About Rev. Mindi

Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell is an ordained American Baptist minister married to an ordained Disciples of Christ minister and mother of a child with autism. Mindi grew up in Alaska, lived in Oregon, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and now lives in the Seattle area. She is a pastor, creator of Rev-o-lution (http://rev-o-lution.org), retreat leader and writer, and a citizen of Red Sox Nation. (Note that her posts are her personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of her congregation).

Inclusion Matters

By Rev. Mindi

My husband and I have been working for our child to be included at school and in church. We’ve written about our child here before, who has autism, and have shared our journey as parents. We began Open Gathering as an inclusive church of people of all abilities, but we also work for inclusion in other worship settings.

We argue for inclusion because segregation and integration, which are most often practiced in our education system for students with disabilities, is not sufficient. And it is not sufficient in our churches, either, for any child or adult.

We often make assumptions about children’s ability to understand or comprehend worship, so we send them off to Sunday School and minimize any time in the worship service. We say it is because the children don’t understand, but in reality it is often to appease the adults who find children disruptive. Rather than change the way we worship or how our service or space is structured, we send children out so we feel comfortable.

At Open Gathering, we began doing something different—during our “Work” part of service (based off of Godly Play and the Montessori model), our adults or anyone who wanted to participate in the dialogue sermon were the ones to get up and move, leaving our children and those who wanted to respond to the story in creative ways in the same space we worship in, and we came back together for communion. But for the last year, we have decided to remain in the same space, all together, responding to the story together. We learn and grow, together.

At school, our son is in an Integrated Learning Center, an enclosed classroom designed to help students with severe needs. Integrated is an interesting word, because yes, our son is in public school, but he is in a room with children from kindergarten through third grade. While his other third grade classmates are learning multiplication and adding large numbers, he is still being taught how to count objects that he could count on one hand, and to name his colors and shapes—things he has known for a long, long time, since he was twenty months old, but because he does not demonstrate that he knows these things, he spends a lot of time “proving” to the teacher and paraeducators that he does indeed know these things. For the first two years, while the idea was that he would attend music, P.E., recess and lunch with his typically developing peers, it rarely, if ever, happened.

Some churches do integrated worship, in which children are only in the worship for a short amount of time. Or children, like our child a couple of years ago at age 6 when my husband was visiting another church with him, are taken back to the “crying” room—which literally is a separate room adjacent to the worship sanctuary. Or, when our children become youth, we never involve them in worship leadership or decision making—still not including them in worship.

So we have been arguing for our child to be included in a general education classroom. We know it takes baby steps. We know it’s hard to do something that has not been done before. But last year, after several meetings and having it written in our child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Program), our child began attending a General Education class two times a week for fifteen minutes with other second-graders. And, surprising both his ILC teacher and the general education 2nd grade teacher, he did great. After a couple of weeks, the paraeducator that accompanied him was often able to hang out in the back of the classroom as our child didn’t need reminders to sit any longer.

One day, when I went in to observe, our child made a loud noise as he sometimes does. A couple of kids laughed, and I didn’t think anything of it because, well, they’re second-graders. But two girls immediately said, “Stop laughing! That is not funny!” Those girls saw our child being picked on, saw the beginnings of what could be bullying, and put an end to it right away. Another time, our child covered his ears while the class was singing. One girl spoke up and said, “Some kids with autism have a hard time with loud sounds—AJ might be having a hard time right now, can we be quieter?” They saw him as one of their own. And AJ began counting to one hundred and singing a song that went, “one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, ONE MILLION!” all the way to one trillion. He did not learn that in his ILC class; he learned that from being included in his general education class.

This year, we are struggling again. Brand new teachers who do not know his abilities, but only begin by perceiving his deficits, struggled to get him started in the general education classroom. This year, our child’s name was on the roster for both his ILC class and his 3rd grade general education classroom, but when we went inside his 3rd grade classroom, his name was not on a desk like the other students. His birthday was not listed like the other student’s on the wall. And his teacher did not have a prepared, “Welcome Student” packet for him like she did for the other students. Inclusion was in name only, not in practice. Still, after only a few weeks, AJ has begun to stay in the classroom longer. The other students welcome him and engage with him.

Inclusion means learning happens both ways. His peers are learning that everyone is different and just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they cannot participate or cannot contribute in their own way. They are learning who AJ is, and AJ is learning from them.

