Thursday, November 19, 2009

Moving On . . .

Due to some unexpected changes I've decided to leave blogger. Check out my new home:

Peace, Juan+

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Rhythms of Pastoral Life

In a previous post I spoke about those early months in ministry. Those months seemed like years! So much took place and much learning happened and little by little I settled in as pastor. It was almost as if one day I woke up and my normal movements, thinking, and inclination was that of a pastor.

I was blessed that my first pastoral experience was as an associate pastor of a mid-size congregation. They were vibrant, always on the go, and hungry for God's movement in them. Their Sr. Pastor was wise mentor and knew me well. This mixture of dynamic congregation and Sr. Pastor as willing partner was pivotal in establishing in me good rhythms of pastoral life.

The other day one of the ladies of our church stopped by the office with her three daughters. We checked in on a few things about the church and soon her daughters had made themselves comfortable in the space. They were climbing on chairs, playing with the toys (I always have toys on the bottom shelf of one of my bookcases), and looking at all the "things" that brother Juan (that's what they call me here) has all around his office. The conversation was coming to a close, the mother tells her daughters "let's get out of here, brother Juan is busy!," immediately one of the girls looks at me and asks "What is it that you do?"

How do I explain my vocation and work to an eight year old? I turned my chair around and began to tell her about preaching, teaching, about checking in on people (especially if they were sick), and about study. So far nothing seem to impress her . . . it seemed boring! Then I said that my favorite part of my job was talking to people like her who just dropped by! With a big smile on her face she went on and soon came back with a drawing of Jesus for my office.

These are the rhythms I learned from a congregation that cared enough to teach me and a mentor who loved enough to model. Some years ago Bishop Will Willimon was quoted in an article on the Christian Century by Jason Byassee called What do associate pastors want? Team Players, Willimon says "ministry is mostly learned through apprenticing." After these important early years of ministry I could not agree more!

After three years as an associate I was appointed as pastor in charge of a small rural congregation in my home conference. The transition was enormous, going from a dynamic, fast moving, growing congregation to a small, dying one is not easy. I no longer have partners all around me to help dream dreams and see visions. There is no longer the hustle and bustle of the small city that I could hear from my office. But every morning I wake up and remember that I am a pastor and the rhythms of pastoral life that I learned help me walk into the empty church building and lead this congregation into the fullness that God is calling it to live.

The rhythms of pastoral life become the incarnation of God's call to this life!

Peace, Juan+

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Pastoral Beginning

In the latest Christian Century magazine (November 3) David J. Wood, senior pastor of Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe Ill., reviews a book called From Midterms to Ministry: Practical Theologians on Pastoral Beginnings, ed. Allan Hugh Cole Jr. His review of this book solidified my own need to reflect more deeply on my own beginning and on what has transpired since.

I don't yet have the privilege of decades in ministry. I am one of those young pastors who only has years behind him, and few at that! I'm now on my fifth year being called pastor . . . five years of attempting to lead a faith community, five years of joys, disappointments, and continued discernment.

Maybe the fact that it's so fresh allows me to remember more vividly the transition. Those painful mornings when I would arrive in my office wondering what I was supposed to do. Or those "firsts:" funeral, visit, someone makes an appointment to "see" you, ICU visit, sermon, broken pipe, leaky roof, "personnel" problems . . . the list could go on!

I also remember the pain of letting go of my life as a student. It could be described as a grieving process. No longer part of a community of learning. No longer part of this important rhythm of learning, prayer, service. In some ways it was a deeply formative rhythm in my life.

Getting up early to lead morning prayers in the chapel. Going to class and soon finding myself back in the chapel, this time for word and table. Then after more classes and one more chapel service I would find myself in chapel again to close my week. This time the rhythm slowed as we gathered, heard, reflected, and broke bread! Now empowered I was ready for whatever came my way.

I found it jarring not to have this communal rhythm of learning, prayer, and service in the local church. It was almost like I could not find my way without it . . . I was not sure I even knew who I was without it.

