Youth Gathering (on the road)

After a quick circle prayer, we nine youth and two adults loaded up ourselves and our stuff into our white 15-passenger van, and headed out…first to get money one person forgot, and then a forgotten phone. Then we got on the road.

Not a very exciting day, apart from a few heavy showers. We made it all the way to Tallahassee before our first stop. Very impressive.

We had plenty of snacks. Josh didn't stop eating from the time we left until we reached Lake City, about two hours down the road.

 

At our second stop, we observed an angry Asian man outside the Waffle House, not enjoying his cigarette at all.

We gained an hour, pulled into Holy Cross Lutheran Church where my friend Pastor Russ Gipson let us spend the night at his church. A quick supper at Panera and Subway, and then a little time to relax.

 

 

 

Youth Gathering (prequel)

 

Our high school youth group and I leave tomorow for the triennial LC-MS youth gathering in San Antonio, TX. With 10 youth and two other adult leaders, we'll take two days to drive from Palm Coast to the heart of Texas.

The youth have spent the last two days making t-shirts and accumulating snacks to bring in the van. I expect them to consume some massive amounts of food in the next few days.

This will be my fifth gathering. I survived Red Rocks in Denver in 1989, have been to three in New Orleans, and one in Orlando. I've been able to go with all three of my children, and that has made each trip very special and a lot of fun.

Most of youth and adults going with us this time are attending their first gathering. They have no idea what it will be like to be with 25,000 other Lutheran youth in one place at one time, worshiping, singing, dancing, yelling and making a bunch of new friends.

Right after the benediction tomorrow, we're off, two long days in a van ahead of us. Doesn't get any better than that.

 

An extraordinary ordination

Yesterday I had the privilege of ordaining my son into the office of the holy ministry. His district president granted me permission to do so, and I served as officiant and preacher for this unique service about church. I am so thankful for the nearly two hundred friends, family, members and clergy who gathered to worship on Sunday afternoon.

I didn't know what to expect as the service began. What I mean is, I didn't know how I'd feel. At my children's baptisms, confirmations and most recently my son's wedding, I had some emotional moments when I got a little choked up and had to pause, take a breath and collect myself before continuing. I had my message prepared, but as I looked at the pastors who had come to be a part of the service, I knew I had to say something about each one of them. Each one played an important part in my son pursuing full-time church work. My brother-in-law who introduced me to my wife over thirty years ago was with us. My son’s father-in-law who had four children, two of whom are pastors and one of whom is now my son's wife was in attendance with his entire family. The campus pastor from Florida State was there, as well as vicars from our congregation who encouraged my son along the way. A retired pastor from our congregation represented all the members who prayed for and encouraged him along the way. A living biography! I also reflected upon the nature of his “labor,” the preaching of the gospel, but also reminded him to be himself, and especially to call his mama. After my amen, I gave him a big hug, and that is one of the best ways I can think of to end a sermon. There were a couple of moment when I started to feel emotions swelling up, but nothing overwhelming.

The powerful moment was when I placed my hands on his head and ordained him to the office of the holy ministry. What a moment, what a privilege, and what an awareness of our prayers being answered. Our Lord sending out another worker into his harvest!

After each pastor in attendance blessed him with words of scripture and encouragement, we prayed of the Lord's Prayer together. In that moment, the collective voices of the saints in heaven must have joined us here on earth, for our petitions have never thundered like that before! Yes, we were indeed surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses.

And then I got to place the red stole around his shoulders. Representing the yoke of Christ, it is indeed light and easy to bear, for His words are living, active, powerful, healing and forgiving. He finished up the service with prayers and a blessing, and it was time to relax, celebrate and get to work. After all, the harvest is great and the laborers are few.

I may never do another ordination, so I am thankful for the chance to do this one. I am thankful for the musicians, the worshipers, my colleagues who attended, the friend who made him a set of stoles, the many, many hands who prepared the reception afterwards and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit on this extraordinary day!

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Equal time for Dad

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In my Mother’s Day post, I promised to give Dad equal time. Good thing I remembered. Five weeks have flown by and it’s the eve of Father’s Day. Here goes.

My Dad is still in our Ridley Park home where he’s lived for the last forty-eight years. He was born at Taylor hospital, which is just a half-mile down the road. Except for a few years in Bucks County, he’s lived in the southeast suburbs of Philadelphia for eighty of his eighty-nine years. No wonder it’s hard for him to think of moving.

The youngest of seven children, William Douthwaite, Jr. (I’m the third) graduated from Nether-Providence high school in 1942. I don’t think he made it to his seventieth reunion last year, but I know he made it to his 65th. He trained as a B-17 tail gunner for the army air corps, and was stationed in various places in the South Pacific during WWII. I don’t think he saw any combat, but probably would have been part of the invasion of Japan had surrender not followed the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945.

After he came home, he attended Villanova University and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. He began working in northeast Philadelphia then in Camden, NJ. He worked on the guidance systems for the Minuteman missile. That’s really something, when you consider that transistors were pretty new at that time. The good thing is that he could always fix our TV, because he could figure out which tube was bad and replace it. (If you don’t know what a tube is, ask your grandparents, or a rock musician who likes powerful amps.)

