Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Tale of Two Churches

When I began my life in ministry back in 1991, I served as pastor of two small rural churches in northeast Texas, Edom United Methodist Church, which is about 17 miles west of Tyler, Texas and Sexton Chapel United Methodist Church, which is about 6 miles north of Edom.  At the time of my pastorate there, Edom UMC had about 200 members and about half that in worship on a good Sunday while Sexton Chapel UMC had about 25 members and about 12 on a good Sunday.  I was one in a long line of pastors who had served both congregations for many years.  We were part of those called "Circuit-Riders" in Methodist tradition, pastors who served more than one congregation and who often officiated at services at both each Sunday.  I did that for the three years I was pastor there.  I would drive out to Sexton Chapel, in the Primrose Community, and have service with 10-12 people at 9:30 each Sunday morning.  Then I would return to Edom UMC and have service there with 100 folks, more or less, at 11:00.  We would finish up by about noon so that we could have lunch with the tourists in town (Edom is an arts community and hosts an Arts Fair each year) at the Woodshed Cafe across the street from the Edom church most Sundays.

The church at Edom continues to grow slowly but surely, replacing those who pass away with others to continue to carry the load.  The church at Sexton Chapel closed its doors in 2009 and was merged with Edom as its stronger neighbor six miles away.  At one time, the church at Sexton Chapel was as strong as its neighbor church with over 100 members and was very active.  During my tenure there, once a year there was a reunion with singing and dinner after worship when the children and relatives of members would drive in from Dallas or Shreveport or other cities to reminisce about the good ole days of the church.  Other than that one Sunday each year, however, there were so few people in worship that the congregation could barely pay its share of the pastor's salary and keep the lights on.  Finally, they could no longer function because most of the active members had died and no one was left to continue the job of keeping the church alive.

Those of us who work in ministry often worry about what will happen to churches when its members are no longer active in the life and ministry of the church.  When people have their names on a church membership roll, and that is enough connection to the local church, when they stop attending church except for holidays or special days such as baptisms or confirmations, when they stop giving to their church because they rarely attend and they only give when they are present, when they no longer care to serve on a committee or work at a church clean-up day or visit the sick or shut-ins, what will happen to the church?  Will it have a future?

Churches exist to provide a vision to people as to how their lives may be better because of the message that the church has to offer.  It is not there simply to baptize, confirm, marry, and bury its members, although those are functions of a church, but it exists to offer something better to people than the culture can offer so that their lives will be better lives than they could have without the influence of the church in their lives.  Churches exist to give meaning to the lives of all who come under its teachings and activities, whether they "belong" to a church or not.

Without "active" members a church cannot continue to live.  Names on a church roll do not contribute anything to the life of a church.  Only living bodies, people who can think and create and work, can make a church come alive.  Even if a church has a long history, that is not what is important today.  It is the people who presently make the church to be an active one that brings life to it.  Otherwise it is just a building in a place that could function as a museum, as do many churches in Europe that have closed due to no one caring to continue to make it a living entity.

When people become members of the church I serve now, we ask them if they will be "faithful members" and "support its ministries".  That is all that is required of people who call themselves Christians to join our church.  I guess we should be more specific as to what it means to be "faithful" since that word seems to have lost some of its meaning over the years in society.  Some churches ask if persons will give their prayers, presence, gifts, and service....that is helpful.  Others ask if people will give of their time, talent, and treasure.  That is also helpful in defining what is needed from church members.  Maybe we need to be even more explicit.....Will you choose to come to church most Sundays except when you are ill or out of town, even when there is football on tv or sports to participate in otherwise?  Will you choose to come to church when it is hot or cold or rainy or cloudy unless a flood or hurricane or ice storm prevents you?  Will you choose to give of your resources to the church so that we can pay the pastor and staff and keep the air conditioning and heat going and pay the church insurance?  Will you pray for your church and pastor and ask God to lead you into thinking about ways to be involved and active in your church?  Will you serve as you are asked, knowing that God and others will help you in whatever you are asked to do?

Those would be good questions to ask of prospective members.  The only thing is, if we asked straightforward questions such as those, as people considered church membership, we may have many less members than we do now.  Church membership is very easy and the cost of being one is not explicit.  It is easy to become a member and stay one until we die.  Laying out the expectations of what it really means to be a church member, though....is a difficult thing to do.

Without active and involved members, though...any church can become like Sexton Chapel church...closed with no future because no one really cared to continue its ministries.      

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Good Ole Martin Luther

This Sunday we will have a special worship service at our church to remember the beginnings of the Reformation, which happened nearly 500 years ago.  The man at the center of the Reformation, of course, was our good friend Martin Luther.  He was a very troubled man, to say the least.  He wanted to do right but felt like he was always sinning (and he was a monk who was supposed to devote his entire life to prayer and study and teaching, to boot).  He made pilgrimages, climbed up the steps in Rome on his knees, beat himself with a rope whip, and got so mad at the devil that he threw his ink bottle at the wall making a stain that supposedly can be seen to this day.  He challenged the institutions of his day that he felt were taking advantage of the poor and uneducated, which was nearly everyone except the rich, so on October 31 (yes, that is Halloween), 1517 he made a list of things he thought was wrong with his employer (The Roman Catholic Church) and posted them on the door of the church in the village where he lived, Wittenberg.  There were 97 things on this list so they became known as the 97 Theses.  That act of nailing them to the door of the church (which was the ancient equivalent of a bulletin board) was revolutionary and it began a movement that expanded and spread like wildfire across Europe.  It became known as the Reformation.

Luther did not actually intend on leaving his beloved Church, at first, but just wanted others to straighten up and stop what they were doing that he considered to be wrong but the authorities in charge took offense at what he wanted them to do and instead began proceedings against him to accuse him of crimes and to excommunicate him from the Church, which in their day was equivalent to banishing him to Hell.  Luther stood up for what he believed in and spoke to the authorities about his ideas resulting in his having to run for his life, literally, because there were people who wanted to kill him because of the ideas he taught.

