Mother’s Day Liturgy

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A tradition starting in the early 1900s, Mother’s Day has long been viewed as a commercial Mother's Dayholiday (Hallmark began selling cards to mark the occasion in the 1920s) —  just another way for companies to sell more chocolates and flowers.

Commercialization aside, the “second Sunday in May” continues to play an important role in American culture and churches.  And it can really be a very meaningful day for families, friends, and communities to honor the special women in their lives.  Many churches choose to celebrate Mother’s Day in some form: from pinning corsages to prayers to standing ovations, there are a variety of ways that women can be honored.

A few years ago, Amy Young author of the blog, The Messy Middle, penned a post called “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day).  Because so much conversation was generated by her original post, Amy has written several follow-up essays on Mother’s Day in the church: 10 ideas for pastors on Mother’s Day and Beyond the surface of mothering.

In her posts, while in full support of recognizing Mother’s Day at church, Amy offers some tips for celebrating the occasion in an all-inclusive way and provides liturgy that can be used during a worship service.  For example, she encourages pastors to “acknowledge the wide continuum of mothering” and to recognize that for some women, the holiday can be a somber occasion, marking the loss of a child or mother, infertility issues, or difficult relationships.

Amy created a Mother’s Day Prayer, a few Sunday School lesson ideas, and a beautiful blessing (based on many Biblical women), all of which speak to the notion that “Mother’s Day can have complexities and nuances far beyond the binary approach to motherhood.”

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May these Mother’s Day resources bless you and the women in your life!

 

 

 -Katie Huffman

First image by Frank Mayne, via Wikimedia Commons; second image by Flickr user Liz West, via CC.

The Happiness Advantage

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Shawn Achor, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, spent more than a decade at Harvard University trying to figure out what makes people happy.  He outlines his findings in a TEDx talk (click on the image below).  His 12-minute talk, which is among the top 20 most viewed TED talks, is worth watching, as Achor is a captivating and funny presenter.  However, if you don’t have time to watch the whole piece, tune in at about the 10-minute mark and you’ll catch his practical tips for becoming a more positive person (or you can keep reading for a summary).

shawn achor_edschipul

In Western society, we think that working harder leads to more success and that, in turn, should result in greater happiness.  But Achor says that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world and that you can train your brain to become more positive.  He calls this the “happiness advantage,” and he has found that when you’re operating in this mode, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels all rise, not to mention your productivity and success!

Achor offers the following 5 tips for training your brain to be more positive, and he says that after 21 consecutive days of these practices, you’ll notice a difference:

  • 3 gratitudes (write down 3 things you’re grateful for that day)
  • Journaling (write about 1 positive experience from the last 24 hours)
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random acts of kindness (as simple as sending 1 email of appreciation/gratitude every day)

While Achor focuses on work success and productivity, it seems that this brain training could have a farther-reaching impact into other areas of life.  What do you think?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flickr user Ed Schipul, via CC

The Humanity of a Race

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On Sunday, April 13, 2014, Raleigh hosted its first Rock & Roll® Marathon and Half Marathon races.  Raleigh’s selection by the national Rock & Roll® franchise was touted as a defining moment for the city. But as one of the more than 10,000 runners competing, what struck me most on Sunday was that the race was a collection of thousands of defining moments that spanned the spectrum of the human experience.

image(1)At 6:00am on Sunday, I walked out of my brother’s house with my dad, brother, step-sister and a close childhood friend.  We headed to the starting line, each with our own story.  My brother was the only one of us competing in the full marathon. He’s a seasoned triathlete (an Ironman finisher in 2012 even), but this was going to be the first time he’d run “just a marathon.” My friend had a very specific goal – to set a new personal record and finish in less than two hours.  My father, a Boston marathoner at age 48, was running his longest race in the last 5 years. For my stepsister and me, this was to be half marathon #2. My father and I planned to run it side-by-side. He could easily out-pace me by 2 minutes per mile, but that’s not what mattered.  See, there was a time 15 years ago – when I was overweight and struggling with my own health – that he could run faster backward than I could forward.  But on this day, we’d be finishing those 13.1 miles together.  Those were our stories.  But what struck me both as we waited for the race to begin, and throughout, was how many other significant stories surrounded us.