It was replaced by a more mundane one. Phone calls, e-mail messages, paperwork, and people "stopping by." And then there were the meetings, deadlines (another newsletter had to go out) and a run to the hospital. No morning prayer, no lecture or exciting theological conversation, no word and table . . .

Then Katrina came! We had no floods of water where I lived, we had floods of people. Anxious people, tired people, scared people, people hungry for good news! Collared I went . . . to where people were, oil stock in hand, ready to listen. The stories came, the tears, the sadness, the fear and little by little their stories and the stories of the many others since, became my rhythm.

I've tried to leave many times . . . to run away to a better, more fulfilling vocation. I have tried to convince myself that I've been called to other things, to less mundane things, to more heavenly things! But then a knock on the door of my office, a ringing phone, an invitation to come by is all it takes; someone wants to talk, someone wants to share their story. The words of morning prayer ring in my ears "O Lord Open My lips, that my mouth shall proclaim your praise!"

I've been called to this and God is still calling me to it. It is the mundane that God has called me to, it is the ministry of healing, forgiving, and reconciling. The ministry of blessing, breaking, sharing; the ministry of being present in the name of the anointed and poured out One, Jesus the Christ.

Now if I could just remember that each day is a pastoral beginning!

Peace, Juan+

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Calling & Discernment

It had been there a while. I could not remember at what point it emerged. In some ways I think it had always been there, I had always known.

And then there was that moment when I was 12. It was the practice of our congregation to allow children at age 12 to read scripture during worship. I remember anticipating that 12 birthday and how excited I was when soon thereafter I received my first reading assignment. I do not remember the passage, I do remember standing before my congregation barely seen behind that pulpit and reading God's word to them. I believe this was the moment when I knew! God was calling me to be a proclaimer of this word!

Life happens though. Like many other pastor's kids I let my own experience (painful at times) of my father's pastoral work to make me forget that moment. By the time high school came I was sure that the last thing I wanted to be was a pastor.

The church remained faithful to their calling. They supported me in immeasurable ways, gave me opportunities for leadership and saw gifts in me that I could not see in myself at the time. Discernment was a communal experience.

I could write pages on the next few years as I went into college, majored in religion, left the church (in spirit although not in body) and then found my calling again at a different congregation, this time in The United Methodist Church. At each of these turning points the community of faith continued to call, continued to be God's voice, continued to give me opportunities to experience leadership in a christian community.

It has been a little over four years since I finished seminary. It seems like just the other day that I walked on the campus of Candler School of Theology, it seems like an eternity! Since then I have pastored, first as an associate and in the last year as a solo pastor of a rural congregation. It has not all been easy but there is not a day that I am not reminded that this is what God has called me to do!

The process took time. There were many forms to fill out, many interviews, many assignments, many conversations. At each step there were opportunities for continual discernment and exploration. Opportunities to hear God's voice calling again.

God calls all of us. Us with different gifts, abilities, and life stories. God calls us to faithful proclamation and active engagement for the life of the world. Some are called to leadership in christian communities, around table & bath, around towel and basin. These are the cornerstones of ordained ministry.

Sometimes I still feel like that twelve year old. Am I tall enough for the pulpit, for the table, for moments of holy conversation? At these times I remember the church gathered on that day long ago, their smiles, their attention, their knowledge that God was calling.

That same God still calls each day! Discernment never ends!

Peace, Juan+

P.S. If you are exploring a call to ordained ministry please consider attending Exploration 2009!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Memoriam II

"Later of course we realized that such a day-brightener as Alex wouldn't want to be held close by grief. Now I see him best when I grieve him least."
William Sloane Coffin in Letters to a Young Doubter

My dear Garrett,

I can't believe it has been two years. In some ways the memories of that day are still so raw, maybe even permanently chiseled in my soul. Yet in other ways much has happened in the last two years. We have celebrated the arrival of your brother Nate, baptized him, and are now amazed to see how much he has grown. Avery has become a great baseball player and we celebrate that legacy, your legacy in his life.

And then there was my move to a new church. Although excited there was some sadness that we would not be close to your parents and to our circle of friends. In the last year since the move we have realized time and time again that the bond we share is one that is stronger than miles in between and paralleled lives. Your leaving in some ways cemented what we knew was there long before.

