Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Mistletoe-free Zone

My final sermon with God's beloved saints at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte. 

There are pastors who keep a running list of all the stuff they plan to say to their congregation on their last Sunday. You know, those kinds of things that you might have been holding in all along and then, when you know you won’t get fired for saying them, you just let it fly. It can be particularly unnerving for a congregation to wait for the final sermon from a pastor they’ve given a rough time.

You may have heard the old story about the pastor who had gotten nothing but grief from her congregation the whole time she was there. When it came time for her final sermon, they all held their breath because they knew it was coming. She was really gonna let ‘em have it.

But then, it didn’t happen. She was kind and gracious. She was so sweet sugar wouldn’t have melted in her mouth. She went through the entire worship service exuding words of love and support for this congregation that had made her life a living hell for years.

The closing hymn began and they all breathed a sigh of relief. But then, as their pastor recessed down the aisle, something was hanging from a string down the center of her robe in the back. And there it was, the pastor’s final word to her cantankerous congregation, dangling just above the place where she sat—a sprig of mistletoe.

You will see no mistletoe hanging from my robe today.

Before I came to serve Holy Trinity eleven years ago, I was finishing up seven years of pastoral ministry at Advent in University City. I dearly loved that congregation, but for a variety of reasons, I knew it was time for me to move on. I was pretty fragile then, and I didn’t think I had it in me to go to another congregation and become emotionally invested in a whole new community, so I made the decision to leave parish ministry.

And then, Holy Trinity came along. I had long admired you for standing boldly on the side of love in a way that no one else in our synod was. And I saw that it was all a flush away from going down the toilet. Other people were looking at you and saying, see there’s what happens when you let gay people in your church. That can’t happen, I thought. They have to succeed. They just have to. And it occurred to me that I could help you do that.

I was on my way out anyway, so what did I have to lose? So I came here, for the sheer love of it. And I wasn’t particularly afraid. My goal was to walk with you and hang in there with you until the day when people would no longer be pointing at us saying, “We don’t want to be like Holy Trinity” and would instead be pointing at us saying, “Why can’t we be more like Holy Trinity?” And, guess what? That day is here.

Our worship attendance has gone from somewhere in the thirties to well over a hundred on a typical Sunday. We’ve welcomed a couple hundred new members. We’ve made a difference for people who’ve come to us for healing in their lives.

And I’m convinced that those scary days when we didn’t know if we’d survive as a congregation have shaped us as a community of love and healing. We know what it means to be damaged and to hold on by faith when that’s all you can do. I’d been through some similar struggles in my personal life, and it seems that we were brought together as fellow survivors, both pastor and congregation, to do ministry in a world that is filled with people struggling to survive.

I had no idea what God had in store for you, or for me, when I first came here, but I just knew it was going to be good. And it has been. There’ve been all kinds of surprises for us along the way.
·        I remember the first time we broke 100 at worship. It was my first Christmas Eve. In the middle of worship we heard a loud boom coming from the narthex. Laura was our usher. She went up into the balcony to count heads and she was so excited that she fell coming down the stairs. (Fortunately, she was okay.)
·        I remember the gradual surprise that came from having children in our midst again after our nursery wasn’t used once during the first three years I was here.
·        I remember the sudden surprise of welcoming displaced brothers and sisters from St. Andrews Episcopal Church into our midst.
·        And the joyful surprise of celebrating the full inclusion of LGBT folks in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and then marriage equality for North Carolina.
None of us could have foreseen any of that on my first Sunday.

I want to thank you for giving me the adventure of a lifetime. Few pastors ever have the opportunity to experience what I’ve experienced with you here at Holy Trinity. This is an extraordinary congregation and I know that God’s going to send you an extraordinary pastor to serve you in the future. As congregations go, this is a sweet, juicy plum.

Do you know what the best thing about serving Holy Trinity has been for me? Our mission of Loving Not Judging. We’ve grown a lot in understanding what it means for us to be loving not judging as a demonstration of living the Jesus Way in the world and with one another. As your pastor, I’ve benefited from that because I’ve experienced your love toward me in a way that’s freeing.

So often, pastors are fearful of the judgment of their parishioners and it’s stifling. Particularly in preaching. They’re afraid to say what they’re feeling called to say because their congregation might not like it and they don’t want to cause trouble, end up having people leave the church, or maybe even lose their jobs. And so they do a lot of tap dancing in the pulpit, never saying what they really mean, for fear of judgment.

