My Blog is Ten Years’ Old: A Retrospective

In the Beginning: 2009-2010

I’d like to thank all of you who have dropped by this blog over the years. It is hard for me to believe a decade has passed since I began it. I started to write again as a personal act of healing which in time morphed into a new chapter of my ministry.

From August of 2000 when I sustained a traumatic brain injury in a catastrophic bicycle accident my life had been turned upside down and inside out. It took me many years to find some solid footing of enough health and faith to begin writing regularly again. I have always been a writer and in 2009 I felt well enough to launch this blog. So I did.

The celebration is a bit overdue as I began this blog on March 23.  The blog was then called Retired Pastor Ruminates and the very first post was called “Where I Ruminate on how Communications Technology has changed the scholarly life.” That was 489 posts ago.

I had previously been blogging from time to time on the site of the Confessing Christ movement in the United Church of Christ, along with Gabriel Fackre and Cliff Anderson. In 2009 my friend Martin Langeveld, the former publisher of the Berkshire Eagle, encouraged me to start my own blog.

The first year I tried to continue what I did on the Confessing Christ blog, raising theological issues and holding up theologians who had influenced me. I also added some eclectic offerings on various subjects and threw in some recipes. It quickly became apparent to me that I wanted it to have a wider scope than just a “theoblog.” I soon wrote about brain injury and the Red Sox, and I started posting some of my sermons and hymns.

I did an interview with Martin on “The Future of Newspapers,” a series we continued for several years. In early 2010 I wrote a movie review of Avatar “The Green Religion of the Blue People” that is still one of my favorites. In June I began what I call my angry, satirical phase, beginning with the Swiftian “Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale,” which got picked up by Episcopal Café and went viral. Seems Episcopalians are particularly concerned about clergy morale. Several readers missed that I was being satirical and chastised me for being so negative.

That summer I wrote two more satires poking loving but pointed fun at my own United Church of Christ. When Anne Rice left the (Catholic) church (again) some of my UCC colleagues invited her to join us. This rang as a little too self-righteous to me so I wrote “My Top Ten Reasons why Anne Rice would hate the United Church of Christ.” That one reads a bit snarky to me now. I also poked fun at our running after celebrities for our denominational conclaves in “Let’s Get Keith Richards to General Synod!” I still like that one.

That same summer I started a series on clergy morale after a couple clergy friends got knocked around by their churches (or more specifically, by rogue church leaders.) The economic downturn of 2008 laid bare the real religion of many of our churches and members and economic panic often replaced steadfast faith.

Posts about clergy morale continue to be a feature of this blog and I started a section called Pastoralia to bundle together my insights into local church ministry. Often I was preaching to myself a bit. My “Prayer for a Retire Pastor” was definitely something I wrote for myself, and it has been a perennial favorite across the years. I get lovely notes from people who have used it at a farewell ceremony for their clergy. Another popular post is the comic (but poignant) “Prepare Three Envelopes: A Parable about Pastoral Ministry.”

The Second Phase: 2011-2012

In 2011 I wrote “A Book Review of Elizabeth Stroudt’s Abide with Me,” which remains my personal favorite of my reviews. I loved the book because of its reference to Maine and to the thinly fictional “Brockmorton Theological Seminary.”

That year on retreat Pastor Eric Elnes encouraged me to stop thinking of myself as a retired pastor whose ministry was behind me. I realized he was right, that I had created a new ministry in my writing and so I contemplated a name change for the blog.

On June 28, 2011 I changed the name of the blog to When I Survey . . ., an homage to Isaac Watts’ iconic hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and my book on the atonement of the same name. My Australian friend Jason Goroncy was visiting at the time and helped me switch my platform from Blogger to WordPress.

Around that time I started changing my header picture to match the seasons of the year. The picture is always from my back porch looking out into the marsh behind my house. In the nice weather I do most of my writing out there.

