Three Weeks in Chicago

The past few weeks have been fun, challenging and rewarding.

In case you don’t already know, I traveled to Chicago for three weeks of classes as I work on my Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree.  This program is a joint program of several seminaries in the Chicago area and brings together some of the best known preachers and professors for a unique program.

This marks the beginning of my second year and, so I have friends and colleagues who greeted me (and I, them).  It is a homecoming, in a way, and I feel blessed by the people who surrounded me over the past few weeks.

It’s funny, I’ve spent a few weeks with these other preachers and, yet, I feel very close to some of these new friends of mine.  I feel as though they know my life and yet they have only known me, in-person, for the length of six weeks, collectively.

Perhaps knowing a person is not about the length of time we have known them, but the depths we have gone with them?  Is it possible for two people who have been friends for just a few months to be closer than a brother and sister who have known one another for forty years?  Yes, I think it is possible that as human beings the best relationships we will experience are about depth, not length.

I hope to find opportunities to pursue deep and meaningful relationships and I hope you will join me in this journey.

Remembering Home.

Due to a housing shortage at the seminary where my Doctoral program meets (it is an ecumenical program with several schools including Garrett-Evangelical), I couldn’t stay in Hyde Park the first week of classes. I got a room at my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical (G-ETS), and I’ve been commuting to-and-from class this first week.

I was not looking forward to the commute. Something happened, though, the moment I stepped on campus: I felt as though I was home. It is not just a building. It is not just a landmark or even a person that I know.  It is the experiences that form my memories which make G-ETS feel like home and those memories are triggered when I see the sights, smell the smells, sit in the space.

When strong memories are triggered they can transport us.  Sometimes they transport us across time, sometimes across space, and sometimes both.  Each night this week I have gone walking by the lake.  When I go for these walks I am not walking down a physical path: I am walking in a different time.

What triggers your favorite memories?

Perhaps this week you can find some of these triggers that transport you to a different time and place.

The Preacher-Moving-Season

The United Methodist Church is well-known for moving their preachers from church-to-church.  Sometimes congregations cheer and sometimes they jeer.  The same is true of pastors, of course.  Many people have asked me about this ‘strange’ practice.  First let me share about its origins before I share more about how it works and the pros and cons of this process:

In the 18th century there was this Anglican priest named John Wesley who was frustrated with the church in England.  He began an effort to revitalize it by developing small groups and inviting the whole church into both prayer and action.  Eventually the Anglican church was exasperated by him and his “methodist” followers so they shipped him to America.  He began his efforts in the new world until they, too, became exasperated with him and sent him back to England, but his effect upon the frontier of America was incredible.  Lay people began methodist societies and lay preachers would go from place to place, but the people who were part of these new Methodist societies didn’t want to then go to an Anglican church just because John Wesley said so, they wanted to be Methodists.  Methodist preachers were eventually ordained and they were sent on horseback from one society to another and new “Methodist Episcopal” Churches began popping up anywhere these “circuit riders” showed up.

Out on the western frontier, especially, the clergy would ride from church to church to preach, baptize and serve communion as they were able but in between visits it was the lay people who preached and taught in the church.  It was commonplace that a clergy person would only make it around about once a quarter.  As the church became more established clergy began to receive greater training and education.  As clergy became more educated ‘professionals’ they didn’t want to go out on horseback (at a breakneck pace) only to keel over dead at age thirty, so the bishops gave them smaller and smaller circuits until it became commonplace for clergy to be situated at a single church or churches for a year at a time. Back then, once a year the bishop would read the new appointments at Annual Conference and then all the clergy would go home with a couple of weeks to get moved!

Eventually the church realized that when clergy remained for more time it provided stability for local churches. Today, United Methodist preachers in Illinois are not very likely to be moved before they have been in an ‘appointment’ for three years, but it is also not very common for clergy to remain in a church for more than, say, 12 years.

How does it work?

The bishop can move a preacher at any time, but generally, pastors in Illinois find out where they are to go (or whether they will remain) by Annual Conference time.  Pastors can generally expect to be appointed to a local church from July 1 – June 30 of a given year, which makes July first “moving day” for many clergy across this state.  The bishop has district superintendents who are tasked with better knowing the individual churches in their districts and usually around January they begin discussing which clergy are retiring and any clergy or churches that are requesting a change.  By the way, requesting a move doesn’t mean a move is going to happen, but most bishops and superintendents take those requests very seriously (when the request has merit).

