Tag Archives: baptist

That Time That I Went to a Methodist Church on Ash Wednesday

Last night, I entered Zion Methodist Church in Grand Forks, ND, just in time to find a bathroom before the service started.  As a seasoned pastor’s wife, I knew exactly where to go to find an empty restroom – down the stairs and to the left is the typical floor plan.  I swiftly found the door, switched on the light, and closed the stall door in front of me.  I went through the motions that need not be described and started falling toward the toilet seat to take care of business and get back upstairs in time for the service.

Rewind a bit:  fall I did.

It turns out that I had found the nursery restroom, and the toilet seats are toddler height.  I know: those who have met me in person are thinking, “That’s perfect!”  However, let me just tell you all that, though the height may have been perfect, I was not prepared for it.

I had started my march toward that moment on Tuesday evening when I saw Facebook posts of our University of Mary students partying like it was 1987 for Mardi Gras – make your own masks and all. I have been awake odd hours this week, so I have had extra quiet and alone time this week to ruminate (isn’t that a great word) about how I planned to engage with Lent this year.

I grew up attending Mendenhall Presbyterian Church in East Grand Forks, MN.  After spending the first two and half years of my life being a world traveler, I spent the next 15 years in one spot.  When my mom and biological father (Air Force – hence, the world traveling) divorced, my mom had returned to the Red River Valley. As a single mom in the late 1970s, she was fortunate to find a church who welcomed her (and her organ-playing skills) with open arms.  When she married Rick in 1979, the church rejoiced with her.

I had no idea what liturgy was as a child.

In fact, it was not until I started to attend Grace Baptist Church that I realized some churches had a very similar liturgy (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians) while others had their own vein of liturgy.  Those with their own veins of liturgy often attempt to claim they are without liturgy; however, once I realized what liturgy was, it became clear that all churches have it whether they realize it or not.

Liturgy essentially means the rhythm with which we do church.  Some people would call it a service schedule, but it is more than that.

Each part of the service has a theological significance, and the liturgy of a church can reveal its theology.  Even the location of the podium in relation to the altar/communion table reveals part of the specific church’s liturgy.  For example, in the Baptist tradition, the Word of God and its interpretation (the sermon) are central to the service. The podium from which the pastor preaches the sermon would typically be in the center of the stage.  In contrast, for a Catholic tradition, the Eucharist (communion) is central which is why the podium remains off to the side with the altar in the center.

Some traditions have written liturgies – there are books that describe the rhythm of the church service during different parts of the year.  More liturgical Baptists like the church my children (Baylor students) attend in Texas hand you the liturgy of the day as a packet on your way into the service.  This is quite a switch from the announcement-laden bulletin that we have at our Baptist church in Bismarck. It has empty blanks for the sermon notes, but that is all of the hint you get about the order of service.

In the Baptist tradition that I have lived for the past 26 years, the liturgical calendar has two basic high points – Easter and Christmas.  While we may talk of Advent and Lent, they are not emphasized.  What a contrast to the Catholic lives with whom we interact at the University of Mary.  We live within sight of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck, and even the parking lot knows its liturgical calendar.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  As the day approached, I had felt a pull toward the liturgical side of this day.  Had I grown up in the churches I have attended in later years, I might not even know what Ash Wednesday was.

If I had been in Bismarck this week, I could have attended the large mass on campus.  I read somewhere that Ash Wednesday is the second most highly attended mass in the Catholic tradition.

UMary students leave their backpacks in the hallway during mass.

UMary students leave their backpacks in the hallway during mass.

I consulted my Facebook friends who live in Grand Forks as to time and information about their Ash Wednesday services but ultimately had to make a decision based on the nicest website.  I guess that is what people who work for online high schools do – choose your life based on what people say they are about.

As I walked to my car after the service, I started to rate it in my mind.  After a few critical moments, I had to remind myself that Ash Wednesday has little to do with the church I attend and much more to do with God whom I went to worship and His impact in my life.  The point was not for the church to create some moving experience through the service.  Instead, the stillness, the lack of glitz, and the near somber attitude of those leading was liturgy.

Lent is not about entertaining me.  Rather, lent is about preparing my mind and heart to remember that all of this world’s sinfulness was placed on the body of a man who was also God, who would suffer in mysterious ways for that sin, and who brings redemption to us because of His conquering resurrection.

As the pastor described that he had prepared the ashes for last evening by burning the palm branches used in last year’s Palm Sunday service, I was moved.  As another pastor read Psalm 51 aloud, I was moved.  As the small group who had gathered to worship together sang songs that directed our minds to the saving work that Christ did on the cross, I was moved.