Eventually, Luther found safety and a wife after he stopped being a monk.  Today, if you go to Wittenberg, Germany you can visit the place where Luther lived and the church where he nailed the 97 Theses.  You can hear an organ concert in the church and see a statue of Luther on the street.  The citizens of Wittenberg are preparing for the huge crowd of people to come in 2017 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  Everyone has forgiven Luther for speaking out so long ago and now see him as their favorite son (since he brings so many tourists to town).

Luther's lesson in speaking up is one that all of us must consider when we see injustice around us.  Questioning authority seems easy to do today when we live in a country with freedom of speech but often we are afraid and do not speak out when injustice is around us.  Luther faced death by speaking out for what he believed in and finally had to give up his job in order to live in peace.  We remember Luther at this time of year for his courage and ask God to also give us courage in the face of modern challenges.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Eight


            I am going to miss these cool summer mornings that happen regularly in Parker’s Cove.  The temperature was 56 degrees this morning.  There was a beautiful sunrise with the copper colored morning giving way to the bright blue.  When we got up the tide was out and the little fishing boats lay in the mud and rocks.  There were many seagulls, crows, and cormorants around making their usual noises.  Some sat on the rocks just offshore as they do when the tide is out, populating the area where water once stood to see if they can find anything to eat that may have been left behind by its receding. 
            It was a lazy feeling Saturday morning but we were up early and had coffee and sat on the sofa looking out the window at the view.  We decided to have only toast this morning as we were going into Annapolis Royal for the Saturday Market one last time.  We do not really need anything in particular and cannot bring fruit or vegetables across the US border so we could only buy things we may want to bring home with us to remind us of our time here. 
            The market was busier than usual, thanks to the motorcycle rally that is going on over in Digby.  It is one of the largest ones in the Maritimes bringing in an estimated 50,000 participants.  Some of them ride around the area during the five days of the rally and know that the Annapolis Royal market is a large one.  Parking places on market days are rare but luckily we found a car backing out just as we pulled in the parking lot and parked close to where the vendors begin selling their wares. 
            We have brought Bo with us each time we have gone to the market and he is always a big hit with people.  Doris carries him around in her arms and people stop us frequently to ask us about him and to pet him.  He must not mind the attention because he allows all to pet him and he never growls at anyone. 
            We bought potato pancakes from a German woman who is at the market each week.  Finding some empty steps at a nearby building to sit on, we ate them as we watched others pass by.  Bo would bark at other dogs going by but he never barks at their humans.  Soon, I went to buy some coffee for us and we found a pastry to go alone with it. 
            We looked around; walking here and there to see all that was being offered.  Lots of fruit and vegetables from the farms in the area were being sold.  Crafts made by local craftsmen—wooden, pottery, stained glass—proudly displayed by their makers.  Breads, pastries, sausages—all made in local shops nearby to be sold at markets throughout the area. 
            I had bought a coffee cup in Digby made by a local potter, a German man who is originally from Bavaria.  He was at the market with his wife and son and we talked with him a bit.  He remembered us being in his shop earlier this week and he remembered Bo coming with us. 
            We had bought some delicious almond croissants at the market in Kentville last Wednesday.  They were made by a bakery called Marie and Guy’s, French people who have immigrated to Canada from southern France near the Spanish border.  We saw her at the market today and told her hold delicious her pastries were, asking if she had more with her today.  Alas, she said she had already sold them but did have others.  We looked them over but did not choose any from her to purchase.
            Rounding the corner, we found the booth of another baker from whom we had bought pastries and bread two weeks ago.  They had some delicious looking blueberry tarts so we bought a few from them to take with us for our trip home. 
            A woman who knits had sold us a sweater for Bo on our first trip to the market.  We stopped at her booth to see if she had a larger one for our granddog Kiwi.  She had a light green one that was larger than the one we bought for Bo so we bought it to send it to Laura for her to try it on Kiwi.  We told the woman goodbye and that we would be returning to Texas soon.  She wished us safe travels. 
            Back at our cottage, we began preparations for traveling back home.  We had one last lunch, trying to use up the remainder of the fresh vegetables we had in the refrigerator.  We cooked one more batch of fish we had stores in the freezer.  We finished off the loaf of homemade bread we had bought at the Kentville market earlier this week.  Little by little, we are closing up our home away from home we had shared for the past four weeks to begin the process of going home to where our real home is, about 3000 miles from here. 
            Having a time away is wonderful.  It is very enjoyable and relaxing to have new experiences in a new place, to meet new people and learn about them.  It is relaxing and energizing to breathe in the clear, pure air that is part of the natural environment in a beautiful place and to have cool, refreshing air daily as a wonderful gift.  As the saying goes, all things must come to an end, and being away must also end if one is to return home. 
            I am not looking forward to the long drive home, through many states, over many miles of mostly interstate highways but I know the end result will be that the road will lead us home once more, back to where we have friends waiting who we look forward to seeing again.  What a blessing it has been to have an extended time away to enjoy all of these unique things but home calls once more as it always does to bring us to where we belong. 
            “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven;”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Seven


