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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Celebrating 150 Years

This fall, the congregation I serve as pastor will be 150 years old. It's a momentous occasion for our little fellowship.

Founded in the fall of 1856 by a pioneer family, the Church has changed a lot over the years. The founding family, the Hahns, built a log cabin-style building on their land for worship, because there were no other Churches in the area of Peoria, Indiana. Preachers of several different denominations and styles have been there, including Miami Indian preachers.

It wasn't until the 1910's that they finally settled on a small Methodist denomination. This group became part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1939 and the United Methodist Church in 1968. The Church became an independent community Church again in 1997.

The building was remodeled in 1914 with stained glass windows added among other things. In 1962, the federal government began the Mississinewa Reservoir project. The 60-ton structure was dragged across a corn field to it's present site, about 1/4 mi. from the original. New pews, pulpit and communion rail were added, but the basic Church looked very much the same. In 1978, a steeple was put on. In 2005, a nursery and upstair restroom were added.

More important than the building is the people of the congregation. It is a unique and amazing group. Some families have ties to the original founding congregation. Others are newer but feel right at home. There are some who are life-long Peorians and others who are former Brethren, Catholics, Episcopalians, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists and more.

Jesus Christ said, "By this shall al men know you are my disciples: that ye have love, one to another." This is certainly true of Peoria Church. We love each other, which means all sorts of things. Of course we worship and pray together, but we also laugh together, cry together, disagree with each other, help each other - all of it because we love each other.

If you are reading this blog, you are welcome to attend any of the Sesquicentennial Events scheduled for Sept. 10. Here is the schedule:

9:00 - Worship

10:15 - Old Fashioned Hymn Sing

11:30 - Hog Roast - Free for everyone!

1:00-3:00 - Old-time Games and Recreation

3:00 - Children's Puppeteer program

4:00 - Gospel Concert - "4 For Him"

5:00 Cutting the 150th Birthday Cake

Thanks for your support and prayers for Peoria Church.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mary the Under-rated?

What would you do if you knew a person who was completely sold out to God, who staked her reputation and her life on her faith, who followed Jesus Christ diligently, whose heart broke at the Crucifixion and rose to ecstatic elation at the Resurrection?

What would you do if you knew such a woman? Would you ignore her? Would you not believe her? Would you say, "that's nice" and pass her off as a fanatic or fringe group member?

Such a woman is Mary of Nazareth, justifiably known as the 'first to accept Jesus Christ.' Mary is the woman who accepted the call to be 'Theotokos' or "God-bearer." She didn't do it with pride or with thoughts of self-advancement: To the Angel she said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word."

When she witnessed the miraculous testimonies about her newborn Son, she "pondered all these things in her heart."

When she attended the wedding feast at Cana and witnessed Jesus Christ's first miracle, she said, "Whatsoever He says to you, do it."

Unlike eleven of the twelve Apostles, Mary stood with her Son until His death on the Cross.

Without the fear that kept the Eleven in the Upper Room on the Morning of Resurrection, Mary went to the Garden to tend her Son's Body, only to witness the glory of His Resurrection.

Yet for all this, the Virgin Mary remains under-rated, misunderstood, and in many circles, nearly ignored. Certainly we can echo the words of John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth who said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is it that the mother of the Lord cometh to me?"

Mary is a woman we need to know better. As the Angel told her at the Annunciation, Mary is "blessed among women" because of her willingness to bear the Son of God. In her wonderful Magnificat, Mary sings, "my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden."

Tuesday, August 15, is the observance of the 'Dormition of the Theotokos.' It marks the 'falling asleep' of Mary and her entry into her eternal reward in Heaven. Mary's death is a foretelling of our own deaths. It reminds us that an eternal reward awaits us when we 'fall asleep' in the Faith.

On Tuesday, take a moment to thank God for the example Mary has provided to all of us as a woman of faith and find a way to follow her example.

Friday, August 04, 2006

People Say the Strangest Things!

I was at Hardee's in North Manchester the other day, my usual haunt when I'm away from Timbercrest for a little bit. As I was enjoying my sandwich and the USA Today, an acquaintance of mine came in with a co-worker.

I saw him, but he didn't see me. That's important to remember.

I waved to him as he stood in line, but he didn't wave back. I kept at my paper.

His co-worker chose the table right next to mine. When my acquaintance sat down, his back was to me, and he still didn't see me.

As they ate, another group of men came from their workplace and sat next to them.

And therein lies the problem.

This acquaintance of mine is a very devout man. He is active in his Church in North Manchester, he is a member of the Gideons, and he teaches an adult Sunday School class. He was even wearing a Christian-themed T-shirt.

