Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Hi ya'll, I am posting from Sunny AL, yet with a little cool breeze. It's just right for a party. We have been having kite days, relay days, and you name it at the school. The picture is not from AL, rather it is from Grandfather's Moutain in N. C., where we went for Spring Break recently. What are you up to these days, come join us for a festive Wednesday and find out what the revgalblogpals are up too.
Looking for A Guest Preacher? Well if you are; Waiting for the Day has one to recommend. Check out what she learned from the youth on Youth Sunday.
mitchcross.com has been blogging for just over a year now, and he has been reflecting on what he has learned. Some people put a lot of time into getting more traffic to their blog. He wants to chime in with what worked & what didn't for me. Mmm a little lesson we can use. He also has a post of Spring time fun with his son.
NotShyChiRev writes "When we were little, Mom would let my siblings and I choose the menu for the family dinner on the evenings of our birthdays." He is now though going to change his order for his next year birthday. Go to read what he is going to do and why.
Holy Trouble brings us some news from the Methodist Conference, some insights and thoughts from her perspective.
And on a sad note; Junia's daughter wrote that Last Friday was bittersweet because it was her due date with Julian, the baby she lost in the fall. She got a lot of love from the rest of my wonderful family, and wrote about it--with good news and great pictures. Go and offer your support.There are two posts; this is the second one.
Songbird writes: This is a sad thing, but I thought we might want to let people know that one of our ring members, Cynthia at Sorting the Pieces, lost her husband on Sunday to a heart attack:
Now you are welcome to add your piece to the comments and to have a lovely day.
Don't forget to nominate yourself or someone else for next week's Wednesday's Festival.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Prayer is the place where we take the stuff of life, the stuff of faith, and blend them together into faithful living. It is where we bring ourselves to God and we are transformed. It is the place where we talk. Maybe more importantly, it is the place where we listen. It is a place where we cannot hide from God, when the masks we don to face so much of life are translucent, invisible to the power of a God who loves us so deeply and knows us inside and out. Prayer is the place where we are fully honest, about our hopes, about our pain. It is the place where we blend our lives with God, the place where, if we get good at it, we give our lives to God and gain food for our journeys.
The passage for John for today is the beginning of Jesus’ prayer for us. It’s one of those prayers that is intended to be heard so that we can join in the prayer.
What does it mean for Jesus to pray for us? I often say in the declaration of pardon:
'Who is in a position to condemn? Only Jesus the Christ, and Christ was born for us, lived for us, died because of us, rose for us, reigns in power for us, and Jesus prays for us.'
Have you ever gone into your sanctuary and gone pew by pew and prayed for those who normally sit there? When I do that it never fails to be transforming. How much more transforming is it to know that Jesus does the same thing?
So often prayer is the default comment of the church, something we throw out there like spilled salt over the shoulder, just to be safe. But what does it mean to know that you have church members who pray for you, seriously and honestly?
Finally, here is one of my favorite benedictions. It was used by the Rev. Dr. Doug Oldenburg frequently as he traveled the country as moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
"As you leave, I charge you to remember this above all else.
No matter how frightening this world may become;
No matter how frightening your life may be today or may become tomorrow,
You need not be afraid, for GOD GOES WITH YOU.
God goes before you to guide you;
God goes beside you to be your best friend;
God goes behind you to protect you;
God goes beneath you to strengthen you;
God goes within you to comfort you;
And God goes above you to give you vision and hope.
Remember that: no matter how dark and frightening this world may become; no matter how frightening the individual circumstances of your life may be today or may become tomorrow or next week, you need not be afraid, for God – Almighty God – goes with you! If you will remember that, then the 'peace of God that passes all understanding' will go with you too."
So. What are you thinking?
Monday, April 28, 2008
Gideon Mack is a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian in the US) pastor who doesn't believe in God. His "testament" recounts his troubled life and ultimate encounter with the Devil, who rescued him from what should have been a fatal accident.
The novel has several memorable and well-drawn characters including Gideon's stern minister father, his abjectly subservient mother, his good friend and fellow atheist Catherine Craigie whose funeral service featured the Mexican song La Cucaracha, his friend and fellow minister Lorna who suffers unrequited love for Gideon, and of course the Devil himself dressed in black slacks and black polo shirt.
Although the story takes a very long time to get to Gideon’s accident and meeting with the devil, we found ourselves caught up in the tale from the beginning: how he grew up, came to be a minister without believing in God, met his wife and loved her friend more, and his friendship with Catherine and Lorna. James Robertson created a character who was so, by nature, unlikeable, then wrote about him sympathetically enough for the reader to like him.
Fractured relationships are one of the themes of the novel. His interactions with his mom and dad and the various characters important to him explained his disconnect with God. Though we wished the story included more of his conversations with the devil, which were thought-provoking.
What I (Presbyterian Gal) found most compelling about the book is how Gideon Mack loved those around him in spite of the profoundly compromised relationships they had. And at the end, when it turns out he may have lied in his own manuscript (regarding the affair with Elsie), the final message of the book for me, is driven home, which I liken to the last stanza of my personal all time favorite song: “Life is but a dream”.
While I (Quotidian Grace) was impressed with the way James Robertson explores the difference between faith and belief, salvation and redemption, and revelation and madness in the story.
And now it’s time for your opinion! Here are a few questions to get the discussion started:
~Did you like Gideon Mack?
~Did you identify with any of the characters?
~What did you find to be Gideon’s most defining moment?
~If you were in Gideon’s “trainers” (shoes), what would you have asked the devil?
~Where do you think Gideon disappeared to in the end?
~ How believable did you find the character of the Devil?
~ What was your response to the Devil’s “healing” of Gideon’s broken leg?
~Did Robertson’s portrayal of the Devil remind you of other depictions of the Devil in literature?
~What does the novel say about Christianity in Scotland, and do you see any similarity with between the Church of Scotland and Christian denominations in the United States?
Add your thoughts on these questions, or make any other comment you would like about the book in the comments! We look forward to checking in on the discussion throughout the day.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
An extraordinary program, unlike any other event I know. —Fred Craddock
A miracle to behold! —Walter Brueggemann
At the top of the list of homiletics conferences in the United States. —Thomas G. Long
It may be all that, but we know that it's REALLY a chance to meet and greet our RevGals and Pals!
A meet-up is in the works, time and place to be decided. Send a note to psalm46bestill - at - gmail - dot - com, with "meetup" in the subject line, and you'll be added to an email list and receive all the details.See you in Minneapolis!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday programming. Scroll on down to get to the Sunday afternoon video and Sunday morning prayer.
