The Table Blog

Changing Roles

by Brian Gumm – Thursday, June 24, 2010

(Guest blogger Ryan Beuthin contributes the following post…)

I’m not waiting for Sunday to come to me this week. I’m not coming to The Table this weekend wondering what it might be like. The first song and the first story will not be surprises to me this week.

Because this week, I am changing roles.

I’ve helped host services in the past. I’ve helped plan with others, I’ve come early to prepare to play music. I’ve had discussions on how to work with the liturgy. However, this week has been the first week I’ve worked on my own in preparation for a service.

And it has been a strange and unexpected sensation though, to feel the service preparing me as well. It’s become a bit of a reciprocal relationship.

I was given a theme: “planting,” and some suggestions for verses that may go along with this theme. It didn’t take me too long to work through these verses and get a feel for those that might complement the theme. I passed on the verse about Noah planting a garden and vineyard after coming off the ark, getting drunk off of the vineyard’s wine, and lounging without clothes in his tent (to the embarrassment of his sons). As well, I thought it might be best to save for another venue the parsing out of the Corinthians verse that says “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” And I passed by Jeremiah 12:2 because it alluded to the idea of God planting people (odd mental image).

Except, the Jeremiah passage would not leave me as I went through my week.

You see, it first speaks of God planting people and them taking root, but then it tacks on a zinger: “You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.”

It’s not a phrase about planting or even planting in a spiritual sense. It’s not even going to be a verse we cover in the service on Sunday. But wow, did that verse work on me as I spent my week with God very much “on my lips.”

For, as I changed my role from participant to host, I found an immediate spike in my weekly time spent with God “on my lips.” Right from Monday, I was plowing through verses, thinking about songs, and searching for connections between passages. It was early on that I chose to bypass Jeremiah. I eliminated the verse and moved on with my “planning.”

Even still, by Monday night, Jeremiah was back. Tuesday morning the verse was lingering. Wednesday, I was still hearing the echo of that verse in my head as I realized truly how much time I had spent with God on my lips… yet far from my heart.

I’m not saying “far” like “nonexistent.” I’m not admitting to midweek atheism or anything that extreme. What I noted, though, was how much mental work I had done by Wednesday while almost totally ignoring the health of my heart and my spirit’s connection with its Creator.

Had I sat quietly in the shadow of the scripture I had chosen to hear it speak? Had I consciously opened my inner ebbs and flows to be open to the Spirit’s subtle nudging? Had I stopped doing stuff yet? By Wednesday, I knew I had not. My lips and my mind had been running a mile a minute, and my heart was far behind.

So right in the middle of my “service preparation,” the service turned around and started preparing me instead. I took heed and changed pace.

This was not a normal occurrence in my former role as “service participant.”

But strangely enough, I could guarantee you that it was always needed.

So as I approach this Sunday with a list of songs, scriptures, hopes and dreams for what the Spirit might do with the gathering of her Church…

…for the first time in a long while, my heart will not be far away.

(Ryan Beuthin is a graduate student at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at EMU.)

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The shifting sands of an intern

by Brian Gumm – Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blogging and video and social media were all big ideas of mine last fall when drawing up internship plans for my Formation in Ministry class at the seminary, which I’ve been exercising mostly at The Table. I say “mostly” because this spring, my focus started to shift to something that is tied to my seminary internship, and more importantly my call to ministry, but not at The Table. Since about February, I started spending increasing amounts of time preparing for a wedding that concluded just 10 days ago, and I was the licensed official presiding over this ceremony. As a consequence, blogging here took a back seat and the significant amount of time and creative energy it takes to dream up, film, edit, and produce video also had to be checked.

Feeling like I should still offer something to my fellowship and community at The Table, I offer a link to something I just posted on my personal blog, Restorative Theology, that is an attempt at some creative nonfiction writing and ministry reflection. It was written to satisfy a paperwork requirement for my class, and was sent to my small group leader, but it was written with a much broader audience in mind, and I try capture some of the essence of the experience. It may connect with a few of you, it may be too far away for you to approach meaningfully. All the same, here it is:

At the end of all things normal…peace – Restorative Theology

Brian Gumm is an EMS intern at The Table for the 2009-10 academic year, and is now very eager for that academic year to conclude.

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Hike to The Table…to sled?

by Brian Gumm – Friday, February 12, 2010

The week leading up to this past Sunday was stressful, primarily because of public schools being repeatedly canceled due to the weather, and my studies and work at EMU (plus my wife’s similar responsibilities) not being canceled. One additional responsibility of mine was acting as worship host at The Table. This rotating, scheduled role requires the person filling it to 1) coordinate and attend a meeting related to worship planning, 2) develop an order of worship for Sunday, and 3) coordinate with people responsible for other worship activities (such as communion bread/cups/juice, Scripture readers, musicians, or delegation of any/all these things), to name a few. And these all happen before Sunday morning at 10:30. At that point, this person weaves all these things together in worship that tends to be loose-yet-patterned, and (hopefully) spiritually invigorating.

