and work are a bit busy at the moment and I only have time for these roundups.

Work
I’m on the old laptop, reloaded from scratch.  I’ve been told today that I’m getting a new one in the next few weeks.  Given that this one was nearly top of the line when we bought it in 2000 or 2001 – it’s time.  Company culture issues aren’t touching me as much as they had been a while back.  One of the “problem children” has resigned and another in a different state has been told that her job is moving to my location by spring and her department reorganized.  Given that and a few other things I can’t mention here it’s unlikely that she’ll be here by then.  It’s unfortunate when people lose their jobs, but in some cases it’s necessary – anybody who consistently and willfully provides negative productivity (not only are they not productive, they make others less productive) needs to go.

Church
I had a good meeting with with the Youth and Young Adult council this week.  We’re getting ready for the new year.  We talked a lot about the philosophy of how we lead/schedule the group and some possible changes.  The one thing that was a common thread was consistency – that each weekly meeting follow the same pattern and that we choose simple and meaningful as opposed to trying to do a major production each week.  This follows the trend in Youth Ministry nationally to move away from the “let’s bring in new converts” blockbuster events of the 80’s and 90’s and for most the over-30 crowd in the council represents a step back to what they experienced as a youth.  We’re also talking about changing the names of the groups.  Right now they are CHAOS (Christians Hanging Around On Sunday) for the Senior Highs and WILDLIFE (which is an acronym nobody can remember off the top of their heads) for the Junior Highs.  The youth director wants to de-emphasize the chaotic aspects of the names and I agree.  We’re going to see what the youth want early this fall.

The youth director also asked me if I wanted to help lead the Confirmation Class.  This year is the first year doing the class for 9th grade youth (it had been 8th grade, and last year there was no class due to the switch).  I’m honored to be asked, a little uncertain about my ability and the strength of my faith being sufficient, and probably nearly overbooked already.  The Welcome and Outreach Task Force is about to get started, I’ll still be working with the Senior Highs weekly and attending the YAYA council once a month, and the confirmation class is every other week for 8 months plus 3 weekend retreats (one just overnight).  I’ve asked the youth director to lay out time expectations, and perhaps I can be a guest speaker on topics that I know well (polity would be one, and I’m sure that there are a few others).

The Lawrenceville church and a Princeton church (I think it’s Nassau Presbyterian) are putting together a new young adult event called Theology On Tap.  It’s the 2nd Thursday of each month (starting September) in the Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn in Princeton at 8pm.  The idea is for 20’s/30’s somethings to get together and share a drink (alcohol optional), fellowship, and talk about theology.  You can find more information HERE, or in the Theolodoodle group on Facebook.  I barely qualify by age, but it’s intriguing enough to me that I’ll probably attend at least the first session.

The youth director also told me a freaky coincidence story.  He was at Triennium 2 weeks ago, sitting with a woman minister friend of his.  She was working on a sermon.  On the table she had laid out a Bible, some books, a few printed e-mails, and one printed blog post.  My director asked, “Can I look at that?” and picked up the blog post.  You’ve probably guessed by now – it was one of mine (either from here or a comment elsewhere).  He started laughing and when she asked why he explained:  “This is one of my adult advisors.”  Since Triennium was attended by youth from all over the world, he claims that I’m now internationally famous!  Somehow I doubt that, but I’m glad that folks are finding worth in my ramblings.

Life
All is well, but we’re so busy with other people’s events (family, camp, church) that we’re neglecting work around the house.  The outdoor trim needs to be painted, the garden needs weeding badly, and the driveway needs to be sealed.  We need to decide whether or not to pay someone to do some of these things (we can afford to) or to stop our commitments and just get it done.

We also need to be sure that we get some downtime.

Friday Roundup

July 27, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Life, Religion, Work 

For reasons that will be clear below, I’ve been quiet this week.  Here’s a roundup.

Work
The big event this week happened on Wednesday.  My work laptop (which I’ve had since 2001) caught a virus mid-morning.  It appears that this virus’s purpose in life was to download other viruses, spyware, trojans, pop-ups, and to take over the box so completely that the machine was unusuable.  I finally had to resort to contacting our Desktop Support folks (I prefer to fix my own problems most of the time) and we agreed that there was no point in saving the box.  The hard drive was wiped and is being reloaded from scratch.  I have a loaner PC for a few days while they complete the reload, and then I’ll have to spend time getting the reloaded PC back to the way I like it.

I’m an IT person.  For us, the loss of a PC or changing PCs is a very emotional thing.  We spend at least 8 hours a day working on the PC.  To us, the PC is a lot like home – we install applications that make life easier, we change the background, we have our lists of bookmarked websites, etc.  Losing the PC to a virus or hard-drive crash is like your house burning down.  Moving onto a loaner PC is like staying in a hotel – you can’t really do much to it and it doesn’t feel quite like home.  The one exception to this rule is a better PC.  That’s like selling your 1500 sq. foot house and moving into a 2400 sq. foot house.  It’s an upgrade!

I may also get upgraded in the near term – I’m waiting to hear.

Also happening at work this week – the division that I support got a new top guy.  He is something we haven’t had for many years – knowledgeable about the business, makes good decisions, and is a friendly person who is easy to work with.  We haven’t had that combination since about 1998.  This bodes well for the business.  If he were able to get the culture changed (which includes people outside of his control – so I don’t think it’s likely) I might consider staying.

