Thursday, December 29, 2016

Beginning the New Year Together --
For the Peace of the Nation and the World

On election night, I was teaching in a 5-Day Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation in Oklahoma. The group held a beautiful candle light labyrinth walk for “the peace of the nation.” I received this vision: the map of the U.S.A. was laid over the labyrinth. This image of the U.S.A. rose to join its place in the globe, gently rotating above the labyrinth. The message was clear: the factionalism and struggles we are engaged in within our nation are mirrors of the same kind of struggles going on within the whole human family, as ancient divisions of culture and religion must give way in order for a new humanity to be birthed in our time – a new world of deeper respect, mutuality, and greater connectivity.

A similar vision inspired Glynden Bode and several women from different faith traditions in Houston to meet regularly in the challenging days after September 11, 2001. Their labyrinth walk became a pathway for prayers for peace and gaining inspiration for personal action. Glynden graciously wrote of this time in her contribution to A Quiet Pentecost.

May we each be inspired in the months ahead to pray and work for a new era of grace, justice, and peace within the human family.

We have learned in new ways how much our nation has become factionalized during the presidential election. Now we have the opportunity to speak directly to the many difficulties facing our nation, our communities, and our families. I am encouraged by the personal and collective conversations that are already taking place, as we begin to recognize that greater individual participation may be required of each of us, if we are to move toward a new common good.

Let us join together to serve the Prince of Peace in fresh ways in 2017.

Dwight Judy

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Your Advent 24-7 Prayer Room

Rev. Jennie Edwards Bertrand describes an extremely simple prayer practice that she initiated in the campus ministry at Illinois State University:

In September 1999 in a village in southern England, Pete Greig and his college friends decided that if the Moravians could pull off a one-hundred-year prayer vigil, they could sustain three months of unbroken prayer. It seemed like a great way to induct the year 2000. What this group did not know was how news of their small prayer room would spread to college students and young adults all over the world by e-mail. Prayer rooms began to pop up all over the world, run mostly by young adults. [This movement is now known as 24-7 Prayer. It involves simply setting up a small room so that one person can be in prayer for one hour at a time; 24 hours per day. The campus ministry determined to hold their prayer room for one week. They had 30 active students in their first year.]
Jennie continues: While the phrase “I am not religious, I am spiritual” was quite popular as we were preparing for our first 24-7 prayer room, I don’t think many of the students were consciously concerned about their spiritual lives either. Looking back, I think the main reason that first group of thirty students was willing to try a prayer room was because it sounded crazy and undoable. They were competitive and wanted to be able to say, “We kept a human in that room for one hundred and sixty-eight hours. . . . Oh yeah, and they were praying.”
Richard Foster writes: “We all hunger for a prayer-filled life, for a richer, fuller practice of the presence of God.” The corrective I add to this is that a generation raised in a postmodern, post-Christian world doesn’t know it hungers for a prayer-filled life. One of my favorite characteristics of the 24/7 prayer movement is that the participants are not limited to those who would self-select to attend a prayer retreat, or join a prayer group.

A student leader and I collected paints and canvases, and covered the floor with cardboard and the walls with newsprint. We bought a CD player, some good meditative CDs, and a few worship CDs. We labeled the space outside the small converted office the Welcome Wall; plenty of coffee and water was provided. In the room, we labeled one wall a Wailing Wall; another wall the Worship Wall; and on a third wall we hung a map and named it the World Wall. We included a stack of Bibles, two journals, and hooks on the wall for hanging painted canvases. We went to the Catholic supply store, bought twelve seven-day candles, and ritually lit each one. For one week, hour-by-hour, students experienced the presence of God in the solitude of this room. One person would write a psalm on the Worship Wall, and others would follow suit. Names of loved ones in need of healing and R.I.P.s began to fill the Wailing Wall. Confessions and expressions of pain followed. Articulate and painfully honest conversations with God began to fill the pages of the journals. Beautiful artistic expressions of love, forgiveness, and healing covered the canvases. People highlighted countries on the map and asked for prayer, justice, and the end of poverty and war. By the end of the week, the floor and every wall was filled with an outpouring of deep cries from the soul. Right in the middle of day-to-day life, an entire (albeit small) ministry learned how to pray and experienced the power of God’s presence. (A Quiet Pentecost, pp. 71-73)