This Sundays offertory hymn was Come fown, O love divine. This is an interesting video, and I wondered the rhyme and reason to the visual part of the video to the audio until I pulled the "more info" link on the side of the video to read. It's filmed inside Gorton Monastery, which is undergoing major renovation. It's an interesting piece of restoration history.
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Tune: Down Ampney
Words: Bianco da Siena (d. 1434)
Translation: R F Littledale (1833-90)
From: Songs of Praise Hymnbook No. 161
Performers: Ad Solem - University of Manchester Chamber Choir
Conductor: Matthew Hamilton
My question posed to you is - what did you hear during the offertory today? Do you ever have congregational singing during this time? Also, what hymn or piece of music moved you today during worship?
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Where are you finding hope today? In the Advocate from John, and the promise that we will not be orphans? In Paul's expansive and intimate God, the one who made heaven and earth, but who is not far from any of us? In Peter's admonition not to fear what others fear, but to be ready to share our hope? Is the rain making the grass greener where you are, too?
Today I have put the coffee on, I am having my ritual bowl of oatmeal, but also toasting some English muffins and setting out an array of muffins for you all, setting the virtual table for conversation on the various scripture texts and pastoral concerns.
Pull up a virtual chair, and join the community. Share food, ideas, and concerns today. And if you are ahead of the game, and the sermon is all wrapped up, try to let us down gently, ok?
If you cannot preach like Peter/if you cannot pray like Paul
you can tell the love of Jesus/And say he died for all.
Friday, April 25, 2008
As for the questions!
1. What modern convenience/invention could you absolutely, positively not live
2. What modern convenience/invention do you wish had never seen the light of day?
3. Do you own a music-playing device older than a CD player? More than one? If
so, do you use it (them)?
4. Do you find the rapid change in our world exciting, scary, a mix...or something
5. What did our forebears have that we have lost and you'd like to regain? Bonus
points if you have a suggestion of how to begin that process.
Let us know in comments if you play. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation:<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>For a complete how-to, http://www.blogger.com/click.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I am in my first placement, which is not quite full-time, and I am the only ordained minister in placement with the congregation. My question is how do you take time off. I work from home, and as I am not quite full-time, I accrue days off – one to two weeks per quarter, and I still get four weeks annual leave on top of the extra days for being part time [four weeks annual leave is the standard in Australia]. My Church Council and Supervisor are both encouraging me to take the time off. But how do you just take a few days, or a week, when I know there are things I could be doing – a number of sick people to visit and paperwork overload? And how to have time off at home – spring cleaning, unpacking those last few boxes from our last move, etc… without drifting back into work mode. The congregation are wonderful, and don't expect me to be here all the time. They are good at keeping in touch with people who are not well, and there are people trained to lead worship. I know they are fine when I am away, but having time off at home is more difficult.
Sometimes it seems like my brain needs an off switch.
Keeping it quick this week so that I can get this out to you in the morning--so let's start with what Jan has to say:
Dear New Pastor, Congratulations on your new call! I had a similar situation fresh out of seminary and didn't know how to do this either (and subsequently teetered on the edge of an exhaustion breakdown most of the time.) What I know now that I didn't then:
- First task after you get to know people: train and equip your officers or other suitable volunteers to be on call when you are taking these days off. When they ask "What are we paying you for?" point them to Ephesians 4:11-12. Your "job" is to equip others for ministry. You are not God. Note: these pastoral volunteers are not "helping you" by doing this. This is their calling - to do ministry alongside you. You are not the only face of Christ in your parish according to the Bible. Be firm about this. You are not a one-person show, and frankly, they don't pay you nearly enough ("almost full time"?)
- Make friends with another pastor either in your denomination or in a similar denomination and partner together to cover emergencies for each other when you are off/away. Agree to handle emergencies (and define what "emergencies" are) for each other. He/she is not your competition; you are on the same team. Find someone who gets this.
- When out visiting, at meetings, etc. use whatever you have waiting for you at home to get you back there for meals, exercise, down time as in: "Got to get home and feed my spouse/kids/hamsters/plants."
- Make it clear to whoever supervises you that - in the event you haven't had a whole day off in a while - which will happen often - take 2-3 days off in a row, maybe leaving town to visit friends and/or family.
- Set boundaries even at home: make a cute sign to put on your front door that says something like: "Thank you for coming back later." (And use it.) On your phone answering machine, include in your message: "If you are calling on Friday, it is my day off and you can contact _____ if you have an emergency." Leave an auto response on your email on your day off that says, "I don't answer emails on my day off."
I write all these things wishing I had done them in those first days. I would have served my first parish better if I had.
Singing Owl mentioned the sign thing too, but makes a note to be sure that when you go on vacation, make sure you have a destination:
“They are good at keeping in touch with people who are not well, and there are people trained to lead worship”—and they don’t expect you to be there all the time? This is a tremendous blessing that is not necessarily typical. So I say--shout “Hallelujah!” and then you, GO, GIRL!
I literally mean “go.” As in change locations. You don’t say if you have children at home, but my first thought is that you get your calendar out, and you schedule the time, and then you do whatever you can to get out of town. Don’t just stay home, because since you work from home you will still be at work.
When my husband and I were younger and had kids at home we scheduled time almost every month to visit a nearby state park. There were no phones (this was before widespread use of cell phones) and no people we knew, and no nagging thoughts of how we should be getting something done. You know there are a number of sick folks, paperwork, etc. But you also seem to have a great bunch of people! They, and your supervisor are encouraging you....so YOU are the only obstacle when it comes down to it. Perhaps you need to remind yourself now and again that your job is not to always DO the work of the ministry but to EQUIP others to do the work of ministry. Seems someone else already began that—so bless them—and go with it.
As for home—try a big sign on the office door. DANGER! DO NOT ENTER! It is a reminder to stay out. If you go in you’re likely sunk, as I am. Bottom line is, stay out of your home office, get out of your house as much as you can, and get out of the area as well. If you are like me, you never feel “off duty” till you leave the county.
Ann underscores that taking time off isn't just some luxury we'd all like to have but critical for our sanity:
This is what we call working full time for part time pay. If you do not take time off you will become bitter and resentful. Churches are full of talented people who can do ministry and run their lives well whether or not you are there. Since they are supportive of you taking time off as are your supervisors, it is for you to learn how.
Put your days off on your calendar and unless someone dies, do not do church: no working on sermons, or even reading anything except for recreation (although I find these often work their way into sermons to the sermons' improvement LOL), no church computer. Plan some activities that you enjoy: going for a walk, knitting, gardening, finding non-church friends to do things with such as going to lunch, having tea - stuff for the rest of your being. Be rigorous with yourself; it will pay off in a healthier happier pastor for all concerned.
