New Church, Old Building? (Part 1)

The other day I received an unexpected phone call from a local realtor. He said, “the old Stanwood Presbyterian Church building is for sale or lease and I was wondering if you might be interested?” It took me a moment to process this revelation before letting him know that I would indeed like to take a look at it. You see, I was under the impression – I think all involved with Tidelands were under the impression – that there had never been an official Presbyterian Church congregation in Stanwood before! It turns out, that not only was there a Presbyterian Church founded early in the life of the Stanwood community (1906), but there was one founded on Camano Island as well (1915). I had to do some digging, but found this information listed in volume I & II of The Stanwood Story by Alice Essex. According to this same source, the Stanwood Presbyterian Church building was dedicated in July 1909 and the Rev. Mark Matthews of Seattle was involved (you can read more about his life in the book The Reverend Mark Matthews: An Activist in the Progressive Era by Dale Soden).StanwoodPresBuilding1

Before I say more about the building as it currently stands, let me share a bit about the journey that God has been leading me on. A few years ago, I did some interviewing for various pastoral positions in the PC(USA). One congregation I visited had an historic church building in a small, Washington community. The building was in constant need of repair and was surrounded by old downtown homes. After my visit I remember telling my wife, “That church wants to grow and expand but they have a building that is no longer functional for them. They need a pastor that will help them move out of their 100 year-old facility and organize a building campaign – but they don’t realize it! I don’t think that I am that guy.” At that time I still couldn’t conceive of a healthy, growing, congregation that wouldn’t need a large, modern facility with lots of rooms for all the programs. That has all changed since starting Tidelands.

IMG_1246 IMG_1247 IMG_1248In fact, two months ago at our board meeting (we call it our “Core Team” since we do not yet have an official session) I tried to share my “vision” for the kind of space that I could see us in. We have always known that our current worship space at the Stanwood Community & Senior Center would be temporary, and there have already been some Sundays where things have gotten a bit crowded. We want to have permanent office space in the community too, and ideally the two would be together in one place. However, we define ourselves as a congregation based on the missional community model. This means that our primary mode of being the church here is lived out in small, neighborhood, missional communities. This means that we don’t need a huge space with a lot of rooms for programs. We also don’t want to get sidetracked or impeded in our mission with a facility that requires a lot of time or money. So what might that space look like?

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I wrestled to find the right words as I talked with our Core Team, trying to explain what I felt in my heart to be the kind of space that would mesh our mission with this community and our identity. I didn’t do a very good job! Our clerk recorded this in our January minutes as she tried to capture what I was saying: “…looking for a space with a ‘grandmotherly’ feeling like the Social Room at the Senior Center has. A space that doesn’t feel commercial and cold, feels natural and authentic, a functional space in Stanwood possibly.” While I’m pretty sure I didn’t say “grandmotherly,” I know what I had in my mind. And what I had in my mind is exactly what I saw when I visited the old Presbyterian Church building!

So back to the building: Why would we even consider an historic church building in the old downtown part of Stanwood? If you take a look at the pictures in this post you will notice that the building itself has a small entry area, one large sanctuary area, and one side-room with a small kitchen on one end that would have to function as a multi-purpose room. There is one bathroom (handicap accessible), and a small raised platform area on the side of the sanctuary (original choir loft?). That’s pretty much it. There is no property to speak of outside. The building has been beautifully remodeled (we were told that the current owners found hand-written notes in the walls from the first members of the congregation). The floors are all hardwood and look original. You can even see an outline on the floor of where the original pulpit/chancel would have been.

IMG_1252As I mentioned earlier, it is not the most practical building for running a lot of programs simultaneously. But, at least for now, our “programs” are our missional communities and our worship gathering. It is in our missional communities that discipleship, Bible study, prayer, fellowship, children’s ministry, outreach, and so much more take place. The beauty of this is that this only requires wiling hosts to open their home (we also have a MC starting at the Senior Center utilizing their available space). This building would give us a functional office space in the side room, but it would need to be a shared space. I could see us setting up some simple workstations by the wall, thus keeping the bulk of the room open for children’s ministry or other activities. This would create a base for volunteers and a place for me to get administrative work done. I would maintain my “study” at my house (my current office). In the sanctuary we could utilize folding chairs and tables and a folding stage. This would give us the ability to keep the room open for community events or as a rental space to earn extra income (it was most recently used as a dance studio).

