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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Being Neighborly

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I can’t wait for Halloween this year!  Costumes for the boys, check.  Mom and Dad coordinated costumes, check.  Candy to give out, check.

Here’s one of the most exciting parts for me:  for the first Halloween in six years, we have neighbors.  So often I have preached about neighbors, biblical challenges to be neighborly and love one’s neighbor, and I have not had to “practice what I preached.”  Sort of.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved living in a parsonage and have always had a wide view of neighbor that included not only actual neighbors, but also church members, community members, friends, staff of local businesses and (most recently) residents of a close-by assisted living facility.

So in a broad sense, I did have neighbors.  But in a more traditional sense, this year is the first year my kids and I will ring the doorbells next door and across the street and down the block.  And those doorbells will actually be on a street we live on instead of a friend’s street in a neighborhood we don’t know.

The whole family is excited, frankly.  The boys have neighborhood buddies they’ve met on the bus.  My husband and I are getting to know the families across the street.  We’ve even met a family at the gym who lives two streets over.  (Every time I see the dad there, even though I do know his name, I call out, “Hey, neighbor!”  It just doesn’t get old.)

And what better day to “practice” being neighborly than Halloween?  I saw it on an old high school friend’s FB page one time and her thoughts rang so true:  Halloween is one of the only times of the year when we actually open our doors to strangers, when we get excited to see who’s knocking, and when we welcome those strangers with gifts (treats) and smiles.  We are warm, we are inviting, we are happy to greet those strangers– dressed as all manner of outcasts from zombies to vampires to superheroes to Muppets (that’s us this year!)

On Halloween, Darth Vader and Yoda can walk side by side around the neighborhood.  When Batman and the Joker see one another on opposite sides of the street, squeals of delight usually ensue.  Princesses, kings and queens, fairies, and robots–heck, even angels and devils–find community and camaraderie in the shared goal of filling their bags with treats.  Parents and grandparents and designated grown-ups of all types nod knowingly and smile at one another.  It’s magical.  There’s not another day of the year quite like it.  And here’s the awesome thing– all that diversity, sworn enemies invading the same streets for candy, and I’ve never seen a protester with any kind of a sign saying, “God hates Miss Piggy.”  Nope, not one, ever.

My illustration is getting a little heavy-handed, but you get the idea.  If only… we could be as warm and welcoming and inclusive (and celebratory) of difference on the other 364 days of the year.  Then we might begin to scratch the surface of what it truly means to be a neighbor.

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The Hardest Thing to Say

It’s tough to say goodbye to a place you’ve loved for six years.  My youngest son had just learned to walk when we came to St. John’s, and now he is a lightning-fast 7 yo who can outrun the whole family.  My oldest has been nurtured and encouraged, and my husband found community unlike anywhere else I’d served.

Saying good-bye to this congregation was tough, even though it was a good time for me to leave, and I felt ready to do it.  Even the wisest decisions can be heart-wrenching, and it really felt like a wise time step aside so that the congregation could welcome new pastoral leadership.

So instead of a last hurrah, a final “kick-butt” sermon, I just said some simple words about the importance of shared Christian life together.  You can read them below:

I agonized quite bit this week on what scriptures to choose, wondering which choice would be best to speak to everything that was going on this week.  Today is World Communion Sunday—a day when churches all around the world wake up and gather together and break bread and share the common cup.  A prophetic and anticipatory day that reflects our shared hope that the church, the Body of Christ, will soon be united more than it is divided.

It’s also, of course, my last sermon—which I had not really given any significant thought to UNTIL someone asked me about it last week.  That got me thinking.

So I wondered all week about what to say and how to say it.  I read the scriptures again and again.  But it was not until I closed my eyes and IMAGINED us all here today that some inspiration came to me.

I imagined us together singing our first hymn.  I imagined us passing the peace.  I imagined holding the bread at communion.  I imagined at the last, speaking and receiving the words of separation and forgiveness (which we will do at the service’s close).  And then I imagined walking up here to this pulpit, and that’s when I realized that what needs to be said today will not be said in the sermon.  It might not even be said at all.