Churches are best when they are ministering communities gathered around Christ, not audiences gathered around a minister. All are called by baptism to be ministers (priesthood of all believers) - most of their work is out in the world, but some of the pastoral care, teaching, worship, etc. is the communities. You will not work yourself out of job supporting them to follow their calls. You will develop a community of mature Christians instead.
But first - make a date with yourself!!
Earthchick reminds us that our ability to take time off often depends on how determined we are to take it:
The short answer to your question of how to take time off: you just decide to do it, and then you do it.
There are always going to be more things you could be doing - that's the nature of ministry, the work is never done. So the only way to ever take a break is to just do it, and let some things either not get done, or get done by someone else. It sounds like your congregation is very supportive, and that your main issue is your own sense of responsibility. This is actually a good situation, since you can change yourself but not them (it's a worse situation, in my estimation, when the congregation does not feel you need or deserve time away).
Having worked in a church in the past where my office was in my home, I realize it's a little harder there, because the line between work and home is not as clear or firm. Is there a way you can sort of seal off a portion of the house where you only do church work, and when you take a break, you choose not to physically be in that part of the house? If not, then the division will have to happen mentally. You would need to make clear ahead of time to your congregation and to yourself that you are taking some time off, even though you may be at home. If there is a way to get physically away for a couple of days first and then come back home but not go back to work, that may make it easier.
I would highly highly recommend Eugene Peterson's book The Contemplative Pastor. I read it in my first pastorate and continue to revisit it every few years. He really helped frame for me the vocational value and need for time off, and the humility it involves to realize that I am not indispensable.
Abi says that adrenaline can only take you so far, and you don't want to burn out. Try the buddy system, she suggests:
You are experiencing the highs of your first placement, the adrenaline rush, the thrill of it all. There is no shut off switch to that; until you come falling down, crashing from exhaustion and stress. And believe me it will come, that is the automatic shut off switch of the body.
It is a necessary thing to learn that for ministry we are not horses or greyhounds racing the sprint. We are in this for the marathon, and you can't do that with sprints. Yes, you prepare yourself with sprints and build up on short races, but you don't burn yourself out in one shining moment or who have you helped?
I think it is important to have a clear mission statement and vision for your ministry. How do you understand your ministry? Are you to be all things to all people at all times? Are you to be the savior who does it all is there for all illnesses? Or is your role to equip the body of Christ for ministry? Once you become clear about that with yourself, you can operate out of that purpose for the long run. If you are to be all things to all people at all times, well no, you can't switch off, take the breath, rest, sabbath. But if your job is to equip, then you can take the time to switch off, rest, sabbath.
The other is to be sure you have someone(s) you are accountable to or is your board or mentor, who you bring this matter up to--an accountability partner. You set a goal for say, once a month, I will take a Sabbath, and then covenant with that person to do so. Then that person you check in with or they check in with you, then holds you accountable for taking that Sabbath.
All this is easier said that done. I have tried to be clear about my day off and taking my day off. And if I miss that day due to some crisis, etc, I will try to find another day or time to take. I have recently made a covenant with my new Spiritual Director and some other clergy women to take a Sabbath day, once a month. I want to start that now, so I can continue that process, as I go into my new position. And I know that if I don't have any one, I'll somewhere get slack in the process. I know I struggle internally with some family dynamics that leads me to being a big time wonder woman savior, but also leads to exhaustion, burn out and depression.
Jesus was good about taking his time off and away from the crowds. But I am not Jesus. Many saints in their writings swear by their time away. My personality is such that I have to "work at it" force myself, and so I am trying to take a more graceful approach of involving a partner, someone to be accountable to.
And a big hearty welcome to our newest Matriarch, RevHoney, who blogs at Somewhere South of Somewhere. She writes:
I too relate to this, even though I am intentional about time for Sabbath, for self, for family, etc. You can’t give what you don’t have!
One principle I learned a long time ago was the 21-block week. If you divide the 7 days of the week into morning, afternoon, and evening, you get 21 blocks of time. Anything an hour or more in a block represents the use of that block. A healthy balance is to work no more than 15 blocks and have at least 6 blocks that are not work – that include the things that refresh and refuel you. For many years I drew lines in my denominationally-supplied calendar and managed the balance as best I could that way. So you may have one full day and a morning and two evenings off one week, and a different configuration the next. Ideally we need two contiguous 24-hour days away from ministry responsibilities each month, and for that to work, you definitely need to schedule them.
Another principle is to calendar your time off. Look ahead 2-3 weeks, and block off now the days that you will take off. Mark them as “busy” and if a parishioner or committee asks you to be present with them at that time, you simply indicate that you already have a commitment at that time, and offer another working block of time to meet.
You are blessed to have people who keep in touch with the sick. Let them provide coverage for you on your day or two off. They will be glad to do that. In my experience, I have found that these brothers and sisters in Christ are honored to be able to help their minister have Sabbath time.
As for the time off that you do take, yes, you need to get cleaning and unpacking done. For some that is life-giving, for others of us, its just more work. So give one block of time to the necessaries, and then play, rest, read, go and do something that enlivens you with the rest of your day. Do you have a non-congregational friend within driving distance? Plan a day away with him/her.
Let this first placement be a time when you learn to set healthy boundaries...and it will serve you well your whole life.
And if managing your time is a problem (so many distractions these days!), might be time for another plug for David Allen's Getting Things Done!
Any other thoughts? Share them in the comments!
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
But we do have several nominations:
One family was praying to find just the right pet. Another family was praying for the right home for their cat. Mindy tells us what happens when prayers collide.
For Earth Day 2oo8, Leah Sophia shares a lovely pair of posters that particularly emphasis stewardship of our urban environments, here and here.
Sally has posted several absolutely gorgeous photos of spring flowers in her garden (Sally, you can come work in my garden any old time) as well as some further thoughts about what it means to be made in the image of God. Starting statement: "People of faith are fond of saying that each of us is 'made in God’s image,' but most of us have no idea how many people feel excluded from that because of their sex or gender.”
Preacher Mom took the kids to the park and ended up wondering if any other single moms feel the way she does sometimes. She's also getting ready for the MS Challenge Walk again, and looking for sponsors.
Feel free to add your own nomination as a comment. For a complete how-to, click here.
Monday, April 21, 2008
In the passage for this Sunday from John, the disciples are scared. They are scared because Jesus has told them that he will soon leave them, that soon he will no longer be among them to lead them, inspire them, guide them, teach them. And the disciples are wondering, what they are going to do? They have given up three years of their lives to follow Jesus, they love Jesus, and they know that EVERYTHING is going to change when he is gone.
