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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — The One Left Standing

It's always awkward when you find out that layoffs are about to happen, and you wait anxiously while the shoes drop all over. For one of our number, this happened recently with the result being one of compassion for her laid off coworkers and inner conflicted feelings about the office which mishandled the layoffs--which happens to be an office of the church:

I work for a local Diocese Office which has had a sudden redundancy round thrust upon it. There has been an element of clumsiness and covertness which has lead to the process becoming both cruel and profoundly damaging to many who work here.

Although my position is secure, the pain and suffering of my colleagues as well as the hypocrisy of a church organization has pained me greatly. I am an anglo-catholic; the Eucharist is central to me, yet since this has occurred I have not been able to take Eucharist--it is as though each time I go to take it a veil has fallen down over it.

I know that I need to stand in support with my coworkers, which I will do, whatever happens for them in the process. Yet I have not experienced such an absence before.

We got several different perspectives this week -- first, that redundancies or layoffs often have an inherent cruelty about them no matter how they are delivered; second, there's a reason we sometimes need help forgiving those who have trespassed against us; third, that it's often worse when unfair things happen within the context of church employment than it would be in other workplaces; and fourth, that you might want to explore a more personal mode of worship to sustain you during the time you need to heal and forgive.

From RevHoney:
It must be very difficult working in your office right now. People whom you care about are being treated poorly and you want to stand in solidarity with them. I think I hear your struggle to forgive leaders for their actions in this event.

Sharing the Eucharist with the broken people with whom you work (we all are - we all fall short) can help to heal and transform your diocesan office community. Anger and the inability to forgive someone can put up powerful barriers to our feeling welcome at God's table of grace. Is it possible that your inability to forgive is what is keeping you away from the Eucharist? Have you prayed for the ability and heart to forgive the wrongs that were perpetrated?

You can forgive and still stand in solidarity with those who were hurt. Redundancies are a reality that cannot be denied, but you and others can look for ways to influence policy and action that can shape a response of faithfulness, fairness, and integrity in hard times like this.

Ann never fails to amaze me, in that no matter how late I am in sending out the question she manages to create a kaffeeklatsch out of the topic. (It's perhaps important to underscore the fact that I do not forward the questioners identity when i pass out the question.) She wound up in conversation with a so-very-wise layperson in her family, and the family member suggested that taking a break from communion might be in order, if it's possible to do so:

However, if you do take a break, I would recommend substituting some other spiritual practice to keep in the habit of regular worship (something I have not done myself, and that I regret).

Alternately, it might be worth maintaining the habit of worship during this difficult time and trying to come up with another way to mentally approach the Eucharist. There are going to be times when the ritual has more feeling of meaning than others, this may be a 'dry spell' that will pass with time. Maybe just saying a little prayer of your own acknowledging your feelings of estrangement before taking the bread and wine might infuse more meaning into the practice.

I would suggest that you find some way to act so that you can bring your feelings of betrayal and sorrow out in the open. This may be inferring too much from what is given-- but it seems that part of the reason for feeling that a veil has come down is that you feel you cannot speak freely about the situation. Find a way to speak, find a way to prevent this from happening again, find a way to make it a part of the institutional memory if you can.

Another of Ann's colleagues mentions that it's important to remember that God is not the diocese or even the Church.
I find God in community. In times like this my community shrinks to those who travel most closely with me - my small congregation or my EfM group or sometimes just a friend or two- maybe a friend who is not Christian. I can share Eucharist or coffee with those even when I am angry about the big C Church.

Ann herself is wondering whether you feel conflicted over staying in what might be an abusive system, or is it that the system has flawed people just trying to do their best in bad circumstances? Layoffs, sadly enough, sometimes have to happen, and people affected by them are going to go through a grieving process that will include anger. How many times have we said things in anger that, looking back, was just like toothpaste--something you can't get back in the tube once it's out. I have a million things I'd like to unsay to my ex-boyfriends, for instance; fortunately most of them have forgiven me or at least let it go. As Ann continues:

It is possible for you to listen and be sympathetic without getting involved. Understand that the friends are feeling terrible and will say terrible things about a place where they felt "in" and are now "out," and you do not want to get involved in that part of the conversation.You still have to work in the place and may actually have some hope for your work and the system.

Later when the time is right - there can be a conversation about fair employment practices if needed. Every side (and there are many) in this incident will have a different view of what happened and did not happen. People who lose their job go through all the stages of grief, including anger --- people who had to fire others will also have guilt and grief.

Give yourself time to mourn and whatever but do not ally yourself with any particular person - all will try to enlist you - it will do no good.

But your conscience may be the real issue here. Jan doesn't have direct experience with this issue, but has observed, as she puts it:

...that churches "let people go" with breathtaking ineptitude. What would happen if you take a stand supporting those who lost their positions? Whether it would make you vulnerable or not, you might want to take this stand for your own soul.

Blessings to you as you try to be the church with those folks. And bless you for taking it personally - as if it happened to you. The New Testament calls that splanknitzomai (compassion from the guts.)

Jan also has an observation that's somewhat aside that she'd like to make: You are doing a wonderful thing by realizing that you _are_ all part of the same family:

I'm frankly grateful that you consider your colleagues this important. This gives me hope. While collaboration and mutual support and friendship are more prevalent than not, occasionally we all come across people who consider their colleagues to be "the competition." This is a thoroughly unhealthy way to serve in ministry IMHO.

So, dear readers, has this ever happened to you, where you've been the one left standing when people you love were pushed out? Or have you ever been made redundant, as a priest or otherwise, and find yourself still in contact with those who weren't cut? How did you deal with it? Or have you ever had a crisis of conscience that kept you from participating fully in the sacraments of the church?

Give us your comments!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday Festival: Here and There and Everywhere...

(this road is on the way to Mount Cook in New Zealand).

The RevGals and Pals are on the road this week...literally and figuratively. Read on for the updates.

Singing Owl attended the Assemblies of God Chaplains Convention, and had a RevGal Meetup!

I am preparing for my first-ever mission trip (in Cedar Rapids, Iowa) this weekend, and seeking any advice or tips you might have to share.

Speaking of trips, PresbyterianFrog has been on quite the shopping trip! Go read about all her great finds.

Katherine E. is pondering sacred space, and going within there. She shares her thoughts and some wonderful pictures of hers, here. I could get lost in this post!

Lutheran Husker is going heading out on the road for a cause. He says: "I don't generally use my blog for soliciting donations, but have made a very personal exception, as I reveal something about my mom that I haven't before made public and ask for your help in making a difference."

And as the weekend approaches? The Vicar of Hogsmeade explains it all: the road to writing a sermon.

Blessings to each of you, wherever the Way takes you! Please share with us in the comments about where your path is leading...and for the future, remember to nominate your own or other ring members' posts by emailing

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Holding What Gives You Life" Edition

The coming Sunday's lectionary readings can be found here .

