Words for Lent

I decided to be more intentional about Lent this year.  In a sense, to “practice what I preach.”  Each year I tell my congregation this is a time to work on one’s spiritual life or consider one’s relationship with God.

So, that is exactly what I am attempting to do this season.  I am reading a book that’s been on my shelf forever, one I always “intended” to look at.  It’s called Holy Adventure by Bruce Epperly.  I’m taking time out– or trying to– each day to think about my relationship with God and ask questions prayerfully about where I’m headed and what I’m called to do.

And I’ve been keeping a list of words that challenge me, words that seem to speak to what’s happening in my heart and soul and brain right now.  Words.  I love words.  These are all verbs, or intended to be understood in their active sense.  I offer them to you all as a challenge for prayer or contemplation or journaling.  There are 40 of them, one for each of the days of this season.

  1. Welcome
  2. Trust
  3. Transform
  4. Stretch
  5. Serve
  6. Repent
  7. Weave
  8. Release
  9. Praise
  10. Choose
  11. Emerge
  12. Rejoice
  13. Experience
  14. Refrain
  15. Pray
  16. Pause
  17. Partner
  18. Engage
  19. Encourage
  20. Reflect
  21. Embrace
  22. Create
  23. Connect
  24. Celebrate
  25. Begin
  26. Affirm
  27. Claim
  28. Act
  29. Offer
  30. Notice
  31. Invite
  32. Inspire
  33. Lavish
  34. Imagine
  35. Hope
  36. Forgive
  37. Feast
  38. Fast
  39. Expand
  40. Examine
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Ashes for Lent

Palms to AshesThis year, I decided to introduce my youth to Lent.  We gathered last Friday night, and ate pizza and talked about Mardi Gras.  I had some beads and masks and coins to pass around.  Then we moved into talking about Lent.  I like to talk about how it is the journey of looking seriously at our spiritual lives as we move toward Easter.

We’ve talked before before about the cycle of God’s time.  God’s time isn’t like ours which moves forward in a line.  God’s time moves in a cycle– with Jesus’ life at the center.  So the palms we waved last Holy Week become dry and brittle and we burn them the next year at Ash Wednesday.  We mix them with oil of healing and water of baptism, and mark our foreheads with a cross.  It means we understand that God made us, and to God we will return one day.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  It means we are frail and human, but our souls and spirits are God-breathed.  We exist because God love us.

On Sunday, the children’s storyteller spoke to the little ones about Lent, using the images of “feasting and fasting.”  I mentioned that I had a bowl of ashes and could show them after service.  There were several curious folks after church, young and not-so-young.  Sadie and Tess got crosses on their foreheads.  For Aaron, I made the sign on his hand.

With my congregation, slowly we move toward this ancient ritual.  Many of them are unaccustomed, yet at every opportunity, I try to imbue it with meaning.  And the journey for me has been wonderful.

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Looking forward to Lent 2018

lentJanuary was a rough month for me and my family.  My first day back after the holidays, I received news that a beloved congregation member passed away.  Another member was called home just a few weeks later.  I was called to do another funeral for a family in need, and a good friend’s dad passed away.  In between all those events, my husband got the flu, and my two sons and I struggled with a stomach bug that didn’t seem to want to end.

I was happy to greet February, even if it has been cold and wet.  The underdogs won the SuperBowl, but football has been exposed as so dangerous, many former fans now watch with guilt, or don’t watch at all anymore.  More winter is coming.  And then… Lent will begin on Valentine’s Day.

Yay? Truthfully, I’m not sure.  Many of my pastor friends have made a great deal of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day and Easter happening on April 1st.  Themes and wordplay on “being fools for love” have abounded on my Facebook feed.

I’m just not sure it matters to me that my holy season falls in between secular “holidays”– although April Fools’ Day is not a holiday in my mind, and Valentine’s Day is… iffy.**

Now, Lent.  How about it?  I grew up in a non-liturgical denomination, and for almost half of my life, the only people I knew who had ashes on their foreheads were Catholic.

