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Saturday, February 27, 2010

prayer for the second Sunday in lent

Lord on this second Sunday of lent we come lifting our hearts in praise of adoration to you.
And we also come to you as your children seeking a word for our lives.
We come thirsty for your grace.

Lord many of us come with our burdens desiring to have our burdens lifted.
Many of us come with broken hearts looking to have our hearts mended.
Many of us come not just sick in our bodies, but sick in our souls, seeking a healing from you.

But Lord we don’t just come for ourselves, we come with prayers for all people everywhere.
We know that just as you wept over Jerusalem you weep for your world.
And you long to take your people up in your arms of love just as a mother hen would.
And you long for your justice and will to be done.
And Lord we too long for your will and justice to be done
for our hearts beak too for the many injustices in this world.

O Lord, shelter us here and in Haiti, Chile, Pakistan, Jerusalem and in every part of the world.
cross posted at revabi's long and winding road and revgals prayer blog

11th Hour Preacher Party: Shocks and Aftershocks

It's a small oops to say that we have a gap in the hosting schedule for the Preacher Party when there is dramatic weather all over the country and yet another earthquake in the news. Power is out in many parts of the Northeast; a friend has been without for 31+ hours. For me, a colleague's daughter is somewhere in Chile, and I'm trying to find out where. You may have planned one sermon and feel the need to preach another for local or global reasons.

Join us in the comments to share what you're preaching, what you're facing, how you're working with the texts today. Are you opening up the text about the Mother Hen? Considering the multiple meanings of flesh-devouring predators? Focusing on the saving light of God?

Whatever you might be doing, please come to the party. I'll keep the coffee coming and later, I promise, you can share in my stash of Vitamuffins! If you have something to share, lay it on the table.

(Photo from the AP by Mike Groll, found here.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Five Medals Ceremony

I would like to invite to the medals stand three bloggers who surpassed all expectations in their descriptions of the Nordic Combined in today's Friday Five.

In third place, taking a bronze medal, is altar ego, who blogs at irreverent reverence. She gives us a beautiful description of the actual sport:

The sport wherein our heroes don skis to demonstrate proficiency in extreme: airborne nose-to-where-the-ski-tips-would-ordinarily-be where no other physical effort seems apparent, landing as far from the takeoff point as possible; and ground level, squeeze every ounce of energy from your body to go up hills, down hills and on the flat with legs and arms moving mercilessly to propel oneself forward and cross the finish line first before dropping over, seemingly dead.

In second place, the recipient of a silver medal, is Sally of Eternal Echoes:

Nordic combined is a speed knitting event, the competitors are taken to an outdoor location as close to resembling Norway as possible where they have to remover  their boots and socks, they are then presented with knitting needles and a good thick yarn ( each one representative of their country’s colours in some way). First is the speed cast on, with 5 points for the winner, 3 for second and two for third. No points are awarded to the others. These points convert to second advantages in the next stage…    
The competitors are then blindfolded;  the combined difficulty of cold feet and no sight is what makes the event exciting!   The buzzer goes and the real knitting begins, the first competitor to complete a sock wins, the sock must be completed within the specified standard. Because of the extreme nature of this event only the Gold, silver and bronze competitors are allowed to finish, boots and socks are then returned to all and further inspections of progress will decide the lower placings.  
This is not an event for the faint hearted, and months of barefoot training is required!
Finally, please give a Nordic Combined cheer to our Gold Medal Winner, Pastor Julia of Faith, Grace and Hope, who despite her lack of a television captures the true spirit of combining Nordic cultures in her answer:

Nordic Combined is when, in a Lutheran congregation, you have 3 vocal Norwegians who wish to celebrate Norway's ConstitutionDay and 10 semi- vocal Swedes who do not. Then you have some German-heritage Lutherans and one pastor of Polish origin who doesn't have a dog in the Scandinavian fight, but enjoys eating Danish. So you have a Hymn Sing and compete, antiphonally, with "Now Thank We All Our God" and "A Mighty Fortress." Then you eat lefselutefisk, Swedish meatballs and, of course, Danish. The winner of the Nordic Combined (loudest singing + most eating + most liturgically correct Jello salad) gets a Garrison Keillor novel. 

Thanks to all who played! Winners, please send me an email; I want to send you each a little something.

Friday Five: Winter Olympics Edition

It's been two weeks of snow, or not enough snow, of heartbreak before the action even began, of snowboards and skis and skates, of joy and sorrow. At our house, we've stayed up too late, and we don't even watch sports any other time!  

1) Which of the Winter Olympic sports is your favorite to watch?

2) Some of the uniforms have attracted attention this year, such as the US Snowboarders' pseudo-flannel shirts 

and the Norwegian Curling team's -- ahem -- pants. 