While we warmed up and stretched, I spotted three sisters in matching tank tops labelled “older”, “middle” and “little,” who posed as their mother snapped pictures.  Others wore t-shirts emblazoned in scripture, prepared to share their faith while they ran. Many runners had Jimmy V Foundation-sponsored bibs tacked to the back of their shirts – they were running in honor of a loved one affected by cancer. Hundreds of others dedicated their race to the memory of a loved one, with pictures and names displayed on their race shirts.  There were Ainsley’s Angels, a group of runners that would be pushing wheelchairs for the length of the race so that individuals with special needs could experience such a great event of endurance.

As the race started: more stories.  About a mile in, I read the back of an elderly man’s shirt– he was 82 years old, had competed in every single inaugural Rock & Roll® event across the country, and this one was going to be his 166th marathon.  I had to let that sink in – 166 marathons! How many miles must he have run in his life?  At that moment, I realized I couldn’t fathom how many miles all the participants had logged in preparation for this journey of 13.1 or 26.2 miles. It takes countless hours away from friends and family to prepare for such a race. Not to mention money, effort, sweat – lots of sweat. And for more than 10,000 runners, this day was the culmination of all that hard work and dedication.

Further into the race, my attention turned to those who came in support of the runners. Hundreds of policemen and women reported for duty that morning to keep participants and volunteers secure along the closed course. They were running to the aid of fallen runners when one of the many EMTs wasn’t nearby.  And speaking of EMTs, they worked tirelessly, treating everything from ankle sprains to heat exhaustion.

Then there were the volunteers.  Many were there passing out water and sports drinks, no doubt being splashed constantly.  Dozens of bands – a highlight of the Rock & Roll® events – lined the course, sharing their gifts through music.  (To the band at mile 10 who was blasting a cover of “Don’t Stop Believing” as my dad and I passed, I give you special thanks for that perfectly timed tune.)

Next up were the families, friends, and strangers cheering from the sidelines.  My stepmom, in an effort to see and cheer for us all, covered nearly as much ground as we racers did. run w dad A friend stood with her dog at a sparsely populated corner providing encouragement and snapping pictures.  One newlywed couple dressed in gown and tux held one of the many funny signs we saw – it urged us to run faster, lest we be “caught like the groom.” Residents of the Oakwood neighborhood sat in rocking chairs on their porches, sipping mimosas, taking part in their own small way.  My favorites, though, were the seasoned spectators, angels in my mind, who made a point to stand along the course’s many hills, shouting at the top of their lungs that we “could do it” and we “were almost to the top.” We runners needed to hear that, we really did.

Not all the stories were joyous ones. Near the 11th (or 24th) mile, the course was lined with American flags and pictures of fallen service men and women.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the two men who inexplicably lost their lives while competing in the race.  In a day punctuated by so many precious moments, none display the fragility of life more than those two tragic losses, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of those dear men.

Thankfully, there were also beginnings and “firsts” to celebrate: the runners who achieved their first long-distance race… the couple who got engaged in front of the Raleigh Convention Center, just minutes after completing the race.  Remember my close friend, the one who wanted to finish her race in less than two hours?  She bested her goal by more than seven minutes.  And my jovial brother actually danced as he approached the finish line, stopping to kiss his wife, scoop up their baby and went on to complete the marathon with his child in his arms. At nearly six months old, she’s already crossed her first race finish line. It likely won’t be her last.

So many individuals from Raleigh, from North Carolina, and from the country, were joined together in this one event, and in the end that’s what compelled me to share the experience with you.

It mattered that 10,000 plus runners joined each other in one similar goal.  It mattered that siblings and parents and couples were running that race together.  It mattered that the service men and women of the city were keeping everyone safe.  It mattered that complete strangers were shouting words of encouragement to people they’ve never met and probably never will.  It mattered that friends were sending “good luck!” texts and that coworkers on Monday morning were asking “how was the race?!”

It matters when we set a goal and achieve it.  And it matters when we support each other – family, friends, strangers.  I’m certain that we’d all undo the race if it could somehow bring back those two precious lives, but I also take comfort in the belief that they were surrounded by such a profound display of love and support in their final hours.

