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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Funding the Mission Edition

The pastor, speaking on stewardship, says:
"I have some good news, and some bad news.
The good news is that we have all the money we need to do the work God is calling us to do!
The bad news is that much of that money is in your pockets..."

Our question this week asks about funding congregational mission, especially in challenging times:

Dear ATM,

I'm not clergy but on the governing council of my church. My question has to do with fund-raising...EVERYONE's favorite topic...! Ugh. My church, perhaps like many others, has completed a stewardship campaign and found that our pledges are very, very far down this year. So much so that we will not be able to operate next year with the current amount pledged...we have approximately half of what we need. It's clearly a result of the fear and malaise that has hold of many in these troubled times.

One member of our council gave a very frank speech to the people at each service on Sunday. We felt it was important that people knew where we stood, and we hope this may "arouse the careless" if they are out there. In the meantime, our council is looking for a fund-raiser that can become an annual event...hopefully both bringing our neighbors into this community of faith (outreach) and eventually helping raise funds for the church. Does anyone have suggstions for what has worked well for their churches (or has not!?) Thanks for your thoughts, and please keep us in your prayers.

Praying ... and nervous ... and praying.

Two of our matriarchs responded with similar perspectives...

From Mompriest, who blogs at seeking authentic voice

The most important thing to remember is that we, each person and each community of faith, needs to remain invested in what God is calling us to do and be. I know this sounds trite in the face of this severe economic reality. But it is true.

When our anxieties over money become the dominant reality we project that into every thing. And no person coming to church looking for solace or to make meaning out of their struggles will want to be in a church that gives the impression that people are wanted first and foremost for their money.

This is true even for fundraisers. Maybe more so since they clearly say we need more money. My point is that while we need to understand the truth about our financial picture we also need to stay focused on something bigger than that in order to direct our anxiety in a positive way.

That said fundraisers can be a lot of fun, grow community, live into the mission of the congregation, and raise money. It may be best if your community considers a couple of events instead of one big event. One could be aimed at merely raising awareness that the congregation exists and is doing good work in the community - such as preparing and serving a holiday meal for free.

One church I know of does this every Thanksgiving - reservations are required, but there is no charge to have a meal in the parish hall OR to have the meal delivered to your home. They serve 200 Thanksgiving meals a year and make the front page of the local paper. All the food is donated by the parish and prepared, served, and delivered by them too. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding. This of course won't raise any money for the parish, but it will raise awareness and eventually bring in new folks.

One of my favorite options is a Fair Trade Market with a wine tasting (or something like that to draw in outside folks). The Market could feature Fair Trade merchandise to be purchased for gifts (Valentines Day, Mothers Day?) and a wine tasting of some seasonal wine by a local winery...the proceeds meet several objectives: support the artists of the Fair Trade, raise awareness of the global economic picture, help the parish, and offer some fun social time too.

Another option is a silent auction. These are great fun but take time to organize. You need to have parishioners gather donations from around the community: spa days, discounts on car repairs/tires, meals, gourmet meals prepared in your home by a parishioner, a bike, etc. and also have folks donate items to make themes gift baskets: coffee, or Mother's/Father's day, golf, etc. Sell tickets that include a meal (chili or some easy to make in large quantities) and a beverage plus admission into the auction. Have sheets of paper at each item with a suggested opening bid, let people write their names and their bid. Folks will monitor the bids themselves, although it needs to be staffed by parishioners to make sure it stays fair. Close the bidding at a certain time and them have a means to announce the winners and a place for them to pay for and collect their purchase.

My small church did this one year and raised over $8000.00. Of course it was all going to Katrina relief not the parish, so that was an incentive. It will help if your parish designates the money raised as well - for our youth, or for outreach, or for the new furnace, or simply, for "our mission in God's world - which is to care for others"....or some such thing.. It is usually difficult to raise money for the general operating expenses.

Many prayers for you and your community as you live through these tough times.

And from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

It’s good to be prayerful about such things. Sorry that you’re nervous! I’m not in a good position to respond this question, as the church I serve does not engage in fundraisers to support the annual budget. Our youth host fundraisers to help underwrite their summer mission trips, but that’s the only “fund-raising” that takes place, and it doesn’t benefit the annual operating budget of the church. The long-standing feeling here, and at other churches I’ve served, is that fundraising can dilute the pledges and tithes toward the annual budget of the church. Not all congregations feel similarly, so hopefully you’ll receive some substantive responses from others.

How about it, you others? We welcome substantive and simple responses from you! Please use the Comment function to add your two cents, or more, if you have it...

We can use some more questions in the queue as well! Please send them to

And as we look to a new year, may you live each moment of it in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Last Wednesday Festival of the Year!

Happy New Year's Eve Eve!

Quotidian Grace has written to let us know that the new issue (Jan/Feb) of Presbyterians Today is themed “Mothers in Ministry.”  Her column, “Best of the Blogs,” features four minister mothers who blog, tweet, and Facebook:  Martha Hoverson (Songbird) of Reflectionary, Carol Howard Merritt of Tribal Church, Melissa DeRosia of Sacred Screaming, and Jan Edmiston of A Church for Starving Artists.


So for today:  why not share a blog or two that you enjoy, that shows how folks are combining the life of ministry (ordained or lay) with the life of life…whether that includes children, elderly parents, pets, farm work, office work, social service, prison ministry, seminary, and the various and sundry ways we move through every blessed day? 
Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation in the comment box: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>  

(P.S. Thanks to Mary Beth, who really wrote this, but was oppressed by a computer at her mother's house and could not post it, as well as to MaineCelt, whose chicken picture I borrowed for creative purposes.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - A Light Shines in the Darkness Edition

One great thing about the lectionary this time of year is that it provides so many possible different directions in which to go - all of them rich with possibility.

