Monday, December 3, 2018

Sunday Recap

It was ironic, given the week prior, to preach on Sunday a sermon on hope.

When I accepted the call to Judson Memorial Baptist Church in the summer of 2012 I had all kinds of ideas, dreams, visions, and what not.  But more than anything I needed a place to heal.  Judson healed me, for sure.  Then I went on sabbatical this summer.  I came back for the next phase of ministry in my life.  Basically, I want to throw all my energy into helping this amazing place thrive and flourish.  

I came back from sabbatical with a deep sense of urgency to lead this congregation forward.  I see the need for the urgency, but I wasn't sure if the congregation saw or felt the same sense of urgency.  Here is my attempt to get them to see why we need to act with a sense of urgency.

And I need to say one other thing.  When I say, "Baby Boomers it is time for you to step aside" Indeed Judson needs the Baby Boomers to stick around, and provide leadership and talents and tithes.  Indeed.  But I need them to step aside in approach, we cannot operate with as a church customized to Boomers: meetings at 10:30 on a Monday morning (even though it was a great meeting today).  

Friday, November 23, 2018

Im Officially a Jackass, maybe, or at least i have the potential to be one; er, i may need your help...

Shortly after arriving in Minneapolis, six years ago, I began my on-going experiment of biking most of the time for my job as a pastor.  That first winter was a doozy, it was dubbed "The Polar Vortex."  I learned tons about winter biking (and survival).  I loved riding on the ice with studded tires, I loved riding in the silence, I loved riding in the winter.  But there were times when I wished I had wider tires for the deep snow, for the slushy stuff, for trail riding...

The following summer after watching a friend complete his triathlon over at Lake Nokomis the kiddos and I were strolling home when all of sudden I heard this loud rumble.  The noise got closer and closer until I realized it was a bicycle.  Not just any bicycle but a fat tire bicycle.  Some idjit had winter/aggressive trail tires on oversized tires and was pedaling them on a paved bike trail.

Okay back to the dude on the fat tire bike.  I had not seen a fat tire bike up close until that fateful summer day.  I was amazed at the setup but the dude on the bike was drunk, was cursing at folk who were walking on the bike path (due to the tri the paths were confusing), and was just being a flat out jack ass.  Ever since then in my mind I have equated: Fat Tire Bike = Jackass.

Over the past few years I have come close plenty of times to purchasing a fat tire bike.  Last winter I even tested many models during the winter expo down on the Midtown Greenway.  i even did something on a fat tire bike I had not done since I was in college: wrecked and rolled down the hill.  But each time I nearly buy one of these bikes I think back to that jackass cursing and swerving around Lake Nokomis.  And I just couldn't purchase the bike.

But then this week I did it.  i purchased a fat tire bike.  i hope im not on track to being a jackass, but one never knows.  That summer i saw that jackass cursing and swerving around Lake Nokomis I confess that before I saw him up close I was taken back to 1995 when I wrote in my journal about my dream vehicle: a CJ-7 Jeep with a 305ci engine, dual exhaust, hard top, and the gnarliest tires I could find.  Lucky for me I was dirt poor and could not afford this vehicle.  But if i had had the funds then I would have been just like the Lake Nokomis dude (sans drunk and cursing) riding down a paved road (MacCorkle Ave in my hometown) and making a ruckus of noise.

Friends, make sure when you see me pedaling around town this winter to say to me: "Travis, dont be a jackass."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hey What Happened at Judson on Sunday?

What happened at Judson last Sunday, glad you asked.

It was another great Sunday.  We had a special guest: violinist Karen Thomas!  She accompanied Jim on the piano with Morning Has Broken and Simple Gifts

Call to worship was loosely based on Chance the Rapper's song Blessings.

Question of the Day: When was the last time you were lost?

We sang This Little Light of Mine and Hush, Hush Somebody's Calling My Name and The Summons (which is my favorite hymn, plus with the violinist I was taken to the third heaven and someone even almost came forward they were so moved by it and I think we even did a better job than First-Plymouth! but they do an amazing job...
The choir offered Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul and Take My Life

Rev. Karla McGray gave an amazing Personal Reflection.

