December 20, 2013

Love Came Down at Christmas

On my in to work this morning, several of us on the commuter van were talking about what days we were taking off for Christmas. One person remarked that she was going to have to work a lot of hours despite the holidays, because she was not able to get everything done in her office. This prompted another person to say that, for her, what was truly important was family and friends. She said that when you leave work, the people will miss you but the work will go on. Then she recounted this story.

Several years ago she was teaching this very lesson at a workshop for her employees. Her team is a dedicated bunch and they work very hard. It was a matter of pride that they accomplish their work goals. So when she said that if you leave, people will miss you but the institution won't care and the work will continue, that comment was met with some resistance. After the workshop my friend got a phone call that one of her team, who worked out of town, suddenly died--a forty-ish man had a heart attack and simply died to everyone's shock. The next day, my friend walked in to finish up the workshop and she told them about their colleague. Then she said, "And do you think that there isn't a person sitting at his desk doing the work this morning? He will be missed but the work goes on."

In response to her story, I joked that in many places you may leave but not replaced. And she answered, "But even with fewer hands, the work will continue."

So this year please remember what is truly important.

But for us Christians there is another lesson. God's work will always get done if not by us, then someone else. God never leaves himself without a witness. This can mean a lot of different things, but today, for me, it means that we are free and that's a big relief. None of us is so special in getting a job done that God can't find someone else. We don't bear the sole weight of responsibility--God does. Bringing in the kingdom does not depend solely on us. We can take a break and celebrate. Sure we should do our part, but we are just a part, not the whole.

Joy and Peace,

December 16, 2013

Early Morning Mary

The church I attend has a 7:30 am chapel service every Wednesday. Although the attendance fluctuates, there can be as few as four and as many as ten. 

I have led the service a few times when the pastors were on vacation or busy. Although the church is close to 25 minutes from my house, getting up early, usually in the dark, and driving to the small chapel to begin the day with other believers is a great blessing.

I led the service this past Wednesday and will again lead next week.  My message this week was about Mary which I titled, "How Can This Be?" I commented how Mary is held as an extraordinary  example of obedience to God's word, although her first response to the angel's message about  carrying God's son was "'How can this be?"

We do not know the process Mary went through to go from her initial response, "How can this be?"  to "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said,, but the scripture between her two comments offers helpful advice when we too are placed in situations where our response is "How can this be?"

Throughout life we have experiences which leave us saying,"'How can this be?"--a sudden job loss, a newly diagnosed illness, an unexpected pregnancy, learning about a move when a long-awaited job has just been secured. This happened to me twice. I received job offers for positions I long desired, only to find out a few months later we were moving; or any other situations which leave us surprised, confused, distressed.

Looking at the scripture, the angel offers a few words of advice to Mary. The angel says:

1. "Don't be afraid." Mary was obviously troubled by the angel's words as are we when unexpected events happen.  Unexpected circumstances remind us things are changing. We don't initially have a new plan or direction as our regular routine is affected.Remembering the angel's words,"'Don't be afraid," may calm our hearts as we begin to deal with the unexpected.

2. "The Holy Spirit will come on you." The power of the Holy Spirit is without limit. Even when we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit provides. The companionship of the Holy Spirit carries us, until we can reach a place of peace.
3."'God's power will rest upon you"'  Knowing that God was with Mary as she worked through the astonishing news was a reminder she was not alone. We too have the same assurance that no matter what is happening in our lives, God is with us.
Mary must have absorbed the angel's words, helping her arrive at a place of acceptance and peace so she could say with confidence, "I am the Lord's servant, may it happen to me as you have said."'
The angel's words can help us  work through those moments when we say, "How can this be?"  Keep these words close throughout the year so that whatever happens we too can come before God, finding peace and acceptance.
Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

December 13, 2013

Newtown Anniversary: What If We Said No?

As we are all being reminded, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting which took the lives of children and adults. It is an event that reminds us how susceptible each of us is to violence and that no one age group or place is safe or sacred from the destruction caused by violence. At the same time, it is a reminder that life still goes on after bad things happen.

I do not know what propels people to watch countless hours of television, as reporters and the media regurgitate the same sound bites for hours. Yet, millions of televisions will inevitably broadcast images, the voices of so-called experts, stories of brokenness and hope, life and of course death.

While the media retells the story, again, we know that the families and town government have asked that we leave them alone and give them privacy. Families have asked people to stay away. If we listened, families could walk the streets of Newtown and remember or reflect, like I did last January when I visited with siblings. They could pop their head into the Misty Vale General Store and share their grief with locals, talking about what this past year has been like for them and the community. They could grab a bite to eat at Villa Restaurant and Pizza with a close friend. They could live their new lives without the disruption of our misplaced intentions.

When the grieving ask for privacy they do not mean, “Hey, please avoid knocking on our door and lurking in our garage.” I think they mean, stay away so that they can choose how to grieve in their own way and at their own home, within their community and without the media and gawkers. That is what I hear them asking for on this day.

So, I wonder. On this day when families ask for privacy and for us to turn our voyeurism into acts of kindness in OUR COMMUNITIES, what would happen if we turned off the television, avoided the news, and ignored, all together, any story about Newtown? Perhaps we could send a message to the media, and those who will choose to ignore the requests by creating chronic coverage, that we choose to respect the wishes of the bereaved.