Who do you think had the best-looking uniforms?

3) And Curling. Really? What's up with that?

4) Define Nordic Combined. Don't look it up. Take a guess if you must. 

(There will be a prize for the best answer, but be aware, this is a judged sport.)

 5) If you could be a Winter Olympics Champion just by wishing for it, which sport would you choose for winning your Gold Medal?

Let us know in the comments if you play! You're likely to get more visitors to your blog if you link to your post, like so: <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.

Please visit one another to read answers; you might just see a gold medal-winning performance!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Pastor Evaluation

This week's question covers a topic that might make some pastors shudder: the pastor evaluation.

My question is about evaluations of pastors.On Ash Wednesday I had a visit from a member of the congregation (not council) who informed me that there would be a formal evaluation of my work beginning soon which would involve talking to the various groups and key members for feedback about how I am doing as a pastor and what their expectations for a pastor are. I was assured this would be conducted by the council but this whole idea comes not from the council but from a group of crabby people who all of a sudden have started to demand a formal evaluation of the pastor. I know they are a common practice in many congregations and can be a very helpful process balancing affirmation with redirection of time and energy but ...well I don't think that is what they had in mind. I have no problem with a fair and helpful evaluation but what I will not tolerate is an evaluation which is really just a game of pin all the troubles in the congregation on pastor. So I would like to hear about the kinds of evaluation tools, forms, resources you use. Who does the evaluation? Who doesn't? Who sees the finalized evaluation? How do you take a situation where the whole thing is a set up by crabby people and make it fruitful?

My (earthchick's) response:
Do you have a Pastor Relations Committee? I know - that is always my first response to questions like these! But I think they are so valuable. If you don't have one, this might be a good time to start talking to your council about forming one. If you don't have a PRC, then substitute "council" everywhere I have written "PRC" below.

Here would be my ideal: an annual evaluation of the pastor, done at the routine initiation of the Pastor Relations Committee, not triggered by any kind of event or dissatisfaction. The PRC should gather feedback in the form of some sort of written response form, sent to the entire congregation. The form needs to include all areas of the pastor's responsibilities, with questions about what the pastor is doing best, what the pastor might improve, and what the members think the priorities should be.

Members of the congregation must sign their name to any form they turn in. Members would be assured that the pastor would not know who has written what. Only members of the PRC would see the forms. The PRC would then compile the results to present to the pastor. If there are specific concerns brought up by an individual, the PRC has his/her name and can ask for further information. This can have the effect of forcing honest and clear feedback. Anything that turns out to be dishonest or malicious would be excluded from the actual review. The lack of anonymity makes it more difficult for members to make sweeping negative statements (or if they do so, there will be direct followup by the PRC and the PRC can filter such ugliness).

The PRC then offers feedback to the pastor, who is given opportunity to respond. All of this should be conducted in a nonconfrontational way, and you, the pastor, should approach the evaluation in a nonanxious way. Do not be defensive. Be open-minded. Talk through points of criticism in a way that shows you are open to learning and growing. Ask the PRC for advice on these areas. Then work with the PRC to set ministry priorities for the coming year. This part should be instructive for the PRC - they, and the wider congregation, need to know that not everything can be a priority. So if people indicate on their forms that preaching and worship should be your number one priority, but then they complain elsewhere that you aren't making 5 home visits a week, the PRC needs to help the congregation understand how priority-setting works.

You don't indicate your denomination, but most denominations ought to offer resources for the pastoral evaluation. If yours doesn't, then look at the websites for other denominations to see what forms and processes they use. Though you are the person being evaluated, you don't have to be passive in the process - if your congregation hasn't done this before, and especially if some seem to be agitating for it out of negativity, then you need to take some firm leadership in helping the council see how this needs to be done.

And Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, writes:
In my denomination we have something called ‘Ministerial Accompanied Self Appraisal’ (you could probably Google that to find out about it) but that is more of a one-to-one with a minister rather than involving the congregation.

Evaluation of our work is good – but as you rightly say there needs to be clarity of understanding about who does the review, how it is done, how it is reported and to whom, plus your own input into what’s said. Is there a job description, which would be an obvious starting point for reflection? Is there somewhere people can ‘park’ the concerns which are about the whole life of the church and NOT about you as the pastor?

If the process is handled well, then I think letting people in the church say what they have to say can be enormously helpful, but I would stress that who holds the rung is really important. Sounds like you need a wise person at the helm of this, to help steer the ‘crabbies’ through the process without mangling you. Is there someone on the council who can take on this chairing role – can you go to them & say ‘I want to be part of a helpful and positive process and I need your help to help make this happen?’; or is there someone outside the local church who can take on this role?, who has no axe to grind? I have found that people with a Human Resources background outside the church (if you have anyone like that in your membership) have such a lot of wisdom to share.