This week is no exception.

Maybe you have chosen Christmas 2 texts - in which case you can work with John's wonderful poetry. I remember that my least mystical, most intellectual seminary prof challenged us one time, saying something like, " 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God.' How do you explain those in a sermon? You can't. You could say those words every day for your whole life and still not understand them." What do you think? Is John 1 explainable and understandable? Or understanding not really the point with this text?

On the other hand, if you are a church like mine that doesn't celebrate Epiphany on its own day, maybe this Sunday you will choose the Epiphany texts instead. In which case, the story of the Wise Ones will lead you once again to the manger in Bethlehem.

Or, maybe you are doing something totally different. In either case, consider this question in the New Year. Do you make preaching resolutions? If so, what are yours in 2010?

You can find links for the texts for this week here. Art found here and here. See you in the comments!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday Meet and Greet, Sadly Belated!

Our first and last Meet and Greet of December brings us two new ring members, and my apologies to both that the holiday season has meant a long waiting period for this day.

First, meet Elizabeth Broschart, who blogs at Practicing Sacred Rhythms and is a:

Revitalization Pastor in the PC(USA), graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, D. Min. student at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary studying Sabbath, Mission and Congregational Revitalization, married to SoulHler and a clergy couple, Mother and Zoo Keeper (two dogs, two cats and a turtle and gramma to a chinchilla. I am a second career pastor following work as a reporter/editor and a symphony executive director.

Next, let's greet the blogger who established The Prozac Queen's Court

Opinionated. Silly. Somewhat cute, depending on who you ask. Cat person. Friendly. Christian, moderate to liberal. Very caring about other people (at least, I try to be). I like to write about things that interest me, and am usually pretty good-humored. I tend to ramble on a bit, just so you know! :)
I'll tell you right now that I can be hypocritical. I don't always speak or act like a Christian, or even a very nice person. This isn't something I'm proud of, but at least I admit it. That's a start, I figure. 

Welcome to both our new ring members!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Prayer

Christmas I

Holy One
Growing in wisdom
Teach us your ways
That we may love as you

Eternal One
Bless leaders of every
city, nation, world
with your wisdom and grace

Gracious One
Heal those who suffer
Mend the broken
Fill the empty, tend the ill

Lover of Souls
forgive our weaknesses
Bring forth your strength
in us, through you, with us

Holy Teacher
help us to know your ways
may all we say -
all we do - be for you

Crossposted on the RevGalPrayerPals blog

Saturday, December 26, 2009

11th Hour Preacher Party: Wow, that was fast! Edition

Wow. That was fast. It seems like just yesterday he was a babe in the manger!


Lectionary preachers have Luke's story of sassy-pants Jesus schooling both the elders and his parents to unpack tomorrow. Are you going there? Considering something else? Scheduling a carol sing? Taking the day off?

Chime in via the comments and let us know what's up with you. I'll keep the little breads/cakes coming, because I really, really want to share them with you. Really!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day

Halfway through the Christmas pageant, four angels mounted the chancel steps, the pulpit removed to make way for the manger. Three stepped to the microphone to tell the story of their assignment to bring good news not to a palace or a city but to the plainest folk around, a group of shepherds on a hillside.
Angel_275_275 The littlest angel wandered to the manger and looked inside.
She looked out at the congregation, saw someone she knew and waved.
When the other angels finished their speech, they left by the stairs, but Little Angel saw a clearer path and jumped.
She flew!
The congregation chuckled warmly, and then she realized perhaps she ought not have done it, and clapped a hand over her mouth. Suddenly all their hands were clapping, expressing in the only way they could the Good News that Love comes into the world at Christmas, more powerful than our attempts to be good or our successes at being bad or our belief in our dignity or our conviction of our uselessness. Love defies gravity of all kinds.
Merry Christmas!
(We won't have a Friday Five today, but please feel free to share greetings or stories of Christmas Day in the comments.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Christmas Eve 2009

Good morning!

For many of us, this will be a very long day, one of the busiest of the year. For that reason, we are taking a break from the Q and A format in favor of stories - your favorite Christmas Eve stories.

One of my favorite stories is one that actually repeats itself every year...
In the second year of my term here as associate, the senior pastor had taken another call earlier in the fall. I was promised an interim senior pastor to help lead this 500+ household parish, but that person would not be available to begin until January. So...looming before me was a grueling Christmas Eve schedule of services at 5, 7, 9, and11. With ginger ale, a ham sandwich and some Christmas cookies in my bag, I set out to tackle the evening's responsibilities.

It was a very good evening of worship, and although I was exhausted, I was also wound up. I needed to talk through the night with my love, but he can barely manage to stay awake until the evening news. So with the clock about to strike 1 AM, I fully expected to come home to a quiet house with everyone tucked in their beds and fast asleep. As I pulled into the garage, I could see that there were still a few lights on, to provide my tired feet a safe passage. When I opened the door, I was amazed to find music playing, a glass of wine waiting, and my husband sitting there, mostly awake, ready to debrief me.

I was so grateful! But then I noticed that the kitchen table and chairs had been removed to the edge of the den. When I asked my husband about it, he smiled and said, "Honey, the only way that I could think to keep awake for you was to strip and wax the kitchen floor. So, I did..."

And now, no matter what service he attends, he always comes home to strip and wax the floor, and make up an egg casserole for our Christmas Day breakfast.

I am sure you have a story of grace, or humor, or thoughtfulness to share. Use the comment function to include it here, or to link us back to your place.