            I thought I heard thunder last night during the night when I awoke from sleep briefly, but now I think it was the strong north winds that had moved in with the cold front.  The strong winds are still blowing this morning, winds of tropical storm strength most likely, bringing waves that are worthy of surfers on the West Coast of the US.  The tide is at low tide right now so the rocks in the bay are revealed but at high tide they are completely covered by the waters of the bay. 
            A cold north wind is blowing.  The temperature is 60 but it feels more like 45 with the wind blowing furiously.  When the conditions are like this, the bay seems more like the wide open ocean which it is since the Bay of Fundy empties into the Atlantic.  The sun is shining brightly after a cloudy start but the sun’s rays are not enough to warm up the air as the wind batters about everything that is not tied down. 
            There are two days left here including today and the plan is not to venture too far away but to get out into the country one final time to catch glimpses of the autumn colors which are beginning to show.  There is a country road that runs almost parallel to Hwy 1 and we have not driven it very far so we thought we would explore it a bit more.  It connects to others roads we have traveled twice which are dotted with dairy farms and apple orchards.  Communities with lovely names like Paradise and Clarence are along the way, communities with no visible businesses but with little stands here and there advertising vegetables and fruits for sale at houses along the way. 
            We have eaten most of the fresh vegetables we had bought to cook with so we are at a place where we do not want to buy many more as our days here are numbered.  We may buy some green onions to go along with the remainder of a butternut squash we used a few days ago and the rest has been in the fridge waiting to be used in a pasta dish.   We have fresh basil, tomatoes, and the squash so it should be good sautéed together with the onions and a bit of cheese.  We have two kinds of fish in the freezer to be used too so there is the core of two dinners which is about how many we have left to prepare at the cottage before leaving. 
            What we are experiencing is called “in between time.”  We all experience such times in life.  It is not time to go yet but the time is so limited where we are that we do not know what to do to pass the time before we go.  So, you have to be creative and use your time wisely. 
            When I was a school teacher, the day before a holiday or the last day of school was like that.  Some teachers allowed their students to have a “free day” with nothing planned for them to do to use the time before leaving.  Those teachers usually had a pretty rough day as students would create things to do that would usually be things that the teacher would not want them to do.  That was not always the case but the motto that I lived by on that day was, “Busy people are happy people.”  So, I usually had projects for students to do to keep them busy during the day so that all our lives would be happy ones. 
            In between time can come for us in other ways besides preparing for travel.  Waiting for treatment for a disease, waiting at the bedside of a sick one, preparing for a test or medical exam, sitting by the phone to hear about a job offer, thinking about a new house to purchase for a move-- All are things that happen normally in life that are part of in between time. 
            Sometimes the anticipation or excitement of what is to come helps us to wait.  Sometimes it can be heart wrenching though.  A part of us wants to go forward but   another part tells us to wait.  Living useful meaningful lives during times of waiting becomes the purpose that we are looking for in life. 
            When I filled in report cards for students as a teacher, there was a box on some of them that said, “Uses time wisely.”  It was up to the teacher to decide if a check filled in that box or not.  The teacher could observe who used time wisely and who did not over the course of the grading period. 
            We all have to use our time wisely as we wait during in between times which fill up many periods of our lives.  We can trust God to lead us to make good decisions so that our time will truly be used wisely and we will live meaningful, useful lives. 
            “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Six


            The day began with clouds and a bit of fog covering the area, with the sun unable to break through it.  Then, rain began and gently fell for about a half hour.  As it stopped, the sun began to try to shine but then just as it brightened the day, suddenly fog rolled in from across the bay bringing the clouds again.  Such is life by the seashore.  It can change rapidly.  The ocean currents seem to be in charge of the weather.  The clouds come and go during the day even as the tides change. 
            Today is a day that we will stay close to our cottage.  We decided we need a day to just read, write, and relax since soon we will begin our journey back home.  We have been going here and there on many days and we have been trying to incorporate days to rest mixed in with the busy days. 
            We may venture across Parker’s Mountain this evening to have dinner out in Annapolis Royal at a restaurant near the river that we have seen.  We have been cooking our food most of the time we have been here and thought we would have one more meal out before going home.  There is a little café near the river run by some Austrian people.  It was recommended to us by a local person so we thought we would give it a try. 
            There is a boardwalk built by the river that runs from the library to the dock and it runs by the back of this café.  They have an outdoor dining area built near the boardwalk.  It is a pleasant place to sit and look at the river and the wildlife and enjoy a meal.  We have walked on the boardwalk and found it to be a very nice experience. 
            I continue to read, having finished reading six books so far and still reading each morning and afternoon.  I am currently reading The Shoes of Van Gogh by Cliff Edwards.  It is an examination of the artwork of Van Gogh from a spiritual viewpoint.  It explains much about the life of the artist and how his artwork revealed a spiritual side that is not often seen.  I will report on it later in more detail. 
            I often think about Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew where he invites all who are weary to come to him.  I had an enlightened moment concerning this verse when I was a young adult.  I had struggled with my own sense of self-worth for years and thought I was not worthy of anything that God would offer me.  I had been taught that you had to be perfect for God to love you and I knew that I was far from perfect.  So, I had just about given up on trying to earn God’s love (which is what it is if you think that you can be perfect enough for God to love you) when, as I read this passage from Matthew that God seemed to speak to me words of assurance. 
            “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

            It was as if God said to me that all that was needed to come to God was to be tired.  I knew I was tired in so many ways and wanted rest for my soul.  It was at that point that I told God exactly those words and it was as if a light went on in my head and my burden of guilt was lifted.  I knew I could never be perfect and God does not expect perfection of me, simply trying to live in an honest, loving way, trying to serve God and my neighbor in all that I do.  I can do that, even if it does not always work out to be the most perfect way of doing things.    