Jesus is trying to allay their fears, so he tells the disciples, just because I am not here in person doesn’t mean that I won’t be with you. It doesn’t mean that anything will change. Your goals for life and discipleship should be absolutely the same. Just because you can’t reach out and touch me doesn’t mean that you can’t love me. Even when I am not with you, continue to love me! Love me, show your love for me by following my commandments. Love me by preaching what I have preached. Love me by living as I have lived. You will never be orphans. You are children of God! You will never be alone, the Holy Spirit will always be with you. Keep doing what God wants you to do.
My brother is not one known to hearken too many church doors, aside from when a family wedding or funeral dictates he show up. But that having been said, my brother is Very good at finding good church or religious jokes for me. About once a week I get something good in e-mail that makes me laugh at myself or the church. A sense of humor is a very good thing.
And so a few months ago I got an e-mail with a very simple joke of the bumper-sticker variety included.
If you love Jesus, tithe. Anyone can honk.
It’s a good joke because it is absolutely true. And it is the crux of what Jesus is saying here is if you love me, obey. Anyone can honk. If you love me, if you get what I am talking about, do something. Believe. Obey.
I don't use that "O" word lightly. It is a word heavy with all kinds of baggage. But it is , with God, a Good word. We are free to obey.
Obey is another of those unpopular concepts because it has been used to belittle and limit others. Jesus is talking about obey in the sense of a sonnet. A sonnet with its fourteen lines of iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme has rules. Within these rules is the greatest freedom imaginable to create image and emotion that can only be created when you commit to the rules. That’s the kind of obey Jesus is talking about here.
What does it mean to obey through living out the love of God?
Is it an action that stands on its own, or does it come from the love of God that we accept?
How do we keep this passage (do we keep this passage) from advising busy people that they need to do more?
Those are some of my thoughts… How about yours?
Choralgirl who blogs at Choral Reef: music under the surface. She hails from Minneapolis, MN. She says, "I'm a 40something choral geek, book lover, theology junkie, partnered lesbian Lutheran. Thanks for your kind attention. Shalom!"
Liz blogs at "journalling" and says her "ambition is to major in delinquency and mirror the vicar of dibley in laughing at myself." We'll smile along with you!
Pastor Asher. His blog is Ziz-N-Zat. He says that he's ethnically Jewish, raised as an athiest near the former Soviet Union. He found God in 1985 and is now a UM Minister. He also says that he's older than dirt. Wow! I thought I was! A plus in my book -- he love cats and he has a great sense of humor.
Brother Cody who blogs at Confessions of a Student Clergy. He says, "Welcome to my blog! I am a student layman (for now) who is very seriously considering a vocation in the Christian clergy. These are my thoughts along the way."
She Rev who Writes. She says, "I am first a child of God. Then I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, and sister. I am also a pastor, a minister in the Presbyterian tradition. I grew up in the southeast, but now live and serve in the upper Midwest. My husband grew up a farm boy, but now works in economics. He's frugal, to say the least. I'm trying to learn to be cheap, uh, I mean frugal. We love raising our two kids (at least most of the time), and are adjusting to family life in a new place and new call."
Molly at Holy Trouble. She's a United Methodist who says that she's not a troublemaker, but a trouble identifier -- she just points it out. Hmm... That could be useful...
PK at Jeans, Flops and Jesus, from Not at the Beach, in the South US. She says, "I'm am the wife of a sugar pie honey bun geek; a girl mom; a boy mom; and a girl mom-in-law to be. I am also my mother's favorite daughter (I'm her only daughter!) The most challenging part of my life... right now... is trying to figure out how to be a Lutheran pastor. OBTW... PK doesn't mean I'm a preacher's kid."
Grace by the Sea who the BE folks will know. She's a minister who lives, well, by the sea and she writes beautifully about her journey.
Katie Z. who writes at Salvaged Faith. She writes, "newly married. recent divinity grad. small town pastor. new kitty - Turbo. trying to live simply. exploring emerging church. newb gamer. aspiring gardener. "
jpgrmeck from Montana who blogs at Grace in the Chaos. She says she's "a small town girl who has lived in several states over the past years but who has now returned home to await a call in the Lutheran church. I'm a daughter, sister, auntie who lives with way too many people at the moment. I love the Beatles, I love to read, I love my nieces, but I would love to have a bathroom to myself."
Lee and Kerry Smith who blog about their beautiful family with theological musings interspersed. Lovely pictures.
Please do visit and introduce yourselves!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Here are just some of the lyrics to mull over:
Strange dissident of meekness,
And nurse of tangled souls,
And so unlike the holy,
To end up full of holes
Strange way indeed.... I did use one of my favourite hymns "Just as I am" as a response to the sermon, and was pleased that it seemed just right. We also sang Thine be the glory...I'm all for continuing to celebrate Easter!
How about you, what did you sing today? Were you moved or challenged by the music? It would be great to hear, let us know in the comments...
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Are you under way with your sermon?
Wondering how to write while squeezing in church or personal commitments?
Need a place to stop for support, inspiration, a shoulder chuck or a napkin placed graciously in your lap?
Thank goodness you've found the Preacher Party, your one stop preaching preparation event. Whether you are puzzling over finding the Good News in stoning or just hoping there will be scones, you are welcome here.
Coffee is on, and so is hot water. Have a banana while we wait for the scones to come out of the oven, okay?
(And if your work is complete, try not to sound TOO pleased at least until this afternoon!)
Friday, April 18, 2008
- If you could dramatically change your physical appearance for 24 hours, what would you do?
- If you could live in another place for 24 hours where would you go?
- You get to do somebody else's job for a day...
- Spend the day with another person from anywhere in time and space...
- A magical power is yours. Which one would you pick?
<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>
For a complete how-to, click here.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The other day, a friend of mine mused in her facebook status message that it feels more like we're in a depression than a recession, and many folks had to tough out the winter with lose-lose prospects, like having to choose between the mortgage/rent or the heating bill. At first, it doesn't pinch that much, but if you can't catch up in the cycle, the cycle catches up to you.
Or, more likely, someone in your congregation. As one of our number queried:
A family I know is putting on a good front at church but I know they are at the edge of becoming homeless. How can churches minister with those suffering from economic problems in this current time? What has been done before?
There aren't easy answers, say the matriarchs. Sometimes people are too proud to ask for help, and even less amenable to receiving it. As Jan says, "In a perfect world, churches happily circle the wagons around a family like this without any embarrassment or shame or awkwardness. But we still live in a world where everything is 'fine' when it's not, and instead of being free to share real life with each other, we still keep up a good front because of pride or the need to appear to be 'successful' in every way." All of the matriarchs noted that they, too, see the hard times pressing down on more people.
