Thank You and Goodnight...

Last Sunday was my last Sunday in CAYA. Today was my last day in the office. I am no longer the associate pastor of Decatur First United Methodist Church. 

Transitions are hard. Even when you're excited about what lies ahead, there's change and uncertainty and nervousness. And then of course, there's the sadness of what you're leaving behind. Things that you helped start or helped grow. People that have touched and changed your life. Experiences, opportunities, laughter, grief, beginnings, endings. 

My time at Decatur First has meant the world to me. As I was starting out in ministry, you gave me a place to learn and experiment and succeed and fail. You gave me love and support and feedback and challenge. And you allowed me to share some of the most pivotal and vulnerable parts of your lives - births, deaths, marriages, divorces, illness, new jobs, unemployment, questions, struggles. I am deeply honored for all that you entrusted me with.

Even in my sadness at leaving, I'm so excited for the next phase in my ministry, but also in yours! As the church continues to live into its story, as you connect with one another, as you continue to discover your gifts and how to use them to connect people with the unconditional love of God, know that my prayers are going with you. I know the Holy Spirit will be working powerfully in and through you. 

I am also so excited that Patrick Faulhaber is joining the Decatur First family. I know you will welcome, nurture, and support him, just as you did for me. And I know he will be a gifted pastor for you. (And if you missed the video introduction of Patrick, you can find it here).

Really, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the lovely send-off, the cards and letters, the beautiful scrapbook, and the generous love offering. But mostly thank you for the ways that you have nurtured me, cared for me, challenged me, taught me, prayed for me, and loved me. Thank you for your ministry in my life as well as in this community. Thank you for trusting me enough to Come As You Are and for allowing me to Come As I Am.

Thank you for letting me be your pastor.

With love and prayers,


P.S. Don't forget that this Sunday (June 19) is a unified worship service at 11am in the main church Sanctuary (at Ponce and Commerce) featuring the youth choir and an introduction for Patrick, with a reception to follow. Then the next Sunday (June 26) will be Patrick's first Sunday in CAYA! Don't miss it!

The Gospel According to Prince

When Prince died last week, my Facebook feed filled with tributes, memories, videos, songs, and pictures. For me and many of my peers, Prince was part of our formation - a soundtrack in middle school, high school, college, as we developed our identities and personalities, not to mention our musical preferences. One of the best things about Prince was the example and permission he gave people to be weird - to step out of the ordinary and expected, to embrace the things that make them unique and special, to change and reinvent and push boundaries and explore. It is a message that we need to hear, as we are confronted over and over with advertisements and media that push us to fit in, to conform, to buy and wear and use the things that everybody else is buying and wearing and using.

While I love Prince, I am by no means a super-fan, so if you're looking for an in-depth discussion of his music and influences, this is not it. There are however, two Prince songs that I associate with particular points in my life and that have particular significance to me. Both are from the album "Sign O' The Times." Neither of them rank among his most popular (or at least the ones that are all over my Facebook feed), but I commend them both to you. 

One is "Starfish and Coffee" - a song that I will forever associate with college. I went to Carleton College (in Minnesota, of course) and the men's a capella group did an amazing cover of this song. It's rather silly, almost a nonsense song:

It was seven forty-five we were all in line
To greet the teacher Miss Cathleen
First was Kevin, then came Lucy, third in line was me
All of us were ordinary compared to Cynthia Rose
She always stood at the back of the line
A smile beneath her nose
Her favorite number was twenty and every single day
If you asked her what she had for breakfast
This is what she'd say

Starfish and coffee
Maple syrup and jam
Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine
And a side order of ham
If you set your mind free, baby
Maybe you'd understand
Starfish and coffee
Maple syrup and jam

If you want to hear Prince sing it himself, I heartily suggest his appearance on The Muppets Tonight (the sketch and song start at about 5:30 on that link). I love this song not only because of the awesomeness of the Knights version and the way it reminds me of college, but also because of its silliness, its randomness, and the way it celebrates the marriage of completely unrelated things - starfish and coffee, butterscotch clouds and ham, roller derby and bat biology and ministry.... oh wait, that last one was me. As someone who may not necessarily fit into a nicely defined box, I love Cynthia and her different-colored socks (seriously, you should listen to the whole song). I love her comfort in her uniqueness and just the joy of the whole thing:

Cynthia had a happy face, just like the one she'd draw
On every wall in every school
But it's all right, it's for a worthy cause
Go on, Cynthia, keep singin'

The other Prince song that I often think of is completely different (again, one of the great things about Prince is how many different styles he incorporated in his music). It's a minimalist arrangement most of the way through, quiet and understated, and the theme is not necessarily something that you expect from Prince:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry, he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There'll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross

Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

I don't have a link for this one - Prince was famously protective of his music, so unless there's a performance video, it's hard to come by online, but it's totally worth the $1.29 to download it (some sites, like Amazon, label it "Explict," but it's not). Many people didn't know that Prince was a devoted Jehovah's Witness, even engaging in door-to-door evangelism as part of his faith (much to the surprise of some of those on whose doors he knocked). 

