Here is the Massachusetts Conference UCC article about being arrested for the poor people's campaign.
*Names and details of this story have been changed.
I met Patty in a small group Bible study. She heard me ask people for stories about leading from the side and pulled me aside afterward to tell her story from early in her relationship with Church.
Patty moved to a rural area for her husband's job and went to the church nestled in the hamlet, her three young kids in tow. The only worship service was at 8:30 am, the sanctuary was cold so as to save money, and her children were the only ones present. She was the youngest adult present by a couple of decades.
"Even for the adults the worship was boring. I was a never going to keep my children interested."
After a few months Patty realized she needed to speak up rather than complain to others. So she met with the leader of the congregation and asked for a family service later in the day. He was kind and caring, listened fully, and clearly was not interested in creating another service.
It took some weeks of reflection for Patty to realize that she might be able to create the alternative worship herself. She got support from another elder in the congregation and buoyed by that support asked the leader again, this time if she could do the work herself. He said yes.
"I was new in the area, and new to rural living, so I had no idea how hard this would be. There was hardly anyone coming for the first six months." She was used to working with teams and expected other parents to offer help, but that didn't happen. Still, Patty was not deterred and somewhere along the way realized that if she asked the children to help with the worship she might get more response.
Starting with the connections her own kids made at school, slowly kids accepted her offer of opportunities for leadership. The kids were young so their parents came along. As the children’s leadership team grew, parents and other adults began to volunteer and eventually the whole ministry was run by a lay team.
"It's easy to get frustrated," Patty told me, "but I had the motivation that I wanted my kids to enjoy Church the way I had growing up."
I asked Patty what she learned about leading from the side. "Mostly I learned that my voice is important. I thought this could work, and it had a lot of struggles, but in the end I was right. We offered something that was needed and so it worked."
Do you have a side-ways leadership story? Use the contact page to share more leading from the side stories!
The last in the four part series "Leading from the Side" at themissioninstitute.org
Maybe this blog should have been the first, but as we close this series, I must remind you that there is no such thing as solo leadership. You can't lead without followers, you can’t lead well without other leaders, and you are often called to follow different leaders. The decision to lead from the side is a decision to engage with other leaders in your congregation.
At the Howell family reunion my sister Marion started a back massage line with her nephew Brendan. Each person rubbed the back of the person in front of them, and had their own back rubbed by the person behind. While we recognized Marion and Brendan as leaders, we sometimes forget that success came because others followed their lead. Those who joined the line were followers of the first back scratchers, but were leaders of all those who had not yet joined.
Click here to read the entire blog post at the Mission Institute Web Site.
You may wish that change would happen like a thunderstorm, arriving quickly, without warning; that it would clang like thunder and awaken everyone to action. You may wish that vibrant lightning would alert the congregation to the spirit's leadings, that massive drops of excitement for change would soak everyone equally and fully in the new way. You may wish the coming changes were obvious and that like a heavy rain, they would, cleanse us of everything blocking the way. And surely we all wish that change would be gone as fast as it came, leaving a cool, clean feeling of newness, of freshness, of life giving beginnings.
This is a rare occurrence.
Link to the rest of the article at TheMissionInstitute.org This is article 3 of 4 in the series.
Part two of the four blog posts I wrote for TheMissionInstitute.org
When you begin to lead from the side in your church, I have found that people will question your authority, question your power, and question your ability to be a leader. To stand firm in my commitment to lead from the side it has helped me to be able to explain why I am allowed to do this, why I am encouraged to do this, why I am called to do this. You can do this, and while you are at it, you can explain to your fellow congregants that they are called, too.
Calling is a big word, and the authority to lead is a big idea. How can I so broadly claim that you have this authority? Quite simply, baptism is a call to ministry, Church is a gathering of ministers, ministers lead both in the church and in the world. Ordained leadership is a good and powerful thing, but it is not the only thing, nor even the primary thing, that keeps a church gathered together discerning God’s ministry. The primary thing is the people of the church listening for God’s guidance for being in the world.
Link to the entire article here.
This article is part of my work at The Mission Institute and this blog plus 3 more are on their website TheMissionInstitute.org
Often lay people tell me that they love so many things about their church, and that they hate so many things about their church. They describe how the congregation dreams of change and how change doesn’t happen. These members of churches ask me for advice, they look at their community life critically, they engage in creative thinking, they get excited about ideas that might work, and then they turn to me and say “you should talk to my pastor”. One minute they are full of energy for change, the next minute they are deferring all change to the work of the pastor.
Let me say this clearly: you can change your church; you can make a difference. I know, you are not ordained, you are not the paid staff, you didn’t study church change, you aren’t an organizational guru, you can’t work on this full time, you have a family and a job, you have a hundred reasons you cannot work on this problem. Yet still I say to you clearly: you can change your church; you can make a difference; you are called to be part of the change.