IMG_1265Obviously, this is not a new, modern space. While that would undoubtedly create some challenges, it also does something that we have been striving for from the beginning: it would root us into the story and fabric of this community and place. And what a story! With all that is being said about the demise of the church in our society, how wonderful it would be to be able to reclaim this historic church building as a house of worship and prayer! That, in itself, proclaims the gospel in a culture where new is often better and old is easily cast aside. Thus we could proclaim a new work of God for today in an old place.

I don’t know what happened to that original Presbyterian Church. I hope to eventually be able to do some more research and dig something up. I also realize that this building might not seem “old” to those of you living on the East Coast (and especially not to those living in Europe), but in this part of the county this is an “old” building. In the meantime, it is fun to dream of what could be.

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The New Guy

This past week I had lunch with a group of amazing pastors from the Stanwood – Camano Island area. This is a group that has been meeting about once a month for many years. Pastors have come and gone, but many of them have been serving in their current congregation for a very long time. And just to be clear: these are NOT Presbyterian pastors (there are no other Presbyterian churches here). These are pastors from a number of different denominations that gather to talk and support one another.

After we had lunch this past week I left marveling at their humility and genuine concern and support for one another (not for the first time). I reflected on how they so willingly allowed me to join them when I came to the area 18 months ago as the new church planting pastor. Not only that, but every time I meet with them I go away feeling encouraged, supported, and connected with the larger Church. I’ve often wondered: Would I be as supportive and caring to a new church pastor in our community if they were starting a new church?

When I think about this question I think back to when I was in staff in Marysville. When I search my heart honestly I have to admit that whenever I saw a sign or advertisement for a new church I often felt threatened and competitive. Why? Ok, sometimes their advertisements were basically saying: “We are way better than any other church! Come here and see what you are missing” (not in those exact words – but not far off). In other words, their advertising was clearly being directed at those already connected to other churches and offering the “new and improved version.” However, sometimes the advertisements were nothing more than a sign with a new church name, service time, and an invitation. Why would I or any other pastor/church leader feel threatened by that?

There are perhaps many different ways to answer that question, but probably the #1 reason this happens is when a person’s focus is not on Jesus and the Gospel but rather on the institutional church. Institutional focus results in the need to produce results and the measuring of success revolving around “butts, bucks, and building” (attendance/membership, money/budget, facilities/survival). Focus on the Gospel and on Jesus results in the ability to say (with the Apostle Paul) “…Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). The truth is, there are many people that have not yet believed the gospel and who do not have a church community. There is no reason for competition unless our goal is to get everyone already connected to a church to come to profess the same doctrinal statements and to leave their church and come to us.

So I am humbled and grateful for the many pastors that already serve this community and their friendship. I know that God has called us here to participate in what the Holy Spirit has already started. We know that we have a unique role to play, and that we are being called to disciple a unique group of people, but we are all part of Jesus’ body – the Church. My prayer is that as I continue in ministry that there will be more unity among church leaders and that I will be as humble, kind, generous, encouraging, and hospitable as the pastors of this community have been to me.

 

I Want to be a Pastor When I Grow Up

Bailey BoysRecently my youngest son, Calvin (8 years old), made a comment about wanting to be a pastor someday. I don’t exactly remember how the conversation began, but it had to do with something at school where he had to answer that dreaded question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The conversation happened with both my wife and I present. With a mixture of pride and concern I asked, “WHY do you want to be a pastor?” His response: “It doesn’t take much energy.” My wife and I tried to hide our reaction as we both looked at each other wide-eyed.