Perhaps fortuitously considering this week's texts, I've been reading the book Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life by the counseling team of Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn (Paulist Press). The Linns introduce the reader to the spiritual practice of examen; of regularly, prayerfully reviewing our lives to identify those things that give us life and those things that seem to sap the life out of us. The title of the book refers to refugee children during World War II who were traumatized by their experiences of violence, fear and want, who were finally calmed and comforted by being given a piece of bread to sleep with each night -- a tangible reminder that they were now being loved and cared for.

Our Old Testament lessons show us, alternately, a God eager to provide us with good things and a patriarch who, facing an uncertain and dangerous future, wound up clinging with all his might to...well, to God. Sunday's Psalm alternatives speak to our needing and God's providing. Our Gospel lesson portrays a Jesus who, despite his sorrow over his cousin John's execution and his desire for solitude, nonetheless provided for the needy people flocking to him for help, in practical as well as spiritual ways. And then there's Paul's letter to the Romans, where even as he reiterates God's love and care for Israel, Paul longs for his people to know the great gift of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

In a world where the gifts we seek oftentimes aren't all that good -- and in these times of economic turmoil when more and more people are being divested of those things that used to give them status, pleasure and a sense of identity -- what are Sunday's lessons saying to us today? What gives us, as Scripture puts it, "the life that really is life"? Discuss!

Monday, July 28, 2008

RevGalBookPals Discussion: The Faith Club

Many months ago, RevGalBlogPals received an e-mail from Priscilla Warner, one of the authors of The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew--Three Women Search for Understanding, suggesting we might be interested in the book and adding that we had a sort of Faith Club going ourselves!

Born out of a desire for mutual understanding in the wake of 9/11, The Faith Club describes the growing relationship between the three authors: Warner, Ranya Idilby and Suzanne Oliver. Along the way in their journey together they faced challenges and misunderstandings, but they came back together, over and over, to discuss what they believed and felt, even when they weren't completely sure of the details of their own religions.

This may be a difficult book for clergy or well-educated laypeople to read, to get past wanting to explain Christianity, in particular, from one's own context. I have very little direct or academic experience with Islam, so I was able to accept Ranya's point of view without wondering why the heck she thought such-and-such, and although I am more knowledgeable about Judaism, Priscilla's point-of-view had much in common with both what I learned in a seminary class and my many years of friendship with an observant Conservative Jewish family.

I know one of our ring members, Teri, raised questions in a post on her blog about the materials at the back of the book, particularly those about Christianity, and wondered if this also meant she needed to question the explanations of Islam and Judaism?

On the whole, I was impressed that the conversation continued even when things got touchy. I'm not sure we're good at this in our churches, even when we are based in one belief system! The thing that kept The Faith Club together seemed to be the care for each other the three women developed, not in spite of their differences, but inclusive of them.

I hope those of you who read the book will chime in with your thoughts.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Music Video - Be Thou My Vision

Does one ever tire of this hymn? The more I listen and sing the words, the more it becomes a part of me. Today, I went to youtube to find the hymns we sang at church today. I tried NOT to choose this hymn because it has been featured numerous times. However, the other hymns didn't have such great choices, so I came back to our final hymn that we sang as we finished worship. And I stumbled upon a video which was a young man's first attempt (or so he says) with his new video camera. I personally think he might be more experienced than he states. It's homegrown, and quite good, and speaks from the heart.

Did you sing this hymn today in church? Be Thou My Vision seems to be a favorite among many readers. What other hymns did you sing or hear today during worship?

Sunday's Prayer

Loving God,
Be with us as we finish our preparations mentally, emotionally and spiritually; to begin our days, go through our days, and complete our days. Be in us as we walk into our places of worship and meet with so many different people to be able to be their spiritual leaders. Be in our heads to help us think clearly. Be in hearts to be able to know ourselves and to keep us calm in any anxious moments. Be in our souls to keep us centered and to guide our way with your Holy Spirit. May the words of our mouth, the meditation of our hearts, and the spirit of our souls be acceptable in your sight, O Lord. Amen

crossposted at my blog and the RevGalPrayerPals

Saturday, July 26, 2008

11th Hour Preacher Party: Primarily Parables Edition

Good morning, preachers and visitors!

It's that delightful week in the lectionary that brings us many parables, or a text from Romans with famous wonderful words interwoven with stuff we might just as soon ignore, or a Genesis romance gone awry!

Just like the mustard seed, our ideas as we begin the day may feel small and insignificant. But from these seeds, our sermons *will* grow, I promise you!!! And we will nurture each other along the way.

To prime the pump, I offer you Fair Trade coffee or green tea, and who would like one of those little vanilla bean scones from the coffee shop I cannot resist but will not name here? If you have goodies to share, bring them right over and put them on the table!

Let us know what you're up against today, tell us what you're thinking of preaching, ask for help if you need it, share any resources you think are helpful...and try not to make the rest of us feel too bad if you're already finished, okay?

Together we *will* find the treasure in the field, for the kingdom of heaven is like a group of preachers ready to work and play together, although they are separated by time zones and oceans, by denomination and heritage, by manuscript and notes, by pipe organs and Power Point.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Five: What You Absolutely, Positively, Can't Leave Home Without

We will be at a chaplain's convention when you all are answering the Friday Five Questions. I'll look forward to reading your answers next week when I get home. At the moment we are trying to get the car loaded so we can hit the road, so this will be a simple F.F. This running around madly in order to leave has me wondering: what are the five things you simply must have when you are away from home? And why? Any history or goofy things, or stories?

Here are the instructions for the magical little link. Copy and paste the following: <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, July 24, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — The politics of politics

Hard to believe July is almost over, isn't it? Just one more week, and August rears its head, which mean school and church year beginnings aren't far behind. But guess what else is right around the corner: the 2008 presidential election. Someone new to the call asks a question that may serve as an important reminder to all of us:
Given this is the Presidential Election year here in the US, the conversations can become quite emotional concerning political perspectives. Can you suggest a way of communicating in a Christ-centered way for these inevitable eruptions? It seems that the parishioners need to know for whom their pastor will be voting and they even try to hear our politics in our sermons. It also seems that to whomever I speak, they believe that surely I must share their political perspective.

Is it advisable to specifically say "my vote is private"? Or go the other route and put all those Obama stickers on my vehicle? Oh, by the way I am currently interning and will be entering the call process this coming year.

Well, there's no easy way to say this, but therein lies that "church/state" thing that the state is expressly forbidden to cross and, say our matriarchs, probably best that we don't either, at least not officially and absolutely not from the pulpit.

It's very important to learn what's considered personal, and not. But that's not to say you can't address _issues_ from the pulpit. As Peripatetic Polar Bear says:

Pastors should not publicly engage in partisan politics within the confines of their roles as clergy.


You can preach on how important it is to serve the poor--with our time, our talents and our votes. You can preach on how important it is to wage peace--with our prayers, our lifestyles and our votes. But as soon as you say "I"m voting for X," you have, I believe, misused your pastoral authority because even if you don't mean to, people can and will conflate your opinion with your church's theology. And where their opinions and yours are at polar opposites, it can change their relationship with you (people DO take their politics that seriously)---and your job is to foster those relationships.

And yes, things are going to be intense around the church---they are going to be intense everywhere. There are programmatic things you can do about that--but the first step is to talk to your governing group, and see how they feel.

