See how they love one another!

Doug Davidson with ChildrenWhen I was a member of Central Baptist Church of Wayne, Pennsylvania, we went through an interim period of about a year and a half in the mid‐1990s when the church was between pastors. During the previous decade, our church was led by a visionary pastor who provided strong direction. After he left, the church was very intentional about going through a slow and careful discernment process about its own ministry priorities. What parts of the congregation’s identity and activities were primarily the previous pastor’s vision, and what parts truly belonged to the congregation? I thought this discernment
regarding the congregation’s mission was essential. The church needed to be clear about who it was; then it could open itself to the leadership of a new pastor whose vision would compliment the congregation’s sense of its calling.

I was reminded a bit of this experience during the past month, as I have had different opportunities to see our congregation in action during Pastor Rick’s sabbatical month. Although Rick’s absence during the month of January certainly isn’t the same as an interim pastorate, the change in my responsibilities during these weeks has invited me into aspects of this congregation’s activity that I don’t experience as much in my usual role. I’ve enjoyed participating in Tuesday morning Bible studies, planning and  leading worship, preparing the Midweek Message, and other tasks that aren’t normally on my plate. But
what I have appreciated most has been gaining a more intimate perspective on the way members of our congregation care for one another.

The members of our church’s Congregational Care Task Team play a primary role in coordinating our church’s effort to minister to one another. I appreciated having the opportunity to sit in on that team’s brainstorming session about how we can minister more effectively to the seniors in our congregation, and then to be in the council meeting as the team reported back. But it’s not just the members of that team. I am touched by how you pray for one another, visit those who can’t be with us on Sundays, check in on one another with phone calls and emails, provide rides to make sure people who don’t drive can get to worship, and so much more. I have long appreciated the strong sense of mission outreach that  characterizes this small congregation.

But in the last month, I have gained a renewed appreciation for all the ways the members of this congregation care for one another. The early church historian Tertullian, writing near the end of the second century, reported that what observers found most striking about the early church was the way people cared for each other. He reported that the Romans used to marvel at the Christians and exclaim, “See how they love one another!” I’ve thought the same thing several times this month as I have sat with different members of our congregation. I’m moved by the ways you seek to care for one another. If you listen to my conversations with the kids on Sunday mornings, you probably already know that I think this is pretty close to the heart of the gospel.

“What’s most important?” they asked Jesus.

“Two things,” he responded. “Love God, and love others.” May we continue to grow in our ability to live more fully into that invitation.

Doug Davidson
Minister with Children, Youth, and Families

Spirit of Sabbath

Dalai LamaIt takes a bit of time and effort, after spending three weeks “on the mountain top,” to adjust to life in the lowlands. While it’s not actually a mountain top, San Francisco Theological Seminary does sit atop a high hill in San Anselmo, with sweeping views of Mt. Tamalpais to the south. It is a blessing to be able to take this sabbatical time for study and refreshment. One of the wonderful books we read for this year’s course on “The Art of Discernment” was the classic, Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel’s insight, wisdom and eloquence help us to understand Sabbath as spiritual discipline rather than time off to play or just be lazy. Of course, play and rest can be integral to Sabbath, but it is so much more.

In her introduction to the book, Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, describes Sabbath in their household as a re‐membering of ancient Jewish rites. There was ritual and reading, discussing and sharing with family and friends. There was worship and reflection and practice of the presence of God. There was a blessed ordering of life, both familiar and sacred.

On the seventh day God did not just settle down for a nice nap. On that day, God reveled in creation, loving what had come to be, calling it good and blessing it. It was a time for taking stock. It was a time of replenishment. It was a time for beauty, for reflection, for blessing. And so God, recognizing its importance, gave Sabbath to creation, inviting humanity to share in that sacred time.

After six days of creative work (or any other kind, for that matter,) even God Almighty chose to change the tempo, to slow down, to contemplate. When we treat time with this sort of care and respect, we may find ourselves face to face with questions about the meaning of life, about the nature of things, about the creative process, about God and our relationship to the Holy One. Heschel insists that this is good and right – to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, to bring oneself with purpose and devotion, with joy and humility into the presence of God. In fact, Heschel argues that we were created for the experience of Sabbath, for communion with the Holy, for giving ourselves over to the grace of God.

Jesus uses this same argument when his disciples are chastised for plucking grain on the Sabbath. In the spirit over the letter of the law, he reminds his critics that “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath…” (Mark 2:27). It is not some rote repetition of rules or ritual that makes the Sabbath sacred. It is the opportunity to enter deeply into the holy presence – which may be quite difficult on an empty stomach! Of course, the ancient rules and rituals do have their place in helping to develop the discipline needed to enter fully into Sabbath.