And St. Casserole adds: special to send the bulldog in ON ASH WEDNESDAY to alert you about an evaluation during LENT. If you have denominational leaders (presbytery executive, district supervisor, etc.), call them and ask how evaluation procedure works in your denomination. Ask for help as you've asked us for format, examples and stories of using the evaluation time as a good event. It may be that a non-Council member may not initiate the process nor even be involved. Before letting panic set in, corral your friends and talk this out with them. Again, the timing here makes me want to come in the Texas TownCar of Justice and slap church members.

What about the rest of you? What has been your experience? What resources or advice would you offer?

Thank you so much to those of you who have sent questions recently! We have a very full queue and will be responding to your questions in the coming weeks. As always, if you have a question for the matriarchs, send it to

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Our Lenten Journeys

1-4 Grace has an interesting conversation going on at her place about hymns. Go join in.

Christine invites us to this week's poetry party on Entering the Desert Fire.

Sally shares a poem and some thoughts on church and rural ministry, UK style.

I (Mary Beth) have a new sister.

Songbird offers a meditation on Ash Wednesday, what we are, to what we shall return.

What are you thinking and writing about this Lent? Let us know in the comments. If you provide a link, you'll get more visitors! Here's how: <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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Fox in the Henhouse Edition

Our prayer this week might be that Jesus gather our thoughts like the mother hen gathers her chicks. I don't know about you, but the more times I read this week's lectionary readings, the less sense I can make of them as a unit.

There is Genesis and God's promise to Abram. There is a psalm which is looking with one eye at the work of evil-doers and enemies, while with the other at the glory of God. There are words of exhortation from the letter to the Philippians. And there is Jesus, too hard at work on the road to Jerusalem to be bothered by threats of a dictator.

Could it be that the scattered thoughts I bring to this day are just right for the second Sunday of Lent? We are, after all, each on a unique place as we journey toward the cross. How do we journey? With a little testiness, like Abram? With mingled fear and praise, like the psalmist? With firmness, like Paul? Or, like the crowd around Jesus, distracted and poised for violence?

I long to see how you are gathering yourself this week. See you in the comments!

Texts for this week found here. Photo borrowed from here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

RevGalBookPals Discussion: Salvation on the Small Screen?

Our book this month is Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Nadia is a Lutheran church planter (House for All Sinners and Saints) who blogs at Sarcastic Lutheran, and she is also a member of the RevGalBlogPals webring. 
Lazarus tattooNadia has a lot of tattoos, including this fairly awesome image of Lazarus. I say this as a person who doesn't generally care for tattoos. And I mention it because my usual response to tattoos is probably not far off from Nadia's gut reaction to being asked to watch Christian TV for 24 hours. 
Nadia bravely watched 24 straight hours of "Christian" television, accompanied by friends who took shifts at her side. Having grown up in a more conservative tradition before later becoming part (albeit a non-traditional part) of a mainline denomination, she had concerns about what she might see and hear. She reviews each show and reflects honestly when the theology expressed touches her despite her assumption that would not be likely.

This is a hilarious book full of actual wisdom and sarcasm and humility and trenchant analysis of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. (Unfortunately it is also at my office, so I am unable to provide quotations until I can get there later today.)

Here are a few questions to get us started:

1) What is your experience with Christian television? Has it played a part, positive or negative, in your life or faith development?

2) Have you ever been surprised to learn something about faith or belief from a person whose doctrine or other understandings differed from yours?

3) In the book, Nadia keeps track of the products offered for sale after each show. How do you respond to the merchandising of faith? If you had a TV show, perhaps based on your blog, what might you sell to encourage people to understand God the way you do?

4) And on that note, suppose we had a RevGalBlogPals TV Network. Who might we feature on our 24-hour schedule? No need to limit your imagination to ring members. Who would you like to see on a TV network providing both encouragement and challenge to your faith and ministry? Would there be preaching, discussion, teaching? History? Humor? (Please say yes.)

Be sure to check the sidebar for the books we will be discussing in March and April!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prayer for the First Sunday in Lent

Lord on this first Sunday in Lent
we come praying to you from the deserts of our lives.
For some of us it is a painful wilderness.
For some it is a wild and creative place,
For some it is a silent beauty.
Lord we pray for your guidance,
presence and shelter
as we journey this days of Lent.
Help us to deal with temptation,
Keep us from falling into our old traps,
And deliver us from the evil one.

