Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Alright, Covenant Church...."and away we go!"

With a hitch in his step and a little danced jig, Jackie Gleason would utter that line and launch into his program after completing his monologue. Now, for those of you too young to know who Jackie Gleason was, one – keep it to yourself, and two – Google him and find out.

After having celebrated our first service together, I feel we have launched our common ministry in a wonderful way. I’m overwhelmed with the enthusiasm we experienced and thankful for the graciousness you’ve shown my family and me.

The opportunity to live and sojourn is a unique thing for each of us. Six months ago, the thought of serving anywhere other than where I was did not enter the realm of possibility. And now, living among you, I am sure that there is no other place that I’m called to be for this season of my life.

We’ll have opportunity to get to know each other as the weeks become months, and the months become years – many years, I pray. Together, led by the Spirit, I believe Covenant Church’s moment to make an impact in the community has yet to reach its height. Let us commit to that journey…together.

And now, a quick word about my friend and colleague, Lora Jean Gowan. As the reality of this appointment became clear, I knew that the need for an Associate Minister was critical. I needed someone with pastoral experience, a pastor’s heart, a caring spirit, and prophetic fire. I needed someone who could walk in the door with me and be team with me from day one. There was only one person who fit the bill. I’m thankful to God that she’s working with me and we, together, are ministering for, with and among you. I’m thankful to our District Superintendant, Rev’d Barry Henson, for taking up the charge to make this match of our gifts with this place happen, and to Bishop Dick Wills, for believing in us.

Now, you folks here at Covenant do things a bit different than I’m conditioned to, so we’ve got some figuring out to do together. Since I am the pastor of the whole church, and a good contingent of my congregation worships in a different venue at the same time worship takes place in the sanctuary, I was concerned about being in two places at once. God has gifted me with many things, simultaneous presence, ain’t one of ‘em!

Here is how Lora Jean and I are going to begin our work among you. Included in this edition of the newsletter is a preaching schedule through August. The coming Sunday’s preaching schedule will be posted on our website Monday morning of the new week. We will share preaching leadership at the 8:30 a.m. service, and I will preach monthly and on 5th Sundays at Crosswalk. That is 16 times a year. I’m eager for the opportunity and challenge each service brings.

For now, and on the foreseeable horizon, we are both going to preach from the Lectionary. We are using that tool as a means to frame our worship and common life around Christ story told through a given year. Lectionary preaching pushes us all to life afresh with the Holy Scripture. I challenge us all to become reacquainted with Scripture as a means to tell us who we are as God's people, and who we shall be; members of God's family and co-laborers in working toward the Realm of God coming into being on earth as it is in heaven.

As for me? You'll find much of who I am and what I write on my blog, www.johnnyjeffords.blogspot.com . There you'll find stuff that has preoccupied my thoughts over the years. Some of it will be sermons, some of rants about things going on in the world, and some of it will be a little bit about not much. You may agree with my perspective, and some of it you won't. And that's really o.k. Our capacity to be in fellowship precisely because we are not all the same is evidence of God's grace.

So, if you're ready, I am...and away we go!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Week That Was

What a week.

Has it only been five days ago that I turned my keys, Sam's card (need another one, like now!), and credit card in to Emma, got in the truck and drove across town to start ministry afresh at Covenant?

Wow! Haven't even preached a sermon yet, and feel very welcomed. We'll see the response after Sunday!?

Since last Sunday -
  • Christopher has gone on a school trip to DC and NYC - and was selected to put a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington - something I can't wait to get pics to share. I told him this was a big deal, not to play as Mr. Cool, but be very respectful - I hear he did great.
  • Jack has spent the week with my folks.
  • I've unpacked box after box after box, and have pretty much all books done, just waiting on the interior decorating committee (Kristy and her mom) to come figure out where I"m going to hang all my credentials, mementos and art work, including two incredible new pieces I briought with me as a parting gift from St. J. - one, the work of the other Mrs. Jeffords, go here for that story; and the other, a framed picture from my friend, photo archivist, and kindred Trekker brother, Collins, of the historic pulpit it was my honor to preach Gospel from for eight years.
  • I have felt the twinges of "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore," as I drive 8 minutes to work.
  • I've had the renewed sense of camaraderie as I hear LJ's laugh just down the hall from me.
  • Kristy and I had some time to go out for dinner, to movies - any movie we wanted.
  • The Grizzlies made some typically strange choices with the NBA draft, although I think Thabeet may be a critically important piece on the defense - I hope.
  • Oh yeah, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died. Now, each of these merits independent reflection from the other. The proximity of their deaths further feeds the "it always comes in three" fire. I won't play into that. Posts on the impact of each of these three on my younger days will be forthcoming.
  • Willie Herenton resigned. No further post necessary. Maybe a round of the Doxology is in order, however.
  • Oh, finally, I have a first Sunday now only hours away. The text, from Mark 5. Jesus has crossed to other side after telling the sea and storm to shut up, and is barely grazed by one, who by faith, trusted that such connection can free her of her ailment. He also encounters a religious leader whose daughter is believed dead. He tells her to get up. Now those who think the lectionary a too boxed in way to go about the homiletical task, I give you this text. What a way to start. The Spirit's not a part of the Lectionary? Gimme a break.