Let me tell you, tap dancing in the pulpit is exhausting. And I’m thankful that I’ve never had to put on my tap shoes at Holy Trinity. I know you don’t always buy into what I have to say, but I also know that no matter what I say, you will continue to love me. There’s a freeing power in that kind of grace. It’s allowed me to say exactly what I’ve felt called to preach, and I can’t thank you enough.

I also know that I’ve made mistakes while I’ve been with you. I’ve done some things that aren’t all that smart, and I’ve said some things that aren’t all that kind. But I know that you love me anyway, just as I love you. Within a loving not judging community, forgiveness and reconciliation are the way we roll.

That’s why the most important thing we do together happens around the altar. It’s where we gather weekly to open ourselves to receive the grace of God into our lives. As I place the bread in your hands, and I look into your eyes, it’s more than a mechanical act for me. We have history. I know your stories; for many of you I’ve been a part of your stories. I know what the presence of Christ in your lives means to you. And I know what it means for us to do this together, week after week, within our community. It defines who we have been. It strengthens who we are. It shapes who we will be. Together. The Body of Christ in this place.

When we planned my final day at Holy Trinity, I told the leadership of the congregation that I didn’t want to have a dinner after worship, which is what you might expect on an occasion like this. But I wanted us to have an opportunity on Saturday evening to gather and celebrate our time together. And then I wanted the last thing I did with my Holy Trinity family to be the celebration of Holy Communion together. That’s as it should be.

When I announced to you that I would be leaving five weeks ago, I talked to you about being open to the Spirit. One of you joked that we all know darn good and well that if the Spirit had called me to Georgia I wouldn’t have listened. And it may be true that in my case the Spirit has been calling me through a two-year-old grandson named Nick. But that’s how the Spirit works, too, isn’t it?

From as long as I can remember, I’ve been open to seeing where God is leading me next. A door opens and I feel compelled to walk through it because if I didn’t, I’d always wonder what might have been. That’s the way it was when I first felt called to be a pastor as a college student at Bowling Green State University, and it’s certainly the way it was when I came to serve you as your pastor here at Holy Trinity. I think it’s a good way to go through life. It means facing our fears, being ready for adventure, expecting to be surprised along the way, and holding on for a wild ride.

My prayer for Holy Trinity is that you’ll experience the same thing in this adventure of faith that God has called you to be a part of. Be open to where God is leading you next. Don’t be too quick to decide what you’d like to see happen, what might meet your greatest desires. Instead, be open to seeing what God has in store for you as you strive to walk the Jesus Way. Be on the lookout for doors that open. And, when you see them, have the courage to walk through those doors. Be ready for adventure, expect to be surprised along the way, and hold on for a wild ride.

Let me leave you with the words of W. H. Auden as we close this wonderful chapter we’ve shared and prepare to begin a new one, this time separated geographically, but always connected within the Body of Christ… and through the magic of Facebook.

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Who I became, who I will become

Monday night I had dinner with two close friends who have been through some amazingly glorious times with me at Holy Trinity as well as gut-wrenching challenges that seemed insurmountable. One of them observed that I have become an icon in Charlotte, and I’ll be moving to a place where no one knows me and I’m just another pastor. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since she said it.

Am I an icon? Yikes! It’s an overstatement, for sure, but that’s the way she perceives me and I know she’s not alone. Please understand that I’m not suffering from a grandiose complex. I realize that most of the people in Charlotte don’t know who the hell I am. But there are also many for whom I am something of a pseudo-celebrity—the lgbtq community, progressive people of faith, ELCA Lutherans. Some of that notoriety comes with longevity; I’ve been here a long time. But it’s more than a matter of racking up years. God planted me in just the right place during a historically significant time.

You may have heard the story of how I informed the call committee at Holy Trinity that I would not be a spokesperson for LGBT equality as their pastor. I would love them, I would be their pastor, and I would help them become a vibrant congregation again, but I would not be putting myself out there as a champion for the LGBT community. 

Ha! In no time at all, I learned that by loving them and serving as their pastor, I simply had to stand up for them. I couldn’t keep silent when the people I loved were being treated as less than fully human by my denomination and by the world around us. So I began to speak up. At first with trembling voice and racing heart, and then in time, with passion and a fire in my belly. It wasn’t that I was particularly brave. It was that love won out.  

Before my Holy Trinity days, I was never the kind of person who enjoyed putting myself out there for people to take pot-shots at me. At times I might have been bold in the pulpit, where I was protected from opposition, but I seldom strayed from that comfort zone. I was an inactive activist, at best. I had a lot to say about justice, but never really did a lick about it.