So go ahead and support your candidate on your own time, but leave the partisan politics outside of your role.

Ann also notes that the congregation doesn't need her to spell out who she's voting for anyway:

I try to stay out of declaring my politics in regard to specific candidates or ballot issues; the congregation can usually tell my values by my preaching, so I am sure they guess.

A pastor does need to be careful not to preach who to vote for from the pulpit. I think stickers on the car are borderline okay. A discussion of the issues is appropriate for adult ed, but not when the discussion tells people how to vote.

The Episcopal Church's National Executive Council (the elected body that oversees things in between our national conventions) passed this resolution:

The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church* *resolved in 2004: "The Church recognizes that a faithful commitment to voting is an extension of our baptismal covenant to 'strive for justice and peace and the dignity of every human being' and asks all Episcopalians to actively engage in advocating for voter rights, encouraging voter registration, getting out the vote, and volunteering to assist voters at the polls."

I think back a few years to a voting day that my car had broken down, and a priest friend came and picked me up so that I could go vote, driving me the 30 miles and back to my polling location from my office. That's a great service to provide!

There are official guidelines you should probably consult; here's an important resource that all clergy may find indispensable during election seasons: Politics and the Pulpit from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

During every election cycle, many religious congregations find themselves wondering what role, if any, they can play in the political process. Can a minister, rabbi, imam or other member of the clergy endorse a candidate from the pulpit or speak on political issues of interest to voters? Is a church or other house of worship legally permitted to register voters or distribute voter guides? Answers to these and many other questions are contained here.

You can get more information and download the full report from the Pew Site here.

Ann also has some resources from the Episcopal Church, including the Episcopal Public Policy Network's resource page and the Interfaith Alliance's "One Nation, Many Faiths" election guide (PDF download).

Various denominations have their own guides, and I'm sure some of our readers will be happy to share their links and insights as well.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday Festival: Talking about children

Could there be any happier news to share right here at the top than a brand new baby? RevScott and Kris are thrilled to announce the new arrival in their family, little Alanna Sophia. RevScott explains in a post called Now We Are Four that Alanna is Gaelic for "dear one, darling child, beautiful child." For those who love cute baby pictures and videos (and honestly, who can resist?) I suggest checking out the subsequent posts on his blog, Nachfolge.

Meanwhile, Mother Laura is going through some difficult times with her son. He's in the hospital, and she requests prayer for him and her family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, ML!

Rev Maria was glad she had checked in on Saturday's 11th Hour Preacher Party when four young children showed up unexpectedly for worship on Sunday at her nearly childless congregation and she was all ready for them with a Children's Sermon. And those kids got it! You can read what they had to say in her post There are Children Here!. She was also doing some thinking about where she's been since May 3, the date of her last previous blog post.

SheRev accepted the challenge she found in a post from Larry Patten, who suggests coming up with our own kingdom comparison parables. You'll find SheRev's suggestions here. I love the image of a nursing mother!

Lorna had a great trip up to northern Finland last week (the sun never went down!) and stayed on a horse farm where there were three most delightful foals in the field next to the house. You can check out her travelogue and photos here, and see a few shots of the foals (more babies!) here.

Sally is looking for help with her dissertation. What are your views on emergent liturgical practice? Her post on the subject includes a video with N.T. Wright, and she'd love it if you'd visit and share your thoughts, too. She also has a poem for Mary Magdalene.

If I missed you and you'd still like to suggest a post, either one of your own or something from another RGBP member, please feel free to mention it in the comments. And for next week, don't forget to send your nominations by e-mail to Wednesday Festival.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Treasure Hunt

This coming Sunday's lessons can be found here .

I'd gladly lose me to find you
I'd gladly give up all I had
To find you I'd suffer anything and be glad

I'd pay any price just to get you
I'd work all my life and I will
To win you I'd stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I'd call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had -- The Who

What's your idea of a priceless treasure? The perfect life partner? A discerning mind and listening heart? Or maybe it's the Reign of God as described by Jesus -- a treasure often hidden in that which seems humble and insignificant, but that, in the words of Paul makes us, despite our weaknesses and hardships, "more than conquerers"?

Great lectionary texts this week, people -- let's discuss!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Slow Summer Meet and Greet

(from the personal photos of Mompriest)

In these long slow days of summer, as July winds to an end and August is around the we take vacation or begin to prepare kids to go back to school...things are also quiet on the Meet and Greet fact very quiet.

Thankfully I have, in reserve, an interview from Singing Owl. YAY!!! So, give a big revgals greeting to SO:

Where do you blog?
The Owl’s Song here.

What are your favorite non-revgal blog pal blogs? I could name several, but I’ll just pick one. It belongs to a long-time cyber friend who (like me) also seems rather mixed up—a fact he cheerfully acknowledges. He’s so mixed up that he calls himself a platypus. Darrell Pursiful is a Baptist with liturgical sympathies, charismatic friends, wise thoughts, scholarly inclinations, a kind wife and a brilliant little girl. Go visit him here

What gives you joy? Music. Which kind depends on the mood I’m in. Maybe Beethoven, Bach, Chopin for a classical mood, folk music, classic rock, hymns, praise and worship music, jazz, blues. I love it all, except rap. And a beautiful day gives me joy. Sun, blue sky, warmth, birds—“They’re coming to take me away, ha ha….” And then there is our one and only grandchild, Trinity Ann, about whom my blog readers know more than they ever wanted to know.

What is your favorite sound? I’m not good at picking one “favorite.” Here are a couple, okay? Water sounds—all of them, but particularly the sound of a brook or stream running over rocks. A baby’s laughter. My husband’s voice in my ear. Wind. A calliope.....I’ll stop now.

What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates? Hello, slowpoke! And look who else is here! We organized a party for you so you can catch up with everyone.

Seriously? I want to hear that I did what I was placed on earth to do--and thus pleased the One who created me.

You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone? She did the hard thing in spite of adversity. Thus, she won.

Write the first sentence of your own great American novel. With one last glance behind her, the woman sobbed, “Oh, God, make this the right choice!” and she yanked the door open and fell into the room beyond, spent.

What color do you prefer your pen? I don’t care what color it is as long as it writes smoothly and cleanly.

What magazines do you subscribe too? Readers’ Digest, Christianity Today, Ministries Today, Newsweek

What is something you want to achieve in this decade? Writing a book. I can say I’ve started, but that is all I can say for now!

Why are you cool? Because I have silver hair and still the kids in the youth group talk to me! How cool is that?!

What is one of your favorite memories? Readers of my blog know I recently lost my eldest sister to Alzheimer's. She was someone who had a profound influence on me. A favorite memory is the two of us riding down Malibu Canyon Road towards the Pacific Ocean, top down on her little red car, singing loudly, and knowing there were meatball sandwiches and a stack of books in the back seat. And all day to sit on the sand, listen to the waves, soak up the sun, and read.

Anything else you've always wanted to be asked? How did you ever become so successful? ( LOL!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

All around the world His praises ring

We had a wonderful time of traditional Methodist Worship this morning, opening with Praise my Soul the King of heaven and ending with Sing we the King who is coming to reign.