When I was in high school and still fairly early in my own faith, this song was both challenging and comforting to me. Honestly, we United Methodists don't talk about the cross as much as we might. We prefer the teaching and healing that went before it and the empty tomb and resurrection that came after. But Prince's lyrics don't emphasize the blood and pain or the idea of substitutionary atonement or the "baggage" that some people attach to discussions of the crucifixion. Instead they simply remind us of the reality of the cross - the reality that Jesus Christ was human. Human not just in appearance but fully human. Human enough to feel pain and to suffer. And that through his humanness, Jesus bridges the gap between humanity and divinity. And that in our own humanness, we can be redeemed and restored by the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. 

Thank you, Prince, for the lessons you taught, the music you made, and the weirdness you brought into our lives.


PS If you'd like to Party Like It's 1999 and help a good cause, check out PURPLE REIGNS ON PONCE - a Decatur tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson - this Friday, April 29th, 8pm-11pm. Come celebrate the artistic genius of Prince, and dance the night away at Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta Private Banquet Room (3155 E Ponce De Leon Ave, Scottdale, GA 30079). ADMISSION WILL BE LIMITED and must be reserved in advance. In lieu of a cover charge we are accepting donations. All profit will go to the Appalachia Service Project. To reserve your spot, email Best dressed will win a gift basket from Home Grown Decatur!!!

Appointment Season

Lots of things happen in the spring. In the natural world, new bright green leaves appear on the trees, flowers begin to bloom, the birds start singing in earnest, and of course pollen coats the ground. In the church, we’ve just begun the season (yes it’s a season) of Easter – our celebration of resurrection, new life, and the triumph of life over darkness.

If you’ve been around the United Methodist Church for a while, you may also know spring as the season of appointments. No, not doctor or dentist appointments (though if you haven’t scheduled that check-up, now would be a great time to do it), but the appointments of pastors to churches.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the vagaries of the UMC, it may surprise you to know that United Methodist churches do not pick their pastors. They don’t write up job descriptions and solicit applications. They don’t have hiring committees or interviews. Instead, pastors are appointed to churches by the bishop of their Annual Conference.

See, the United Methodist Church is a connectional church. That means that every UMC in the world is connected to every other UMC. This is lived out through things like our General Conference, which is the decision-making body of the church as a whole, is made up of both clergy and lay people who represent the church around the world, and meets every 4 years to discuss and decide how our church will live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

On a somewhat more local level, the church is divided into Annual Conferences – geographically defined groups of churches that are overseen by a bishop. Decatur First UMC is part of the North Georgia Annual Conference and every year, all the clergy in the conference and an equal number of lay people get together to worship, meet, discuss, and discern how we live out our mission and our place in the UMC here in North Georgia.

In addition to these meetings (United Methodists love meetings!), part of how we live out our connection is in the way that pastors and churches connect. Each year, our bishop (currently our bishop is Rev. Michael Watson) gets together with the appointive cabinet, which includes the District Superintendents of all of the districts within the North Georgia Conference (we’re in the Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford District (ADOX) and our District Superintendent is Rev. Sharma Lewis). The cabinet meets multiple times and looks at every single church in North Georgia and every single pastor in North Georgia and works to match them up such that the needs of each local church are matched with the gifts of a pastor to serve them. Or as the United Methodist Book of Discipline puts it, appointments are made “with consideration of the gifts and evidence of God’s grace of those appointed, to the needs, characteristics, and opportunities of congregations and institutions”

Every year, this process happens, and every year, churches wait to hear who will be appointed as their pastor that year. We are in the midst of that process now. The bishop and cabinet are meeting over the course of this month and determining whether pastors are staying at their current churches or moving to a new church. This year, the announcements will be made on May 1.