Some advice from them, then:
Our congregation has a fund for emergencies whether the emergency is a transient with rent needs or a church member who can't afford to go to her grandmother's funeral across the country. Is it possible to gather a small group of loving, supportive church friends to cover the needs of this family for the next three months? You could call it the Acts 2:44 Team or something (less dorky) than that. "One-anothering" is an essential part of being the church together (love one another - John 13:3; serve one another - Gal. 5:13; comfort one another - I Thess. 4:18, etc. etc.)
We have a family in crisis in our congregation and someone has anonymously agreed to cover their mortgage for the next year. It makes me want to weep. This is what the church is all about.
This is a good question for these times. I can only begin to imagine the anxieties for each of you: those in need, you, and the church members. Start by finding out what your resources are, and then make use of them. Often people will help naturally once they know, though not always though.
We are helping a family who has long-term medical issues. So far, we've had fund-raisers for them, advocated for them, and helped them affordable
housing in addition to pastoring them.
I would suggest a handful of ways to minister to them, none of which would necessarily provide a concrete solution for their problem.
1 - Pray for them. Definitely yourself, but also as a community if they are willing for their situation to be known. If they don't want the entire church to know of their difficulties (which the phrase "putting on a good front" suggests), then perhaps they would be willing for a small prayer group or Bible study group to know and to pray for them.
2 - Refer them to resources in the community. Obviously, certain agencies and resources are available for any individual, but sometimes churches have better connections, stronger networks, or access to resources that individuals won't. Investigate agencies that help with employment and/or housing, and go with the family yourself to some of the places that seem likely to help them get assistance they might need.
3 - Offer funds from your discretionary/benevolence fund. I do not think money from the church will solve their problem, though money is likely what they feel they need most. Whatever you might be able to help them with is not likely to keep them in their house. But a small amount might still help them in some critical way, and mostly it is a tangible indicator of your concern. When I have known of a family or individual in our congregation who is struggling financially, I have sometimes written a check for $250 or $300 to them, even if they haven't requested financial help. (Our disbursements from this fund are always confidential.) The amount is too small to "fix" their situation, but it is enough to help them in some important way, and most of all it helps them know they are not alone.
4 - Be a good listener and friend. They need economic stability, job security, and to stay in their home. Chances are that you and your church cannot provide those things for them, though you may be able to assist them in finding the resources to make those things possible. What the church can provide is companionship and care. They need to be assured of their ongoing place in the community regardless of their financial or housing status. They need good friends who will listen to them as they express their anxiety and grief over what is happening. They may need people in the church to step up and offer them temporary shelter. The church cannot fix their financial problems, but the church can certainly be a refuge for them, and part of that ought to rightfully mean that someone opens their home to them if it comes to that. If the family will allow you to let others in the congregation know of their plight, you might be surprised with what your church members will come up with by way of concrete response.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
One of the projects needs a manager right now. Cafepress is our store which offers RGBP products. We need someone who is willing to manage and work on developing products of interest to those in RGBP and bloggers. Reverendmother has been our fearless worker in this area and she has "retired" an we are ever so thankful for her work in getting this up and running. Make sure you leave a big THANK YOU in the comments section for her work!
If you are interested in applying for the "job", contact Songbird for more information.
Also we are looking for folks who might like to lead in book discussions. Every month we have a book we discuss on a Monday. This month's discussion will focus on this book:
April's book will be led by both Quotidian Grace and Presbyterian Gal. So join them on April 28 for the discussion.
May's book brings us Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles. Rumor has it (and from very good sources I might add) that the author is going to be paying us a visit. Now how cool is that? We can get a virtual autograph!
One of the suggestions made is for us to have some books with a "lighter" nature and so June's book will be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo. Allow the child in you to enjoy this one for one of our summer reads.
We are looking for folks to lead in a discussion for upcoming books - might you be interested? Perhaps you would like to co-lead a book. It's easy! All that is required is for you to read the book, present a snapshot of the book and ask some thought provoking questions for those who have read the book can discuss. Interested? Contact us at email@example.com .
Don't forget to read Wednesday Festival below!
In the meantime, take a look at these:
Leah Sophia is calling this in-progress, in-process interpretation of 2 Corinthians 1:19-20. "Amen Wall."
And, we're all invited to participate in this week's Poetry Party at the Abbey.
Read well, comment lots, enjoy!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
For some reason, I love this passage from Acts that depicts Saul (the future Paul) participating in the stoning of Stephen. It’s not because I like the event, that's for sure. I suspect it is because I am in awe of just how huge the transformation is going to be.
Saul had no idea what was ahead- he was focused on his own plan for his life. His plan A.
Craig Barnes, a Presbyterian Pastor and professor, writes, “The real mark of leadership is not having the right ideas, but knowing how to recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing. And what the Spirit is not doing. Usually, we discover the second thing first. But the greatest failure in leadership is, after discerning that you have been wrong about a particular idea, giving up. The failure of Plan A is always, and only, and invitation to look for the Spirit in the next idea.”
Why do so many of us stick with our Plan As? Sometimes it is because we are too much in love with our Plan As to focus on anything else. We are wearing blinders.
Other times it’s because we don’t have a clue what God is saying- either we don’t know how to listen or we’ve turned the background noise up too high. And reality is, even when we aren’t sure, we still have to plow ahead. The church still needs to move forward. You have to make decisions in your life, even when you aren’t sure what direction God is illuminating. And so we do the best we can, and then in retrospect we can learn about God’s will and our choices. God loves the retrospect- the ways in which we looking back and where we made God choices or me choices, and from those choices learn, and get back to the Plan B life God has for all of us.
Anne Lamott writes that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty, “Certainty is missing the point entirely (Plan B, page 257).” Finding the plan B life God has for you, for us, is about letting go of certainty. About holding onto your hopes and expectations for your life, for our life together, loosely, leaving room for God to work. About looking back with humility, to see where you could have made faithful choices, and learning from those times.
Coming to faith can happen through many ways, one of the most important is through realizing that Plan Bs aren’t mistakes, they are steams of light given by God, waiting to be seen by human eyes.
It’s a lesson Saul is about to learn.
So. What are you thinking about?
Monday, April 14, 2008
A big thank-you to Rainbow Pastor for recalling my attention to Bobby McFerrin's wonderful expansive setting of the Psalm 23 , dedicated to his mother. RP is facing a biopsy on Tuesday so please drop by her place and assure her of your support and prayers...