That got me thinking about how the praises of God are lifted up all around the world in different ways; and I'd like to be a bit greedy this week and offer you two videos reflecting different styles of praise first music from Zambian Acapella

followed by music from an east meets west worship group Aradhna:

I hope you enjoy one or both of these, it would be interesting to hear your comments, and to hear what you have been singing today, how the words and music have touched your spirit.

Sunday Prayer

Sower of the seed,
You know each one of us inside out. You know our coming and going. You know our thoughts and our feelings. And you love us deeply. Your love cries out to all who will hear it. Lord may we hear your love today. May we sow the seeds of love in a hungry world starved for true love—your love.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

11th Hour Preacher Party: RevGalBlogPals Anniversary Edition!!

Huzzah! Hurray! Yippee!

It's Saturday, and it's time for the Preacher Party!


it's also July 19th, the third birthday of the RevGalBlogPals!!!

Yes, it all started with a brief post by St. Casserole, wondering if the growing community of clergywomen and friends who commented on each other's blogs might not need a t-shirt! Within hours we had a Cafe Press store (thanks to reverendmother) and a webring (thanks to reverend mommy) and a blog (first managed by reverend mommy and Songbird). Go read the thread to see who was in at the beginning! The first person to click "join" at Ringsurf was Emily at Hazelnut Reflections.

In 2008 we sponsored our first Big Event, and we expect to have details for the BE 2.0 very soon. Ring members have met informally at the Festival of Homiletics for the past three years, as well as at denominational meetings and just in person, too.

Whether or not you're preaching today, I hope you'll stop in and share a memory from the past three years.

And if you are preaching, let us know what your topic is, and whether we can help!

I'll keep the coffee, the Diet Coke and any other necessary beverages flowing!!!

Happy Birthday to Us!
Happy Birthday to Us!
Happy Birthday, RevGalBlogPals,
Happy Birthday to Us!!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Friday Five: What's in a name?

If you are a regular reader of Songbird's blog, you know that "The Princess" has requested a new name. Her older brother changed his "secret identity" a while back and now this lovely young lady is searching for a new name on her mother's blog. This got me to thinking. How do we come up with all of these names? There must be at least a few good stories out there.

In honor of the Princess I have posted a picture of one of my favorite members of fictional royalty, Robert Munch's "Paperback Princess." She is a brave young woman who doesn't need anyone else to fight her battles. And she knows that what is most important isn't tiaras and finery but what's on the inside. If you haven't read this little fairy tale, I highly recommend it. But I digress.

  1. So how did you come up with your blogging name? And/or the name of your blog?
  2. Are there any code names or secret identities in your blog? Any stories there?
  3. What are some blog titles that you just love? For their cleverness, drama, or sheer, crazy fun?
  4. What three blogs are you devoted to? Other than the RevGalBlogPals blog of course!
  5. Who introduced you to the world of blogging and why?
Bonus question: Have you ever met any of your blogging friends? Where are some of the places you've met these fun folks?

As always, we want to read what you have to say. I will check in at least once in the morning before getting in my car to drive home from a business trip. But I promise to read everyone's post when I get to my own little house.

Here are the instructions for the magical little link. Copy and paste the following: <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, July 17, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — When Scripture Hits Too Close to Home

Hello everyone! It's a beautiful day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; I'm weekending in the region and was a little worried when I couldn't find a stable internet connection this morning to get AtM out to you, as the blogpal on the go. But here I am, and here we go!

I want to ask other matriarchs what they do when the scripture passage for the week is one that is either too close, or has become one's personal agenda for some reason.

Of late, God has been dealing with me personally and the passages that have been assigned for the Sundays are ones that either convict me personally, or touch me deeply. Today's lessons are specifically difficult for me.

I feel that I don't have the "space" to deal with the passages objectively (as if we ever deal with scripture objectively?). I know it is inappropriate to deal with my personal issues in the sermon--it makes the sermon too much about me and not enough about God. But at the same time I want to make the sermon personal to the congregation so that it touches them.

It's good that you're aware of your "objective" limitations, write our matriarchs. But even with those, the personal touch often is what helps the congregation connect with your sermon. The thing to do is to keep the former issue in mind while you're working on the personal touch. As Ann notes, "Good for you for not working out your personal issues on your congregation; that sets up a weird dynamic. We had a male priest with a midlife crisis who preached every week - all about him."

In other words, the pulpit shouldn't be about a pastor's self-help hour. Ann continues that enablers and "helpers" loved it. But just the same, as a layperson in Ann's circle notes, "I would rather have a priest speak from their personal experience as to how they struggle with scripture or are inspired by scripture (or both on the same day) than make it all about God." Ann talks about the reflective process she uses: Go ahead and make your "first-draft sermon" the deeply personal one, and then distill from that its spiritual significance and make that part of your second-draft sermon. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but here's what Ann says:

Go into it deeply as though you were writing a sermon but don't preach that one. It is okay to share your struggles with a text and how sometimes the scriptures touch upon your personal journey, but you do not have to (nor should you) cast it as though you want your congregation to help you with your problems.

Perhaps if you can look at your feelings and remember some other times when you had those feelings. Are there other Scripture passages that speak to those feelings or that have characters going through similar things. Is there a movie where the characters wrestled with these issues? or a book or story you read? Maybe you can find an example that is not so personal.

Sermons are not just about God but about how the Bible lessons speak of God in our midst, and how people of those days experienced God and is there any thing for us today in that? I see sermons as connecting THE story (as in scripture) with our stories. Our stories are a continuation of the story of the people of God and how we work that out.

After all, being in relationship with God is a great way to talk about God, isn't it? Perhaps seeing how you have had a wake-up moment will help folks connect with theirs. As Jan says:

This could be a golden opportunity to share your own faith story — just in an appropriate way. Without know the particulars of which you speak, it's hard to know if this would work, but I'm reminded of the Gandhi story about drinking milk:

Mother of a child who refuses to drink his milk travels at great expense to take her child to see Gandhi, his hero. She figures that if Gandhi tells her child to drink his milk, he'll listen. She and son have an audience with Gandhi and she shares her problem. Gandhi tells her to come back in a week and then he'll offer his wisdom.

So she and the son, again at great expense, hang out for a week and then return to Gandhi for a second audience. Gandhi looks directly at the young son and simply said, "Drink your milk" and the boy said, "Okay, I will." And the mother is appalled, asking, "Why did you make us wait a week before you could tell my son to drink his milk?" And Gandhi said, "Because I wasn't drinking my milk."

If not too painful/personal/damaging to your cred, this might be the time to share that a particular passage has convicted you because you hadn't been "drinking your milk."

Another suggestion, this time from one of Ann's colleagues:
Sometimes our personal issues are "everywoman's" issues. If that's the case, I say go for it. But be very careful about pronouns. It's especially important to use "we" and "our" as opposed to the singular "I" and the plural "you." I think it's really important to reflect on what's happening in the parish that might be similar to some of the issues you're dealing with. Start out with your story (succinctly) and then expand it to the readings and the universality of the issue.