For folks who are not steeped in the traditions and foibles of the United Methodist Church, this process can seem bizarre, but to me it is one of the things that makes our UMC great. The bishop and the cabinet do not work in a vacuum – they are in conversation with churches and with pastors – but more importantly they are steeped in prayer and discernment. I believe the Holy Spirit works powerfully in this process.

The appointive process has been a powerful force for justice and change in the church as well. When women were first ordained in the United Methodist Church there were many many churches who would never have considered interviewing a female minister should they have an interview or call process, but through the appointive process, women have been given the opportunity to pastor, grow, and serve these churches. The same is true for minorities and people of color.

The appointive process serves pastors and the church by providing both accountability and protection, by allowing exchange of ideas and recognition of change, and by encouraging the laity to take ownership of the ministry of their church. It helps maintain the connection of the church and lessen the chance of fragmentation, as pastors are accountable to each other and the church as a whole rather than to the good graces of their individual congregation.

Appointment season can be a weird and nerve-wracking time in the life of a church or a pastor. As Decatur First, David, and I all wait to hear whether our appointments will change or stay the same this year, we trust that God works powerfully through this season and through this process.  

If you have any questions about the appointive process or anything else in this crazy tribe called Methodism, feel free to email me!


Expanding Our Monkeysphere

The terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere and the ensuing calls to block Syrian refugees from entering the US have resulted in much argument and pontification from the political sphere as well as on social networks, etc. As we read and think and respond, we sometimes struggle with our own natural knee-jerk responses and what we are called to do as Christians. As we approach the season of Advent and the celebration of the God who came into our world as a stranger, we are confronted with our own limitations and disinclination to go outside of our comfort zone. 

Last week at Percolate, we talked about how and why this happens. Why is it easier for us to relate to the victims in Paris than those in Beirut or Baghdad? Why is it difficult to grasp the humanity of those who are fleeing their homes? Why do we let ourselves get away with comparing real, suffering people with M&Ms?

It reminded me of an article that I had mentioned in a sermon a few years ago from called "What is the Monkeysphere?" (Language warning for those of you who want to read the original article). The article talks about research done by Robin Dunbar at the University of Liverpool who studied different primate species and discovered that brain size was related to social group size – smaller monkeys have smaller social groups, chimpanzees (with larger brains) have larger social groups (about 50). Human beings being primates, Dunbar looked at us and found that our brain size would predict a social group of about 150. This number became known as Dunbar's number and represents, not the people that we know at all, but those with whom we have stable social relationships, “roughly the number of people you could ask for a favour and expect to have it granted.” David Wong, the author of the Cracked article, calls this number the Monkeysphere.

Wong used this concept of social group size (monkeysphere) to talk about how we are limited in our ability to see some people as “real people.” Those within our monkeysphere are understood as 3-dimensional, with good and bad qualities, depth and nuances. But the farther outside of your monkeysphere you go, more you tend to see people as 2-dimensional – easily grouped or even dismissed or ignored.

This concept makes sense biologically and psychologically. We can’t physically care for that many folks or impact their lives and psychologically, we would be rendered completely helpless if we were struck with every tragedy around the world on the same level we’re affected if it’s someone in our monkeysphere. However, it also means that we have a hard time conceiving of the humanity and personality of anyone we might term “the stranger.” And (much to our dismay, if we really thought about it) the same is true for them. 

The idea of a monkeysphere works great for primates whose experience may only involve interactions within their own social group or with, at most, a few individuals or groups outside of their immediate circle. But as humans, we live in a society much larger than our monkeysphere. We consistently interact with those outside our monkeysphere, and since our society is so interconnected – our actions can have impacts far beyond even our direct interactions. But it’s hard for us to see that or even conceive of it. So we tend to stick with what we know.

The problem is that, as Christians, we cannot remain within our monkeysphere. The Jesus who said "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ...‘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." (Matthew 25:35-36,40) firmly identifies himself with those outside of our monkeysphere. The Jesus who calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves then immediately tells a story (the good Samaritan) that demonstrates that our neighbor is not the person inside our monkeysphere, but the one who is outside.

One of the flabbergasting messages of the New Testament and the incarnation is that God cares about us. But it’s not just that God cares about us. God also cares about all these other folks as well. Not just the people who are like us – look like us, dress like us, act like us, think like us - the people in our monkeysphere. God cares about all the people – even those that are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick, in prison, refugees, victims - and we’re supposed to too.

So the homework I gave to the folks at Percolate* was this: how do we do that? How do we go outside of our natural inclination to understand and identify with and care about those most like us? How do we open our hearts to those who are so unlike us? How do we expand our monkeysphere? 

