About Matt Meinke

Presbyterian minister @MaumeeVP//Morning Reflections guy//Adjunct professor//Leadership consultant//Organizational Development//Progressive//OU, Thunder, Packer fan

The Importance of Sabbath Rest

Church leaders everywhere are exhausted.  Of course we are!  2020 and 2021 have brought unprecedented challenges.  Nothing in seminary prepared us for how to lead in times of pandemic.  This second wave of COVID spread has heaped on top of what has been over a year of constantly tacking in new directions.  Just when we thought there was going to be rest after a long journey, the DELTA variant has said to churches, “Not so fast!”  Constantly changing COVID protocols, upset congregants, CDC and State guidelines, way too many funerals, cancelled vacation plans, mask mandates, unresolved grief, zoom burnout, being our church’s tech guru, week-to-week changes in worship planning, and no clear end in sight – it is all exhausting.

Never in my years of ministry have I seen so many leaders prone to clergy burnout, exhaustion, and borderline hopelessness.  I need your help in lifting up our ministers and helping them to rediscover joy in ministry and reconnecting to God’s hopeful future for us all.  Please take a moment to write your minister a note of thanks.  Think about sending a small gift.  Or call them to express your thanks, encourage them, or ask what they can do to help in these tough times. 

One of the things I feel is desperately needed is opportunities to unplug from the constant barrage of expectations and demands.  What are ways your minister can most easily experience refreshment and realign themselves with the God of rest? 

Sabbath observance is of the utmost importance, now more than ever.  And creative approaches to Sabbath are equally as important, as resting at home may no longer cut it, especially when you have been working from home all week!  For me Sabbath is sometimes getting away from home for the day, although that presents its own challenges to true rest.  Often in ministry the reality is that Sabbath comes in deliberate chunks, not a strict set 24 hour period. 

I believe our cell phones are at the root of our problem when it comes to breaking the 4th Commandment.  Walter Brueggemann said in his book Sabbath as Resistance, “Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses … along with anxiety and violence.” 

I think of all the digital devices we have, and how their intent was to draw us better together.  And they can!  And they have.  But they have also become monsters in and of themselves, beeping and buzzing and demanding our attention all day and sometimes all night, often drawing us away from the task at hand.  Brueggemann talks about multitasking in that same book, and he does not paint a very nice picture as you might expect!

I need your help.  Now is a time when we need to be intentional about drawing closer to God and realigning ourselves with the God of rest.  Those of us in the pew need to be cognizant of what our minister’s Sabbath practices look like.  We need to stop thinking that Sunday is a Sabbath for ministers, because Sunday is work for them and church musicians, often filled with church meetings and new pastoral care concerns and visits. (Interesting note: Sunday was a work day in early Christendom, with 1st and 2nd Century Christians gathering in the early morning down by the river to worship God, and then heading to work, as Sunday was a workday in Roman culture until very late in their existence.)  Second, we need to stop calling our ministers on their Sabbath with the opening words, “I know today is your day off, but….”  Third, we need to activate the Deacons during minister vacations. 

Those of us who are ministers need to talk more about Sabbath practices and encourage them in our communities.  We need to preach about Sabbath, and spell out our own practices and expectations of Sabbath rest.  We all know pastoral emergencies happen.  But if I turn off my cell phone for 12 hours or 24 hours is the sky going to fall?  Perhaps there are alternative ways for people to contact us if there is an emergency.  Communicating those practices are going to be increasingly important in this 24/7 world of texting and push notifications.  We also need to stop treating the Sabbath as a day to catch up on chores or shopping.  That fits right into that problem of our commodity-propelled society, doesn’t it?

I lived in Jerusalem for a semester.  I cannot tell you the power of a whole community practicing Sabbath TOGETHER.  This is where the true power of Sabbath begins.  What would our presbytery look like if everyone of us began Sabbath rest as the sun set on Friday and ALL of us rested together until sundown on Saturday?  I guarantee I wouldn’t get 400 new emails on my day off. 