Couple of final notes. If you simply must stay away from your personal issues for any reason, you can try approaching the Scripture a little differently by reading a couple of challenging commentaries and seeing if a more universal issue comes out of that, suggests Ann's colleague. Or, as Jan adds, you could not preach the lectionary that week.

Hope that helps. How about the rest of you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday Festival: Chhhhhanges!

It's been three weeks since Hubby and I moved to our new appointments in Small Town. We're still processing all the Chhhhhanges this move has brought us - new home, new churches, new faces, new childless status ... Phew! A lot to deal with!

"Changes" seem to be the Theme when it comes to the RGPB's Wednesday Festival this week.

Deb at Unfinished Symphony has a wonderful change in pastoral status to share with us. Congrats, Deb!

Sally tells us how the Eucharist and this conversation has changed her life.

Marie is considering the transformations in her life and inviting us to do the same.

Following Frodo ask us to read how Cheese and Jan are thinking about the changes our ministries may bring to our churches.

And speaking of chhhhanges, Katie Z is enlisting our help: "I'm trying to plan for the fall and had some inspiration! But I also need some help organizing all of the possiblities. Nominating to see if any other Rev Gals can help me wade through the waters!" You can reach Katie here.

Can we also help another RGBP out? St.Inuksuk requests, "I am asking around on how much worship preparation is done before leaving on vacation for the Sundays when the pastor is on vacation. Thought it would be interesting to see how our venerable RGBP's do it. Thanks!" Sorry, St. Inuksuk ... I don't have a place to link you for comments!

Perhaps you want to nominate yourself or someon else for the Wednesday Festival, if so don't forget to send it in with a brief statement about the nomination or feel free to leave it in the comments.

I'm going to go listen to some David Bowie now ...


Monday, July 14, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Weeder's Digest Edition

This coming Sunday's lectionary readings can be found here .

An interesting collection of lessons today. Our Old Testament readings speak to God's glory and sovereignty. The Epistle lesson tells us that we, as the people of God, are more than subjects of this God -- we're adopted members of God's family and heirs to the Reign of God. (As a friend of mine would say: "Wowsers.") And then in the Gospel lesson we get an intriguing set of parables that describe what this Reign of God is like. Our God -- a God who causes the rain to fall on good and bad alike -- allows the bad to grow along with the good, and cautions us to have patience with God's kairos so that, in our zeal to combat evil, we don't also injure the good. The Reign of God is compared to both a mustard seed and a bit of yeast mixed into dough -- something that starts out small but grows into something huge and amazing.

Any bits of insight into the texts working, like those tiny yeast beasties, through your thoughts right now? How are you tackling the wheat-and-tares parable? Discuss!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: Be Still, My Soul

Two Sunday's ago I was in on Cape Ann - where T.S Eliot used to summer as a child (one of his Four Quartets is named for the rocks just off shore: The Dry Salvages), on retreat at Eastern Point. We sang this song, fifty of us, acompanied by the rustling of the steady sea breeze in the leaves and the rushing of the waves against the rocks 30 yards outside the windows - and a lovely piano.

Like the waves, the lyrics return again and again to the words: Be still, my soul. And we are stilled - and walk wordlessly into the next room to celebrate the liturgy together.

Katharina von Schelgel wrote many verses to this hymn, Be Still, My Soul, originally composed in German in 1752 - and translated a century later into English by Jane Borthwick, but the three verses below are sung most often. These days the lyrics are set to Sibelius' ethereal and stilling melody - an excerpt from his tone poem Finlandia, I couldn't find any reference to the original tune.

Not much is know about Katharina - though some suggest she was the head of a woman's house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church - a precursor to today's reverend gals, no doubt.

What songs drew you into liturgy today? Did any seep into your soul and hold it still, like a weaned child in it's mother's arms?

Be still, my soul: the Lord in on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still my soul; when change and fear are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Sunday Prayer

Creator God, you are still creating today in our midst. You are still sowing your seed of the Kingdom of God in our midst. You are still lighting our path with your word. Lord today as we worship you; come refresh us once more with your Spirit. Come seed our hearts with your good news. Come pour your mercy over us. Lord may we go through out this day praising and worshiping you. Thanks be to you Creator God. Amen

Saturday, July 12, 2008

11th Hour Preacher Party: How does your Garden Grow Edition?

It's the middle of summer here in Minnesota, and the appropriate time for the pararables of seeds and roots, weeds and wheat. I don't have much of a garden, but I do have a few herbs growing by the back door, and several unwanted plants as well, so I am thinking, on this day, about that Crazy Gardener who keeps throwing seeds around everywhere! NIMBY!

Seriously, how is the weather where you are today, and how is your sermon coming along? Are you preaching about seeds and yields? About the Word of God that does not return to God empty? Or about the intriguing Rebekah and her sons? Or are you rummaging around in Paul's letter to the Romans, the 8th chapter, taking down that "This Property is Condemned" sign and moving right in?

I have fair trade coffee, as always (toffee caramel is my favorite flavor) and English Muffins, oatmeal for those who need to care about cholesterol (like me). I also have a shelter in the midsummer storms, for those who need it (like me). We have been experiencing severe thunderstorms for the last two days (off and on). High winds, hail, loss of electricity.

Please check in! There is shelter in the storm, and food for all here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Friday Five: Summer Camp

We're settling into our new new apartment, and after a lifetime at Montessori Katie is having a fantastic summer at YMCA day camp. Meanwhile, Nicholas is packing up for a week at Camp Julian, shared by the Episcopal dioceses of Los Angeles and San Diego. His lists of supplies and rules--except for the ropes course available to the teenagers and the ban on IPODs and cell phones--bring back memories of my own happy times weeks at Y camp Ta Ta Pochon, funded by selling countless cases of butter toffee peanuts. So, in celebration of summer, please share your own memories and preferences about camp.

1. Did you go to sleep away camp, or day camp, as a child? Wish you could? Or sometimes wish you hadn't?

2. How about camping out? Dream vacation, nightmare, or somewhere in between?

3. Have you ever worked as a camp counselor, or been to a camp for your denomination for either work or pleasure?

4. Most dramatic memory of camp, or camping out?

5. What is your favorite camp song or songs? Bonus points if you link to a recording or video.

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.

Ask the Matriarch — Being Conscious of Conscience

Issue: With all the fractiousness going on in some denominations, it can be a question of perspective, and, at times, anguish as to where to stand on issues. Priesthood and politics are tricky, and many of us have seen it up close even with our own ability to minister, as women pastors and priests. So it must be jarring to find oneself invited to participate in a group with a grassroots agenda that has some things you agree with but clashes with one "hot potato" issue that you feel strongly about, as one of our number did recently.

This morning I was approached by a congregation member who wanted to invite me to join him for a gathering of the Methodist Laity Reform Movement. This is a group within our conference that wants to promote a more conservative reading of the social principles but also is looking for more grassroots reform of the whole conference system. There are some things in their agenda and principles I can agree with, but not everything - particularly the views on homosexuality. While I hate to say that is the only issue that would keep me away from it, the fact that half of their "issues" on the website were regarding whether gays and lesbians can be ordained or members or on Supreme Court rulings regarding homosexuality, I have to take a step back.