*If you'd like to join the discussion, you can of course comment here or, better yet, join us at Java Monkey at 6:30pm on Tuesday, December 1. 

What Is Called For

After the deadly attacks in Paris and Beirut, after the suspicious crash of a Russian airliner, after violence rises up yet again, it's hard to look at news or social media of any kind and not find someone telling us what is called for in this situation. What is called for is a moratorium on accepting refugees. What is called for is a coordinated military response. What is called for is boots on the ground.

I am glad that I am not one of the people responsible for determining what is called for. I am glad that I am not one of the people who decides how we respond to attacks like this as a country, as a military power, as a global player.

Instead, I am limited to deciding what is called for in my life, as a person, as a Christian, as a follower of the Prince of Peace. But even there I struggle. I struggle because innocent lives are being lost. I struggle because it seems hopeless to think that there is any peaceful resolution to these situations. I struggle because the very human part of me wants revenge and "justice" and for those responsible to pay, to feel the full force of our power as a nation.

And I struggle because Jesus says "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you....Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:39-41,44) And Jesus says "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9). And when one of his own disciples pulls out a sword to defend him - to defend Jesus, the most innocent of lives - Jesus tells him "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

And I know that maybe I'm hopelessly naive and that peace is just a pipe dream or something reserved for the end of times, but I find that in my own heart, if I sincerely try to follow Jesus, then I cannot say that what is called for is more violence in the face of violence. I cannot say what is called for is more force and more might and more power. 

But I will say this - what is called for is boots on the ground. For as it says in Ephesians: "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." May these be our boots on the ground. Amen.

- Katy

Many thanks to Rev. Mike Slaughter, whose blog post Do Love inspired this post.


Being Christian

This morning I read an interesting article from Relevant Magazine called ."It's OK to Call Yourself a Christian." It was an op-ed piece in response to an Rolling Stone interview with Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons in which he talks about his discomfort with identifying himself with the label "Christian." 

Does Mumford still consider himself a Christian? "I don't really like that word," he says. "It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn't call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don't really like. ... I've kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity."

This is not an uncommon response, nor is it hard to understand. I myself have struggled with the label "Christian" at times because many times it seems to imply a certain type of person, usually not flatteringly. "Christians" are judgmental, hypocritical, beholden to politics, self-righteous, etc., etc. It's no wonder folks wouldn't want to be associated with that.

The thing is, though, that the vast majority of Christians I know are nothing like that. Not that everybody doesn't have their moments, but almost all of the Christians I know are generous, humble, open-minded, and loving. And if we don't manage to actually get there all the time, we are trying very hard to be. After all, that's what Jesus did, right?

In some ways, of course, the label doesn't matter. Do we have to call ourselves Christians to be Jesus-followers? No. The word "Christian" hardly appears in the Bible (depending on your translation, 2-3 times), and Jesus never mentions it. 

But there is something to be said for the identity piece. Being Christian puts me in community with others. It locates me as part of something larger than myself. And that is in the Bible - over and over again. Part of following Jesus is walking with others who are trying to do the same. From the disciples to the crowds to the church, being a Jesus-follower isn't an individual pursuit. You don't do it by yourself. 

And that's hard, sometimes. It's inconvenient and messy. It means that we may end up being associated with folks that we may not necessarily agree with on all things. It means that we may have to give and to share and to learn and to change. But it's also glorious and moving and chaotic and life-giving.

When we gather for worship together... When we lift our voices in song... When we talk with one another about our fears and our doubts and our questions... When we speak up for justice... When we pool our resources to do amazing things we could never do on our own... We're doing it. We're following Jesus. We're being Christian.

Back to the Future Story of Ministry

Note: I almost succumbed to the temptation of just copying John Cowden's blog post on this same topic, but instead just decided to link it here and let you judge for yourself if I should have just let him to all the talking.

I'm a bit of a movie dork sometimes (I mean, I got married on Star Wars Day for pete's sake), so when the opportunity came for a "staff development day" of watching all three Back To The Future movies on Back To The Future Day, I was of course going to be there. In case you didn't feel the temporal shift, BTTF Day was Wednesday - October 21, 2015 - the date to which Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and Marty's girlfriend Jennifer (who will be promptly thrown in an alley for most of the rest of the movie) travel in Back To The Future II. 