So that's been my week so far. And it's still Friday night. The boys get home tomorrow, and the house will be thumping.

I'm hopeful for an uneventful Saturday.

But you know how that goes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Journey's Next Steps . . .

Join Us for Worship This Sunday,
June 28, As a New Chapter in
Covenant's Story Begins

"Get Up!"
Mark 5.21-43
Rev'd Dr. Jonathan L. Jeffords, Preaching

Be there to welcome Johnny as he launches his tenure as our new Senior Pastor.

We also welcome our new Associate Pastor,
Rev'd Lora Jean Gowan, who joins with Johnny to serve as our clergy team.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Boxed Memories

This is packing week.

It's loomed on my calendar for awhile, and now it's on me.

I've done this all my life. Part of being an itinerant family is knowing there are seasons that come and go, and moving is always lurking out there.

Granted, this year, the only person in my family really concerned about the physicality of moving is me.

We don't have to change homes. I'm changing offices and locales of the work place.
(Oh, family o' mine, you're welcome).

And yet, it tasks me.

Packing boxes, no problem. That's no big deal.

Being married into a family whose business is books, boxes are no worry.

I have over 20 boxes of books packed. I've read some of most of them and all of some.

The part that grabs me is packing the stuff in my space that makes it more than a library, even more than a study, it's the stuff that makes the space mine.

It's touching the artwork, the stained glass, the mementos, tokens and talismen that make that space sanctuary for me, as well as for those who join with me in that space to be counselled, to chat, or to confer.

Each has a story. Each story of someone I've known, loved, served or studied with who made it or bought it and gave it to me as sign of our relationship, or as a reflection of what they thought of me.

So, I have Mom's stained glass.
A clay turtle given to me by Courtney and Jessica from Asbury
An earthenware bowl given to me by Carole Ann from Asbury
Lori's painting from Asbury
Jamie's artwork of Micah 6 from St. J
Collins' sketches from St. J
A plaque from the Healing Connection from Asbury
TC's Cross from St. J.
Carmen's Madonna and child from my D. Min group
Barbara's Angel from Bishop's office
John's stone cross from Bemis
JB's picture of NOLA from St. J
Earthenware collected over the years
The little preacher gifted from my first girlfriend.
My Dulcimer made for my 30th B'day and gifted by the Roatens from Asbury
Artwork of my kids
Pictures and artwork of churches I've served.
Pictures of Glad River from our beginnings
A photo album of my youth group at Whitehaven UMC back in 1983.
Letters, photos and cards from members past and present.

And more, and more - it goes on and on.

I look at pictures of me from back then and think, "Man, I'm getting old."

I'm packing not only the stuff that makes ministry work for me in a given space, I'm also repacking stuff of my past in other places at other times and remembering people I loved and served for so many years.

And through the melancholy of goodbye I reflect with gladness on lives and places I loved in my life knowing that this place has given me memories aplenty to reflect upon.

So, I'll go to my new space. There'll be some shakedown time to make it mine. I'll have to bring in my staff of interior designers (Kristy and her mom), and it'll be my space in short order.

Anybody who knows me knows that I must have a space. My place - to study, to be, to write, to listen to music (often too loud), to invite in those who need a safe place to sit and ponder with me the questions of faith that preoccupy.

My new friends will have to get used to overhead fluorescent lights that will never be on. Natural light from the window and the soft light from Papaw's lamp will fill the room.

A life of memories boxed and ready for transport. True enough,there's quite a few more boxes going with me than came when I first arrived.

Memories do that, don't they? Accumulate?

Time to turn the page.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Few Thoughts from the Beach

Posts have been fewer and fewer in recent weeks.

I've had many thoughts pass through my head to which I'd say to myself, "Self, you need to post something on that," but alas, time was too fleeting to give any such thoughts their due.

Some random thoughts -

I'm now in the homestretch of a few days away, at our usual spot, until I return and go about the painful task of saying goodbye to folks I love deeply, and a place I labored with great passion for eight years.

I leave there honoring the best part of our United Methodist tradition knowing that whatever Saint John's is, it's not because of me. It's more like how I describe church membership for any who would come to be a part of a congregation I serve. That is, for a particular season of our journey we, as practicing disciples of Jesus, hang our shingle out in the company of others, who together comprise as a congregation. They are our fellow pilgrims on the way. We practice our discipleship of Jesus here, wherever "here" happens to be.

