30 December 2013

A Service of Lessons and Carols - Post-Christmas Version

 Over the years I have experimented with a post Christmas version of Lessons and Carols.  At first it was basically a sly way (in my humble opinion) to have an off day without taking a vacation day.  Then again I have never been a big fan of the Lesson and Carols service taking the place of a Sunday morning or Christmas Eve worship service.  Don't get me wrong I love the service, I listen to it each year, and I have several copies of it on my computer.  What keeps the service in Cambridge fresh is the inclusion of new carols each year, sometimes up to three new commissions each year!.  But what congregation has the wallets to commission three new carols every year and a 32 member full-time highly trained choir and a full-time choirmaster and full-time organist to rehearse and perform them?  Not many.  Thus came the post-Christmas lessons and carols, a service of reflection on Advent and Christmas Eve along with in house musicians, new compositions, familiar carols, and Jesus specific lessons.  This year I was blown away by the level of creativity, love and energy from the service.  I offer it as a model for others to consider.  Enjoy.

First Sunday of Christmas

December 29, 2013 9:30 AM

PRELUDE “A Medley of Carols”
Polly Schrom, Jim ten Bensel, Eileen McLaughlin, Jim Wentink

LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES Scholz/Slominski family

MUSIC “The First Noel” Jimmi Langemo
and family members

*HYMN #597 “Shall We Gather at the River” Hanson Place (vs. 1, 2, 3)

FIRST LESSON Matthew 3:1-12 Anton Hesse
The Forerunner
page 2 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC “The Chosen One” Doug Weatherhead

SECOND LESSON Luke 1:46-55 Travis Norvell
The Song of Mary, read responsively.
page 57 red pew Bible, New Testament
One even verses; Many odd verses.

MUSIC “Once Again My Heart Rejoices” Scott & Jane Ulring

THIRD LESSON Luke 2:21 Anton Hesse
The Naming of Jesus
page 59 red pew Bible, New Testament

ANTHEM “Sweet little Jesus Boy” Jim ten Bensel

*HYMN #148 “What Child Is This” Greensleeves

FOURTH LESSON Matthew 2:16-18 Anton Hesse
The Killing of the Innocents
page 2 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC “Killing of the Innocents” Doug Weatherhead



OFFERTORY “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” Gustav Holst

*DOXOLOGY Brian Wren/Lasst Uns Erfreuen
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures high and low.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Praise God, in Jesus fully known: Creator, Word, and Spirit one
Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

FIFTH LESSON Luke 2:41-52 Travis Norvell
Jesus at the Temple
page 59 red pew Bible, New Testament

MUSIC "Christmas Spirit" Van Johnson

*HYMN #154 “Go Tell It On the Mountain” Jimmi Langemo

SIXTH LESSON Matthew 27:32-44 Anton Hesse
Crucified Like a Bandit
page 32 red pew Bible, New Testament


POSTLUDE “My Favorite Things” Rodgers & Hammerstein Brett Hirsch

Next year, I would like to start a new carol contest with the winning carol making its debut on Christmas Eve, performed by the amazing Judson Choir. 

28 December 2013

2013: A Year in Numbers

1  the number of times we moved this year.
0  the number of times we plan on moving during the next 25 years.

3  the number of times I went iceskating last year
3  the number of times I thought for sure I was going to break every bone in my body while ice skating
0  the number of bones broken while ice skating

20  the number of years since I last played baseball, fast pitch.
1  the number of times I was up to bat before I got my first hit
.321  batting average
1  the number of triples I had this year
3  the number of innings it took me to catch my breath from the triple.
3  the number of bats broken.
1  the number of attempted stolen bases.
0  the number of bases stolen.
38  approximate number of little league games coached
38  approximate number of times I wished Minneapolis sold beer after little league games

40  approximate number of sermons preached at Judson Memorial Baptist Church
40  the approximate number of times someone playfully mentioned something about my grammar, use of a word, or questioned the phrase I had used because they had never heard it before.
16  the number of the consecutive months the afterglow of my job has been sustained.