And have a very blessed Christmas everyone+


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wednesday Festival: Rest Your Head

Here we are in the home stretch!

Preacher and pastor Gals and Pals are rushing to prepare the services and pageants and Lessons and Carols and Birthday Parties for Jesus...that other mamas and daddies are already stretched to the breaking point just to get to, with everything else that goes on in this season.

And then there's that Blizzard, or that COLD RAIN if you live here. What will it mean for our members' ability to attend?

What we know is that, no matter what, the Christ Child will still come to us, holding wide his arms of perfect love and acceptance of all. He'll be lying in a manger (which is a good place for a baby) and I invite you, too, to "rest your heads" there for just a moment ... read a little bit from your friends...and, if you have time, remember a Christmas moment of peace.

Sally shares with us a poem and a monologue.

Songbird offers a Christmas Story.

At my place, I am remembering One Good Christmas. If you have a moment today to sit down and reflect, to pull out a liturgical offering or one special memory, please do, and share with us in the comments. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation in the comment box: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Sit ye a spell, loves, and rest.

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Whole Lotta Churchin Goin On Edition

So. How's it going?

Are you avoiding the cold the kids brought home from the end of school party? Getting a little sleep? Eating at least an occasional meal that consists of something more than lukewarm coffee and Mrs. Whatzit's Christmas cookies?

It's Christmas week, Ground Zero for preachers. In the midst of all the self-care you are undoubtedly seeing to, there is worship to plan for - so very much worship. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Oh, yeah, and there's a Sunday coming up, too.

What do you have planned for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Several services of worship, or just one? And have you thought ahead to Sunday yet?

Looking ahead even to Sunday can be sort of stunning. Everyone tells you they grow up so fast, but the short distance between Tiny Baby Jesus on Thursday and Smartypants Teenager Jesus on Sunday is still pretty breathtaking. Maybe you'll look to Samuel (turns out little Samuel is growing up, too.) Does a word of praise from Psalms or encouragement from Colossians seem like a better direction to go?

Let us know in the comments what you have planned for this week. Which of Christmas Week's several services are you feeling the most good energy around? Let us know your best ideas and favorite moments. Also, which services still need some tweaking? We'll all pitch in to help out, if you let us know in the comments.

You can find links to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and December 27 texts here.

Image from here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

For those last-minute shoppers... are our forthcoming RevGalBookPals offerings, including two titles by members of our ring!

Monday, January 25 -- Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, by ring-member Julie Clawson, who blogs at onehandclapping.

Monday, February 22 -- Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television, by ring-member Nadia Bolz-Weber, who blogs at Sarcastic Lutheran.

Monday, March 22 -- The Gargoyle, a novel by Andrew Davidson.

Monday, April 26 -- Hospitality - the Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome, by Nanette Sawyer, our BE Three presenter!

Anytime you use links from our blog to buy a book at Amazon, or use the search box in our sidebar, a small portion of your purchase benefits RevGalBlogPals. As of yesterday, your purchases in 2009 have raised over $300 for our webring's non-profit corporation, RevGalBlogPals, Inc. That money helps pay for presenters at our annual continuing education events. Thank you for your support!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Prayer: Advent 4C

God of Love, Come forth for us
May our Lives magnify you

Surprise Us, shower favor
On all your people, me, you

Have mercy on the needy
Tonight, each day, always

Mighty One, heal the broken
heal us to be your hands, heart

Bless our lives that we can be
a sign of your heart, your hope

God of Love, startle us
with new life, heart rejoicing

Savior God, Come forth for us
May our lives magnify you.


Crossposted on the RevGal Prayer Pal blog.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

11th Hour Preacher Party - Homestretch Edition

Here we go! This is the homestretch, preacher friends. Well, it's a long homestretch with multiple services for many of us in the coming days, but this is it, the 4th Saturday sermon party for the season of Advent this year. What are you working on?

Somehow the 4th Sunday in Advent has taken a bit of a backseat in my thinking as I've been planning for The Longest Night worship on Monday and our Christmas Eve services on Thursday. How about some of you? I know I'm not the only one being pulled in all sorts of liturgical directions. The Sunday after Christmas is also hovering around in my thoughts, but still too far away to get much attention either.

As for tomorrow's Scriptures we have, as alluded to above, the Magnificat, Elizabeth and Mary, Micah's prophecy about the "one of peace," and well, Hebrews. I have to say I wouldn't pick that one up with all these other wonderful pieces to work with, but I'd LOVE to hear if someone else does. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's just that the rest is so juicy!

Join the party today. I suspect it will be a rousing one! Hopefully it will also be an inspiring one and many will find sleep and dreams of sugar plums before the morning comes. Yea - - I can at least pretend that will be me!

See you in the comments!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Five: Christmas Traditions

Christmas traditions vary from family to family and from regions afar. I've been pleased that my oldest son's wife AA loves to be with our family for Christmas, though I don't think we do anything out of the ordinary. It helps that DC has one brother and two sisters to liven up our home.

Since I finally decorated the Christmas tree and have started baking Christmas cookies, I am thinking of Christmas only being one week away.

So for this Friday Five, tell us five things about the traditions in your family. Think of
  • traditions you always do
  • traditions you always cook or eat
  • traditions you would like to start
  • traditions you would like to discard
  • anything about your family Christmases
Please leave your comment linking to your blog with the formula I never can write down, which you may find by looking at this other Friday Five.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - An Interesting Yarn!

I think many of us will enjoy the conversation around today's question, and hopefully Non-Blogging Revmom will be grateful too...

