Using the Simple Machines of Ministry

Sometimes when I am gardening, I am reminded of fifth-grade science class. For some reason, I have a vivid memory of learning about simple machines. Can you name all six? They are the pulley, the lever, the wedge, the wheel and axle, screws, and the inclined plane. I have probably used all of them at some point in the garden except maybe the pulley. I have never had to rig a block and tackle over a tree branch to lift something heavy! When there is something very heavy to be done, I either enlist my husband, who is a reluctant gardener at best, or decide that the heavy thing is right where God intended it to be. Just before writing this, I was especially using the lever and the wheel and axle—both great ways to accomplish something that I could not do with just brute strength.
What are the “simple machines” of the life of your congregation, the devices that you use to accomplish the work that God has set before you? Perhaps the analogy to simple brute strength in the garden would be just unlocking the church door (in more usual times) or just putting your service on your Facebook page in these times. You are accomplishing the central function of a PCUSA congregation; you are providing for the worship of God, the witness to the saving love of Jesus Christ, and calling upon the strength of the Holy Spirit. But what more could you accomplish if you used the “simple machines” that many congregations have used in the past to amplify these efforts?
Did your congregation ever have a “visitor” or “friend” Sunday when you encouraged your members to bring people with them to worship? What is the equivalent for that in these days? Have you maximized your use of all of the social media platforms to which your congregation as an entity and each of your members have access? Are all of your members and adherents using their own social media influence to invite people to worship with you virtually and to become involved in your mission outreach?
Have youth and children’s ministries been an important way for you to reach new people? How are you still enhancing the faith journey of those kids and their families now? What resources are you providing to them and what opportunities do they have to process what they are facing? Especially in these next few weeks, when they face decisions about return to school buildings, they need to have a grounding in their faith to help them to manage their fear and anxiety and hopes for the future.
Did you have a “spring cleaning” day to clean up around and inside your church building so that it is inviting to members, friends, and newcomers alike? When I walk around my neighborhood, I see a couple of houses where it is clear that no one is living. The yards have a neglected look and give me an idea about what the houses might look like inside.
We want people to know—even now—that our church buildings are a place where there is vibrant life and where they will find welcome. Perhaps the virus-times equivalent of this is your online presence. Is it vibrant and an indication of ongoing ministry and mission? Maybe you could ask a friend to start from google and see if they can figure out how to access your worship service and any other opportunities you are providing.
We have managed the lives of our congregations for—wait for it—four long months now in this new reality. Much of what we did in the first few weeks was by simple brute strength. Pastors and other leaders just figured out what they could do with the knowledge and skills they or others already had. As the weeks have gone on, we have begun to remember that there are “simple machines” to be used—the good experiences we have had in the past that introduced people to the gospel that can be adapted for these new times.
We are all adapting in every aspect of our lives. The one thing that has not changed is the truth of which we are reminded by the writer of the book of Hebrews. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Our charge is to continue to bring hope in his name in whatever way we can.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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On Getting Stuck in the Waiting Place

How are you managing all of the changes that have happened in our lives since the middle of March? I remember seeing news reports from Italy in the early spring that showed people lined up, socially distanced, outside of grocery stores and thinking, “Well, that will never happen here.” Remember the simple advice to wash your hands and we will all be fine? Remember when your session worried about how to reach out to people beyond your church doors and then, in the blink of an eye, did it electronically? Remember when you collected a few boxes of macaroni and cheese inside your church door in a shopping cart as your food ministry and thought that was enough, only to adapt now to helping people in new ways so that they do not go hungry?

I am fine when I am dealing with the minutiae of each day. Do I have a mask in my purse as I head to the drug store? Exactly what do I need, where is it in the store, how will I get in and out quickly? How can I change my grocery shopping habits so that I do not just run to the store every time I need something but, instead, make a list and order it so it can be picked up? What new adventure can I have electronically with my grandchildren whom I have only seen once in person since the end of January?

But when I think about the big picture, it is still a little overwhelming. How will churches survive months of not meeting in person? Will people come back once they feel it is safe? What will it mean for congregations if potlucks and coffee hour and youth group lock-ins and mission trips to faraway places are on hold for years?