My other hope in writing about the race is this: the next time there’s a race in your community – whether it’s a small 5k, a sprint triathlon, or a franchised full marathon – participate in it.  If your health (and doctor) permits it, and you have time to train – do it.  If your family, friends, church members or coworkers are competing – support them.  Wish them luck, send them prayers and blessings, stand on a street corner or the side of a hill and shout words of encouragement at them.  Make a funny sign. Volunteer and pass out water along the way or bananas and protein bars at the end. Host a spaghetti dinner at your house or your church the night before and help the runners “carb-load” before the race.cheering_flickr user Joe

Take part in whatever way you can.  Take it all in.  And remember, whatever you do, it will matter.

-Rachel Meyer

Bottom picture from Flickr user Joe, via CC

Pedaling to Stop Traffic

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The following post was written by Mark Andrews, Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is admit to my church that I need help.  Somehow, through almost thirty years of ministry I had taken for granted that as the spiritual leader of my congregation, I could never admit any weakness or vulnerability.  But keeping up that façade of invincibility has been catching up to me in these last few years.  In a new appointment with more staff and more administrative responsibilities I found myself less and less able to maintain the persona.

In the midst of this stress I began Spirited Life through the Clergy Health Initiative. At the same time I also took part in a year-long spiritual practices exploration called the School of the Spirit offered through The Lydia Group.  These two programs reinforced each other, and one of the messages that became clearer during this year was what Brene Brown calls the courage of vulnerability.  Somehow, if I was going to get better I must, first of all, admit I was needy, and secondly, ask for help.

With fear and trembling I went before my Staff-Parish Relations Team, then my Administrative Council, and finally, my congregation, asking for a three month renewal leave.  I told them I was weary and needed a rest from my responsibilities, with the hope that I would come back renewed and refreshed to continue ministry.  At each announcement, I received from my people powerful signs of grace, appreciative affirmations, and open-hearted permission to do what I needed.  Such an outpouring would have never happened had I not admitted my need.  And as a result, I have already begun the healing that I had denied myself but so desperately needed.Mark Andrews_bike

On June 1, I will begin my renewal leave by climbing on a bicycle and riding from the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina to the Pacific Coast of Oregon.  I plan to use this trip as a means of support for our United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking.  As I ride 4000 miles, I hope to raise $10 a mile ($40,000 total!).  Your donations are welcome (Pedaling to Stop Traffic).

Most of all, I am making this trip for me.  I want . . . no, I need to do this.  I am anticipating a restoration of my soul as I use this time to reflect on my calling and how to fulfill it with greater vulnerability in the years I have left.

But I have already learned one thing — we who serve the needs of others must acknowledge that we have needs of our own, and we must be vulnerable to our congregations if we are ever to receive the help we need.

-Mark Andrews

An Easter Blessing

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From Henri Nouwen’s A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee

easter lily

“It is in my stillest hour that you become the risen Lord to me.

Dear Lord, risen Lord, light of the world, to you be all praise and glory! This day, so full of your presence, your joy, your peace, is indeed your day.

I just returned from a walk through the dark woods. It was cool and windy, but everything spoke of you. Everything: the clouds, the trees, the wet grass, the valley with its distant lights, the sound of the wind. They all spoke of your resurrection; they all made me aware that everything is indeed good. In you all is created good, and by you all creation is renewed and brought to an even greater glory than it possessed at its beginning.

As I walked through the dark woods at the end of this day, full of intimate joy, I heard you call Mary Magdalene by her name and heard how you called from the shore of the lake to your friends to throw out their nets. I also saw you entering the closed room where your disciples were gathered in fear. I saw you appearing on the mountain and at the outskirts of the village. How intimate these events really are. They are like special favors to dear friends. They were not done to impress or overwhelm anyone, but simply to show that your love is stronger than death.

O Lord, I know now that it is in silence, in a quiet moment, in a forgotten corner that you will meet me, call me by name and speak to me a word of peace. It is in my stillest hour that you become the risen Lord to me.

Dear Lord, I am so grateful for all you have given me this past week. Stay with me in the days to come. Bless all who suffer in this world and bring peace to your people, whom you loved so much that you gave your life for them. Amen.”

– Henri Nouwen

Photo from Wikimedia Commons via CC

Bracket Redemption

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Lent Madness 2014

My interest in the NCAA basketball tournament has nosedived.  All of the ACC teams are eliminated — men and women — plus my brackets crashed and burned the first weekend. Thankfully, I have discovered a replacement pastime, which I hereby share with you.