Lord we lift up to you those with illnesses,
those with unmet needs,
those with financial problems,
t hose with brokenness in their lives.
May your tender loving mercy be poured into their lives
into the places it is most needed like warm soothing salve.

Lord we pray our communities where hardship is present,
where there are the homeless,
where there is traumatic violence,
where there are job losses and fear.
Pour your tender mercy into our communities
so that they may have justice that rolls down like water.

Lord we pray for our country with the divisions,
financial problems abound,
pour your tender loving mercy into our nation
healing and redeeming us.

Lord we pray for our world where there is starvation,
poverty, ongoing war,
slavery and abuse of power,
pour your tender loving mercy into our world
so that your Kingdom may come and your will be done.

Friday, February 19, 2010

11th Hour Preacher Party: The Journey Begins

So, here we are on the first Saturday before the first Sunday of Lent. The journey is beginning. What will your first step be?

Somehow I have never preached on Jesus' temptation in the desert, which I was kind of sad about this year. I'd like to get inside that text for a sermon sometime. This isn't the the year for me.

With Deuteronomy I was also attracted to the creed-like statement of faith that accompanies the offering before the Lord.

Two years ago my Lenten discipline was preaching the Psalms of Lent, and it left me swearing I would never do it again. It was that good. :) However, Psalm 91 is such a Psalm of encouragement to help start this season of sacrifice and introspection. I'm thinking now it would be a lovely way to begin the journey.

Romans would be a tough one for me to tackle after an interesting Adult Sunday School discussion we held recently about the "tough question" (our theme for the year) "Is Jesus the only way?" We spent a lot of time wondering about the necessity of a personal confession in Jesus for salvation. Very intersting discussion; very difficult preaching in at least my context.

All that said, there is a lot of richness from which to choose. Where is your preaching journey taking you? How can we walk with you on the journey this week? Are you feeling like a "wandering Aramean" or is the path more obvious this week? Join the party in the comments as we take the first steps together.

Friday Five: Happy Lent!

Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our [Mother]/Father, and of willing service to our neighbor. As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.... (First Preface for Lent, Roman Missal)

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday this year? Any memories of memorable celebrations past?

2. How about Ash Wednesday, past and/or present?

3. Does your denomination or congregation celebrate "this joyful season"? Any special emphases or practices to share?

4. Do you have a personal plan of give-ups, take-ons, special ministries, and/or a special focus for your own spiritual growth between now and Easter?

5. What is your dream for the image of Christ coming to perfection in you, the church, the world? How can we support you in prayer?

Bonus: Song, prayer, picture, etc. that sums up your feelings about this liturgical springtime.

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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Women's Circles

This week we have two questions on the same topic. Let’s jump right in:
Women's Circles - how do you handle them? When I arrived at my current parish, we had three women's circles, all made up of women 60 and over. A couple of women said things to me that implied they thought I would be involved in the circles. But I never felt I had the time, and I'm fairly certain that, had I been a male pastor, there never would have been any expectation that I would join a circle! Over the years, I have gone to various gatherings when all three circles joined together for a party or a luncheon or some other special event. I have publicly supported their ministry by speaking of it in worship, writing about it in the newsletters, personally praising its leaders, and showing up at anything the whole congregation was invited to. I have spoken and/or sung at individual circle meetings when specifically invited to do so. I have annually celebrated, in worship, Women's Ministries Day, where the women in these circles have led in every facet of worship and were celebrated by the congregation.

And yet I have always felt like it was never enough, at least in the eyes of some of the women. As members have aged and died, the circle membership has dwindled. There are now only two circles, and it looks like membership will not increase. Some of the women have lamented the demise and have complained that younger women don't join them. But I haven't seen much evidence that they have done anything to reach out to younger women, and, honestly, I'm not sure that anything they do could attract them. As a thirtysomething working mother, I completely understand why the younger women in our church have not joined these groups. The younger women in my church are stretched about as far as they can be - they volunteer for helping with the youth ministry, the hunger ministry, the children's ministry, etc. They are running their children from one end of town to the other for various events. Most of them work outside of the home and cannot come to an early afternoon meeting for tea and snacks with women who don't struggle with their particular challenges.

I am not sure what to do for these groups at this point. The future does not seem bright for them, yet they have provided a vital part of our church's mission and ministry. Their function goes way beyond fellowship - they raise money for various missions, they provide active ministry to some of the elderly in our congregation, etc. I am wondering how others of you deal with women's groups? Have any of you tried to help revitalize them? How have these groups needed to change in order to accommodate the younger generations? What has your role been in helping them think about the future?