In uncertain times, we often turn to the texts that give us guidance and hope. Perhaps, like me, you have turned to the great sage, Dr. Seuss, to be reminded of the places we will go. There we are reminded that we have “brains in our heads and feet in our shoes.” God has given us the tools we need to address the challenges before us.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of that simple fact. “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.” No kidding! Talk about the streets not being marked. . . But, our constitution in the PCUSA helps to mark those streets for us. We have the Great Ends of the Church. They are the road map to what we are to do in whatever circumstances present themselves: proclaim the gospel in a way that reminds all people of God’s salvation; take care of our children and the children of the world; worship; preserve of the truth, not letting the vagaries of the present age deflect us from the truth that God loves us and there is nothing we can do about it; promote justice for all people; show the world what it means to live into the hope that comes into the world through Jesus.

Dr. Seuss reminds us that we might get stuck in the “waiting place” where people are just waiting for something to happen, for someone else to change things, for the world to make sense the way it once did. But then he reminds us we must move forward.  We must leave that place behind and strike out on the road again because our mountain is waiting.

You are climbing a mountain, whether you are a pastor or another church leader or in specialized ministry supported by the life and prayers of the congregation where you worship. It is a foggy, twisty road ahead. But you do not walk alone.
On this long, twisty road
with this burdensome load
decisions and deadlines and doubts all around.
Be brave.
Be courageous and a bit ostentatious;
Claim the truth of the gospel as your solid ground.
Bring hope as your banner
bring peace in your manner
and proclaim the good news for it still will abound. 
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Viruses and Introverts

We are all managing our lives differently because of Covid-19. I have a “clean” and “dirty” bag for masks at my house, for instance. I could never have imagined such a thing a year ago.

One of the ways congregations are most affected by this kind of vigilance has to do with practices surrounding worship. If you are a pastor or session member or a member of the worship committee; or if you are involved in the health profession in any way, you have probably been in multiple meetings trying to decide what is right when it comes to worshiping in person. Of course, while the leadership is spending time on these details, some of your members are wondering if they even want to go back into the sanctuary where they can’t fast forward. . . .

For instance, how will you celebrate communion? Some people decide during flu season each year that it is better to pass little pieces of bread and cups of juice than to have communion by intinction. I have heard that you actually come into contact with more germs by passing a plate that so many people have touched. Now we are way beyond that. Who will actually touch the elements? How will those who commune receive bread and juice—or only one?

What will you do at the door after worship? The most vulnerable person there, of course, is the pastor. When I was a pastor I would sometimes have someone transfer a damp tissue from their right to their left hand so that they could shake hands with me. Thanks. I have always washed my hands immediately after greeting at the door. Now there will be no greeting at the door. People will probably be dismissed by rows or in some other way so that there is no gathering at the door and the pastor certainly should not stand there to greet people, even without touching. I think that, deep down, this has been one of the hardest aspects of all of this for pastors. They are not getting that immediate touch with many members of their congregation each week. And, if they are honest, they miss the almost constant affirmation that they receive at the door. So many weeks without a constant stream of people saying, “Good sermon, pastor!”

There will be no passing of the peace in the usual way. Maybe you will wave. Maybe you will make the peace sign. But, you will not shake hands or hug each other for some months to come. If you look at Facebook you may have seen some memes from introverts like this one: “Stay home and don’t interact with people? I have been preparing for this my whole life!”

Speaking as an introvert, the whole idea of the passing of the peace has always been awkward for me, especially as a presbytery leader worshiping in a congregation where I don’t really know anyone. It is the one thing that we are forced to do in worship. If you do not want to sing, don’t sing. If you do not want to pray, don’t pray. If you don’t stand up and shake hands with people during the passing of the peace (before our current vigilance), people will think that you are an awful snob or that there is something horribly wrong with you.

I have read that our obsession with valuing extroversion over introversion is fairly new in the history of humanity. When most people lived agrarian lives and never traveled very far from home, they were not judged by the way they interacted with strangers or those with whom they did not have business to conduct. But now we value the friendly person who “has never met a stranger.”

We all need to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves from this virus and from illness in general. In your discussions about worship practices, you are making “worst-case scenario” decisions right now. But when this has passed, you might want to think about the ways you welcome both introverts and extroverts into worship. Is everyone being treated as a unique child of God? Even now, you might begin to ask those who worship with you in whatever way you are worshiping, what is it that they value about the way you have done things the last three months and what do they miss? What do they look forward to doing again when you come back together and what do they hope remains permanently changed? How do all of our practices when we gather for worship and companionship value our differences so that we may each come to know hope in Jesus Christ?
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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Even Presbyterians Pivoted

Do you know the old joke about Presbyterians and change? “How many Presbyterians does it take to change a lightbulb?” My favorite answer is “Who said anything about change?” Another one I have heard is “My grandma gave that lightbulb and so we cannot change it. We will just have to put up with a dimly lit room.”