101PNV01/M2U00069 from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.



The Lessons were a selection from Upstream by Mary Oliver and Luke 9:1-6.

I offered a pretty good sermon, IMHO, Finding Our Way

101PNV01/M2U00070 from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.


But my favorite part of the service was the bulletin cover.  A few months ago someone found a treasure trove of old Judson photos.  This being the 109th anniversary week of Judson we chose to share some of them on the front cover.  This one, The Deaconnesses of 1930 is my favorite.



After Adult Education (Legacy Giving) a few of us went on a mini-pilgrimage to the corner of 38th St. and Harriet Ave. (the original site of Judson Chapel).  Then we headed east to Funky Grits.  What an amazing restaurant.  Then we stopped by the Arthur and Edith Lee House and learned of its history and then toured some Tilsenbilt Homes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Sunday Wrap Up

What I don't have to share with you: a link to a sermon, a link to great poetry, a link to personal reflections, a link to anything actually.

What do I have?

This was the first Sunday since 49 of us went to Memphis.  We wanted to share what we experienced in Memphis, but not all at once.  

So here is what happened.  

One of the norms we wanted to change at Judson was starting on time.  Folk meander in when they meander in. Which means the first part of the service is always lacking energy.  So we asked everyone to be on time, and they were!  

We started with the ringing of a singing bowl/bell.  Everyone got quiet, found their seats, then we jumped in with a medley of Spirituals (Woke Up This Morning With My Mind On Jesus, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and There Is a Balm in Gilead).  It was amazing, I couldn't believe how it altered the way we started the service.  

A little later we asked the question: Where this week did you (or did not) experience the presence of God?   For 90 seconds one person spoke and the other listened, then we switched.  Amazing again.

Then we formed a Baptist shape (ovalish-squarish-circle) and sand Lean on Me.  

No foolin' that really happened last Sunday.  



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Monday, Monday, So Good to Me: October 8, 2018

Here is a new weekly feature: a wrap-up of Sunday in case you weren't here, or in case you were here but missed something, or in case you wanted to be here but you had to attend another church instead, or in case you just want to be nosy - all are valid motivations.

It was Marathon Weekend so everyone, knowing that traffic would be horrid, did the unimaginable act: they arrived by 9:40am.  I was dumbfounded and flummoxed.  Then to make matters even more amazing when we read the Mary Oliver poem, When I Am Among the Trees responsively they read it altogether.  By that I mean no one was ahead or behind a word.  It was beautiful and amazing.

Question of the Day: Favorite meal you ever had?  At first there was just a murmuring of conversation but then it got very loud and animated.  Someone from the back of the church said I would never get the crowd back...but I did.

Song of the Day: Blowin' in the Wind duet by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  Why this song?  I had contacted Joan Baez' publicist to see if Ms. Baez would join us for worship on Sunday (she was in concert in St. Paul on Saturday night and had a long break in her concert following).  Now why would I think Joan Baez would want to worship with us at Judson?  Well her father used to worship here with us.  And a member of the choir even shared on Sunday, "Not only did he worship here but he also led us on a tree-hugging retreat!"  Good enough for me.  Plus I needed a song that expressed desire and how the work of one person could make an impact in this world.

Scripture Lesson: John 4:1-42, but I think I stopped somewhere around verse 30.  Why did I stop there?  I'm not for sure, just felt right at the time.

Meditation (communion Sundays I dial back the length of sermons to a meditation)
What Are You Hungry For?
Judson Sermon 100718 "What Are You Hungry For?" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.


Then we were off to Second Hour

The wonderful Dr. Kirsten Delegard, a local scholar affiliated with the University of Minnesota and the Project Director for Mapping Prejudice shared with us about her work.  It was an amazing time and we could have listened to her presentation and asked questions for another full hour.


Why did we invite Dr. Delegard to present and engage with the congregation?