This extraordinary congregation on The Plaza has changed me. All the stuff I always said about following Jesus became real to me in a way I’d never experienced it before. Then opportunities to do more than just talk the talk, but walk the walk, presented themselves to me. And I couldn’t refuse. Not if I wanted to look at myself in the mirror again. I knew that if I was going to talk about following Jesus, I actually had to follow Jesus. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve stumbled and made some wrong turns from time to time along the way, but I’m confident about the way--the Way of Jesus.

I haven’t been alone. Most of the time I’ve just jumped on board the train as it was pulling out of the station. The support of organizations like Reconciling Works (Lutherans Concerned) and North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement, as well as the courageous compassion of Charlotte’s progressive faith community, have pulled me along the way. I’ve been particularly blessed to serve in Charlotte alongside colleagues like Robin Tanner, Nancy Allison and Judy Schindler. If I have done some good for the community while I’ve been here, it’s because others have opened doors for me and I’ve simply walked through them.

So, all the kind accolades coming my way these days make me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t know who I will become in my new call. God seems to recreate me in every congregation I serve. It’s true that, in this environment. the conditions were just right for me to grow a pair. But in my new environment it’s possible they may return to their prior state of dormancy. 

It unnerves me a bit to think about plopping myself down in Towson, Maryland, a place I know nothing about. In a different place, in a different time, I have no idea what to expect or who I will become. It seems that people who know me are expecting me to be the same person I’ve been in Charlotte, and I don’t know that I will be. Time will tell. 

No doubt, I’ll do what I’ve always done. I’ll be watching for doors to open before me, and when they do, I’ll walk through them. But God only knows what those doors will be and where they will lead. I trust that they will move me forward on this journey I’m on, doing the best I can to walk the Jesus Way in the world.

May God guide me along the way, catch me when I fall, and give me all the faith I need to trust that God’s grace is sufficient. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The parable on my patio

An array of colors frames the brick pavers: Yellow, orange, purple, blue, pink, red.
Each day they greet me, as the sun and I rise together,
and I emerge from my dark cocoon.
They remind me that I have the ability to bring beauty into the world.  
For although Jesus may teach that the splendor of lilies comes through no toil of their own, 
through the years, I have fiercely fought with my own hands
to bring a rainbow of color to a jungle of weeds.

This morning I walked to the flower bed and did what I always do.
I searched for weeds and pulled them out.
“Why am I doing this?” I wondered.
And I repeated the mantra I’m using these final days to convince myself
that I am relieved to relinquish the work I have invested with my whole being:
“It’s not my problem.”

Soon I’ll be leaving behind this place brimming with beauty,
entrusting it to the care of a stranger with no awareness
of all that transpired to bring life out of desolation,
who may not value my legacy,
yank the perennial colors up by their roots
and replace them with something new.

This garden is not my problem anymore. 
So why do I continue to tend it?

And then it happened.
Right there on my patio.
I was popped between the eyes with a parable.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Good-byes and Boxes

My days are filled with good-byes and boxes right now.
And gratitude and guilt.
Grateful for relationships that make good-byes difficult.
Guiltful for boxes that remind me I have too much stuff;
no matter how much I purge, it weighs me down.

There is incongruity in this moving on of mine.
I pack up the stuff that doesn’t really matter all that much,
taking it with me to a new place
where it won’t really matter all that much.
And I leave behind what matters the most.  

How I wish I could abandon the insignificant 
And pack up the people I love,
transporting them into my new life.  
Instead I continue to say good-bye to people who matter
And pack boxes with stuff that doesn’t. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Grace in the Middle of the Road

Preached at Holy Trinity, Charlotte on May 29, 2016.

LUKE 7:1-10
After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

When did it happen? Jesus enters the town of Capernaum. There is a centurion there—a big-deal Roman soldier. And the centurion has a slave, who apparently means a lot to him, and the slave was near death. When the centurion hears that Jesus is there, he sends some of the Jewish elders to Jesus to see if he’ll come and heal his slave. So, they find Jesus and plead their case, telling Jesus that the centurion is a good man and he deserves this favor.