At Burien Community Church, where I serve as pastor and worship on Sunday mornings, we have an inclusive worship service. We do have Children’s Church for those children who want to go during the sermon, but only for the sermon and final hymn. But children are regularly invited to help in worship, lighting the candles, taking the offering, and at times, reading scripture and saying prayers.

At first, AJ did not seem interested in worship. There were some hard moments our first year when others didn’t seem to understand why AJ behaved the way he did. But as time has gone on, AJ has, with help, taken the offering and lit the candles with the other children. Others greet AJ on Sunday morning with hugs and high fives.

We still do a Children’s Message—I know many churches have gone away from this practice, but I enjoy it—and I remind the church that ALL of us are children of God, so all participate and sometimes an adult or two will join us on the chancel. We also close our Children’s Message with The Lord’s Prayer, recited by everyone.

Last Sunday, in which my child was lying on his stomach, head and arms hanging over the steps of the chancel, he clasped his hands and recited the prayer with us. He had never done that before. He surprised everyone, including me. He has probably known this for some time, but this was the first time he chose to say it with us.

Inclusion works, because not only did my son learn how to pray as Jesus taught us; others learned that they cannot judge cognitive ability or understanding based on behavior or age. Yet our schools, and sadly our churches, often do this, and often exclude or segregate rather than include. If we cannot do this in the church, we do not have hope for the rest of the world. Inclusion works, and it matters.

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Environmental Degradation and Racism

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By Rev. Mindi

I returned to Alaska last week to visit my family and the places I grew up, and inevitably, the conversation turned to climate change.

My brother’s snowmobile sits covered up near his cabin, and he never started it up last year because there wasn’t enough snow.

The change of climate in Alaska has made the national news. In 2016, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race didn’t have enough snow for the ceremonial start in Anchorage, so snow was brought in by train (however, they did get a dumping of snow the day before). The race for years would restart in Wasilla, my hometown. In 2008, the restart was officially moved from Wasilla to Willow, 30 miles north, because there were too many years where Wasilla didn’t have enough snow.  But in 2015, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race had to restart in Fairbanks, 300 miles north of Willow—because there wasn’t enough snow across most of Southcentral and Western Alaska.

Sea levels are rising, and entire Native villages are being forced to make the decision to move. This story on the village of Shishmaref aired on NPR days before I returned home.  Houses are collapsing in villages because the permafrost—which is exactly as it sounds, ground that is supposed to be permanently frozen—has begun to thaw, causing sinkholes. Even in areas close to Anchorage, wells and septic systems are failing because the ground is warming up and pipes are breaking as the ground collapses.

Growing up in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska (I lived there from 83-95), it almost always snowed by the second week of October, and the snow stayed through April. In the late 90’s, when I came home at Christmas from college, I could already see the changes. One Christmas it was 30 degrees out and we were all wearing sweaters instead of our winter coats (it’s a dry cold, and +30 seems balmy compared to 20 below). One Christmas there was no snow on the ground. Since 2000, the winters have been warmer, and now, my dad and brother told me about how most of the time in January it rains—then it freezes, which is much more dangerous than the snow and cold we used to have.

Summers have been warmer, and warmer for longer—last week, it was in the 70’s by the time we left. There is a beetle that has infested the birch trees—my mother was telling me that scientists are not too worried about it, they believe the winter will kill it, but it is something that traveled north with the warmer weather and infected the trees so the leaves didn’t turn the normal golden yellow—instead, they became brown. But the rest of the land—especially up in the mountains, where in previous Augusts, the tundra shrubs would have turned to brilliant reds by this time of year—are still green because autumn is coming later.

Glaciers that I used to see from driving on the road are no longer visible. Portage Glacier, a famous glacier less than an hour south of Anchorage, receded in eight years what they had expected it to take 25 years to do (hence, a very expensive visitor’s center that was built, along with a boat to go look at the glacier, had to change purposes since you can’t see the glacier any longer, not even from the boat on the lake. When we first moved to Alaska in 1983, there was no lake—the glacier was right there by the road).

Exit Glacier is known outside of Alaska because President Obama visited there on his trip to Alaska. I have been to Exit Glacier three times: 2003, 2010, and a week ago. I have shared pictures here so one might see the dramatic changes over the years.