Lent Madness was conceived by an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts. Lent Madness allows you to vote online for your favorites out of pairs of great Christian figures from history. The exercise is fun and educational: there are short profiles of each entrant, including many inspiring men and women with whom I was unfamiliar.

The competition continues through Easter. Even if, like me, you missed the beginning of the contest, you can still vote in the later rounds. Winners advance to the Saintly 16, the Elate 8, and the Faithful 4, in pursuit of ultimate glory, the Golden Halo.

Sadly for United Methodist fans, John Wesley and Charles Wesley faced off against each other in the opening round!  (Charles won, in a mild upset.)  Talk about your unfortunate seedings.  Complaints have been lodged with the Selection Committee.

nla.pic-an24433007-v-John James

Top image courtesy of Lent Madness.  Nuns Playing Basketball is from the National Library of Australia, shared via Flickr.

 

Walking Together

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I had the opportunity recently to walk two different labyrinths. It had been a number of years since I’d walked one, and walking two nearly back to back was a refreshing and grounding experience.

We’ve written before on this blog about labyrinths as a form of contemplative Labyrinth_1_(from_Nordisk_familjebok) (1)prayer, and I’d encourage you to read that post for more information on labyrinths’ origins and modern use. I personally love labyrinths for the way they tie me to ancient spiritual practice. Labyrinths are found in Greek and Roman mythology, and came into wide use in Christian tradition in the Middle Ages, but they also have been discovered to have their place in ancient Nepalese, Indian, Native North and South American, and Australian cultures. The sense that this pattern and practice is meaningful across time and different religious traditions is very powerful for me — like all liturgy, it is a gift to participate in something that transcends my particular time and place. I also love that the path is laid out clearly before me, with no dead ends or choices to make (so UN-like life!) which allows me to sink into a deeper level of mediation and prayer. Avila

I experienced the first labyrinth during a women’s retreat at Avila, a retreat center in North Durham (for those of you who are local!). Walking the path under tall and sturdy pine trees with the wind in the branches and the sun on my back was so peaceful.

The second one was in Duke Chapel — a large 11-circuit labyrinth made of canvas spread on the slate floor just before the altar. The settings couldn’t have been more different: hushed darkness, candles, the only noise the swish of socks shuffling along the path.  And this time my eight-year-old daughter, Clara, was with me.

Walking the labyrinth with Clara is an experience I will cherish for a long time. On the way in, I led the two of us slowly, asking “What do I need?” She followed close behind. I had instructed her to open her heart to God, to pay attention to her breath. An 11-circuit labyrinth takes a long time when walking at a meditative pace. She didn’t seem to mind.

We made our way to the center and found a place to rest. She wanted to sit on my lap. I had told her beforehand that the center represented God’s womb. She understood right away that I meant a safe place, free from harm, surrounded by God’s love. I invited her to open her heart again and to ask God what she needs. We sat like that — me cradling her and us being held together in that prayerful space — for a long time. We started back out slowly, with her leading. On the way in I had given her a special stone to carry, and she passed it back to me as we started out. I held it, still warm from her little clasp, and prayed to see how and where I could best participate in God’s healing work in the world.

Walking out after her, I asked for wisdom from on high to follow her lead in life, to let her teach me how to she needs to be cared for. She walked a bit faster than me, and got ahead of me. I had the chance to look upon her and behold her. I prayed, “God, teach me to cherish her more and more each day. Make me worthy of her. Teach me to mother her with Your love and light. AMEN.”800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral

I think the reason walking the labyrinth with Clara was so powerful is that it was something we could do together, something we could participate in as equals. When I think about passing my faith on to her, there is so much that is difficult for me to explain — so many of her questions leave me tongue-tied. And yet here was a form of prayer that was both simple and profound and that involved our bodies but not our intellects. No special training or instruction was required; she is sensitive and picked right up on the sacred tone of the moment. Afterward we quietly put our shoes back on and filed out in silence, blinking in the evening light. I held back from asking her questions about what it meant to her, though over the next few days she did offer some reflections, and mentioned a number of times that she really liked it and wanted to do it again. That evening as I was tucking her into bed, she shared that it was her favorite part of her day. All I could say was, “Mine too, sweetie, mine too.”

-Caren Swanson

First and third images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; second image courtesy of Avila Retreat Center

Happy Spring!