In the Fall of that year. Eric Elnes also invited me to an eight-week blogging series on Hope for Darkwood Brew.I enjoyed that very much and it gave my blog a new audience.

2013 and The Daily Devotional

Several nice things happened to me in 2013 that helped me get back on my feet and regain a sense of purpose and ministry. In January my dear friend Mike Bennett asked me to preach his installation sermon at his new call in Dover, NH. That sermon was “Ministry is not a Commodity and Ministers are not Appliances.”

Then in the Spring of 2013 I was invited to contribute to the United Church of Christ’s “Still Speaking Writers’ Group’s” Daily Devotional. This is an electronic devotional that people subscribe to and receive the devotion in their e-mail each day. I have been told it has 40,000 subscribers.

I think the invitation to write for them came in part because of the writing I had been doing on this blog. Many of the more than a hundred devotions I have written I have put up on this blog, and I have a complete appendix of them on the right-hand side of my page. This writing ministry has been a wonderful challenge and a delight to me. I sometimes get lovely personal notes from readers.

Then in June that year my daughter, Rebecca, was ordained to the ministry and she asked me to preach her ordination sermon, which is called “The Secret Sauce of Ministry: A Recipe in Two Parts.” That was a high and holy day.

2014-2016 Eulogies and Remembrances

A new phase of life and blogging began as some of my dear friends and mentors died, and I wrote remembrances and eulogies about them.

First, I remembered my mother on the 100 anniversary of her birth, “A Son’s Remembrance of His Mother on her Birthday: Frances Irene Floyd. March 4, 1914-September 18, 1967.” That has been one of my popular posts.

In May I was invited to address “The Saints,” the organization for retired clergy in the CT Conference of the UCC. I saw a number of old friends and classmates at that special event. May address was called “Taking the Long View: Reflections of a Retired Pastor” based on a devotion of the same name I had written.

More deaths that year meant more tributes.  I remembered my late friend Willis Elliott in July, and my friend Andrew Wissemann in August.

Also in 2015 I received a commission from Eileen Hunt,  Minister of Music at Green’s Farms Church in Westport, CT to write a baptismal hymn. That became “Come Here by the Waters: A Baptismal Hymn.” That hymn has been used many times since by churches of many denominations. And on a high personal note it was sung at the baptisms of my own grandchildren.

2015 turned out to be my best year in terms of views and visitors; I had 48, 803 views and 34, 698 visitors to my site.

In 2016 I gave tributes to three of my seminary professors who died over a short period that year. In February I wrote “A Tribute to Max Stackhouse.” A few weeks later I wrote “A Tribute to Meredith “Jerry Handspicker” and in May I wrote “Remembering William L. Holladay.”

In all these tributes I became acutely aware of the passage of time and of the countless debts I owe to so many who helped shape who I am. I was a young man when I had these learned teachers (so were they in retrospect!), but now I am no longer young as they pass on to join the church triumphant. I give thanks to God for each and all of them.

The Home Stretch 2017-2019

In 2017 I posted mostly my devotions from the UCC and the occasional guest sermon. In August I preached at South Church in Pittsfield: “Winners or Losers? Reflections on Vocation: A Sermon on Genesis 32:22-31.” The idea of Christian Vocation has been a regular feature of both my devotions and sermons during this decade. Again, I think I have been working through some of my own questions about my own calling now that my days of active pastoral ministry are behind me.

In February I wrote a remembrance for my great friend and mentor Gabriel Fackre, whose encouragement and support over the years were as important as anybody’s. In October I gave “A Eulogy for Rabbi Harold I. Salzmann” my dear friend and inter-faith partner for many years.

In the Spring I preached a retirement sermon for my friend Steven A. Small: “Passing the Baton: A Retirement Sermon on 2 Timothy 4: 4-7.”

In November I was the Consecrating Steward for the Congregational Church in Littleton, MA. That sermon is “Unexpected Miracles: A Sermon on Isaiah 43: 16-21.”