I serve (part-time) a small suburban/rural congregation that has about 40 members. Unlike a lot of small churches, we have a wide variety of ages, from 8 to 80. We average 15-20 in worship with some Sundays falling to 8-10. We meet in a historic one-room church that seats about 100.
When you stand in the pulpit of a sanctuary that is only 9 pews deep, it's pretty hard to miss much that goes on in the pew. What's been going on for several months now is crocheting! It started when one mother brought yarn and hooks to occupy her two children during the sermon. Her son has rejected the idea, but some Sundays, she and her daughter sit down front and crochet. The last few weeks, I've noticed another woman working on a baby blanket and a young woman sitting on the back row also crocheting!
I'm trying hard not to take it personally, but I can't decide whether to be offended, to say something, or to let it go. So far, I haven't said or done anything. I myself take knitting or counted cross stitch to denominational meetings which are primarily reports and hours of sitting and listening because I listen better when my hands are busy. I would never think of stitching in worship, though. (Maybe my "Calvinist" upbringing is irritated since we were discouraged from sewing or doing homework on Sunday.) I would rather they stitch for pleasure and listen well than spend the service on their iPhones, but my sermons are only 12-15 minutes long and the rest of the service is very participatory. Do I need to work harder at engaging them during the sermon or should I just ignore them?
I'm curious if anyone else is seeing this phenomenon, whether I should be offended for me or for God, or whether I am making something out of nothing,
Thanks for your help.
A non-blogging RevMom

Earthchick, who blogs at was the first to respond:

I once saw a little girl knitting in worship, and I thought it was cute. I'm not sure I would feel the same way, though, if it were an adult (or several adults!). Even though I'm a knitter myself and know that I do listen better when my hands are busy, as a preacher my first inclination would be to feel that similar activity going on during worship is a bit rude.

I would be hesitant, though, to say anything to the women doing it, unless they ask what you think. Confronting them is likely to make them feel defensive and embarrassed, which is not really the spirit you want them to have in approaching worship. You, as a crafter, know that the truth is that they are probably listening just as well as (or maybe better than) anyone else. Unless what they are doing is actually disrupting anyone else's worship experience, there doesn't seem much benefit to telling them to stop doing something they seem to be doing innocently and joyfully.

Jacque adds:

We have a couple of women who knit during worship. It began shortly after a very energetic Prayer Shawl Ministry began a little over a year ago. There are Sundays (recently several in row) in which we have the blessing of a prayer shawl before it is given to a particular person who is ill, or grieving, etc. A part of the blessing of the shawl is that it is passed through the congregation so that everyone has an opportunity to touch or hold it.

During this season, our folks are also knitting and crocheting for the Tree of Warmth (mittens, hats, scarves, socks).

What I have noticed is that when the women knit during worship, other members will ask them what they are working on and they will be showing them the prayer shawl, or scarve, or hat that is in process. People in the congregation seem to have a sense that this very much a part of our ministry and even an act of worship as each stitch is filled with prayer.

It has never occurred to me to question it or to be offended by it. It seems so natural here.

From Mompriest, who blogs at

This reminds me of the woman in a congregation I served some time back who, while sitting in the front row, use to pull out her nail file and file her nails during the sermon. Except the nail filing was gross....and crochet is not. I might not be offended by the crocheting but I would be curious about what is going on in her mind and the minds of others. If they see this as something like meditation, like creating a prayer shawl, and it helps to focus their mind on the sermon, then I'd be OK with it.(It would still be odd, but I'd be OK).
If, on the other hand, they find the sermons boring and this is just a way to pass the time, I'd have to do some thinking about this, aside from how to make my sermons more interesting (I'd think about that too....but then don't we always thing about that?).... There are a number of ways to help people engage more deeply with a sermon. Some of these include a lectionary-based Bible study, that takes place during the week before the sermon. Another idea is a sermon discussion group that follows the service. For the discussion group I provide preprinted sheets of paper with questions like: Summarizing the sermon in one or two sentences, what did you hear? What was the point of the sermon? Was the point clear? Was there an illustration used to help make that point? Did that illustration work for you? Did the sermon connect to the scripture reading, and how? Then I invite folks to meet with me after the service for coffee and a discussion. THIS IS NOT a sermon critique....It is a discussion and helps people feel more engaged in what is being said.
I think the only way to get at the heart of this, is it about prayer and focusing, or is it about being bored, is to simply ask in the most non-defensive way possible. And if you can't ask it non-defensively then I'd have someone from the leadership ask them And then from there create a response - or not.

And finally, Jennifer who blogs at

Dear Non-blogging Rev Mom:

I’m a stitcher and a knitter and like, you, take something to denominational meetings to keep my hands busy (unless I have a leadership role). I think I listen well, and perhaps better, when I have something that helps me sit still. I have one woman who knits in worship, but I’m not offended by it at all, thinking that some folks do listen as well or better with handiwork. But you’re right; worship is different than a meeting. I hope your crocheting worshipers are putting down their work to pray and sing hymns! I’d be equally concerned about whether or not others (you included, as the worship leader) are distracted by this. Is there a way to discover this without diminishing your numbers in worship?

We have several thoughtful responses here, but you may have more to say about this interesting situation. Please use the comment function to add your thoughts to the conversation.

Next Thursday will be Christmas Eve. I'll be inviting you to share your favorite Christmas Eve worship stories.

May you live this day in God's Amazing Grace+


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Festival of Writers!

This is the Week of the Writer. Published writers, creative writers, silly writers...we've got them all. We ARE them all.

