“Be Still and Know that I am God” is my breath prayer—the prayer I use to center me when life is crazy and to bring me back to my core. I use it when I want to spout off and think it might be better to hold my tongue and when I am fretting too much, babysitting the world as though God didn’t exist, to calm my Spirit.
I had a chance to be still in July and live out this verse in a truly profound way, as I spent some time being still—and being reminded that silence is not just golden, it is also deep.
After having felt like a whirling dervish since I arrived at Emanuel last October, always feeling like I was just behind the curve, I took advantage of some time to get away. I was working to put all of the pieces that I have been gathering since I arrived through meetings and conversations together to help with creating a direction for Emanuel’s mission. I also spent time planning our worship focus for the coming year during six days of planning, prayer and silent reflection.
I went to an island in Lake of the Woods where I went to summer camp as a child. The camp, Manitoba Pioneer Camp, rents out a small cabin, set apart from the camp, and designated as a retreat location for clergy, parents of campers, alumni, and supporters of the camp, and, since I fit all four designations, it is a perfect place of me.
I spent 22 hours a day in silence, and joined the camp staff for meals each day, so that I could have a little human contact, but the richness of the experience was the time of deliberate reflection and prayer.
I was very intentional about my retreat time. I had a set agenda with a focus on missional planning every day, as I immersed myself in all of the materials from my Mission and Ministry meetings, as well as things like Emanuel’s CAT, the worship survey, the work done on the accessibility project in 2012, and other materials, including the history of Emanuel. I also dove into recommended books about being the church in the 21st century.
The only sounds I had were the sounds of nature that surrounded me. No media of any kind was available. And in the midst of the silence, I discovered something amazing. I discovered how silence forces you to dig even deeper.
I couldn’t distract myself with the mindless chatter that can so often surround us. I found out it is a lot easier to hear God’s voice and in the process, I found an amazing sense of personal peace as well as deliberate direction, as I tried to put all the pieces together regarding what I have been learning in the past year. I was able to discern deliberately what I will be laying out to the council and the membership in the coming months–a reflection of what I’ve been hearing, from members of Emanuel, as well as from God.
Elijah, in 1 King 18-19, goes through a time of turmoil after he calls God’s fire down to burn an offering and as a result kills all of the prophets of Baal, thus enraging Jezebel, who pledges to kill him. Elijah flees to a cave and God comes to speak to him. But in the midst of the chaos of his life, God is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire that passes before him. He finally hears God in the silence, in the still small voice that happens when he waits and listens patiently.
In the midst of the turmoil that results in our ever changing world, as well as the craziness of our multitasking lives where technology and media overwhelm us, we often lack peace and wonder where God is. And yet God is trying to speak to us. We just don’t take the time to be silent and really listen.
I know few people are as fortunate as I was to take this time to retreat (and let me assure you, pastorally, it filled my cup, renewed my spirit, and was more useful than any conference I have attended).
But if we are deliberate, most of us can take some quiet time daily. Even if it is for a few minutes. And if that becomes a pattern, I think it is easier to hear God’s still small voice each day.
One of the mantras of my spiritual life is not to speak each day until I have spoken to God and not to eat until I have feasted on the Word. That practice has deepened my spirituality and helped me grow in my relationship with God.
I commend that practice to each of you as well, as a way to grow your faith. The depth of reflection that can only come from silence as you listen to God, can fill you with the peace that passes understanding that God promises to all of us, if we take the time to listen and receive it.
Peace, Pastor Paula
Dear Emanuel Friends,
We are not publishing a God With Us for July, but I wanted to write a note to let everyone know about a couple of upcoming events and opportunities, as well as ways to stay connected with Emanuel during the summer months.
First, I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the upcoming Cabaret this Friday in Luther Hall. Church members Hillary Ekwall and Stephanie Reuning-Scherer will be joined by Amanda Forker in a spectacular night of musical theatre and jazz. Accompanied by Michelle Horsley Parker and Jonathan Reuning-Scherer, this 90 minute program will feature tunes popular with all ages. The event is FREE, though you’re invited to make a contribution to support the singers.
Because of the fact that we will be set up for the Cabaret, as well as the extreme heat this weekend, our 10 am worship on Sunday will be slightly different. Our plan is to worship in the sanctuary as long as it isn’t oppressive, but it sounds like it will be on Sunday, so we will gather downstairs. There will be rows of chairs in front as well as round tables set up for the Cabaret. Prior to worship, we will be having a 15 minute hymn sing and after worship we will be serving apple pie and ice cream. If you prefer a more formal worship style, the 8 am service in the Chapel will be both air conditioned and in pews.
I also wanted to alert people about an upcoming ministry opportunity. In several of our Mission and Ministry Meetings people shared they were interested in pursuing the possibility of having a food pantry at Emanuel. I am in conversation with Hands On Hartford about the possibility of becoming a satellite emergency food pantry on the last Saturday of the month, in conjunction with our SPROUT hours. This would be a first for them, allowing us to operate under their structural umbrella, taking advantage of their reduced cost food through FoodShare, while also serving a need in our community. It is in the early stages, with many things we need to explore, but to move forward would require volunteer support, to get the food on Friday and be present to help on Saturday. If this is something that excites or interests you, please let me know.