The weather over the past two months has added another task to the responsibilities associated with this worship host role: weather forecaster. The nature of our worship activities on Sunday morning are such that many things come together from many places to a building that is not our own, but is rented from the university. So when record snows start falling as they have, this presents a logistical challenge that is not easy to resolve in the days leading up to worship. Such was the case this past week.

While trying to get worship matters rounded up throughout the week, my daughter was out of school off and on, while predictions of massive snowfall over the weekend were projected as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. Various families that are typically central to worship planning were planning to be out of town (another complication). I had a late start to call a worship planning meeting that never materialized, and got the impression that many were already planning not to have worship on Sunday morning. Being the gritty Midwesterner accustomed to spirit-crushing winters, I wasn’t quite ready to call it all off.

But the snow started falling Friday morning and kept falling and falling and falling. I kept watching, wondering how to react to the situation. Finally, at 1 PM on Saturday, I sent out an e-mail to the congregational e-mail list, canceling “normal” worship for the following morning, but offering folks within walking distance the option to wade through the deep snow and gather at the Discipleship Center on campus for informal fellowship followed by sledding. My emotions throughout the week leading up to worship were mostly worrisome and anxious. I was worried about making a well-informed decision based on a large number of factors that were in formation throughout the week. I couldn’t simply call off worship as early as Wednesday, so it was a fairly constant task of keeping an eye on all these factors before finally making and communicating my decision on Saturday afternoon. Once this was out in the open, I felt relieved.

On Sunday morning, six familiar faces showed up, including my family & me, and even some guests who had been with us a time or two before. What I had originally intended to be about 30-45 minutes of Scripture reading and discussion flowed just over an hour. We even ran the sled down the hill on campus a time or two before heading back home for warmth and food. Our informal fellowship time was a pleasant experience with the few folks who gathered. Our discussion tended toward fairly conceptual, theological discussion in response to the Lectionary texts, which we took turns reading. I have to admit this is largely my own doing, as my style tends to be heavy into the cognitive-intellectual spectrum, while still trying to elicit experiential responses from the group. I hope it wasn’t too much for the group though, because a high percentage of the other people there were either in seminary or had been at one point. One of our visiting guests was a professor at EMU, so that might help my case for not going too “classroom” on everybody.

I knew even in the middle of the week, that if church was canceled on Sunday morning, it would be fine. So as things progressed and continued to be challenging all the way up until Saturday afternoon when I sent the announcement, I tried not to get too wrapped up into the anxiety. God was at work in me and in my connections with others throughout the week, nudging, comforting, assuring. Trusting in God’s work, being aware of it, and actively participating in it in situations like this is tough. But if done well (perhaps even not done well every time), these experiences can develop spiritual endurance and deepening faith and trust in God. I’m thankful to God for all the redeeming work that I now see (and what I still may not see), which was going on in the midst of a crazy week, and of course thanks to all the wonderful folks in the congregation who helped me develop a sense for what to do. Our decision-making process seems very similar, if not identical to, our worship planning process. I have further thoughts on process and structure, but that can wait for another post. Thanks be to God for such a great worshiping community!

Brian Gumm is an EMS intern for the 2009-10 academic year. He blogs hither and yon across the internet; here as well as at Restorative Theology.

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On change, interfaith dialogue, and discipleship

by Brian Gumm – Saturday, January 30, 2010

Well, it’s a new semester and new set of circumstances that welcomes me to this final few months of my internship at The Table. Last fall, I got involved with The Table’s design team, which is now working on leadership and structure matters as we prepare to bid farewell to our visionary, team-building leaders: Gerald & Sara Wenger Shenk. It’s my prayer that my presence in these matters can be fruitful for the congregation and God’s continued work in our little group!

One item on my internship “learning goals” document this and last semester, deals with interfaith matters. In discussions with one of our fearless leaders, Gerald Shenk, helped give some clarity and direction to this. In the coming months, I hope to be taking my technical/web and organizational skills to develop an interactive, media-rich system for Abraham’s Tent. Hopefully by the end of the semester, we’ll have something to show for it. This activity will further enmesh me into the university community, as it will blend my roles at: the seminary (student), The Table & Abraham’s Tent (intern), and EMU Marketing (staff) and related connections to the university Information Systems division. And to think, I’m not even Mennonite (denominationally, at least)! You wouldn’t guess it by how immersed I feel here (which is a good feeling for me).

In a related note, Gerald gave a great colloquium presentation this past Wednesday called “Theologies of Plurality: Why we need to be in Abraham’s Tent.” That, coupled with an exciting session in a theology class at the seminary the next day, culminated in this cathartic writing project this afternoon, posted to my other blog:

Why can’t we be friends? – Restorative Theology

It’s a lengthy post, but if you dig theology and interfaith stuff, it might be worth the time spent. Please feel free to comment there (or here), as well. Quite a ways down in the post, I do reference a Scripture reading that we’re dealing with in the Lectionary this week: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

Brian Gumm is an EMS intern at The Table for the 2009-2010 academic year.

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