But to listen, you may never have known it. I know I shouldn't eavesdrop, but I simply couldn't avoid the expletives that came out of his mouth. At first, I thought it was just farm-talk. Many farmers I know use a shorter word for "manure" and don't blink an eye about it. But then came the other words - words I almost never think, let alone utter (or write in a blog!).

I had just finished my sandwich and was rising to get a refill of my iced tea when this man recognized me. His mouth shut as tight as Jack Benny's vault.

I said, 'Howdy.' He said, 'you been sittin' there long?'

I don't write this to condemn my acquaintance. He is a good man, very likeable. It was amazing how much cleaner the conversation was after I got back to the table with my re-fill. :-)

I write this to say that I can relate to this man. How many times have I thought I was getting away with something, only to be witnessed unwittingly? When was I unkind to an innocent, only to be seen by a child from my congregation? When was I inappropriate (or how often) only to be forced to eat my own words.

There is an old-time expression that says, "Christ is the unseen guest at every table, the unseen listener to every conversation."

May I recall that next time I think no one else is looking!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What a life . . .

Today I had the opportunity to take a group (23) from the retirement community where I work to visit a family who lives in a yurt. The yurt pictured above is not their yurt - but it looks awfully close.

The yurt is located on an organic farm near North Manchester, Indiana. Yurts are not at all common here. The family who lives there consists of mom and dad and two boys, 2 and 4. They are musicians who work with Mennonite and Brethren concerns, especially for children's Christian education. They also work for and support peace efforts.

I have been in yurts in Mongolia, where they call them 'gers.' The Mongols have no electric or plumbing (for the most part), and use woolen felt and canvas for building materials.

This yurt was 'modern' by Mongol standards. Electric and plumbing. But that's it. A 30' diameter tent with a small loft. No TV. Heated by a woodstove (in winter). No A/C.

I was mildly jealous of the simplicity of their lives. First of all was the sense of timelessness. Their time is their own - governed only by the sun, and the rooster who greeted us on our arrival - "Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

One might not think the yurt had anything to do with this sense of timelessness, but in a way, it has everything to do with it. They've taken a step that is counter to everything modern America strives for - most couples their age, including nieces and nephews in my own family, think that a grand house in the latest sub-division is the paragon of success. (One nephew and his wife live in a three-story monstrosity with whole rooms just for clothes and shoes. They have no children.) And yet, through their choice of a yurt, this couple has said, "Our time is too precious to spend it paying for an over-built, over-priced, showplace of a house." People spend all their lives working to pay for a house and big cars and the latest gadgetry, while, in fact, their lives are passing them by.

Another thing about the simplicity of their lives is their personal avocations. These people are musicians. For our group, they sang a Spanish love song. The four year old is learning to play the ukulele and strummed along with them. In addition to that, they put up their own food, make their own play, and read and write prolificly. When our kids were little, their bedrooms looked like the toy department at Wal-Mart. These kids have a small set of shelves for their toys. And all around are toys they've made . . .a stick village for their toy animals, a ball diamond mowed out of the tall grass, etc.

Finally, the setting itself is wonderful. I think farms are beautiful anyhow, but this farm inparticular is exemplary. There are three families that share the main lot of the farm - one lives in the main, old farm house, another lives in a separate house built of field stones, and the third lives in the yurt. The gardens are pregant with fruit. The flowers are everywhere blossoming like sunshine in the yard. Birds and bees fill the air. It's almost like Eden on earth.

What a life they have.

I'm mildly jealous. We live pretty simply in Roann. I don't know if I could make it sacrificing everything like this family has - after all, I do have a whole room just for my library! But it was good for me to visit this family.

It reminds me that I need to take a step back from the hurried pace of my life.

Evaluate what's important.


Ah. What a life it would be . . .

Friday, June 16, 2006

Our Silver Anniversary

Although I cried like a baby while Karen walked down the aisle, June 13, 1981 was the happiest day of my life.

Yes, I cried. But I also laughed and prayed and smiled and thought.

Marriage is a huge commitment. And on June 13, 1981, the impact of that commitment became a reality. It wasn't enough that I loved Karen with all my heart. This day meant a love covenant that extends 'from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.'

Our wedding day was delightful. Ninth Street Wesleyan Church in NewCastle, Indiana, was packed to the gills. The weather was hot, on the brink of a thunderstorm. Friends and family, college friends, and Church members were all in attendance.

Karen wore an off-white gown and carried peach-and-cream colored roses. I wore a tan suit. The officiant was Rev. Dennis Hilton, whose wife Barbara was the organist. Our soloist was Andrea Campbell. The Maid of Honor was Donna Martz, who is now Mrs. Mark Ferrebee, and the Best Man was Mike Wagner, who now teaches English in Japan.

We were married under a chupah, in celebration of our special dinners made in celebration of Jewish holidays and a tip of the hat to my Old Testament emphasis as a Bible major at Anderson College.