My wife’s look said it all, because she knows exactly how much “energy” being a pastor requires of me. She sees me lying on the couch in a gelatinous pool of emptied humanity every Sunday after worship. She gets woken up on those nights when I can’t sleep because an important issue with a certain person is keeping me awake. She sees all the hidden hours of work that will never make it onto a timesheet – and so much more! Fortunately, I was able to keep my thoughts to myself and give him a generic response equivalent to: “That’s nice honey.”

Not much energy!? Where did that come from? I could’ve taken his meaning to be: you don’t work very much or very hard. But I have a sense that there is more to it than that. Let me explain.

Recently I was with some other pastors and we were talking about this very issue of “energy.” One woman shared a story about how her young children once explained her work as a pastor to others as “going to a bunch of meetings.” Another person shared that their child once described themselves as “living” at the church building. Unfortunately, these stories aren’t that uncommon.

When my wife and I were newlyweds, I took a job as a youth director at a church. It was our first time being exposed to what full-time paid ministry work looked like from the inside. Like many people we naively assumed that it would be a somewhat “easy” job. After all, I had spent seven years working in wildland firefighting where it wasn’t uncommon for me to put in over 1000 hours of overtime between June and September! 21 days on, 2 days off during the busiest times. How hard could ministry be in comparison?

I quickly discovered that not only was I putting in hours that well exceeded my expectations (including stretches extending at times to multiple weeks without a full day off), but many of those I knew in ministry were even busier. So busy, in fact, that my wife and I made a vow to each other that we would never allow our life to get out-of-control busy for the sake of ministry. Not that we weren’t willing to make any sacrifice to follow Jesus, but we didn’t believe that God desired for us to be burned-out casualties, with neglected children and a broken marriage, all for the sake of running church programs.

That brings me back to my son’s comment about wanting to be a pastor because it doesn’t “take much energy.” Does he think that my job is easy? I hope so! When we started Tidelands we had people questioning the wisdom of starting a church with a core team consisting of families with young children (I’ve questioned the wisdom of that myself many times in the past year as well). But we believed, and still believe, that if we couldn’t start a church while as the same time practicing self-care and raising our children well, then we were starting something that we didn’t want to be a part of anyway!

The truth is, I do work from home a lot right now since we don’t yet have an office in the community (we have a room in our shop that I use that is separate from the house). Even as I type this I am working from home with my kids around (they have a half day today from school and my wife is still working). So part of this probably has to do with perception: my kids see me a lot. I drop them off at school every morning. I pick them up from school every afternoon. But I also coach their soccer and help with their baseball – and that is intentionally part of our mission. Also as part of our mission, we have our missional community at our house every Sunday night for dinner and a meeting where all the kids are included. Last Sunday we went and worked as a missional community at a neighbor’s house that needed some yard work done with the kids’ help. Tonight we will be doing our monthly dinner out at a restaurant with our MC (including kids). So I believe that part of what my son means by, “it doesn’t take much energy,” is that he knows that I am very much a part of his life and the life of our family. I’m not locked away in an office somewhere running off to meetings every night of the week in order to keep programs up and running. I hope that is what he means.

I also hope that part of what he is trying to express is that he can see just how much joy is in my life because of Jesus. Despite being physically, emotionally, and even spiritually drained at times, I hope that he is noticing that because I am doing what I am called to do by God that I still have joy and energy left for him! I have peace rather than exhaustion when the day is done.

I recognize that all of this may come across as unnecessarily sanctimonious. I hope that it doesn’t. Just a couple of weeks ago my kids were complaining about me being at too many meetings because I had two nights in row when I had to be gone. So for them, even one meeting a week is too much! But I do hope that we as pastors (and parents in general) take the time to question whether we are modeling what life in Christ and life in the church community is supposed to be about. Are we converting people to Jesus’ way of living or something else?