The amazing Questing Parson has published Lines from the Times, a book of his newspaper columns. You may buy it on Amazon, but I entreat you, instead, to purchase it directly from him, kicking in a bit extra to support the transitional housing program of the church he serves.

Visit his blog to see the instructions for doing this.


Christine at Abbey of the Arts invites everyone to stop by this week’s Poetry Party - the theme of Sharing Our Deepest Joy is a reflection on the third week of Advent. Go find out how poetic your soul is!


Finally, at Quotidian Grace's, the Fourth Annual Sappy Christmas Song Contest has just concluded. Take a look (singing quietly under your breath so as not to make your colleagues doubt your sanity) and vote for your favorite verse!

What are you writing about at your place? Let us know in the comments. If you want to add a direct link to your blog, this is the way: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - How Can I Keep From Singing?

Someone told me once that under certain repressive 20th century governments, it was illegal to read the Magnificat aloud during worship, because of its power as a piece of liberation theology.

I don't know if this is true or not and I haven't ever heard it elsewhere, but I do know that the lectionary committee certainly agrees with my friend about the power of Mary's words to her cousin Elizabeth. This week, we could almost call it The Song So Nice They Chose It Twice, as it appears as the suggested reading as both the Psalm and the Gospel. You might want to check back to the advent retreat (remember November?), for more reflections in word and picture.

The brave preacher might venture into Hebrews, and talk about the sacrifice made by Mary as well as Jesus.

Or, maybe you are continuing your Advent exploration of the prophets, and the Little Town of Bethlehem as described by Micah will be your focus.

We're in the home stretch, preachers. Christmas is visible on the horizon. How will you celebrate this, the last Sunday in Advent? Let us know in the comments.

You can find links to this week's readings here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2nd Monday Discussion: Avoiding the Grinch

We're at that point, most of us, whether we are clergy or involved lay volunteers, or church employees or simply human beings: we're wondering how we will get Christmas to come, just right, in our time and place. And sometimes that effort alone makes us feel a bit like the Grinch.

I will confess to finding this stressful. And it's no coincidence that I've frequently been sick at this time of year.

For our discussion today, I invite you to share something you're doing to keep the stress levels down this December. And remember, even the Grinch couldn't stop Christmas from coming. Even without the decorations and presents, it came just the same.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come

This is the most different version of this traditional Advent piece that I've ever heard. My community is using O come, O come Emmanuel as part of the Entrance and Penitential Rites - different verses each week, overlapping one week to the next.

What set the mood for this Sunday of Advent joy in your community? Tell us in the comments - maybe we'll get good ideas for next year!

Sunday Prayer

Sing aloud! Rejoice, O daughter.
Sing aloud, beloved, Rejoice!

For the leaders of the nations,
For those making decisions that
affect the lives of others,
We pray for God's wisdom to prevail.

Sing aloud! Rejoice, O daughter.
Sing aloud, beloved, Rejoice!

For the ministers of Christ's church
For the people who gather and pray
who care for the needs of others,
We pray for God's mercy to come forth.

Sing aloud! Rejoice, O daughter.
Sing aloud, beloved, Rejoice!

For the broken and those suffering,
For the chaff in our own lives -
may it burn so that new life comes
We pray for God's grace and love

Sing aloud! Rejoice, O daughter.
Sing aloud, beloved, Rejoice!

For those who are sick
we offer our prayers
may they find healing and wholeness
in mind, body, and spirit.

For the dying
we offer our prayers
may they be comforted this night
embraced in the arms of Christ.

Sing aloud! Rejoice, O daughter.
Sing aloud, beloved, Rejoice!
Amen. Amen.

Crossposted at RevGal Prayer Pals

Saturday, December 12, 2009

11th Hour Preacher Party: Oh No, Not the Apocalypse, edition

photo from the personal collection of mompriest, taken by her daughter

Here we are again wrestling with the end times as portrayed by that wild man John the Baptist. Insults, vipers, a winnowing fork, thrashing and gnashing, chaff and unquenchable fire, and a question that echoes through out - "What then shall we do?" It's enough to make any preacher hide her head and pretend it's Monday instead of Saturday....

But then, as always, there's hope, the fruits of repentance! Don't take more than you need, share with others. Rejoice, for the God is near. Somehow, all will be well.

Yes, somehow all will be well. And we will be in it together this day, helping one another. Ideas? Suggestions? Frustrations? Drafts you'd like feedback on? Not preaching but keeping us company today? All are invited! So, pull up a chair, I have coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, toast, or yourself and join the party.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Five: Soon and Very Soon

It's the last week of the semester here so I offer another very simple Friday Five in honor of the past, present, and eschatological dimensions of this powerful season of the church year....

Please share five ways that God has come to you (your family or friends, your church or workplace, our world) in the past year, that God is coming to you right now, and/or that you are longing and looking for God to come.

As always, let us know in comments if you play and visit each other if you can. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation in the comment box: <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.

Marana tha! Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - It's That Time of Year Edition

We have two related questions this week, both from the same person.

So it's that special time of year when congregations have to finalize their budgets for next year and that means finalizing the pastor's pay package for next year. It is one of those awkward moments where the pastor is all of a sudden keenly aware that they are an independent contractor working wishing for a nice supportive union rep to intervene on their behalf but the best I can hope for in my denomination is a chart offering synod guidelines for pay based on years in ministry and housing allowance based on what county I live in.

I don't know how other denominations work but I am frustrated with our processes. For starters I believe the word "guidelines" is unhelpful because it means something different to the congregation than what is intended by synod office. It reminds me of conversations between scientists and creationist about the "theory" of evolution. To the scientists the word "theory" implies a high level of certainty - like the theory of gravity. But to creationists "theory" means hunch, idea, current guess - like the best theory we have to explain the absence of cookies is that Santa came and ate them. To the synod offices and pastors it means minimum salaries, but to many in my congregation it means suggestions or lofty goals which are not really meant to be obtained and certainly not required.