While we continue to ask questions of “how and why” events like Sandy Hook happen and what we can do to help, it is true that we may want to talk about about gun control, access to mental health support, violence in American life, and all the other issues events like Sandy Hook provoke us to ponder. We should not, however, utilize this anniversary to remind ourselves (as if we ever had a moment to forget) that these questions run deep in our collective consciousness. This anniversary is Newton’s anniversary. The questions that need to be asked about this tragedy may be ours, but the grief that accompanies this anniversary is not about us and we must be clear about that distinction. I believe that clarity is the only thing separating us from respecting those who are filled with grief and those who wish to watch from the sidelines.

And for those of us who want to be supportive, often times that simply means listening and giving people the space they have requested.

Joseph M. Primo, MDiv.
CEO | Good Grief
38 Elm Street | Morristown | NJ | 07960
12 Stockton St. | Princeton | NJ | 08540
908.522.1999 x8011


Having to Stand in Line to Speak to Your Spouse

Who are the go-to people in your church? Who do you ask when the bathroom light needs replacing, when the sidewalk needs more salt, when the heat isn't working right, when the Christmas Eve service will start? Actually, I've had all of these questions in the last week. My answer? "I really don't know, ask the custodian, ask the trustees, ask the choir director, ask the pastor." I am not the go-to person!

A woman in our congregation drove this point home to me yet again. I was actually in the office standing in line to speak to my husband, when she poked her head in the office door, saw my husband was busy and thought she'd just ask me. The question had something to do with putting her mother on the prayer list. (Yes, important.) Would I see that my husband did this? And she left! I had to leave too, because I saw that he was never going to get to me and I had places to be. And if you're wondering, I did leave him a note about the prayer request. But there were about 5 other people in the office at the same time. Did she ask them? No, she asked me.

I'm happy that people feel that I'm approachable and compassionate, but I'm not on staff and I'm privy to no special information; and certainly I don't know where the extra light bulbs are.

But while I protest at not being a go-to person, people regularly think the pastor's spouse is just that. Like it or not, we are often seen as an extension of our pastor spouse. Some people in the congregation believe that saying something to us is like saying it directly to the pastor.And it has happened that a person feared saying something to my husband or they were angry at him, so they said it to me (and on rare occasions, my children). While you may like this or have a need to be needed, I don't. And I make as clear as possible that I don't carry messages to my husband. One reason is that if it's not written down, I'll forget and get it mixed up. But people assume that you know them, their story, their family, their problems; I don't. I may just see these folks once a month at best. But they assume that the connection they have with my husband, they can have with me. And they don't.

Most of the time, I smile and try to be as gracious as possible. But I'm also firm that I am not the right person to ask. I keep my boundaries. If I don't, there are always some people who are willing to set my boundaries with only themselves in mind. And I tried to teach my kids the same thing. That may be one reason that my kids still have a relationship with the church while other PKs just walk away and never look back.

As I reread this, it sounds a little harsh. Sorry, but this is a pet peeve. Perhaps you handle these situations better. If so, I'd love to hear from you.

Grace, Kathy

December 11, 2013

What Attracts People to Your Church and Keeps Them Coming Back?

The answer to that question is as varied as there are people. But there are some obvious answers. Most of which you probably know, but maybe need just a reminder.

People need multiple points of entry to your church. So you have to decide which your church can do. In the case of our church, folks come for the youth program. Others come because they believe in the missions we do in the community. Some come because they are United Methodist and have relocated to our city. Some come because of the worship, preaching, and music. But more and more come because they found us on the Internet.

It used to be that the church front door was at the front of the building. Increasingly, the front door of your church is your Internet page! If your church does not have a page, there are plenty of models and, at least, our denomination provides help to set one up--or just ask a youth in your church or community.

Internet pages are always works in process and need constant updating like any other piece of property. Here are a few examples from churches of all sizes.

Yesterday, I went to my dentist, David Dickerson. I think my dentist is great and one reason is that he is always on the cutting edge. He is always aware of the latest in dental care, but he also strives to improve his care for us patients. Before I had my appointment, I not only received a phone call reminder, but I got an email. Then after the appointment, I had the next appointment emailed to me to make sure the date was still ok. Then I got an email so I could offer feedback to make his practice even better. You may say that it too many emails, but I like it. And it lets me know that he is working not only to care for my health but to become more efficient and provide a better place for his staff to work.

The point? We need to do more than get people in our church, we need to let them know that the church cares for them and is actively trying to do a better job in caring for them. We need follow-up and follow-through. I recommend my dentist to my friends who are looking for a dentist. Churches can benefit from the same principle.

Please feel free to share your church website and what you are doing to attract people and keep them coming back.

Grace, Kathy

December 6, 2013


Here in Tennessee, even the threat of snow sends everybody to the grocery for milk and bread. The reason is that for us when the weatherman says "Snow," we get ice and snow. So when the forecaster predicts bad weather for the weekend, the first question many church folk ask is, "Will we have church on Sunday?" The answer is always, yes, but it doesn't stop folks from asking.

Last night with the forecast of an approaching snow and ice storm, we had buckets of rain. (Ice is supposed to come in the morning.) But it was also the night for our women's group (UMW) Christmas party, which was to be held in a member's home. As I drove in the awful weather, I kept thinking that I might be the only person there. It would be just me and the party hostess. She had already told me about all her preparations, and I didn't want her to have done all that work for nothing. So, at least in my mind, I bravely drove to her house expecting to find no one else there.

But guess what? When I got there, everybody was already there. It was one of the best attended meetings we've had recently. In fact one of the women said that her Bunko group had been known to get out when tornadoes threatened just to play a game.

Sure, I was happy to see my friends, but I was also a bit surprised. For some of these people were the same people who were asking if we are having church Sunday. Go figure!

What kind of priorities do we have? And what priorities should we have?

Grace, Kathy