Whatever Happened to Wednesday Nights?


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The view from our MN “cottage” apartment.

Greetings from our extended stay home in Minnesota, the land of sub-zero temps and fierce snow storms! Jim and I are braving the elements of February and March to enjoy quality time with our daughter, son-in-law, and five delightful, boisterous, and charming grandsons. Our warmer weather snow bird friends in Florida and Arizona feel a bit sorry for us. But somehow the frigid Midwest isn’t quite so bitter when you’re with ones that you love.

We also appreciate the opportunity to experience the Wednesday night Lenten Soup and Study at Riverside Evangelical Church, in Sartell, MN, where my son-in law pastors. Our time together is brief: one short hour of downing three bowls of homemade soup, (well, I couldn’t eat just one!) and a study on spiritual growth. About thirty adults and a seemingly endless number of kids push pause mid-week to gather, to be challenged through God’s word, and to bless each other with their presence.


Riverside Evangelical Church, Sartell, Minnesota


Indeed, blessing is evident. The joy displayed in re-connecting with one another overflows. Kids immediately find each other and jump right into imaginary play or board games. Adults commune in the kitchen as they set out the evening meal. As the soup warms my body, community warms my soul.

Hundreds of miles away, (and 30 degrees warmer I might add!), my own church is gathering on Wednesdays as well. Sandy, a member of my ministry team recently posed the question, “Whatever happened to Wednesday nights? We go out and make disciples but couldn’t we get back to inviting people in?” The outcome of that conversation is a series of monthly Wednesday seminars for the purpose of instruction and inspiration to community both within and beyond our church walls.

Park Street Brethren Church, Ashland, Ohio

My church family, Park Street Brethren, is opening its arms wide to both friends and strangers. We celebrate togetherness as we learn how following Jesus can bring transformation in our marriages, our children, and our individual journeys. And again, I praise God for the nourishment of community.

Developmental healing expert, Dr. Anne Halley, teaches that the longing to belong in community is one of our most primal core breaths. Like oxygen to the body, we need the fulfillment of belonging to survive. Halley notes that a child learns to cope in destructive ways to self and others if the need of belonging is unmet. When a child continues this pattern into adulthood, a season of healing is necessary that parent educators Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson identify as, “growing up again.”

When human brokenness connects with loving people, there is opportunity for belonging. A group of accepting folks nurtures that little, lonely four year old living in a forty year old body.  A community that trumpets “Welcome!” calms the anxious thirty-something that still feels like a middle schooler outside the cool kids circle. This posture should be first and foremost in our churches. A Christ-centered church mirrors Jesus’ humility as we prioritize our neighbor’s well-being. Henri Nouwen, who writes extensively on spiritual community notes, “we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own.”

A community that reflects Nouwen’s vision opens the door for a lonely soul to grow up again. A safe place to belong allows for a restoration of  what the prophet Joel proclaims, “the years that the locusts have eaten.” Perhaps the simple act of reinstituting Wednesday nights, or any time that blesses the broken, will lead to a new reality of belonging that our world so deperately needs.

Excerpts from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Alone” give voice to this urgency.


Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.










What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.

Gretchen Rubin


While habits and happiness author Gretchen Rubin is not referring to spiritual disciplines, her popular one-liner drives home my church’s 30-day call to prayer. Our  leaders agree with Rubin’s focus on consistency. So they’ve designed an avenue to the discipline of prayer for each day this month to motivate us to more fully engage.

Our church is at a tipping point: numerous changes in the past few years in the life of our congregation necessitate some crucial decisions. In particular, numerical growth and ministry expansion demand attention. At this juncture, we’re pressing pause and upping our prayer time.

To help facilitate more prayer, church members are sent an email every morning with a sixty second pre-recorded video. Each clip features someone from the congregation sharing a prayer for our church. Coffee and an encouraging word from folks with whom I worship have been a great way to start the day. I get to see a glimpse of their spiritual journeys through their choice of scripture and intercessory pleas. Their online “presence” is a blessing and most importantly, I join them in prayer.

While our email prayers are communally significant, they also promote change on a personal level. A daily, spiritual practice of prayer, leads to a journey of spiritual formation.

Eastern Christians call this journey theosis, which early church bishop St. Athanasius describes as becoming by grace what God is by nature.

What a beautiful phrase. Perhaps we can apply this today to the whole church body.

becoming by grace what God is by nature

Daily we pray.

And in the meantime, we become a little more like Jesus.

Ten Degrees Below Zero


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The view from our winter cottage on a blustery night in St. Joseph, MN


Ten degrees below zero.

Sounds miserable, doesn’t it? That’s been a part of our weather experience as Jim and I do a little “wintering” in Minnesota. Of course being near my daughter and her family is worth every single below zero degree! (And I’m actually getting a little accustomed to it.)

-10 was the outdoor temp in St. Joseph, Minnesota as I prepared for church Sunday morning. I admit I fantasized about returning to my flannels and sipping cocoa under a thick blanket. But below freezing temps are not cause to skip church in the Land of 10,000 lakes. “Minnesota Nice” folks keep up their daily jogs in knee length Lycra, walk with their kids to bus stops, and according to a member at my daughter’s church, horseback ride throughout the most bitter months of the year. So I determined not to be a cold weather casualty and donned another layer before going out the door.

Speaking of weather conditions, I recall a time during the Findlay, Ohio floods in June of 1981 when we naively ventured out to services at College First Church of God. We spent extra time searching for dry streets to take us from the south to the north side of Findlay.  It didn’t occur to either of us that roads may be closed. It turns out church was being held, although we were the only family from our part of town that showed up. Flooding and a ten-week old daughter could have kept us at bay. I guess it’s just not our style to stay home.

(I must add that my heart breaks for dear souls that have been deeply wounded by the church. I understand that their primary need may be to find a safe place for healing apart from a house of worship. If that is your personal history, I pray that you find a community who lovingly attends to you.)

So, why do you go to church? Perhaps out of obedience to the scriptural imperative. Or maybe you just love being there on Sunday mornings. A little research reveals that neither duty nor delight is a present-day motivating factor for many that profess Christ in the United States. Choosing to stay home Sunday mornings is no longer a church member anomaly, but a once a month or less reality for many at my local church. This habit mirrors scores of Christians in U.S. churches.

“While tens of millions of Americans attend church each weekend, the practice has declined in recent years. According to Barna Group’s 2014 tracking data, overall church attendance has dipped from 43% in 2004 to 36% today. But beyond a dip in attendance numbers, the nature of churchgoing is changing. Regular attendees used to be people who went to church three or more weekends each month—or even several times a week. Now people who show up once every four to six weeks consider themselves regular churchgoers.” 

“Come to church!” was our pastor’s cry in his 2018 New Year’s sermon titled “All IN.” He stated current data that reports a church goer’s monthly attendance average is 1.8 Sundays. Pastor Nate recognizes a capacity-driven mindset within today’s church attendee. In other words, if my life is on marginless overdrive throughout the week, I might lessen the stress by resting at home on Sunday morning.

I am blessed with a community at Park Street Brethren Church that is energizing, a stress reliever if you will. Catching up with those I might not connect with otherwise, glorifying God together in song, and receiving a challenging message enriches and empowers me.

Sunday worship . . .  a mandatory ending to a frenetic six days?

Or a beginning again as I face a new week . . .

I choose the latter.

















Cultivating Community: In the Kitchen

Welcome, culinary instructor Michael Zickefoose, to the Park Street kitchen!

Founder of Brot bakery, Michael Z.
Partner-in-Crime, Rebecca Zickefoose and their daughter, Gemma

Our church kitchen boasts a ten foot island flanked by generous work spaces on both sides. It’s the perfect set up for community dinner prep and serving. For six months our  outreach team hosted spaghetti, chili, and soup suppers for the folks that lived around our church. We delighted in the neighbors that joined us, and hoped to increase our attendance.

I had been toying with the idea of using this space to offer cooking classes as a new way to introduce ourselves, eat a meal together, and share the love of Jesus. Maybe, I thought, we would have better participation. Turns out cooking together appealed to a lot of folks. Several joined us for a canning class last Autumn taught by Linda Geaslen, co-owner of Georgia Belle Inn and bread baking this past week with Michael Zickefoose of Brot baking.  Michael’s wife Rebecca helped us put together a kale soup to round out the meal while the amazing aroma of baking bread wafted from the ovens. Chopping vegetables, mixing bread with our hands, and simply working alongside one another cultivated community in ways we hadn’t experienced before.

Michael and Joey. We were surprised at how sticky Michael leaves the dough. Mix with hands. Hence the word artisanal.
Stretching the dough. (Clockwise) Rebecca Z. in the stripes, Cathy Thiemens and her neighbor Detta, and my neighbor, Kathy Varner.


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Shape into a round. Compress the dough (kind of push in) as you shape. Cut fast and deep to make your design.
Michael’s leaf pattern.
Our bread only “rested” for a short period of time and it still rose beautifully. (Not sure why one looks like a pumpkin.)
Fun to have our Alphi Phi, Ashland University neighbors join us to prepare supper.
Ta da! Bread for our guests. Detta and Cathy, service with a smile.
A few of our supper guests and clean-up crew. Thanks, ladies!


Doing something with rather than doing something for

blessed the hearts of strangers

that we now call friends.

Cora and Sandy. We love our Park Street neighbors!




Listen, Learn, and Love


In the course of a few days, I met with a politician with liberal perspectives vying for a seat in congress and a public servant in our local government office that affiliates with the conservative right. The end goal was to better understand how our church could better connect with the local community in order to share the love of Jesus.

Entering into the political arena of any persuasion is not my norm, so I thought a lot about how I would engage. (Simply put, I didn’t want to look like an idiot.) My priority was to learn as much as I could from these two individuals, acknowledging to myself that I did not agree with some of their positions.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of a few things I learned when I practiced as a professional counselor. But it’s one thing to be knowledgable about listening skills and it’s another thing to put them into practice!

I decided it would be good if I could . . .

#1. Listen with a non-judgmental posture.
Easier said than done. Basically this means to take in information without immediate evaluation, judgement, or bias. Since learning often shuts down when judgement rises up, I wanted to take this objective stance.

Some days objectivity eludes me. In this political climate,  hostile voices disappoint and dishearten. I struggle with the nasty verbiage that’s volleyed back and forth between Republicans and Democrats on social media. I despise the name calling, the vulgarities, and the put downs from both sides. Whatever happened to civility? Is it possible to establish dialogue, not defensiveness?

I also wanted to avoid “getting sucked in” to a particular agenda, which leads to the idea of differentiation.

#2 Differentiate.
The level of individuality one maintains in the presence of others is a mark of differentiation. Differentiation relates to how susceptible the self is to group think or group pressure. It does allow you to distance yourself from the speaker in a way that helps you better form your own perspective.

Sometimes when I agree with someone at the onset, I quickly “buy into what they are selling.” I didn’t want to fall into that trap.

My emotions can get the best of me and I forget that it’s possible to think and feel at the same time. The act of putting pen to paper helps.

#3 Bring a notebook.
Note taking is a good tool to keep me in my thinking part of my brain and taming the more emotional areas. The act of writing activates a process that helps the brain more completely integrate thoughts and feelings. Note taking allows one to look at what’s being said and consider it more carefully.

Active discourse has its place and truly there is a time to speak out for our beliefs. But I wonder if the political atmosphere would become less toxic if the scales of listening and speaking were more balanced.

As a Christ follower, I turn to Jesus as the one who models this best. I love how Jesus  listens empathically to his disciples’ lament and speaks emphatically to their apparent spiritual amnesia during a walk with Him to the town of Emmaus. (See Luke for the complete narrative.) The communication skills of Jesus are balanced perfectly

Listening well is hard work. Preconceived notions, passion, and political leanings can dissuade the brain to bypass the pre-frontal cortex where emotion, behavior, and cognition are regulated. It takes effort to stay in that area of the brain that facilitates solid listening skills. If particularly tweaked or triggered, an amygdala hijacks can occur. You might know that as a 10-2 reaction. In other words, on a scale from one to ten, ten is an extremely reactive state and two is a benign, rather harmless event.