The beginning of this year saw the passing of another of the dear saints. My post “Remembering Horace T. Allen (1933-2019) paid tribute to one of the great ecumenists of our time.

As I look back on ten years of writing this blog I see the theme of “Transitions” emerging. There have been greetings and partings, births, baptisms, ordinations, installation, retirements and deaths to mark and celebrate. These are the transitions of God’s people under God’s providential care.

And in this decade of blogging I, too, have undergone important transitions. I have moved from illness to health, from brokenness to something like wholeness. I have witnessed my children marry and have children of their own. I have become a grandpa, a role I particularly cherish. And I have discovered a new chapter in my life and ministry. The blog has been an important part of that transition. Thanks for following along.

My Top Ten Posts in 2018

Once again, as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it has been my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year the theme is the idea of “transitions.” My two top posts were tributes to two extraordinary elders at their passing. There is also the sermon I preached at the baptism of my grandson in June. Other posts tried to bring some insight from Scripture and Tradition to bear on our broken world.

It is good to remind ourselves that even in tumultuous times like these the quotidian ebb and flow of life persists; there are births and deaths and the markings and celebrations therof.

Half of these posts were devotions I wrote for the United Church of Christ STILLSPEAKING project. I thank my editors for permission to republish them. Two of them were sermons I preached as a guest preacher.

About my Website: It is non-commercial and open source (but please give attribution if you quote or copy stuff). I pay for my domain name and for a WordPress tier that keeps you from having to see ads. I don’t make a penny on it, and there are no gimmicks. I had forty thousand visits in 2018, and  I currently have 124 followers. Thank you all so much for visiting and come by again in 2019.

Here are the top ten posts for 2018 in order of popularity:

Gabriel J. Fackre (1926-2018) A Remembrance

A Eulogy for Rabbi Harold I. Salzmann

“We’re Still Learning.” A Devotion on Mark 10:42-45

“Down to Earth” A Sermon on John 13:1-17

“Small Beginnings” A Baptismal Sermon on Mark 4:30-34

“Unbearable Words” A Sermon on Amos 7:7-15

“We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” A Devotion on Psalm 23:4

“SHARE!” A Devotion on Acts 2:44-45

“Living Water and Leaky Containers” A Devotion on Jeremiah 2:13

“Scorched by Holy Fire!” A Devotion on Jeremiah 20:8b-9

Once again, as in previous years, certain posts have had real staying power over the years. Many of these are sermons that desperate preachers found on search engines.

So here are my 10 all-time most popular posts since I started “When I Survey . . .” way back in 2009, also listed by popularity:

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32?

Prayer for a Retired Pastor

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent

“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A Sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

An Ordination Sermon: The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts

“God With Us” A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Behind Locked Doors” A Sermon on John 20:24

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

(My header picture is the view of the marsh behind my house from my back porch. I change it with the changing seasons. R.L. Floyd, 2018)

My Top Ten Posts from 2017

Once again, as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it has been my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year the idea of perseverance seems to be the theme. In the light of God’s unending faithfulness and lovingkindness let us all live in hope in 2018. Continue reading

My Top Ten Posts from 2016

cropped-winter-11Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year it is the passing of old friends and mentors. Three of my professors from seminary died within a few weeks of each other early in the year, and my tributes to and remembrances of them were among the most popular posts.

Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2016:

A Prayer for Christmas (and for our time) from Karl Barth

A Tribute to Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker 1932-2016

“Of Fig Trees and Second Chances” A Sermon on Luke 13:6-9

Remembering William L. Holladay

Let us not treat this wound too lightly. Reconciliation requires repentance

Mike Maguire and Me: Recollections from Long Ago

“Rich in Things and Poor in Soul” A Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

A tribute to Max L. Stackhouse

“Holy Weeping’ A Sermon on Romans 12:19 and Revelation 21:1-4

“Known knowns, known unknowns,” and the New Testament

As in previous years certain posts have had real staying power. Many of these are sermons that desperate preachers found on search engines. For example, my sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent was the number one entry if you Googled “Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent.” Consequently, I saw extraordinary spikes in traffic the week before.