So it is for those of us who vowed our lives to the order of Elders. We promised we'd go to wherever those charged to watch over us call us to go trusting the Spirit of God is at work. I vowed to be obedient to that order.

I know a couple of people, some of whom vowed the same thing I did, who have told me such talk is archaic and not in touch with the contemporary business models for how effective leadership is secured.

That may all be true, and yet I don't believe them necessarily incompatible.

The product of a faithful vow belies conventional thinking.

Systems may be flawed (ours is), people within system may be less than they could/should be (ours are), and yet within our falleness always comes the opportunity for redemption.

The day we stop believing in the redemption of the fallen and broken - of all persons and systems, we need to cash in and chain up the doors, cause at that point, it's all over, folks.

Although it came at a time I didn't expect, the call for me to be obedient emerged again. How could I do any other?

Rarely, if ever, does God's call come on our time table anyway.


"Fixed." That's the word the bishop says when the appointments for the coming year are official. "I declare these appointments fixed."

It's done.

No place to look but ahead and be ready to engage the new tasks for ministry with vigor.

Hearing those words,especially when you're about to change, hits the ear a little differently. I heard those words last week, not with a jolt, but with a relief.

I've been told that mine was among the very first appointments made this year, with first word of its possibility coming in the first days of February.

That's a long time for anybody to live in waiting.

But it's fixed, now.

Time to go. Time to work. Time to do what I'm called to do in a new venue. And now, in hearing those words, excitement is building for what can be for the flock I'm now called to shepherd in Cordova along with my partner in ministry, Lora Jean.

"Happiness Is . . . " It was a strange feeling. I didn't expect it when it hit, and I was so thankful it did. Glad River had a mini-reunion last week at Annual Conference. We had been asked to provide musical context to the report of the Outreach Team. We played John Michael Talbot's "St. Teresa's Prayer," and David Haas' "We Are Called." What made it extra sweet was that we were complete. Our original line up was present. We had Anne back. It was a special moment.

We had no commitment to do anything other than play these two tunes on a stage we debuted "We Are Called" at Annual Conference, 1995. The freedom to come together and play and move on helped make it easy.

It hit me when Brad clicked off the first few beats of "We Are Called" and away we went. As if timeless, the voices were there, the spirit of our singing was there, the crowd was in it.

I was happy. That's it. Happiness. The realization that I have not felt that in quite that way in a longer amount of time than I'd care to admit brought into high relief how potent the moment was.

There's a zone you get in when it's right in life. It happens in sports, music, relationships, life. You're in it, and all you want to do is relish the moment that is.

More than a few folks noted something different in my spirit that day. I did, too. I wished I felt it more often.

We've all moved on to much busier lives since those that allowed us to gather, practice, play and travel the annual conference gigging in county seat sanctuaries, and high school cafetoria. Most of us didn't have children then, or at least as many. We were all associate ministers back then, and we all lived in the same town.

Last week showed that there may yet be the remant of a stream, maybe but a trickle in Glad River's bed. Whatever we'll be will never replicate what we were, which is really o.k. For everything there is a season.

I think the happiness was found most in the concrete reminder of what formed us in the first place, that we were friends first, who love to play music together.

That was special.

"KT" - My time in Florida this year is not all vacation. I had to work. I officiated my sister-in-law's wedding. Katie (to her I'm John-John), is somebody I've watch grow before my eyes. She was about the age Jack is now when I first met her. I found myself choked up a bit as I was reciting their vows. Little Katie, a woman, and a married one at that. It was a beach wedding, a first for me. I was in full liturgical regalia and barefoot on the sand. Felt good.

I was surprised and thankful for how easy everything transpired with the wedding. Best behavior all around (whew!). Katie is married to Kris, a great guy from a great family. We're now family with a New York family. Dare I say even, connected?


The merger of these families is the stuff of fairy tale and strange coincidence, but very cool.

My family kept telling me how great a job I did with the wedding, as if they were surprised. I'm like, "Hey, I don't make this stuff up out the air, this is my job, this is what I do."

There was some curiosity of how I'd handle the Protestant/Catholic thing. Are you kidding? That's in my wheelhouse.

"Everyone keeps saying what a great job you did, Johnny."

Would you tell the surgeon, "great job on that surgery?"

You might do that, but what would come first would be the expectation that excellence would rule the day because the person is trained to be just that.

I appreciate the thought. I really do. I just find the surprise that I "pulled it off" kinda funny.

Anyway - Katie and Kris - Cheers.


A few focused thoughts from the beach. That ought do for a bit.