Follow Up: 

The conversation came up again, and this time my youngest son told me again that he wanted to be a pastor. He said that my job was better than “mom’s” (she is an elementary school teacher). When my older son challenged him, he explained that my job was best because it was so important. It was important, he said, because I get to go out and tell people about Jesus that don’t know him yet. I was driving them home from school at the time, and I was so overjoyed that this was how he defined my work as pastor that I had tears in my eyes and almost had to pull over! I didn’t have the heart to argue with him, because I actually believe that telling people about Jesus is the job of every person in the church. For the record: I also believe that, in terms of impact for God’s kingdom, my wife’s job is much more important than mine. Someday, I hope he’ll understand that as well. In the meantime, I’ve tried to prove to myself that all that I’ve written here is valid by taking the time to blog in the midst of a day when my “todo” list is long enough to justify 1,000 hours of overtime!

Getting Caught Up

It has been quite some time since I have updated my blog. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as a sign that things aren’t going well. It is actually quite the opposite. Things are getting busier as Tidelands grows, and that means that I am going to have to be more focused and intentional about making time for my blog. I also took some time off over the holidays to be with family and relax. There you have it – my best excuses. I can provide more later if requested.

In other news, we had a few more “firsts” in December. Last December we were still only meeting once a month for worship, so this was our first time moving through an entire Advent season of worship together. I would typically preach one of the sermons during Advent when I was at Mountain View, but this was my first time planning and implementing all four weeks on my own. I have to say that I enjoyed it – other than the business of preparing for three worship services at once the week before Christmas with family in town (Christmas Eve, Sunday before and Sunday after Christmas). But it was worth it so that I could enjoy time off with family after Christmas. Having a Christmas Eve service was another of our “firsts” for Tidelands.

Our Missional Community had some wonderful time together over the holidays. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas meals together (not on the exact days, but close enough), we made cookies for the elementary school staff, had a “white elephant” gift exchange, watched some football, and continued to share the “Story of God” with our kids. A new family has begun joining us on Sunday nights. Christmas is a great time to introduce people to life lived for Christ! Most of our MC families also helped out with the giving tree at the local school again. We are still working toward helping the school district and the food bank develop a local “backpack program” (a program that provides food for the weekend to kids that need the extra help). The idea was that we would be launching the program this week, but we are running into some snags. Tidelands donated a significant amount of our local mission giving to get the program up and running, so the barriers are more procedural (and perhaps spiritual as well).

Some of the more mundane (yet necessary) things that we are currently working on have to do with the logistics of starting a new church. We registered for a EIN (Employee Identification Number) with the federal government, and we are now working on getting incorporated with the state. This also requires creating some articles of incorporation. Fortunately for us, this process is made easier by being under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We’re also getting more people involved with all of the details that go into Sunday morning worship: set-up, tear-down, children’s ministry, offerings, coffee bar, etc. Thankfully God is leading some amazing people to partner in this with us!

For me personally, I’m beginning to feel like the “honeymoon” is over. I’ll share more about what I mean in another blog post (hopefully on its way before another two months pass!).

Give Me an Illustration

I’ve been working on some images that I hope will be helpful as we continue work on communicating what it means to be a church with a missional community structure. Part of the challenge is that we are still working this out ourselves as well. I got the idea for the following graphics from the “napkin theology” found on the Soma GCM site. I’ve posted some of their graphics on this blog before. They are definitely worth looking at. You can also find a free e-book of Napkin Theology by Seth McBee here.

Here are some that I have been working on:
Tidelands Structure1People are often confused when we begin to talk about missional communities. We were recently asked if we were a “commune!” I have found it helpful to tell people that we are striving to be a “congregation made up of missional communities.” Though I would prefer to say that our primary mode for being the church is through missional communities, I think that only brings up more commune-like images for those that haven’t seen it. I also don’t want to say that we are a church with many “small groups” of people in MCs. The idea of what a “small group” is in the church has taken on a life of its own (often very inward-focused) and we don’t want people to think it is just a new “small group program.” So for us, the worship gathering is still our touchstone every Sunday morning for all of our MC’s (right now we only have one). We have people that worship with us that are not part of a MC yet, and some may never be (but we hope they will give it a try). But our MC’s help fill in that large gap between Sunday worship and where we live the rest of the week.