I was wondering if anyone had any advice about how to negotiate a raise, nothing fancy, just keeping up with guidelines. I am not in ministry for the money but I do have a family to support and student loans to repay.


Follow up question

I am due my annual raise for years of experience and cost of living. Our synod for some reason is 2 years behind in the way the follow the SS cost of living increases so that means 2010's is based on 2008 when the economy was still good. The church council wants to give me guidelines but is afraid of the congregation's response. There are a few people who are very vocal about how the church cannot afford to increase my salary at all but some of these same people are also equally passionate about their desire to put in new stain glass windows! For them it has nothing to do with how they experience me as their pastor, its just numbers and a way to contain the budget. They are not trying to freeze my salary to send me the message to leave, the congregation is very clear they want me to stay for a long time. I firmly believe none of these people have considered how this might effect me or how it feels to hear them talking about new stained glass windows in the same breath that they object to paying me.

Pastor "Let the Windows Preach then!"

Jennifer, who blogs at offers our only response this week:

In a perfect world, a clergyperson doesn’t have to be her own advocate related to salary and other personnel matters. That’s not helpful advice here in December, but it does provide a chance to lobby for clergy having a pastoral relations committee/personnel committee that becomes self-educated and educates others (including the congregation). Paying one’s pastor fairly is really not a subjective thing, yet lots of congregations handle it very subjectively. Begin at the beginning of a new church year and ask your council or consistory or session or somebody (!) to appoint a committee to study such personnel policies and salary guidelines/ranges and work with them to formulate a plan. With time and careful planning, you can work on all kinds of creative ways to see that fair and just compensation are carefully considered and planned for. It’s an emotionally charged topic, and it’s often helpful to talk about it all outside of budget planning…. In the meantime, here in December, could you ask your synod office to send a clarifying memo regarding these “guidelines”. Perhaps some strong wording would help congregations to feel guided to minimums rather than let off the hook.

Hope this helps!

I hope you can offer some help...and accept my apologies for a late post today. I have been in internet neverland today...

May you live in God's amazing grace+


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wednesday Festival: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and Other Considerations

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge

Don't know much about the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols? Well, here you go!

It's held all over the world, and (according to Wiki), the format is based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for Christmas Eve (24 December) 1880 in Truro, Cornwall. It has since been adapted and used by other churches all over the world. In the UK, the service has become the standard format for schools' Christmas carol services.

The best-known version is broadcast annually from King's College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. It features carols by the famous Choir of King's College, Cambridge, and is broadcast on BBC Worldwide.

My dear British friend wrote to me about this service that it is "a little more than special to me." This was the service her grandparents hauled her to every year. She remembers "English winter - cold, bitterly cold, many times snow, no automobile, we walked to church. Church had candles, no electricity..." It is indeed a spare, holy, and joyous festival.

If you would like to participate in such a service and don't have one in mind, I suggest that you Google your local (area) newspaper and search on "Lessons and Carols." It is likely to be held in Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran or Roman Catholic churches. And if you can't find one, try to make time to listen to the BBC World Service's live Christmas Eve broadcast from King's College Cambridge, to be held at 15:00 on December 24 (that comes out to 8 am in my neck of the woods...) What? you say? you're a pastor and can't be sitting around listening to the radio on Christmas Eve? Well, you can buy a recording of last year's service here.


In RevGals Lessons and Carols News:

Leah Sophia attended Lessons and Carols at the University of San Diego's Founders Chapel on Sunday and writes about it here, and

I sang with my Annunciaton Episcopal church choir in our version of Lessons and Carols on Sunday, too. You can read about my experience of it at my place.

And on a slightly different note, tra la la: Sally writes here about moving from Advent to Christmas.

So...have you been to a Lessons and Carols service, St. Lucia service, St. Nicholas Mass....Longest Night or Blue Christmas service? or other special Christmas celebration? Or just what is it you are thinking, blogging, sermonizing about?

Please share with us in the comments. If you want to link to your blog on this, remember the formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Rejoice In the Lord Always Edition

Icon of John from Tim at God Has a Sense of Humour.
Here we are in the third Sunday of Lent and in our community (and perhaps in yours) we will be lighting the pink Advent Candle of Joy on Sunday.

You can find links to this week's lectionary texts here.

At first glance, the gospel text doesn't offer much reason for joy. But John C Morris invites a deeper look when he writes that "underneath the holy fire is holy joy. If the Baptizer can be described as a killjoy, it is because the joy that he kills is the false joy of manufactured sentimentality and superficial jolliness. Underneath John's stern message is the good news that a better world is possible by the grace and power of God."

So, maybe like Isaiah you will "joyfully draw water from the well of salvation" or "rejoice in the Lord always," as exhorted by Paul.

Of course, you might be aware of some in your congregation who have a hard time accessing any joy - holy or otherwise - at this time of year. For those who are stressed, ill, lonely or grieving, these last few weeks before Christmas can heighten rather than diminish those difficult emotions. As preachers, how do we make our worship spaces into safe places for those who just cannot find any joyful space in their heart?

Perhaps then we could turn to Zephaniah (Zephaniah! Have you ever preached on Zephaniah? I know I never have.). God's promise to the outcast "I will bring you home," might provide a glimmer a joy for one who feels cast out by the emotional expectations of the season.