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Five


            Today is Market Day at Kentville again, about 50 miles up the Annapolis Valley—which is the large agricultural area of Nova Scotia.  More produce is grown, fruit trees cover the area, berry bushes abound.  We have gone there two times already (it is held every Wednesday in downtown Kentville) so this was the last time for us to go there for this trip. 
            We drove there using the old road—Highway 1—instead of the faster moving freeway-like 101.  The road takes you through small towns along the way that have beautiful old homes dating back into the early 1900s or earlier.  There are many homes for sale, even some of the very beautiful ones.  The road also passes through some of those communities that bear only a name but nothing else.  It is a pleasant drive mostly at 55 mph or less but on a sunny day with little else to do it is nice to just drive along slowly and look at what is along the road. 
            The market is held downtown on a parking lot surrounded by other existing businesses.  Farmers bring their produce.  Crafts persons bring what they have made—soap, woodwork products, things that whirl in the wind, and other things that catch the eye.  Prepared foods are offered by part time restaurateurs.  Bakers bring their breads and pastries.  Sometimes there is music provided by a couple of musicians playing guitar and banjo or fiddle. 
            The atmosphere is almost fair-like with people visiting and laughing, stopping to look at the many booths, sampling some of the food products, buying things to put in their shopping bags.  In weeks past we have bought vegetables and bread from a nice couple who seem to be of the Mennonite faith.  She wears a bonnet and a long dress with an apron.  He wears plain gray clothing most times.  They grow and sell green beans, onions, garlic, and blueberries.  She makes several kinds of bread—we love the oatmeal molasses bread and have bought a loaf of it each time we have been there. 
            Doris bought a sarong from a woman who makes them for sale at the market.  The woman is named Joyce and she has chatted with us each time we have been there.  Two weeks ago when we were talking to her she told us that she is Irish and she comes from Cape Breton Island.  She told us about the Red Shoe Pub (which we intended to visit when we were there) and about the singers called the Rankins who own it.  Then she began to sing an Irish folksong to us as we all stood there in the market.  She has a lovely voice and the song was a slow sad song about someone telling someone else goodbye.  She laughed when she stopped and apologized for her voice not being good, which I told her she was mistaken.  She sang beautifully. 
            We also met a woman who sells homemade skin care products that contain emu oil.  She calls herself Nana and that is on her label.  She was intrigued by our being from Texas and said her husband is a bluegrass singer and had been to Texas.  She said she knew someone by the same name as a woman Doris taught with years ago.  We still have to investigate if it is the same person when we get home. 
            Everyone at the market who met Bo loved him.  Bo was the center of attention many times, drawing people to leave their booths and come over to look at him and ask about him.  People cannot believe that he is 9 years old since he looks very puppy like. 
            The markets happen in many towns in this area weekly during the summer months.  We will go to the Annapolis Royal market this Saturday for the last time before we leave on Sunday to begin our journey back to Texas.  We really do not go to them looking for specific items but we usually find things that we enjoy seeing or tasting or learning about.  There is a community spirit there.  Even if one buys little or nothing, it is the experience of being a part of it that brings some meaning to life. 
            Being part of the market is similar to being part of the religious community.  When we all gather to share a common experience, we belong to a higher purpose than we do alone.  We share in the experience of worship, of course, breaking bread and drinking wine and singing and listening and praying.  We share in the lives of one another as we share joys and concerns together and support each other in myriad ways.  The shared experience happens in many avenues of life but in the Christian community it has a purpose and meaning that transcends all the other experiences in life. 
            Each of us is important to the whole that we call the Body of Christ.  Each of us has a purpose that is important to the Body as a whole and if a member of it is absent then it is not complete.  What each person contributes is unique and cannot be provided by others in the same exact manner even if someone else does what is needed to be done.  The Body cannot function well unless all its parts are working in good order and are doing the jobs they are designed to do.  Each part of the Body of Christ must be present in order for it to be complete.  That is one reason why we miss individuals when they are not present for worship and work that needs to be done.  Each one is needed and necessary. 

            “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the One Spirit we are all baptized together into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:12-13)   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Four


            One of our favorite episodes of the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances was when Hyacinth decided that she wanted to host a “riparian picnic”.  When she invited her guests to join her and Richard on the picnic, they all had to look up the word “riparian” to find out its meaning.  They found out that the picnic would happen by a river since the word means “by or near a river”.   The result of the picnic near the river was that Hyacinth and Richard ended up getting drenched in the river while the guests laughed about the ending. 
            We decided to have a riparian picnic of our own today.  We packed a lunch of smoked fish (haddock), potato salad, bread, mayonnaise, and cookies with some iced tea and drove to a little roadside park we had seen when we were driving in the area last weekend.  It is a place called Hebb’s Landing and it is by the side of the Annapolis River.  There is a boat launch there and several places for picnics to happen.  We chose a covered one by the side of the river.  The wind was blowing briskly but the sun was shining brightly so we anchored down our paper plates with heavier objects and began the picnic, putting mayonnaise on bread and scooping up potato salad and munching happily as we looked up the beautiful blue water of the river running nearby. 
            One could not have asked for a more beautiful and tranquil scene for having a picnic or for any other reason.  Birds swam in the water.  Wildflowers grew in the grasses in our view.  We were thankful to be there enjoying this special moment together. 
            God gives us special moments in life to enjoy.  Sometimes they are planned, as was this picnic and there are other times when the moments just happen and we can bask in the beauty, serenity, and love of the place and the people we may share the moments with. 
            Our days in Nova Scotia are winding down.  Soon we will leave the cool breezes of the Bay of Fundy to return home to the hot winds of our Texas summer as they give way to the hint of autumn in the air that we hope will come quickly.  Even as we enjoy each of the remaining days here with the natural beauty and the pleasant feeling air, we will give thanks for the blessings of being able to share this together with one another.  We will also give thanks to God for allowing us to enjoy these blessings and for the moments in which we live. 
            “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. “  (Numbers 6:24-26)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Three


