Yet More Goodness and Light

Published Jul. 30, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

By Eileen Gebbie

My God, people are in so much pain. Nerves are frayed, souls are bleeding.

This is not news. To you or to me. There is a vibration of fear and distrust in the land, which none of us can escape.

As a pastor, it is not actually my place to try to escape. An important part of my work is being with people in their pain. I’ve had formal training and years of experience in “pastoral care.” It’s a kind of caring distinct from what mental health care professionals do, in that I do not diagnose or offer solutions. I listen and I pray.

I ask the (often considered annoying) question, “Where is God for you in this?” So receiving and witnessing pain comes with my job.

But something shifted in the last month, at least for me in my ministry. I’ve preached about and been public in my response to all of the recent shootings and public violence, even before Orlando and Dallas.

But it has felt like humanity — or at least the people of Ames and Story County — recently crossed into no-mans’ land, or broke through a dam — whatever metaphor for unfamiliar territory and feeling overwhelmed works for you.
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Are You Eating?

Published March 26, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

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For the last five weeks my church came together on Wednesday nights for a meal, book study, and meditation or choir practice. This was all part of the Christian church season called Lent, a time when we prepare for Easter. As I wrote previously, the book was about the work and responsibilities of white Christian churches who profess a desire for racial equality in the world. The discussion each week was so rich that we barely made it half-way through. At times we disagreed with the author’s premise, at others we were surprised by our ignorance around, for example, the Black Power movement. In smaller groups I heard expressions of defeat and guilt. I think the experience generated more questions than it did answers.

But the number one question I was asked each week had nothing to do with racism, structural inequalities, or unearned advantages. It was, “Are you going to eat?”

The meal that proceeded our class was a soup potluck. Meaning, each week church members signed up to bring a soup. They also brought bread, olives, pickles, peanut butter, and jelly. There was always just enough for the 60–80 people who came to feast and visit.

For me, this was a tremendous opportunity to get visiting time with members of my community. After leading the group in prayer, I went from table to table to check in with everyone, see how their weeks had gone, get a review of the night’s offerings, and whatever else floated to the surface. I made a couple of PB&Js for kids and handed out milk. I had a wonderful time.

I was able to do this because I ate before everyone arrived.
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Politics of Church: Mark 6.30–4, 53–56

sanctuarygreeting300Delivered at Ames UCC on July 19, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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NEW PREACHER
Several weeks I ago I was talking to Carla, my wife, about this sermon, this day. I told her that I was really anxious, surprisingly so. I explained that I didn’t know how I would be received. Yes, we had a marvelous time at my candidating event, but that was just one day, one weekend.

Preaching is a public act with consequences both public and intimate. It is an act of hubris to stand up before a gathered body and speak to the nature of the divine. So I always want to take great care when I do so. I want to make sure I’m not just preaching my agenda, but that of God, as best I can discern with honesty and integrity. I have to check that I’m not just addressing my needs, but those felt more largely in the community of Ames, the congregation of Ames UCC.
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