Now, ten years later, this practice continues at Illinois State University with an average of 130 students regularly in the ministry. I saw Jennie last spring and asked her about the 24-7 prayer ministry. She was so excited to share with me that now in addition to the campus ministry, she is involved in a new church start aimed toward millennials begun by former students whose spiritual life was awakening in the 24-7 prayer room.

The practice is simple. The impact is profound and very challenging. As we prepare for the feasts of Thanksgiving; and as we begin the patient waiting of Advent, I invite us to use this image of the 24-7 prayer room to refresh us to live toward the righteousness of God. In the 24-7 prayer room within your own heart: what will you name on your inner Wailing Wall? Remember how full the Psalms are of lament, of voicing our human hurts and longings? Our hearts ache for the Peace of Christ to pervade our families, our nation, and our world – we are asked by Jesus to be honest with naming our hurts, our griefs, our losses. But, we are invited to also love, praise, and sing. What will you name on your Worship Wall this week? What a wonderful season for us to give thanks, for the goodness we have each experienced in the past year, for hopes that we hold. Let us in joy, give thanks and praise to God as we gather around our family Thanksgiving and Advent meals. What will you place on your World Wall? What particular peoples and places within our nation and our world call to you for prayer and action? Where is Jesus asking you to give your special prayers, your donations, the work of your hands to live into that prayer we pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Using the Study Guide

Using A Quiet Pentecost to shape your spiritual formation ministry

Chapter 8 of the book, A Quiet Pentecost, is a study guide to be used by a small group, going chapter by chapter, to assess and develop the spiritual formation focus in your congregation or other ministry setting.

The Holy Spirit is ready to guide your congregation into a quiet Pentecost. The Spirit’s guidance will be quite specific for your congregation and your community. There is no cookie-cutter pattern to enhance your spiritual life or move toward developing a spiritual life center for your congregation and community. Instead, Jesus wants to lead you into unique patterns of prayer, small-group support, local and global mission, and sustaining worship.

Each chapter of the book can be a springboard for conversation among the lay and pastoral leadership of your congregation. Start with the first step in “Getting Started” below—designing a team to work through the book together on behalf of your congregation. Use the questions related to each chapter as a guide for your group’s conversation in a series of meetings.

Invite all participants to read the questions at home before they read the related chapter. Read the book in the spirit of lectio divina, lingering over particular passages, stories, or images that strike you as significant for your congregation. It is helpful for group members to keep a journal of reflections as they read.

Use the additional resources on the blog site
 with your group and your leadership team.

Getting Started

1. Forming a team. If you do not already have a spiritual life or spiritual formation committee in your congregation, work with your pastor and administrative body to develop a task force to work for six months or more in prayerfully considering potential new areas of ministry. You may want to use an existing prayer ministry group such as an intercessory prayer team.

2. Covenanting together. This work will require commitment and prayer. Set a regular time to meet. Commit to regular prayer for the work of this task force or committee. Be committed both to inspiration arising from prayer and to practical tasks of information gathering.

3. At your first meeting explore the two themes below. There are no right answers to these two questions—only what is right for your congregation!

a. What is your definition of spirituality? What is the range of subject matter that will be effective in your congregation? Be realistic! Do not push edges too quickly. Think about what people need within your own setting and what kinds of resources will be well received.

b. Is your work for your congregation only or is it for the broader community as well? What are implications of promoting your classes, groups, retreats, and so on to those beyond your congregation?