            Monday of our last week in Nova Scotia---chore day, the need to wash clothes has come again so we are preparing for a trip to Digby to go to the Laundromat.  While we are there we plan to browse their lineup of gift shops and see what they may have that we have not seen while here.  We seem to have a need to find some reminders of our time here, maybe something nautical in nature since that is the theme of this area.  I am finding boats of all kinds to be of interest and would like to find something to bring home that would remind me of Parker’s Cove and the fishing industry that is of great importance here.
            I have almost finished reading my fifth book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh.  It is a new biography of the German theologian that has just come out in print.  I have known a small amount about Bonhoeffer dating back to my days in seminary but have not known a great deal about him so I wanted to read more and this new biography has been receiving good reviews. 
            Bonhoeffer is a complex person.  Reared in an affluent German family, his father a successful psychiatrist and his mother a socialite, with servants to care for the needs of all family members, he enjoyed an upbringing with all the advantages of the upper echelon of German society of the early part of the 20th century.  Neither of his parents was extremely religious and church attendance was rare for him but he somehow developed an interest in spirituality at an early age and declared at the age of 15 that he wanted to become a theologian.  His parents neither encouraged or discouraged his decision and sent him to an excellent school in preparation for this career decision.
            He completed his advanced educational training with high marks and moved on to seminary, which was a very complex and complicated undertaking in his time.  Before he had finished his seminary education, he had written two doctoral dissertations and had received his PhD in theology and had set his sights on a professorship at the University of Berlin. 
            In order to fulfill the requirements for being licensed as a pastor in addition to receiving his degree, he had to work in a church setting for a year.  He chose to work in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood in Berlin with youth who had little religious training.  At first he found this difficult but then he began to teach them Bible stories that they had never heard and to incorporate music and drama into his work and won them over to wanting to know more about the Christian life. 
            This experience opened the door to the desire in his life to be a pastor and, instead of immediately pursuing a professorship at the university, Bonhoeffer served as assistant to a pastor at a German Lutheran Church in Barcelona, Spain where many expatriates lived.  He enjoyed being in Spain and found the time to travel to Italy and the Middle East while there.  He had a great love for travel and took every opportunity to go places about which he had read as a youth. 
            The time he spent in Barcelona sparked his interest in the Roman Catholic faith especially after his trip to Rome and his worship experiences at some of the great cathedrals in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  Bonhoeffer developed a great love for the monastic way of life which would become the basis for the way the Confessing Movement would be structured later in his life. 
            As Germany began to change with the imposition of Nazi rule under Adolph Hitler, Bonhoeffer became aware that he could no longer function as a pastor in the German Lutheran Church and he began a dissident church called the Confessing Church.  At first it was tolerated by the Nazis but soon they began to order more and more restrictions on religious freedoms for Germans and all they ruled in the Third Reich.  Bonhoeffer’s Confessing Church was outlawed and anyone who participated in it could be charged with treason and arrested.  Hitler declared himself the new Messiah and demanded worship for him and his rule. 
            Friends that Bonhoeffer had made in the United States during a visit to Union Theological Seminary in New York in the early 1930s encouraged him to move to America to avoid being arrested and he did make a visit to New York in 1939 but felt so homesick that he could not stay so he returned to Germany to face whatever would happen there alongside his German friends who were being forced to serve in the military. 
            Bonhoeffer joined the underground movement and became a double spy, working for an agency where he was supposed to report on what was going on in England and the United States but at the same time he was reporting to the underground what he would learn about the Nazi plans during the war.  Soon, he was caught up in a plan to assassinate Hitler and that would eventually lead to his arrest and execution just before the war ended. 
            Bonhoeffer is widely known as the author of the book The Cost of Discipleship which came about as a result of his experiences and suffering.  He examined the biblical texts with Jesus’ words to “take up your cross, and follow me” and tried to explain what that means in our daily lives.  He was very critical of Americans when he visited the US twice and declared that they had never experienced a Reformation such as Germany had with Luther.  He thought of Americans as enjoying an individualism in religious thought and life that did not connect with his idea of community which he had written about in his doctoral dissertation.  As life became harder and harder for him in his native Germany, he made the decision to know the sufferings of his fellow Germans in a personal way rather than to run away to the US and avoid it all.  That decision cost him his life but his years in prison before his death left a legacy of writings that ask the modern reader to reflect upon what the cost of discipleship is for us in our world.  Is our religious or Christian experience one that is very individualistic or do we feel connected to the worldwide Christian community and its sufferings?  What does it mean to consider a “cost” to Christian discipleship today or is there a cost at all to modern American Christians?  What do Jesus’ words from Mark mean to us today as we consider them? 
            “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

 (Mark 7:34-35)      

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Twenty-Two


            Lately there has been a blue heron staying around the harbor area in Parker’s Cove.  It was here this morning early and it is back this evening near dusk.  It has been seen in the vicinity on several days.  It is a tall graceful bird with a long neck, and gray in color.  It is mainly looking around through the seaweed that covers the rocks after the tide goes out.  One time I saw it with a fish in its mouth so it has found some success in its search for food here. 
            This is Sunday so we went to the same United Church of Canada congregation with whom we had worshiped two weeks ago, the one in Annapolis Royal.  The Canadians as a whole are a bit more reserved than Americans and Nova Scotians are even more so.  So, it is difficult to judge them as to being friendly or not friendly to visitors in worship.  We had a few people talk to us and several come to us during the passing of the peace to greet us. 
            The pastor does not greet people at the door after worship as we do in our church.  She retreats to the parlor where coffee and cakes were being served, giving an invitation to join her in there at the end of the worship service.  That may be their custom rather than the one we are accustomed to in our congregation.  We did not stay for the coffee time afterwards though, making an exit through the rear doors instead. 
            The service as a whole was very good and meaningful.  Doris and I knew all the hymns sung today although they sung some responses and the Lord’s Prayer to a tune we did not know.  The pastor read her text for her sermon, which was one of the parables of Jesus, and then did not preach on it.  Instead, she talked about looking at works of art as examples of parables.  She had two pictures of paintings projected on the wall in the sanctuary and used them as examples of art work that teach a lesson.  I was a bit disappointed that she did not preach on the scripture she read since I have preached on it and would have enjoyed hearing her interpretation of it.  Anyway, we enjoyed going to worship and felt uplifted by the experience as a whole. 
            As I said on an earlier Sunday, it is valuable for me to be a visitor in worship now and then so I can understand how someone who is new to a congregation feels.  I think it helps all of us to be the “new person” now and then in a social setting so we can understand the feelings of others and try to reach out to them when they are visiting in our church. 
            We had a rather quiet and restful day the remainder of our day.  The area around the wharf and the campground across from it was very quiet with no one visiting either area.  We sat on the porch a while and had coffee and cookies and finally went inside to prepare dinner.  It has been a very good Sabbath day. 

