What to we want our kids to gain?

Doug DavidsonWhat do we most want our kids to gain from their involvement at First Baptist Church of Palo Alto? This is the question we began with when the parents of our children and youth joined Carolyn Shepard and me for a conversation after worship on October 12. Our discussion included a lot of affirmation for our current programming for children and youth, as well as some great suggestions for future directions we might pursue.

Parents expressed appreciation for the ways in which our Sunday school program helps to ground our children and youth in the primary stories, beliefs, and practice of our faith. For many parents, this was central to what they most want for their kids. We also celebrated the strong relationships that exist among our kids, the degree to which they enjoy being together, and the valuable cross-generational connections between youth and adults in our congregation. Appreciation was expressed for the ways Elizabeth Ramirez makes effective use of Bible stories and hands-on projects in working with our younger children, and for how the discussion based format used with our older youth exposes them to different opinions and understandings of critical faith questions.

Our conversations pointed to several ideas about how our Sunday schedule for youth might be adjusted. It was suggested that having the older youth remain in worship for the entire service on Communion Sundays would both strengthen their connections
with the larger congregation and involve them more fully in the overall worship life of the church. On other Sundays, it was suggested that both children and youth leave for Sunday school a bit earlier in the service (immediately after the special music) to allow a bit more lesson time. These suggestions were later shared with Pastor Rick and the church council, and will be tested out over the next several months.

I also shared materials from the Echo the Story curriculum we’ll be using for the next few months with our older youth. This month, I will be looking for a curriculum for our younger kids that might guide for teaching our younger children. I remain deeply grateful for the ways in which the nurture of our children and youth in the faith is a task that’s taken seriously not just by the parents of our kids but by our entire congregation here in Palo Alto.

Doug Davidson, Minister with Children, Youth and Families

Evaluating our ministry

Mixon MusesEvery year since I have been here the Council has conducted a Pastor’s Evaluation. I believe this is an important process in order to keep me and us focused on our mission. The feedback is sometimes challenging but always useful. A part of this process has been to set goals for the year ahead that then become a part of next year’s evaluation.

For a couple of years now some Council members have suggested it might be more valuable to evaluate church program goals rather than just the pastor’s goals. After all we are all in this together. Questions, concerns and affirmations about my role in the life of the congregation are important but perhaps better considered in the context of the congregation’s mission and program needs. This year we decided to take that tack in the evaluative process. I found it very helpful and I think the Council did, too.

So elsewhere you will find a list of projected goals for 2014/15. Thanks to our Moderator, Carolyn, who not only shepherded the process but consolidated our thoughts and notes into this set of goals. We will have an open discussion of these goals at our Quarterly Business meeting on October 26 and I urge you to be there to participate in the conversation.

As you will see ongoing, and appropriate concern is raised for the worshiping life of our congregation. We have never really had a working Worship Task Team since I’ve been here, though I get plenty of input from a variety of sources. We want to find some more systematic way of getting formal feedback for worship planning. Of course, we welcome informal input as well.

As our mission statement affirms: “We are church whose mission is to worship God.” I don’t think it’s an accident that is first on our list. We have made a variety of efforts to address the needs of our families with children and adults. A big part of next year will be to welcome a new full time pastoral staff person in this area as well as in church growth. In the meantime, how do we minister to the families we currently have? They are essential to the make‐up of our congregation. There are key questions about what their needs and desires are. What is it they want from their church? I am pleased that also see elsewhere in this Spire you will see that our current Minister with Children, Youth and Families, Doug Davidson, has scheduled a meeting with these parents on October 12 to begin to address just such questions and concerns.

With the change of staffing this summer, I have taken on responsibility for Adult Education. I am delighted to do this and will provide as much direct leadership as I can but it would be great to have some non‐staff leadership in this area as well. I know many of you make interesting trips, are involved in interesting projects and read interesting books and articles. Please feel free to volunteer to share any of this in our Adult Spiritual Formation hour on Sundays. If you would like to talk about what this entails  or have other ideas about Adult Education, feel free to speak to me.

We are always looking for ways to be more hospitable around here. We do a pretty good job of greeting visitors. We have a  regular schedule of events for the community. Could we do a better of job of integrating visitors and friends into the congregation? What can we do to build community life for all of us – old and new? This might include social events, but it might also involve opportunities for service. We have some ideas about how to approach this, but we would also love to have your input in meeting these goals for enhancing our community life and involvement in the year ahead.