These are my thoughts so far. What direction are headed? Maybe you are wrapping up a three week mini-series on John this week and it's a week for tying it all together. Maybe the Baptist's strong words will help you speak a hard truth that you have been needing to share with your congregation. Or maybe the hearts and minds of your community are turned already to the Christ child coming, and this is a week for a pageant or cantata.

And, as always, your ideas for the rest of the liturgy - prayers, childrens times and hymn suggestions are always welcome, too. Check in in the comments, or post a link to your musings at your own blog.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Monday Meet and Greet

Today let's learn more about Nik, who is a frequent participant at the Preacher Party!

1. Where do you blog?
Over at A Pilgrim's Process

The Church of Scotland are asking wannabe ministers to keep a journal to encourage us to engage with and in reflective practice... and I thought blogging might comprise a part, but not all, of this.

2. What are your favorite non-revgal blog pal blogs?
I love, love, love Beauty Tips for Ministers

Peacebang is awesome and hilarious and wonderful.
I also like Roddy's blog at
He's a liturgical creative genius and all-round good guy.

3. What gives you joy?
Jesus pretty much floats my boat... as does ginger beer, kite-flying on the beach in the sunshine, conversations filled with laughter and love, and the banner pic is the beach at the end of my street - I am blessed indeed to sit on it, listen to the waves, watch wonderful sunsets, be blown along it in the wintry gales, watch the lights twinkling on the other side!

4. What is your favorite sound?
Sitting on the beach at twilight, hearing birdsong and waves.

5. What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates?
'Welcome home!'

6. You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone?
And now on to the next great adventure...

7. What color do you prefer your pen?
I presume this is ink, not casing???  If ink - and if a proper fountain pen as opposed to a throw-away cheapie, I love brown ink.

8. What is something you want to achieve in this decade?
Over the next 4.5 years to have done my PhD, finished training for ministry, and found a church to be called to and to be ordained there.  Oh, and to have kept my sanity and sense of humour vaguely intact.

9. Why are you cool?
I live in Scotland, the frozen wastes of the North, in the UK... I am generally always cool and sometimes very cool... brrrr.

10. What is one of your favorite memories?
A glorious mid-summer in the Orkneys: was a most amazing sunset, casting the most incredible and beautiful light all about the place.  Was sitting in St Magnus Cathedral listening to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing 'Fantasia' on a theme from Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams... and the light was drenching the old, old stone a wonderful orange-pink.  I floated out of the concert feeling caught up in a waking dream and then drove with friends to the cliffs looking out to sea, gasping at the loveliness and wonder of it all.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Nik!

Ring members, if you haven't been featured before, I hope you'll think about answering these ten questions and sending them in for a future "Meet and Greet." If you are a reader/participant and haven't joined the ring yet, follow this link to Ringsurf and click on "Add Your Site." You may read the membership requirements in our sidebar.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sunday Prayer: 2nd Sunday of Advent

Let us give thanks to God, Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, for all the gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,
Creator God, we thank you.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Emmanuel, God-with-us,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
Gracious God, we thank you.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
Gracious God, we thank you.

Sustain the brave and the courageous and comfort those who suffer and face adversity,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

Guide those who seek to do justice and walk humbly with you,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

For those who have gone before us, for those who weep this night, and for the dying,
Gracious God, hear our prayer.

Above all, we give you thanks for the promise of your love, born in human form, who comes to us anew,
Gracious God, we give you thanks.


Cross posted on RevGals Prayer Pals.
Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, A Litany of Thanksgiving, pg. 837

Saturday, December 05, 2009

11th Hour Preacher Party: Change Your Mind Edition

So, it's coming up on the 2nd Sunday of Advent already. Do you know where your presents are? Or, are you content with presence? If the latter is true, welcome to the 11th Hour Preacher party, where today we feature John the Baptist in the wilderness, the prophet Malachi, with his refiner's fire and fuller's soap, guaranteed to make you fit for the presence of God. Alternately, you can hang out with Baruch, or you can sit in prison with Paul, who, even so, is confident that God has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion.... someday, somehow....You can find an insightful commentary and discussion of the various texts here.

Today, I'm serving blueberry pancakes, orange juice, fair trade coffee and good earth tea (cinnamon). I've got some holiday treats as well, kringla, lefse, krumkake. Do you have some holiday specialty you'd like to offer?

I started out thinking about the reading from Malachi. Then I changed my mind and worked on the gospel. A little later I changed my mind again. I didn't leave John entirely, but I was drawn to include some thoughts on Philippians. My congregation is in the midst of making some tough decisions, and I thought it might be good to remember who it is that began a good work in us so long ago... and trust that he will bring that work to completion.

How about you? Been changing your mind much this week? Or repenting? Tell us about it. And have a cup of coffee too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Five Do Nothing Edition

I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent it's title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"

So this weeks Friday Five is simple.

List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

And while you are doing nothing play the bonus, put your feet up and listen to your favourite Advent Carol, and post it or a link to it...


You know how to link....

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - Can I Help You Edition

As pastoral leaders, we often are called upon to counsel with persons who are distressed or discerning. However, many of us have received minimal training in counseling. How do we determine when we can help and when we should refer? That is the nature of today's question from "Lucky Fresh."

Dear Matriarchs,
A couple I've never met has been referred to me for marital counseling (by a church member). I am quite aware that I am unqualified to do this, and I know all about referring when you're unqualified. But it was also made clear that they don't have the money to pay anyone. So I figured I'd give it a shot.

I do pre-marital counseling with couples I am going to do weddings for, and I have a pretty standardized routine for that. But this is different. It appears to be a young couple, and they've been separated. I think they're wanting to get back together, but wanted to talk some things through first. I know the wife specifically wanted to talk with a female "counselor" which is how they ended up with me. I'm not sure if there are kids or if infidelity was involved. Basically I know nothing about them.