Dad always left early each morning, because his commute included a train ride and a transfer to the “el” (elevated train) to get to northeast Phila. The train station was right near our house, so when he walked in the door at 6 pm, supper was ready and we sat down to eat.

Things dad taught me: how to hit, throw and catch a baseball, how to do a basic auto tuneup, how to plant and maintain a garden, how to build a fort, how to do some basic electrical repairs, how to make Hamburger Helper, and what a faithful follower of Christ looked like. He took me to baseball games at Connie Mack and then the Vet, basketball games at the Palestra, and to the Franklin Institute. I remember those trips like yesterday. He hardly ever missed bad concerts, football game halftime shows, and Cub Scout events.

I have vague memories of living in NE Phila for a few years, but can’t ever remember going to church. However, from the time we moved to Delaware County, I can’t remember ever not attending worship. Ironically, the reason we went to the Lutheran Church (LC-MS) is because my grandmother lived right next door to the church, so that’s where we went. My Dad and Mom were always in worship, Bible class, in leadership, and out doing evangelism. Church life was part of the fabric of our lives (to borrow a phrase.) That quiet example and lifestyle of faithfulness shaped the lives of my sister, brother and I, leading us into very active adult lives in the church. My brother and I are pastors, and my sister has played the organ for many services over the years. Want to pass along faith to the next generation? Let your kids see how important it is to you. It is one of the most powerful messages you can send.

After I and then my brother went to the seminary, my Dad started reading theology. I mean real theology, like the Book of Concord, Law and Gospel, and lots of Luther. I remember him telling me he never really understood grace until he read those volumes. He and his family had just gone to the closest church while growing up which I think was originally Baptist, but then became Methodist. I guess you never do stop learning.

Dad’s forgetting more than he remembers now, can’t really keep up with the yard work and house repairs, and knows that it’s just about time to move from the house closer to one of his children. It will probably be close to my brother, and for Fathers Day they are looking at apartments.

When I asked him what he wanted for Fathers Day, he said, “Just something good to eat.” So I sent him some cookies, because he never forgets to eat those! Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

Planning an ordination

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My son just graduated from the seminary and received his first call into the pastoral ministry. Just a few days ago I received permission from his district president to do his ordination at our church. Sweet.

Now I’ve only been to two ordinations in my life. The first was my own, in June of 1986 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Coventry, CT, my first parish. That seems like a long, long time ago. The second was for one of our vicars when he graduated. Now that I am planning a service and preparing a sermon, I wish I had been paying closer attention.

On the one hand, it’s not too hard. The Order of Vespers with the Rite of Ordination before the Collects. With a hymnal and an Agenda, a piece of cake. Worship folder? Plenty of templates to work from. Cover? That’s a little tougher. I thought I could find one to buy, but church publishing houses print stock very few. I can make my own, right? I found a picture to go with one of the texts he picked. Should work.

Now, a sermon. An ordination sermon. For my son. Hmm. Over the last twenty-seven years, I’ve preached somewhere around 1,000 times. But never for an occasion like this. I like all the texts he picked: Isaiah 6:1-8, 2 Timothy 1:8-14 and Matthew 9:35-38. I’m going to go with the harvest, prayer, laborers text of Matthew’s gospel. It’s time to get to work. I didn’t baptize him (I wasn’t yet a pastor when he was born), but I did confirm him and marry him and his wife. Now I get to ordain him! Like I said, sweet.

He doesn’t remember it, but he attended my ordination. Now I get to go to his. This is definitely one of the perks and blessings of being a pastor. And maybe a good way to begin an ordination sermon.

Getting His hands dirty

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This morning I began another cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. I choose a different translation to read through each time and this time, I’m reading the Common English Bible copyright 2011. The subtitle is “a fresh translation to touch the heart and mind.” I’m certainly not an expert on Bible translations, and I’m sure that this one, like all, has its shortcomings. Like many contemporary translations, I believe it strives to find a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought approaches to translation. I work with the English Standard Version each week for sermon preparation and worship, so we’ll see how it goes.

The verses that caught my attention early this morning were Genesis 2:7-8, “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed.” A long time ago in a place far away, God was getting his hands dirty, creating the first man and planting the first garden.

I checked the Hebrew word and indeed, the is plant, which means God and I have something in common. I have planted gardens. In fact, I really enjoy gardening. I suppose I got that from my father, who until recently had all kinds of gardens and grew some amazing roses. Now I find myself wondering if my heavenly Father enjoys gardening. Just imagine the Almighty, Eternal God, the Creator Himself, on his knees, digging a hole, mixing in some fertilizer, and adding a plant to His garden.

As I’ve written about in a previous post, there is something very relaxing about working in the garden. Now I know it’s really a spiritual experience!