So, Jesus goes with them, but while they’re on their way, some of the centurion’s friends come to Jesus with a message. Despite the fact that the Jewish elders deem the centurion worthy of Jesus’ help, the centurion himself doesn’t. He doesn’t want Jesus to risk defiling himself by entering the home of a gentile. But if Jesus only speaks the word, he knows that his servant will be healed. Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith. And then, those who had been sent to speak with Jesus return to the centurion’s house and find the slave has been healed.

So, when did it happen? Jesus didn’t lay hands on the slave. He didn’t lay eyes on him. He didn’t even lay a word on him. And the slave was healed. When?

Sometime when Jesus was in the middle of the road.

Luke’s gospel is filled with acts of compassion that take place in the middle of the road. Right after this story, we read about Jesus in a town called Nain, and the body of a widow’s son is being carried in the street on a funeral bier. At the word of Jesus, the dead man was alive… right there in the middle of the road. Later, Jesus heals a hemorrhaging woman in the middle of the road. The same for a demon possessed man—the one where the demons ended up inside the pigs on the hillside.

Luke is the only gospel that includes Jesus’ parable about a man who has been beaten and left for dead when a Samaritan stops to help him, in the middle of the road. Luke is also the only gospel writer who gives us the parable of a young man who breaks his father’s heart by taking his inheritance and getting as far away from his father as possible. After he blows all his father’s money, this son decides he has no choice but to return home and beg for forgiveness. He goes over his groveling speech again and again as he makes the long journey home again, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

Before the son has a chance to get the words out of his mouth, his father sees him from a distance and runs to his son, throws his arms around him and kisses him. Right there in the middle of the road.

It seems that the middle of the road is a symbol for grace, doesn’t it? The father in the story of the prodigal son doesn’t wait for his son to come to him. He doesn’t care if the son meets the right criteria before he welcomes him home. He doesn’t mind the fact that the son doesn’t deserve to be forgiven for the way he turned his back on his family. Before conditions are met, love is extended. That’s grace. Undeserved. Unconditional. Unexpected. And it happens right there in the middle of the road.

Now, you may think of the “middle of the road” as a political phrase, and although that’s not how I’m using it here, it’s actually not unrelated. Our nation is so polarized right now that it seems no one is standing in the middle of the road. We don’t want to have a thing to do with people who disagree with us, unless it’s to hurl insults and demonize them. The primary election has been a battle of extremes, indicative of our larger culture.

If there’s one thing I’ve become convinced of in the decades I’ve served as a pastor, it’s that there is something more important than being right, and God knows, I like to be right. But it’s more important to be loving than it is to be right. More important than planting my flag in the ground and taking a firm stand, is an ability to move to the middle of the road for a conversation. That’s what it means to be a person of grace. I may not always do that well, but I know it’s where following Jesus takes me. It takes me smack dab to the middle of the road.

That’s where one of the highlights of my time at Holy Trinity took me. It was a glorious day. I felt a lot like I imagine King David might have felt when he danced naked in the middle of the street bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Only it wasn’t Jerusalem, I wasn’t dancing… and I certainly wasn’t naked. We can all be thankful for that! I was riding on the back of a black Volkswagen convertible waving a rainbow flag at 100,000 people lining Tryon Street.

What I wore that day raised a bit of controversy. I have colleagues who strongly objected to the fact that I wore my white alb and rainbow stole, as if I were dressed for worship… well, worship in a church where the rainbow stole would be appreciated.

It was 2014, the year I was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought marriage equality to North Carolina, and I had been named Outstanding Ally by Charlotte Pride, so I got to ride up front like a celebrity. I debated what to wear that day. When I asked my fashion consultant, Linda Davis, she said I should robe up, and she was right.

For those who have been damaged by the hatred and scorn of the Church, my presence spoke volumes. I was a symbol of reconciliation for folks who had been pushed to the margins because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. When they saw me smiling and waving, dressed in the official clothing of a holy person, the Church had come to them right there on the buckle of the Bible belt—at the intersection of Trade and Tryon. They saw that there are Christians who aren’t asking them to change who they are before we approve of them. There are Christians who don’t just tolerate them as deviants. Never before had they seen a church person riding in a lead car like that at a Pride Parade. I knew that what I was doing was significant for the LGBTQ community. I represented the Christian church, and I was celebrating them as people created in the image of God. I was grace in the middle of the road.

This week on Facebook I saw the statement, “Don’t cross oceans for people who wouldn’t step over a puddle for you.” It makes a lot of sense. Don’t give yourself to someone who isn’t willing to give anything to you. Why would you? That wouldn’t make any sense. And yet, that’s not the way grace works, is it? Grace is kind with the unkind. Patient with the rude. Loving with the judgmental and hateful. Grace DOES cross oceans for people who wouldn’t step over a puddle for you. 