For the most part, the future in BTTF II doesn't look much like what is actually happening in October 2015. We don't have hoverboards, flying cars, self-drying clothes, etc. The Cubs will not win the World Series this year (alas). But then again, when have future predictions ever been that accurate? Weren't we supposed to be getting all our meals in pill form by now? Weren't our houses supposed to clean themselves or be cleaned by an army of robot maids? 

And yet, we love to look into the future. We love to imagine what it will be. That's what we did last Sunday in our unified service - took a time-traveling trip (though sadly without the DeLorean) into 2025 to see what our church has become 10 years after our Spiritual Strategic Journey. 

Our predictions weren't as flashy as hoverboards or self-tying shoes, but they were no less ambitious. In fact, some may think of them as even more idealistic - a church of unconditional love, fearless faith, and abundant joy - a church of radical inclusion - a church where each person is empowered to use his or her gifts in building community and spreading the love of God (go here to see the whole crazy plan). 

Can we really do it? Can we really get there? Well we can't send Marty and Doc forward to let us know, so we'll just have to work on it ourselves. Traveling into the future the same way we always have, one day at a time. But the good news is that we build this future. We have a choice in how it turns out. If we believe in this vision, we can work together with God to make it happen. 

- Katy

All In

Over the past year, our church has been involved in a Spiritual Strategic Journey (SSJ for short). This is a somewhat esoteric name for something that has actually been a very active and inclusive process as we seek, through conversation, relationship, and prayer, to determine where God is calling us as a church.

I have to admit, that I was a bit skeptical about this whole thing at the beginning. There were buzzwords and meetings and surveys and focus groups and consultants. All those things that you're "supposed" to have. But, come on. We've all been part of things that had all the "right" words and processes and everything, but failed to actually produce anything or make a difference.

But something happened along the way. Somewhere in this process, my skepticism started to melt. It started to warm a little a bit with our very first church-wide meeting when 190 people gave up their Friday night to have dinner and talk church. It got even meltier when over 200 people formed triplets, crossing barriers of age, gender, class, and even (*gasp*) worship service - and not only formed triplets, but actually stuck with them - meeting 10 times each over the course of 3 months. Then another church-wide meeting with even more people. But the real honest-to-goodness complete thaw came on August 16 when over 300 people from all three of our worshiping congregations stuck around for 2 hours after church and proclaimed with a clear voice that they heard God calling us to be a missional church.

Now the word "mission" is a bit tricky. It has negative connotations for many who think of mission as focused on evangelism, conversion, or telling people why they're wrong and we're right. But the mission we have heard God calling us to is the mission to share God's love, to be connected - with each other and with God, but also with our community and the world. We have gifts that we can use to show God's love in the world. And when we focus on those gifts, rather than on our needs and shortcomings, we have the potential to change the world.

So it happened - I'm all in. I'm a true believer. I truly feel that we can live God's call in a way that honors God, but also honors us - who we are, where we are, what our gifts are, what our future holds. This vision has captured me - head, heart, and hands. And I am so excited to worship together on Sunday as we get a small glimpse of what our future might look like. I really hope you'll be there in the Sanctuary at 11 am (actually, I really hope you'll be on the front porch for coffee and donuts at 10:30, first). 

What will it take for you to be all in?

Every time...

Every time I go to print the bulletins for CAYA, I always tell the printer to print a sample first. That's because every time the sample comes out, the back side of the bulletin is upside down from the front. I have tried changing the print settings ahead of time every way that I can think of, but every time it comes out wrong. I print the sample, it's wrong, I change the settings, and it comes out fine. But if I try to change the settings ahead of time, no dice. It's still going to come out wrong. Every time. It's an exercise in futility - one that wastes not only a whole sheet of paper, but precious seconds of my work day!

Okay, so it's not really that big a deal, but it's one of those small annoyances that are easily looked over when the rest of the day is going well, but can absolutely send me over the edge when my day already has me teetering on the brink. Today is not one of those days. Today, I can sigh exasperatedly (is that a word?), shake my head, make the necessary adjustments, and go about my day. But even though this is a completely predictable experience, there are some days when this foible of the copier becomes the straw that broke the camel's back. And heaven forbid there's also a paper jam! I start channeling the guys from Office Space (note that the link will take you a censored, safe-for-work version of the scene in question).

It's a ridiculous thing to get aggravated about. For one thing, it happens every time and for another thing, the copier is an inanimate object. It's not intentionally printing the bulletin wrong to frustrate me (unless this is the extremely subtle advent of Skynet) - there's just some mechanical or computational glitch that causes it to make the error. I sometimes wonder if it's the lack of intentionality that gets to me, actually. There's no place to channel my frustration because clearly it's just a random error. 

