Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another Saturday dahlia post

Here is another rare Saturday post. There are still quite a few dahlias that need to go on the blog. One of my struggles with taking photos of the dahlias is how to show their true size. I use to my carpenter's square to show "inches," but that is only part of the story. You see, each dahlia shoot produces three flowers. The middle flower (also the first flower to bloom) is by far the largest blossom. Sometimes it is impossible to get a good photo of that flower--it is down "inside" the leaves of the plant. On those plants, the smaller side flowers are much taller. The bottom photo in today's set is a great example. The blossom in the photo is a side blossom. The center blossoms are almost ten inches across!

Today's dahlia's from top to bottom are:
  • Tiger Eye
  • Sugartown Sunrise
  • Danum Cupid
  • Ginger Willo (note this flower is so similar to Kasasagi that I will only keep one of them for next year.)
  • Dark Prince

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 4)

Dahlia of the day: Colorado Pixie.

A visit to the principal’s office.

Years ago I worked in the woods—setting chokers for a logging operation. Logging is a dangerous job that helped pay for my college education. (believe it or not, eye ar edgukated) The logging company was owned by two brothers who had very different motivational styles. One brother (Forrest) led by encouragement, care compassion. The other brother (Teen) led by jumping on your back, cussing at you and making you feel as though you weren’t working hard enough. When Teen was around the crew felt as though we had done something wrong and sent to the principal’s office (sorry Glenn).

Not so many years ago I was the Chaplain at a Presbyterian-related college. The Chaplain’s “normal” duties were to teach half time and be the campus pastor half time. The education part of the college was divided into various “divisions.” The division chair would periodically drop in on a class to evaluate the instructors. These “drop ins” were worrisome for some of the professors. Some professors would alter their teaching method when the “boss” was in the room. Others lived in fear that their advancement up the division “food chain” could be negatively impacted by a poor performance in the presence of the boss.

A visit by the pastor can be interpreted in various ways by congregants. A visit by the pastor can lead a church attendee to wonder, “What have I done wrong?” It is like being sent to the principal’s office. Do you know what the main difference is between “principle” and “principal”? Answer: the “principal” is your pal! Church attendees need to be taught that a visit by the pastor does not mean that they have done something wrong. The pastor can be your pal.

Neutral ground: a safe place.

I have come to value the “coffee shop” as a vital tool for my ministry. To invite people to my office is like inviting them to the principal’s office. To go to their house is like having the principal (or division head) stop by the classroom to evaluate your performance. The home visit causes people to wonder if the house is clean enough or if the yard looks good enough. Both the office and home visit have draw backs. Add to that the issues of the prevention of clergy sexual misconduct and, all of a sudden, neutral ground becomes a viable ministry tool.

Meeting at a coffee shop implies that the visit will last the length of time of a cup of coffee. Everyone has time for a cup of coffee! It is a short enough period of time so as to not have a major impact on a person’s day.

Meeting at a coffee shop implies that the person hasn’t done “anything wrong.” The pastor isn’t going to jump down a person throat in a public setting—like a coffee shop.

Meeting at a coffee shop is “public” enough to keep the meeting at a non-sexual level. Let word slip out as to what coffee shop you use. People from my congregation run into me at The Oasis (note: those are my dahlia’s you see on the counter) J My inviting someone to The Oasis sends a totally different message than my inviting them to Applebee’s.

Many of our church’s older members have never been to a coffee shop before. They might think that it would be fun to be invited to meet at a coffee shop with the pastor—especially if they know that the pastor is expecting to buy! Casual. Non-threatening. Safe.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 3)

Dahlia of the day: Kasasagi.

(Note: I am writing this series from the perspective of a male pastor. The same issues are there for the female pastor. Please adjust the “gender” to fit your situation. For convenience I am grouping people into three age groups: Older, younger and not specified.)

Home Visits with Older Couples:

There are some wonderful older couples in our church. There is so much that we can learn from spending time with these dear folks. There are the couples that met just days before heading out for WWII, got engaged and got married at the conclusion of the war. There are the couples who have been married for 60+years—through good and bad, richer and poorer, through sickness and health. We can learn about commitment and love. Visiting these folks is a true blessing.