Between January and the annual meeting (annual conference), in June, the cabinet will likely meet 5-10 times for 2-3 days at a time during those months.  During each session of the cabinet they will discuss the churches where a pastor is needed and discern what pastor might best fill that position.  Once superintendents return home to their part of the state they begin meeting with churches and clergy who are affected and introduce the new pastors to their new soon-to-be churches.  This process often create a chain of changes, so it can be very complex and creative work when there are hundreds of churches and hundreds of pastors active in downstate Illinois!

There are many people who have given the bishop and cabinet flack about appointments, especially when they are thinking only of how a change affects them, but I cannot imagine how difficult it is to figure out the logistics in such a huge undertaking.  At its best, this system provides churches and pastors with ‘good fits’ that help the pastor and the church to thrive (and grow), but not every appointment works out as well as the cabinet expects.  Though, that does not mean that God wasn’t at work in the process, of course!

Why do we still do it this way?

Churches can become comfortable and, even, stale.  Sometimes change is needed to help the church gain new vitality and it is hard to see that from within the congregation.  So we have a bishop who looks at a church’s needs, solicits information and opinions, and brings wisdom.  It helps churches to not get stuck in a rut.  Moreover, who wants to tell their pastor: “Hey, everything is rolling along just fine.  We actually like you, but we’re going another direction.”  Even when the church is upset about pastoral leadership it can tear a church to pieces to fire a pastor and it can be just as destructive when a pastor decides to leave a church.  Churches that are not connectional, like us, can go years without a pastor…often feeling stuck…and pastors in those systems can go years without a job.

There is a larger issue at play, though, than just hiring, firing, and steady employment.  Sometimes when God speaks through a prophet / teacher / preacher the people are not going to like what they hear.  It happened for the ancient Hebrew people, it happened to Jesus in his hometown, and it happens regularly still today.  Just because it doesn’t feel comfortable doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be said.  If the church doesn’t hire and fire the pastor, but they are assigned by the bishop, it gives the pastor a certain ‘freedom’ in their preaching (but also when providing leadership and administration).  In the United Methodist Church the pastor has the authority to lead worship and preach with ‘freedom of the pulpit’ which has enabled United Methodist clergy, at times of great conflict, to offer prophetic wisdom and leadership when the church most needed it!

Are We Parents?

We got a call last night that Children’s Home Association, the agency through which we are licensed for foster care.  They have a child that needs to be placed with us. Unfortunately, we can’t share much on the internet or on social media, as you might imagine.

The truth is: I don’t know what to think.  There is an anxiety that is almost overwhelming.  We want to provide a loving home to a child in foster care but the idea of doing this is so much safer than the reality.  We are about to embark on a journey that is bigger than we imagined and the road ahead leaves me with a question: “Can I handle this!?”

I think we all find ourselves at some point in front of a task that seems bigger than we can handle.  It feels daunting. Luckily, with God all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26)  I am sure God will give me the strength for this!

A New Little Girl

After paper work, classes, and paper work, lots of waiting, and…more paperwork, we became licensed to provide foster care last November. We’re excited to share that we got the phone call we’ve been waiting for! It seems as though we will be welcoming a 10 year old girl to our home tomorrow! Her room is ready and waiting!!!

This has been a long process and a long-term dream.  This is how we want family to look, for us.  We believe that every child deserves to have a safe, caring place to call home and people to call a family.  Providing this, for Carrie and I, is part of our Christian calling as a family and we hope others will join us in this work.  You can learn more about foster care here.

Also a quick note:  Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to post details about foster children or their photos on-line and it is important that others in our life will honor that legal requirement as well.

Holy Land Tour: Jerusalem

Over the past three days we have toured Jerusalem.  We toured the old city. We went on the Via Dolorosa (The way of the cross), the traditional path taken by Jesus to his death.  The path winds through the city ending at the Church of The Holy Sepulcher the traditional place of Jesus’ death and burial.  I’m including some photos (below) of sites throughout the Church:

We also went to the Western Wall to share prayers.  Katie, Carrie and I spent one day on our own at the  Mahane Yehudi Market where we shopped and enjoyed lunch.

On the last full day in Jerusalem we visited the Dome of the Rock (a shared holy site by Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), Ruins and the Teaching Steps, the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holocaust Museum and the Garden Tomb.  It was really full but wonderful day.

Hope this post finds you well.  Now, we’re off to Jordan!

Holy Land Tour: Day Four


Jewish Cemetery

After breakfast at the Olive Tree Hotel we traveled beyond the Kidron Valley and we were able to look back over the valley and see this view of the Old City.  It was breathtaking.  We first visited the Jewish cemetery overlooking the Kidron Valley.

We walked down to the Dominus Flevit Church which marks Jesus’ weeping over the city where we had a brief time of reflection.  We went to the Garden of Gethsemane where there were Olive Trees that stood there long before even the time of Christ.