Being moved did not come from anything that they did but rather what I did in obedience to worship, remember, and consider.

It turned out that my junior math teacher attended the same service with her husband.  We sat together, sang together, went up for our ashes together, and connected briefly afterwards.  As I drove away from the church service, I thought again at the unity we have with others who believe in the uniqueness of Christ.

Because of that unity, I could walk into almost any church in almost any town in almost any country around the world and worship.  The world will know God’s love through Christ when we come together and worship in love.


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A Sermon for All Seasons

As the wife of a Baptist pastor, I spend most of my Sunday mornings in one of the first three pews of Faith Baptist Church in North Minneapolis where I listen to the huz share from the Word.  This is a blessing and a curse.  I am blessed to know that he is an awesome pastor…and that is a statement I make objectively as one who has listened to many sermons.  It is a curse because I know a lot about sermons and theology – it sort of overflows into my life as his wife – and this makes me a sermon critic. I have very little patience for a bad sermon.

IMG-20120115-00114Yesterday morning, I was blessed to hear a sermon by Pastor Rick Nelson at the Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis because relatives were in town accompanying the Grand Cities Choir – a group of 7th-9th grade students who performed three songs as part of the service yesterday morning.  They were a seamless, but fabulous, addition to the very traditional, liturgical Lutheran service.  As a former Presbyterian turned Baptist with Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran relatives, I speak almost any church language and am pretty well-versed in most liturgies.

Yesterday was not about liturgies but about a word spoken into my life.

Who is Jesus and what does that mean for us?  Pastor Rick talked about meeting someone for coffee and discussing all of the possibilities of who Jesus was, who other religions say He was, and then who He ultimately is and was and what that means for us. Pastor Rick stated that almost everyone – even atheists – admire Jesus for some reason. He could be a moral example to many.  He could be seen as a liberator for others.  Pastor Rick shared that he himself grew up with an image of Jesus as friend (he even sang a line from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”).

He then stated that all of that is true and that it leads us all – whether a believer or not – to admire Jesus.  The difference is that Jesus was not just a man; He was God Himself in the flesh who came to earth to take on all that we as humans are and will be in our sin.  And this does not lead to admiration – this leads to worship.  We do not worship Jesus because He was a great moral example or a liberator.  We worship Him because He is God.

Jesus is God, so we worship Him.

And that – as the pastor huz has often says – preaches.

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Christmas and the Blues

Last week, I wrote a post that discussed an observation that I had of a worker at a nursing home and her aversion to Christmas.  A good friend and pastor in North Dakota – Danelle Olson – commented on the post, and I have asked him to collaborate with me on today’s post to provide a Christian perspective on Christmas and mental health.  Thanks, Danelle!

Danelle and I share are kindred spirits in that we each have a mental illness diagnosis, but we are impacted by it differently.  I shared about my diagnosis and a bit of its impact on my life in a post titled Bipolar Nature.”  Danelle – could you share a bit about your story?

I grew up in Bowman, ND and attended both elementary and high school there. From the time I stepped into the kindergarten classroom until the time I graduated from high school, I struggled immensely with anxiety.  I worried about everything from grades to social activities in an exaggerated manner, but was never formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) until much later in life. 

I have served the United Community Baptist Church in Anamoose, ND as a solo pastor for the last 10 years.  During this time, my GAD has, for lack of a better term, “morphed” into Major Depressive Disorder.  I have taken a variety of medication for the affliction, including such drugs as Lithium, Pristiq, Efexxor and Celexa. 

What are some of the struggles that you have with enjoying Christmas?

One of the major struggles for me during Christmas has to deal with expectations during the season.  There’s an unwritten rule in our society which says: “You should be happy and joyful during Christmas.”  Everybody puts up Christmas lights.  Everybody buys things on sale at Wal-Mart to use as presents.  Everybody walks around saying “Merry Christmas!”  Again, everybody is “supposed” to be happy, but with clinical depression, it just doesn’t work that way. 

On a similar note, it hit me this morning (December 21, 2011) that I can’t seem to feel the right way at the right time during Christmas.  For example, in just a few hours, my family and I will be driving to a town four hours away to celebrate Christmas with my parents.  Since I love both of my parents dearly and get along with them very well, I should be happy about making the trip, right?  However, because of a brain chemical imbalance (i.e. depression), I don’t feel as joyful as I should feel.  (NOTE:  I understand full well that nobody can control their emotions in the strict sense, but I am referring here to the inability to be happy about what would normally make me happy if not for depression.)  

