What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

This week Beth Lindsay, Kerri Crough, and I along with a couple others from the Vitality Team visited Life Church New England to learn about their partnership with Food Share. Food Share provides low cost food to partner organizations that serve as distribution sites to food insecure people. The Vitality Team has a vision that First Church could serve as one of those sites. The need is great. The mission of the Vitality Team is to grow the church. Food ministry in itself doesn’t necessarily grow the church. But food ministry can provide the context in which a church might grow if the ministry is designed in such a way that it gets us outside the church walls and provides opportunity to build authentic relationships with people who are not yet members of the church. 

Clearly this has been the case for Life Church. Volunteers take the time to get to know clients, pray with them if that’s appropriate, and otherwise walk with them as the hands and heart of Jesus in their lives. Volunteers also invite their friends and neighbors who aren’t food insecure to join them in this ministry. In this way Food Share not only meets the real needs of hurting people but also provides another “entry point” for people who may not have food needs but who may have spiritual needs like needs for purpose, meaning, and community. 

Not only am I excited about the possibility of reaching new people through a Food Share ministry but also about building a partnership with Life Church. Vital partnerships are another strategy for building vital ministry–particularly when those partnerships bridge racial, cultural, and theological differences. I’m grateful to Beth and Kerri for finding new ways to lead us beyond our walls.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-9-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-9-20

The news this week of coronavirus’ spread among our top political leaders reminds us that the pandemic is still very much with us. It is unsettling to think of how the virus is compromising the health of the leaders we count on to guide and protect us. While I pray for President Trump and First Lady Melania’s health along with the many White House staff and congressional leaders this outbreak has affected, I am reminded that each of us hold the other’s health in our hands. Compassion demands care. This is not letting the virus “dominate us”–to use the President’s words. This is simply being sensible. Our faith is not about denying reality. We practice our faith by facing reality and then taking wise action to protect the precious lives God has given into our care. I don’t understand why our President and those around him don’t see what is so obvious to me, but this is the difficult, complicated situation we face.

Regarding the difficult, complicated situation we face: I am so proud of our staff both paid and volunteer. I’m proud of our leadership: Church Council, Trustees, Deacons, Tech Team, our program committees (Vitality, Serve, Explore, Connections, Care Team). I am encouraged by the patience and grace I see in all of you. My “star word” this year is “hopefulness.” When I drew that word from the basket during worship that first Sunday in January, I had no idea that global pandemic was in store for 2020. Nevertheless, I find that 10 months into the year I remain hopeful.

My hope is not that everything will be wonderful and pleasant in the coming months. It seems pretty likely that disappointments, difficulties, and dangers will continue to present themselves. The abundant life that Jesus promises to his followers includes disappointments, difficulties, and dangers along with miracles, bliss, and joy. Abundant life embraces everything. 

Psalm 23 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” This is why I’m hopeful: no matter what the coming months and years will bring, God’s goodness and mercy will never abandon me. Neither will they abandon you.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-21-20

Reusable sandwich bag on our baggie drying rack.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-21-20

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us,” writes St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. I chose the Scripture text for the coming Sunday because we’re planning an outdoor pet blessing, safely physically distanced, no congregational singing. This weekend will be our first attempts at in person public events since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown in March. 

Saturday we’ll be hosting an outdoor funeral for long time church member Shirley Young. (We had a “private” baptism last Sunday, originally planned for outdoors, but then quickly moved inside because of rain.) Prior to COVID, these would be familiar events and rituals. Now they are more complicated, more demanding, and–on the positive side of the ledger–an opportunity for our church to come together to do the “normal” things we do. Today (Tuesday) a group of us met at the church to set up a large tent to accommodate our funeral guests. It was good to work together on a task, chat, and look each other in the eyes.

Pet blessing is a great opportunity to remember our emotional and spiritual connection to non-human life on this planet. Many of us know the joy of greeting our pets when we wake up in the morning or when we come home from being away for any length of time. We have known sorrow when a pet dies. Or the contentment of snuggling with something furry. We talk to our pets, feed them, mourn them. They are family.

It is important to remember our intimate connection to non-human life for two reasons: 1) our faith, 2) our continued existence as a species on this planet. Caring for creation is an essential expression of our Christian faith. In our text for this Sunday, St. Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” waiting for humanity to get its act together. God created Earth and humanity as one organic whole. When we harm the planet, we’re harming ourselves. Which leads to reason #2: Scientists have been warning for decades about the devastating impacts of climate change. Life on this planet will continue despite anthropogenic climate change. The question is, Will this transformed planet still be habitable for humans? We have a shrinking window to make the changes necessary to minimize the impacts that are already happening. The time for humanity to get its act together is now.

Worship Resource: Pastoral Prayer based on Psalm 23

Hallelujah, I am not alone. Holy God, you walk beside me even through the darkest valley. You walk beside us. Intimate in every way. You feel our fear. You celebrate our joy. You encourage our hope.