And our second question, which includes some more context-specific issues as well :

I am curious how others handle their women's groups. In my context this means a once a month circle meeting whose attendance has dwindled and within the next few months might end up being just two sisters. They have invited me to come, but I have often had pre-existing schedule conflicts and when I could have come it has been cancelled because of bad weather. I have been to a few. The first time I stayed until it was over, more than 3 hours! The next time I told them up front when I had to leave, to be able to get dinner before the council meeting, and set my cell phone alarm to alert me when the time was up (1.5 hours).
They have never asked me to lead it, but I have recently heard from others that they are mad I am not leading it, because the pastor should lead the circle. Most recently I came back from a week's vacation to a very manipulative email from a women who has recently decided to join the circle but has only been to one because she always forgets to come. She basically accused me of being unaware of the various factions forming in our congregation and being unable to the cement to hold the crumbling place together. In her view the only way to hold the church together now is to start coming to circle, since they are being very gracious by willing to reschedule around me (something they have not told me). I am quite aware of the problems, factions, and landmines of our congregation. Being a solo pastor in my first call in such a complicated and conflicted congregation is a big part of the reason I don't have much extra time or energy for things like attending circle. Granted I should try to make it at least a periodic priority to give these ladies some extra attention but I can't help but wonder if they would expect a male pastor to lead or even attend their circle meetings.
St. Casserole responds:

While Women's Circles may be boring and endless, I suspect the women expect clergy women to attend because we are women. Circles originated when a women's involvement in Church life was restricted to a few activities such as child care and making food for events. Those days are over in churches served by clergywomen but Circles remain. In my denomination, Circles (now called Presbyterian Women) provide common Bible study for all women and added events such as education for leadership and mission opportunities. Younger women may find the schedule of daytime meetings with long business portions (who will bring what dish to what event, will new table cloths be bought for the Fellowship Hall, etc., impossible to attend and droll beyond reason.

However, attend the Circles as often as you can. Let the Circle ladies know you value what they do. Otherwise, you are sending the same message they get everywhere else: women's Church work and being older women do not matter. You don't believe this, do you?

Circles are a great place to catch up on pastoral information you need: who is sick, whose family is having troubles, and the "scoop" on how things are going church-wide. Learn to listen to these women. They are your congregation, too. They need your attention and respect. If you can offer love to them, they will be a source of good information to help do your work well and they will love you back. Your male colleagues will never be as valuable to them as you can be just because you are one of them.

Consider turning your thinking from Circles as a "rent paying" function to a time to slow down and be with a group of people who are ready to welcome you and want you with them.
Ruth, who blogs at Sunday's Coming, offers:
Oh friends...I feel I have no wisdom to dispense this week – but only huge quantities of empathy. I’ve been ordained (only) 16 years, but I feel as unable to answer this question now as I was at at the start – and meanwhile my list of similar examples could just go on and on.

Why does this happen over and over again in the church? A group has run for many years. It has been valued, valuable, meant a lot to people... But over the years it has dwindled and at some point it has lost touch with the next generation, and started to flag. The decreasing group is horrified, puzzled, cannot understand why people do not come – and they lash out at ‘them’ for not coming, and they lash out at their pastor for not making it all better for them.

In business it is said ’if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you keep in getting what you’ve always got’ - but over 20 or 30 years if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you all get older and eventually you die off. I cannot understand why groups can’t grasp this – even when they have the evidence of their own eyes.

The only eternal is God – but we try to make our church structures eternal: maybe it is idolatory, maybe it is original sin (we want to be link God).. My heart goes out to those who cannot accept decline, and to all those who must pastor them: and my only hope lies in God, whose steadfast love will be there when everything has crumbled. So my prayer for pastors is to keep faithful to God, keep pointing people to Christ, and keep praying that the Spirit will never let your sense of perspective or your sense of humour fail!

So, two fairly different responses there! How have the rest of you related to the women's circles in your churches? Do any of you have stories of having helped revitalize them (if that was an issue)? What other thoughts or experiences could you share?

**The queue is empty!** So if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to address, please send them our way!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Non-Festival

Greetings all, and apologies for the lateness of this posting.

Rather than a festival of posts, I'm inviting you share thoughts on Ash Wednesday as the Lenten season begins. Perhaps you'd want to share your Lenten practice, if you have one.

If you've posted about this at your place and want to provide a link in the comments, here's how: <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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Putting Away the Alleluias Edition

Today is Fat Tuesday, which means the lean days of Lent must be just around the corner. But, with your belly full of your Mardi Gras pancakes, you'll have plenty of energy with which to greet the coming season!

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I don't preach a sermon that day - we have an evening meditative service with lots of silence and music. How about you?

Looking ahead to Sunday, what will you have to say about Jesus' time in the wilderness? Or are you leaning toward conversation about Moses and the meaning of first fruits? Maybe you'll tackle Romans this week.