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Discipline of Love

The Discipline of Love: A Quiet Pentecost and a Manger

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine
Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
– Christina G. Rossetti, 1885

In the year 2015, we are living through massive geo-political, racial, religious, economic, and ecological disruptions. Not surprisingly, cynicism is deeply rooted within us. Religious intolerance has reached new levels. Trust in police and governmental structures has eroded. Sometimes I think our time is one of those in which not one, but many of the accumulated wounds of the centuries are being lanced – racially, religiously, economically, ecologically. Many people fiercely cling to their personal “way,” and hold out in fear to changes that are being thrust upon our globe.

In such a time, what shall we do, but risk all to pray again for a “rebirth of wonder,” * to hope again for the Prince of Peace to be born among us and take root in every heart?

In collecting the stories for A Quiet Pentecost, I was reminded of the story in John 20. After the crucifixion, the disciples are holed up in fear “behind locked doors.” Even so, Jesus comes among them with the message: Peace be with you! Fear cannot contain God’s peace! At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus comes in a manger in the humility of a baby with the same message, inviting us into the Presence of Divine love, hope, and peace.

Our invitation this Christmas season is to await the renewal of “Love all lovely, Love divine” again in our own troubled hearts and within our world. There are many legitimate fears in our society. The declaration of Christmas, as well as of Resurrection, is that God is more powerful than our fears, that in the midst of our fears our invitation is to hear that quiet voice of assurance, the voice that love is an invitation and a discipline. It is the invitation to make peace within our own hearts, and then daily to discern where the discipline of love is calling us.  The invitation is to live in God’s realm of love and justice and seek to be partakers of the Divine nature in our inner attitudes and in our exterior actions. Love is sometimes joy; it is often very difficult work, challenging us to keep growing, to keep confronting our fears and our limitations. Divine love invites us to daily keep the discipline to which Jesus calls us, to “abide in my love” (John 15:10).

We offer a great challenge to one another when we bless each other this Christmas season with the words:

“The Peace of Christ be with you!”

* Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I am waiting.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Developing Worship Centers

Nancy Dibelius describes how to establish a focal point for worship that is rich in symbolism in A Quiet Pentecost. She explains how to develop a particular theme and then bring it to life in a symbolic way. This process can be used for specific events or retreats, as well as for developing the worship theme. The process works in a conference room or a sanctuary:

The first step in designing worship is to explore and understand a theme; find a way to incorporate the theme into your own rhythm of life and prayer. Before you can invite others into a space where the experience becomes real, it must first be real for you and your journey. If you are developing a retreat or special event, have a clear theme. If you are developing a worship center for corporate worship, work with the pastor and worship team to understand the theme for worship. If there are key ideas for the sermon or prayers or hymns already developed, work with these, as well. As you think on these themes or the scriptures for worship, choose one or two focal ideas that uniquely embody the theme for you and let these become part of your daily rhythm of prayer and reflection. Once you have lived with the theme for a while, lift up your experiences in prayer.
Once you have chosen a scripture, read through it several times; in your imagination, what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell, what is there to touch? Make a list of these things and then go back to the scripture, hymns, and prayers, looking for additional sights and sounds and add them to your list. Has some clear visual emerged? Consider the space in which you will be worshiping. How do you transform that space so that it is inviting and becomes holy space for others? After you have a sense for the way in which you wish to transform the room, think about how to accomplish it. See the image in your mind. Consider everyday materials that could be used to turn the vision into reality. Start your own collection of what I refer to as “holy hardware”—fabric, candles, candle-holders, crosses, pitchers, bowls, stones, worship-related objects, etc. If you are doing this for the first time, try it out. Find a place similar in size to the space you will be using and actually lay out the room as you have imagined it. Walk around in it and rehearse what will happen there. When you are satisfied, draw a sketch or take a photograph, make a list of the materials you have used, and be sure you can reproduce it easily.