Climate change must be the church’s responsibility. God gave us the earth, to have dominion over it the way God has dominion over us—and we continue to abuse that gift and deny our responsibility. Our addiction to fossil fuels is not only warming our planet, but is killing the most vulnerable. Environmental degradation is part of racism, as seen in the events in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where currently the Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners have bulldozed sacred ground, including gravesites, and provoked protestors and attacked them with dogs and mace. Or lead in the water supply in Flint, Michigan. Or the above article on Shishmaref, Alaska. Climate change is affecting Black communities, Native American and Native Alaskan communities in disproportionate ways. Sure, rich folks live by the seashore, too—but generally speaking they have the resources to protect their homes, or to move. Poor folks have no place to go.

Environmental degradation is part of racism, and we must work not only to reduce our own waste and reliance on fossil fuels, but to support the Sioux of Standing Rock and all Black and Native communities affected by this injustice and our continued failure to live up to God’s intention for us: to be the earth’s caretakers, to truly love our neighbors as God has loved us.

Me at Exit Glacier, 2003

Me at Exit Glacier, 2003

Exit Glacier 2003

Exit Glacier 2003

Exit Glacier 2003. This was as far as they would let you walk, but you could walk right up to the face of this glacier and the trail gained no elevation.

Exit Glacier 2003. This was as far as they would let you walk, but you could walk right up to the face of this glacier and the trail gained no elevation.

Exit Glacier 2010--the viewpoint used to be where you see the river below. The viewpoint has now moved 1/2 mile up the trail on the mountain (elevation hard to make out from this angle)

Exit Glacier 2010–the viewpoint used to be where you see the river below. The viewpoint has now moved 1/2 mile up the trail on the mountain (elevation hard to make out from this angle)

Exit Glacier 2010

Exit Glacier 2010

Exit Glacier 2016. 

Exit Glacier 2016.

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Clergy Seeking Community

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By Rev. Mindi

In 2010, my family uprooted from Massachusetts and moved halfway across country to Durant, Oklahoma, where we had no family and knew no one except the few people we had met from the search committee of my husband’s new call. I left a congregation that I had sincerely loved and had felt called to serve, and now was in the Great Middle of Nowhere. I wasn’t a pastor anymore, but I was still clergy. I wasn’t serving a church, but I was still called. There was only one other woman pastor in town, and she was retired. I volunteered at the hospital, along with her and the Episcopal priest in town as chaplains, but outside of those two colleagues, I had few collegial friends.

A year later, I noticed some of my friends posting on Facebook using hashtags, and I realized they were posting from Twitter, so I finally created a Twitter account (I was late to Facebook, too, joining only have my kiddo was born in 2008).

While I have made friends through Facebook with people I did not know in real life, and I have made friends over other chat forums in the past, it was on Twitter that I began to connect with other pastors, especially pastors with progressive theology, pastors concerned about issues of poverty and justice, from #Occupy to #BlackLivesMatter. From Twitter, I made friends with other progressive pastors in Oklahoma and Texas, and found out about the church The Euchatastrophe in Fort Worth where my family was welcomed into the community. We would drive down two hours to get there once a month, just so we, as clergy, could also worship.

Through social media I made connections to The Young Clergywomen Project and other collegial groups that span across denominational boundaries. And through Twitter, I began seeing clergy ask the same questions I had begun to ask: how do we begin the conversations around vision in our congregations, especially churches that are stuck in old ways of being church? How do we talk about bi-vocational ministry? How do we become a church beyond, and without, walls? What does it mean to be church now?

I found many of those questions about congregational life, our future, creativity in ministry, and more were being asked on the hashtag #unco11 and the next year #unco12. I found out about UNCO, the UnConference I have written about on here before, and found a connection with other clergy and church leaders. I no longer felt that my husband and I were alone—we had a fantastic network, that eventually led to a meetup in Durant with friends coming up from Dallas and Fort Worth and others down from Oklahoma City.

At #unco13 I met more of my friends and colleagues in person, leaders I am glad to call my friends and know that I can chat with them about anything (and now I am in video calls with several of them more than once a month!) And at UNCO, we tweet about what we are doing, what we are learning together, so that others can follow along—and you are encouraged not to put your phone away, but to have it out and ready to share!