Celebrating the Sabbath in Jerusalem was also a powerful reminder to me that Sabbath wasn’t sitting around doing nothing, but a special time to reconnect to God in prayer and community.  The day was organized differently.  The prayers were different.  The interactions and people I encountered on Friday into Saturday were different.

I have maintained that Friday trajectory for much of my ministry.  Today my Sabbath is filled with a variety of experiences.  The prayer book continues to nourish that time, and often speaking the Hebrew words helps remind me of the importance of Sabbath and its roots.  The dog helps me greatly, with numerous Sabbath walks in order, often down by the river in Perrysburg or across the bridge on the Maumee side.  I utilize yoga, reading, tending to our plants, and often bread-making or music-making.  The prayer book is essential throughout.  Time visiting with friends is a majority of my Sabbath, as often I can hear God speaking more powerfully through others than through my individual prayer times. More recently I have come to realize sometimes I am almost too regimented and too methodical with Sabbath. Simply receiving the time as a gift can be challenging for me.  I need to not force Sabbath, and let God’s Sabbath come as a gift.  

How can you breathe deeply into God’s Shalom?

Above all, I encourage each of you to adopt Sabbath practices and stick to them, letting their rhythm and familiarity guide you over time.  Returning to something familiar has power, even if the demands in ministry take you away from them one or two weeks in a row.  

Of course we don’t live in a culture that practices Sabbath.  And that is another root of the problem, and our challenge in realigning ourselves with our God of Shalom and rest.  But if we can come to terms with that reality/shortcoming of our society and work around it, we too can follow the 4th Commandment (and the 10th Commandment also).  Communication and expectations of one another are key.  But mainly we need to get more serious about following this important command from God.  Remember…

God felt so strongly about Sabbath rest, He decided to make it more than just a SUGGESTION.

-Matt

God, Show Us the Way

AM Psalm 46, 97 ; PM Psalm 96, 100
Isa. 49:1-7; Rev. 21:22-27; Matt. 12:14-21

Today is the Epiphany.  The Christmas season has ended.  But the Light of God has not.  In fact the light is only beginning to shine.  And that is what Epiphany celebrates – the light shining and spreading into the world.  This time in the church is often a time of focus on the miracles, and passages in which we see the depth of God’s light to our world.

I don’t have to tell you what a trying time this has been for the Church. COVID-19 has stretched and stressed some of our churches to the brink. And yet others have managed to discover new ways of “being church”. They have found God’s grace despite the enormous challenges.

Just today I was helping one minister pave the way for a virtual Ordination and Installation service. Another was looking to have a congregational meeting virtually and needed to bounce some ideas off me.

But those are small examples of God’s light breaking in when compared to the enormous opportunities God has given us. I am talking about opportunities to BE THE BODY OF CHRIST in new and exciting ways.

It hasn’t been easy. From navigating pastoral care challenges, to congregants dying of the coronavirus, from stewardship challenges, to strained relationships, our prayer for the better part of this last year has been GOD, SHOW US THE WAY.

It has been a humbling time in ministry. Most days I do not know the way.

This has felt like a dark time for many. Our prayers have often been to make it past these difficult days, and get back “to normal.” I am not sure I even know what normal is anymore. Nor should I. I believe God is doing a new thing with us, and for us. Our job is not to turn back, but to look forward into the light.

As we seek that Light, we need to embrace our new reality for the opportunities it presents – for ways that the church can flourish, despite challenges. This has been our story for over 2000 years. It has not changed.

In our passage from Revelation, God’s story of salvation spills out as a story of Light.  The new Jerusalem is declared and “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its Light.” We learn that this city’s gates will never be shut and “there will be no night there.”

Friends, this is our reality now! As people whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, we need not fear the night. Nor do we live in the dark. We live in the Light, and all of these curve balls and challenges of this last year are opportunities to discover new ways of BEING LIGHT and SHARING LIGHT.

God is doing a new thing among us. And God’s glory will continue to shine. Let’s embrace the Light together.

-Matt

General Assembly Musing – #6

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Saturday’s Assembly was a day to remember.  The first virtual Assembly in the history of our denomination came to a close.  And it was, by all accounts, a great success!