56  the number of times I thought for sure I saw Michael Tisserand in Minneapolis.
1083  the number of conversations that someone has said You Know at least 11 times in a conversation.
16  the number of consecutive months Garrison Keillor has refused to accept my friend request on facebook.
2  the number of emails Garrison Keillor and I have exchanged since arriving in Minneapolis.
93 the approximate number of jokes that make more sense on Prairie Home Companion now that I live in Minneapolis.
0  the number of times I've been tempted to attend a Vikings game.
25  the number of times I stopped by the Bakers Wife for donuts.
8  the number of pounds gained while living in Minneapolis.
1  the number of times I went down the Giant Slide at the State Fair.
1  the number of times I had lutefisk.
1  the number of times I was scared to have lutefisk.
13  the number of times I was convinced my body would have severe reactions to eating lutefisk.
27  the number of times I suggested to haute chefs that they should offer lutefisk tacos.
3  the number of quarts of maple syrup made from the maple tree in the backyard.
4  the number of gallons of apple cider made by with my bicycle powered apple crusher.
4  the number of months I went without shaving.
4  the number of months that went by with my wife begrudgingly kissing me.

38  the approximate number of weddings I have done, before arriving in MPLS
6  the number of weddings that I performed that I enjoyed, before arriving in MPLS.
4  the number of same sex weddings I presided over this year.
4  the number of the happiest and joy filled same sex wedding I presided over this year!

13  the number of months it took before Minneapolis coffee tasted better than New Orleans coffee.

daily  the number of times Minneapolis feels like home.

22 December 2013

Christmas Tales 2013 Edition

Last year I tried, for the first time, my hand at a sermon in verse.  I had a blast, so I did it again this year.

Judson Sermon 20131222 "Why Lutefisk from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

Why Lutefisk and Not Squirrel
sermon-in-verse Advent IIII
December 22, 2013
Judson Memorial Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

Before we begin there are a few things you must know
1.     Angels are very heavy sleepers
2.     Angles are terrible at rhyming words
3.   Not every line will rhyme true.  I know y’all know the song The Wichita Lineman by Jimmy Webb, the most popular line,
And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.   Did you hear that?  Time and line do not rhyme, it is what songwriters call a faux or lazy rhyme.  Well this morning I have declared faux or lazy rhymes to be fine and dandy.
     4.  I will go in out and between rhymes and regular sentences a few times.
     5.  Finally, this story is pretty all true. 

Kids you probably do not know
But not so long ago
There was a squirrel in our house
A squirrel, not a mouse.
It lived in the walls
And scurried down the halls.
It was a pest
and we wanted to send it out west.
So we called a man
And he came with a plan
To rid our house of the vexation
With a cumbersome conglomeration
Of traps, and cages, and snares
Guaranteeing the squirrel would never haunt our stairs
And he caught the squirrels, there were eight
But one escaped.
A red one that talked
Well more like squawked. 

Now one day this summer I laid on my hammock and napped. After some time transpired I awoke to the awful audio of annoyance, a red squirrel squawking.  I looked around and sure enough there on the lowest branch of the sugar maple was a red squirrel squawking at me and wouldn’t stop.  I tried to shoo it away but she would not move.  So I went back to sleep.  As I slumbered the squawking became softer and softer almost to a whisper.  And in the whispering there was a rhythm and in the rhythm there was a word.  And this is what she said:

Lutefisk, lutefisk, that awful dish
Have you ever wondered why they eat that fish
On Christmastime
And not any other time?

I have, I have pray tell my friend
I will, I will, it is a story I do commend.

Long ago before the cities of the earth were in form
Squirrels for dinner at Christmastime was the norm
We were stewed, fried, sautéed and boiled
And squirrel gravy was worth more than oil.
Until the day Mary the woman and Joseph the man
Journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem
They were on the run full of fear
For soon out of the woman a babe would appear.