Which brings me to gratitude. Of course. 

What? You don't see the connection? I read an article earlier today about rituals that can increase your happiness and the first one was gratitude. This was certainly not the first place that I've heard that gratitude is a key to a happy life, but this was the first time I'd actually seen anyone cite neurological evidence that taking time to be grateful can affect you biologically. 

The truth is that taking time to ask "What am I grateful for?" and/or to express gratitude to those around you can have neurological affects, but also profound spiritual and emotional effects. Pausing to shift your focus from what is wrong to what is right, looking for the good in your life instead of the bad, and reminding yourself of all you have to be grateful for is kind of the asset-based approach to emotions. It can short-circuit that negative feedback loop we get into when annoyance piles up on frustration piles up on worry and on and on till we're about to burst. There's a reason so many of our prayers start with thanksgiving.

So today, I'm grateful. I'm grateful that even though every time the sample copy is wrong, there is an opportunity to fix the settings and print the rest correctly. I'm grateful that there are machines that can print (and fold!) these bulletins. I'm grateful that there is so much happening at our church and in our ministry that we need two sides of a bulletin to get it all in. I'm grateful that this error reminds me of the movie Office Space, which I can then quote to John Cowden and make him laugh. And I'm grateful for all of you - for all the folks whose hands this bulletin is going into.

What are you grateful for?

- Katy

Blessing By The Pets

This Saturday is our annual Blessing of the Pets service at Decatur First. It's probably my favorite worship service of the year. For one thing, it's outside, which is where I wish we would have more worship services (and please please please send up all your weather prayers for no rain on Saturday morning - the gym is nice for basketball, but not as fun filled with wet dogs :) ). I know I'm not the only person who finds a special connection with God when I'm outside. And sure, being out in the woods or on a remote hillside or alone in the wilderness is great, but even being outside in downtown Decatur provides not only a reminder of God's provision for us in nature, but also some of the neat ways we as humans have found to live and move in this world.

But it's not just being outside that I love, it's the chance that we have to celebrate and bless those animals that have brought special love and joy into our lives. I believe we get a little glimpse of the divine in our relationship with our pets.

Four or five years ago, there was a series of photos going around the internet that purported to show a "war" between two churches (played out via their front lawn signs) about whether or not dogs go to heaven. Although the pictures actually came from an online church sign generator, the sequence is still pretty amusing. One church stood firmly on the side of animals going to heaven, while the other church argued that animals don't have souls and would therefore not be in heaven.

I make no apologies for the fact that I am firmly in the "animals in heaven" camp. For one thing, the Bible is full of imagery about the role of nature (and animals in particular) in praising God, and many of the images of the promises of God include animals:

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds

Psalm 148:7-10

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 
The infant will play near the cobra’s den, 
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:6-9

In addition to this, though, is the way that our relationships with our pets can give us a small inkling of our relationship with God. The interesting thing is that it really goes both ways. Sometimes we are the provider for our pets - the one who sustains and nurtures them, the one who tends to their needs. Alternatively, sometimes they are the example of the divine for us - the ones who come running to greet us at the door no matter what we've done, the ones who love us unconditionally. 

There's an old Pickles comic strip that captures this beautifully. In case you can't see the link, the woman puts down a bowl of food in front of her dog, Roscoe, and he thinks "She feeds me every day and cares for my every need... She must be a God." The woman then feeds her cat, Muffin, who likewise thinks "She feeds me every day and cares for my every need... I must be a God."

Yes and yes. As we ask a blessing on our pets this Saturday, may we be always aware of the blessing they are to us.

- Katy


It's been a busy couple of weeks. I've been trying to catch up on all the things I let slide while my husband was in the hospital and during Hometown Mission Week. I should really be working right now (writing a profound blog post, for instance) to get back on track, but Friday is my Sabbath, so here's all I'll say on the matter:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

- Anne Lamott

Asking for Help

Confession time: I'm going to admit upfront that I am not the greatest at asking for or accepting help. I'm not good at delegating. I work hard to at least have the appearance of having things together and being self-sufficient. I guess my reasoning has been "everybody's busy, everybody has their own things going on, their own needs. I can take care of things." Of course, there may be a little bit of hubris mixed in there (or more than a little). I have things under control. I'm the one that makes things happen, etc., etc.