And while the dust settles, and commissioners recover from a long day, I hope they can celebrate in the biggest news of the day – the reelection of J. Herbert Nelson to a second term as our Stated Clerk.

You heard me right.  This is the big news of the day.

Some who were part of the Assembly may think that is an odd thing for me to say, for much business was enacted today, some that may make headlines.  But the lasting change of this Assembly is yet to play out, another 4 years of this visionary and determined advocate for justice.

My takeaway from today is CELEBRATION – not just for J. Herbert, but for the great work that was done.  And more so, it is the first time I have really felt General Assembly really STAND up for those who are marginalized, truly listening to and lifting up our Indigenous siblings.  I feel like we turned a page today, and we are truly listening to the cries of those among us who are experiencing pain.

And J. Herbert will carry that “lifting” forward, as will our 2 new Co-Moderators.

Many may have left the Assembly with a sour taste in their mouths, perhaps feeling slighted or downright miffed – in something that the Assembly did not do, despite the pleadings of many.  Those feelings may range from disappointment, to hurt, or even  traumatized, for the 224th PC(USA) General Assembly failed to consider a statement on Black Women and Girls offered by Rev. Kerri Allen, Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, and the Black Women and Girls Task Force.  In the words of a friend, “When will we acknowledge our participation ‘in structural sin that has exploited, abused, and dehumanized Black women and girls?’ Not at this GA.”

That disappointment may have turned to anger for some at the Assembly when during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of sacred silence to remember George Floyd and other Black and Brown people who continue to experience oppression even to the point of death, one ignorant commissioner evidently placed a sign on his screen revealing that racism is alive and well in the church.  (I did not see it, but am already hearing stories.  And I hope this one idiot doesn’t detract from the good work that has begun.)

But I come back to the election of J. Herbert.

Racism isn’t going away in a week or a month.  White privilege will continue to haunt us.  But 4 more years of a clerk that has brought sweeping change to our national office.  Wow.  That alone provides a bit of continuity – an agenda and vision carried forward for 4 more years.

That’s four years of overhauling the dysfunction at PMA/GA that has haunted us for decades.  That’s four years of a prophetic voice dismantling powers and principalities and listening for the voice of the Shepherd.  That’s four more years of stable leadership, and a commitment to turning the page on the past, reaching out to young people and BIPOC. That’s four more years of retooling how we “do church” at mid-council levels, undisturbed by yet another “regime change”.

In short, his reelection gives me hope.

J. Herbert is a megaphone for God’s gracious activity and possibility within the PCUSA, and he will continue to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

So rest in the work that you have done, siblings in Christ.

You have set the stage for God’s gracious new future for us all!  And you are listening.  And you have encouraged us to LISTEN to the Spirit still.

(Below is a picture of me and J. Herbert, taken a couple years ago at one of our Mid-Council Leader Gatherings.)

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-Matt

General Assembly Musing – #5

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In no uncertain terms, I feel the energy of this Assembly, and its energy centers around pledging to work against systemic racism.  Bold steps were taken Friday to address that very topic, voting overwhelmingly to affirm that Black lives matters, and confessing that the church has had a complicit part in perpetuating injustices to Black and Brown bodies.

It was impressive and decisive with which the Assembly was able to act, sometimes as a committee of the whole.  This all came about with a substitute motion, called Responding to the Sin of Racism and a Call to Action which was ultimately approved 407-72 (85% yes).  It was a resolution that was more strongly worded than the original motion proposed by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly.

A number of commissioners spoke to how the original motion simply did not go far enough, and that the assembly needed to name, speak and act with regards to opposing white supremacy, white privilege, systemic racism and white silence.

Later in the day, the Assembly made a strong statement in support of our Native American community, seeking to repent for centuries of neglect and abuse, and also took swift action to support some specific concerns among our Native American churches, including lending assistance to Louis Fife and my other siblings in Christ at the Achena Presbyterian Church, and also Teddy and Juanita Tiger and my other siblings at the Cheyahra Presbyterian Church, both in Indian Nations Presbytery where I used to serve as pastor and stated clerk.