Whether you attend #unco16, or The Young Clergywomen’s Conference in Boston, or any other gathering that began on social media, you already know you have friends there before you see them face to face. You already know that what you learn, you will take with you. You already know that the conversation is just beginning, and will not end at the closing worship.

Social media has fostered real-life relationships that I carry with me. There are people that I have never met in real life, but I consider close friends. People that I miss when they take a break from social media. People that I love catching up with and hearing what is going on in their lives. People that, when they move from one part of the country to another, our friendship doesn’t change because distance is no longer a factor. Having started these relationships on Twitter, when I thought we were all alone in southern Oklahoma, helped me to grow and to receive the support I needed.

Make a new friend! Tweet @RevMindi, I’d be glad to make your acquaintance.

*for more information on The Young Clergywomen’s Project, visit http://ift.tt/1jMLO8S

*for more information on UNCO, the UnConference, visit www.unco.us

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Good Fridays, everyday

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By Rev. Mindi

Holy Week is a reminder that death disrupts our lives.

I did not attend my first funeral until I was seventeen, and then I attended two funerals in a matter of months. The first was for my maternal grandfather, only sixty-seven, who died of cancer. My grandfather who was a minister, the family member I felt closest to in many ways, though we only saw each other a few times my entire life, since I grew up in Alaska and he lived in Pennsylvania.

The second funeral was not someone I knew well, but it was someone my age. Seventeen, and he took his own life, the son of a family friend. Instead of heading off to college like many of us, his parents were placing flowers on his grave.

In this life, I will never have my grandfather again. In this life, these parents will never have their child again.

Holy Week is a reminder that death is an ugly, terrible thing.

A good friend of ours from seminary died suddenly at the age of twenty-nine. It was unexpected. In the service held in the chapel of my alma mater, my husband led the call to worship, and he began with “God, What the ___” as he stomped on the floor. We all laughed, and we all cried, because the sudden death of a young adult doesn’t make any sense, and is one of those moments when we question God, we ask why, knowing we will not receive an answer. Those WTF moments are moments in which platitudes of “God needing another angel” or “they are in a better place” or “everything happens for a reason” get shot down. I’d rather say, “God, What the _____?

Holy Week is a reminder that even Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

(And yes, we all know he was quoting Psalm 22, but just as if one of us says “WTF,” we’re not saying anything original ourselves, either).

Three years ago, two weeks before Easter, my eighty-nine-year-old paternal grandmother entered hospice. She moved out of her senior living center into my aunt’s house for those last weeks, the only house of any of my relatives that I still remember from my childhood. I was able to visit her right after, and we had one of those days where we talked about everything and anything. I showed her all the pictures of my son on my phone and we talked about old memories, and we laughed and we shared together. She was still able to stand up and move about, and she told me she was ready to go and be with Jesus.

A week and a half later, we sat by her bed as she was no longer responsive and barely breathing, on Holy Saturday. We held her thin, bony fingers, we talked with her, we sat with her, but she barely was able to look at us, if at all. She passed on Easter Monday, appropriate for a woman who drove a large camper up through the 90’s with a “God is my Co-Pilot” bumper sticker. She never doubted where she was going and who she was going with. Her dying was as peaceful as any I have experienced.

Holy Week is a reminder that death is part of life.

Holy Week is a reminder that for all the goodness of life, and all the platitudes we say about heaven, death still can be awful and horrible to go through, even when it happens as peacefully as it can. Death still separates us, for now.

Holy Week is a reminder that it’s okay to say, “My God, My God, What the _____?”

Holy Week is a reminder that we can’t go back. We can only go on.

Holy Week reminds us that we all go through Good Friday. We all do. Year after year, death after death, we relive Good Friday, and we remain in Good Friday, no matter what day it is.

But we live with the hope of Easter. We live with the hope of the empty tomb and the stone rolled away and all that. New life. Eternal life. No more dying, no more mourning, no more grief and sorrow and sadness. No more young people taking their own lives. No more sudden, unexplainable loss. No more illness and pain.

I cling to the hope of Easter, in order to get through Good Friday, year after year, death after death. I cling to the hope that once a year, we celebrate an empty tomb. Once a year, we proclaim that death is not as ugly and terrifying and awful as we have experienced it. Once a year, we have Good Friday transformed into Easter.