As you head into this time of preparation, you might also want to consider how you as a leader/pastor/preacher will mark the days of Lent for yourself. At the Working Preacher site this week, Arlend Hultgren says "By refusing to follow the temptations of the devil, Jesus remained faithful to his vocation, given to him at his baptism. He would not be the messiah that some would have wanted, including the devil."

How might your own Lenten practice clarify who you will and will not be, as you remain "faithful to (your) vocation"? Whatever your practice, words of 40 Days and 40 Nights (no not the Tim McGraw song - this one is by George Smyttan, and the words are from the New Century Hymnal) are both comfort and challenge:

Forty days and forty nights
You were fasting in the wild
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted and yet undefiled.

Shall we not your sorrow share
and from worldly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Strong with you to suffer pain?

Then if Satan on us press,
flesh or spirit to assail,
Victor in the wilderness,
grant that we not faint or fail!

So shall we have peace divine
holier gladness ours shall be
Round us too shall angels shine
Such as served you faithfully.

Keep O keep us Savior dear
Ever constant by your side
That with you we may appear
at the eternal Eastertide.

Painting of Jesus' Temptation in the Wilderness by Chris Cook.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Meet 'n Greet--A Diversion

Since we have no new members to introduce this week, I thought we might offer up a survey question to answer in the comments. Yesterday I attended a concert at the Episcopal Cathedral in my city, and the person sitting with me asked, "Aren't there usually Bibles in a church?" We looked around and found a hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer, as well as some very attractive needlepoint kneelers, but no Bibles.

So please tell us, in the comments:

  • whether your church has Bibles in the pews, 
  • if so the translation, 
  • your denomination (or non- if that's the case), 
  • and if you know why your church might or might not. 

And don't forget next Monday's RevGalBookPals discussion, when we will talk about ring member Nadia Bolz-Weber's Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television. Nadia bravely watched 24 straight hours of "Christian" television, accompanied by friends who took shifts at her side. She reviews each show and reflects honestly when the theology expressed touches her despite her assumption that would not be likely. I hope you'll join me in the discussion.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: Last chance Gloria

Lent starts on Wednesday, and my community will strip down the music to a bare minimum. Some traditions fast from music entirely during Lent, a practice that sounds particularly penitential to my musician's soul. This year I'm looking forward to the sparser singing. I lost my voice before Christmas and still cannot sing, so I've been on a musical diet of sorts for weeks. Less music to hear, less temptation to exceed my imposed vocal restrictions. I find myself craving certain songs, like a kid with her face pressed up against the glass of the chocolate store, dreaming of which piece she would choose, imagining the taste.

As we sang the Gloria today, I realized I won't hear it again until the Triduum, long weeks away. If I were to have only more taste of a Gloria, this might be the one I would choose!

What is on your musical plate this week? Share in the comments - so I have yet more wonderful tastes to dream about through the long, cold Lenten days to come.

Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Oh Lord,
You call us to go to the mountain top with you
And we follow, not quite sure of what is to happen,
but we like mountain tops,
we like the view from up here,
we like mountain top experiences.
Lord some times we need mountain top experiences with you
when our days are dark and dreary,
when our hearts, are heavy,
when the valleys seem more depressing then ever.
Lord, may this mountain top experience
fill our hearts with your light,
may we be filled with your love,
may we be filled with hope.
Lord, we are aware,
that just as Moses and your disciples were changed by their experiences
that we too are changed and transformed into the image of Christ by your mercy.
Lord, may we have unveiled faces that reflect your love, your hope, and your light.

And Lord we add to this prayer;
These prayers for those in our communities affected by the heavy snows, power outages, loss of work, loss of lives, and illnesses.
We continue to pray for the recovery work in Haiti.

This Icon is by the hand of Nicholas Papas. It is from St. Philip's Antiochian Orthodox Church in Souderton, PA.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

11th Hour Preacher Party: T-Fig Edition

Good morning, preachers and friendly onlookers!

It's Transfiguration Eve! Do you know where your sermon is?

I'm settling in with a mug of Emergen-C, trying to fend off a sniffle. I'll be preaching the Transfiguration for the eighth year in a row and trying to find something new to say about it. You might want to check out our great discussion from Tuesday and see what others think.

Here in the U.S. it's a three-day weekend as we observe President's Day on Monday. In some areas the world is transfigured by snow. We may wonder who will show up at church.

Will St. Valentine make an appearance at some point?

How about Washington and Lincoln?

I'm serving coffee and oatmeal over here, but later I feel sure there will be holiday-themed treats. You know, Transfiguration Meringues and those shape cookies of Moses and Elijah. Do you like them with frosting, or sprinkles?