You are a pastor, and Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ – central to your faith.  How does that interact with your struggles with depression?

Since the birth of Christ is indeed central to the Christian faith, one would think that a Christian believer/Pastor such as myself should feel joy during this time of year.  However, as stated previously, my not being able to feel the right way at the right time gets in the way of my experiencing joy. 

Having said this, I of course feel extreme GUILT at Christmas for NOT experiencing joy like other Christians do.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if people think that I’m simply being ungrateful regarding the birth of Christ and how he came to save us from our sins.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I KNOW the truth, but the joy that is “supposed” to accompany knowing that truth is often absent.  

Because of the nature of struggle, some Christmas seasons are worse than others.  Where are you this year?  Is there an explanation for that?

As previously stated, my family and I will be travelling to my mom and dad’s farm near Bowman, ND.  Usually, we have some relatives from Indiana who join us for Christmas, but t they will not be making the trip this year for family reasons.  So, this Christmas will be a little sadder for me.  (My belief is that people who struggle with clinical depression feel more deeply than others.  This means that I take disappointment harder than others do.) 

 What are some coping strategies that you use during the Christmas season in your personal life and in your family life to maintain a healthy outlook?

My greatest coping strategy has been to surround myself with loving and friendly people.  With that in mind, my church family has been absolutely wonderful to my family and me, and we enjoy their company very much.

A second coping strategy-and I hate to admit this-has been sleep.  Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by “the black cloud”- a term I have coined which I think describes depression- I’m almost compelled to rest for awhile.  Now of course, this strategy wouldn’t be possible in most work situations, but my church people  have been gracious to me, and although none of them have said it out loud, I think they understand after 10 years that their pastor is not going to be 100 percent all of the time.   Most of my people have no idea what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder, but nonetheless, they seem to understand that I’m not just “making it up”.  This awareness on their part is helpful for me as well. 

 You commented in a Facebook thread that “even depressed people must make an effort to focus on the birth of Christ. He continues to hold on to us, even when we are unable to hold on to him on account of our mental and emotional afflictions.”  How have you experienced this in your life?

I have already said that I have been the pastor of church for 10 years here in Anamoose.   During that time, I have had VERY few times when I could honestly say that I wasn’t troubled with depression and/or anxiety, but God has brought me this far.  This is what I meant when I said “He continues to hold on to us, even when we’re unable to hold on to Him.”  I was trying to make the point that somehow, and in some way, God has brought me through 10 years of ministry and, I hope, has used me in some small way to make a real difference for his Kingdom. 

I would also like to add that last June, I admitted myself to the psychiatric hospital at St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, ND to undergo a major medication change for a week.  While I wasn’t there a long time, it was one of those deals where I looked back at the experience and said: “God, I would never have made it through that experience without you.” 

 Any other thoughts that you would like to share with me?

I once posted on FaceBook that I would like to write a book that asks the question: “What does God do with genuine Christian believers with depression who experience very little, if any, real joy in their lives?”  Of course, the quick “answer” to that question is that happiness and joy are two different things.  The former is based on circumstances and feelings while the latter is based on a decision.  This sounds good on paper, but does it really reflect the kind of Christian life God wants us to live?  Can a person really live a true Christian life, be in a true relationship with God, and feel NO positive emotions whatsoever?  (Think about a wife who says of her husband: “Oh, I love him very, very much.  I just never have any positive, loving emotions towards him.”  In my mind, this just can’t be.) What’s more, if the part of my body (i.e. brain) which I use to decide to be happy is sick,  what am I to do? 

Although this post may bring up more questions that it does provide answers, our hope is that others who struggle – especially at Christmas – will feel a little less alone.  That feeling of isolation and a lack of understanding from those around us is probably the worst thing to experience.  I resonate quite well with some of the lyrics in “Falling” by the Civil Wars.

Tell me it’s nothing
Try to convince me
That I’m not drowning
Oh let me tell you, I am

Please, please tell me you know

Although the intent of their lyrics are for a far different purpose (a woman breaking up with her man), I feel them deeply in my soul when I hear them because I just want others to see me as I am and not try to convince me otherwise.

One of the ways that I manage my “issues” is by being very honest with my huz and kids about what kind of day it is in Stacy’s brain…if I am aware enough to know.  The other thing that has helped a whole lot is to give them the freedom to ask questions about what is going on.  Am I responding in that way because I am just having a “regular person” bad day, or is there something bigger that needs to be addressed and managed?

Danelle and I hope that readers find kinship or understanding in this post.  Please comment and share with us; we would love that!

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