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Social Media and Pastoral Ministry

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By Rev. Mindi

In my last ministry call, I used to feel guilty if I checked Facebook during my office hours. That was a time when I posted pictures of my baby kiddo, checked in on what friends were saying and doing and scrolled through endless posts of cat pictures.

Flash forward eight years, and the guilt is gone, because so much of my pastoral ministry does take place on Facebook, along with other social media. Checking Facebook is how I know what is going on in the life of my congregants. When I see them on Sunday, or in passing during the week, I often ask how things are going, and often the response I hear is, “Fine, Pastor.” But through Facebook I know when anniversaries come up—and not always the celebratory ones, but the anniversaries of loved ones gone. I know when people are going through difficult times. People share struggles looking for new jobs or stress at home that they don’t always share in person with me. Through Facebook messages, people have shared prayer requests and urgent concerns. Through Twitter, community members have reached out to me and my church for prayer and support.

I still pick up the phone and call, and I still do personal visits, but I have had congregants admit to me that they are afraid of the pastor stopping by. I’ve had others tell me that they struggle with social anxiety and have difficulty picking up the phone and calling, or sometimes answering. Text messaging and other messaging services have helped me to connect in ways that are comfortable for others. I’ve had congregants ask me in-depth questions that may lead to a conversation over a cup of coffee later, but in the beginning, allow me to share links to articles and books (and sometimes an occasional Study Bible) that help them explore more deeply.

A friend of mine (who gave me permission to share) once reached out to me to share a prayer request—over the messaging system on Words With Friends. Even gaming can lead to pastoral conversations and ministry!

Many churches still have not “bought in” to doing social media. Many pastors I know don’t “friend” their congregants on Facebook for their own privacy issues; but through a church Facebook page messages can be received; through groups, information and prayer requests can be shared. There are other ways of maintaining one’s privacy and space while still participating in social media ministry. But by not doing social media, churches are missing out on how pastoral ministry is happening in the 21st century.

*Want to learn more? Join us on Tuesday evenings for the #chsocm (Church Social Media) Tweetchat at 9pmEST/6pmPST. Or check out the blog for transcripts of the #chsocm tweetchat at the Church Social Media blog: http://ift.tt/1ffLhW5. Follow the hashtag #chsocm and ask questions—it is how I learned when I was starting out!

Rev. Mindi is now the Social Media Coordinator for the Evergreen Association of the American Baptist Churches, USA.

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An Open Letter to my Colleagues in this Lenten Season of an Election Year

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By Rev. Mindi

My friends,

It’s a hard line we walk, between ministering to everyone in our congregations of all political views, and our own views.

It’s a hard line we walk, between listening to those we disagree with, and the words of Jesus.

It’s a hard line we walk, between staying silent to attempt to keep a restless peace that we will regret, and saying something we will later regret.

Of course, we have laws on the separation of church and state, and not endorsing candidates, and all that. Sometimes our congregations have taken that to mean that politics should never be spoken of from the pulpit, but that’s not the case. Jesus was rather political, as you know.

And in faithfulness to Jesus Christ, we cannot be silent any longer when it comes to hate.

When a candidate refuses to disavow the KKK immediately, we know that we must speak up against hate and white supremacy. However, it’s also an indicator that we ought to have spoken up long ago. Speaking for myself, I ought to have spoken up when our Mexican neighbors to the south were called murderers and rapists. I ought to have spoken up when refugees were called terrorists, when Muslims were threatened with banishment. I ought to have spoken up when a disabled reporter was made fun of and mocked on camera. And there are times before that when I ought to have spoken up.

In this Lenten season, I repent of my silence. Silence in matters of justice makes peace a lie. In this Lenten season, I remember that the One who saves us is the One who gave himself up for others, and called us into a life of humility and service, not of boasting and taking.

I’m not sure any candidate will ever follow in the image of Christ. But I know what does not look like Christ: Hate. Fear. Oppression. Intolerance. Injustice. White Supremacy. If we follow any of these, we do not follow Christ.

So I call upon all of us to speak up. Say something on Facebook. Write it in your newsletter. Speak it from the pulpit. Denounce white supremacy. Denounce hate and intolerance. Denounce fear. Do not let the lie of silence equaling peace sway you.

Blessings to you in this Lenten season. May we repent and turn back to the ways of Christ, and truly love our neighbor as ourselves by denouncing white supremacy.

