On Sunday, June 5th we will celebrate 25 years together as pastor and congregation. Our worship that morning will consist of a series of reflections on our life together from members of the congregation and some amazingly beautiful music from instrumentalists and singers. Our Regional Minister, Sandy Messick, will lead us in worship.
As I’ve been thinking about my own reflection for June 5th I initially found my thoughts centering around the various capital campaigns that allowed us to renovate and remodel the sanctuary, the nursery and pre-school room, and The Children’s Workshop. I particularly remember the first campaign as I had never done anything like that before and I had no idea what to expect. Step by step we made our way through the process and met our goal. So it is that in our 25 years together we have been faithful in maintaining this building which is indeed a treasure to the community, offering affordable space to a wide variety arts and community groups around the city.
When we began our 25 years together we were not at all sure that we would still be here 25 years later. There was some thought that maybe it was time to close the doors of the church and scatter ourselves amongst other Disciple congregations. At that time the congregation seemed sad, anxious, and listless however underneath this feeling state there also seemed to be a seed of life just waiting for the right moment to extend its roots and send up shoots. And so it is that in our 25 years together we became a hopeful people filled with gratitude, generosity and grace. The future, we came to realize, cannot always be known from empirical facts but must be discovered by walking together one step at a time.
Finally I began to think about all the people who have called this church home over the past 25 years. I remembered how this congregation slowly began to open itself up to newness, how we began to tell the truth about our lives. I remembered the initial tensions that accompanied that truth-telling and how we worked to listen to one another with open hearts. I remembered how that open hearted listening cracked us open and we became a more authentic and loving congregation which culminated, many years later, in the adoption of our Welcome Statement which we will read together in worship on June 5th.
Twenty-five years ago I could not have imagined any of this. I am so thankful that we chose life. Together, we have made a difference. And I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds for this amazing group of faithful, hopeful, loving people.
Blessings + peace,
As I write this note to you I am sitting on our deck remembering many summers in Seattle when it never got as warm as it is today. I sit out here whenever possible because I treasure the greenery that surrounds the deck; rhododendrons, Douglas fir trees, cedar trees, a volunteer Japanese maple and one old native Dogwood tree all make it seem like we live in a retreat center.
One spring, a few years ago when I was cleaning the deck, I began sweeping up dried, wrinkled leaves. It was odd because I associated the sound of swept and crinkled leaves with fall, not spring — had I missed a season somewhere along the line?
The arborist was coming by to make his regular assessment of the fir trees and I asked him about the leaves I had found. Turns out our native dogwood had contracted a disease which is often fatal to the tree. There was not much to do about it but watch and wait.
Then, a year and a half ago, we had to take down two of the 130 foot fir trees due to laminated root rot. Fir trees with laminated root rot look okay but below ground the roots are gradually falling apart, actually de-laminating. Above ground you might notice changes in the crown of the tree but up at that height it can be difficult to spot without binoculars. With the help of alert neighbors (believe me, no one wants these fir trees to fall on their home) and confirmation by the arborist we arranged to have a tree service come and take them out. At the suggestion of the arborist we left two 12 and 15 foot tall snags for the flickers, woodpeckers, squirrels, birds and bats to make homes and find food.
And this is what I noticed sitting on the deck this afternoon: over the last year and a half the dogwood has recovered. Without the two fir trees crowding it out, the dogwood gets more light and the air freely circulates around its branches. Even as we mourned the loss of those two fir trees a spirit of renewal was quietly at work within our little forest.
And so it was that I found myself pondering the dogwood and the fir trees as I contemplated my upcoming retirement in February 2017. Without drawing too close a parallel I sense that my retirement will allow the spirit of God’s renewing and abundant love to open new avenues of creative service, worship and learning within Queen Anne Christian Church. And I have a similar sense of God’s renewing spirit for myself as well.
Make no mistake, the decision to retire in no way lessens my deep love for this community of faith. Over the next nine months we have a chance to appreciate one another, to laugh together, to remember, and to plan our futures. It will be a time of gradually loosening bonds as you begin the process of calling a new interim pastor and I begin to let go of my role as pastor. I doubt it will be painless on either end but my sense is that this shift will also be liberating and restorative, that God is already at work within us.
Meanwhile I’m keeping this quote from the Native American community close to my heart: “Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” Filled with gratitude for each of you I, indeed, give thanks.
As some of you know I began my working life in the other Washington (Washington, D.C.) by serving as the lowest of the lowliest of staff members for a Republican Congressman from Seattle. At the time I had been taking classes in political science and had received college credit for working as an intern on the campaign. When the election was over, when the votes were counted, recounted and counted again it turned out that Joel Pritchard had indeed won the election by the smallest of margins.