Sabbath is not a practice we fall into easily in our frenetic culture. Give me a weekend so I can “veg’ out,” napping in my easy chair in front of the football game. I need time to do my laundry, clean the kitchen, shop for groceries, visit family and friends, hang out with my spouse and kids. There is so much pulling at me, screaming at me, coming at me that I sometimes feel I can barely tread water until the weekend comes. I need “me” time! And this says nothing of those who work multiple jobs just to make ends meet with no time left over or those whose time is disordered by homelessness, hunger, refugee status, imprisonment, oppression, abuse.

The spiritual discipline of Sabbath is as challenging for most of us as it is rewarding when we discover its true meaning and value. To take time or make time to draw just a little nearer to the heart of God, in whatever form that may take, is sacred exercise. There is always the possibility that seeking to dwell in the presence of the Most High will have inevitable ramifications for the living of our lives over all. I don’t mean that we will win the lottery or every trouble will disappear, but somehow committing oneself to living closer to God, to embracing God’s way and God’s will, can’t help but bring shalom to us – some deeper sense of peace and fulfillment.

Well, this is what you get for allowing me to spend time on the mountain top. Perhaps, you can see why it’s not so easy to re‐enter the routines of daily life. Don’t get me wrong. I love living here and working here and sharing life with each of you. It is a blessing in itself for which I am deeply grateful. But one of the things that I think about up there in San Anselmo is how I can share with you some of that Sabbath experience. As I said in last Sunday’s sermon, a significant goal I have for us as pastor and people is that we might find ways together to deepen our spiritual life. How can we cultivate Sabbath and celebrate it as a people? What will bring us closer to living in a constant awareness of God’s presence in us and around us? And how will that sense shape our living? This is the challenge, the work and the promise of spiritual formation. It is a joy to walk this way with you. Thanks for the time away and thanks for the home to which I may return.

God bless and keep us on the way.
Pastor Rick

Sabbatical Coverage

While Pastor Rick is on his sabbatical leave January 12-31, Pastor Tripp will be available to handle pastoral concerns and Oleta will be available for administrative concerns. Pastor Tripp will be available 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. Oleta’s hours will be Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The office will be closed on Mondays.  Emergency Contact numbers are: Pastor Tripp (773) 592-6793, Oleta (650) 575-1529, Carolyn Shepard (650) 595-5635 (if necessary).

Don Granholm, Finance, and Sabbatical

a new thingIt was a very full weekend with the memorial service for Don Granholm, Epiphany worship with communion, a Nicaragua update from Charlie Aker and a Finance Committee meeting.  It was both full and rich.  We are grateful for the exceptional life of Don Granholm – husband, father, grandfather, teacher, world traveler, peacemaker and head usher extraordinaire!  The church was full Saturday of those who came to pay tribute.  Eleanor Satterlee, Joanne Jones and crew did a splendid job on the reception.  We are also grateful for our worshiping community and for Charlie Aker who so willingly shares with us.

We are behind on our pledge projections for 2014.  If you have not yet made your pledge or are able to consider giving more, that would be very helpful as we look to the future and move into our renewal project.  Thanks to Jane Chin and the other members of our Finance Committee for all their hard work.  Jin Chin announced at the meeting that he is stepping down as Treasurer.  He has served us well for the past 7 years.  Please consider prayerfully and carefully whether God might be calling you to help out in this department.  It is imperative that we have someone in the Treasurer position.  If you have any inkling of interest, please talk to Pastor Rick or Carolyn Shepard.  We have some ideas about making the job more manageable going forward.

I will begin phase 2 of my sabbatical this Sunday.  This will be the second set of classes for the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction program that I began last year.  I will be in San Anselmo at San Francisco Theological Seminary from the 12th through the 31st of January.  Tripp will provide pastoral coverage and Oleta administrative.  Please give them your full support in my absence.  Thank you again for this opportunity to study and grow.

Don’t forget Sunday at 10 AM.

May God’s new thing flourish within us and among us.
Pastor Rick

Looking to January

Friends of God,

Rev. Tripp HudginsMerry Christmas to one and all! I hope the holiday was generous to everyone. This month we embark on a bit of an adventure with one another. As Pastor Rick will be away on a sabbatical, Oleta and I will both be picking up some of his work. I will be in Palo Alto on Tuesdays, Fridays, and (of course) Sundays. I’ll be leading Tuesday’s bible study and coordinating with the guest preachers and Oleta for our worship services in January.