Finally, I know that summer gets to be a busy time, where we travel around and are not always available to be present in worship. While I encourage you to be here when you are able, to find support in the community, and to worship wherever you are on Sunday, we are also exploring ways to provide a connection with Emanuel. The sermons are posted under “Worship” on our www.emanuelhartford.org website each week as well as Facebook www.facebook.com/emanuelhartford. In the next few weeks we are hoping to have an Emanuel Sermon Podcast available that you can download and listen to at your convenience.
We also know that God never takes a vacation nor does the work of the church. Unfortunately, though, summer giving also declines. To help offset that, we are including an offering envelope in this letter with the hopes it will help you with your stewardship towards our shared mission to be In the City for Good. There are other options for giving as well, including signing up for Simply Giving an automated giving program available to members and soon a donate button on our website that will connect to PayPal for direct contributions.
In Lamentations, the author writes “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; Great is Thy Faithfulness.” May you know the faithfulness of God each morning as we seek to be strong in our faith, in season and out.
Peace, Pastor Paula
I’m writing these thoughts from the room of my Bed and Breakfast in Cambridge, where I am spending a few days attending the festivities surrounding my son’s college graduation. In a perfect world, I would have finished them before I left, but perfect and I are not well acquainted.
These are exciting but exhausting days for me. I am what is called an “outgoing introvert,” which means that I love meeting people and get a lot of energy from them, but I also need my “quiet time” to recharge. The days and events involve spending a lot of time meeting the people who have been a part of Duncan’s life the past few years as well as their parents, which is fun, but last night I went to two contrasting events that coalesced where I find my energy.
One was a cocktail party in the penthouse suite of a swanky hotel hosted by the parents of one of Duncan’s roommates, where I sort of hid in a corner talking to another of his roommates, as we snacked and other people milled about. The other was a wonderful dinner with the family of Duncan’s best friend. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years and it was nice to relax with people and feel at ease.
These events serve as a wonderful backdrop for what I’ve been focusing on at church the last few weeks. I finally completed the Mission in Ministry meetings I began in January. I want to thank all of you who attended, with a special shout out to those of you who hosted them. Over the course of 20 meetings, I met with members of the families of well over half of our active membership, which is pretty incredible.
Among the many benefits of the meetings is the fact that now I know the names and stories of so many more people and I feel much more connected to them. I also found that people who went to the events also got to know each other better. We moved beyond “cocktail conversation” to dinner conversation.
I also learned a lot about why people joined Emanuel and why they remained a part of it, as well as what they would like to see happen. There will be a lot of opportunities to share that information over the next months, but there were three things that stood out.
- almost everyone who has joined in the last twenty years, and everyone who has joined in the last 10 years, cited the social outreach efforts of Emanuel as one of its main draws.
- being warmly welcomed at an initial visit played a huge factor in people becoming engaged and finding a place to be involved made a difference in how they feel about the church
- those who have been members for years have deeply appreciated the sense of community at Emanuel and those who are recent members feel that welcome and yearn for more opportunities for outreach and social engagement to build a sense of shared community
Building on that information, and working in conjunction with the staff, I put together a position description for a new staff person. When I came to Emanuel, I said I would spend a good six to nine months listening and discerning before I proposed what we need in terms of staffing because it is important to figure out where the gaps are.
This week at Church Council I brought forward my proposal, which was approved, and we will begin searching for candidates for the position. It will begin as a three-quarter time position for a Community Life and Outreach Coordinator. The focus will be on community outreach and intergenerational programming, with a focus on social ministry, community action, communication and volunteer engagement. The position description will be posted here on our web site.
In addition, the intent is to extend it to a full time position by partnering with area congregations to develop a network for youth and young adult programming that will involve both outreach and social gatherings. This is a new, outside the box innovation I am currently working to develop, by building coalitions with area congregations to help increase the numbers for these ministries so we have both critical mass as well as a grasp of what ministry means in the 21st century.
My hope, which I shared with the council, is to augment this position by better utilizing Jeff Potter’s skill set as an educator in his work with our Church School Education as we concentrate on ways to connect with our children and provide ministry to their families. Jeff is doing a great job but I believe he has more to offer and we should use that! I am also exploring having a nursery coordinator, which is a huge focus area for people who are looking for a new church.
All of these ideas are included in our annual budget, as we knew I would be short staffed when I arrived, so we planned to add staff during the year when we proposed the approved budget.
The end goal of all of these staffing moves is to provide more opportunities for members to find points of connection and areas to serve, while also building community, so that we are able to have more dinner table conversations not just cocktail chatter.
I am excited about these recent moves and ask that you join me in praying that we find the right person for this ministry, as I believe that it will help us truly fulfill the mission we have to be “In the City for Good”