I am not where Coffin is . . . I am trying to grieve you less. I am trying to honor you in my work each day. Then Sunday after Sunday I get on my knees and see little hands outstretched, little hands begging for a little bread. Little hands eager, open, ready, to hear the words "every time you eat this bread remember you are a beloved child of God." And there you are, part of the great communion of saints that interceded for us and who gathers with us in the braking of the bread. So I am trying to let go and to celebrate your "day-brightedness" by grieving you less.

And then there are those that you have given life! Those understand Coffin well. Thanks to your gift of self others have found life when death was so near. So on this 2nd anniversary of your leaving us I celebrate life! I invite all those who want to make a difference to consider the giving of themselves in organ donation. I invite them to read your story and talk to their loved ones about this important issue.

Your mother sent us a text recently reminding us that in some ways we were all your godparents. What an awesome and honored place in your life! So I am thankful that I had the opportunity to remind you of the love of God for you, in a small way I did my duty as a godparent without even knowing it.

Thank you again for your constant presence, for the constant reminder that I am doing God's work, for me, each day. I'll see you soon!

Peace & much Love, Juan+

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Gospel of "We"

It happens everyday! I get this need to get out of the office and make my way to the corner grocery. (Here in our part of the world this small "convenience" store is about as close to a communal gathering place as we are going to get) I always get the same thing, a tall 32 oz. cup of Dr. Pepper. It has become part of my daily ritual in my small rural community. They know me by now and it never fails that when I come in conversations about God or the church begin, or continue depending on who you ask.

I make it a point to listen more than I talk. Sometimes there are times of confession other times joys are shared. There is always something though, a bad day, a long day, a struggle with the kids, a bad costumer. Then there is me, the local young pastor, who happens to drop in always at the right time.

Today it was no different. A conversation ensued about the use of the word "Jesus" as a substitute for other kinds of curse words. I as the resident "preacher" was soon in the middle of the conversation, having a wonderful time listening as the people coming in and out expressed their opinion on this important matter.

Soon they all seemed to turn towards me wondering what I thought, what was my take?

I proceeded to say: "We all use God/Jesus' name in vain at times . . ."

One of the workers stopped me on my tracks and remarked "you too do that . . ." to which another one of the workers said "that's one of the things I enjoy about Br. Juan is always "we" when he talks"

It's always "we!" I have not been able to shake this up, I've been thinking about it all day. It is always we in my mind. I connect with the struggles that we all have in our attempt to live our lives. I too understand how difficult it is to live the way the way of Jesus in the world, especially in the everyday of life.

I think there is more here . . . it is only in the "we" that we can truly walk the way Jesus. We cannot do it alone, we cannot push everyone away and pretend that somehow it is better, holier. In fact the "we" is harder, more complicated, and messier. Yet Christ calls us to this "we," "we are one body" Paul tells us, "We are to make disciples," says Jesus.

We also fail,
mess it up,
make it impossible,
full of trials.

In spite of its difficulties, I am thankful for the "we." I am also thankful that I am part of a community that invites this young pastor into their lives and allows me to be part of the "we" in my community.

Peace, Juan+

Thursday, June 25, 2009

6 Questions for the UMC

Sometimes we get so busy talking that we do not listen carefully. We talk, critique, whine, and complain and none of that helps us at solving any problems.

As a young pastor in The United Methodist Church I have joined in a time of prayer for the church. We have called for God's presence upon us, we have asked for forgiveness for the ways in which we are a hindrance to the work of the spirit in our church, we have received forgiveness, direction, and strength.

Now we continue the journey by asking questions. These questions will help us discern our next step, and along the way will help us grow as a community. I will ask them with the spirit of my 5 year old who is always wondering, always curious, and always wanting to know more!

"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?'"
(Matthew 16:13-15, NRSV)

Asking questions helps us refocus as we become agents of renewal, restoration, and reformation in the church, for the transformation of the world.

Join us in asking "6 Questions for the United Methodist Church"--or 6qUMC--today. You can find more information at and we hope that you will help renew the church from the margins.

Let's journey together!

Peace, Juan+