Rev. Mindi

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Leading the Way

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By Rev. Mindi

Almost three and a half years ago, I began at my current call to ministry, a tiny congregation to the south of Seattle. A congregation with very few children and that, quite frankly, wasn’t used to having children present in the congregation.

My (at the time) four-year-old child with autism was definitely a change for this quiet congregation. AJ can vocalize and laugh and giggle very loudly. On occasion, he had made not-so-happy noises. I have interrupted my own sermon to try to calm him down when others could not.

When we first came, he ran up and down the center aisle and the sides. He would run all over the chancel throughout the service and be difficult to contain and have him sit still. Once, he figured out that he could step over the pews instead of walking between them, and stepped over each one.

I heard complaints on occasion about my son being too disruptive and too loud. My first pastoral relations committee meeting was a tough one. I heard people ask if my husband could take my child to his church instead. I know people want to come and worship and take that one hour out of the week to reconnect with God and it’s hard to do it when the child next to you is screaming, or shouting, or yelling. But it’s even harder for the parent who wants to come to worship with their family and finds they are not welcome, let alone the pastor.

Now at age seven and-a-half, AJ still runs around, up and down the aisle. He sits at the drum kit and plays the drums, and often at the keyboard, refusing to follow any instructions but plays his own tune. However, when the prelude starts, for the most part he now knows that he needs to sit down. He often sits in the back pew with a friend, sometimes one his own age, but often an adult who can help him sit most calmly in church.

But something remarkable has happened in these three and-a-half years, and it’s not that AJ has quieted down or matured a little. It isn’t that AJ has changed his behavior; it is that the church has changed with him. Children now take the offering during worship, and on occasion AJ has helped. A few young families have come with their little ones who have run up and down the aisle and all over the chancel. The children lead the adults in saying the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday before the Prayers of the People. And one of our youngest read part of the Gospel According to Luke on Christmas Eve, along with the other adult readers.

At my most recent pastoral relations committee meeting, one of the eldest members of the congregation brought up how wonderful it was that children feel free to dance and wiggle and move about. She remarked how delightful it was to her, that it warmed her heart to see the children so free to be themselves in our church, a place where they are welcome just as they are. And she turned to me and said, “It’s because of AJ. AJ has made this church welcoming of all children.”

Too many churches still try to do a separate-but-equal ministry for persons with disabilities, or an outreach to persons who are houseless, or to teens who are at-risk. Too many churches want to do something to change other people, to make them more acceptable.

But this is what inclusion does: inclusion changes us.

We are continuing to have to push for inclusion in our child’s school and our school district. Often, students with special needs like our child’s are separated in a Special Education class. While they receive more individualized instruction, they do not receive the socialization with other students. However, as we keep promoting at our child’s school, it’s less for AJ’s growth as it is for the other general education students. How will “typical” peers ever learn about students with disabilities if they are not in their classes? How will adults live with and work with (and hire, if they become employers) students with disabilities if they have had little to no social interaction with their disabled peers?

Outside of public education, we still are struggling for inclusion for AJ in extra-curricular activities: music and dance and sports. Summer camps have been notorious for not including (by not accommodating) students with different needs. And sadly, this has proved true for us, even at church-run day camps and Vacation Bible Schools. We know from other parents that this does not get any easier as children grow into teens and young adults; few of them are ever included in the events of their peers.

This is one of the places that the church still has the opportunity to lead the way in our communities, and frankly, in our world as a whole. We have the opportunity to lead the way in building up the beloved, inclusive community of Christ here on earth. We have the ability to truly make a difference—not just for people with disabilities—but for all of us, because inclusion changes us. And I believe it changes us to be more like the image of God.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. ~Isaiah 11:6

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. ~Mark 10:15

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“Meeting the Challenge of this Decisive Hour” –Honoring MLK’s Legacy

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By Rev. Mindi

I never knew Martin Luther King, Jr. was controversial until my senior year of high school. Until that point, all I had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. was that he was a civil rights leader, that he had called for the end of segregation, that he had spoken up for blacks in the South and that he was assassinated and when I was in elementary school in the 1980’s he was given a holiday. That was what I knew.

What changed during my senior year? In our Government class, we were asked to name some of our heroes of the United States, and I raised my hand and said, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Other students scoffed, some said, “he’s not my hero.” I explained that he had led a peaceful revolution and my teacher corrected me: “they weren’t exactly peaceful.” I still remember those exact words.