To help us prepare ourselves for our upcoming pilgrimage.  Over 50 (including nine youth) Judson Church folk are going to Memphis for a racial justice pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage is centered around three main sites: The National Civil Rights Museum, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, and the Stax Records Museum plus bible studies, reflections, and interactions with leaders and activists in Memphis.  I'll share more about this next week and when we return.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Learning to Pray: Sermon August 26, 2018

Learning to Pray
text: "teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1)
26.September.2018
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
Luke 11:1-13
Rev. G. Travis Norvell

One thing you may or may not know about me is that I lose things all the time, particularly my keys and my wallet.  One time I thought for sure I had lost my wallet, I searched everywhere and even brought the master finder of my lost things, Lori, in on the scheme.  No avail.  When I had given up hope…for some odd reason I looked behind the buffet and sure enough there was my wallet, suspended about three feet in the air wedged between the back of the buffet and the wall.  If not for a chancing glance over in that direction I would have called given up, called the credit card company and took a number down at the DMV.  

Im sure you lose things too: cats, tools, ear buds, homework, spoons, bills, phones, & etc.  But I am sure we all lose other things as well, intangible things: the capacity to love, the energy to forgive, or in my case the experience of prayer.  

It may sound odd to hear that a pastor lost their experience of prayer, but it is true.  It is not that I couldn’t pray.  I did.  I could pray for other people and causes and needs on a dime.  But I couldn’t rekindle the experience of prayer I once had in my life.  By experience of prayer I mean the ability to be in the presence of God without an agenda or to-do list, just being.  

And the more peculiar thing to me was that I didn’t even realize I had rekindled this passion or experience until weeks after I had found it.  I offer my story as a entry or reentry for you to also journey together toward the experience of the Living God.

Let us pray: Living God, be with us as we listen, inwardly digest, respond and react.  Let us trust wherever you lead we will be open to the way.  Leave us not hungry, but instead let us feast at your table.  Amen.  

After dropping off our bags and swords (more on them in a couple of weeks) at our hotel in Newcastle we caught the next “hop on, hop off” tour bus to take us to the Museum of the North.  The bus took a break across from St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in downtown.  We knew the cathedral had a cafe, and we were hungry.  We entered the cafe, it was like any other Northumberland cafe: linoleum topped tables, aroma of freeze dried coffee, people with lap tops doing work, and people enjoying the presence of one another.  

I asked the woman behind the counter for five scones: three plain and two fruit and five teas to go.  She handed me five cups of tea and a bag full of scones, jam, and enough butter to satisfy 20 Americans or 3 English customers.  I said thanks, and we headed back to the bus.  But as we were leaving the woman called back saying, “but you’ll need a knife to spread the butter and jam.  Here.”  She placed in our bag a metal butter knife.

It may sound like a small act but it changed my inner geography somehow.  We exited the cafe and went inside the cathedral to look around.  We walked through the glass doors into the sanctuary and were transported in the words of the St. Paul into the third heaven. The organist was playing the Main Theme to the movie The Mission, the air was light and warm, the colors were expressive of the congregation’s devotion.  I wrote a prayer request down in the book, lit a candle, then kneeled at the kneeler.  In my silence I realized what I had been looking for, what I thought was lost, was present again, at that moment the organist was playing the Gabriel’s Oboe from the Main Theme and my response was to weep in gratitude.  

I would dare say all of us here have at one time or another had a transcendent experience where we felt at one with God, with another person, with the universe; felt that we stood on holy ground, cried tears of gratitude, laughed uncontrollably, felt truly loved and free and whole.  The moment may have only lasted for an instant, but it was enough to convince you that the inner life was something worth pursuing.  

I am sure the disciples were people just like you and me, folk who too had had some kind of inner experience of the holy that they wanted desperately to find again.  When one day Jesus came along they thought maybe he could show them the way.  They knew he was in touch with the perennial wisdom, ancient traditions.  He possessed a life giving spirit.  He warmed your heart just to be near him.  That kind of presence doesn’t come naturally but through years of practice and cultivation.  The disciples left everything to follow this Jesus.  Im sure they thought he would teach them his ways of of the spirit, but he didnt.  He just spent hours alone, and he didn’t like it when others disturbed his times of solitude.  Finally, the disciples had had enough.  Holy One, teach us to pray.  