That’s why Jesus spent so much time in the middle of the road, from the beginning of his life. when his parents traveled to Bethlehem… to the years of his ministry when we see him compassionately meeting people where they are… to the end of his life when he is greeted by a cheering crowd waving palm branches as he rides into Jerusalem… and then finally, when their cheers become jeers, and he carries his cross through the streets. It all happened in the middle of the road.

And that’s why we’re called to the middle of the road as well. Because that’s where grace is found.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Two Letters

During worship today, two letters were read. Both were written by me. They were read to two different congregations. One was written to my beloved Holy Trinity in Charlotte. May 15 marks the 11th year of my first Sunday with them, to the day. Like this year, it was Pentecost 11 years ago, too.

In my first sermon at Holy Trinity, I talked about how most of the people who were going to become a part of our faith community weren’t with us yet. That turned out to be true. Today, when I placed communion bread in the hands of all who came to the altar, I thought about how the overwhelming majority of those hands weren’t present with us when I began my ministry at Holy Trinity. Over the past 11 years, the Holy Spirit has been actively calling, gathering, and enlightening those who make up our congregation today.

I can’t begin to tell you what this congregation has meant to me. I have always loved the people I’ve served as a pastor, but I’ve never felt loved in return the way I've felt it from them. Because of their love, I’ve blossomed as a pastor and as a person. That’s why it was so difficult to read my letter to them at the end of worship:
When I came to serve you 11 years ago, we had no idea where God was leading us, but we trusted that he would guide us along the way, and he has. Now God is leading us in a new direction. Over the past year, I have come to realize that I have accomplished what God sent me to do at Holy Trinity, and the time has come for another pastor to move forward with you.
I have always sought to be open to the Spirit’s call. It’s what brought me to serve as your pastor, and I have never doubted that call in the time I’ve been with you at Holy Trinity. In the same way, now the Spirit is calling me to serve another congregation. No one could be more surprised by this than I am. I did not seek this call, but it found me, and I am convinced it is of God.
On July 11, I will begin my ministry as senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson, Maryland. My last Sunday at Holy Trinity will be June 19. Between now and then I hope we will have the opportunity to honor and celebrate the ministry we’ve shared through the years even as we express this difficult good-bye.
It’s painful to leave the church family I’ve grown to love and the deep connections I’ve had with so many of you. Please know that this isn’t easy for me. Although endings like this are a kind of death for us, we can rejoice that our God specializes in resurrection. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for you and for me in the years ahead.
This is the thing I hate most about being a pastor. It’s my calling to love the people I serve, to form deep relationships with them, to invest myself in the community without holding back. And yet, I’m temporary. A time always comes when I walk away and another person walks in to take my place. It’s brutal. I wish there was a way I could take dear friends from Charlotte, colleagues from the NC Synod, and most of all the people of Holy Trinity with me. But that’s not the way it works.
Also this morning, God’s saints at Ascension in Towson, MD, heard a letter I wrote to them:   
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit swept over Jesus’ followers like a mighty wind, and they were never the same again. As we worshiped together on May 8, did you feel the Spirit moving among us? I certainly did. It was a morning of apprehension, expectation, and excitement. For me, it meant finally meeting the congregation that I have been learning about over the past few months.
The more I experience the people of Ascension, the more I realize what an extraordinary congregation you are; I am beyond humbled that you have voted to call me as your next senior pastor. Your vote affirms a call from God that has become clear to me through the process of discernment with your Call Committee. With joy and gratitude, I accept that call. 
I look forward to the adventure in faith that God has in store for us together. Although we can’t foresee where that adventure will take us, I’m trusting that God with guide us along the way and great things will be accomplished for the Reign of God through us. 
Despite my eagerness to join you in Towson, bringing closure to my current ministry and relocating my home will take some time. I plan to begin serving with you on July 11. Until then, please know that you are on my mind, in my heart and most certainly in my prayers.
Every emotion I’m capable of feeling has been thrown into a blender. At any given moment, I’m in a shock, I’m grieving, I’m giddy with anticipation, I’m scared, I’m delighted. It’s all there. Lately, there have been days when I’ve wondered if I may be going completely cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. At other times I’m convinced I can’t do this; I’m tempted to pull the plug on the entire process and retreat into my safe cocoon. But by now I have a track record with this sort of thing, and I’ve learned that this is how it feels when I’m being called by God to step out boldly in faith. When God opens a door and invites me to walk through it, I can’t refuse. To me, that would be like slamming the door in God’s face. And the thing is, whenever I’ve walked through a door that God has opened for me, I’ve never regretted it. I know this is one of those times.
And so, today in worship, two letters were read to two congregations God has called me to serve. One is as familiar to me as a cherished book I’ve read so many times that the cover is worn off, and the other is a rare edition I have yet to crack open. One has become a part of who I am and the other pulls me toward who I have yet to become. One has led me to the other.
To some people, the letter I wrote to Holy Trinity may read like any resignation, and the one I wrote to Ascension may sound like a typical letter of acceptance. But to me they are so much more than that. They are love letters. And I hope that’s the way they were received.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another ironic episode from my totally ironic life