Tidelands Structure2The above image is obviously just an expansion on the first, showing the inward/outward nature of missional communities. We gather together to worship as “Tidelands Church,” but each MC is focused on sharing the gospel with a different “people group” in the larger community. The focus is outward!

MC.IdentityI stole this idea directly from Seth’s napkin theology. His is much better and you can see it here. The most simple definition of a missional community is “a family of missionary servants.” I like this because it connects us into our identity in a triune God. We have one Father so we are family. We are all filled with the Holy Spirit and are “missionaries” to those around us. We all claim Jesus as our Lord and follow him in serving others. (John 13:13-17).

MC.FunctionsAgain, the above image is an expansion  on the previous idea. If we know that the identity of an MC is a family of missionary servants, then we can talk about how they function. In the graphic above I’ve given just some of the activities that an MC might do as they seek to live this out together. I could add a lot more, and probably need to move a few around, but I hope it conveys the idea. People always want to know: “What does a missional community do?” Really, that is like asking: “What does your church do?” In many ways each MC functions like a mini church plant: finding creative and effective ways to share the gospel to a particular people in a particular culture. We do a lot of activities as an MC, but the things that we “do” are always rooted in who we “are” in Christ and our desire to bring the gospel to bear in all of life. This is not a program, this is living as the church!

I hope these are helpful. Visuals always tend to stick with me better than simply listening or reading. If you’ve made it this far let me know what you think.

Soma School

Soma SchoolI just recently returned from “Soma School” in Tacoma, Washington. Jeff (another one of our leaders) and I spent a week living with and learning from the Soma community. They are a church based on missional communities that has done an excellent job training and equipping church planters. The “school” session that we were a part of was videotaped and will be a available on their website in the coming months for anyone to use. They already have audio up from previous schools.

I could share a ton more here, but if you’re interested you can check it out for yourself. What I really want to share has to do with some of my “takeaways.”

The first is simply this: As a church (and as pastors/leaders) we need to remain grounded in  “being” rather than “doing.” Four questions to help us stay grounded in this are:

  1. Who is God? (Theology)
  2. What has God done? (Christology)
  3. Who are we? (Ecclesiology)
  4. What do we do? (Missiology)

When we get these in the correct order we stay grounded in the Spirit and empowered by who we are in Christ. If we get these in the wrong order we can fall into the trap of relying on our own strength rather than the Spirit’s power. We can also work backwards through these questions when we are anxious/worried/in crisis (i.e. What are we doing right now? What does what we are doing say about what we believe about ourselves, what we believe about what God is doing/has done, and what we believe about God?). While I’m certainly not expressing this as well as they do at Soma, I find it to be a very simple and helpful way of evaluating both the church and our own lives.

The second “takeaway” for me is less academic. I believe that we are on the right track with our first missional community and that we will begin to see more “fruit” from it in the next couple of years. We are building many great relationships with people that do not yet know Jesus. We have found many ways to be a blessing to our community without expecting something in return. Even with all of the support and amazing leadership available at Soma, many of their missional communities seem to take a couple of years to really begin to mature. I love that there is an amazing simplicity in all that they do that constantly brings people back to Jesus. All of the structure and planning is meant to serve a life and a community focused around Jesus. We can do this!

Sheep Stealing?

wolf_sheepThere is an interesting tension we are beginning to experience in our start-up year as a church. While we are convinced that our first missional community is becoming all that we hoped it would be, and it does seem to work as a way or reaching those that have never been part of a church community, it is likely going to be quite some time before people coming through the missional community end up in worship with us on Sundays. More importantly, it will be some time before we develop mature leaders through this process. So how do we go about recruiting/attracting potential leaders in the community to join us without “stealing” from the existing congregations?

