Friday, February 26, 2010

Offering Prayers for Secular Events

Coming from Texas, the number of prayers I've witnessed offered at public, non-church related events is more than I can count. I have seen football games, ribbon cutting ceremonies, fairs, dances, graduation ceremonies, PTA meetings, fund-raising dinners, political rallies, and the like, all preceded by prayers of invocation. I must say that every time I participated in such prayers, I did so with some serious reservations. In the following blog, Prof. John Stackhouse of Regent College offers a concise explanation of why such generic invocations for secular events are ill-advised for Christians. I know this is going to be a point of contention for some of my readers, but I agree with him fully and I would encourage you to give his reasoning some serious thought.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Making Choices: A Personal Update

Most of my readers know that I am currently enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Dayton. I am studying theology, with the hopes of one day having a career in teaching and writing theology. But, honestly, I'm trusting the results of my endeavor to God. All I know for now is that Ronnie and I are convinced this is the next step in the journey for me (us). We'll see how it all plays out when the five year academic gauntlet has passed.

What my readers may not know is that Ronnie has recently taken a church position. He is the new Director of Youth Ministries at Aley Church, a United Methodist congregation in Beavercreek, OH. Aley Church is a relatively small congregation, averaging about 315 in worship attendance on Sunday morning. (Actually, this isn't really small by northern standards, but for a transplanted Texan from the land of Preston-world Baptist Church, this is quite tiny.)

Some of you may be surprised at this cross-demoninational ministry choice. But, to be honest, it was a pretty easy decision for us. Ronnie needed a job in this area, within decent driving distance. He would prefer to be employed by a church or non-profit organization of some kind, where he can be compensated for doing, in some measure, Kingdom work. And, as far as non-Baptist denominations go, Methodism isn't too far a jump. They have a commitment to personal conversion, spiritual transformation, the centrality of Scripture, and the mainly symbolic nature of the Eucharist. (Thankfully, since he's not a Methodist pastor--hence the title, "Director"--Ronnie doesn't have to worry about the question of baptism by immersion.) And, you can add to that the benefit of a history of commitment to social justice and activism.

Also, during our interview process, it became clear to us that the pastor of Aley Church is a relatively conservative Methodist pastor, coming out of the Wesleyan tradition (and it appears that most of the church is like-minded). He doesn't refrain from preaching about all the uncomfortable things that Southern Baptist laypersons probably view as litmus tests of orthodoxy: the exclusivity of Jesus for salvation, the reality of hell, the necessity of personal conversion, the priority of the Bible for faith and practice, etc. And yet, he doesn't make these things the only important issues either. Just recently, he's been instructing us on establishing right thinking and behavior in the areas of our possessions, relationships, hobbies, and other aspects of life that often go unexamined.

All this is to say, we've found Aley Church, under the pastor's leadership, to be a hospitable and charitable church home. And, I have to say, there's a palpable feeling of personal freedom at the church that I never experienced in our previous Southern Baptist churches. Women serve communion, take up the offering, lead in worship, read Scripture, and lead in prayer (*gasp*). Also, the minister's wives are not viewed as appendages to their spouses. Frankly, I'm not expected to do anything, besides love my husband and child and worship with the community. If I choose to teach Bible study or sing in the choir (which would be bad for all involved, I promise), that's my business.

Speaking of new choices, Ronnie and I have also made what you might call a "lifestyle choice" recently. For a few months, while Ronnie worked in an office environment and I acclimated to a rigorous academic environment, William was enrolled in a childcare program that operated out of a church. Despite the guilt and tortuous questioning about the decision (and believe me, there was lots of it), we found the situation to be truly nurturing for William. He was one of two infants in a home environment, cared for by a very experienced and loving lady. She was a wonderful caregiver for William and he grew to adore her (and vice versa, of course). He also benefited from the interaction with an older infant, who became his best bud.

But, with Ronnie taking this new ministry position, our financial situation has drastically changed. Beginning January 3--Ronnie's first day at Aley--both of us are now, essentially, doing full-time work for part-time pay (literally, bringing home half of what we did last year). So, we had a choice to make. At first, we thought that Ronnie would get another part-time job, working nights and weekends, in order to make up the difference in our income. This would allow us to keep William in daycare and be sure we don't lose some "creature comforts": satellite TV, date money, extra food money, etc. But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized there was something better that God was inviting us to.

Rather than view our two part-time jobs as a burden to bear, a financial difficulty to be remedied with more work, we've decided that we're to see our new situation as an opportunity. Rather than work hard for more money, which takes time away from us as a family, we've decided that we're going to be content with what we have. Ronnie and I have two relatively flexible jobs, which allow us quite a bit of freedom in making our schedules. What parent wouldn't give anything to have a more flexible work schedule so they can spend more time with their kids? Why should we not take advantage of this liberty while we can?

So, after some calculating (and, to be honest, just a little bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth) we're stripping our budget to the bare minimum and taking William out of daycare. We will be sharing the responsibility for taking care of William, with Ronnie doing most mornings (when I'm in class or the office) and me doing most afternoons (when he needs office time). Its going to be hectic, messy, and we'll be eating a lot more turkey dogs than we were before. But we'll have a simpler life together and a lot more time with our son. We've decided this choice is a good one and we're excited to see how this changes us in the long run.