When I imagined all of us coming together this morning in worship, I realized that what is important today is not what I say, it’s what WE DO.

We have gathered to sing God’s praises as a community.  We have already quite literally enacted reconciliation and peace by welcoming one another in Christ.  We have listened together for wisdom and guidance in God’s word.  We will in a few moments remember together our savior’s last meal and ministry and break bread and share cup in His name once again—this time, quite importantly, not only as a community at St. John’s but as a world-wide Christian community.  Then we will say good bye to one another in gratitude and grace and hope.

When I thought about the power of those actions, I realize there is not much I can say or add to them.  We forget sometimes as Christians, coming to church and going through these motions each week, the power of these actions we do—the power of shaking hands and smiling and welcoming, the power of reading scripture as a group, the power of giving.  We do things here we don’t do anywhere else in our lives.  But it’s so subtle, it’s easy to overlook.

The message that I received this week and the message I would share with all of you is a simple one—to remember and be mindful of what we do together; here in this place with all of you on the 6th anniversary, to the day, of my first Sunday at St. John’s, I say goodbye.  And it’s difficult to do that for as many reasons as there are people here in this community.  But there is something much deeper than words that binds all of us together.  We share a faith, we share a love, we share a grace that challenges us and forgives us.  We share a Christ who calls us to work, whoever we are and wherever we are on life’s journey, for the unity of the Body of Christ.

So instead of more words, let’s get on with doing exactly that.  Amen.

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Funeral Ministry

10494832_10205693610072291_2298277278671725316_nNever would I imagine taking photos at a funeral, but I have learned never to say never. Last week I got called to do a funeral for a young man who had died.  His family had been Catholic from way back, but were “not very religious” and his mother had never gotten around to getting him baptized.  The funeral home could not get a priest.  So as often happens, I got a call asking if I’d be willing to officiate the memorial.

The local funeral homes call me when they have “unusual” situations, when families don’t have a pastor or priest, or they feel they need an officiant who will be able to roll with the punches. I’ve had some interesting experiences in this ministry (although I’m sure nothing compared to funeral directors who’ve been in the business for many years.)  I’ve done funerals where the cops were called, where family members jumped on the coffin, a grieving daughter screams about the coffin not being “sealed” properly.  I’ve officiated funerals where no one spoke because there was not one good to say.

This young man’s death was related to a life-long struggle with mental illness, and his family, still in shock, wanted to remember him as the fun-loving, risk-taking, mom-worrying, Dr. Who-watching, Renaissance Fair-frollicking person that he was.  So they decided to have a Mardi Gras-themed funeral.  Hats, masks, beads, a horse-drawn carriage for the procession to the grave, and of course, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

It felt strangely natural as we got out of our cars and followed behind the horse and carriage at the cemetery.  Truly, it was something that mourners did for centuries before limousine style hearses came into fashion.  Someone carried a music box, we wore our beads, and we walked up the hill to the site where the young man was laid to rest.  Some older relatives were whispering as they walked about his not being baptized, so I scrapped the Dr. Who quote I was going to read for the story of Nicodemus and Jesus from the Gospel of John.  I pulled it up on my phone (thank God for online Bibles!), and talked about how, while there are traditional ways of “coming to God” through Baptism and Communion, this scripture tells us a story of a man who was unable to come to Jesus by his society’s accepted norms.  He was a Pharisee and was not able to publicly acknowledge his relationship with Jesus.  So Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.

Long ago, as I myself sat in a church that had VERY definite roles about “how to come to Jesus,” a very subversive Sunday School teacher told me that God is there for us anytime we need God.  Anytime we come.  In the bright of day, in the dark of night, in public, in secret.  God just invites us to come, anyway we can.  Nicodemus did, and the young man did as well.  Miracle of miracles, our God is “big enough” that we can come to God as many different ways as there are people in this world.  And God will receive him, you or I just like Jesus received Nicodemus.  Because the God who made us LOVES US JUST THAT MUCH.

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