But look at what you have done in the last three months! None of us could have predicted a year ago or even on March 1 this year how much would need to change so quickly. And you did it. Presbyterians, who are known for creating committees, and making statements that do not lead to anything happening, and sitting in the same pew every Sunday for decades—even Presbyterians pivoted.

Your session has met more than any of them ever wanted to meet to make decisions about the building and worship and the staff and applying for government funding (who could have imagined that!) and what to do with the preschool and the mission program and on and on.

Your pastor figured out how to use their phone or that video camera that they hadn’t touched in years or a conference call number or the US mail to keep in touch with parishioners and conduct worship in a way that, in many cases, is reaching more people than doing things the old way ever did.

Your Sunday School teachers and staff have found ways to help parents fill the long hours at home with children by providing resources and reading them stories on zoom.

Your musicians have navigated the choppy waters of licenses and sound-mixing and microphones that work well in a sanctuary with people in it but sound like an echo chamber without those people to provide you with beautiful and inspiring music. You could continue this list for your own congregation into the myriad ways you have changed.

As we migrate closer to our church buildings, let’s not forget how resilient we have been. Keeping in touch at a distance is not the only challenge we face. The world is still not all that interested in what we have to say. People may be even less likely to get dressed up and travel to a sanctuary and dedicate two or three hours of their Sunday to worship after what they have experienced. We still have big, old buildings that are using huge amounts of our church budgets or falling into disrepair. The challenges we faced before the pandemic will be with us when we settle even farther into a new normal. It may seem like things really don’t change.

But here is what has changed. We know we are resilient. We know we can act fast. We know that we are brave enough to launch into something we do not know very much about. We know that our leadership teams and sessions can make decisions without studying something for years. That is new information to many congregations.

Don’t forget what you have learned. The whole world may seem like it has turned upside down and in some ways it has. And we turned with it. Because what hasn’t changed is the gospel and our imperative to share it in a way that changes people’s lives so that they may come to know the same hope we know in Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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If We Say We Have No Sin

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sin, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You have heard that in worship. Most Presbyterian churches have a prayer of confession every week because we need it. We know that there is evil in the world and that there are evil sentiments in us. Every week we remind ourselves of our need to confess and of the ever-present promise of God to forgive us. We have the seal of that promise in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

We have seen the sin in ourselves as individuals and as a nation burst into full bloom this spring, this week, and this day.

Pride which manifests itself in the arrogance of thinking that a virus will not find me and I do not need to be cautious to protect others and that I have nothing to do with racial animosity that leads to murder.

Greed among people like us that has led others into sin as they see what we have stored up in our barns that will not go with us when we meet or maker.

Wrath as we grow angry watching others express their anger and longing and impatience in righteous and unrighteous ways.

Envy that leads us to long for a time that seemed simpler or purer but, in fact, only hid the evils of racism and injustice and inattention to the fact that the world is a dangerous place.

Lust that leads us to crave a normal life so strongly that we risk the lives of others as we venture out; and to condemn all of those who raise their voices in anger over centuries of oppression and murder whether they do so peacefully or not.

Gluttony that made us clean out the shelves of stores of essentials because we could afford to do so, leaving others wondering how they would make it through the day.

Sloth that will be ever-present again in our complacency that will arise when this current spate of violence and protest and longing for a better way quiets down and goes back to a simmering boil.

Chicago is burning, not for the first time and not for the last time. A virus that threatens us all still roams the streets along with those who peacefully protest and those who show the true depth of the sinfulness that lurks within each one of us.

Let us pray for forgiveness for the sin that is in us, looking to the log in our own eye before we examine the mote in the eyes of our neighbors.

Let us remember that we were imprisoned and guarded by the law until faith came in the form of Jesus. In Christ Jesus, we are all children of God through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no longer male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Let us call ourselves to look to the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, confessing their own sin, moving in new directions, so that we might lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely so that we might run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.

Our call is to be a people of hope in Jesus Christ. Let us claim that hope for ourselves, let us confess our sin, let us respond to our salvation by living as new people.

“For anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.”
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago

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