I was very happy with those outcomes.

I suspect these actions will be only the first steps in many as the echoes of the General Assembly are felt in the wider church.

In that respect, the imagery displayed by our new co-moderators is befitting.  Their election is no happenstance.  They embody the Assembly’s energy with regard to their hopes and dreams for a brighter (not whiter) future.

The image above is a Sankofa bird, prominently displayed behind our co-moderators at the podium.  Co-Moderator Elona Street-Stewart described the image as a: “Sankofa bird wading in the sacred waters of the Mississippi River. Two cultures come together – African and Indigenous ancestors guiding us forward.”

I love this image!  Part of the power of this traditional Ghanaian symbol, common among the Akan Tribe, is how this mythical bird has its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backward.  The Akan believe strongly that the past must serve as a guide for planning the future, and that in the wisdom of learning from the past, a strong future is ensured.

Sankofa is a word from the Twi language in Ghana (Twi is spoken by many, many Presbyterians by the way!) and it translates as “Go back and get it.”  This powerful image of a bird with its head turned backward, often with a precious egg or a heart in its mouth, is also an image of what the church needs to do.  We need to go back and reclaim our true path laid out by Christ, who joined with the poor and afflicted, and confess ways in which we have fallen short of the inclusive glory of God.  We need to go back and undo systems which have disadvantaged whole groups of people, and have been used to disintegrate the unity of the Body of Christ.  We need to go back and start afresh.

The Akans believe that as time passes there must be movement and new learning.  It is only in new learning, with a knowledge of the past that must never be forgotten, that a march forward can proceed.

This is where we find ourselves as a Church.  We need to confess.  We need to turn away from the evils of the past.  And we must move forward, never forgetting the difficulties of our past.

Only then will God be able to use us as His instruments, and realize God’s bright new future for us ALL.

-Matt

General Assembly Musing – #4

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It has been a quiet week from General Assembly.  There was a Hands and Feet: Youth Rising Event.  There has been Bible Study, in a pre-recorded session.  There really hasn’t been much happening.  And that is the summary of GA so far: there hasn’t been much happening.

Of course this was the plan.  With a pandemic and a virtual GA came a simplified docket and schedule, and dealing with only essential business.  This GA is shaping up to be the quietest GA ever.  Of course that could change with the plenary sessions tomorrow and Saturday.  We will see.

One could look at this as a great gift.  One could also look at it as a missed opportunity.  After all, we as a denomination could have convened General Assembly virtually a couple months ago, descended into a virtual world of elaborate committee meetings, and come at the work in a remarkably different way.  This would have been refreshing and exciting.  It could also have produced bold, dynamic, or even daring legislation to move the church in profound new ways.  This would probably have created for a lot of fireworks, and most certainly brought legal challenges – at a ground-level, i.e. whether or not this virtual meeting was even legal.

So ultimately I side (as you might suspect a good Presbyterian would) with trusting our process and the recommendations of the committees that crafted this trajectory.  I trust the Holy Spirit is at work, paring down work in order for our hopes and dreams to blossom and flourish in other ways.

Of course, we will see.  God may yet have some surprises in store.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the quiet day of General Assembly (in fact there are NO events scheduled today).

And to those commissioners who may be suffering from dashed hopes or feelings of guilt, lament, or longing, rest in this thought: you elected two of the most amazing people in our denomination.  Greg is a visionary pastor at his church, and I trust will continue to be that for us on a national level.  Elona has been one of the strongest champions for racial justice and equity that I have ever known.  You elected them.  And they will be God’s megaphone into this daring new post-COVID world we will soon find ourselves in.  If that is all you did, you did enough.  They will embody the theme of this Assembly for you: Lament to Hope.  They will carry the mantle of racial justice forward for you.  They will heal divisions and shower the church with grace for you.

Below are a couple pictures of Cathi King, our Teaching Elder Commissioner, as she works from home earlier this week.  In fact in the bottom picture you can see her celebrating on Zoom right after Greg and Elona were elected on the first ballot.