I have not yet stood up and shared my opinions/beliefs on the subject. I do have a Human Rights Coalition equality sticker in my office and a number of books in my marriage and relationship counseling section - if anyone is interested in looking, that would announce where I stand on the issue.

I guess the question I have for other pastors is how do you start to broach the subject? Do you wait until asked specifically, or in the case of this group, should I have said up front that was the reason I wasn't interested? I did say that there are many reform movements and caucuses in our annual conference and that it wasn't one I was interested in participating in, but I left it at that.

I want to be true to myself, but I also want to be pastoral and help the congregation wrestle together with this issue. It relates to one of my last posts regarding truth and perception. I have a position on the issues that I can't impose as fact upon others. I need to listen to them, as much as they need to listen to me. And we all need to open up space for the Holy Spirit to guide us.

And it all has to do with understandings of scripture. Ironically, my mom called me just yesterday. She said that a co-worker knew that I was a pastor and so he came up to her and asked if I had read 1 Timothy 2. She didn't really know what he was referring to (and didn't stop to check), but passed along the information to me. One of the reasons that we (or many of us) don't take verses 11-15 seriously today is because 1) we have been revealed other truths by the Holy Spirit... ie: we have witnessed women's ability to lead and teach men and 2)we are able to contextualize that passage, look at where and why it was said and we also judge it against other scriptural passages.

So, I guess I'm just waiting to have this conversation and wondering if i should be the one to initiate it. Another congregation member seemed to be really searching for that kind of dialogue and said that she felt very alone and isolated in conversations about such controversial issues in the past. She seemed to indicate that whenever these sorts of issues come up, it would be nice to have an informed and healthy way of having the conversation. And even if I did present different ways of tackling "tough issues" from a faith perspective, should I play the role of Switzerland and just remain absolutely neutral

Navigating that delicate balance of listening is really, really tough. I'm an Episcopalian that writes for a blog where we cover how hard it is on a global scale. So is our matriarch, Ann, who notes that not taking a position is a position in itself:

I don't think you have to be Switzerland. Hopefully you can state your position in such a way that others do not feel like they have to agree. I pretty much stay away from preaching issues from the pulpit, a lot of power there -but I do offer study groups and a listening place.

With regard to the group who asked you: Sometimes if it is a segment of your congregation, it is worth going without commitment to join just to listen.

Perhaps you can set up a holy conversation time for those who want to discuss it. Have some strong guidelines about respectful conversation - Eric Law has several good books on this. Inclusion: Making Room for Grace is one. Basically everyone gets to talk without out interruption, debate or attempts to convert or convince by others, a good way to start is to have everyone state their beliefs on the subject, then everyone says what their personal experience with the topic is. That usually brings out more nuance—a silent time, reflections on what each has heard, people state what they heard from others. There should be time for each to say how they think and feel after the conversation.

There is no amount of Bible study that can change feelings, but there are some helpful books on the Bible and Homosexuality from your point of view. I've sent some links below that can direct you to other resources.

For you, I suggest you reflect on the cost and promise of stating your position or not stating your position. Most people probably already know from other things you have said. You don't have to "die in every ditch" -- but there will always be a time when one has to be true to one's self and those one cares about. Hopefully it won't cost you your job - but if you have to lose it, might as well lose it for something you believe in.

One thing you can be sure of - there is that one person waiting for a cup of cold water in a very thirsty desert. Think of her or him when speaking your truth.


The other matriarchs who wrote in also support not being Switzerland. From Jacque, some powerful testimony based on her own experience with the issue:

I believe this is an issue of faith and faithfulness and therefore we cannot remain neutral like Switzerland. It seems to me that our colleague is being offered opportunities to enter into discussion of these issues and to facilitate discussion with those in her congregation who need to talk about the issues that matter.

Every congregation has members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered and/or family and friends of GLBT persons. Our silence does not help the church deal with this vital issue. In fact, we cannot remain silent when lives are at stake because of the prejudice in our society.

I can understand that in the UMC, she is at risk if she participates in covenants or marriages; however discussion of human sexuality and faith is very much a part of ministry. Our colleague can choose to step slowly and carefully so as to invite others into conversation, it seems she has an opportunity to open up dialogue.

Only she can sense the time, the context, and the approach. The conversation does not have to happen over night -- in fact sometimes it takes years. But it does have to happen. It is a fallacy for anyone in the church to think we can avoid dealing with sexual orientation. People are encountering our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in some way daily. Let's do it in the faith and way of Jesus the Christ.

You may be assured that pastors are clearly speaking out in their congregations when they believe that gay and lesbian people who are in relationships are acting in sin. If we who believe otherwise are silent, then God's people, whether glbt or straight affirming, are left alone to believe that they cannot be themselves and be people of faith.

This takes tremendous courage. I know. I have waded through this conversation for 26 years in 3 congregations and in General church and Regional church conversations. I felt at times like I would literally throw up. The conflict makes me sick. But again and again, God's Spirit has been apparent and life-giving conversations have taken place. In one congregation, when the Elders began their study of the topic, parents of gay and lesbian people began 'coming out'. They had known each other for years in the church and had never felt that they could speak the truth that their children whom they loved were gay or lesbian. We found that we had 5 families whose adult children were g/l. They wept as they shared how much they love and respect their children. They shared the faith of their children, most of whom were no longer attending church because they
felt unwelcome.

We will always be surprised by grace and joy when we help people to speak the truth.

Facilitating dialogue requires a great deal of skill and aptitude, as RevHoney notes, but it's a good and worthy path to tread:

I think issues of conscience and leadership like this one require deeply-rooted spirituality in the leader, a highly-developed level of trust within the faith community, a good knowledge of the context – the lay of the land, and the nudging of the Holy Spirit…all of those together with lots of courage.

Maybe your last paragraph is your answer. Start by creating and developing a safe, healthy and holy context for difficult conversations to happen. See if that is possible. You may be laying the groundwork for yourself, or someone down the road to address the issue…the Holy Spirit will tell.

And some last notes from Jan, who suggests that being able to navigate the scriptural basis that supports your beliefs and to call up the reflections that you've had on the matter is a critical piece of being in dialogue, and the experience of doing so within your congregation will give you diplomatic skills that will carry you forward:

Just as everyone in your congregation has beliefs, you too have beliefs. Every one of your beliefs - as their pastor - should be supported by scripture IMHO. Know what you believe and why, and be able to give the 5 minute review of why you believe it. It will be assumed that you have prayed about these things, studied these things, and reflected on these things at least as much as the people in the pews because that's your job and calling.

Having said this, we are all on a journey and people come to different positions at different times in life. God is the only One who doesn't change (unless you count God's change of heart towards Ninevah in Jonah.)

Also, more than ever, we need to get together with people with whom we disagree. This could be the greatest gift you offer to your colleagues and congregants. If you have the time, join the organization, if joining means you are discussing/addressing these issues and it doesn't mean that you agree with a laundry list of beliefs. You might be able to make inroads in terms of congregational and denominational diplomacy that gives you cred down the road when your congregation and district are debating these hot topics.