Link to the rest of this article here.
(The assignment was to write balanced sentences)
I am just like you. I am completely different than you. This is the dilemma of our theology, the question of our faith. I wonder how to develop my own faith story as truth, as important, as complete, and yet to understand your faith story as honest, as significant, as whole. How do I let you have your story when your story conflicts with mine?
I am a main line, liberal (progressive perhaps), and Christian. You are non-denominational, conservative (fundamentalist even), and Christian. You are a philosophical, new age (Wiccan even) and non-Christian. You are a believer, accepting what you’ve been told, and yet uncertain. You are a non-believer, doubting what you’ve been told, and yet certain. You and I are one. You and I are completely different.
This way we are different was on my mind as I headed out to do ministry with the homeless, with the lonely, in Worcester Massachusetts. I was determined to bring a lunch bag to the hungry, a cooler of cold water to those who thirst. I was determined to share a new reading of scripture, to share good news with the captives; I would be a pastoral presence, a listening ear. I knew that people on the streets would teach me about what they needed, I didn’t know how much they would teach me about theology.
It turns out that I needed a more robust theology; I needed to know more about how God works in the world. My theology didn’t actually grapple with real suffering; my theology was dependent on my easy life. It is not that I haven't had hard times. I have had very hard times. But I have not let the darkness in my life change my pretty answers nor my petty beliefs. I wanted a world that was all good and sweet and happily-every-after, I ignored evil and violence and suffering-to-the-end. I wanted to create a world where love could, and love does, overcome all tribulations.
That confidence in love was the foundation of my call to be in ministry on the streets of Worcester, and that confidence in love continues to carry me forward. And yet that confidence in love was not enough to sustain me in the face of violence: violence by the world on my parishioners, and violence by my parishioners on each other. That confidence in love was not enough to bring to a people who had tried again and again and again and again to find Jesus and God, to find peace and wholeness. I believed I was bringing faith to the streets. The faith I brought was not enough.
I did not bring faith to the streets; I went to the streets and found faith. I adapted and adjusted; I listened and I learned. I went out into the streets of Worcester bringing faith to the faithful and they gave me the gift of robust faith. The people on the streets have changed my beliefs and deepened my faith. They have fed me and freed me.
They have shown me that we are completely different, and that we are exactly the same.
The advent study at the white steepled church on the town common had that odd sense of being superb and dull at the same time. They have not done study, of the Bible or anything else, in recorded history--or at least not since the fifty's. Adults simply don't do it. So the expectations were low, the education was low, and the attendance was low.
In fact I expect that some of the older women came simply because I am young and new and they wanted to support me, not because of some interest in Bible study.
And those that came knew little of the bible. They didn't know that Matthew and Luke had different Christmas stories, or that there is debate as to Mary's virginity, or that Jesus has siblings. It isn't that they didn't care about some of the controversies over biblical interpretations, they didn't know there were controversies. So all of what I explained as background was "very interesting".
I believe I have written elsewhere about one of the younger women (as in middle aged) was upset that in the magnifcat Mary is so negative about the rich. "That is not right" she declared. But many in the group were also completely shocked that it was there in the text.
But our study wasn't a study in order to know the deep meaning of the text, or to know the history or to resolve any of these controversies. Our study was about how we feel and how we interact with God.
So we looked at a text, considered some of the meanings, considered some words that stood out for us, and then did meditation, along with some art, in order to think about the way God spoke to us.
And people shared hard stories of people they have lost, of what they love and hate about their homes, of how their family used to be these people, but now it is these different people. They laughed and they cried and they spoke timidly of private, hard to bear challenges. Two women were afraid of losing their independence, several were struggling with letting their now teenage children into the world. Some were over busy, others were over alone. The sharing was deep and special. There was a struggle at putting God language on it, but it was filled with the spirit of God.
And then Sunday, six or eight or twelve weeks later, one of the women came up to me privately, after worship, but also all of coffee hour was done. "I want to tell you that I am a new person and that is because of you!".
"Because of me?"
"That advent study. I am completely new."
"How are you new?"
"I don't know who I was, but I was crying all the time then, crying about everything. And now I am myself again."
"The new you is the same as the you from before your husband died?"
"You know I couldn't talk about James, and all I could think about was how I could not go on without him. And now I can remember him, and I still get sad, and I still cry, but then I'm done crying and I enjoy my grand children and I enjoy my life. That changed after the study. I think it is because of you."
I told her that it was wonderful, that I was pleased for her, and that it was God, not me, that made the change. And I thanked her for the compliment, that I was glad she felt the study helped. And I asked her to come to the next study.
"Oh, I wouldn't miss it!"
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