A few (more) days with Dad (part 2, I guess)

The good thing about Dad sleeping in late each morning is that I get a chance to get some work done. Read, journaled, worked on my sermon, reserved a van for the youth gathering trip. Later in the morning I did a bunch of weeding in the yard, trimming around the lawn and cleaned up. I went in search of a blower to clear the driveway and found one serious source of wind power. It took long to wind up the cord than blow everything clean!

We had to do a little more shopping, but Dad forgot his list and we missed a few things. That's the challenge. Forgetfulness. In fact, when He got up this morning, he saw me and said, “Oh, you're still here?” “Yah, Dad, I told you I was leaving Thursday afternoon.” Later, when I was offering to help him catch up on his bills, he resisted, saying, “As soon as you all get out of here, I'll get back into my routine and take care of it.” He still likes his space, knows we're keeping an eye one things, and holds on to what he can. His comments don't bother me. I know he won't remember our conversation. But I also know my sister will have to make him pay the bills when she visits next week.

On the positive side, he's got plenty of resources to cover a variety of living options. He's amazingly healthy, just slowing down. It's tough to see him most of his day in PJs, only really dressing to go to the store or church or putter in the yard because I'm out there. But it's nice to sit with him in the backyard, watch the birds and talk about family. I learn something new about him and his life every time I visit. This time I learned that his Uncle Arthur took him to his first professional baseball game sometime around 1936. They took the bus and trolley up to Shibe Park to watch his boyhood hero Jimmie Foxx play for the A's. he's got an old pic of Foxx on the wall in his office along with lots of old – really old – family photos.

On another wall were pictures of my Mom in nursing school and then as a nurse, wearing her double frill from Philadelphia General Hospital. I sent them to my daughter Olivia who is beginning her nursing education this fall. She replied, “I didn't know Grandma was a nurse!” Yup, it runs in the family!

Now I'm waiting at the airport in Philadelphia, wondering if we'll really fly to Jacksonville tonight, where Tropical Storm Andrea has set up shop. If so, it should be an interesting ride.

 

A few days with Dad (part 1)

Today I realized I haven’t been up here (Ridley Park) to see my dad in eighteen months! Far too long. He’s not a traveler, so I’m the one who makes the journey.

I flew up from Florida early in the morning, got a much nicer rental car than I expected, and stepped back in time, into a hometown that in some ways hasn’t changed all that much in decades. After a cup of coffee with dad, I wanted to help him with some yard work in the cooler hours of a beautiful spring day. The lawn hadn’t yet been cut this year, and after some generous spring rains, was two feet tall in some places on the hill. Yikes. A great hill for sledding in the winter, but a feat to mow under normal conditions. I set the mower up as high as it could go, and it powerfully threshed the yard on the first pass, and manicured the lawn on the second, normal setting. Not to be outdone, dad trimmed.

As I mowed, I noticed what looked like little strawberries all over the bottom part of the yard. I had never seen them before. Sure enough, after a little research, I learned that they are a wild strawberry weed that is very common in this area, and tough to get rid of. No wildlife seems to want them, so I guess they are destined to be a part of the yard. I vividly remember playing hours and hours of run the bases, pitcher/catcher and infield practice when we were growing up. Our own little stadium.

After a quick sandwich for lunch, I accompanied my dad to his afternoon doctor’s appointment, where I learned that he is still in very good health at eighty-nine. A little forgetful and not as ambitious as he used to be, he’s doing OK. The doctor’s encouragement when I mentioned we were thinking about dad moving in with or near my brother was welcome support as we take the initial steps towards that transition.

Since there really wasn’t too much food in the house other than frozen meals and expired hamburger, we picked up a few things at the grocery store so I could cook a few meals. Salmon, salad and roasted potatoes last night, un-expired hamburger, etc. for tonight. He doesn’t have a grill. I grill everything at home. I guess I’ll get by with a frying pan.

We watched some of the Phillies game after supper, but I didn’t last very long since I had gotten up at 3:30 am to get to the airport.

Coming to visit my dad is a cross between stepping into a time capsule and a museum. Same dining room table and chairs as when I was growing up. Lots of pictures of my mom on the walls, some from her 20’s and some from her 60’s. Same pots and pans in the kitchen. An archive of our growing-up years in photos and mementoes.

Going down into my day’s basement workshop is like going to a hardware store. He’s got just about every power tool, nail and wrench you can imagine. He’s still got his dad’s tools and tool box, no doubt antiques by now.

From now till when I leave, I need to make sure he stays on top of his bills (he hasn’t). But I need to do so in a way that doesn’t make him feel like I’m getting into his business, even though we are. Walking a tightrope, indeed.

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Sounds like home

 

I am visiting my dad for a few days in Ridley Park, a suburb just south of Philadelphia. Tonight, I'm lying in bed, listening to a whole catalogue of sounds I rarely hear in Florida.

In just the last few seconds, I've heard car and truck traffic on Chester Pike, a commuter train passing by the Crum Lynne Station on the Chester-Wilmington Line and a jet taking off from Philadelphia International Airport. Add to that a horn blaring off in the distance, the sound of the Philles-Marlins game from the downstairs TV, and my dad foraging for a late-night snack.

I haven't lived here for 35 years, and yet it sounds like home.