Church of All Nations

Next to the existing garden was the Church of All Nations which was built in 1924 around the rock over which Jesus agonized.

We left Jerusalem and went to Bethlehem.  Where we went to the Church of the Nativity and St. Catharine’s.  The church is administered jointly by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic and the Syriac orthodox churches and there are often fights over its use and maintenance.

Church of the Nativity

Sadly, for those of us visiting, much of the church is under renovation which changed the experience.

Visitors to this church are not the only people who seek Jesus.  Two thousand years go there were Shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem that hear the news of a child born in a manger.  The visitation of these shepherd is remembered with a chapel and preservation of the fields around it.


We also visited the Herodium which is a remarkable archaeological site and then we went to a shop that makes a sells olive wood carvings.




Holy Land Tour: Day Three

Today the landscape looked much more like what I imagined when I envisioned the middle east.  All of our stops were taking us toward Jerusalem.  We stopped in Jericho which was underwhelming.  It was mostly a shopping / souvenir trap.  We saw a tree that is celebrated as the tree that Zacheaus climbed.

Then we spent quite a while at Qumran which was fascinating.  They think they have found evidence in the past year that John the Baptist might have spent time here.  Could it be that the Essene ritual baths would make way for John the Baptist’s famous baptism of Jesus?

Ending our day at our destination: Jerusalem.  We stopped at an overlook and got some photos.

I really didn’t have another stop in me and just wanted to come to the hotel, but we had one more place: Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. It is built upon the site which is celebrated as the home of Caiaphas the high priest and the dungeon found below it may just be the place where Jesus spent the night before he was put to death!

I know I haven’t written much on these blog posts, especially today, but by the time I get to the room each night, I am completely exhausted. This is all I have in me!  Check out my Facebook timeline for a more interesting tour.  On Facebook I upload throughout the day!

Holy Land Tour: Day Two

This is the scene that greeted us early on day two.  We left our hotel and drove to where a boat met us to take us across the sea of Galilee.  It was beautiful and, surprisingly, moving.  The stories began to come to live in my mind and my eyes were transfixed upon the water.

I am also lucky enough to be experiencing this with my best friend and the love of my life, which makes the scenery all-the-better 🙂

We got off the boat and went to a site that was my favorite church, so far: the Church of the Beatitudes.  This is thought to be the site of the sermon on the mount where Jesus proclaimed the beatitudes.  It is celebrated that, on this hill, Jesus fed the multitudes.

Not too far away was a beautiful greek orthodox church: The church of the Seven Apostles.  Though I don’t have great photos, we also stopped at Tabgha and the Chapel of the Primacy.

The highlight of the day, though was Capernaum.  Something happened to me as a stood over this ancient town.  I think I felt closer to God in that moment as I considered a God that would choose a home and live among his friends.

“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them”. -Mark 2:1-2 (nrsv)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem & his family was from Nazareth but capernaum was the place he chose as home…the place at the center of his ministry.

After Capernaum, we went to the River Jordan and had a renewal of our baptismal vows where we could touch the water.

And our day ended with trip up to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights where one can see minefields.



Holy Land Tour:  Day One
The view from our hotel room as we woke up!

Yesterday we arrived in Tel Aviv and traveled to Tiberius a city along the Sea of Galilee/ Lake Galilee / Sea of Tiberius.  It was startling to think that we are in Galilee where Jesus lived and did most of his ministry!

We loaded up on the bus and headed out.  Our first stop was Caesarea.  It was fascinating to see the ruins, especially of Herod’s palace, but I’ll be honest I’m really excited about some other stops and this just didn’t hold much appeal to me.

This aqueduct, though, was impressive.  They built this city, here, to be a port on the Mediterranean Sea.  It connected Judah with the rest of the Roman Empire, but there was no water source, so water was brought to the city with massive aqueducts.  This one survives, in part.

After the ruins at Caesarea we headed for Armageddon.  Yup, that’s right.  I stood on armageddon: the ancient site of Megiddo.  It was interesting to see the ruins and learn about the history.  It is the prophetic end of the world according to Revelations, but something else which our guide pointed out caught my attention:

Judges 7 says, “Then Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon, and all of the people with him rose early and set up camp beside the Harod spring; Midian’s camp was north of theirs, in the valley by the Moreh hill.”

In this photo the site of  Judges 7 can be seen:

We went to Nazareth and toured the Basilica of the Annunciation.  The site celebrated as the site of Joseph’s home.

The last stop on the tour was Cana.

The church which sits on the supposed site of the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine.