Saturday, October 21, 2017

Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967

After responding to Alanna's blog comment I thought this song worthy of a post by itself.

Sometimes John Mayer plays in our home.  Not John Mayer (that would be cool), his songs.  A few months ago I tuned in and actually listened to the lyrics of the song Walt Grace's Submarine Test.  It made me cry.  It's one of the weirdest songs I've every heard but I embraced it because I felt a strange connection with Mr. Grace.  I can't relate to all of it (i.e. my wife is far kinder, wiser, and loving than his) but the image of paddling into the unknown with little more than a dream and a loose plan... it captured me.

There's something beautiful about saying goodbye to the things that offered stability (a church family, denominational network, neighbourhood, house, friends, job, etc.) and venturing into the waves with little more than a handmade submarine in hopes of reaching the other side of the world.  Most people never get the chance to take a faith risk.  I'm privileged to have done it more than once and I'm even more amazed this time.

So, our little submarine hasn't sunk yet but I've seen some amazing things.  Our kids have each found really great part-time jobs that they enjoy.  Our daughter just got back from an 11 day canoe trip in Killarney Provincial Park.  I've been affirmed in my PhD program and not only am I keeping up with the pace of reading, research, and writing, but I've also had a chance to narrow down my thesis topic through the excellent support of some world class faculty.  I am overwhelmed by God's provision.

I'm preaching tomorrow so it's time for bed.  I hope this post encourages you to take a submarine ride of your own before it's too late.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Good bye Hanover house... Hello new life in Clarksburg

Yesterday marked the conclusion of life on Mulock Road for our family.  And, since as of last week we still had things to move out of the house, it meant that our family spent Thanksgiving weekend packing and cleaning. 

Can you believe we lived in that house for more than 10 years?  I still remember the day we moved in, July 11th 2007.  It was an unusually cold July day.  Our daughter was turning 6 and our son was turning 3.  Them included, a lot changed over the years.  The road went from gravel to tar and chip, the house went from propane heat to natural gas, and homes changed hands all around us and got younger every time.

I loved that house.  But if I could give it up for what we've got now, I'd do it every time.  I love our new community, our house that's becoming home, my new school and accompanying friends, the wonderful folks that are part of our new church, and my new weekly routine.  

Maple and I still try to get out for walks.  It takes us close to seven minutes to get from our house to the Beaver River and that includes time for her to stop and eat some apples that have fallen on the path.  Life seems simpler these days even with doctoral studies in the mix.  I'm not looking forward to the winter drives to Toronto but I know it's only for a season and spring will be here soon!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hang in there, and try to write something everyday...

That's my takeaway quote from one of the the many readings I've been assigned since starting back to school in September.  Here's the rest of the quote from an article by John W. O'Malley,

"The moral of the story: hang in there, and try to write something every day no matter how banal or stupid you think it is going to sound.  When you come back the next day, you might be able to salvage a paragraph or two, and thus, agonizing paragraph by agonizing paragraph the book gets written." (O'Malley, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jul. 2007), p. 586.)

Some days it feels like I've jumped into the deep end of the pool and I forgot my bathing suit.  It's terrifyingly vulnerable as a first year PhD student.  Other days it feels like I've stumbled through an open door into a Narnia like world, with endless possibilities that await in my tiny, grey, library cubical.

Aside from school, we're saying goodbye to our Hanover house next week.  It's bittersweet since our whole family loved that house: so many beautiful moments.  But its time to set it free to become a memory box for a new family with young children.  Besides, a new world with rich memories awaits us in the town of the Blue Mountains.  For example, today, a new friend from the Blue Mountain church and his friend helped load and move my tractor to our new community.  Unfortunately, we couldn't predict the weather so it happened in a downpour.  I'm grateful to be warm and dry now.  I'm also thankful for a couple of new friends willing to get wet with me to relocate a tractor.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Preoccupied with PhD studies

I'm still here.  In the absence of blogging I've been consumed with reading and writing for courses that have deadlines and required word counts.