As the congressman’s staff began to be assembled they asked if I would consider moving. Not having any other good plans I said yes. And so it was that in a small store room upstairs in the Longworth Building (a room fondly known as “the cage”) I learned to run a tabletop offset press and work with Redactrons, magic typewriters invented by Evelyn Berezin and fueled by magnetic card and tape readers which, when given enough input from the operator, produced form letters.
This was a time in Washington State politics when Republicans were seen as the more progressive and thoughtful party taking seriously our role as care-takers of the environment. Nationally this time marked the beginning of the Watergate scandal, the revelation of the Christmas bombing of Cambodia, and an attempt to close down the United States Public Health Service Hospitals, one of which resided in the First Congressional District of the time. Each of these issues generated hundreds and hundreds of letters and postcards; each one received a letter back in the mail.
As I think about some aspects of our current presidential elections which border on circus entertainment laced with an undercurrent of hatred, intolerance and violence, I also find myself reflecting on that election so long ago when a few hundred votes made all the difference in a rather obscure congressional election.
That our voices and votes make a difference also made itself known in our democratic precinct caucus the Saturday before Easter where the presence of two supporters of one candidate made a large difference in the number of delegates accorded that candidate.
Our particular precinct had the largest turnout in Lake Forest Park and impassioned mini-speeches were made on both sides. Minds were changed one way or the other. Together we stood side-by-side with our neighbors in a state of civility with common purpose. Given what I have witnessed in the news in various states I found our time spent in the caucus to be refreshing, invigorating and hopeful.
As we walk together through this election cycle I find I have the urge to tattoo the words of Diane Ackerman down one arm and up the other: “I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder, as an architect of peace.”
Will you join me in this effort? Will you make yourself a messenger of God’s humble mercy, peace and wonder?
Blessings + peace, Laurie
Lent. It seems like a quick trip this year. Because Easter is a “movable feast,” dependent on the phases of the moon, we will celebrate Easter quite early this year — March 27 to be exact.
Most years we have a few more weeks between Christmas and the beginning of Lent in which to contemplate various spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, or service.
I recently learned that the Roman philosopher Seneca who lived around the time of Jesus endorsed a kind of Lenten practice with these instructions: “Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ . . . There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item — that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practice our strokes on the “dummy;” let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.”
That is one way to think about it and in every other way poverty is a burden when one does not have a choice in the matter.
One Tuesday morning in February Ruth Jewell and I spent four hours volunteering at Our Common Ground, the hospitality ministry of the Regional Church’s new church start in Everett called Our Common Table.
Our Common Ground and Our Common Table rent space, a large sunny room with tables and chairs, from Evergreen United Church of Christ.
Four mornings a week Our Common Ground opens its doors to those who have no homes, who sleep in their cars, who need a place to rest, a phone to use, a clean pair of socks, companionship.
For these hungry and thirsty guests gallons of coffee are made each morning; bread for toast, as well as peanut butter and jam are usually in plentiful supply.
At Our Common Ground hunger and thirst, toast and coffee and peanut butter and poverty all mix together along with bad choices, bad luck, prison time, parking tickets, addiction, mental illness, abuse, a shopping cart filled with plastic bags and belongings, sleeping bags, blankets, layers of clothing and a sweet tempered dog.
And gratitude . . . As Ruth and I helped clean up more than one person shyly looked at us with sidelong glance and said, “Thank you for coming.”
This year my Lenten practice is go to Our Common Table on Tuesday mornings and sit still. It will be my practice to listen to the ramblings of confused minds, to hear the stories of addiction and violence and to also to notice the immense generosity of those who have nothing and offer what little they have to others: humbling to be sure.
Blessings + peace,
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. . . Matthew 5:1-12
At the end of January we began a new sermon series on The Beatitudes.
We’re taking up these teachings of Jesus at the suggestion of one our Elders who observed something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be great to explore the Beatitudes in the same way we looked closely at The Lord’s Prayer this fall? The Beatitudes could be our focus for Lent.”
This comment was met with general agreement and enthusiasm on the part of our Elders and I agreed that I was willing to venture into this — for me at least — relatively uncharted territory and asked the elders if they would walk with me on this journey.
We decided that we would look at the Beatitudes one by one and — by some divine miracle — there are eight Beatitudes and eight elders! Each elder then chose one of the Beatitudes and that Elder and I began setting dates to meet and talk together.
In addition to their weekly sermon conversations with me the elders want to invite you to enter into the conversation as well.
In February and again in March we will offer three opportunities each month for you to engage in conversation with one another over a simple meal hosted by various families in the congregation.
This sermon series ends on Palm Sunday which will lead us directly into the celebration of Easter on March 27 which is quite early this year.
We are going to hear this word a lot!