Also, I will be on call for any pastoral needs anyone may have. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to spend more time with everyone. The first Sunday of January is Communion Sunday and Epiphany. We’ll celebrate the encounter that the Magi (the three wise guys) have with the infant Christ. I will be preaching and this will be an inter‐generational service. We’ll reflect together what it might mean for us to “return another way.” When did you return home by a route unknown to you? Sometimes this is what it is like to follow God.

We will have a pot luck diner on Friday, January 18 at 6:00pm in the Fellowship Hall. All are welcome. Please contact the church office if you would like to help set up or clean up. Please bring something to share. February will bring with it our Annual Meeting (February 3) and Rick’s Return as well as Brad Berglund. Some of you may remember him from his book that we studied together in Adult Spiritual Formation, Reinventing Sunday. An accomplished musician and retreat leader, Brad will be with us the second week of February (February 15‐17, also known as the first week of Lent). He will lead a workshop on Friday evening, during the day on Saturday, in worship on Sunday, and for some time together after the service. The Friday evening event will be open to the public as is, of course, Sunday morning. More details are forthcoming. Please stay tuned.

Thank you for all your work around the church. I appreciate all that each of you do to make First Baptist a warm and welcoming community of faith.

Peace and All Good Things,

Growing in the Spirit

candleringMany thanks for the opportunity to take this month as part of my sabbatical. I am looking forward to spending three weeks in San Anselmo at San Francisco Theological Seminary with a cohort of other students working on a Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction. This on-site experience will be repeated the next two Januarys, so I am spreading my sabbatical out rather than taking three months in a row. I believe this will be beneficial for our congregation as well as for me as your pastor. It is good to be able to leave our congregation in the capable hands of Pastor Tripp, Oleta, Jan, Carolyn and the Council while I am gone. We are blessed with capable leadership across the board.

Though I will not generally be available during the month, I will not be so far away that I cannot respond to an emergency. It is my hope that in learning the art of spiritual direction, I will not only deepen my own spiritual life but also discover ways of deepening the spiritual life of our congregation and in the wider community around us. We hear over and over these days the claim, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” For some I know they have turned their backs on organized religion, including the church, because they have been ignored, wounded, abused in those traditional settings. Others have found nothing relevant to their lives in hide-bound, musty tradition. Still others have experienced the church as a place where their wonderment has been extinguished and their questions not welcomed. Especially on the West Coast, in communities like ours, the competition for time and energy among vast opportunities for both work and play has left the church far behind, struggling just to “tread water.”

It seems the very existence of the institutional church as we know it is threatened. The peak days of church life from the 1950s and 60s, which shaped for most of us who hang on what we understand to be church life, are long gone and are unlikely to return. We are faced with the dilemma of trying to hold on to the church we love while wondering why younger folk (who do not share our experiences) don’t want to help us keep our enterprise going. Everybody has ideas about defining the problem and what to do about it but nobody has a patented solution. There are, of course, churches that use the slickest tools of modern culture to lure people in and keep them entertained, hopefully long enough to capture their commitment to keeping the organization going. But in a time of sound bites and information overload, it’s much easier to move on to the next fascinating thing than to commit to something for the long run.

From all the material that I have read and studied over the last several years, it seems to me that the pattern that has the most value in church life is among those congregations and communities who have focused on their growth in the Spirit. I am not sure that everyone who claims to be “spiritual but not religious” is really interested in the Spirit’s movement in this world. That movement can be as challenging as it is comforting. It can invoke awe as well as make us feel good and warm inside. I am concerned that much of what passes for spirituality is “spirituality lite” not the Spirit that transforms life and threatens to turn the world right side up. And as Pastor Tripp and others have pointed out, there is no reason to assume that those who list themselves as “nones” (having no church or religious affiliation in their lives) have any interest in being lured into any church, regardless of how hip its programming might be.

Still, a witness to the movement of the Spirit in our lives and in the life of our congregation might make a difference for those in our communities, in our families, friends, colleagues, acquaintances who are hungry for something spiritually relevant and deep. I don’t know exactly what that witness will look like for me and for us, but I am hopeful that in this time of Sabbath study I might find some insight and tools that will be beneficial to all of us in our witness to the work of the Spirit in our lives and in our service of the reign of God on earth.

I believe with all my heart that our Christian faith has good news to bring to a world desperately in need of this very good news. This is the struggle that I feel daily as a minister of the gospel – how do we share this good news in ways that can be heard, understood, embraced? Though many of us love the church as we have known it, sharing the good news is not, cannot be, dependent on any particular institution or skill set. Finding ways to share what we have found in our faith, what we have encountered in the living Christ, what we know of God, what we experience in the movement of the
Spirit is still a high calling. I look forward to sharing with you as we respond to this call.

Blessings on us all,

Pastor Rick