            Now that you have a visual for the room, consider details. If you are using an altar, how will you design a worship center for the altar? How will you coordinate the altar with the larger visual for the room? Consider colors, texture, objects that will represent key symbols, sounds, smells, and things to touch. Don’t overdo; sometimes less is more. If you end up with too many symbols, congregants will not focus on the key symbol; they will be distracted. Be sure that you understand why you are using a specific symbol.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Start a Quiet Pentecost in your Congregation in 2015

The ministry of spiritual formation is becoming the leaven in the Bread of Jesus Christ—gradually forming and shaping the culture and ethos of our congregation. We are raising up spiritual leaders and empowering them in their calling. The ministry provides the container for a committed core group to delve deeper into spiritual practice. We are enabling members to reach out into the world and become agents of God’s redemptive, saving grace. (p. 105, A Quiet Pentecost)

These powerful words come from Cherri Johnson at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They reflect the depth of commitment, community, and spiritual awakening that occurs when people live the Christ-like life of prayer and surrender. As individuals steep themselves in spiritual disciplines, particularly daily prayer, they receive assurance of the Spirit’s invitation to the devoted life of love. Cherri Johnson shares how she developed a focused ministry in spiritual formation over a period of 10 years and the way individuals who have been taught the ways of prayer and small group spiritual formation have created a climate of profound love and service within this congregation.
Cindy Serio describes what can happen when we pray regularly.

One morning as I was meditating on Luke 4:18, these words shimmered off the page straight into my heart: “proclaim release to the captives.” Suddenly I knew God was sending me to the women at a local prison. After a long conversation with the chaplain, he asked me why I was there and I was honest: “I don’t know. I only know that God wants me to be here. He smiled a knowing smile and said, “Follow me.” (p. 60)

Cindy Serio’s story of the impact of her listening ministry with incarcerated women shows how one loving person can make a difference in the lives of many individuals.
As individuals within congregations learn to pray together, congregations can be enlivened by a new sense of mission and purpose. Brenda Buckwell tells the powerful story of a fragile urban congregation that found new life as their leadership team learned to pray the scripture together over several months.
I was astonished. The leadership team of the small urban congregation had just signed their death certificate. In response to the question “What is your greatest desire in ministry?” a tenterhearted gentleman in his early seventies, with head held high, stated, “To keep the doors of the church open until the oldest generation dies.” The team was not surprised by the man’s response. . . . In my astonishment, I paused a moment and then leveled the playing field of mission and ministry for this congregation. With a deep breath and the infilling of the Spirit, I replied: “You can certainly do that if you would like. I can speak to the bishop about sending someone here to your declining ministry to do just that, close the congregation. I am just not that pastor. If you would like to venture forth with me, we can discover God’s desire and mission for this congregation together.” Now it was the team’s turn to be surprised. That very night the leadership team had their first experience of lectio divina, and the journey to amazing new life began at First United Methodist Church in Zanesville, Ohio. (pp. 49-50)

After six months prayerfully discerning mission together, the team unanimously decided to open The LifeWell Free Store in unused areas of their downtown church building. An ecumenical board was created. The community embraced this store where “no money changed hands” and the congregation now thrives.
            As we begin the New Year, invite the Holy Spirit into your heart and into your congregation anew. The book, A Quiet Pentecost: Inviting the Spirit into Congregational Life, relates the experience of more than 40 people who are teaching spiritual practices to individuals and to their church councils and other decision-making bodies. The model for our awakening is taken from John 20 in which Jesus comes among the discouraged disciples after his crucifixion, astonishes them with His presence proclaiming: “Peace be with you.” As He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, He commissions them for their ministry in the name of the Resurrected One.

            Jesus invites us in the same way today. A Quiet Pentecost is designed to encourage you as well as guide you in deepening your spiritual formation ministry. Video resources are now available to use along with the book’s study guide on this blog. Look around the new tabs at the top of the page. Use these with your planning group along with the study guide.

Let 2015 be the year to receive new life in the Holy Spirit, as we learn to listen for Jesus’ guidance.
Post and photo from: Upper Room Book Blog: Click on the link for easy access to ordering A Quiet Pentecost from Upper Room Books.