I am officially back in full-time academic studies for the first time since 2006.  The adjustment has been smooth but abrupt.  I'm enjoying getting settled in.

On a sad note, just days before the start of my program I found out that my doctoral supervisor took a sudden medical leave.  He's been diagnosed with late stage cancer and will not be returned to his post.  Thankfully, the college where I'm enrolled has provided two co-supervisors to ensure my study is not adversely affected.

In terms of what I'm doing right now, I'm taking three courses this semester.  They all have two word titles so they're easy to remember: Research & Scholarship, Faith & Culture, and Wisdom & Schooling.

I gained access to a library carrel today.  It will be mine at least until Aug. 31st, 2018.  It's sort of a home away from home (except that I can't cook or sleep in it).  I anticipate spending a lot of time here (I'm writing this blog post from within its confines) or in a small back corner desk in the Thornbury library that I've already grown attached to.

Here's a photo of my carrel at the Kelly Library, U of T.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Co-Pastors at Blue Mountain Community Church

It's official!  Erika and I have been hired as co-pastors at Blue Mountain Community Church beginning September 1st, 2017.

Our house is up for sale, our kids are gearing up to go to new schools, and the Mills family finally knows where we're going to land in September.

Our life as a family has been a wonderful, faith-filled, winding road and we are all excited to be able to see the way ahead.  We've had a 'serving-as-equals-in-pastoral-ministry' vision for many years and the arrangement at BMCC suits our dreams beautifully.   Being co-pastors means that Erika and I will be sharing one F/T role while we both work outside the church too.  Erika will carry most of the pastoral load at BMCC and continue to work one day a week as a chaplain at a long-term care facility in Owen Sound.  I will be enrolled as a F/T PhD student while working roughly one day a week at BMCC.  God's grace and provision overwhelms us.

So, if you happen to be in the Town of the Blue Mountains, stop by.  We'd love to see you!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Birthday Fun at Grundy Lake Provincial Park

For those of you that don't know, I turned 40 this past Monday.

So, to celebrate, we rounded up our kids, readied our shedding yellow dog, gathered our camping gear, and headed to Grundy Lake Provincial Park for and overnight escape.  While it may seem strange to drive three hours north for one night in a tent, it's a park with special significance.  It happens to be the place my family camped nearly every summer when I was growing up.

I remember one pre-teen Grundy birthday scavenger hunt.  I biked around the campground looking for clues my family crafted.  It was a dismal failure.  I found a few paper hints but not enough to make it fun. I cried a lot that day.  I remember screaming, "It's my birthday!  Why did you have to make the hunt so hard?"  I think that was the year we ended up driving to Sudbury to get a special birthday coconut cream pie to make amends for the frustrating clue chase.

I remember one year (not for my birthday) when my university-aged brother and I drove to the park without our parents.  We canoed to an isolated lake to fish and camp in the backcountry.  I enjoyed fishing then.  But that trip fished me out.  Since that time I've lost all desire to pick up a rod.  I think it was a combination of the quality of small pike we caught and the long, boring days sitting in the canoe with the terrible stinging itch of deer fly bites on my exposed ears and feet.

One year my whole family tried backcountry camping to parts of Grundy with no backcountry sites.  We rented a second canoe and our ill equipped family-of-five strapped our bulky sleeping bags, orange bubble pads, and an assortment of other heavy gear into the canoes.  I still remember the taste of my sweat and the feel of my drenched warm cotton t-shirt as we clamoured over rocks and around blueberry bushes with our 10,000 lb. canoes.  Thankfully we figured out a way to leave our canvass behemoth tent at home and we found a swimmable lake at the end of each near deadly portage.

Then, I stopped going to Grundy.  I grew up, got married, had kids.