They were searched for a place to stay
But every innkeeper said go, go, go away.
Until one man offered his grange
Mary said we’ll take it as long as my child wont catch the mange

So they prepared a bed
Right where the animals were fed
And soon the woman a’swoon
The babe wanted out, it was a full moon
In a bit the babe was in her arms
Sadly, no one sounded the alarms
The angels, the angels said they would sing
But there was nary a ring

About that time
Came the squirrel named Clementine
I told you there would be lots of false rhymes
Every night she ate the oats
The were not eaten by the goats
But this night in her path was a block
a mother in babe in afterbirth shock
so she went another way
up and over the fray

Now children there is another thing you must know
Angels were sleeping in the rafters whose snores sounded like a tornado
Up in the rafters of the stable
Were the archangels Michael and Gabriel
They slept through the birth of Jesus
While mary screamed angels cant you hear us?

Clementine while scurrying up and over the winged sleepers
Tickled them so that they opened their peepers
Hearing the mother and seeing the child
They flew to the sky and sang like wild
Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth
Remember no hard how they try, every time
Angles just cannot…make sentences end with the last syllable of words sounding a like. 
All creation sang that night
And in heavens a new star shone bright
Simply because of a hungry squir-rel
Tickled and woke God’s person-nel

The  next morning the angles found Clementine
Way up high in a sticky tall tree of pine
Squirrel, they said, you’ve done a great deed
So we bring you gifts of  nuts and seed.

God too was filled with gratitude
And wanted to lift up Clementine’s magnitude
Squirrel because of your great feat
At Christmastime no one will eat your meat

But your probably wondering what does this have to do with lutefisk aren’t ya?  Well for that we have to go another place, to the council of the Most High

On the night the angles sang
All of creation rang
Except for one, aint that odd,
It was the stubborn cod!
The cod was the only animal that refused to sing
So God cursed that awful thing
Cod, from now on you shall be the featured fish
On each and every Christmas dish
But that is not enough
You shall also be soaked in that awful stuff
Lye, Lye, Lye
Because you would not comply

And that kiddos is why every Christmastime we eat lutefisk and not squirrel. 

09 December 2013

Mentoring from Afar: The Continuing Influence of the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes

Christian Century asked for submissions on the subject of mentoring.  I submitted this piece as a tribute and thanksgiving to the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes:

I reckon that by the time I was 24 I had heard approximately 1,018 sermons, but none of them prepared me for the one I heard at the 1999 commencement service at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. 

The preacher was the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, then minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard University. After the service, as he greeted each person by the door just like my Baptist pastor did back in West Virginia, I thought to myself, "For an Episcopalian, that dude can preach." It took me a couple years before I discovered that he too was an American Baptist.  The experience of that sermon altered my view of pastoral ministry; I dare say it propelled my vocational choice. 

I graduated sure of my talents and wisdom. I never thought to seek the advice of other preachers, much less Peter Gomes, until two years after graduation. By then I had used all the divinity bells and whistles. Let me say that Dr. Gomes never knew that he was mentoring me, but he did, from afar. 

The mentoring process began with his books; one day I found a copy of "Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living" at the Brown University bookstore, and devoured it that night. The process continued with more books of sermons, and the weekly online worship services made available by Memorial Church. 

I followed the weekly sermon schedule the way others follow the daily box score of their favorite baseball team. His sermons were witty, engaging, intelligent, challenging, and marvelous. His preaching pushed me to take the craft of sermon-writing more seriously. He also taught me to take the theatrical and historical aspects of preaching to a deeper level: Why look like an insurance salesperson when you can look like a preacher?

I could imitate his approach but I had a difficult time figuring out the how and why of his Sunday liturgical wear: a cassock, with preaching tabs, and a preaching gown. How could a Baptist wear such an outfit? My question was quickly answered when I looked at portraits of the pastors of the First Baptist Church in America in Providence, R.I.; they all wore the same liturgical outfit! 

But it was not until I discovered the 1996 New Yorker profile of Gomes written by Robert S. Boynton that I found one of the greatest descriptions of a Baptist pastor with liturgical leanings. Gomes referred to himself as "a Baptist with an Anglican Oversoul." That description was my “aha!” moment that parted the waters, enabling me to embrace my own high-church proclivities. Soon after, I called Dr. Gomes’ personal assistant and inquired where he purchased his ecclesiastical uniform. She directed me to an English clerical company named Whipple. I located J. Whipple & Co. and ordered my own cassock, preaching gown, and a set of preaching tabs. A few weeks later a package was delivered, via Royal Mail, on a Sunday afternoon, to the parsonage. 

