Themes

Don’t Fence Us In!

And Other Lessons Learned from the Real Lives of College Students

Do this. Don’t do that. Spend your time this way. Pray this way. Believe this. Reject that. This is the kind of rigidity that young people like me cannot stand when it comes to religion. We just don’t get it. Indeed, although many would probably not say so outright, my hunch is that there is… Read More

Learning From Hearts Broken Open

Lessons from 25 Years of Ministry on the Growing Edge

My nephew was a bright, ascending star. His academic acumen was extraordinary. His athletic ability was astounding. Musically, he was captivating with a repertoire and skill that could have landed him just about anywhere. And on July 14, 2018, he took his own life. Journalist Roxanne Roberts was right when she wrote of her father’s… Read More

Not a Dirty Word

Administration as a Spiritual Practice

I only signed up for the class because my seminary required it. Church Administration sounded boring. I associated “administration”” with business. It seemed unlikely that I would go to work for a large church, and even if I did, the jobs I would apply for as a new seminary graduate would be associate positions. “Administration”… Read More

Achieving Failure

Lessons Learned from a Progressive Church Start-Up

With a big smile, a bit of money raised, and enough naiveté to blind me, I showed up to the office of the Conference of the Northern California Nevada United Church of Christ. It was the fall of 2010, and I had left a beautiful village church in New England to follow the call to… Read More

Getting Our Bearings: Ministries of Coping

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

If you look up the words “cope” or “coping” in a dictionary, you’ll find entries like these: “to struggle or deal with, especially on fairly even terms of with some degree of success,” “to face and deal with problems or difficulties, especially successfully or in a calm or adequate manner,” or “to have the capacity… Read More

Coping Through Creativity

Holy Women Icons of Grief

As ordained clergy, I’ve officiated a lot of funerals. For fourteen years, I shaped burnt ash across congregant’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday and reminded them that we all come from dust. To dust we shall return. Yet these words and rituals rang hollow when my brother died over a year ago from a drug overdose.… Read More

Life Happens

5 Ways to Continually Cultivate a Spirit of Resilience

In my new book, I know What Heaven Looks Like, the word “resilience” isn’t mentioned once; however, it’s a story about my life, and my life has surely been one of resilience. As someone who has overcome traumatic life circumstances including childhood abuse, poverty and homelessness, I’d like to share with you 5 ways to… Read More

Five Days in a ‘Thin Place’

A Pilgrimage before Coping

As someone who has volunteered in hospice for ten years and has written on the spirituality of dying and death, I am often asked about grief and coping with loss. I used to balk and say, “I do dying and death; not grief. I know nothing about coping with loss.” While I still do not… Read More

Cultivating Creativity

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

The three essays in this month’s magazine describe some ways creativity is being cultivated in some churches and church-like spaces. There are varied expressions highlighted: there is poetry; there is music; there is visual art. Ellen McGrath Smith describes The Bridge Series, a monthly gathering of poets and other writers who read their work in… Read More

Art as Justice-Making

Painting and Writing Holy Women Icons

How can we repair a damaged world? As the American embassy was bombed in 1999, I was hunkered in a Russian orthodox church gazing at the brooding faces of male saints that filled every inch of the sanctuary. Where were all the women? As a sensory overload accosted my eyes in Saint Catherine’s Monastery on… Read More

Generating Church through Sound

Showing up, Listening Deeply, and Practicing Together

I teach community singing and chanting as a spiritual practice. I travel around the country meeting and singing with people in different denominations, teaching and learning new songs and insights, and moving on to the next community. Through more than 30 years, the singing together has become as much a metaphor for noticing our internal… Read More

Plowshares, Pruning Hooks, and Poems

Bridging Faith, Literature, and Advocacy

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” W.H. Auden famously wrote in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” And indeed, writing poetry often feels that way, since it’s on the fringes of both literature and public discourse. Writing in other genres—essays, even stories—seems closer to the world of action, of making things happen. It’s said (apocryphally) that Lincoln, upon… Read More

Small Is the New Big

A Guide for Reflection & Conversation

The articles in this month’s Bearings magazine, “Small Is the New Big,” illuminate questions raised by the realities of small church ministry. In them we read eyewitness accounts of the spiritual energy in churches described as “small”—small that is, when the metric applied is a numerical count of members or weekly worship attendance. The articles… Read More

Small, But Not Alone

Collaborative Parishes Offer Hope and New Life for Small Churches

With few exceptions, Christian churches in America are in trouble. Membership has been trending slowly downward for decades with the most pronounced declines occurring in churches in the mainline Protestant tradition. I am not writing, however, to sound the alarm about the shrinking numbers of the faithful. I would guess that none of it is… Read More

Small Church Magic

A number of years ago I found myself sitting in an auditorium, surrounded by colleagues, listening to a speaker talk about church growth. It was not the first time I had found myself in this situation: A speaker from an urban center telling people in a judicatory that is predominantly rural and low-income what they… Read More

How Many Crockpots Does It Take to Keep a Small Church Afloat?

Small Is the New Big Issue

We sit quietly in a 125-year-old, former Methodist church sanctuary (now a space used for art events). A cello, violin, and guitar lead us with instrument and voice. We sing one line of one psalm 108 times. We sing the line 108 times because the musician who leads us is also a yogi, and that… Read More

Making Peace with Peacemaking

Nick Nagy, “Peacemaking in the Middle” Over the winter break, our editorial assistant, Nick Nagy, took a close look at people of his home state, Indiana, and by association the rest of the Midwest, who, especially since the 2016 election, have been characterized as “hopelessly isolationist and dismally Trumpian.” Nick’s lead-off article in our January… Read More

No Peace until All the Children are Well

“And how are the children?” goes a traditional greeting of the Maasai people of East Africa that places the safety and wellbeing of children at the forefront of all other community matters. The response, “All the children are well,” confirms that the priorities of the community are in order. The Maasia greeting came to mind… Read More

An Inconvenient Incarnational Peace

Real peacemaking doesn’t start with abstract concepts for me, but with faces. I see faces of children in Salvadoran refugee camps and Mothers of the Disappeared I met in 1989. I see U.S. war veterans: Debbie, Jim and Miguel, who willingly served their country and came home emotionally, spiritually wounded. Jim was a parishioner who… Read More

Peacemaking in the Middle

I was back in “the middle” this holiday—back in Indiana, the flyover state I call home. Indiana has garnered much attention these past two years as the current Vice President hails from the state. Unfortunately, the presidential election of 2016 might have you thinking that Mike Pence is a good representation of what it means… Read More