Then, things changed.  Two years ago I took my wife and kids camping at Grundy.  I booked a site a month or so in advance. Unbeknownst to me, my parents & my brother and his family had booked sites just a couple of spots down from where we were going to land--the same week as us.  It came up in conversation weeks before we arrived so our surprise happened in advance of tent pitching.  It turned out to be a highlight for our whole family.

So, back we went on Sunday for my birthday.  After making so many good memories at that park it was great to add a few more.  Here's a shot of my birthday sunrise at Grundy Lake.  That's two of my favourite people in the foreground.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

3 Common Decision-Making Mistakes Church Boards Make

Last week I was one of a handful of pastors that received an invite to a day-long Church Board
training session.  Since then I've been reflecting on a few common blunders church boards make in decision-making.  Here they are.

Mistake #1.   Decisions are made by the wrong people.

When people get elected or appointed to a Church Board they're they usually want to make things happen in their church and community.  Unfortunately, that zeal can result in board members' bringing forward items for discussion and decision-making that aren't the jurisdiction of the Board.  Boards can overstep in a few ways: they can overstep the authority of staff members by making decisions about ministry logistics or preaching themes.  Boards can overstep their denomination by hiring a pastor that hasn't been screened or credentialed.  Boards can even overstep the membership of their church by making major budgetary changes or deciding to acquire buildings or land without the consent of the congregation.

Each church functions a bit differently and Boards have varying degrees of authority.  However, a good rule of thumb when sitting on a church board is to ask these questions: "are we the right people to be making this decision?  Have the right people addressed this (first)?"  If the answer is no then drop it.  If the answer is yes, then you're ready to move on to mistake #2.

Mistake #2.  Decisions are made in the wrong place.

There's only one 'right place' board decisions should be made: at the board table during a duly called meeting of the board.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case.  Sometimes church board members like to use the phone, e-mail, their kitchen table, or the church parking lot to share their thoughts on a particular decision that needs to be made or, to figure out how to reverse a decision that's just been made at the duly called board meeting!!!  However, like it or not, the only acceptable place for a church board decision to be made is during the board meeting.  The problem with making decisions and having vigorous discussion anywhere else is that other board members with perspective and insight may be left out.  Not only is it unwise, it's a slight to the members of the church that appointed each one of the board members as their representatives.

So, the next time you find yourself discussing important church board decisions outside the duly called board meeting, ask this question to your fellow discussion partners: "should we be discussing this decision right now?"  If the answer is no, then drop it and ask the chairperson of the board to add the item to the next agenda.  Then, watch out for mistake #3.  

Mistake #3.  Decisions made at the wrong time.

I've been to too many Church Board meetings where an item is added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.  Then, when it's time to discuss the item, the board member that added it to the agenda addresses it and quickly calls for a decision.  Sometimes there are written materials to support it but other times there are none.  If it's a small item, it's not a big deal.  But if it's something important, whatever you do, avoid the decision.  Save yourself and your fellow board members endless grief and make a motion to table it until the next meeting.  I've seen church boards move too quickly on things that sound good in the moment but over time burns like suicide wings the morning after.  I've seen 'good' policy decisions made that end up shackling staff members to needless methodology and I've seen hasty appointments that position people in places of authority who 'serve' to undermine others.

So, avoid this costly mistake by making it routine to have the agenda and supporting documentation available in advance of meetings.  3 to 5 days before the meeting is ideal.  If there's an important decision to be make then make sure there's clear documentation in the hands of board members before the meeting.  It gives them time to read, think, pray, and even ask for feedback from people, before they sit at the Board table.  And, if someone brings something new to add to the agenda (with our without documentation)... and the discussion starts going... and going... and going... Take a moment, sit back, and ask this question to your fellow board members: "would it be alright if we table this until our next meeting?  I'd like some time to think, pray, and reflect so that I have good and helpful questions and comments to contribute to this discussion."  You'll likely get someone to happily second that motion.  Then watch.  Don't be surprised if board members thank you and the whole Church Board will make much better decisions in future meetings.
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