The disciple knew the work Jesus was engaged in and the work they were called to so was draining, exhausting, and never acknowledged.  They were always giving of their time, their energies, their bodies to the movement and it was taking its toll on them.  

Holy One, teach us to pray.  

You may have in your mind a portrait of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as an activist, a truth-teller, a rabble rouser for peace, a prophet.  And all of those portraits are correct.  But there is another dimension to him.  HIs press secretary John Allen described Tutu this way, “His power of communication is, of course, rooted in spirituality.  His spirituality is natural and normal and is the central part of his life.  In one way or another, the first four hours of the day  were spent in silence, probably two hours in the middle of the day and an hour at the end of the day at least, so you’re talking about six or seven hours of the day in silence…even when we were traveling he kept the silent times.  If you were arguing with people who were scheduling him, you would say, “Who do you want?  Who did you invite?  Did you invite the ebullient, warm, communicative Tutu who woos the crowds?  If that’s who you invited and if you want that then you have to recognize that the warmth and the ebullience and the reaching out to the crowds, that loving to be loved and the enjoying of the crowd and the reading of the crowd and the sharing of the emotion and the sense of inclusive humanity, that’s one side of a coin.  The other side of the coin is hours and hours a day in silence.  And if you schedule him to run around morning, noon, and night, you are not going to get the Tutu you want.  He cant be the ebullient without the hours of silence."  

Holy One, teach us to pray.

But we are not called to be an Archbishop Tutu , although I do think there are prophets among us, I think I’ve already baptized a few in my six years here!  Where do you and I start?  Or how do we start cultivating the inner workings of our soul?  

One spiritual writer suggests this as a starting or restarting place…
"If we find ourselves drifting away from spiritual engagement, even if we are already feeling alienated from the spiritual world, the direction can be reversed if we try to come back to the practice of personal prayer.  To step back from our many important activities on a regular basis to make room for God.  It can be as simple as you like.  Words that mean something to us are important, but the meaning of prayer transcends the words we use.  What counts is that we are reactivating a relationship that is life-giving.  After that anything can happen."

Holy One, teach us to pray. 

Before we left Newcastle for Durham we had one last stop, we wanted to return the butter knife to the cafe.  We walked through the rain in downtown and reached the Cathedral only to find the cafe closed for a week of cleaning and holiday.  We were saddened because we could not return the knife and express our thanksgiving and we were saddened because we could not try their hot chocolate, because they made it with shaved fair traded dark chocolate.  But we did take advantage of their public restrooms and dry space to prepare for the train trip.  As we were repacking and shuffling swords (again, more on them in a couple of weeks) and going to the restroom an elderly gentleman came up to us and started to talk.  His presence was a bother, wrong time more than anything.  But there was something about him that told me to engage him and pay attention.  

As we got on the train and headed north I couldn’t get this gentleman out of my mind.  He was lonely and just wanted someone to talk to and listen to him.  But I don’t think he was just an elderly gentleman.  I honestly believe he was an angel, a messenger of God - testing me!  Would the in-breaking of prayer result in a more compassionate heart?  Would I make the effort to stop and listen.  Because what he had to say was critical to our pilgrimage.  

The angel wanted to tell us something but he couldn’t quite communicate it.  So he walked us to the cathedral doors and pointed to the northern saints: Saints Aidan and Bede and Cuthbert and Hild and Oswald and Wilfrid.  In the sanctuary of St. Marys about eye level wrapping around the entire sanctuary are tiles printed with the names of these saints and hundreds of others and after each saint are the words, “pray for us”.  