Thankfully, one year in seminary, my friend Felipe dragged me to an Ash Wednesday worship service in the chapel.  Rev. Annie Ruth Powell was there, and when it came time to smudge our foreheads, Felipe pushed me along.  Annie Ruth took my hands, and told me that I was a child of God who came from the earth.  From dust.  She smudged my forehead and told me it should remind me of my humanity and my connection to the Earth AND to God, my Creator.  It was an incredible profound moment.  I felt so human and so divine in that moment.  To put it bluntly, I was sold on the holy day, the ashes, Lent– all of it.

I also recall how as soon as service was over, Felipe yanked my arm, spun me around, and wiped off my ashes as I protested.  I didn’t want the feeling I’d had in that chapel to end, but Felipe said, “No way, Jennifer.  We’re going to lunch.”

As unwilling as I was to have my reverie ended, there was wisdom in his actions as well.  What do the common readings of Ash Wednesday remind us?  They remind us that during this season where many Christians get “extra observant” or “extra spiritual” we are actually NOT supposed to make a big deal of our practices.  We aren’t to be showy or flashy about fasting or praying, but rather keep it in private between God and ourselves.

Instead of looking at Lent as a time to give up chocolate or meat or cursing, or even as a time to “take something on” like more service or generosity, I have come to value it as a time to work on my spiritual life.

Does my spiritual life need work?  Oh yes.  Of course.  Always.

I currently serve a church that isn’t all that “big” on Lent.  No Ash Wednesday service– yet.  No Pancake Supper on Shrove Tuesday– yet.  A fairly paired-down Holy Week.  No weekly Soup Suppers with scripture and discussion– yet.

Why do I say yet?  Well, from my experiences as both a non-observer and an observer, I can honestly attest to the merit of this time set apart in my spiritual life.  I’m not so disciplined on my own, which is why I have always appreciated the practice of Lent in community.

But… as a way of helping my community become more familiar with Lent, I am going to observe and reflect and share.  I hope you will, too.

Here is a wonderful article in a similar vein, making a case for observing Lent.  I think it is a helpful place to begin.

I’ll see you all on the Journey.


**Not that I don’t love Love.  I usually find a day to “squeeze” it in as a sermon topic sometime in February.  Love is important.  But romance and flowers?  They limit our understanding of love and really, in my life, have very little to do with all the things and people I love.  Most years, I make a family dinner– which I call a Love Feast– for my boys (of all ages.)




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Fresh Year, Fresh Ideas

Christmas Break for our family meant everybody was off their “focus meds.” (We *all* have some level of ADHD).  I discovered that also means being around children who talk and move endlessly, and while it does grate on my nerves at times, it also unleashes my own creativity and energy!  And that’s always a good thing!

For me, creativity means looking at my life and my calling and reflecting about how I can enter my THIRD YEAR (can you believe it’s been that long!) at my current call with renewed spirit and energy.  I began my journey at Pilgrim UCC on Epiphany 2015, and it has been a wonderful journey indeed.

Many ideas and thoughts have come through my mind, and I realize that I have to “get them down” before they fade in my aging brain!  So it’s time to write again.  It’s time to “blog” again.  It’s time for some Grits* and God-talk.  I’ll see you all on the journey!

*the grits are in the mail!

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Eulogy for My Father

Pappaw's Garden by Mark Glover

Pappaw’s Garden by Mark Glover

Joe King Sowell: A Life Well-Lived

My dad was born in Robertson County Tennessee in 1938.  He was the 2nd of 12 children of Rex Sowell, a Greyhound bus mechanic, and his wife Grace Elizabeth.  As a child, we are told Dad loved hunting and fishing.  We know he went to kindergarten twice—when his older brother Earl went to school, Dad couldn’t bear to be parted from him—and threw such a fit, the school let them both come.

Dad joined the Navy when he was 17 years old that’s where he met Bob Sexton—on the USS Warsaw.  They started visiting Bob’s family in West Virginia together when Bob’s father when he was in the hospital with TB.  It didn’t take long for Bob’s family for become Joe’s own—by the time he was 22 Joe was asking permission to marry Bob’s younger sister Sue.  In 1960, they were married.

Two years later, William Mark came along.  Dad was in the military until 1966 and he and Mom settled in Norfolk, VA.  He worked for a company called General Finance—and over the next few years, they transferred him from Norfolk to Louisville, KY to Richmond, VA and then finally to Newport News.  Mom and Dad bought the house they live in today.  When I was born in 1974, Dad came home and asked Mom if she needed any vacuuming or cleaning done—he’d quit his job.