            “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”  (Isaiah 30:15b,c)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Days Twenty and Twenty-One


            We took an excursion to Cape Breton Island which required spending a night away from the cottage.  Cape Breton Island is the northernmost part of Nova Scotia and since we are staying almost at the southern end of it then we had to drive about six hours to reach the area where we would spend the night.   Cape Breton Island is the Celtic center of Nova Scotia where the Scots and Irish settled when they came to Nova Scotia in the 1700s.  It is an island so there is a causeway that connects it to the rest of Nova Scotia. 
            So, on Friday morning we had breakfast and got ready and packed a few things for an overnight stay and began our drive.  Nova Scotia has a series of major roads that we Americans may think of as “freeways” but they are not freeways in the same sense as the roads for which we use this term.  There are stretches where the roads are four lane roads with higher speeds of 60-70 mph but suddenly those lanes will end and you will be driving on a two lane road with a top speed of 55 mph or less.  In addition, these major roads do not go everywhere around the province so to get across the mid-section of Nova Scotia one either has to get off on two lane slower traveled roads that are generally not in top condition or one has to stay on the freeway roads and go south nearly to Halifax and then double back and go north again ending up straight across from where the road went south that one just left.  We did both things on this trip and neither were satisfying, travel wise. 
            Anyway, we drove from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., taking times for gas stops, lunch, and other necessary stops and reached our motel in Whycocomagh (which is a First Nation word- people that we call Native Americans are called First Nation in Canada) to check in.  The clerk at the motel was very friendly and when she heard we planned on going to the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou that night to hear Celtic Music, she guided us into going instead to the town of Baddeck, just north of there to attend a Ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee) that would begin at 7:30 instead of driving to Mabou in the rain around curvy roads for the music that would begin at 9 pm.  We thought that sounded better as we do not like to be up to midnight when the 9 pm show ended and we did not want to drive over the curvy road s in the rain and in the dark. 
            So, we changed our plans and had dinner at a local café called Charlene’s which could have the best seafood chowder anywhere, at least that is what we thought.  Then, we drove to Baddeck and found the parish hall of St. Michael’s Church where the ceilidh would take place.  The hall was beginning to fill up already so we found our seats inside and waited for it to begin. 
            Just prior to beginning time, a younger petite woman came in carrying a case that contained a fiddle and took it out to begin warming up.  Another woman about the same age came in and began to open up the top and front of an upright piano and sat down on a swivel stool and began to warm up also.  At the time to start, the woman who had seated us came forward and introduced the musicians and they began the program that would last for two hours. 
            A “Ceilidh” is a traditional Celtic musical party that features fiddle and piano playing tunes that have been created, shared, and handed down from one generation to the next for at least two centuries.  The tunes, many of which came from the British Isles, have been preserved by musicians and taught to one another.  The fiddler named Jennifer has been studying this type of music for at least 20 years.  The pianist named Susan began playing when she was a youth and has continued learning throughout her life.
            Much of the music was lively—reels and jigs---to which volunteers danced.  The musicians and the audience tapped their feet to the music to keep time.  Some of the music was slow and soulful, achingly beautiful, with a haunting melody.  Susan played a tune she made up in honor of her grandmother named Rose and it was very beautiful but it has never been recorded or written down for publication.  When we heard it, she was playing it from memory as her hands moved across the piano. 
            The concert was educational as well as beautiful to hear.  The pair explained much about the Celtic Music of Cape Breton Island and how it has been preserved free from many of the outside influences that shaped similar music that originates in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA.  There the music received additions from others living in their area that made the music what it is today while the Cape Breton Celtic Music is much more similar to music that originated in Scotland and Ireland, some of which is still played in those countries today. 
            The presenters answered questions from the audience and performed some step dancing, each dancing while the other played their instrument.  Both were very adept at dancing in the manner that we have seen in programs such as Riverdance.  They were very entertaining as well as informative. 
            The evening was very meaningful to Doris and me because we each have family connections to the British Isles.  My Carpenters and Cogswells (my grandmother’s maiden name) have their roots in England.  The Conways (another line) have connections to Ireland.  Doris has at least one line of her genealogy that has roots in the British Isles also.  I connect with the music on a level that speaks to me when I hear the slow melancholy tunes such as were performed last night.  It is as if I can hear the ancestors calling to me through the notes that compose the tunes. 
            We returned to our motel and had a good night’s sleep and then drove to Mabou over those curvy, hilly roads that we did not drive the night before.  The countryside is beautiful with hills looking over lakes and rivers.  At one point we spotted two bald eagles near a river we passed.  One was flying down toward the water with his claws extended as if he was going to catch something that was in or near the water.  The green hills rose up from the roadside to form the mountains around us and I told Doris that the pioneers who came here from Ireland and Scotland probably felt at home as it must resemble some place there. 
            We had breakfast at the Shining Waters Eatery in Mabou, delicious food that included porridge bread, a specialty of the house.  Sipping some great coffee as we waited for our food, I looked around the room at all of the people who bore some resemblance to the Irish and Scottish people who settled this area.  I observed a few people with red hair, many with light colored hair, facial features that remind me of people I have seen while traveling in the UK, having conversations about modern things but with a lilt or intonation in the voice that made me think that their ancestry is still alive in this generation. 
            As I looked around and listened to them talk, I felt a connection in this place too.  In this ordinary moment in life, something spoke to me that was spiritual in nature as well as sentimental in consideration of the past.  I felt as if I belonged, even though I live in a different country.  A connection existed that extends beyond time and place. 
            St. Paul sensed that there is a spiritual connection between many of us and that the Spirit unites us in ways that are mysterious and not fully understood.  We share something in common in the same way that we share genetics with others with whom we have an ancestral connection.  He wrote to Timothy and reminded him of the connection he had through his familial line. 
            “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  (II Timothy 1:5-7)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Nineteen


