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Doorways

I love doorways. They evoke a sense of mystery. Think of the intrigue of what is behind Door Number 3 in Let’s Make a Deal! It could be anything! What doorways did you walk through each day in your childhood? What door was particularly difficult for you to push open because you were anxious about what was on the other side? Even Jesus identified Himself as a sort of doorway: the true gate through which we would find love and protection and life.

Walking around Old City Salzburg there were countless grand entryways into unknown recesses. The most notable was the door that gives access to the building that boasts being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Though it cannot be the actual door it’s a holy site nonetheless.

It rained all evening so we saw Salzburg by umbrella. Even the continual drizzle could not hide the tremendous beauty to Mozart’s hometown. Along the windy brick roads that snake through colorful buildings, we stumbled upon statues, fountains, carved pillars, and paintings. The talent of this renowned composer was obviously encouraged by an aesthetic hunger to Salzburg.

The other lasting imprint in this ancient city are the churches. We entered three of them this evening, each uniquely beautiful, each offering peace.

Maria is impressed with the artistic sacrifice that went into these places of worship. In Mozart’s time the Church was the center to folks’ lives so their viewpoint was, of necessity, theological. In reverence to Christ, some artisans carved powerful crucifixes. Others painted images of holy figures. Stained glass artists left their imprint by casting a colorful light on the devotees for generations to come. Musicians composed music that stirred the souls of countless disciples over the ages, guiding beyond the individual notes to God.

In this city, amidst a cultural splendor, surrounded by awe-inspiring churches, through this doorway, everyday, the blessed genius of Mozart was shaped.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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MUNICH

Today is a bonus day. Originally I thought we would arrive in Munich in the evening, crash for the night then head to Salzburg in the morning, never having experienced this German town. But our flight schedule landed us in this city of 1.5million residents at 8:30 AM local time. A whole day stretched before us! Of course, the clock moved forward six hours while we crossed the Atlantic. So our bodies disembarked thinking it was 2:30AM and time for bed. A fine German chauffeur named Pieter drove us to the Eden Hotel Wolff  where, strangely, the people who stayed in our reserved room the night before hadn’t yet left their beds! With several hours to kill before we could check in to nap, we deposited our bags and started walking.

We found our way to an amazing town square with buildings that dated back hundreds of years. A window table at the Glockenspiel Cafe gave us a perfect view of the clock tower that came to life while we ate our breakfast. The square below our 5th floor window was busy with all nationalities of folks enjoying a beautiful summer morning.

Refreshed from our meal and a couple of strong cups of coffee, we headed toward the yellow cathedral at the end of the concourse. Garrett and I have always gravitated toward churches in new cities. Even a “strange” sanctuary still feels, well, safe. I’ve always felt at home in a church, knowing that I am with family. I knew one guy who wasn’t raised in the faith. When his wife would head into historic parishes with stunning architecture while on vacation, he would exit pretty quickly, feeling “creeped out” by their unfamiliar aura. How sad, I thought.

So when my daughter exclaimed audibly at the beauty of the Theatine Church, I was grateful. She feels the holinesss too! She was struck that the enormous paintings depicting Biblical figures were originals–no prints in this 17th century holy place. The pulpit is carved wood suspended off the wall, a much more daunting place from which to deliver a sermon than I can imagine! Does it have to be a fire and brimstone sermon if you’re perched 15 feet above your parishioners? There were little chapels along the side corridors of main sanctuary, each with its own confessional booth. When is the last time you  confessed your sin outloud before someone in a prayerful manner? We Protestants have never beeen good at that. We contemporary North Americans are much more interested in blaming others for our issues than accepting responsibility. But I contend that the act of spoken contrition in the privacy of a confessional would do us a world of good!

There were opportunities throughout the building to light votive candles to honor the dead. My  mind went quickly to a former colleague and dear friend who had died in his sleep just nine days before. With the rush of the trip preparation I had hardly had time to grieve his loss. So I lit a candle for Robert and prayed at one of the handsome wooden railings that had supported the knees of countless pilgrims over the ages. Not far from the votive stand was a rack of small hymnals. One of the things we uniquely do in our worship as Christians is to sing. We sing of our joys, fears, questions and epiphanies. Just seeing these songbooks reassured me that worship still happens in this beautiful building. It isn’t just a museum as many of the stunning European churches have become. Robert was a church musician raised in a large family of musicians. The pastor with whom he led worship knew something was very wrong when he didn’t show up to play for the service. When loved ones checked on him, he was found in bed, peacefully departed from this world on the Sabbath morning. As I remembered him in my prayers at an ancient kneeler, I rejoiced to know that, though his earthly music had ceased, a heavenly chorus had welcomed him home.

So what a great bonus day this has been! We have successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, no small miracle really! We have grieved the departed and celebrated our living. We bathed our pilgrimage in prayer and are ready for Salzburg tomorrow!