It only took a few weeks for him to enroll in Painter’s School—and he began a career working at Shaw Paint and Wallpaper Company in Hampton.  Dad worked there for more than 30 years—faithful and rarely ever taking a day off or vacation.

That’s what I remember most about my dad—what a hard worker he was.  Coming home every night spotted in paint from head to toe or covered in some kind of dust from sandblasting.  The kind of work where you had to shower and change before you could sit at the supper table.  That was my dad.

Dad showed his love by taking care of you—he took care of Mom’s Mom and Dad, Granny and Pappaw Sexton as if they were his own family.  He fixed things, he painted, he quietly took care of stuff.  Mom’s family always loved him like there was no such thing as “in-law.”  He was just son and brother.

I think Dad truly enjoyed being a grandfather—my kids call him Pappaw, but the oldest ones, Zachary and Nicholas call him Papa.  I kind of always wanted to see a little Josephine in the family, but Mark and I both had boys.  Papa Joe just loved watching Mark’s boys grow up, and I know Mom has said how much he enjoyed both of you (Zachary and Nicholas) as you have grown into young men.

When my first son was born Mom came to stay with us, but when the second was born—Dad and Mom both came to Florida.  It looked almost odd watching Dad hold baby Mark, feeding him his bottle, changing his diaper and letting him fall asleep in his arms each night.  Mom said he never did that for us when we were babies.  But grandkids are different.

My boys are younger, so our memories are of Dad reading in his recliner with Aaron, taking the boys out to his garden and showing them the rabbits in the backyard.  Just this last Thanksgiving, when we were putting up our tree, I looked outside and Dad had my 9 year old Aaron using a saw by himself to cut the base.  Dad was always patient with the kids, he taught them how to do things—usually things I thought were too dangerous to teach them, like using saws or hammers or lawnmowers.

When I started writing this, I realize how hard this is to do:  how do you sum up someone’s life in a couple of pages?  You just can’t.  Words look flat and dry compared to a person like my dad.  He was dry and funny.  Every time our family would stand over a new baby, as nieces and nephews and grandchildren were born- and you have that moment when the family stands over them saying, “Oh, he’s got his mom’s this and his dad’s that…” My dad would always say, “She’s got my hair.”  Bald just like him.

Dad was a story teller—he always had an answer when you were wondering about stuff—and he kind of always left us wondering how he knew what he knew—or if he just made it up.  So many times—before you could just look something up on the internet—he’d tell me some story at the dinner table and I would be convinced it wasn’t true, “You’re making that up!” I’d say.  And Dad would just laugh at me, and we’d never know.

As I watched my dad show my sons how to do things, I found myself wishing I had listened more closely when I was a girl—my head was so far into books that I wasn’t always interested in the things Dad tried to show me—I was typically short-sighted, and of course the older I get that wiser my Dad and Mom have gotten.

As he got sick I think we all just tried to make him happy.  To do little things that gave him pleasure and comfort.  Buy his favorite coffee creamer.  Draw Pappaw a picture.  Watch the Gaithers with him.  Anything to make him smile.

My dad was a good man.  Honest, hardworking.  Not a man of many words.  I think he never understood why he got cancer, I think he felt it was unfair.  And it was.  He did everything he was supposed to do, just like he always did.  And with cancer, that didn’t matter.

Knowing he felt that way made this last week pretty tough.  But finally we could see he’d made peace with it, made peace with God.  It made all the difference.

Our family thanks all of you who have come to pay your respects to my dad—we’ve met co-workers we’d heard about for years, neighbors, family, friends… thank you all for being here, it really has touched us, especially my mom, to see everyone come out here.

Finally, I will share that I think of my dad as someone who took care of others, as someone who made things and built things.  I have thought all week of Jesus’ words from John—that there are many mansions or rooms in our Father’s house.  I think in the coming days all of those rooms are going to get a fresh coat of paint.

