Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What the Holy Spirit is Doing in Our Midst at St. Andrew

Last week, I was supposed to give a report to presbytery on what the spirit has been doing at St. Andrew since I arrived. I’ve written a lot of paragraphs last week, and I just couldn’t write another paragraph. So here is “What the Holy Spirit is Doing in Our Midst at St. Andrew”  
“Why I’m grateful
to God for calling me here,
to the presbytery for accepting me as a member and
to St. Andrew Presbyterian Church for taking a leap of faith
and asking me to be their full-time pastor.”

Arriving November 6, 2013
we drive up thankful in just a light rain.
I move boxes inside, unpacked a couple,
then arrange for a sudden funeral,
for a PNC
extended family.
I locate cartons where everything is (and is not),
preach, pastor, visit, get lost quite a lot.
Chinook winds don’t melt the ice from an early storm
as I was assured they do in the church information form.
And by the way,

Between urgent tasks pastoral
and secretarial
there’s no time for staff to meet.
We have to trust in grace and guesswork for a week
until at last we find
some uninterrupted time
for showing what is where to me who’s just brand-new
so we can work with joy and ease in the office at St. Andrew.
Three people spackle, sand and prime the pastor’s study walls,
I listen to the history of these, our hallowed halls
which are movable and in pods,  once so cutting-edge,
now a little worn, all of them acknowledge.
We remove ceiling tiles and see the wiring for
the radio station here forty years earlier
that the remover himself had installed with care
as a young man when this was St. Andrew Square.
We roll and cut in, while we chat and think,
a lovely color of pale beige and not pink,
while fearing that one coat wouldn’t do,
and we’d  have to do two.  We do.
A wise man installs new outlets before the furniture is moved.
Our backs approved.
And by the way,

Wow, it looks great, we all realize!
Let’s do the fellowship ceiling ten times the size!
With four times the people, we organize and triage
furniture and broken stuff of uncertain lineage.
Then one coat of primer and two coats of paint--
our shoulders and hands call for restraint.
Let’s clear the library of old magazines
still older books and unused machines
and turn it into a room where more than just three
can meet in the name of Christ safely.
Worship Design Team, installation—So cool!
Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, baptismal renewal .
Rehearsals, concerts, and choir (praying twice)
despite the low temps and roads made of ice.
At last, ordinary time, not ordinary but restful--
so we can start planning on how we’ll disciple.
For months our labyrinth was covered by snow.
A thaw let me walk where I’d long longed to go.
And by the way,

I reach into the community by attending many things
League of Women Voters, Not In Our Town – TransBillings;
NIOT and the Black Heritage Foundation
celebrate King with a standing ovation
for a Civil Rights leader clear from Atlanta.
We sing and we pray and we shout Alleluia!
We celebrate how far we’ve come and how much we have to do.
I realize St. Andrew is doing that, too.
At a work day full of touching up and staining,
sanding and patching and drywall taping,
I demonstrated pastoral care
by bringing a ladder to a man on a chair.
Ceiling tile paint sprays straight overhead
so our tired old bodies had nothing to dread.
Despite controversy with Earth Care’s overture --
I moderated the best session meeting EVER !
Everyone left loved including this pastor
despite the long docket and the late hour,
because together we had dwelt deep in God’s word,
talking less than we listened, so the spirit was heard.
And we knew that our three-day-old sign by the way,
brought two unchurched people into Taizé.

Pastor Susan


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Earlier this month, my Faith and Values column appeared in the Billings Gazette. Because it’s Black History Month, and I had met the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley at Billings’ MLK celebration, I wrote about the civil rights volunteers in the fifties and sixties. I am inspired by the tenacity of so many people who worked so hard amid such uncertainty. They did such ordinary things: running mimeograph machines, making phone calls, taking minutes, walking, lending their cars to strangers. It was a tedious, repetitive, and sometimes thankless. And yet, the volunteers persevered and saw the end of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

At a presbytery meeting, I met a pastor with buckshot in his behind from Freedom Summer, when he helped black sharecroppers organize so they could sell their produce. At a grocery store, I met a descendant of Alexander Clark, the doctor/businessman/US ambassador who sued the Iowa Board of Education in 1868 so his daughter Susan could go to the white school next door. Clark v Board of Directors was the case cited in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, that integrated America’s public schools. Here in Montana, I met a white geologist who told me of his family’s commitment to higher education for African Americans in the south. As a child, he lived on a black college campus—all his friends were black.  He said he felt that experience was a gift from his father, who was a professor there. Seventy years later, he still struggles with the evils of racism.

I do too. I also struggle with homophobia. I have two gay brothers-in-law. Last year, I talked with a minister friend who directs a Christian ministry to help LGBTQI people. I was telling him how unhappy my previous church had been with me for not preaching against gays. I was angrily accused of being ‘political in the pulpit’ when I prayed for my brother-in-law and his new husband. My friend said, in surprise, “I guess homophobia affects people who aren’t gay, too.”

Prejudice affects more than just the targets of prejudice. We are all affected by evil. It can rub off on us, hurting us and infecting us. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “Don’t mirror evil.”

It’s easy to let the prejudice around us influence the way we behave; it’s easy to respond to hate and anger with hate and anger. So I treasure that I have found a church where we can talk candidly about prejudice. Some people have shared how powerless they feel to speak up when their friends make racist remarks. Others have shared success stories when they’ve spoken up and it made someone think. It’s good to have a community that can support us as we work to follow Jesus’ teaching to love your neighbor as yourself, and try to obey God’s call to “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

I make watercolor quilts, and I gave Dr. Durley a piece of fabric to sign. He wrote, “Stay in the struggle-- Gerald and Muriel Durley.” I’m going to put that piece in a civil rights quilt. When I am frustrated by how little difference I make, by how slow our progress is, I will wrap that quilt around me and feel comforted by the knowledge that I am surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.   

Pastor Susan