            We are staying pretty close to the cottage today, spending a relatively quiet day.  We went into Annapolis Royal to use the internet at the public library.  I can bring my laptop computer and sit at one of their tables and use their internet without charge so I checked email and wrote a post for my blog. 
            Afterwards we drove up the road that leads to Granville Ferry.  It is a road that parallels the road that goes into Annapolis Royal for a while and then it bends away and follows the course of the Annapolis River which also runs through Annapolis Ferry.  Both communities are across the river from one another.  The historical guide for the tour we took recently told us that there was a ferry between the two places for many years and that is why it has the name.  Back in the 1800s a person could cross the river on a ferry for a penny.  If a person brought livestock with them on the ferry it cost an additional penny. 
            The road took us through the village of Granville Ferry which is a very nice community, with large houses lining the road.  It is interesting to note that there are two large white churches in the community and neither is being used as churches any longer.  One has been converted into a home and the other is being remodeled to become a museum or community center.   There is an Anglican Church still in use just beyond the community on that road but no others.  It may be that since the community is so near the larger town of Annapolis Ferry that the church goers drive the short distance and the churches there could not survive. 
            The road continued to a historic site called the Melanson Settlement which is where Acadian pioneers had built a village back in the 1600s and remained there until they were sent away by the British during the Expulsion in 1755.  The pioneers had reclaimed land near the river using dykes built to drain the land and rid it of the salt that was deposited by the Bay of Fundy.  The land had been given to New England Planters after the Expulsion and it remained in their families until the country of Canada had an archaeological dig on this land and found many historic relics that could be connected to the Acadians.  Today, there are information boards that give information about the Acadians who had lived there and trails to walk to see where the digs that happened in the 1980s took place. 
            Past the Melanson Settlement is Port Royal which is a historical re-enactment village that has been erected to demonstrate what life was like for the first persons who for France when he visited in 1605 and established a fort called Port Royal.  It is located where the Annapolis River pours into the Bay of Fundy.  The town of Annapolis Royal was the capital of Nova Scotia for many years until Halifax was given that honor.  Port Royal buildings are built to resemble the original ones that stood there and persons are in costume portraying persons who lived and worked at Port Royal at the time.  This area was always in dispute between the French and British until the British finally won out and Port Royal was renamed Fort Anne to honor Queen Anne of England.  We visited Port Royal in 2011 when we were here so we did not stop there today. 
            We continued driving on the road through several small communities until we reached the end of the road at Victoria Beach.  The name sounds as if it would be a nice place to walk around but actually it is just a beach covered with rocks that are exposed at low tide and covered with water otherwise.  We stopped and looked and then drove back to Annapolis Royal to find some lunch. 
            The afternoon was spent around our cottage reading and resting and visiting with our neighbor, who is a retired professor from Montreal.  She is an accomplished artist and took us into her studio to see some of her artwork, some of which is still being completed.  She is a widow and a bit of a recluse but she has taken a liking to Bo and she loves to pet him and talk to him.  She showed us through her garden which is the source for some of her inspiration for her artwork.  She paints many flowers and trees and includes wildlife found around Parker’s Cove in her paintings.  She gave us some lettuce and chives from her garden today for our evening meal.   She is a widow and since her husband died in the last two years she has not been as outgoing since she cared for him during the last years of his life and has been trying to be on her own since then.  She is a German by birth but has been a Canadian citizen for over forty years.  She is very educated and intelligent. 

            A few years ago I read the biography of Vincent van Gogh entitled, Lust for Life.  I was impressed with the language that was quoted that van Gogh used to describe the French countryside that he painted especially the land and sea in Provence.  He talked about how bright and brilliant the colors were, how they seemed alive and sometimes they were so brilliant that it was hard to contain how beautiful they appeared to him. 
            I have had that same experience several times this week when I have looked at the countryside in this area of Nova Scotia.  Driving on country roads or standing on a rocky beach looking out at the ocean, suddenly the color of the grass and the sky and the sea has been powerful to me.  I was standing with Doris talking to the neighbor at our nearest cottage and looked out over the bay just past the porch of our cottage.  The sun was shining brightly and the water looked especially blue to me.  The grass in my view between me and the sea looked a brilliant green and all at once I felt this powerful feeling of joy in simply being here and seeing this peaceful scene. 
            I felt the same feelings last Saturday as we drove down the Shore Road and saw the fields growing crops between the road and the bay.  The colors of sea, sky, and field were tremendous, rich in depth and stunning to look at.  It is difficult to describe just how it felt to see this rich beauty and to give thanks all at once for what I was seeing.  A great serenity seemed to fill my spirit at that time-- A deep peace for being in this place at this time with this gift of nature before me. 
            “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psalm 92:1-2, 5)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Eighteen


            When I awoke this morning and started the coffee maker to brew, I looked out the window facing the east to see the sky aglow with the most beautiful copper color hanging over Parker Mountain.  The sun had not risen above the mountain but the sky was beginning to brighten making the color of the sky copper and the bay blue.  We had coffee inside but then sat on the porch watching the sun rise in the sky until finally it was directly in front of us and too bright to keep in view. 
            Today was a day to do chores.  Washing needed to be done so we washed clothes here and took them to Digby to dry in the Laundromat there.  Before going to Digby, though, we stopped at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in Annapolis Royal and bought some vegetables from a local farmer—green beans, Swiss chard, a butternut squash, and some fresh basil.  The market was alive with booths selling crafts, bread, and vegetables.  A man was playing the guitar and singing oldies that most people were singing along with.  Our dog Bo made a big impression once again and we made many friends who wanted to come up and pet him and talk to us about him. 
            Soon we were off to Digby to do the laundry but first we stopped at a roadside stand and bought fish and chips to have in the city park in Digby that is near the docks overlooking the bay.  There once was a seafood market with a restaurant that sold seafood dinners at the docks but it has closed.  The park is very pretty with hanging baskets containing flowers here and there.  A gazebo with a picnic table is in the park as well as other tables.  We took our lunch to the gazebo to eat and a stray yellow cat joined us.  I threw him a bite or fish now and then to get him to wander away from us so that Bo would not want to bark at him. 
            Using the dryers at the laundry is a fairly familiar chore and can be boring but we usually meet interesting people to talk with while we are drying the clothes.  Last week we met a German family that had immigrated to Nova Scotia a few years ago.  They spoke English well and we had a great conversation learning much about each other.  We also met a retired couple who lived in Nova Scotia in the summer but spent winters in South Carolina.  They were living in their camper while a new condo development was being built where they would soon spend their summers.  Today, there was a family from Ontario in the Laundromat while we were there but they did not seem to be in a talkative mood so we just dried and left soon. 
            Returning to our cottage we put away the clothes we had dried and sat on the porch with coffee and cookies looking at the bay.  It seems we never get tired of that view.  One never knows what one will see when you watch the birds flying back and forth.  This morning we saw a bald eagle sitting on the pier when we first went out after coffee time.  He sat there proudly for a while and then just flew away to a nearby tree and then vanished.  As we were looking for him in a tree using our binoculars, we saw a large brown bird in a neighboring tree and watched it closely until finally it flew into the harbor and began chasing other birds.  It was an osprey or hawk of some kind and was trying to catch a seagull or cormorant for breakfast.  Luckily for them, they all joined forces and began flying around in circles trying to distract him and he was never fast enough to catch one of them.  Two cormorants in the water ducked down just as he was swooping toward them in the water, avoiding being catch in his sharp claws.  He finally gave up and flew away to parts unknown.  Our afternoon bird watching was very mild with birds just lined up on the rocks having their siesta it seemed. 
            We decided to drive down Shore Road to a cove we had visited last Saturday named Hampden Cove.  Since it was low tide we thought we may find some rocks or shells that we could collect.  The beach on the cove was covered with rocks of every size but no shells.  It is not very good to walk on as there is no sand, only rocks everywhere, so walking on it takes some concentration if you do not want to fall.  We collected some rocks that looked different to take home with us.  We visited with a few others who were there doing the same things. 
            After we had dinner we sat on the porch and watched the sun go down.  The sunset tonight was really beautiful once again as it was yesterday.  The sky was aglow with orange and blue colors and the sun seemed to sink slowly into the bay.  It has been a very relaxing and satisfying day.  Even in the chores of everyday existence, meaning can be found in doing them as we seek it in those with whom we interact and the beauty of nature that is always present. 
            “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name is exalted; is glory above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:13)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sabbatical Journal, Day Seventeen