A church is supposed to include all kinds of people including a variety of understandings of scripture recognizing that no one has cornered the market on God's Truth. As one of our RevGalBlogPal sisters says, "you've got to love your people." Love them and even if they disagree with you, it will be fine.

My thanks to the matriarchs who weighed in on this difficult issue and on how to handle it gracefully and inclusively. We invite your comments as well, and bear in mind that the issue is how to facilitate a dialogue about controversial matters when your beliefs might put you on one side or the other. (Who knows; perhaps your tips will help us Anglican-types as the Lambeth Conference approaches!)

Now, onto other matters. The dog days of summer are upon us, and guess what! We're out of matriarch questions! Some of you that have written recently have added that you have more questions when we have the time, and now is that time. I will be driving to North Carolina next Thursday and will work with the other matriarchs to make sure this space is covered, but we can't answer without questions: or do we need a round of RevGal Jeopardy? Please send your questions about ministry, no matter how thorny, to:

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday Festival: Big News!

Earthchick is celebrating a miracle -- with a raffle! Proceeds will go to fund a spiritual renewal program for clergywomen. Go on over and check it out! and praise God for that miracle!!

1-4 Grace has posted some news from her new church. Sounds wonderful.

Sally will be heading up a Spirit of Life Festival and is thinking about the God who heals.

I have reached my one thousandth post!

Mompriest shares a great series of posts from her daughter's recent visit to their new home in the great Southwest and their travels with the family.

Remember that we are still looking for folks who'd like to join in on the regular contributions for this blog! Please let me know if you'd like to come play.

Many blessings!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Constant Gardener Edition

Sunday's lectionary readings can be found here .

This Sunday's lessons remind us why the weeks of Pentecost are "the green and growing season" in the Church. In them we find a God busily at work planting and nurturing -- whether the "garden" in question is the natural world, human society or the soil of our souls.

Preaching, praying or designing worship this week? If so, what are your thoughts on the lessons? Get out your gardening tools and dig in!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Triple Digit Three-some....A Hot Summer Meet and Greet


Where I live we have had triple digit temperatures for over a month...clearly summer is here!

Joan Calvin at presby-opia says this on the header of her blog: Musings of a particular Presbyterian with a particular view. Hopefully not very short-sighted. Welcome Joan!

Kim at Sandpipers Thoughts describes her blog this way: Why Sandpiper? When I was young, my grandfather liked CB radios. He worked construction, and would talk to my grandmother during the day using the radio. He had them in his truck and his car. We ended up with one in our car (for emergencies, I imagine). Sandpiper was my "handle." It reminds me of times with my grandparents. It also is symbolic of my love of the beach. Glad to have you with us, Kim!

Grey Sheep at Inner voices Inner Voices describes her blog thusly: Pastoring my first church in a small town in Oklahoma, trying to find my way as I go. Welcome Grey Sheep!

I know in these lazy hazy days of summer we all just want to lay around and stay cool...but the really COOL thing to do is check out these new Revgals!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday prayer

Lord, on this holiday weekend, when people are out of town, we pray travel mercies for them.
We pray for rest and renewal for all. We pray for ourselves as we come to worship you.

We remember today Lord, the sacrifices that have gone into the making of this nation.
We remember that we have freedom and at the same time pray for those who do not.
We remember that we have the right to a fair trial, and pray for those where there is no justice. We remember we can pursue happiness, while we pray for those who at best can only survive.

Lord today we bring the sacrifice of our love, our selves, and our souls,
may it be a sweet smelling fragrance to you.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

11th Hour Preacher Party: Prisoner of Hope Edition

Here in the U.S., it's Independence Day weekend, which means some of us have been up late watching (and listening to) fireworks, some of us have been hosting family gatherings, some have been marching in parades. Some of us serve congregations where the expectation is a patriotic Sunday worship service this weekend, celebrating our freedom.

In the midst of this a humble king rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the humble King Jesus invites the people: "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." In the midst of this the apostle Paul writes of our experience of captivity to sin: we want to do what is right, but we end up doing .... something else. And for those of us moving through the stories of Genesis, Rebekah comes to the well seeking water and discovers.... something else.

So, where are you headed this weekend? What are you singing? Do you have or need a children's message? What else do you have to share or need?

I'm here with bagels and muffins and orange juice and fair trade coffee. I'll make pancakes if anyone is game! I'm holding down the fort for the next two Sundays while the Senior Pastor is gone. So, check in! I'm lonely! I'll auto post for those overseas, and check back in the morning.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday Five- fireworks edition

I have to admit that I am chuckling to myself a little; how strange it seems for me a Brit to be posting the Friday Five on 4th July! I realise that most of our revgals will be celebrating in some way today, but I hope that you can make a little room for Friday Five! From my short stay in Texas my memories of the celebrations are of fireworks and picnics, one year we went in to central Houston to watch the fireworks and hear the Symphony Orchestra play, we were welcomed and included, and that meant a lot!

So lets have a bit of fun:

1. Barbeque's or picnics ( or are they essentially the same thing?)

2. The park/ the lake/ the beach or staying at home simply being?

3. Fireworks- love 'em or hate 'em?

4. Parades- have you ever taken part- share a memory...

5. Time for a musical interlude- if you could sum up holidays in a piece of music what would it be?

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.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — Stuck in the Middle

An interesting question this week: we managed to get our matriarchs on two sides of an issue. To wit, a new pastor facing an awkward situation:

I recieved a phone call recently from a member of another congregation. I believe I have met her once or twice before, at some volunteer event, or maybe she was at a funeral I participated in. In any case, she wants to talk with me about a conflict with her pastor - a colleague of mine. I don't know yet what the issue is, but evidently there has been conflict brewing for perhaps even a year. She mentioned that they had discussed a third party mediator, but that it was left in the pastor's hands and she hadn't heard anything back about it. This woman said that she was very angry and hurt and felt like she couldn't worship there anymore. But she was honest that she really wanted a sounding board right now and someone to talk to that she thought she might connect with, someone who might be able to hear her. I have agreed to meet with her and talk, but I also was honest that I hope there can be reconciliation between her and her minister.

What are the appropriate boundaries for such a discussion? Is my role in this situation to be a confidant and to keep anything and everything, including the fact that we are meeting confidential? Do I have any obligations to my colleague, to inform them that I am meeting with this person? Or should I encourage the woman to make this known herself? I'm the new girl in town, and I don't want to step on toes or be accused of "sheep stealing" when that isn't my intention at all. There has been enough divisiveness in my own congregation in the past 5 years - enough splits for a gymnastics team - and I want to work towards healing, rather than pain.

Any advice?

It may be that laypeople and clergy would have a different reaction to this, but I think I bristled at the notion that I was someone who could be stolen. (I wander a lot, and prefer shared custody among the many shepherds I know.) As one of Ann's lay contacts noted, "You can't 'steal' anyone's congregants-- that is akin to saying someone 'stole' your boyfriend. The person in question is the one who will make the decision whether to stay or go." I'm apt to add that sometimes personalities just plain clash. Will the other pastor take that personally? I think therein lies the rub.