Home Visits with Older Single Women as a Male Pastor:

For the sake of wanting to not get killed, I will not define “older!” Our congregations have many women who live alone: some are widows, some are divorce, and some have never been married. There are some very wonderful older single women at Evergreen. These ladies may be “shut-ins” or have health concerns. I do not believe that any of these women would misconstrue a pastoral visit. I don’t believe that any of these women would show sexual interest in me. Is there any way that I can know for sure? The answer is simple, “No.” Besides, all it would take is the simple accusation of impropriety to damage the church, my family and me.

Is it appropriate for a male pastor to visit them in their home—with no one else present? I will confess that I have visited many older single women in their homes. I know that every time I do this I am taking a risk.

Home Visits with Older Single Men as a Male Pastor:

Guys are so different! We aren’t from “Mars,” we are from another galaxy! It only takes a few “grunts” or “nods of the head” to constitute a conversation. We can talk about last night’s Mariner loss or Sunday’s upcoming Seahawk game. Guys are just… guys. On the serious side, older single men get lonely, can be depressed or may be grieving. Others have just started “dating” after the death of spouse. Visiting such guys does not have the same “risk” factor as visiting an older single woman.

Home Visits with Younger Females as a Male Pastor:

You must be joking! A home visit with no one else present is absolutely out of the questions unless it is a life and death situation. Nothing may happen but it looks BAD!!! Take someone with you.

Home Visits with Younger Males as a Male Pastor:

You readers may be surprised—but I caution against this type of visit. Too much has been said in the news about male pastors preying on young men. Once again, nothing may happen but it looks bad. (Not quite as bad as visiting a younger single female but that may just be a cultural bias.)

Home Visits with Any Other Female as a Male Pastor:

Absolutely not, unless there is some extreme situation. Does this mean that I don’t “trust” the women in my congregation? Not at all. It means that I value them so much that I would never put them in an uncomfortable situation. It can look very bad to have the pastor coming and going from the home of a female parishioner. This is also true of visiting the home of a “couple” when the male of the house is at work!

Home Visits with Any Other Male as a Male Pastor:

This is one type of home visit where I have no restrictions, except common sense. I have had wonderful visits with guys from my church. I have gone hunting, fishing, Geocaching and sailing with guys that I know. A male pastor spending time with male parishioners is a good thing.

So what’s a pastor to do? Check back tomorrow as I give some thoughts on what a pastor can do to visit and care for people in the congregation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 2)

Dahlia of the day: Markie Re.

Before going forward with the topic of Pastoral Visits I must cover some background material.

I have been an ordained pastor in the PCUSA since 1986. In that time I have never met a pastor who went into the ministry with the intention of using their position for sexual gain. Does it happen? I’m sure that it does. I believe that almost all pastors enter into the ministry of Word and Sacrament with good intentions.

No pastor is immune from temptation.

A pastor in Alaska Presbytery became involved with a parishioner/staff member while I was the Chaplain at Sheldon Jackson College. I am confident that the pastor did not “plan” on that type of situation occurring when he entered the ministry. Yet, it did!

No pastor is immune from temptation.

I moved to the Presbytery of Olympia in 1996. All pastors of the Presbytery were required to attend a class on the prevention of clergy sexual misconduct. The policy has since been changed and all pastors must go through the class every four or five years (I am not sure which). I had to take the class this past year—it was basically the same as when I took it in 1996 (the same video was even used). One thing had changed, though; there were different presenters. That’s no big deal—except, one of the presenters from 1996 is no longer in the PCUSA ministry due to having a sexual relationship with a person from his church. I do not know the details (par for the course in the PCUSA). But this I do know—that pastor was sexually involved with a person that was not his spouse.

No pastor is immune from temptation.

I will forever be indebted to The Rev. Dr. Harry Hassell. Harry was the Executive Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in the 1990s when I had a fifteen-month internship at HPPC. He was the overseer of the intern program. He trained us on how to minimize the possibility of crossing the line with a person from our church. My office door will always have a window that is never covered. If at all possible, my office will always have a back door—a way to get out of the office if necessary.

No pastor is immune from temptation.

Pastors deal with people’s emotions, their struggles in life, and their life situations. This type of closeness can be misinterpreted. Many women have said, “My husband never shares his feeling with me.” Other women have said, “My husband is never there for me emotionally.” Along comes the pastor—someone who deals with emotions, compassion and empathy.

No pastor is immune from temptation.