Next is David Haas's "You Are Mine," which we sang at Katie's baptism on Transfiguration Sunday. I sang it to Matt as we brainstormed the music for the liturgy in a middle of the night nursing session when she was very tiny.
The next two songs are not explicitly religious, but many of us find their expression of unconditional love to be a connection with God's compassion as experienced in nurturing relationships with others and our own inner selves.
"How Could Anyone," by Libby Roderick, has been mentioned by both Mary Beth and Songbird. I learned of it in Shaina Noll's version, on her wonderful album, Songs for the Inner Child (link).
Another powerful song found on Shaina Noll's album is Fred Small's Everything Possible. (Unfortunately, she removes the explicitly LGBT affirming lines--the plethora of healing songs and lullabies means that the album is still worth getting, though, for yourself, your child, and leading retreats or workshops). A longtime folksinger, Small is now a UU minister. A good friend bought his album No Limit my senior year of college, and bequeathed it to me when he entered the Jesuits; this song was the first thing he played when I returned from my college graduation. I sing it often to my kids, and sang it on the boat from which we scattered my Grandma Pat's ashes into the Pacific as well.
Coming full circle, I offer Carey Landry's Isaiah 49/I Will Not Forget You My People,. This is a very simple song and reflects its roots in the 70s, but it made a big impact on me in college and is still one of the few to explicitly engage the scriptural images of God as Mother. Like the others, it is a beloved bedtime song for my kids, and Katie brought it to mind by requesting it tonight.
What are your favorite songs for experiencing God's love?
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Surrexit Christus! Christ is Risen! As we move further into the Easter season, the sound of trumpets fade out, and a gentler sense of joy often settles into our music. This short piece by Hungarian composer Lajos Bardos encourages us to take a breather before the Spirit comes blowing through our lives in a few weeks. Or - if like me, the Spirit is setting things aflame in your life right now, listening might create a moment in which to take a deep breath. Like Avro Pärt, Bardos is another modern composer who draws on the rich traditions of medieval and rennaisance polyphony.
Holy and Gracious God, We give you thanks for the gift of life and in particular for the gift of your Son, our Shepherd. We come to you as a people who are lost and in need of you - your love, your grace, your salvation. You know us, each of us, by name, and call us to your side. We come before you, humbled by your compassion for us, for this world. We lay down before you all that causes us discord and division; take away all hatred and prejudice, remove from our hearts all that hinders us from union with you and with our brothers and sisters. Call us into one Body, one Spirit, that we may be your heart, your hands, your love, pouring forth into this broken world. Grant that even as you are the gate, that contains and keeps us from ourselves, you are also the opening that leads us out of the self and into the Body. Give us your grace, which will unite us, a diverse and often divided people, into One, bound by truth and peace, faith and charity, that we may be one mind, one mouth, one body in Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Amen.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
(YouTube video: "Mendocino," Kate and Anna McGarrigle with Karen Matheson)
We are right in the middle of a move--only twenty minutes away, but we're still a mix of busy, excited, nervous and surprisingly full of grief about what we're leaving, for me at least. So this week's Friday Five asks about your experience of the marvels and madness of moving...
1. How many times have you moved? When was the last time?
2. What do you love and hate about moving?
3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers?
4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move?
5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones?
Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what moving means to you.
As always, let us know in comments if you play. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
My mom has a question that's been bugging her for a long time now. Which is: Why is that pastors no longer use the term "only begotten son" when referring to Jesus? She says that from her reading she sees that the "begats", or lineage as it were, are extremely important in the Old Testament and that this was also important in establishing Jesus' paternity.
So the matriarchs' first query is "What pastors?" Many churches that use inclusive or otherwise "nontraditional" liturgies (or dispense with liturgy altogether) still use the traditional creeds. But as Karen points out, one of the reasons some people choose to worship with an updated liturgy is to create a more direct relationship with Christ and God. "It could be simply a desire to use more contemporary language, (the term "begotten" being fairly archaic and not readily understandable to folks who haven't been doing church all their lives)," she writes. "If the "son" term is being changed as well this could be a move away from using gender specific language for the persons of the Trinity. Or there could be a really fundamental theological shift toward a different conception (pardon the pun) of who Jesus was in relationship to God."
Ann agrees that she needs more info: "Is there more she wants to know...is her faith changing? If there is a change by pastors (and I have just not noticed it, at least in the Episcopal Church) I would say it is emphasis on the Trinity and Jesus' place in that concept. Although Jesus is "son," he is God incarnate and "son" is a metaphor for the incarnation of God in human life. The lineage in the gospels differs between Matthew and Luke -so establishing paternity is not the point of the gospel writers - it is some theological point about the Christ. Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan explore this in The First Christmas, their book on the meaning of the birth stories. Also, 'begat's in the Old Testament have a different meaning than just genealogy. Often it is used to make a theological point (often lost to us now, not knowing the people) or to incorporate peoples into the tribes of Israel, especially after the Exodus (those who never went to Egypt) and The Exile."
But we don't know the full context of why your mother is running into the change time and time again, and the matriarchs hate to guess, with a couple of them pointing to the idea of having her engage in a conversation with a pastor who can help address her questions. After all, we had the Episcopal Prayer Book and the Methodist Articles of Confession handy and found "only begotten son" alive and well in both. (Sorry for not having the appropriate Presbyterian reference book handy--the matriarch came through in record time to answer this question and I still managed to post it late.)
Finally, Rev. Abi, who by replying two weeks in a row I think we can say happily "WELCOME BACK ABI!" has some really wonderful information (with just a touch of humor) that I'll just share outright:
First of all, I think St. Casserole's Aunt Bostick should answer this one, seeing as how she did such a fine job with Holy Week and Easter. Having said that, My Aunt Etta Mae, who is Aunt Bostick's third cousin twice-removed and went to grammar school with her, said she would be willing to take a shot at this, since it had something to do with one of our mamas. She figured she spoke her language better and understood better than me with all my degrees and learning.
Aunt Etta Mae says it depends on what brand of denomination you are, what kind of locale you are in and size of your church. She is Methodist, hard shell, and still has her class tickets to prove it. She lives in the South, in an undisclosed rural area of Alabama, (and she says that 'cause you couldn't find it even if she told you). And she goes to a small church served by one of them Licensed Local Pastors. He already knows not to use that newfangled "seeker friendly" words; there just aren't any seekers within a mile of the church, unless they are seeking moonshine, which some of the members are known to have sold in their younger crazier days. However, she realizes that if she were in town or worst yet a big city, that they might do things differently, but she is glad she is not.