There are many times, most of the time actually when our faith in God dwindles and atrophies but God’s faith in us never tires.  God is always reaching, seeking, and desiring to listen to us, to speak to us, to open us up to love supreme.  And if you cannot believe God hasn’t given up on you, then at least take comfort in the Saints praying for you.  And if you cant do that, then at least take comfort in the saints among you praying for you, take comfort that a small but lively, quirky but sincere, undisciplined but meaningful community on the corner of 41st and Harriet (reader, this is the address of Judson Church) has your back.  

In closing, We brought the knife home to Minneapolis.  I have it in my bag of relics I’ll share with you on September 16th during Second Hour.  We thought of sending it back but instead we would like to send back a “Judson” knife, you do know we have our own custom stamped silverware: “Judson” spoons, knives and forks.  Sharing with them a Judson knife as a way of symbolically keeping the link between their hospitality and our gratitude in our quest for a rich, vibrant and robust inner life. 


Holy One, teach us to pray.  Amen.  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Embryonic Thoughts on the Pilgrimage/Sabbatical

For Clarity: I was on sabbatical from Judson Baptist Memorial Church from mid-May till mid-August; my family and I spent a large portion of the sabbatical walking and biking and public transiting in Scotland and England. This past Sunday (August 19th) Judson welcomed me and my family back; it was a marvelous re-entry with a wonderful and playful litany (which made me laugh and cry), I shared Chocolate Buttons with the kids during Time with Children, lots of hugs and and smiles and get this: they even sang Welcome Back to us!

Im still processing the past few months, but here are the four gifts/graces I brought back with me.

1.  I Learned to Pray Again.

I know it sounds bizarre for a pastor admitting they needed to learn to pray again, but it's the truth.  The springboard for this grace was The Examen, a Jesuit practice where one (or, in our case, a family) asks at the end of the day to reflect on their highs and lows (moments of consolation and desolation).  The examen was not my idea, but all roads kept pointing to it.
  -a woman from the congregation gave my family a copy of Sleeping with Bread
  -my spiritual director who is a Benedictine monk said, "I think you ought to consider the examen."
  -our family spiritual director (more on this later) a Methodist turned Buddhist said, "I think you all would benefit by incorporating the examen during your pilgrimage."
  -then four books by authors from all over the religious spectrum all extolled the virtues of the examen.

OK Divine One.  I get it.  Take up the examen.

I did, we did. It was an beautiful gift for us on our trip and opened up thoughts and feelings that the trip was stirring within us.  And for me the examen reawakened my dormant prayer life.

2.  I Got to Know My Kids Again

Like most jobs, but especially pastoral ministry, the church gets the best of my time and hours, while my family gets the leftovers (I still think my leftovers are some pretty good leftovers, but you get the idea).  Being away for such a length of time allowed me to not think about sermons, to worry about everything under the sun, to anticipate pastoral calls/visits, or planning while reading (in fact the only reading I did was a book of poems, Still Pilgrim) and instead give my undivided attention to my kids and lovely bride.

As we walked 8-10 hours each day, experienced castles and cathedrals and cows and crows and terrible instant coffee I got to see my children as the amazing human beings they are.  Grace upon grace upon grace.

And get this, my kids still like me!

3.  Get My Act Together

We visited what seemed like a thousand churches in England and Scotland, they all had these elements in common:

     -A Gift Shop
     -Ancient Docents in charge who could die at any moment
     -Places to pray and light a candle
     -They were all messy and could have benefited from a trip to Ikea and purchased a few shelves or storage units.
     -They were all, mostly, empty and barely getting by.

There were some churches doing some amazing ministries, you know, last ditch efforts, not-counting-the-cost type of risky ventures.  But they were thirty years too late, the remnant membership needed to have done these types of ventures when they had energy and vitality.

I kept thinking: Is this the future of Judson?

Possibly.  Unless...unless I and Judson get our act together.

4.  The Vicar of Dibley Is Real!

We walked into and lived in tiny villages all over England and Scotland and sure enough the goings-on in the Vicar of Dibley are real.  The entire trip, in some way, felt like we were characters in one long episode.