Good shepherd, teach us that every moment is your moment, every pasture your domain. Whether you lead us beside still waters or whether our steps take us into the storm’s blast, you are beside us. Your rod and your staff comfort us. 

We often stray. Our discontent, our wish that this moment were somehow other than it is, takes us down all kinds of blind alleys and roads that lead to nowhere. Call us back. Seek us out. Take us in your arms and carry us home, your home, which is right here.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd? 7-17-20

Lolium temulentum a.k.a. darnel or “false wheat”

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-17-20

Several years ago I traveled to Michigan to visit my extended family. Two of my uncles and several cousins are dairy farmers, so I spent time touring the farms that I grew up working and playing on and learning the latest news. At one point the conversation shifted to organic farming. My uncle shook his head. “Yeah, one of our neighbors is farming organically. It doesn’t look like a farm. It’s full of weeds.” Then he went on to explain the point of genetically modifying certain crops is to reduce the need for pesticides. It was a wonderful education in the tough choices modern farmers have to make in order to survive in an era dominated by global agribusiness. 

Scripture for this Sunday’s joint worship service is a parable of ancient agricultural practice. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is known as “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” “Tares” is an old-fashioned word for “weeds.” Rev. Moon is preaching a series on agricultural themes in the Bible, which feels appropriate to the rural character of our community. 

The Greek word for “tares” or “weeds” in this text actually refers to a very specific kind of plant: darnel, also known as “false wheat.” A brief Internet search informs me that darnel has been known since ancient times. It looks very similar to the more familiar kind of wheat we use to this day to make our bread, cakes, and all kinds of daily staples. Wheat and darnel are almost indistinguishable as young plants, but the fruit of darnel is black instead of the golden color we’re used to. Darnel has its uses, but the grain can sometimes get infected with a fungus that causes illness in humans. All of this added up to a common problem for ancient farmers–sorting the tiny darnel grains from wheat grains at harvest. I can easily imagine that this would be a maddeningly tedious and prohibitively time consuming task. 

So it’s unsurprising that farmers might ask, “Can we eliminate the darnel plants before they mature? That way we don’t have to sort the grain at harvest.” The answer of the parable is “No. Attempting to eliminate the undesirable darnel endangers the desirable wheat. Leave the sorting for the harvest. At that time, the fruit will make plain what is darnel and what is wheat.”

Our spiritual practice is not like modern monoculture. The goal isn’t to eliminate undesirable feelings, experiences, behaviors, or people. The goal is to observe and transform them. Scripture says, “Sorrow lasts for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” In other words, the goal isn’t to eliminate sorrow, it’s to fully experience it and watch God transform it through faith into joy.” The goal isn’t to change that annoying person but to observe the annoyance arise in our hearts and ask, “What does this person trigger in me that I’d rather not see in myself?” Watch annoyance transform into wisdom. And so on. Observe and let go. Observe and let go. This process can indeed be tedious, time-consuming, and inefficient, but ultimately, the fruit of this organic practice is nothing other than the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. What’s coming up in your garden?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-26-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-26-20

On Sunday, June 28, 1970 the first Pride Parade was held in New York City. Similar events were held in June of 1970 in Chicago and San Francisco. All were in response to the Stonewall uprising the previous year, which marks the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. 

For the first time in its 50 year history the NYC pride parade is cancelled due to coronavirus. Cancelled for the first time in 50 years, on its 50th anniversary.

A couple weeks ago I began an online training for leadership and organizational coaching during the COVID pandemic. As the group was naming the different dynamics around loss, grief, and trauma folks are experiencing during this time, the AIDS epidemic came up. For those of us who lived through the 1980s/1990s decades of the AIDS epidemic, when thousands upon thousands of mostly gay men were dying in places like New York City, San Francisco, and Miami, COVID brings up ghosts of that trauma. As many of you know, my dad was one of those gay men who died of AIDS, so this year’s Pride is just a strange, strange time for me, and I’m guessing for many of my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. 

Folks are hosting virtual Pride events, but for me and my family the highlight of Pride has always been the parade. My kids tell me that Providence (RI) Pride was their favorite event of the year. People of all ages, colors, and creeds gathered downtown for a day of fun and joy and celebration. We marched as a church. We waved banners and wore silly hats and cheered for the crowd as the crowd cheered for us. The City of Providence was never happier or more together than on Pride weekend. 

My Pride story is a family story. It’s a story of my family finding its family: a community of people committed to living without shame; people of all different identities committed to accepting and loving every inch of themselves and every part of every other. Nothing needs to be hidden. Everything can be talked about. Vulnerability, instead of a sign of weakness, is lifted up as a sign of strength. Pride is a time of honoring those who have gone before: martyrs and heroes and loved ones lost who had the courage to live their truth, and because they chose to do so, paved the way for those of us who would follow to more perfectly manifest what, for me, is nothing other than God’s boundless, unconditional love.