Category Archives: Ministry

700,000

The sisters of Our Lady of Grace, a Benedictine Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana toll a bell for every Hoosier who died that day from Covid-19 during their evening prayers. (see link to news story below) They began this practice on July 29, 2020 and have tolled the bell roughly 10,000 times to date. Had they begun in March of 2020 the bell would’ve tolled 15,165 times by now – once for each life lost to Covid-19 in Indiana. One day in December 2020 it tolled 164 times. Were these nuns to take on a national bell tolling, this week the bell would have surpassed 700,000 tolls. Globally the number is now in excess of 4.55 million who have died from the coronavirus.

There is something quite somber about the tolling of a single, solitary bell. It has the capacity to catch your ear, stop and settle your mind, and call you to prayer. The unique ring and tone are quite foreign to the daily noise of life, an exception in the cacophony of sound with which we’ve become too familiar. A bell tolling can cut through the noise, calling for silence and reflection.

This must be the intent behind the nuns’ daily prayer vigil. As the bell is tolled, however many times called for by that day, each ring is given it’s just due – moments of reflection and prayer offered for another life lost. During the week ending September 29, 2021 the bell tolled another 31 times as that many of our fellow Hoosiers gave up the fight, overcome by the effects of Covid-19.

While I cannot speak for the impact this practice has had on the sisters, I suspect it to be wearing and weighty. It seems much of society has moved past a daily reckoning of Covid-19 data, but not the nuns of Our Lady of Grace. No, the bell continues to toll, as many times as needed during evening prayers, in the monastery just south of Indy. These servants of Christ are keeping watch, and holding vigil, for those for whom the bell tolls. I thank them for their ministry.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by
John Donne
 No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

WTHR story of Our Lady of Grace

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Up and Away

On a recent Sunday morning as I stood outside the front entrance of the church, getting some air and waiting to greet folks as they arrived, I looked up to see a hot air balloon aloft in the distance. Initially hardly more than a speck, the balloon gained in size as it closed the gap between us. Making use of a substantive air current, in just a few minutes it was overhead to the delight of a growing group of worship arrivals. Many, like me, were snapping photos, angling to catch both the balloon and the peak of the church building in their picture. Others were speculating who the pilot might be, naming a local man known to have flown balloons for some time. Some arrived commenting on how they had been watching the balloon as they drove in that morning. Still others were recalling prior hot air balloon experiences they’d had – a ride while traveling in Australia, attendance at the Albuquerque, New Mexico festival.

Photo taken by Dan Cash

I rather wished we could’ve relocated worship outdoors that morning, given the blue sky and warm weather. Then speculated how challenging it would be to keep a congregation’s attention while a hot air balloon went over. Not a chance! I think you’d have to call an audible, suspending whatever was happening in worship, to let people enjoy the sight.

There is something rather uplifting and serene about seeing a hot air balloon aloft. I was immediately taken back a few weeks to having witnessed four in flight together over Colorado while taking a morning walk. Then recalled another occasion, years prior, also in Colorado, having come upon a balloon festival near Aspen. The fields were in full color that day as the balloons dotted the landscape. Maybe it’s the size, colors or the silence of these airborne vessels that can stop you short when you see them. Their hushed travel interrupted by the occasional plume of fire gushing more air into the balloon. It’s the rhythmic music of rests with the occasional whole note of gas, igniting the elevated air ship to greater heights and distance.

Some years ago our church observed our own neighborhood celebration with tethered hot air balloon rides on the lawn. People lined up and waited for their turn in the basket, young and old alike, a quick up and down ride that offered a taste of what such travel might entail. It was a great part of a fun day together, it’s memory brought back by the unexpected spotting of our Sunday morning balloon guest.

FBC Faithful at 50 Celebration in 2014.

Worship is sometimes described as that which creates or facilitates an encounter with God, causing the worshipper to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and holiness. Much effort can go into the elements that lead to worship on a typical Sunday. A preacher will spend hours crafting a sermon. Musicians will rehearse. Worship leaders give much thought the service’s flow. Then there are the other moments, like the one that spontaneously developed outside the front entrance to the church this past Sunday. A moment when an unexpected worship leader caused us to look up, reflect, and notice the wonders of life as God has created it.

Turns out we didn’t need to relocate worship outside the church, it had already happened. We had been called to a moment through the artistry and simplicity of an overhead leader causing us to stop and worship God outdoors, before we went inside to continue.

Photo taken by Wayne Lovelace

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Filed under Christian Faith, Holy Days, Hope, Ministry, Spiritual Formation

Passageways

I’m drawn to them, those places and images that invite a going through or coming toward. They are passageways, entry and exit points from what has been to what will be. Thresholds and more, offering promise and prompting thanksgiving. Call it a professional hazard of one who has been present as folks unite to cross a threshold, welcome a new beginning, or share a “farewell” and “see you later”. To be present at the passageway times of life – birth, marriage, death – is sacred work. It’s also humbling work, peeking into the intimacy of a family system and coming to share a presence and a word.

These passageways crop up in life, in nature, in travel and in the mundane. It seems we are always coming and going, sometimes with a lack of awareness and abandon that approaches the cliffs in danger; other times in a measured gait that belies our reluctance to enter the work at all.

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Filed under Christian Faith, COVID-19, Hope, Ministry, Spiritual Formation, Uncategorized

Podcast Preview: “Hearing Jesus” – A series on Jeremiah

I’d like to invite you to listen to a conversation I have with my colleagues Daniel Kane and Reilly Jones about our coming worship/sermon series from Jeremiah titled “Hearing Jesus”. You can find the podcast here. Or download it where you listen to podcasts.

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Think on These Things

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8 NRSV

There’s an old popular adage that says, “You are what you eat”. I’d like to modify that a bit to “you are what you think!” The same principal applies: If poor nutrition will result in poor physical condition; poor thinking (or thinking on the unhealthy things) will result in poor spiritual condition. Are you controlling the things you think about? What type of “content” do you admit into your thinking, which then incubates in your brain, thus producing thought-plaque and other undesirables?

As inhabitants of the digitized world of information, we need to take responsibility to be the curators of our own thoughts. Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean we need to read it. Just because it appears in our newsfeed, email, or on our entertainment screen doesn’t mean we can’t delete it, block it or refuse to engage.

What if you were to conduct an information audit? That is, for a week or two-week period of time you logged how much time you devote to various mediums of information: social media accounts, news media forums, entertainment media, print media, podcast content, audio books, devotional media and so forth. At the end of the period, tally up the totals and weigh them against one another. What might your comparison exercise reveal? What does it reveal not only about the mediums you utilize, but the content absorbed from them?

Would this type of evaluative exercise point toward a need for change in behavior? In thought content? Were you to make these changes, what results do you suspect you would notice in your thinking?

I’m not sure what all was going on with the Church at Philippi to whom Paul wrote Philippians. But toward the end of the letter he advises them to change what they think about. Philippians 4:8 is a remarkable encouragement verse that calls us to higher, better and more honorable thinking. In doing so it also calls us to higher, better and more honorable living.

Seems to me what was good for Christ followers in the 1st Century should still be good for those who follow Jesus today. Give it some thought!

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Filed under Christian Faith, Ministry, Spiritual Formation