So here are my all-time top ten posts since I started “When I Survey . . .” in 2009:

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“Prayer for a Retired Pastor“

God Gives the Growth,” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A Sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

An Ordination Sermon: The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts

“God With Us” A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Behind Locked Doors” A Sermon on John 20:24

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

Another milestone for this blog is that it reached 100 followers this year. So I thank you all for your interest and support. Come back and visit now and again in 2017.

My Top Ten Posts from 2015

winter-header-3

Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2015:

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

“The God of the Far Off” Toward the Ministry of Inclusion

“The Cross and the Church: The Soteriology and Ecclesiology of P. T. Forsyth”

I was ordained forty years ago today

What I Love about the Gospel of Luke

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

“Better Late Than Never” Reflections on women in ministry.

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Rick’s salade niçoise

 And desperate preachers (of whom there seem to be many) and other net surfers brought in a surprising number of hits to my archived material from other years (“Ten Highly Effective Strategies . . .” for example, had a three-day run with over 9,000 hits, which speaks well either of people’s appreciation for satire or for the poor morale of the clergy.) In either case here are the ten most visited posts from previous years on this blog in 2015, which I began in 2009:

 Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

Prayer for a Retired Pastor

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

“Anticipation”: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2016.

My Top Ten Posts of 2014

Winter header 3

As the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my popular posts of the year. Here are the most visited new posts from 2014:

Norwood Days: We All have to Start Out Somewhere
Some Lenten Reflections on Forgiveness
The Calling of Disciples: A Sermon on Vocation
Remembering Willis Elliott: theologian and gadfly
On Holy Ground: A Sermon on Genesis 3:1-15
“Words to Live By” The King James Bible and its Legacy to the English Language
Braised Lamb Shanks with Cardamom, Garlic and Prunes
“By Their Groups Ye Shall Know Them”: Celebrating Max L. Stackhouse
The Christmas Tree in the Passing Lane: A Reflection on Advent
The Cross and Forgiveness

And these were the ten all-time most visited posts on this blog, which I began in 2009:

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32?
“Confused? Interpreting Your Congregation’s Numbers”
Prayer for a Retired Pastor
“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent
“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon
“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2
“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22
An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”
“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29
A book review of Elizabeth Strout’s “Abide with Me”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2015.

Some Winter Posts Worthy of your Time

Winter scene

In my peregrinations around the blogosphere I came across two very wise and well-written posts by ministerial colleagues of mine. I hope you will check them out.

First, the incomparable Mary Luti, whose blog, sicut locutus est, should be on your blogroll, wrote “Why I Teach.” Here’s a sample:

I want students to take someone else’s wisdom for a serious test drive. I want them to rent with an option to buy; to suspend suspicion and develop a bias toward faith in the considered opinions of others; to respect the authority of authorities instead of keeping up the fiction that all ideas have equal value and that all opinions count the same.

Secondly, Emily Heath, a Vermont pastor and top-notch blogger, has a beautiful and bravely personal post called “Falling: Recovery, Silence and the Church.”  Here’s an excerpt:

But the more I thought about it (new Boston mayor Marty Walsh’s openly talking about his recovery during the campaign), the more I felt sad for the church. If an admission of being in recovery can actually help someone in the hardball world of politics, why is it so feared in the very place where redemption should be celebrated? Why aren’t we, people who talk about grace and forgiveness and new life, in the business of teaching people what to do when they fall? Why don’t we acknowledge these things so that we can help people know where to turn when they need help to get back up?

There are mountains of ephemera in the blogosphere, but well-written wisdom, like gold, is where you find it.

(Photo by R.L. Floyd, 2014)