This year Holy Trinity is celebrating its 100th year of ministry. Our Anniversary Committee began meeting nearly three years ago to make plans. One of the things we did early on was establish a budget. We debated whether or not we would commission an anniversary anthem. When considering the pros and cons, we decided there were a lot of other things we wanted to spend our money on, so the idea of an anniversary anthem was nixed.

Late last fall, unbeknownst to me, an email was circulated among our choir members about having an anniversary anthem commissioned. When I caught wind of it, I was more than a little perturbed. We made the decision not to do this, and we hadn’t budgeted for it. Now a few people were taking it upon themselves to come up with the dollars to make it happen. Grrrrrr.

As part of our Anniversary Celebration, we decided to have a Centennial Campaign to give thanks by giving back. After years of capital campaigns at Holy Trinity that were always dedicated to gathering money for necessary repairs to our physical facility, we’re in a better place today -- we’re in a position to give to others, outside our congregation. We allocated where the money would go and invited our members to give. I was bound and determined that if we were going to ask for money for our anniversary, it would be to give the money away, not to spend it on ourselves. So, this little non-sanctioned funding project for an anthem was really getting under my skin. I did everything I could to put a kibosh on it. It wasn’t going to happen!

But they wouldn’t let it go.

The week of Christmas, with our anniversary year only a week away, I had a brilliant idea. What if someone (like me) wrote an anniversary hymn that we could sing on our anniversary Sundays? Wouldn’t that satisfy those who were clamoring for an anthem to be commissioned? So, on Christmas Eve, I was inspired to write a hymn text simply to put a stop to all this talk of an anniversary anthem. I decided to use the tune of “Shenandoah”, which has always been a favorite of mine. The words were inspired by our anniversary banners shown here. 

Beside a stream of living water
Stands a tree of God’s blest people,
Its roots run deep, from those before us.
By grace, it grows by grace, the love of God abounding.

A hundred rings, a living hist’ry,
Some are thin from years of struggle,
Some circle wide from times of plenty.
By grace, it grows by grace, the love of God abounding

The branches soar beyond the steeple,
Leaves as varied as its people;
So many gifts, and yet one Body.
By grace, it grows by grace, the love of God abounding.

O tree of life, O tree of glory,
May our witness tell God’s story
For all who follow in the future.
By grace, it grows by grace, the love of God abounding.

I wasn’t sure how folks would receive the hymn, but on the Sunday in January when it made its debut, it was a resounding success. Mission accomplished. Now we could stop talking about that blasted anthem. 

Well, our big anniversary blow-out worship is on April 24, and you aren't going to believe what’s about to happen. After I wrote the hymn text, our Director of Music, Ron Ellis, contacted a friend of mine, who happens to be a wonderful composer of church music, Tom Keesecker. Behind my back, Tom was commissioned to write a choir anthem from the hymn text I had written for our anniversary. By the time I learned of it, what could I do? I realized that I’d lost this battle. So on our big Anniversary Sunday, the choir will be singing, “Beside a Stream of Living Water” – text: Nancy Kraft, arrangement: Tom Keesecker.

What can I say? I’m so humbled by this honor. And I’m glad that sometimes my people know better than to listen to me. What a gracious act of kindness from a faith community that has done nothing but love me for the past eleven years. Often despite my best efforts to thwart that love, it seems they just can’t help themselves.

And now, here’s the kicker. The anthem has a publisher—Choristers Guild. Isn’t that just perfect! I didn’t want us to have an anthem commissioned for our anniversary and I ended up writing it myself--without knowing I was writing it. And I’ll even be receiving royalties.

Just another ironic episode from my totally ironic life.