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blossoms It’s the first day of Spring, and the temperatures might finally match the date on the calendar! Percy Shelley describes the emergence of Spring so beautifully:

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

What are your favorite signs of spring?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flicrk user skyseeker

We want your song

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“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.”           -Maya Angelousongbird

For almost 2 years, this blog has been up and running thanks in most part to a group of CHI staff who have been probing their hearts, minds, and the internet for resources and news that might encourage and inspire pastors in their journey to wellness.  Along the way, we’ve featured a few Spirited Life pastor stories (ex. here and here) and have even had some guest bloggers (ex. here and here).  And, wouldn’t you know, it’s these personal stories and examples that have generated the most interest and comments on the blog?

If I had a guess, I’d attribute this to the fact that, as Philip Pullman says, “After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  It seems that we especially find inspiration and encouragement in the voices and stories of our peers, our colleagues, our families – people we know or with whom we’re in connection – who’ve been where we are, felt what we feel.

So, we’re asking for your song, your story, your experiences, and we’ll post them on the blog.  Tell us what you’ve learned during your time in Spirited Life or in your own journey Kretzu 1toward wellness.  What are your churches doing to inspire communities to think about wellness?  Maybe you have some reflections (or poetry! or photos!) you’d like to share about one or more domains of health or about how you used your Spirited Life small grant.  Do you have a personal or church blog that might inspire others?

We don’t want this to be an extra item on your to-do list but rather something that is enjoyable and life-giving.  If you’re having trouble getting started, think about Hemingway’s words: “All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”

We hope you’ll share your song with us!  If you’re interested in writing a blog post or have questions about the right length or topic, please send an email to clergyhealth@div.duke.edu and write “blog” in the subject line.  We’d be happy to share more.

-Katie Huffman

First image by Flickr user Kohlmeise-2 via CC; second image courtesy of CHI, of Pastor Bob Kretzu, who used his Spirited Life small grant on painting classes and materials

Cycle to Lake Junaluska

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The following article was written by Mark Andrews, pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory, NC, and co-founder of Cycle to Lake Junaluska.

The Holy Rollers are a group of United Methodist cyclists who ride together once a year over the course of several days leading up to the annual meeting of the Virginia Conference.  I first learned about the Holy Rollers several years ago and, as an avid recreational cyclist, thought how much fun it would be to do something similar leading up to our annual conference in Western North Carolina.  Thinking it would be a formidable administrative task to sponsor such a ride I let the idea sit on the back burner until casually mentioning it to another cycling preacher and friend, Doug Miller.Cycle to Lake J image

Through Doug’s initiative, and in partnership with Brad Farrington of the Wesley Foundation at Appalachian State University, we have launched Cycle to Lake Junaluska.  A 501(c) 3 non-profit organization through the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, Cycle to Lake Junaluska is designed to promote fellowship, physical fitness through cycling, and raise monies for various ministries of the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (WNCC).

The first ever Cycle to Lake Junaluska benefit ride will take place this June 16-18, in the days leading up to Annual Conference. Over the course of three days and 160+ miles, we will ride from the WNC Conference Center in Charlotte to Casar UMC where we will spend the first night (62 miles).  The next day will bring the challenging climb to Black Mountain UMC where we will spend our second night (53 miles).  The last day will be an unhurried ride in the rolling valleys circumnavigating Asheville to Lake Junaluska (47 miles).

What’s Included In The Ride:

  • Indoor camping and limited RV camping
  • Ken’s Bike Shop mechanic at camp (fees may apply)
  • Printed maps and cue sheets
  • Marked roads and route SAG support
  • Rest Stops with drinks, fresh fruit & assorted snacks
  • Restrooms at host sites and at some rest stops
  • Shower facilities each day and night

Riders may choose to ride one day or all three. T-Shirts and cycling jerseys are available for purchase.  There will also be a “swag” bag of gifts from our sponsors, including the Clergy Health Initiative’s Pastor & Parish curriculum – a wonderful resource for strengthening relations between clergy and congregations and promoting the health of pastors. As a benefit ride in support of the various campus ministries in Western North Carolina, donations will be accepted.

This year’s route is outstanding and our overnight hosts will be providing great food and activities each evening. We may not be Holy Rollers but through three days of pedaling we may certainly become “spirited spinners” of our wheels.  For brochures, registration and more information go to the C2LJ website and sign up today.

-Mark Andrews (pictured below with his bike)Mark Andrews