But she says the language we use nowadays is to make the worship more friendly to those who have never come or quit coming to church. Then, as they become part of a Sunday School, Bible Study or membership class, these other words can be introduced and taught, words like begotten.
She also said that if her area ever grew she would be the first to welcome a newcomer or a visitor to the church, its been so-o-o-o-o long since a new face has showed up there. However, since her pastor uses the Methodist Book of Worship and they bought them new hymnals, they will on occasion say a more inclusive word or two. She says it doesn't bother her like it used to the first couple of times they said it or sang it.
In fact, now she says it makes her feel like God really does love her as a woman, and that her say counts. She thinks it is even better, even the menfolk don't mind it so much either. Its true she said, Christ died for all, including us women.
Now as for the begats and begots, here's what she said: You can look at your family bible and see all the people in her family and how far back they go and which way they go. In her old age, she likes to go back and look over the tree and remember the people, and the stories about the family. And when the great-grandchildren come over she can tell them about their stories too. She said she is saying all this so we don't forget how important Jesus heritage is, even it includes people who made mistakes. Heck, her Uncle Billy Bob is the biggest black sheep you ever met in a family, and it don't bother her no more cause of them people in Jesus' family. She says to tell you that came from a sermon that her preacher preached one Christmas. She wants you to know that, so you know people in the pew really do listen.
Now, all what my Aunt Etta Mae say, I don't get all upset about what Creed the preacher has us to say or whatever else kind of liturgy we do, cause it's just an instrument to get us to worship God. Too many people like Bessie just say their Lord's prayer and creed without even knowing what they are saying or whether they even mean it. She tries to think about God when she says those things and make sure she means them. So if you need to think about those things when you are saying a liturgy then just think about them.
I'm sure this will inspire a few comments about the changing traditions of church, but I also want to underscore: please send questions our way! Maybe there's been a hot topic on your blog that you'd like our matriarchs' insight on, or perhaps there's a new need emerging in your community that you want to address but don't have experience with. Send your questions to AskTheMatriarch@gmail.com.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
She also points us to a discussion of the UMC guaranteed appointment system at Erika's Endangered Species: Church.
Dear Sally! The things she does for her children (as do we all). Go read about bacon sandwiches here. A good entry on feeling vulnerable as well. Also, she is looking for some feedback from us. The topic, she says, "comes through thinking around a part of my Masters dissertation which is on women and image."
Mother Laura says: "I wrote a creative midrash on this week’s Gospel about the disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus, with a link to a beautiful icon of the story as well."
Mitch says, "Ever have a day start with everything going wrong? As a Pastor's Husband, I've noticed that Sunday morning tends to have an unsually large number of distractions & disasters. I've also noticed that a Sunday morning full ofdisasters almost always means a very good Sunday service. Bad Sunday Morning = Good Church Service."
Lorna is back at seminary in Estonia. She has had 18 lectures in the past two days! But she has also had some time to walk in the rain! See pictures here and here. She heard a sermon with homework set on her first night back.
Did you forget to make a nomination? Please share in the comments what you've been up to, or tell us about particularly fine writing you've seen 'round the ring.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
1 Peter 2:19-25
This week’s lectionary passages tell us about the early believers sharing everything they had in common. The Psalm is about following a shepherd, The Shepherd, Peter is about suffering, and in John, Jesus tells us what happens what thieves and bandits want to do to the sheep.
I am wistful about the passage from Acts, even though I know that it was a membership brochure. I cannot help but think how our world might be different if we shared a little more and were scared a little less.
What is it about us that keeps us from trusting and doing something new?
Which leads me to thinking about sheep. Silly, stupid sheep. Or at least I’d always thought…. Is it possible that sheep have gotten a bad rap?
A few (or seven) years ago, National Public Radio reported this story:
“…the lowly sheep may have gotten a bad rap. That’s the conclusion of a new study on sheep behavior by British scientists, who say the easily herded creatures may be smarter than originally thought.
A study published in the Journal Nature describes research at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, southern England. In the research project, sheep were shown pictures of other sheep and rewarded with food if they moved toward a selected image.
As it turns out, the sheep quickly learned to recognize the face that produced a reward, and discriminated between that face and other sheep faces that didn't produce a reward. The research showed that sheep can get it right eight out of 10 times -- and the research showed the sheep remember faces for an extended period of time. Some sheep could remember up to 50 images for two years.
The study concluded that, like humans, sheep have special systems in the brain to discern between faces that are very similar in appearance. The results also suggest that sheep have remarkably good memory systems and are extremely good at recognizing faces. Both are signs of higher intelligence, says Dr. Keith Kendrick, one of the authors of the study.
Kendrick says the reason sheep may have a reputation for little intelligence is that they seem to be scared of just about everything. ‘Any animal, including humans, once they are scared, they don’t tend to show signs of intelligent behavior,’ Kendrick told Reuters.”
National Public Radio. All Things Considered. November 7, 2001
Sheep are intelligent? So maybe, when, Jesus describes us as sheep, it is important to realize that he is not telling us to be blind followers as the conventional wisdom has taught, Jesus is telling us to follow wisely, carefully.
Submission, surrender is not a popular thing to talk about. Because when we think about submission and surrender, it is usually in terms of an unhealthy relationship. The spouse who beats the one they have pledged to love. The boss who ridicules an employee. The cult leader who leads followers to spiritual imprisonment rather than freedom. Submission is a kind of surrender, and Americans are not typically thought of as surrender or submission prone.
I believe God invites us to a different kind of submission. One that is not chosen for us, but one that we are invited to choose.
J. Heinrich Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof Community, writes this about submission:
“What is true and unconditional surrender? A person may yield to a stronger person, or an army to a stronger army. One may yield to God because God is almighty, or because one fears his judgment. None of this is full surrender. Only if one experiences that God is good- and that he alone is good-- is it possible to surrender to him unconditionally one’s whole heart, soul, and being. When a person has surrender to God with heart and soul, he will then seek other in whom the same love is clearly expressed and surrender to them also. But he can commit himself to others only if his first commitment is to God….
We have to give ourselves wholeheartedly to God, and if we fail, we must give ourselves again. We all need daily forgiveness for our sins and failures. But what matters is whether we want to be faithful—faithful to the end of our lives. This means surrendering everything- our self- will, our hopes for personal happiness, our private property, even our weakness- and believing in God and in Christ. That is all that is asked of anyone. Jesus does not expect perfection, but he wants us to give ourselves wholeheartedly.”
Arnold, J. Heinrich. Discipleship: Living for Christ in the
So. This is what I’ve been contemplating. How about you?