But I'm not a matriarch. The matriarchs, however, fell squarely on... both sides of the issue. Depending on which you talk to, you definitely should or definitely should not inform the other pastor that you're having a conversation with the congregation member. Take a look at the comments from each side, and see how that informs you:

First, let's look at the "keep it confidential" arguments; and on this side come the disclaimer to not take sides and not try to advise. Earthchick writes:
In your position, I would keep the meeting (and everything discussed) confidential. I think it would be out of bounds to tell the other pastor that you are meeting with this person. She can tell the pastor herself if she wants, but personally I wouldn't encourage that (or discourage it) - I would just leave her the freedom to do what she wants. I think you are right that your role is to be a confidante. She obviously needs someone to talk to, and someone pastoral to listen and affirm her anger and hurt. You can do this without betraying your colleague. You can affirm the validity of her feelings without jumping in and saying your colleague has done anything wrong. I think it's important to make sure not to take sides in the conversation - neither defend your colleague nor support her accusations. It's important to advocate for health and healing, which you can do without advocating for any particular solution.

It's an awkward position to be in, but it sounds like this woman has sought you out because you strike her as someone who will listen and care. I think you'll do both - and that you'll do great at it!

Ann writes:
Resist all temptation to "fix" this for her. Listen listen listen, and do not give advice.

Reflect on a moment where she felt the conflict, have her tell an incident, what was she thinking and feeling? When are other times when she has the same feelings --- (throughout life - not with this pastor - other situations - not just church).

Ask her what sort of images come to mind; you will probably hear some images as she tells the incident (e.g. - cornered, trapped, left hanging, etc). Explore the world of that image. What is it like, how did it get that way, what might bring it into a better place (stay away for the original incident and explore the world of the image only), what Bible stories come to her mind that are like the image? Who does she identify with in the story? what is going on for that character? How is her life like that character's?

Often insights and new ways of approaching the conflict occur in discussions like this. If nothing else it helps to defuse the intensity so the person can think more clearly about the choices she has.

In other words, get the person talking about the problem in a context other than that of the colleague. Allow the person to explore their own thoughts and feelings, and simply listen. "I feel like I'm constantly running into a brick wall." "So tell me about this brick wall, what's it like? Can you think of another time you ran into this wall? Is there a place in scripture where someone is always running into obstacles?" Often by running with these images, a person can figure out their own solution without any advice at all.

Now, on the other hand, Singing Owl writes:
This is a tricky one and “fraught with peril.” I think it would be wise to talk with the woman beforehand about your desire to be helpful but that you also need to be bound by ministerial ethics and let her know you will be telling her pastor that she has asked to meet with you. The pastor obviously already knows she has a very unhappy parishioner. The woman should be okay with this if she really wants help since she has already expressed her unhappiness to the pastor.

It would be nice to encourage the woman to make this known herself, but then God only knows how she will put it to her pastor. It could be very hurtful or spiteful, or not happen at all in which case you have put a wedge between the pastor and you. If you are the one who talks to her pastor, you have some control over how it is expressed. If it were me, I would appreciate that a fellow pastor took time to tell me and be honest instead of just rejoicing that they have a chance to add a sheep to their flock! OF course, her pastor might say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I’m free at last…PLEASE take her.”

You could certainly express to both parties that you hope reconciliation can happen.

And Rev Honey writes:
It’s a sticky wicket into which you are being asked to step. It is triangulation pure and simple, and it happens quite often with pastors who are new to a community. You need to tread carefully.

Can you meet her and speak with her? Yes, but I think it would be appropriate to begin by saying that while you acknowledge her hurt and anger and you are willing to be a sounding board for her, that you do so as one Christian would for another, with the hope and prayer that steps toward reconciliation may be borne as fruit from this conversation.

It would be most appropriate for you to have a conversation with her pastor, not divulging the contents of this conversation, but acknowledging that the two of you spoke. I do not think it is fair to your colleague to keep your meeting with his parishioner a secret from him. If she should decide that your congregation is a more comfortable place to worship for the time being, let her know that you expect that she will inform her pastor of that.

Hmmm. Keep the conversation confidential but not the fact that it happened. Or, keep the person confidential but not the entire conversation. Jan suggests some other "middle ground" paths:

You are a wise pastor to be cautious here. I would suggest that she let her pastor know that you are meeting together - or ask permission to let that pastor know yourself. Or if you feel too close to the situation, you need to let her know that you feel uncomfortable being her sounding board. Good boundaries are good for good relationships with colleagues.

Some other suggestions:
-Recommend a mediator
-If there is sexual misconduct or abuse of some kind going on, you will be obligated to report it
-Watch out for power struggles; is this person challenging the other pastor's authority?
-Also beware the one-person-speaking-for-many situation, in which case a communications coach might be just the thing

And a couple of last notes from Ann:
Be very clear about the nature of the meeting and expectations. Regardless of the degree to which you feel obliged to keep things confidential or not, spell that out to her, and explain that you will listen but not fix it. You can explore this with her but ultimately it will be her choice how she deals with the next steps.

Please feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wednesday Festival with Fireworks and sparklers

I loved the fireworks as a kid and still do. I love playing with sparklers even to today. How about you. Today's Festival may have a few fireworks in it and a few sparklers.

Fireworks for the cute baby video at his blog Nachfolge. (Whoops I mean sparklers, fireworks are not safe for children.)

At Eternal Echoes she asks the question which might cause some fireworks amongst us. Go answer her question. And then she makes a statement for us as well that many of us could agree to. Leave some sparklers if you do.

Following Frodo blogged about the Sunday Sermon which really sparkles.

Inner Dorothy is remembering the future. (Yes, you read that right, so go light up her world with your sparkles.)

Are you into reading books this summer? Did your kid come home with a reading list? Then go check out An unfinished symphony's reading list for the Harpist this summer. Let her know what you think, you might find some that books that set off some fireworks for you.

KnittingPreacher has a new home and a new title! She is now blogging at Knit One, Purl One, Preach One . (I like the title.) Also, revabi changed the title of her blog also with her move; Its now Rev Abi's Long and Winding Road.

Perhaps you want to nominate yourself or someonelse for the Wednesday Festival, if so don't forget to send it in with a brief statement about the nomination. Have a great week! Have a great Fourth of July! Enjoy the Fireworks and sparklers!

Sparkler picture

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Humility Edition

This coming Sunday's lectionary readings are here .

It's good to be king, the saying goes. For the king's subjects, not so much, at least historically. But in today's Old Testament lesson we meet a different kind of king -- a king whose strength lies in humility. In the Gospel lesson Jesus offers a similar model of a servant leader -- one whose yoke is easy and burden light upon his subjects. In the epistle lesson, Paul approaches the issues of power and humility from a different angle -- namely, our constant struggle to overcome the power of sin.

How will you, as preacher/prayer/liturgical planner, use the week's lessons? Or are you going in a different direction? Discuss!