Clearly, your hostess needs coffee.

Join us in the comments. Let us know what you're writing, what you're juggling, how you're handling the children's message and especially whether you've found some difference in Luke's account that makes for a brilliant piece of interpretation. :-)

We can do it! T-Fig! T-Fig! T-Fig!!!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Five: FAB FEB(ruary)

Here is a big THANK YOU to Sophia for trading weeks with me for Friday Five!

With Valentine's Day around the corner, it seems appropriate to write about February holidays. However, I'd never heard of "Waitangi Day" before: Feb. 6 is a holiday in New Zealand to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding of New Zealand, in 1840. I'll avoid Fur Rondy, as it is connected with Sarah Palin's home state. BUT I have been corrected by Pastor Julia that this is a wonderful holiday and not related to SP at all.

1. When February comes along, how do you feel about the coming month?

2. What memories do you have about Valentine's Day? Are you doing anything to observe it this year?

3. It is interesting that Monday's "Presidents Day" is not officially called that in every state. It is a U.S. federal holiday entitled "Washington's Birthday." Which is your favorite president and why?

4. Will you be celebrating Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras? How?

5. Any other ways to celebrate in February?

Bonus: A Lenten book or website you recommend.

As always, link to this site in the comments. I never can maneuver the correct way to write the link, so go to last week's Friday Five to find out how. Or for a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Drawing Adults to Sunday School

Our question this week is one that I think a lot of congregations struggle with - how to keep adults engaged in the Christian Education offerings of the church. Our colleague writes:

I serve a fairly large congregation with very sparse adult participation in Sunday School. Currently my colleague is teaching the adults; I'm up next starting in a few weeks. It's hard to be motivated for the handful who'll turn up no matter what. I've been trying to think of something that might draw in some new folks; namely parents who currently bring their kids to Sunday School and may or may not be a part of the worship life of our congregation. I want something interesting and engaging and don't know where to turn. Any suggestions?

Jennifer writes:

I’m a big proponent of asking people what would draw them to attend a class or participate in an event. Perhaps you could ask some of those parents of youngsters if there are themes or issues that would interest them. Not knowing what the current format of your adult class is, I’d caution you to consider the folks who show up “no matter what” and reflect upon what it is that they enjoy about the class, so that you can incorporate their likes and continue to draw them as you try something new. Maybe they, too, have some thoughts about what would be compelling and interesting. In the church I serve, parents enjoy a format that we offer occasionally called “open mic” where parents can talk about whatever is on their minds, from raising children to Sabbath time. We had an interesting conversation with some clips from a tv show on vacations that involve service or mission to the community. We’ve offered classes on great books for children and families related to a particular season of the liturgical year, have tackled the influence of the media on values, have done intergenerational classes on everything from bible study to social justice issues. Bottom line: it’s really good to do some advance work and see what people might attend, if offered. Then you’d be making decisions based on data, rather than on hunches or what works well in another setting that might not be the same as your own…

And Ruth offers:

I don’t wish to sound facetious and it’s hard to comment in details without knowing your set up. I have four small churches so I do understand the small numbers/motivation issue, believe me.
This may sound simplistic – but have you tried asking those who have dropped kids off what they would like?
Eg A chance to look at current issues in the Sunday papers from a Christian perspective; a chance to learn more about what their kids are doing; a chance to this about some of the ‘awkward’ questions kids sometimes ask’’ ; a look at parenting from a Christian angle...
Hope this is some help.


I want to add something about motivation. Our questioner says, "It's hard to be motivated for the handful that will turn up no matter what." I know how frustrating it is to work hard on something and then have only a few people show up, but I try to view those few people as offering me a sacred opportunity to minister with intimacy and more personal attention. The first four-and-a-half years of my ministry, I served an extremely small church in a small rural town. I felt very strongly about the need to give as much time and effort in my preaching and teaching there as I would for a congregation 100 times its size. While I agree that it's important to do whatever you can to draw more adults into the Sunday School program, I think it's equally important to try to maintain a high level of motivation for the work you do for those currently engaged in the program. You may never reach those who choose simply to drop their children off and go. But you have a holy opportunity to touch the lives of those who are going to come no matter what.

What about the rest of you? What are your experiences and thoughts? Please share! And as always, send us your questions at

- earthchick

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Stories and Love

Here's a good and lovely story to start us off: Wounded & Healing's son, "Junior," came into the world yesterday as planned, and all seems to be most well. Go leave her some booties (or congratulations, or whatever you'd like).

Lucky Fresh says, "I would like to submit a post I just wrote. It's a bit deeper than most of what I write and mostly just opening up some big questions. It's called Theology for an Era of Decline."
Sally shares, "I have swine flu so have been blogging quite a bit recently; thinking about worship, and about Chuch notice boards. And writing a poem or two." Get well soon!