Monday, April 07, 2008
As Spring begins to bloom all over the Northern Hemisphere we have new things blooming in the RevGalsblog: Check out our newest members here....
Somewhere South of Somewhere: revhoney describes her self and blog this way -
I am a wife (18 years and loving him more each day), mom to two amazing teen sons, and a beautiful step-daughter who, with her husband, have made us grandparents to two precious grandchildren. I am also a dog mama times two, a daughter, sister and friend. Each day that I am blessed to see people (individually, as congregations, and as communities) being the hands and feet and voice of Jesus is the best day ever! You can meet her:
Spiritually Directed: Roberta describes herself and her blog as a part time spiritual director - full time leprechaun. Pop in over here
Jaded Jabber describes her blog: These are the irregular musings of an ex-Lutheran who goes to a Methodist seminary and works in a UCC church. Meet her: here
Also: are you interested in being interviewed by the hosts of Meet and Greet? If so stop by my blog and let me know how I can contact you for your answers...for example, sometimes we exchange email addresses (this is easiest for me). If maintaining anonymity is important, other options are available. If you are interested, leave me a note on my blog and I'll let you know how we can do this and keep your identity secure.
Here are the questions you will be asked once we determine a means to communicate the answers...
Where do you blog?
What are your favorite non-revgal blog pal blogs?
What gives you joy?
What is your favorite sound?
What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates?
You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone?
Write the first sentence of your own great American novel.
What color do you prefer your pen?
What magazines do you subscribe too?
What is something you want to achieve in this decade?
Why are you cool?
What is one of your favorite memories?
Anything else you've always wanted to be asked?
We have sent the interview questions to three of our rev-guys and will post their responses in an upcoming Meet and Greet. We are looking forward to yours as well!
Sunday, April 06, 2008
You fill our lives with hope, Holy One, when we are despairing and traveling life’s road with only sadness as our companion. God, you step in beside us and challenge us to live our faith in word and action. Help us to recognize you in our midst, and bless us as we navigate our days and nights as people of faith. May we live and serve faithfully, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Where are you headed this Saturday, preachers? (Bonus points if you are an international geocacher...)
I hope you'll share your journey and any surprises you may find along the way. How are you handling the children's message? We always like to share those around here.
Join us, and you may be sure of finding a friend to walk with you. Bring some food to share, and I'll keep the coffee and Diet Coke flowing!
Caravaggio, “Supper at Emmaus”, painted 1601-02.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
So with no further waffle I offer you this weeks Friday 5:
How has God revealed him/herself to you in a:
4. Another person
Bonus answer: your choice- share something encouraging/ amazing/ humbling that has happened to you recently!
Let us know in comments if you play. And for even more visits to your blog, post a direct link in your comment using the following formulation:
<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>
For a complete how-to, click here.
For each individual, one's ability to give back in terms of time and talent may be tested by work and family obligations, or health issues, or burn-out. But this week's question centers on what happens when everyone stops.
Most churches rely heavily on laity taking on and committing to different tasks. What does it say about a church where, over a period of 1-1½ years, no one is any longer wiling to serve in junior church, make coffee, help with the sound deck/ worship or even take up the collection. What would your advice be to the leader(s) of such a congregation? And to its members?
We got a range of perspectives, starting with Ann, who is very familiar with the challenges presented particularly for small churches:
Small churches often have cycles of involvement. I let any program go that is not gathering volunteers. I never start programs that people cannot commit to, either. I try to stick to the boundaries of my job description and let anything else take its own course. If there are no Sunday School teachers, there is no program. If there is no one to volunteer at coffee, there is no coffee. If people feel a need for it, they will return to volunteering. If they don't care it will die off. If the Spirit is moving people will respond when they ready.
Karen also notes that in the smaller church, burnout can pose a tremendous challenge:
With few or no new members coming in, the general wisdom is that if you volunteer for something, you will be stuck with that job for the next 20 years.
But the lack of lay leadership may reflect a more serious problem. Karen pointed out several things to be on the lookout for:
- The generational stand-off: Older members feel that younger members should be taking on these tasks. Younger members are crazy busy with two-career households and a bazillion school, sports, scouts, and musical kid activities and feel that the retired folks with more time ought to be shouldering more of the burden.
- Depression: There are so many congregations in situations where transforming a declining situation is a nearly impossible task given the realities of their financial resources, available human energy, geographic location, demographic context, etc. etc. Members (and pastors!) of these churches usually realize this at some level and have a whole range of emotional responses to this reality.
- Deteriorating relationships: Has volunteering or failing to volunteer has become the arena in which resentments, hostilities, disappointments are being passively-aggressively played out?
What's a pastor to do?
Abi points out that a reminder of their baptismal vows to be ministers (rather than volunteers) can be helpful. Jan expanded on this in her own quick "what to say" note:
This is Christ's church. This is not "your church" in that we exist to serve you and your loved ones. Because of The Great Commission, not to mention our baptismal/confirmation/membership vows, we are all called to serve in various ways according to our gifts. This is our purpose and our passion, and we all get to participate. And so, how will you serve? Sitting back and watching others serve is not an option, if you are serious about your faith. We need ushers, greeters, teachers, office volunteers, bell ringers, liturgists, coffee servers....
How is God calling you and how can we sign you up?
Abi continued with a few other ideas:
It may be time to do an assessment of your worship service. Is your church growing disciples from all areas to know their gifts, passions and how they can use them in ministry? Does your church have a class in Spiritual gifts or Leadership strengths?
Who is in charge of the worship? Is there a worship team? Hospitality team? What is the vision and purpose of said worship or all the worship in the church or for the church? Who is in charge here? Are they looking to you as the chief Pastor to make a decision, shut it down, or move on? Or is there an Administrative Council? or some form of Leadership that needs to take this up? offer guidance? etc? Consider Natural Church Development or some other assessment program.
Doing so, she continues, can help you determine whether there is a bigger problem at play.
But as Karen notes, a congregation in crisis or depression may be going through something that requires a lot of sensitivity:
My own experience of walking with a church like this during its last years was that the members went through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, distancing, etc. etc. Failing to volunteer could be an expression of any of these stages. If a congregation experiencing these feelings is being constantly harangued by their pastor or denominational leaders for their failure to "do what it takes" the depression deepens. It helps to address the reality directly rather than pretend it isn't there.
Or to make them feel like they are to blame for a church's decline. Find the positive, and try to help them discover what will motivate them.
How about you? Have you ever faced a situation like this, and if so, how did you handle it, or what do you wish you could have done? Share your responses in the comments, and feel free to send your challenging situations our way for an upcoming column at firstname.lastname@example.org.