She and Tom (who was featured in a previous blog) along with Chloe our Young Adult Advisory Delegate, will take up their work tomorrow for a long day that may go well into the night.  Pray for them, and for all our commissioners.  Also feel free, to join in, by watching at ga-pcusa.org. Opening Worship at 11am on Friday.

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May God grant us the grace of His way forward.

-Matt

General Assembly Musings – #3

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Last night, in a rescheduled session, the 224th General Assembly elected our new Co-Moderators.  Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and Teaching Elder Gregory Bentley were overwhelmingly elected, garnering 304 votes and easily winning on the first ballot.

Elona is the executive of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, and Greg is pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

It was a moving election, even in its virtual format.  “I am hippopotamus happy and dinosaur delighted,” Bentley said. Elona’s screen was filled with family and joyful, tearful exasperations.

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They now take over as head of the Presbyterian church in the midst of two pandemics, the COVID-19 pandemic which triggered the virtual GA, and the other a racial pandemic that continues to tear at our country and our church, a pandemic that Elona and Greg are uniquely positioned to help address.  Elona is a descendant of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe and the first Native American to serve as General Assembly Moderator, and the first synod executive to be elected, who stated last night: “The world needs a church that has no fear over its diversity.”

Greg is a southern African-American pastor, who speaks with confident hope about our future: “We believe the denomination is headed in the right direction…. We want to heed Christ’s call to not be afraid … We want to run this race with perseverance, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

During the answering of questions from commissioners they referenced this hopeful direction, namely the Matthew 25 invitation, which Maumee Valley Presbytery has accepted and is enrolled as a Matthew 25 Presbytery.

I also sense their time as Co-Moderators will be a time that focuses on building up relationships and our collective narrative.  As part of the preliminary documents leading up to their election Elona stated: “Our personal experiences teach so much about who we are, and they are key to building relations across our differences, experiences and our church through the hope of the Matthew 25 initiative….We believe it will take all that we are, individually and collectively, to continue to take on the important work God has for the PC(USA) to do.”

Immediately after their election, the two were installed.

The Rev. Marie Mainard O’Connell and Arthur Fullerton received 90 votes. The Rev. Sandra Hedrick and Moon Lee got 65 votes.

As a colleague of Elona for the last few years, I know what a powerful voice she is for the stories of Indigenous people.  And while I have not yet met Greg, I believe these two have a great chance to move our church forward in healing and reconciliation.

Joy!

Matt

General Assembly Musings – #2

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We are Rising!  It’s time.

This was the call I heard earlier today a number of times at the Poor People’s Campaign March on Washington that I joined.  That call came from a number of religious and community leaders, including our Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, J. Herbert Nelson.  While this morning and afternoon was not part of the official docket of the Assembly, we were encouraged to join in.  And I am glad I did.

2020-06-20 11.14.44Some may have come thinking it would be more of a celebration and coming together, but instead it was a call for Revival, a call to repentance, a call for a national moral turnaround.  As a Presbyterian minister who is comfortable with communal calls to confession, I felt right at home.

The agenda was clear, this is a movement committed to shifting the moral narrative of this country – shifting to a moral agenda that lifts all people by challenging the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, and the distorted moral narrative that ties it all together.

It’s time to choose life.  It is time to do it together.  (In fact, it’s past time.)

I heard this call for transformative change sink deep into my heart as I heard one of the event’s coordinators shift from preaching to meddling near the end of the event, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.  It was a good shift.

Let’s change this narrative and change this reality.  Because it is past time.

To those of you that think this is all a political protest in the streets and has nothing to do with Church, I feel compelled to remind you: This is all straight out of the Bible.  Jesus had a lot to say about how we treat those who are trapped in poverty and in the line of fire, and what we are to do about that.

Now is the time, and I am hopeful this Assembly will step up and proclaim that from the mountaintop, and cajole us into joining this new narrative God has for us in 2020 and beyond.  It is actually taken from an old narrative — a narrative where justice rolls down like waters for all people, where love is stronger than lies, and where God’s love will ultimately win.

It’s time.

-Matt