–Shared on March 8, 2016, Menchville Baptist Church, Newport News, VA

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Epiphany 2016

This story about the Magi, travelers seeking wholeness in community, seemed such a perfect beginning to the year and to our shared ministry here at Pilgrim.  We, in so many ways, live this story every single day of our lives.  In a world where too many feel like outsiders and strangers, our call is to understand that we belong to one another and to God.  In a world where there are so many who don’t just feel like outsiders, but who truly are homeless and outcast, our challenge is to welcome all people as God has welcomed us.  In a world of us and them, in a world of violence and ignorance, we must practice community and welcome and peacemaking.  In a world of entitlement, we must practice gratitude.  In a world of darkness, we must share our light.  In a world of isolation, we must offer refuge.  In a world of brokenness, we must seek wholeness and do everything we can to help others heal as well.

To read the full sermon, click here.

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The Glover Christmas Letter 2015

Dear Friends,

This year comes to an end with a lot of changes, and has brought the Glover family to a place of excitement to see what our new year holds.  What kind of year was 2015?  Well, it’s been a year, to quote my ever-eloquent husband.

To put the best stuff up front, before you get tired of reading, Allen and I can sum up our year with a few short bullet points, lessons we’ve learned.  Perhaps these lessons are not so profound, and truth be told, we could learn them over again every year, yet for us right now here’s what life boils down to:

  • Health is an incredible gift that must be worked at, treasured and never taken for granted.
  • True community where you can be yourself is a rare find.
  • Kids and parents, hug them tight and keep them close while you have them.
This year's tree has a bird theme-- with a wise owl on top and about 50 handmade ornaments by yours truly!

This year’s tree has a bird theme– with a wise owl on top and about 50 handmade ornaments by yours truly!

2015 ended six years of service at St. John’s UCC in Catonsville, Maryland.  We’ve settled the family in Howard County in a little townhouse, and moved the boys into the local elementary school.  They both were having some trouble in Baltimore County schools, but in the new system they are both experiencing much-improved academic and social success!

Aaron’s talking more, not always a good thing (ha!), and his reading and writing have dramatically improved in 3rd grade.  He still loves Music Therapy, enjoying his second year with the talented Ms. Kerry.  Mark loves his 2nd grade class, and is making friends, doing great things in math, and enjoying a new-found love of graphic novels.

Last winter seemed too long in many ways:  I worried for my dad’s health, and Allen lost his father.  The experience did draw Allen and his sister Katina into a closer relationship, for which he’s very grateful.

I got inspired to start researching family genealogy again.  So far, we got Jenn’s family back to Irish, French, Swiss and German roots, and took Allen’s dad’s side back to John’s Island, South Carolina.  Now we just need a trip to Jamaica to research Allen’s mom’s side.

This summer, I took the boys, my parents and two cousins on a trip to Branson, MO.  We enjoyed a great stopover at my grandmother’s house in Tennessee.  In Springfield, we enjoyed a mini family reunion, and got to see about 40 of our Sowell-side family.  Given how much worry we’ve suffered about Dad’s health (he’s in remission now, but we worry always), it was good for everyone to get to spend some time with Granny and Pappaw.

I spent the summer interviewing with new churches, and announced in November that I will be the new pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Wheaton, Maryland.  Pilgrim is progressive, Open and Affirming (our UCC lingo for LGBT-welcoming churches), and had women pastors back in the 80’s—I think that’s so great!  All of us can’t wait until January when my service officially begins!

On a personal note of triumph for me, I’ve lost 60 pounds since the beginning of the summer.  It’s been a TON of hard work, and there’s still more work to do.  I haven’t felt this kind of personal achievement in a long time—it’s changed my way of thinking and acting and my energy is so much greater.  I feel proud that health is the goal far more than appearance.  Although looking thinner and wearing smaller clothing sure is nice.

Allen’s getting fitter, too, and both of us are enjoying Saturdays spent at the gym with the boys.  Mark and Aaron are taking jujitsu and swim lessons, and both are making progress, getting stronger and more coordinated.

Allen’s still in real estate in New York, working out of a small office in Brooklyn a few days a week, then telecommuting on days he’s in Maryland.  The commute is tough, but we both love living in Maryland and plan to build our home here.  We both look forward to settling down in our own home, and pray that day will come in the next year or two.

Our family hopes this letter finds you all healthy and happy.  If this year wasn’t what you’d hoped, next year holds the promise of something better.  We wish all our friends a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!

Love from our family to yours!

The Glovers

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