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Let’s go already!

There comes a point when the trip you’ve been planning for so long needs to begin. I am there! I’ve been actively planning this trip for a year and a half. But I first started dreaming about putting together a grant proposal to trace my roots in Europe years ago. So it’s time! I’ve been packing, repacking, fretting, organizing my documents, losing sleep and praying that all will go well. There’s nothing more I can do. It’s time to get this show on the road!

I look at the story of Abram and Sarai and I am a little bit jealous. God tells them to pack their bags and leave their home country for an unknown destination to be determined by a Stranger/Deity who made nebulous, grandiose promises. And all the Scripture says in Genesis 12:4 is, “So Abram left as the Lord had told him.” He and Sarai didn’t have to paint some rooms in their house to maximize the sale price. There were no trips to the bank to transfer funds to a travel account. We don’t read of them sitting on a suitcase to snap it shut with all their worldly possessions therein. There’s no estate sale, no cooler filled with sandwiches or endearing words of farewell to their community. From the scriptural account it sounds like they heard God’s invitation to leave, turned toward each other with a shrug and loaded up the camels. Perhaps we overthink our travels?

But this is a big trip! This trip is worthy of some angst. I will be traveling to six countries in 30 days. There are lots of connections to various cities. There are vouchers for museums, bus rides, and church tours. There’s an itinerary I’ve assembled that lists 18 different hotels. So losing some sleep in the middle the night is not too surprising.

What gives me peace is knowing that this trip is of God! A fantastic grant – writing committee at the church worked with me to put together a dream of an experience for both the church and for me.What I have witnessed since then is that God has greatly enhanced even our most out of bounds ideas. There are parts to the trip that have been added that I never would’ve thought to ask for. I will be preaching at a church in England that is located a matter of miles from the Air Force Base where I lived as a small child. Imagine my excitement as I’ve pondered what message to bring to my brothers and sisters in Christ in England, the land of my roots! I get to share the first half of the trip with my husband and youngest child, the second half of the trip with three of my sisters. We will worship in a church that Garrett’s great grandfather pastored and where his grandfather grew up in the parsonage.

The last three days of the trip I will spend in a reflective retreat on my own on the isle of Iona. There is a worshiping Christian community that has been there for decades. This has been on my bucket list for over a decade. God is the guide and the inspiration behind this trip. What have I to fear?!

So bring it on! Double check for passports and the credit card. Get my phone and charger and, if needed, the rest of the stuff can be purchased along the way. I am thankful to have had this time to plan. I’ve been able to share the story of this trip with many people who have seen God’s guiding hand in this roots journey. I know that they are praying for safe passage and meaningful experiences for us. Just 48 more hours and we will be in the air leaving Detroit for Munich. I welcome your prayers. I invite your companionship for this trip of my life time!

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Sabbatical

My congregation has generously offered me a sabbatical for this summer. The typical United Church of Christ contract suggests one three-month paid leave for every five years of full time ministry worked. I have benefited from several such breaks from ministry in my 33 years of pastoral leadership and each has had a somewhat different flavor to it.
Here are a couple of definitions that give shape to my summer:
*a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked.
synonyms: break · rest · day off · recess · time off · time out · leave · leave of absence · furlough · sabbatical · trip · tour · journey · expedition · voyage · vacation · staycation · vacay · sojourn

or
*Sabbatical is a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from one month to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described in several places in the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 25, there is a commandment to desist from working the fields during the seventh year. Strictly speaking, this means a sabbatical would last one year. (from Wikipedia)
So my first resolve is to let my overgrown vegetable garden remain overgrown so that the soil can be even further replenished during the time of my respite! No weeding for me!
Sabbatical and sabbath have the same root which comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning rest or cessation. I am now two weeks into my three-month sabbatical and I have ceased with my usual work load and obediently rested by sleeping in past 8. It’s been great!

tree roots
But there is a different kind of work associated with this ministry recess. A committee of talented individuals in our congregation applied for a Lilly Foundation National Clergy Renewal Grant (http://www.cpx.cts.edu/renewal/apply/national-program ) with a theme of Nourishing Roots. We learned last August that our application was accepted so we began to put into place the many plans we had made. The shaping question for all grant applicants is “What would make your heart sing?” Our answer: tracing our roots!
There are roots of DNA and of Spirit. I have been given the fantastic opportunity to travel around Europe with family members to hunt down churches, graveyards, residential streets and city landmarks to experience the life of our ancestors. In one month’s time I will go to six different countries, traveling with my husband and daughter for the first half of the trip and three of my sisters for the second half. Later in the summer I will be hosting trips for family members to join me in my father’s home territory of Haverhill, Mass. and my mother’s home turf of Chicago, IL. I will spend a week on the lakefront near Saugatuck, MI on a parcel of land that has been in the family for more than 120 years. I am reading up on some of the ancestors in the faith, most recently Jonathan Edwards. I look forward to incorporating stops along our journeys at places marked by courageous voices of the Christian faith.
Meanwhile the congregation is hearing from different preachers who will speak to our roots as Christians, Protestants, Congregationalists, United Church of Christ members and part of the church family that has met at the corner of Fremont and Bridge Streets in Rockford, Michigan for more than 170 years. Church members have been invited to participate in personal genographic mapping to better understand their own roots. We have a carload of folks heading to Washington, D.C. to do some advocacy work, which powerfully reflects the social justice emphasis of our denomination. We will use grant money to buy trees that will be planted in a new park in our town (literal roots being planted!). On separate but parallel journeys we will explore our nourishing roots this summer!