Camp
I’m headed back to camp for check-in this coming Sunday.  I’m looking forward to it, as I always do.

Church
Our new Associate Pastor ran the service last weekend alone – our senior pastor is on vacation.  She did a great job.  I wonder if anybody else saw her take a deep breath just before she stood up to speak the first time.

Another amazing thing.  An “older” woman (older than my parents) had some sort of back issue.  When I started attending last year, she was essentially permanently bent over at a 90 degree angle using a walker with wheels.  Then she disappeared for a while, and when she showed up at church she was standing straight!  This past week she was the musical soloist, and at her age she still has a very strong and true voice.  It’s good to see her get back to something else that she had lost.  Very inspirational!

I’m a little worried about the youth group.  I didn’t go on the Mission Trip a few weeks ago.  I’m sensing that the group is at least temporarily breaking into two groups – those who went on the trip and those who didn’t.  After the fund raiser for the trip at the beginning of June, the youth director stopped inviting people (students and advisors) who weren’t going on the trip (reasonable – the meetings were about the trip).  I spoke with the adults and youth who went on the trip and I felt a fairly universal vibe from the youth – if you didn’t go on the trip you let them down.  I would have hoped that the folks who stayed home (including some of the students) would have been formed into the “Pit Crew” or “Support Team” or even “Prayer Team” supporting those who made the trip.  On the up side, I seem to have been active and supportive enough that I’ve been included in the group that plans things for all 3 groups (Jr. High, Sr. High, Young Adult) and we’re meeting next week.

Home
Wife is good.  House is good.  Cats are good.  We need to paint a few things around the house, and we need to get the fireplace chimney fixed/replaced.  Otherwise all is well.  I’m most of the way through the new Harry Potter (no comments with spoilers, please).

That’s the Friday roundup.  Have a nice weekend!

Annual Congregational Meeting

June 18, 2007 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville held the Annual Congregational Meeting yesterday.

I won’t bother to comment on the many reports that were given.  In general, the church is healthy.

The only slight negative in any report was that the Stewardship Campaign for last year didn’t reach it’s goals.  Those goals were tough – a 10% increase in pledges and a 10% increase in total pledge amount.  The committee achieved a 5% increase in total pledge amount with a decrease in pledges.

The Youth and Young Adult Ministry was by far the longest and most comprehensive report – covering 2.5 pages with 9 pt. type.  I was mentioned as a youth leader several times – including being credited with being a “devoted” leader of the Jr. High group even though I attended only once.

The “Green Team” wasn’t mentioned except in passing as the sponsor of one adult education event.

The Stated Clerk’s Report rolled up the membership numbers for the year.  We started the year with 867.  There were 29 new members (13 by Profession/Reaffirmation of Faith, 14 by letter of transfer, and 2 restored to the roll).  We lost 65 members – 6 by Letter of Transfer, 11 by Death, and 48 by Session Removals (making them inactive).  If you take out the Inactives, we had a net gain of 12.  We ended the year with 831.  There were also 10 infant baptisms and one adult baptism.

The Sunday School and Youth programs total 256 youngsters.

Aside from one remark made by the pastor regarding inactive members (and which I’ve contacted him about via e-mail) there was nothing to be concerned about.  All seems to be well.

But I’m concerned.

I believe that I am guilty of the sin of envy.

The Nominating Committee nominated 5 people to serve as elders, 8 people to serve as deacons, and one person to serve the remaining two years of a term as deacon.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a youth nominated to fill that unexpired deacon term – Claire will do a great job and if I have her year in school correct she’ll be able to finish her term before going to college (which I unfortunately was unable to do so many years ago).

Three of the officers were members of the same New Members class as me.  I was very surprised to see them nominated – I figured that nobody that new would even be considered (indeed – one of the pastoral associates said something to that effect to me).  The man nominated to be an elder is actually a returning member (he moved away and then back).  All three of them are devoted members and completely appropriate for the office.

But a voice inside me asks “Why them and not me?  Haven’t I worked hard enough?”

Another voice answers “Why does it matter?  What do you want from the church?”

Yet another voice says “If you’re upset about this, you clearly aren’t worthy anyway.”

I do make a solid contribution to the youth ministry and feel appreciated there.  I know that I made a good contribution to the Green Team and I have felt appreciation from some about that.  I try to pitch in wherever I can.

I know that I make valued contributions at camp, and they are recognized.  Camp feels like home – what I do there to help (while sometimes tiring) never feels like work.

Clearly the pastor sees a future contribution from me – it shows in his choice to ask me to lead the new task force.  This is partially offset by the fact that it’s been over 2 months since I talked to him about the task force and it still isn’t populated yet.  When last we spoke we had three members (out of a target of 8) and we had named another 8 members to ask.  Our plan for meeting before the summer went out the window – we’ll now be lucky if we can start our task in September.

So what am I looking for anyway?

Clearly, any consideration of the church as a future full-time vocation has to go on the back burner.

I feel like I’m back at square one with my discernment process.  Did I really join the church for the reasons that I thought I did?  Am I being fed?

As I said last week, there is turbulence.  Now it’s revealed to be inside my head.

In the mean time, I persevere.  I’ll keep working on things as planned.  I’ll still be at camp in about 2 weeks to help with check-in.  I’ll still work on the task force when/if it gets going.  I’ll still be working with the youth.

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