I’m convinced that churches (especially new church “plants”) are not always honest with themselves in this area. So often they  end up attracting a large number of people from other congregations because they are “fresh”, have better programs/music, more energy, or people are just unhappy with their current congregation. I’m sure anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time can relate to having a conversation with visitors on a Sunday morning who begin explaining to you that they are at your worship service because they are unhappy with their current church. For me, this always triggered a red flag. More often than not (though I understand that there are legitimate exceptions), these people will “hop” on over to another place once they realize just how imperfect and messy your church is.

So now we are at a place where we are considering doing some of the things that we have not done much of up to this point. Namely, getting a building space, and doing more promotion to invite people to join us for worship. I think we need to do this because going forward we are going to have to find more people to join us in this work. We need a worship leader, we need a church administrator, we need people to help with children’s ministry, and we need others to join our missional community leadership so that we can multiply and start missional communities in other areas. And the big question in my mind is: How do we do this without simply pulling people out of their existing church community?

I have already met people that have recently moved to the area and are looking for a church home. The demographic research tells us that the Stanwood/Camano Island area will continue to grow. So that would certainly be a group to focus on. I also know that there are some people who travel a very long way to go to worship. While I understand that there are a variety of reasons for this, I also know that it is hard to truly be the church in your neighborhood or community if all of those in your worshipping community live 30 miles away. So perhaps there is some room there for people to reconnect their worship life with their community life.

We are just beginning this conversation as a leadership team. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. In the meantime, I have Jesus words ringing in my ears:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask
the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Missional Community: Erasing Lines

eraserOne of the real blessings of starting a missional community is that the lines between personal life and “church” begin to blur as one seeks to live out the calling to “be the church” instead of simply “going to church.” One of the real challenges for me, as a full-time pastor, is classifying what parts of my life are “work” and what parts of my life are “family” or “personal” time. Truly, it is a beautiful dilemma! Let me give you some examples:

I’ve just helped launch the “Watch D.O.G.S.” (Dads of Great Students) program at my kids’ elementary school. The program is designed to get more men involved in their child’s education by volunteering at least one full day a year to volunteer at the school. On that day, the men provide a positive male role model for the kids by helping out in the classroom, lunchroom, recess, etc. They also provide additional security by checking doors, “patrolling,” etc. throughout the day. They can help reduce bullying by being another set of eyes and ears at the school. We launched the program last week, and already we have every available day in March filled with a volunteer Dad/father-figure!

As a dad, I believe in the value of this program. As a a dad and a pastor, I want to do everything I can to help the local school be the best, safest place it can be for learning. As a pastor and follower of Jesus who seeks to embody the gospel in our community, I want to minister to all of those kids and parents that are in single-parent families (the fastest-growing demographic in our area).

I’ve also been amazed at how many opportunities have come up to help in my neighborhood. At our old house in Marysville, it took us over a decade to build even a few substantial relationships with neighbors. I don’t know if it is just the difference of life on Camano Island, or if it is our intentionality and openness to forging new relationships, or if it is the Holy Spirit stirring things up. My suspicion is that it is a combination of all three things – but primarily the work of the Spirit! In the coming weeks I will be watching a neighbor’s child before school so that she can make her nursing classes at a community college. I’ve been able to do this with some other kids in our missional community this year. I have to take my kids to school anyway, I have a flexible schedule, so it doesn’t negatively impact my day to help in this way. I’ve been helping another neighbor with some things that he needs for his business. And there are other opportunities as well. Sometimes, just walking out to my office (in my shop) I will end up having a conversation with a neighbor walking by that will end up being more significant than I would’ve thought possible. The real power of what is happening in all of these circumstances is the timing. I can’t share details, but there are some incredibly significant things happening in some of these relationships and I believe without a doubt that it is God’s timing.

I could also talk about coaching, volunteering every week in my kid’s classroom, weekly dinners at the local restaurant, the impact of fixing up and living in a derelict property in the neighborhood, and more! The truth is, not having a “church office” to go to every morning has been one of the best things that has ever happened in my ministry! However, it is also difficult, because I feel like I can more easily justify my time as “work” when I am sitting at a desk or sitting in a meeting. It is much harder to define that time as I engage in many of things we need to do to launch missional communities.