I was taken aback at the age of seventeen because what I had learned in school so far was a tidy, very white viewpoint of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had read the “I Have A Dream” speech. I had read about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I did not know about the March to Selma, or the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, or the violence that erupted in the South at polling locations when African-Americans showed up to vote. I also didn’t know that people could still be racist. I knew of a few people who were, but overall, I thought we were in a post-racial America. I had believed it, until that day, when I realized that either we bought the version taught in school of a gentle, meek and mild Martin Luther King, Jr. who had a dream for all children, or we bought into the racist view that MLK had started violence and riots because people were equal and that if you talked about race, you were the racist. While many of us reject the latter, we have swallowed the pill of the former.

The problem is, almost twenty-one years after I have graduated high school, white churches for the most part still buy into the first viewpoint. Especially on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, in the liberal-leaning traditional congregations, we read quotes here and there from MLK about peace and justice that doesn’t challenge us, but makes us feel better about ourselves. We sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or “We Shall Overcome” only on this Sunday and no others. We join in community celebrations and we say we are working for racial justice, but are we just swallowing the pill we have been giving ourselves since his assassination almost fifty years ago?

My white kindred, I urge you to read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I urge you to take seriously the challenges that MLK lays out, in a very Pauline way, of how we have acted towards our kindred of color. And we must examine ourselves—are we putting ourselves in the same position as many of the white clergy leaders MLK was writing to? “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” writes King in his letter. White leaders condemned the actions of King and others, despite them being peaceful, but “because they precipitate violence.” Because white supremacy still exists, and the reaction to black lives protesting, even peacefully, is violence. However, over the past year, since the protests in Ferguson began, and in later New York and Baltimore condemning police brutality, the silence of white church leaders has been louder than the condemnation.

We need to read all of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, especially the “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and remember Dr. King’s call. It is all too easy for those of us in the white church to pick a quote here and there, to sing the songs and believe that it’s all better now, but it is not. We must not only speak but act for racial justice, and most of all, we must listen to our African-American kindred who are still struggling for equality and justice, and listen to their call, all of it, even the parts that make us uncomfortable.

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Financial Support “Ain’t What It Used To Be.”

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By Rev. Mindi

The second congregation I was called to as a pastor, an old New England church with white columns and red carpet down the aisles of the white pews and white walls, had a chart in the back of its sanctuary, built in 1825. The chart was for the old box pews, long pulled out of the main floor, but still standing up in the balcony. Because, as you may know, back in the day families paid for their pew for the year. Back then, when someone got mad at you for sitting in their pew, it was because they had paid good money for it. That was how church buildings were funded, Sunday School literature purchased, and how pastors were paid.

At some point, the box pews were pulled out. The idea of being able to buy your seat in church and pay more for better seats became appalling. You can’t claim it’s your pew anymore, and all are encouraged to give what they are able. And this model worked for some time, where those who had more could give their share, and churches began creating endowments and building bigger buildings. Families still had a lot of children that filled up those Sunday School classes.

But here we are, in the twenty-first century. Two adults with full-time incomes also may have student loans, childcare expenses, healthcare expenses, rent or mortgage, and other costs that leave little wiggle room. Fewer and fewer have disposable income. People are not able to give as much to the church, and churches are shrinking their budgets, cutting staff, and in some cases, closing altogether.

We know this. And we know the church is changing and the new worshiping communities don’t look like what we have known on Sunday mornings. For some of those communities, income isn’t a problem. They meet in coffee shops or at bars or other public places, and don’t pay rent, or pay little for reserved space. Many do not have a full-time pastor, but someone who leads their community and works a different full-time job. Some of them are not seminary trained and don’t have the same debt. The operating costs may be significantly less.

But there are still many who value seminary trained pastors, who need to pay their pastor something to help with their debt, who have expenses for worship space. And they have a lot in common with the traditional church coming in to today’s world: both need to figure out how to raise financial support.

Being a PTA mom, sometimes I turn my nose up at the word “fundraising.” All I can think about is wrapping paper and cookie dough sales. But we need to look at ways to raise financial support beyond what we are used to, whether we are in a new, innovative ministry that meets outside of the box, or if we are continuing within the traditional church—the old ways are not going to work any longer.