So the flavor of this sabbatical is rich, even extravagant! The Psalmist understood this: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the person who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8
God has been so gracious to us in the creative imagining of the grant-writing process. Now living into our proposal, I am so grateful for how amazing this experience will be for me, for my family and my congregation. God is faithful and, when we stretch in new directions, we are surprised by how God shows up. I can’t wait to share with you how God blesses me as I leave the safety of home and routine and become nomadic for a sabbatical summer!

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Hello!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Laurie TenHave-Chapman. I am an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination. I have served three parishes in 33 years of ministry. Presently I pastor the First Congregational Church of Rockford, United Church of Christ in Rockford, Michigan. I am blessed to be part of this church family that expects the Spirit to show up in our worship and outreach! We call the rare fifth Sunday of the month Change It Up Sunday. During the announcements at the beginning of the service I urge folks who are sitting in their usual places ( you know, the unofficial but religiously observed seating chart!) to move to another area of the sanctuary. This is a bigger deal than you might think! It reminds us that no one owns any one corner of our worship space. We remember that we serve a God who calls us to never get too settled in any one place and to be ready to make hospitable space for the stranger among us. (Check out Father Abraham in Genesis 12:1ff.)

church from Fremont

In addition to my rich community life at the church, I am blessed to be married to Garrett TenHave-Chapman, whom I met and married at the Chicago Theological Seminary. His ministry path diverted into the legal profession soon after seminary. He now serves folks who are deserving of disability benefits through the law firm he established, Solomon Law Firm, PLLC. We have four grown children who have made the joys in our life deeper and who have taught us humility and grace. We have happily called Michigan home since 1988.

True Confessions: I love Jesus. I love the Church. I love vibrant worship. I begin each worship service with this prayer: Holy Spirit, come!

church doors

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The Spiritual Angle to Our Day

+Each day dawns with a level of predictability and mystery. We have control over certain aspects to our schedule. But we’ve learned to expect curve balls that we may welcome or reject. How we respond to the day’s events is always our choice. As Christians, we look through the lens of faith. Am I willing to look for Christ’s presence at each juncture? Am I sharing with others how I’ve experienced His saving grace for yet another day?

In a homiletics course in seminary (a big word for preaching), we were taught that life teaches us. We preachers learn to always watch for stories that convey the heavenly to those of us bound by the earthly. These were called “life texts.” From seemingly mundane, ordinary details, we discern a meaning that offers abundant life. In sharing these stories, we preachers breathe life into the hearers. We pull back the veil on the visible to showcase how God is already at work. I have scraps of paper, dozens of partially used notebooks and now a burgeoning “notes” app on my phone to collect details of events that might serve as “life texts” for a weekly sermon. The story lands in different ways in different lives, always because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Our stories don’t belong to us. When something exciting or terrifying or exasperating happens to me I share that with others. There’s a take-away from each experience that has the power not only to change me but to change those around me. But it’s more than just passing along the name of a good worker who has completed a job for you in an impressive manner. I dig beneath the surface to find how the laborer has met God and how they carry that into their job site. How does my experience with a Christian carpet cleaner who tells me about how he met God in the premature death of his son, inform my faith? How can our exchange nurture both of our lives and maybe even that of others, especially those who haven’t met up with God lately?

Our responsibility as Christian believers is to PREACH LIFE. It’s not just for the paid worship leaders to do this. All of us who are part of the Church have the great privilege of looking at the spiritual angle to each day and sharing that with others. Preaching our lives doesn’t mean we get preachy! The Latin root for the word means we before-declare, we publicly proclaim or teach a religious message. What do you earnestly advocate that stems from a core conviction that the God of Jesus Christ is at work in your life? With whom and how do you share it? Where have you seen your testimony to God’s grace make all the difference to someone else in ways you never could have imagined? How will you preach your life today?

Join  me as we share our experiences of preaching our lives in a way that shines a light on the great activity of Christ among us!

sky sunset person silhouette
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