Well, last week, my husband ended up being in the hospital from early Tuesday morning all the way to Friday evening. He is feeling much better now, and we greatly appreciate all the prayers and good thoughts that y'all sent our way. But spending the week in the hospital had not really been on either of our schedules. We had things to do! He was supposed to be at school. I was supposed to be at work. The cats and dog needed looking after. The house needed cleaning. There were meetings and practices and preparations for Mission Week and homework and sermons. And basically none of that got done, because we were stuck in a hospital room all week.

All of a sudden all that self-sufficiency had to go out the window. We needed help. And we got it! My sisters and parents walked the dog. His parents brought us food. Family and friends dropped by to keep us company in the hospital. My mom even vacuumed the house! 

At the church, Janice suggested that maybe I didn't need to be worrying about preparing a sermon and worship while dealing with all this. On Wednesday, I deflected her - "I'm sure it will be fine. I've already been thinking about the sermon. I can work on it here at the hospital. We'll be out by then for sure." On Thursday, I took her up on her offer. It was both harder and easier than I expected. I had to admit that I wasn't going to get everything done and that I didn't need to!

Asking for help means accepting that it's not all about me and how much I can do and accomplish and how great and self-sufficient I am. It also means recognizing that God has given gifts to everyone and that part of believing that is actually letting others use their gifts.

As we move forward into our new future as a church, we are going to be talking more and more about our gifts and how we put them to work. For some of us (e.g. me) that may mean stepping back, relinquishing control, asking for and actually accepting help. It may mean giving up the idol of self-sufficiency and realizing that it does take all sorts of gifts and all sorts of people to really make a difference in the world. Working with others is a strength, not a weakness. In the end, it's not all about me. I may just need a little help remembering that. :)

- Katy 


We're On a Mission from God

Mission, noun

  1. an important assignment carried out for political, religious, or commercial purposes, typically involving travel.
           * a group of people sent on a mission.
           * an organization or institution involved in a long-term assignment in a foreign country.
           * an expedition into space.

  2. the vocation or calling of a religious organization, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith.
           * a building or group of buildings used by a Christian mission

  3. a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.

It's only three posts in to this blog, and I already find myself reverting to that old cliche of starting a post by referring to the dictionary. Sigh. It's all downhill from here, folks. However, this is a topic that has spurred a fair amount of conversation around the church, especially since the congregation voted to embrace a "missional" vision for our future.

What exactly does that mean? Are we talking about sending missionaries out around the world to convert the "heathens"? Are we talking about knocking on doors to hand out tracts and proselytize? Are we talking about service projects? Are we talking about feeding the hungry? Are we talking about building houses? Are we talking about an expedition into space? (Please say we're talking about an expedition into space!)

Part of the problem is that the non-church use of the word "mission" (as in a corporate mission statement) is very different from the  traditional church use (which historically has had to do with converting people - sometimes using not-so-admirable strategies to do so). But there's also a more recent take on mission in and by the church.

Since 2008 the official mission statement of the United Methodist Church has been "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Those last six words were added to insure that we don't forget that it's not all about making converts or racking up points in our "professions of faith" column. The work of the church involves sharing God's love in a way that leads to transformation.

In some circumstances, that may in fact look like talking about your faith with someone, but in others circumstances it may look like feeding them or sheltering them. It may look like baking bread or painting or helping someone learn to balance a budget or giving someone a ride or planting or reading. It may look like using those assets that God has given you to help transform lives and the world.    

From September 14 to 19, we have our Hometown Mission Week. During that week, mission will look like folding clothes, doing yard work, preparing and delivering meals, packing boxes of food, drawing pictures and cards, making home repairs, weeding and mulching, visiting, packaging supplies for inmates, and a host of other projects to reach out in our community. There are opportunities for folks of all ages and skill levels, half and full day projects. You can take part for a few hours or the whole week. You can get the details and register here. I hope you'll join us! 

As Elwood Blues would say "We're on a mission from God."

- Katy

Move Your Assets!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that The Princess Bride is one of the greatest movies of all time (if you do not acknowledge this truth, please sit down and re-examine your priorities). There's a great scene (among many) in TPB in which Westley, Fezzik, and Inigo are atop the castle wall looking at the gate that separates them from their goals (revenge, true love, etc.). The castle gate is guarded by 60 men and the trio are working on their strategy. The first step is to list their assets - Westley's brains, Fezzik's strength, Inigo's steel. Despairing of their chances of success, Westley says "If if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something." Inigo asks Fezzik, "Where we did we put that wheelbarrow the albino had?" Fezzik replies, "Over the albino, I think," and Westley asks, "Well, why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?"

