A New Season

Advent is a time of preparing for something new: a birth, a savior, a way of living. If we were a computer, it would be like getting a new operating system. Advent is a time we are invited to examine our spiritual lives, remember and reflect on our heritage and to love and be loved by those close to us. During Advent, we are invited to review old habits and traditions to see if they still have the same meaning and power to bring us into a closer relationship with Jesus. Christmas is just a few days away and God has made a highway for our Lord, a level place for us to welcome the new born king. God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves and welcomed us so we might welcome others.

During the past six years I have had the great blessing of witnessing and being a part of Laurel Heights living out the vision of being a welcoming and diverse congregation. We have welcomed people from different values and backgrounds than have traditionally attended Laurel Heights. Some of those encountered have caused members to reflect on what is means to be welcoming and how welcoming they felt called to be.

The first year of my appointment here, 2010, I met in homes with small groups to hear what they believed the hopes, visions and dreams of the congregation were, how they felt others saw the congregation and how they themselves identified the congregation. Overwhelmingly the afterschool program and the Weekday School were identified as key elements. Over the past six years the congregation has experienced these two organizations as integrated ministries of the church as I believe they were originally created and less as programs simply housed by the church. Seeing these two wonderful ministries to people outside the walls of the church as an entry into the congregational family began to affirm what it means to be welcoming and for that welcome to lead to a long term relationship. People were invited to experience what it means to be welcomed and accepted as part of the family and continue that relationship beyond the four to six years of those entry programs.

Of the 25 pastors pictured on the wall in the Fellowship Hall of Laurel Heights, four have served longer than six years and only two of those four served longer than seven years. My service at my last two congregational appointments were seven years each. I have no desire to stay longer than is needed, but I do think there could be great benefit in longer appointments and have wondered aloud what blessings might be available in years seven and beyond that prior congregations and myself may not have experienced because of moves.

To prepare for the new and creative experience of being in ministry together for seven or more years, I requested and was granted a sabbatical. For three months I examined my spiritual life, historical heritage and family of origin including my siblings, children and grandchildren. I believed (and still believe) that by looking at my historical life, my current self and long term relationships, I could best prepare myself for the next six years should I be allowed to remain in ministry at Laurel Heights. The sabbatical gave me the opportunity to “power down” my current operating system and then slowly reboot, carefully considering what programs and ministries I wanted re-installed in my life and future “operating” system. I believe this sabbatical will help me to be a better pastor, father, husband and disciple of Jesus Christ and to be a more welcoming and gracious host for the many people who will enter God’s house through Laurel Heights and its ministries.

See you Sunday,