Quiet & A World That Can’t Stop Talking

Can the Church stand out in the time to come as a place that empowers us to say “no” in a world that demands “yes” all the time? For about a year now, a noteworthy book has been on my mind as it generated a fair amount of buzz on the radio & internet. The book’s title is Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking (it’s due out in paperback this week). You might be surprised to learn that, along with the majority of pastors, I am an introvert. We learn to function as extroverts when needed (and genuinely enjoy being around people), but much of our time is spent alone and in silence: studying, writing articles and sermons, preparing materials for worship, retreats, and committee meetings; or in one-on-one counseling settings. Author Susan Cain presents research showing that while our culture tends to emphasize the importance and success of “extrovert” characteristics, many of the world’s greatest innovators and leaders have been true introverts. But since we have learned to reward outgoing personalities (and negatively label quieter people as shy or withdrawn), Cain argues that we’ve forgotten the equal importance of silence and contemplation.

Even without Cain’s observations, we can see all around us the pressure to get involved in everything: a variety of sports, school activities, clubs, community organizations, classes, social groups, you name it. All of this is on top of a culture of workaholism, in which many Americans don’t even use their annual vacation time. We measure the rewards in job success and financial security… but what about the losses to health? To family? To faith? The Power of Introverts can be the power to say “no,” reserving the time needed for the care of quiet space in our lives. As we approach the season of Lent, I hope you will consider our opportunities for prayer (p. 6), Lenten workshops (p. 2), and the PSEC Lenten Awakenings (p. 6) as offerings that help you say no to more busy-ness and yes to some time for quiet, prayer, and self-care. Perhaps it will be the first step for us, as individuals and as a church community, to create more space for spiritual growth.
-Pastor Rachael

What To Expect When A Pastor Is Expecting

Regular readers of this newsletter will mostly be aware by now that Adam and I are expecting our second baby in March 2013. The St. James Pastoral Relations Committee and Consistory have already begun to prepare for this event. We want to be sure everyone is informed about the expectations, as this will be St. James UCC’s first experience of having a pastor take maternity leave! If you do have any questions, best place to start is the Pastoral Relations Committee, whose membership for 2013 will include Charlotte Fiedler, Jack Morris, Tony Nuccitelli, Ken Raspen, and Joy Rubeo.

At this time, we have started to address some of the logistical details. We expect a guest pastor to begin on 3/24, Palm Sunday (the week of the date), so that our regular Holy Week & Easter services and activities will run smoothly. We are planning for a maternity leave of 8 weeks total, but we are prepared to be flexible depending on potential health concerns as well as activities in the life of the congregation. Our intention is to covenant with one “substitute” pastor for the entire leave, who will lead worship every Sunday and will be available for pastoral care in case of any major crisis. Lay leaders of our congregation will assist in providing additional spiritual care.

On a more personal note, I would like to share that, while I am looking forward to the new baby, I am not a person who particularly enjoys being pregnant! I prefer to keep busy, with the same schedule and energy as when I am not pregnant. All tests indicate that the baby and I are very healthy. We will not find out the baby’s gender ahead of time, and the names we have chosen will be a surprise as well. No preference for a girl or a boy – any healthy baby will do! Otherwise, we are simply passing the weeks, very much looking forward to meeting our new infant and especially to bringing him or her to church to meet his or her church family.
-Pastor Rachael

Discerning A Vision for the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference.

St. James, as a member of the United Church of Christ, exists within a system that is fairly unique among American church denominations. While authority exists primarily in the local congregation, we also build relationships of covenant with other local congregations. At the more local level, our congregations form Associations (ours is called “Ursinus” after the 16th-Century German reformer, theologian, and author of the Heidelberg Catechism). The Associations join regionally to form Conferences. As a covenantal member of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference (PSEC) of the UCC, we join together not for hierarchical control, but for mutual support in ministry and mission. We can accomplish more for God’s church by working together than is possible as individual congregations!

One of the great sources of ministry in the long history of our PSEC (and even before it was formed) has been our camp, Mensch Mill. Many of you will have already heard that at the Fall Meeting of the PSEC on Nov. 10, a vote passed very narrowly (by 2 votes!) to put the camp up for sale. The combination of a large mortgage and poor stewardship of the camp in recent decades has led many in our Conference to question the wisdom and faithfulness of keeping the camp, when our resources may be used better elsewhere to support new ministries and missions. In addition, the sale of the “Church House” Conference facility in Collegeville was also approved for similar reasons.

At the meeting, I presented an alternative proposal, along with the Rev. Mrs. Beth Lyon of Glenside UCC. The proposal provided for a Renewal Team which would revitalize the camp and raise funds to pay off the mortgage. This proposal was also narrowly defeated, by about 10 votes! However, it was also a success in some ways. My intention for the proposal, in addition to keeping our camp, was to re-cast our conversation from being one about mistrust and frustration toward Conference Consistory, to being one about the most faithful use of our Conference-wide resources for mission and ministry. Instead of angry finger-pointing, we were able to have a mostly-civil dialogue about the diverse visions for our future held by church members who come from a variety of places: urban and rural, large churches and small, older and younger, representing many races, cultures, and communities.

It was a wonderful opportunity to practice civil discourse at a time in place where this seems to be rare. I personally was pleased with this outcome, even if the proposal failed. The dialogue and vote communicated a very clear message: that there is not consensus about our vision in the PSEC right now! I agree with many who see the potential of Mensch Mill to be a place for the renewal of our covenantal relationships, a place to educate and empower future ministers (both lay and ordained), and a place to nurture peace and justice (perhaps especially environmental justice). However, I can also understand why many of our partners feel our resources could be better used in other ways: providing seminary scholarships, supporting new congregations, providing for regional missions in the areas of housing, food, and disaster relief; just to name a few.

Since the Nov. 10 meeting, I’ve heard many times the phrase “a vote to sell is not the same thing as a sale.” It could be years before we are able to sell a property like Mensch Mill! In the meanwhile, we will continue to explore other options. But perhaps even more importantly, we’ll be working to restore healthier relationships for dialogue as we begin to work together to discern a clear new vision for the PSEC in the 21st Century. I am excited and thankful to be a part of that process, and I welcome your suggestions and perspectives at all times as a part of our work together. What does it mean to be a Christian Church in this area, at this time? May God show us the way to an answer, and may we be humble and prayerful enough to hear what our still-speaking God is calling forth for us in this new hour! -Pastor Rachael