Here are some ideas I have seen traditional and non-traditional worshiping communities use:

–Dinner and Silent Auction

–Kids Carnival

–Community Festival and Appreciation


–Inviting people to partner with the community through financial giving, whether they attend worship or not, by inviting people to give to help fund meaningful work in the community.

–Online giving campaigns

For the next two weeks, the “out-of-the-box-in-the-box” worshiping community I am part of, Open Gathering, which is a ministry of Bellevue Christian Church in Bellevue, Washington, is partnering in an online fundraising effort with other innovative ministries in what we are calling the “Island of Misfit Toys” Fundraiser. We are inviting folks from our communities and those who support them to offer up an item for an online auction—something they received for Christmas they didn’t want, or new (and like-new) items they have, or handmade items (there are some delicious baked goods being offered by a former Manhattan pastry chef). You can check it out on Facebook, and even bid on items to support some of these innovative ministries happening around the country. To see what other ministries are being supported by this online auction, visit this website.

Feel free to steal these ideas. Better yet, reply to this post and share your own ideas for thinking outside of the box, partnering in the community, and helping to support new and innovative ministries, whether it happen within the traditional four-walled church, or outside of the box!

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Forced Adaptation

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By Rev. Mindi

In 2009, the world changed as we knew it.

We went from analog to digital TV.

Remember the concerns, the worries and concerns for senior citizens that would no longer be able to watch TV, that people wouldn’t be able to find the digital converter boxes (even though you could sign up for one for free) and that people would have to buy new TV’s?

We survived. The world didn’t end. Chaos didn’t erupt in the streets. And now, six years later, we’ve almost forgotten about that transition. Few of us have the big box TV’s anymore. When I asked my congregation a couple of weeks ago (using this change from analog to digital as my sermon illustration about change), only a couple of people still had a box TV. Everyone else had a flat TV, including the senior members of the church. Six years ago, there were concerns that senior citizens wouldn’t be able to accept the change from analog to digital, and that was the main argument against the change.

Turns out, senior citizens adapt pretty well, as do most of us.

What happens when the church is resistant to change and uses the excuse that our senior members can’t make the shift and change? One, we are telling ourselves a lie about a group of people, and two, at some point the change is inevitable and we either adapt, or our message is no longer received. Because it is almost always the very people who are afraid of a generation or group not being able to adapt to change that are unable to make the change. It is almost always the ones worried about others that cannot make the shift themselves. The results after the 2009 switch from analog to digital show that the largest group not ready for the shift were ages 35-54.  Not senior citizens.

I went out to lunch today and at the table was a tablet with card reader. This is now the third restaurant chain that I have been to in the last month that is switching over to this practice, where you pay right at the table when you are finished. The menu is even loaded and you can order your food from your table, but for now, the wait staff still come to your table and take your order the old fashioned way, but who knows for how long? More and more chains are having options of ordering online through an app and you pick your food up ready to go.  How many churches are still only taking check or cash for pledges and donations? How many church websites still do not have a mobile option? How many congregations still do not use social media? And how many times will we make the excuse that it is senior citizens who are not ready?

1440 was the year technology changed the church forever, the year the printing press was invented. In the next one hundred years, Bibles would be mass produced and printed in languages other than Latin. The church was eventually forced to change. The next big shift is already happening, in both the ways technology is used within the church, but also the church itself, in how we organize, gather, and do mission and ministry. We are shifting from creating community to finding God already at work in the community. We are shifting from doing mission to help others to partnering with others in their God-given work. But some of us are adapting faster than others. Some of us are handling this shift better.

As those of us that have congregational budgets operating on a calendar year know, this is Stewardship season. This is the time when we mail out the pledge cards and stewardship letters and invite people to give. However, unless we being to embrace technology, we are going to be left behind, or out completely, if we are still expecting people to carry cash or check. And unless we embrace the shift of partnering with our community that already exists, to do the work God is already doing, we are going to be shutting the doors of many churches that still think their mission is to share the message of Christ’s love but have no idea how to do it in today’s world.

There are hundreds of books out there about this shift happening in our church and culture, with authors who can state this far better than me. However, if we cannot admit that it’s not senior citizens that have a problem of adapting, but ourselves, those of us in leadership, we are fooling ourselves and shutting the doors on our face.

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