We have our first appointment on Nov. 29th (of who knows how many?). Can you give me some hints about what kinds of questions to ask them? I'm at a bit of a loss as to where to start, beyond "Help me get to know you and understand the situation a little." Also, at what point do I tell them I can't help them anymore?

Lucky Fresh

Mompriest, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice offers the following insights:

As you recognize, this is a sticky situation. Although I have an MSW and an M.Div, I refer folks out when the situation is beyond my abilities and training. Also, because of boundary concerns, I will only see parishioners for 3-6 sessions before referring them out. It seems to me the wisest choice in this case is to refer them to a professional couples therapist.

But under the circumstances since you have decided to see them I suggest the following: Pull together a list of people in your area who are credentialed Marriage and Family therapists,
especially those who work for an agency and may have a sliding scale. You can find them through this website: American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists. Some agencies will charge folks next to nothing for several sessions if they meet some financial criteria.

Tell the couple you will work with them for a few sessions but beyond that they will need to see a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I would also make sure they understand completely that you are clergy and not a therapist, and can only help them from that perspective. Perhaps, as is sometimes the case, the couple only needs a neutral presence to listen to them tell their story and ask them the tough questions they should be asking themselves and each other. If that's what they need, and you can do that, it might help.
Some pointers: Do not take sides. No matter what, stay neutral. You may feel more empathy for one or the other, do not let that show. Strive for balanced questions, answers, and reflecting back their answers to each of them. Ask them each, one at a time, to tell the story. "How did you meet?" "How long have you known each other?" "When and why did you marry?" "Help me understand what has happened now." They need to agree that as one speaks, the other listens and cannot interrupt, each will have their turn. After each has had a turn to tell the story repeat back what you have heard, "So, I heard you that correct?" Then ask each member of the couple what they heard the other say. You may also ask a couple of clarifying questions to each of them: "Do you understand what she/he is feeling/saying when he/she says....." "What do you think would help this situation?"

After a session or two you may be able to summarize your time together giving them some tools for better communication. Sometimes it is a matter of improving communication skills. One may need to listen better and the other may need to express needs more clearly.
Premarital communication tools can help with this.

One thing to make note of: If you suspect that there is abuse going on they need to be referred immediately to a counselor who is skilled at dealing with domestic abuse. This is a very particular issue and cannot be handled by untrained folk.

And from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

Dear Lucky Fresh,
It’s clear that you’re feeling a little ill at ease, but I think you made a good choice to give it a shot, as you said.

I’d be honest with them about your background and training and be forthcoming about what you are qualified to do (listen, reflect, offer a faith perspective, etc). You know your strengths and qualifications!

I’d suggest finding out from them what their goals/hopes/expectations are for talking with someone and I think you’ll learn a lot from them right there. You’ll discover if both partners are willing to meet with you, or perhaps that it’s one partner’s idea and the other is reluctant.

I expect, too, that many of the questions that you ask in pre-marital counseling will also be relevant as you get to know them. You might think about adapting some of those questions as a way to get better acquainted with them and their situation.

Determining how long or how often you will meet with them is also something that would be good to establish with them up front, in order to keep expectations clear and to keep a good handle on your time and boundaries. I’d suggest negotiating to meet two times and then negotiate the need, if any, for future meetings.

When is it time to refer? Just before the time you feel in over your head, or if you feel that the time involved is greater than you can give to it.

There's great wisdom in our matriarchs' responses. Perhaps you too have some experience and/or insight to share? Please use the comment function at the end of this post to share your thoughts with us.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Wednesday Festival: Advent

Good morning all!

Today continues the theme of Advent, which was begun beautifully for us with the Virual Advent Retreat on Monday. It's not too late to join the posts, add your comments and links to your own bloggage on this topic. The three threads may be found here (One, Two, Three). Let's keep the conversations going.

To add to these resources, the wonderful and talented Jan Richardson, of The Painted Prayerbook, writes:

Dear Wednesday Festival Friends,
I'm offering a new series of art and reflections at
The Advent Door and would love for the RevGals to stop by. I know how intense this season can be for folks connected with the church, and I hope they'll experience The Advent Door as a space where they can take a deep breath and sit for a spell.

What a blessing. Thank you, Jan!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Rough Places Made Plain Edition

Links to this week's readings can be found here.

Friends, it's the second week of Advent, and if you're like me you're already humming that bit of Handel's Messiah about the crooked ways being made straight and the rough places being made plain.

This week's scriptures promise that with the coming of God's realm will come cataclysmic changes. Maybe you'll turn to the prophets - Malachi, Baruch or John. These are joyful and energetic texts, yes, but the tools of the promised changes - fire and bulldozers (if not of the actual, at least of the spiritual variety) - are bound to make us, and those with whom we minister, feel just a little uncomfortable. What will you do about that? Dwell in the discomfort? Or move beyond it?

Speaking of moving, you might notice the importance that Luke places on locating John in his time and place. Maybe you'll want to talk with the
folks in the time and place where you
find yourself now. How might they be singing a song of hope like Zechariah? Or overflowing with love like the people of Philippi?

Maybe you are preaching and/or presiding at at World AIDS Day service this week. If so, we'd love to hear about that.

And, if you're jumping the lectionary entirely and trying something completely different, tell us about that too.

(BTW, this is my first Lectionary Leanings, so thanks to all those who have made the rough places plain on this feature until now. And see you next week - same Lectionary time, same Lectionary station.)