The first Sunday I wore the outfit, the congregation giggled and scratched their heads. But after a few weeks they agreed that the outfit improved my preaching by at least 15%. 

Over the years I discovered the treasure-trove of lectures on preaching that Dr. Gomes delivered: online, printed, on CD, and on cassette tapes. I listened to and read the lectures as if he were sitting in my office offering me personal advice on preaching and the pastoral life. The advice is practical: the time constraints of a Protestant service (one Lord, one faith, one hour); listener attentiveness (keep them on the edges of the pews), and the dos and don’ts of the pulpit (don’t preach your doubts, do take the congregation on the roads you travel in preparation, even down a dead end).

Here and there, colleagues shared their favorite Peter stories. One recalled walking past Memorial Church at 2 a.m. and hearing the organ. She opened a door and found Peter at the organ, belting out old Baptist hymns. 

I treasure the only time I talked to him face-to-face. After he finished a lecture on preaching at Andover Newton Theological School, a rather righteous seminary student took him to task for his participation in the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents Reagan and Bush. I knew how he would answer, but it was precious to see it in person. Peter rolled his eyes and asked, “Do you think you are the first person to ever pose this question to me?” Then he gave his classic response. “I can only answer this way: imagine how terrible it would have been if I had not been there!”

When Peter died in 2011, I felt the passing of my mentor deep in my bones. I give thanks for his influence and impact on my life every time a congregant says it is apparent that I love what I am doing. More than anything, he gave me the image of pastoral life as one of meaning, challenge, purpose, and joy. With him as a mentor for pastoral ministry, I am having the time of my life.

03 December 2013

A Raiment of Camel’s Hair: Looking like John the Baptizer, kind of...

Back in my days at divinity school a classmate, who turned out to be one of the best friends a person could have, told me a story about going to a protest march and seeing an old Catholic priest and his stole.  The stole was covered with protest, social justice, peace, and movement buttons.  That image always stuck in my mind and over the years I have collected buttons from anti-war protests, environmental rallies, closing the School of America gatherings, and such, hoping one day I would put them on a stole.

One day this summer while driving down to Iowa I had a series of sermons by Gardner Taylor playing on the tape deck (yes my car has a tape player).  In the midst of ubiquitous cornfields I began to think that the progressive movement needs to adopt John the Baptizer as our "patron saint."  And about that same time Gardner Taylor started preaching on John the Baptizer.  Slowly he described John, and even though I had read the descriptions of John countless times I had never thought specifically about what John wore, a raiment of camel's hair (as the King James reads).  Instantly, my mind started wondering where one could get some camel hair cloth, then it hit me: from a camel hair blazer, of course!  Yeah a camel hair blazer, cover it with buttons and wear it year around with a clerical collar (talk about branding).  I then, however, began to think about actually wearing, year-round, a camel hair blazer in Minneapolis- that one could get mighty hot (even here in the upper midwest) and stinky!

I thought on this some more and after a few dozen more corn fields synergy happened: a stole made from a camel hair blazer covered with buttons (buttons that in some way express the Kingdom of God).  So I asked the artist (whom I am married to) when she is out sourcing for materials at a thrift store and comes upon a camel hair blazer would she please pick it up.  And sure enough, a couple months later, she did. She brought it home and showed me how to rip the blazer apart; not as easy as it sounds, an evening with a seam ripper took its toll on my hands.

She did a remarkable job with the stole, as always.  After she completed the stole I started looking for all my buttons.  But one problem: I could only find a remnant of them!  I suppose over the course of the many moves, time, and such I lost them along the way.  Rather than mourn over my loss I decided from now on to start a new collection and add them to the stole each Advent.  I told the kids during time with children to think of the buttons as my Continuing Education certificates as a progressive pastor.