The 25 years that have followed have been high and low and everything in between. We've grown very much together as a couple. I think this has happened because we have both also grown very much as individuals. (Note: This is not a reference to the weight we've gained over the years!)

Our children, Allison (20) and Alex (18), are no longer children. They are healthy, vibrant, intelligent and amazing young adults. For 20 of the past 25 years, a happy marriage has included happy parenting. Our dear friend Kay Eckelbarger wrote a card to us promising that "the next 25 years are easier." I wondered if that had any reference to the absence of child rearing and the promise of grandparenting (we hope!).

What do the next 25 years hold for us?

At supper out together on our anniversary, we decided that the next 25 years would be "skinny." All the weight we've gained (and lost and gained and lost) would go for good. When we got home, we finished off a Dairy Queen ice-cream cake.

Karen's talked about finally working on her master's degree, getting specialized training for special needs children. I'm going to finish (and publish) my first novel.

We're going to stay in Roann. No, we're not. We're moving to North Manchester. No, wait: we're staying in Roann. Oops, nope: we're moving to North Manchester. Wait, wait. We're staying in Roann. Well, now that I think of it, we're going to move. Then again . . .

We hope to be grandparents, so we can make amends for all the mistakes we made the first time around. (Is this the second time I've mentioned grandchildren?)

Most of all, we want to be there for each other for the next 25 years, 'to have and to hold, etc., etc.' To represent this, our dear friend Marge Johnson gave us a salt shaker, emblazoned with silver bells and ribbons, and the simple message, "25th."

She said we'll get the pepper shaker on our 50th anniversary.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams

I can't remember the last time I bought music by anyone born after 1850 . . .about the closest is Le Carneval Des Animaux by Camille Saint-Saens (b. 1835).

I have never purchased country music. Never.

But a week ago on the Prairie Home Companion I heard music that made it seem as if my ears were hearing for the first time. More than music, I heard originality. I heard live instruments, played by real hands, in touch with real creative minds. I heard enthusiasm. I heard a group of guys just having fun making music.

I wanted to stop my car to get out and dance in the road.

The group is Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams, a 'western swing' band from Fort Collins, Colo., that is "passionately committed to playing real country music" (from their website,

Within days I had ordered and received their first (and, to date, only) CD. When it arrived, I listened and was hooked.

The CD is a marvelous mix of pure country music, a few western-style waltzes, laced with a yodel here, a love song there, and such quality as few musicians outside the classical world possess.

My favorites?

I'm partial to "Billings Bop," an all instrumental piece where all that's missing is a barn full of cowboys and cowgirls dancing the evening away.

I also like "Let's Make Believe." This is a love song. In the back of my mind I pictured Karen and me out under the western moon, slow-waltzing in the star-shine with an audience of tumbleweed and coyotes.

For fun, there's "(My Other Car's An) Appaloosa." The song's the story of a city-bound cowboy who trades his weekday suit for the weekend life of a cowboy. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics speak to anyone confined to the city life, longing for the open spaces of the great west.

The whole CD is great.

The Hi-Beams website reveals one more subtle thing about them that makes their music even more significant. Their music is available through local, independent music stores and vendors. They are not a big-box operation.

Keeping it real in their music and in their business. What a deal.

I hope you'll check out Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams on their website, You'll be able to listen to "Appaloosa" there and link to purchasing information. You won't regret it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Blog for Questions and Answers

I've begun another blog intending to be a little more interactive than The Country Parson. I'm calling it, "Ask the Country Parson."

My intention is not to be the 'Answer Man,' but to bring about some discussion about things that I am asked all the time as a pastor. I'll share my perspective, and I'd like to encourage you to begin a dialogue through the Comments Section that might generate personal and spiritual growth for everyone.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Living An Easter Life

Icon of St. Thomas the Apostle, Witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Sermon notes from Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006

Epistle: I Corinthians 15:12-28, 50-58
Psalm: 100
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!

You and I are called to live an 'Easter life.'

We live in a world filled with despair, but we are called to an Easter life!

We know there are wars and violence, turmoil and disaster, but we are called to an Easter life!

We are faced with problems in our families, personal anxieties, abuse and addiction, and financial worries, but we are called to an Easter life!

In a world becoming increasingly secular and materialistic, we are called to an Easter life!

St. Paul's great affirmation in Romans 10:9 is the beginning of an Easter life: "If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." In our Epistle this morning, Paul likewise proclaims, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain . . .for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

An Easter life is a life transformed, lived from the inside out, a life in which even death itself is no longer a threat.

An Easter life means that when we face despair, God gives us hope.
When we face war, God gives us peace.
When we face violence, God gives us comfort.
When we face turmoil, God gives us answers.
When we face disaster, God brings renewal.

