where two or three are gathered


    I’m working two jobs right now: one as a cook at the Red Lion Inn and the other as part-time associate pastor at a UCC church in a nearby town. Together, the two jobs take up most of my evenings. In the past few days I have been a part of gatherings related to both my vocations, and both gatherings related to church life.

    Monday night our church cabinet — about twenty-five folks — met to go over the budget for the coming year, but what erupted through the budget discussion was the ongoing hurt and anger that is swirling through our congregation — or parts of it — right now. The flashpoint is that some members are withholding their pledges for the coming year because things aren’t going the way they want, which has created a $45,000 gap between pledges and what we need to spend next year to be the church we want to be. The gap makes all of us edgy; the meeting moved from finances to frustration. Though the angry folks are in the minority, their venom is viral: the whole room was infected. I don’t think anyone slept well Monday night.

    Our UCC area minister is coming to mediate a meeting next week to help us figure out where to go from here.

    Last night, I got to be the chef for a “Cooking Class” for the women’s association of another UCC church in another nearby town. About twenty-five women gathered at one home, I cooked and talked about what I was cooking, and they — OK, we — ate and drank and told stories. When I told Robert, the chef I work for, I was doing the class he cautioned me that only about a third of the folks who come to such an evening are coming to learn; most come to eat and hang out with their friends. He’s right.

    I had put together a menu I was proud of:

    Winter Salad
    Curried Squash Soup
    Molasses Marinated Pork Tenderloin
    Three Potato au Gratin
    Maple Glazed Brussel Sprouts
    Sheet Apple Pie with White Pepper Ice Cream

    I also made recipe booklets for each of the participants. They brought the wine and the stories.

    Most of them listened as I introduced the evening and put the salad together. Most were still listening while I put the soup together. By then, the house was full of good smells and good conversation; by the time we got to the entree they wanted to eat and be together. I had fun just watching the friendship swirl around me. I filled my plate and sat down to listen to them tell me where the meal took them.

    In two nights I got to see church at its best and its most difficult. It makes me wish we were having a pot-luck dinner next Wednesday. At least it would start to tear down the walls. When you start to think about an upcoming meeting and you can’t eat because of the feelings, you know you’re in trouble.

    Other than the food, the fundamental difference between the two gatherings was in the first meeting people kept talking about “not being heard”; in the second, people were mostly interested in listening. Therein lies the difference between community and catastrophe.

    Years ago, I heard Tony Campolo speak and he said, “You have two choices in any relationship: you can respond in power or in love.” As simple as it sounds, his statement has held up in my experience. We either do what we do to get our way, or feed our fear; or we create the possibility of deeper relationship by trusting one another.

    Faith is a team sport (even though there is an “i” in faith). There are always two or three gathered when it comes to figuring out how to be the people of God. We are called together to love and be loved.

    Like Andrew Peterson sings,

    After the last disgrace
    After the last lie to save some face
    After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue
    After the last dirty politician
    After the last meal down at the mission
    After the last lonely night in prison

    There is love, love, love, love
    There is love, love, love, love
    There is love

    And in the end, the end is
    Oceans and oceans of love and love again
    We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
    Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
    And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales

    I trust the anger of Monday night’s meeting is not the last word.
    I believe with all my heart that the joy of last night’s meeting is the best word.



    1. Power or love, amen to that.

      A group I once was affiliated with, about single mothers needing child-support payment enforcement, had a similar moment: it devolved from empowering and activism to an extended griping session. The group recovered over time, but it was terribly frustrating when the negativity and chaos discouraged some newcomers.

    2. These recipes (esp the pork and potatoes) sound so good! Maybe make them for the “tithing holdouters”, let them salivate, then say, “when we get the pledge cards, you get dessert.” Wouldn’t it be nice if it worked that way? Ha! Since it doesn’t though, I’ll pray for your church to heal. That works. 🙂

    3. Beautifully said. As a fellow bi-vocational guy, I must say that conflict at church causes the most painful kind of stress and anxiety in my life. All churches have conflict. We’ve been fortunate to only have small ones over the last five years, but there were some doozies.

      Prayer for your peace.

    4. I keep trying to tell remember to listen first, then ask to be heard. Don, our senior pastor often comments that the Greek root is the same for both listen and obey. i don’t know if that’s true, but it helps me anyway.


    5. I hope things take turn toward joy at the church. Oh and the White Pepper Ice Cream. I really want to see that recipe but the link doesn’t seem to be working.

    6. Glad to find your blog. Like you, I’m Milton (though not the same Milton) and a minister in the Church of Christ (though not the same Church of Christ). Like you, I also end my posts with Peace.

    7. Are you one of the cooks from the Red Lion Inn that served my friend, who is deathly allergic to nuts, peanut sauce on her wedding day?

    8. I was not in the kitchen that night, but I remember when that happened. We had worked hard to make sure she didn’t get anyting with peanuts but one of our less proficient English speakers was trying to make the tray the way he was taught to do so.

      We felt terrible. I hope your friend is happy in her new marriage and has not written off the Inn completely.


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