When my son was a teenager he wanted to know why I yelled so loudly at him for slamming the door. I remember repeated times of shouting at the top of my lungs, “Brian, don’t slam the door!” Seriously? Did a door slam require rage? Definitely a 10-2.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that handles emotion. A hijacks occurs as the thinking and behaving part of the brain shuts down while feelings take center stage in the amygdala. Fury at a door slam is a silly, albeit real example. At a more serious level, I bemoan how current socio-political news feeds have become hijack accomplices.

Whether on the home front or the front lines of transforming community, we can be a stabilizer for change. My early morning devotional speaks directly to the heart of the matter.

“We should all endeavor and labor for a calmer spirit, that we may the better serve God in praying to Him and praising Him; and serve one another in love, that we may be fitted to do and receive good; that we may make our passage to heaven more easy and cheerful, without drooping and hanging the wing. So much as we are quiet and cheerful upon ground, so much we live and are, as it were, in heaven.”
Richard Sibbes, 17th century Anglican theologian







Winter Seminar Series 2018 at Park Street

Ashland Area Friends: Mark Your Calendars!

Season Six(ty) life in the 60 something years


Park Street Brethren Church is pleased to announce four seminar opportunities that will both inspire and educate. Each presenter is a dedicated follower of Christ and will speak from experience, education, and their spiritual formation. Light refreshments will be served.

Winter Seminar Series 2018
@ Park Street Brethren Church
619 Park Street, Ashland, Ohio
6:30 pm. to 8:00 pm.

January 24th

Marriage: Breaking the Chains
~freedom in marriage through commitment, communication, and community

Speakers: Neil and Susan Hinkle
Neil is a professional accountant at a local CPA firm, served as a Sunday school teacher, and led the deacon board at Park Street Brethren Church. Susan is a stay at home, home schooling Mom. Together Neil and Susan direct LoveLife Ministries and have five children.

February 7th

Foster Care: To Love and Be Loved
~creating a home of belonging, acceptance, and boundaries for children in need

Speakers: Pastor Mike and…

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Seven Day Plant Strong Challenge: Day 7 and beyond

Good Food, Great Community

One of the largest churches in the United States was going on a diet. The senior pastor mandated that his congregation give up the donuts and hand over the desserts. This body of Christ was going to shape up! Literally.

Perhaps mandate is too strong of a word, but after Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church embraced the message of psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist Dr. Daniel Amen, it was game on. Warren was determined to eat differently and encouraged his brothers and sisters in Christ to do so as well.

In 2011, Warren invited Amen to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California to speak about Amen’s research on the way different foods impact cognition and the adverse effects of obesity on general health. Warren cared deeply about the way his brain functioned and his unwelcome weight gain, so eating for both heart and mind would be his sermon to heed. After a year, Saddleback reported a loss of 250,000 pounds within 15,000 participants.

But even Warren’s highly praised homiletical style did not win the day for affecting change. When all was said and done, Amen declared: “The secret sauce of Saddleback is we do this as a community.  It’s very different than most health plans where you do it with yourself or your wife. You get to do this with a whole community.”

That’s it. Nothing magical, or complicated. Neither willpower nor guilt were compelling factors in the change process. What rang true was the nothing-new-under-the-sun same old story played out over and over. Gather with a small group of people with a common goal for encouragement and accountability and you are more likely to meet your goals.

Never underestimate the value of social support

According to motivational speaker  Jim Rohn, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I am surprised to find that proposition to be true as I apply it to food prep and choices. (Although due to long distance relationships, my experience is not always face to face.) Regardless, It’s interesting to me that my most valued relationships implement healthy steps in their meal planning and cooking styles. My daughter is an excellent scratch cook. Wende is an avid researcher of how food impacts health and integrates principles into her menus. Ruth grows a large percentage of her own food, allowing for a steady flow of fresh fruits and vegetables at her table. Sheila’s food choices are chemical free. My son eats a large volume of leafy greens, even at breakfast. “My people,” my community, influence my eating habits. Which speaks loudly to Amen’s point.


We need community. We are designed for community. Our biblical theology tells us so. And so does the lonely lay person sitting in the pew,  the reticent neighbor down the street, and the disheartened colleagues at your work place.

We need each other for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

Good times and tomato sauce galore!