The truth is we don't always think enough about our assets - especially when we're in a difficult spot or feel threatened. If things haven't been going well, or we anticipate that they may not, we tend to get into a mindset of scarcity - focusing on what we don't have, rather than on what we do. This has been happening more and more in the church - both (to some extent) in our church and in the Christian church in general. As we hear stories about declines in church attendance, giving, people's identification with any religious group, etc., it's hard not to get a little nervous. And when we get nervous, we start focusing on what's wrong, what we're missing, what we're losing. And when that happens, we start turning inward. We cling to what we do have, even if it's not all that great, because at least we have something. We don't want to let go of things, take risks, or even use what we have because what if it doesn't work? What if things start going even worse? Then where would we be?

I was part of the writing team for the Missional scenario for the future of Decatur First (the one our congregation ended up choosing as what we feel is God's vision for our church). One of the things we talked a lot about as we developed our scenario was something called asset-based community development (ABCD). ABCD is a strategy for developing communities based on their strengths and potentials rather than on their needs (which was the traditional way to approach community development). The Missional group thought this would be a good way for us to approach any mission projects that we were involved in, but as conversation developed, we realized this should be how we approach things within our church as well.

Instead of focusing on our needs and what we don't have and what might be going not so great, what if our first move  was to look at our gifts, our strengths, our assets? This congregation is full of gifts that we may not even know about yet. This church has all kinds of assets, in location, facilities, etc., sometimes even in the same places where we traditionally see needs and weaknesses.

This type of approach can transform communities, and I believe it can transform a church too. But it will take some work for us to change our mindset and our language. The good news is that we can start right away, with ourselves. What are your gifts? What are you good at? What do you do so well that you could teach others to do it?

The time is right. Let's get our assets in gear!

Starting a New Thing

Starting something new is hard. It can be easier if it's a brand new project or endeavor with no previous incarnations or expectations (like this blog, for instance). But when we're talking about starting something new in an established church congregation - one that's been around 190 years! - in a place where things have been going along pretty okay (maybe not great all the time, but nothing horrible) and where traditions and habits are well-established, well that’s a whole ‘nother thing as they say.

But that’s what’s happening here! Last Sunday, 335 adults packed our Fellowship Hall, ate boxed lunches, and stayed for over two and a half hours to be part of our first steps on a brand new journey together. There were CAYAns and folks from the traditional service. There were young adults and senior citizens. There were life-long members and folks who just started coming to Decatur First a few months ago. We had 2/3 of our regular worshipping congregation there and it was electric!

You don’t think of a two and a half hour meeting as being full of energy, but this one was, as folks listened to three different presentations of possible future scenarios for our church. These scenarios had grown out of suggestions and insights from the conversations and prayers of 75 triplet groups that had been meeting earlier this year. Those ideas were then crafted by three writing teams into live and written presentations of what Decatur First might look like in 2025 (you can read the written reports here).

All three of the presentations were excellent – with compelling visions and inspiring ideas – and there was great conversation afterward as people responded to the presentations and voiced their thoughts about where they felt God was leading us as a church. At the end, we collected over 240 response sheets where people not only indicated which scenario they felt God was calling us to, but also which aspects and ideas of the other scenarios they wanted to make sure were included in the future story of our church.

The results were clear – our congregation chose the second scenario, Decatur First Missional, as the guiding framework for our future together. We feel that God is calling us to use the gifts and talents of our entire congregation to grow in relationship with one another and with our community, bringing the love of God into Decatur and the world beyond.

Throughout the presentations and people’s responses, certain themes surfaced over and over: building relationships, both within and beyond our church’s walls; being an open and inclusive congregation; connecting with our Decatur context. We are a people called to share God’s love!

Of course, this isn’t exactly new. These are things that we work on and talk about all the time. What is new is HOW we go about living into God’s vision. We are going to be starting a new way of doing church! What will it look like? Well, that’s the next step. We have put together a writing team that includes members from all three scenario groups to craft a vision and future story for our congregation. On Sunday October 18, they will present it in a special service with our whole congregation worshiping together.

This process has already been amazing and inspiring, and I am so grateful to everyone who has been a part of it so far. New ventures can be a little intimidating, but there is no other group of people I would rather be on this journey with!

- Katy