The world has changed (or maybe it hasn’t changed). Clergy sexual misconduct is regularly in the news. Every pastor owes it to Christ, their family and their church to minimize the possibility of clergy sexual misconduct.

No pastor is immune from temptation.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pastoral Visits – the Changing Landscape of Ministry (Part 1)

Dahlia of the day: Zorro. When Zorro's first appear they are as dark as the center portion of the blossom in the photo. The color fades in direct sunlight. Those wishing to keep the deep color should provide shade over the blossoms.

I remember sitting in the living room of our house in Ellensburg, Washington. I believe that I was still in high school (1975). The pastor of the Presbyterian Church had called and asked if he could stop over for a few minutes to visit with our family. My mom was furious! Had we done something wrong? What did the pastor want that he couldn’t talk about it at church? When the pastor arrived my mom was “cordial.” The visit lasted about ten minutes and then the pastor left. Mom felt as though we had just become a “notch” in the pastor’s visitation record. She felt as though he stopped by because the church expected him to stop by. I will never forget that night.

Fast forward 32 years… I am a Presbyterian pastor. The world has changed!

Baby sitters—they were a life saver. Back in the day of young children we had very little in the way of money. We rarely went out. When we did go out we would hire a baby sitter to watch the kids. I NEVER DROVE A FEMALE BABY SITTER HOME! All of our baby sitters were from our church. We knew their families very well. The girls were in our youth groups. I would never put myself in the dangerous situation of being alone in a car with a female baby sitter.

Fast forward to today… I won’t ride in the car with a female (other than a relative) unless it is an emergency and then, only if their husband knows and approves. For secretary’s/office administrator’s appreciation day we are faced with the dilemma—how many cars to take to the restaurant. One accusation and my ministry is finished. Gone! Ruined!!

My wife use to work for a world-wide accounting firm. It was common practice for people of the opposite gender to ride in the same car to a client’s office—especially when the client was out of the general area. No one even questioned whether this should be done or not. The business world functions with a different set of rules than the church. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is.

Pastoral visits. Pastoral visits? Pastoral visits!?! A pastor, and the pastor’s church, needs to think long and hard before the pastor visits anyone in their home. For the next several days I will be exploring the topic of pastoral visits.

The Primary Role of a Pastor:

Every person in a church has a different idea of what the primary role of the pastor really is. The person in the hospital thinks that the pastor should stop by the hospital to visit them. The person who loves Bible study thinks the pastor should lead Bible studies. What is the pastor to do? What should the pastor do? What does the Bible say the pastor should do?

First, the Bible doesn’t talk about the “pastor” of a church or about a “denomination.” The closest text I can find that gives light to the role of a pastor is Acts 6. In the Book of Acts, the church was growing and needs were emerging. The widows of some Grecian Jews (who had become Christians) were not getting the food they needed. The problem was brought to the attention of the apostles. Their response was, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." The pastor’s primary responsibility is prayer and the ministry of the word—preaching/teaching. The pastor must never forget this! Our churches fail to grow because our pastors spend too much time doing things other than prayer and preaching/teaching. A pastor can visit people all day, every day, and kill the church and fail to do what God wants the pastor to do.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest…

Pastoral Visits and the “Older” Generation:

A certain segment of the congregation remembers “the day” when the pastor went out and visited every member in the church—in the church member’s home. It was hoped that such home visits would communicate that the pastor cared for the members of the church.

A few years ago a family left our church. They said that the church didn’t care for them in their times of need. I was floored. Our Deacon board helped them in ways that cannot be mentioned here. Our church provided them with countless meals. The list of how our church reached out to this family could go on and on. Yet, they felt that the church didn’t care for them in their time of need. What they meant to say is that the pastor didn’t come out to see them often enough during their time of need. Another family had a similar situation. When it was pointed out how our Deacons (and others) had reached out to them the response was, “Yea, but that’s their job.” Once again, the church and the pastor did not live up to the visitation expectations of a family.

Many of the older folks at my church “expect” the pastor to come and visit. This expectation may be there for many reasons: the church is the last thing in their lives that remains relatively unchanged, they are facing their own mortality, they many hope to “score points” with God by having the pastor stop by, they may be feeling as though they have very little to offer the church in their latter years of life, etc. What ever the reason, many older folk want (or even expect) the pastor to come and visit.