As you might guess it comes from a Latin word, beatus. In classical Greek literature the “happy” or “blessed” person is “the one who knows the essential harmony which binds them to society and to the world.” And in Hebrew, the same word suggests a happiness that flows “from justice, or from having a right relationship with God.” Brother David Steindl-Rast puts it this way: “Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” In other words this blessedness, this happiness, this joy that Jesus describes is available to us independently of the circumstances of our lives.
So what might it mean to find blessedness or “a happiness that flows from justice, or from having a right relationship with God” when one is poor in spirit, is in grief, is meek, pure in heart, a peacemaker . . .
Together we will explore these teachings of Jesus and seek to shed light on what it means to be people of God in this place and in this time.
I look forward to our Lenten journey.
People often say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.
Last January we had to have two of our Douglas fir trees cut down. One of our neighbors had alerted us that the trees were failing as they could see the crown of the trees in ways that were not visible to us from our property.
We thought that we had asked our arborist about those same trees a year ago but in checking our records it had been more like two or three years.
A quick call was made and the arborist confirmed our neighbors suspicions: laminated root rot had taken hold and these trees had to come down.
In order to take the one hundred and forty foot trees down we asked another neighbor for permission to use their yard as a staging area. They granted us use of their yard and we set the date.
The first attempt was made on a gusty day and the man who went up to begin the work had to call it off as the sway of the tree proved to be too severe.
With the next attempt everything worked like clockwork and as each section fell to the ground the earth shook with a huge thud.
Taking the advice of our arborist we left twenty foot snags as wildlife habitat. Almost immediately Pileated woodpeckers and flickers began to go to work on the trees such that one year later the snags are pock-marked with holes.
In all honesty it wasn’t the most beautifying choice but we chose to think of the snags as totem poles erected to support some small bit of nature on our small bit of property.
In each of our lives there are moments when something is called to our attention. Perhaps it is: an annoying habit; the tendency to be late; the practice of procrastination; the way we lean into anxiety and make it worse; the rush to anger and judgment when disappointed; the way we ignore of our physical need for exercise and healthy eating . . . you can fill in the blank.
And if we determine that our lives would indeed be more grace-filled if we attended to our habit or our tendency, it still may take years before we actually do something about any of it.
As a church community we offer one another the opportunity to be known, to be seen in the context of our human complexity, and to know that God dwells with and in us.
We especially affirm this truth as we move from the celebration of Christmas to the season of Epiphany where wise ones follow the light of a star and seek treasure in unexpected places.
And perhaps it is that that same bit of light that urged the wise ones to leave their familiar territory still shines and calls us forward as well.
Throughout the fall we have been thinking together about The Lord’s Prayer. Each Sunday we have taken a close look into the prayer one phrase at a time. Now, as we near the end of this sermon series with just a few phrases left to go, I find that I have grown tremendously in my understanding and practice of the prayer.
In particular the union of heaven and earth has become real to me in a very different way than I had understood it before. I now have a very real sense of the energy of God reaching out toward us in such a way that God’s desire and ours are one: that all human beings might have shelter and food and peace and dignity.
As we approach the holidays these intentions are good things to keep in mind and, before life gets too full or feels too out of control, it is good to ponder for ourselves and to notice for our families which holiday activities will bring us hope, nurture peace, encourage us in joy and deepen our hearts in love.
Advent, the season of the church year that leads us to Christmas, will begin on Sunday, November 29. At that moment in time many of you will still be dealing with leftover turkey carcasses and unopened cans of cranberry sauce. What I want to suggest is that now is the time, well before Thanksgiving, to consider what our experience of the holiday might be if we slow down, buy less, eat less, and worry less.
What if this year, instead of arriving at Christmas Eve exhausted and spent, we instead took this time to prepare our hearts and our homes for hope, peace, joy and love to take root and flourish. Perhaps this year the purpose of our preparations might lead us to fling wide the doors of heart and home, ready to receive the light of the Christ Child come into the world again.
This year, as we prepare for Advent and as a symbol of that simplicity, I want to invite you to make your own Advent wreath. The process will be easy. All you need are 5 clean tin cans, the size that beans or tomatoes or olives usually come in. Bring those cans to church on Sunday, November 22 and together we will create free standing wreaths. In addition to your “wreaths” you will have a few words to say as you light your candles once a day, once a week, or all in a big flourish just before or on Christmas Eve.
Let’s take the time this year to deepen our connection with our sweet souls and with one another, with our neighbors near at hand and across the globe. Heaven and earth have a song to sing and we are invited to add our voice to the chorus: Peace on earth, goodwill to all!
Blessings + peace,
Pastor Neil Allen
I am blessed to serve as the pastor of Queen Anne Christian Church, an amazing community of wise and thoughtful people.