I share this because Tidelands is moving into a different phase of our life beginning with Easter 2013. We are now looking for that office space, and perhaps even a small space for worship attached to that office space. We will begin meeting for worship every Sunday morning. More of my time will be spent preparing sermons, planning music, prayers, etc. In a way, I look forward to being able to spend more time teaching and leading people in worship – it is what I love to do and it is essential to our life as followers of Jesus. And yet, I don’t ever want to lose what I am experiencing now. I don’t ever want to minimize the importance of these other opportunities or limit my ability to engage with others where they live, work, and play. And this is why, if we’re going to do this well, we will always need our leaders and staff to be active members of a missional community.

New Communion Ware Pictures

It’s one of those things that I took for granted – vessels for the Lord’s Supper. We always had them around at the churches I had worshiped at in the past. It never really occurred to me that there was a Sunday when someone said: “What are we going to use for the Lord’s Supper?” and then went out and bought them. I decided that since that task fell to me that I would seek out a local artist to make something for us. If you don’t know, Stanwood and Camano Island are known for the local art community. It just made sense. Here are some pictures of the vessels made for us by Leslie Whaley at Moonswept Studio:

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You may be curious about the choice of design for the plate/platter. I’ll tell you about the salmon, but first you need to understand the writing. The Greek is from John 6:51 that is translated: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I chose to have it in Greek because for me it adds to the sense of mystery, tradition, and ancient roots of the Lord’s Supper. John 6 has intrigued me for years ever since I discovered the connections in the story. Jesus wants to take his disciples away to be alone for awhile after days of serving and teaching. Instead, crowds follow him into the middle of nowhere. He has compassion, teaches them, and then miraculously feeds them with FISH and broken bread. After that, he sends the disciples across the lake by boat and Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.

The crowds decide that they are going to create a violent uprising against Rome and make Jesus king. Jesus knows their plans and secretly walks across the surface of the lake in the middle of the night. In a dramatic meeting in a storm on the lake the disciples take Jesus into their boat and reach their destination. In the morning the crowds figure out that Jesus has given them the slip, and in need of more food they follow him across the lake. When they find him they try to convince him to give them more food. Jesus does not do it, but instead tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He teaches them that he is the bread from heaven and that anyone who eats him will never go hungry again and will have eternal life.The teaching is so hard (should we say “repulsive”) that many of his followers, and presumably the entire hungry crowd, desert him. I could write a lot more here about this, but I think I’ll save it for a future sermon. My main point here is that this passage is where we get the best glimpse into Jesus’ early teaching about what the Lord’s Supper really is all about.

So why the salmon? Well, first of all, fish have always played an important role in Christian symbolism and often in early Christianity it is associated with the eucharist (Lord’s Supper). If you want to to read a good article that explains this connection take a look at “Symbolism of the Fish” from the Catholic Encyclopedia.  The one thing that this article doesn’t mention is that many of Jesus’ early disciples were fishermen and they were told by Jesus that they had a greater calling – that they were to “fish for people” (Matt. 4:19).

As for choosing a salmon, I would hope that it would be obvious. We have a lot of salmon around Stanwood and Camano Island! Maybe not as much as there once was, but you will still hear people from all walks of life talking about salmon. Our newspapers always seem to have articles about the connection between salmon and the health of Puget Sound, our rivers, the Native American culture, sport fishing, etc. In the Stanwood/Camano Island area there is some conflict and debate about the “tidelands” and their importance for both the salmon and local agriculture. Since the type of fish has never seemed to be especially important in Christian symbolism it just made sense to have a salmon for Tidelands Church. Beyond that, for me, it will always connect me back to that story from John 6. So many people ate from the miraculous fish, but so few were willing to follow Jesus when his teaching was less palatable.