Last but not least is our facility. Many of us celebrate how well our building is used these days. However, this means both maintenance and improvements are in order to serve the needs of our congregation and all those who share the space with us. You will see we have identified several short and long term goals for our facility. We have taken good care of our “house” (God’s house) in the past and I hope we will continue to do so. Though “the church is not a building,” taking care of what we have is good stewardship and also enriches our life together.

I’ll close with a beautiful prayer from Oscar Romero, Martyr and former Archbishop of El Salvador, that I hope will draw us on
toward the goals of ministry that God has for us in this time and place.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing
we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession bring perfection, no
pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives
includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

Yours in the work,
Pastor Rick

Summer Time…

Three candlesIt’s summer time and the living is easy, well maybe for some anyway. The rest of us keep plugging along. This week is especially busy for those of us who sang in The Choral Project – Dan Cudworth, Afan Huang and myself – as we prepare for our last concert series of the season. Pardon the shameless promotion but if you want to hear an exceptional choral concert of music you will love, I encourage to show up for one of these concerts. The music includes hymns, songs, and folk tunes from the Americas –USA, Canada and Latin America. Friday night will be in our sanctuary. Veterans, children and youth are eligible for free admission.

Saturday morning we will have the first meeting of our Assistant Pastor Search Committee. As I mentioned last week, Dan Cudworth, Don Ha, Melanie Ramirez and Hugh Satterlee have agreed to serve with Carolyn Shepard and me on this committee. We will look over job descriptions and lay out a process on Saturday. If you have input, please feel free to give it to any committee member and please hold us in your prayers.

Sunday we will spend more time with the prophet, Jeremiah. In this week’s text, we find Jeremiah in a battle with the court prophet, Hananiah, over true and false prophecy. Is it right to promise peace when it really is not on the horizon, nor have the people done those things that make for peace? What does it mean to be a true prophet of peace? After worship, we will enjoy the summer’s first patio hour, hosted by Marilyn Hunwick and Carolyn Shepard.

See you Sunday at 10 AM for Worship, Sunday School and fellowship on the patio.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.

Pastor Rick

Vision Forums and the Renewal Proposal

Renewal ProposalThank you to everyone who participated in last Sunday’s Vision Forum 1, with special gratitude to Carolyn Shepard for her excellent leadership.  We were able to center ourselves as we asked for God’s guidance in all that we do but particularly in this time of discernment.  I doubt there is anything we do here that is more important than praying for God’s guidance.  There was a time for questions of clarification.  A number of good and important questions were raised as we worked to understand the evolution of, the rationale for and the possibilities and challenges represented in the Renewal Proposal.  Then we went around the room, giving everyone present the opportunity to share their current thoughts and feelings about the Proposal.  At the end, we shared some written and verbal comments from people who could not make Sunday’s meeting and we closed again with prayer.

It was gratifying to see how seriously our congregation is taking the work of its Task Team and Council.  I also appreciated the calm, respectful and thoughtful tone of the meeting.  There is always risk in an innovative proposal; there is no way to make that go away.  It is natural to approach risk and what is unknown with a certain amount of anxiety.  I think all of us feel some of that.  I know I do.  It is important that we move into the future with open eyes, minds and hearts, with courage and with trust in our desire to follow God’s leading.  You will see below an invitation to an additional meeting on Friday for those who could not be there Sunday in hopes we can pass on some of what was shared Sunday and ensure that we hear from everyone who wants to contribute to the process.

This Sunday, in Vision Fourm 2,  we will have the opportunity to meet with Marie, to get to know her better, to hear her hopes and dreams for Christ’s church in general and ours in particular, to ask her questions and for her to ask us questions.  I am excited for you to have some experience of Marie’s grace, skill and potentiality for leading us.

Worship will focus on the familiar story of Nicodemus and Jesus.  For many of us John 3:16 was among the first Bible verses we ever learned.  But there is more to this tale that one overused and misused verse.  I am particularly interested in the age disparity between the old teacher and the young.  What’s to be done when the old one is challenged to see and do things differently?  Jesus isn’t altogether respectful of Nicodemus, who is slow to grasp things.  But I think Nicodemus leaves that encounter transformed.  “Not when I’m old.”  Don’t be so sure about that.

See you Sunday at 10 AM for worship and Sunday School.  Bring someone along to share the Lenten Journey with you.

God grant us more light, more love, more life as we journey together.
Pastor Rick