In our homes, an Easter life means that no family problem is greater than the love of God to solve it.
No personal anxiety is as great as the care God has for you.
No amount of abuse can shake how much you are worth to God.
No addiction's chains are stronger than God's power to break them.
No financial worry is unnoticed by God, Who clothes the grasses and flowers of the field.

An Easter life sees what is Holy in a secular world: the holiness of every soul; the sacredness of God's world; the wisdom of our Heavenly Father. An Easter life holds on to what is Holy because it is True and Right and Beautiful and Good.

Living the Easter Life may lead to being misunderstood.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ? To some, a myth.
New life in Christ? To many, a fantasy.
Hope for living? To others, 'rose colored glasses.'
Faith? To many, it's naive.
A changed life? Merely behavior modification.
Belief in God? A coping mechanism.
Confession of Faith? Mind control.

In spite of being misunderstood and scorned, rejected and made fun of, we know that we are living an Easter life, and that Christ is indeed, risen from the dead.

This morning, we are surrounded by symbols of this glorious Resurrection: the lilies trumpet the news; the candles in front of the Resurrection icon represent that the Light still shines in the world and that it cannot be overcome; the white cloth and paraments represent the New Life and a clean slate; and we received new members reminding us again that the Church continues from one age to the next.

In closing we will sing of yet another symbol of the Easter Life, The Lord of the Dance. Notice these words in the final verse:
They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the Life that will never, never die;
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He;
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Dying Art of Singing

A week ago I went to a funeral for one of the best singers I've ever known. Marlin wasn't a widely known singer outside his Church circles, but he was widely known within it. He wasn't the best voice I've ever heard, but when Marlin sang, you could hear the best of him in his voice.

In Marlin's funeral there was plenty of singing: a French hymn with esoteric melodies, an old favorite (Wonderful Grace of Jesus) and two Church of the Brethren standards, including "Move in Our Midst." The congregation made the rafters ring. Marlin had been music director for 30 years in the same Church where his funeral took place. The Church Choir, including veterans from his own years as director, and the Timbercrest Choir, a choir Marlin cultivated for years in the retirement community where he lived, were outstanding in their choral remembrance. I haven't heard singing like that in a long time.

Even in my own Church, singing seems often more awkwardly dutiful than from the heart. It seems that many Churches have run headlong into the inane practice of singing off overhead screens without hymnals. (Canned music seems to often accompany . . . and cue the lights, please!) Even worse has been the move to 'entertainment' singing in Churches, where a worship band 'leads worship' and the congregation kind of jives along. (Can lighters for the end of the worship service - with Church logos on them - be too far behind?)

Singing from the heart is one of God's gifts to Creation. Birds sing, obviously. But actually nearly "everything that has breath" sings. A song communicates what's in the heart - praise and adoration to God, love and adoration to other people, sentiments both joyful and grievous.

Everyone used to sing. Until the 1960's, nearly every classroom had a piano and every school had a music teacher. Every Church had a pianist and organist and choir. In taverns, people sang. In community halls, people sang. There was a 'national repertoire.' Who didn't know "I've Been Working on the Railroad" or "Clementine" or "She'll be Coming 'Round the Mountain"?

And of course, everyone sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at ball games and other public affairs. Last time I was at a basketball game, I felt like I was the only one singing the National Anthem! My wife looked at me as if I were creating a scene.

I like to sing out. When I have a hymnal in my hands, I try to find my part. If I can't, I just sing along the melody. When I'm walking in the woods, I'll sing at the top of my lungs, so that God and the deer and squirrels can hear (and sing along?).

Why don't people sing anymore? I have three observations. These are not scientifically researched or authoritative. They may even seem obvious. But here they are anyhow.

First, I think many people have lost a reason to sing. It seems like our culture spends so much time dwelling on our own angst that we don't have time to dwell on how great life is and how much there is to sing about. Everyone has problems and I have problems, too. But I also see the beautiful sunrises and the wide open skies. I see beauty in people and joy in relationships. These are reasons alone to sing.

Second, I think many people think they can't sing. Just a week or so ago, when Don Knotts died, a radio commentor spoke about her favorite episode of The Andy Griffith Show, in which Barney Fife joins the Church choir but sings so awfully that he drowns out the other choir members. The great thing about it was that Barney seems totally unaware of his tin-ear. He just loved to sing. I think most people can sing better than they give themselves credit for. But their singing has to come from the heart - not from the voicebox.

Third, most contemporary music is not good for singing. When was the last time a group broke out singing anything written in the last 20 years? When did anyone's family gather around the piano, or on the porch with a guitar? Does anyone know all the words to their favorite hymns - or does anyone sing hymns anymore?

Re-discover singing! Go find a tune and sing out! Find two or three other people and sing as many verses as you can to "Clementine." Turn off the radio in your car or the TV in your family room and dust off a kids' songbook and sing a while.