            A day out and about today---traveling to what they call the South Shore in Nova Scotia.  That is the shore opposite the one where we are staying so we drove east on the main highway to the town of Middleton and then went south toward Bridgewater.  The road that bisects this portion of the Province between the two towns is wooded and it is becoming clearer daily that an early autumn is beginning here.  Hints of red and yellow are appearing in trees and we could see color in leaves of trees here and there as we drove along. 
            It was a pleasant drive south to Bridgewater.  We passed through many small communities, most of them with no businesses at all in them, only a sign to indicate that one was entering the community and then some houses and then on to the next one.  We drove to the community of New Germany, which is almost to Bridgewater, and found it interesting because it was in this area that 300 German immigrants came to Nova Scotia in 1750.  They actually landed in Lunenburg which is on the coast of the South Shore but they made their way inland and settled in the forest area where they could make their living in ways other than fishing.  Today, New Germany is a small community but there is one of the few Lutheran Churches outside of Halifax there with a cemetery containing the graves of German pioneers who arrived in Nova Scotia long ago. 
            There is a very nice and long lake surrounding New Germany also.  We stopped for a bit beside it as we entered the community and then rode along beside it for a good distance beyond the little town. 
            We soon entered Bridgewater, which is one of the larger towns in Nova Scotia.  It has many areas for shopping and a river running through the town that divides it into two sections.  There are two roads that run on either side of the river and one can choose one to drive beside the river.  We chose the river on the western side which runs beside the river and then the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean so one can drive beside water for many miles. 
            The road soon led us to the small community of La Have which famous for the La Have Bakery where we stopped and bought sandwiches, tea, and cookies to have for lunch.  We drove just a short distance down the road and found the Point Park Lighthouse and picnic area and enjoyed our lunch on land that had been claimed by the French in 1632 and they had established a fort there to protect their interests alongside the river that joins the ocean at that point.  We soon realized that we had been to this same place when we were in Nova Scotia in 2008.  There is a cannon by which I had my picture taken then so we took another one to compare it to when we get home. 
            Driving just down the road a bit more we found Crescent Beach and stopped off there to walk on the beach and get our feet into the Atlantic Ocean briefly.  This was the first time since we had owned Bo that he had been to a beach.  He walked down the beach with us as the waves came in getting his feet wet.  He stopped to smell various things in the sand and acted like he thoroughly enjoyed being there.  We collected some shells and driftwood and enjoyed the bright sunshine and the blue sky with white puffy clouds. 
            We continued down the road to Brooklyn and Liverpool, both quaint towns that resemble British ones in many ways, with well kept homes and decorative gardens.  Some of the streets bear British names and the Mersey River runs through them.   This same river begins north in the national park and is a slow, lazy small river but when it reaches the ocean at Liverpool it is wide and faster moving and is used by a power company to produce electricity. 
            Leaving Liverpool, we began the drive home again through largely forested areas that lead to small communities, some of which have only signs to let the visitor know it exists.  The road back to Annapolis Royal is long and not very exciting but it was a pleasant drive through the tree covered hilly landscape. 
            We always are glad to arrive back at our cottage in Parker’s Cove after exploring some of the area.  It is great to get comfortable and sit on the porch with some coffee and just stare at the bay in front of us, watching the seabirds doing their antics and the fishing boats bobbing up and down in the water at high tide. 
            I am thankful for the time to relax in such a beautiful place and reflect upon the goodness of God and the bounty of the earth displayed here.  Abundance is seen in the crops grown in the Annapolis Valley and the variety of fish and wildlife in this area, the work it provides for the local persons, and the food it supplies to those who want to enjoy it.  One can drive north and west and see farms growing crops of many kinds.  One can drive south and east and see the fishing industry at work in many ways.  Boats are constantly coming and going on the Bay of Fundy bringing in their catch to please locals and visitors and to be packaged for sale on the market. 
            The beauty of the earth is on display here and the result of human care and industry can be seen in so many ways.  It is truly a place that can soothe the soul and spirit. 
            “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills…By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches, From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work…O Lord, how manifold are our works!  In wisdom you have made them all.”

(Psalm 104:10, 12-13, 24a)