Songbird gives us a reflection on the power of story and finding our paths and our gifts: Your Holiness May Vary. Jan has also been thinking about the amazing and sacred power of human stories shared.

And speaking of stories that make you shiver and gasp: don't miss MaineCelt's birthday letter to her mama.

Keeping in prayer all those of you stranded by snow, about to receive MORE snow, having mudslides...Let us know what you've been blogging while the winter holds court, wont' you?

In other news, it's Valentine's Day this Sunday, and that means it's time for the fifth annual Pantipalooza! Palooza founder, Princess Mindy, says, "What started out as an *I'm not going to feel sorry for myself on Valentine's THIS year* kind of a thing has turned into such a sweet outpouring of love.

"Palooza is simple. You are going to choose some woman, women or a women's group that can benefit from something you can donate or do...then you are going to do just that!" It's been in the paper. There's even a Facebook group with 183 fans; search on "Pantipalooza" to join.

And as Mindy says, it's not all about the panties anymore. Elastigirl has a new twist on the theme.

What will you be doing this weekend to show the your families, kiddos, those less fortunate than you? Share these or other ponderings in the comments. You'll get more visits if you include a direct link, thusly: <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.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - My Transfigured Valentine Edition

One afternoon a couple of years ago in preparing for Transfiguration Sunday, I came across these two sentences:
The Word and You, vol 2, Editor Nan Duerling
Read the story of the transfiguration...Envision yourself with Peter, James and John as you read. Experience the emotions that might have welled up within you.

Texts for preaching, Year A, Brueggemann, et al
It is no good inviting the congregation to envision themselves there on the mountain with the disciples; it taxes the imagination beyond credulity.

I think I laughed right out loud sitting there at my desk, as those two books argued away with one another. Actually, though, as I think about it, the contradiction of these two quotations captures perfectly the contradictions of the texts for Transfiguration Sunday.

The way it is possible to hold at one time divinity/humanity, fear/faith, past/present/future (just to name a few of the apparent contradictions of the transfiguration story) is one of the delicious mysteries of the life of faith.

The question is how to PREACH a delicious mystery?

Some ideas: You might put your folk firmly in the place and the time of the story - inviting them to climb the mountain with the disciples and encounter the giants of the faith. Perhaps you will invite your congregation to remember mountain top experiences they have personally experienced. Or, you might focus on what happens when they came back down the mountain - on how the experience changed all of them, even if they didnt know it yet.

Have you seen the poem by Kathy Coffey called After the Transfiguration? It ends this way:

We wondered if, returning,
James and John had squabbled:
whose turn to fetch the water,
after the waterfall of grace?

After he imagined the shining tents,
did Peter's walls seem narrow,
smell of rancid fish?
Did feet that poised on Tabor
cross the cluttered porch?
After the bleached light,
could eyes adjust to ebbing
grey and shifting shade?

Cradling the secret in their sleep
did they awaken cautiously,
wondering if the mountaintop
would gild again-bringing
that voice, that face?

What are your thoughts, plans and hopes as we head toward Sunday? Have you remembered that Valentines Day falls on a Sunday this year? So, what do you do with THAT, if anything?

Let us know in the comments. Image found here. Oh, and texts are here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

2nd Monday Discussion: Best and Worst

As an Interim Minister, I'm almost never out of search and call mode, so I'm getting used to doing lots of interviews. I've gone in prepared to answer certain things and found they were not asked. I've been put on the spot by other questions and managed to save myself with a good answer. And I've also failed massively! This morning I'm thinking about the best and worst questions I've been asked, and what makes them "best" or "worst" is purely objective, I realize.

In the comments, please share some of the best or worst questions you've been asked in an interview, and tell us what made them feel that way to you. I'll give my questions and answers there, too.


Don't forget our upcoming RevGalBookPals discussion, February 22, when we will talk about ring member Nadia Bolz-Weber's Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television. Nadia bravely watched 24 straight hours of "Christian" television, accompanied by friends who took shifts at her side. She reviews each show and reflects honestly when the theology expressed touches her despite her assumption that would not be likely. I hope you'll join me in the discussion.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Prayer for Epiphany 5C

We are yours and you have called us in the midst of daily lives to follow you, to serve you,
to spread your good news.
We want to do so, but Lord we often feel unworthy, we feel like we are the chief of sinners, we feel unclean, and not holy at all. Your holiness, your love, and your presence scares us.
Calm our fears, dry our tears, that we may know deep within ourselves your love, grace and forgiveness.
Empower us to follow you, to serve you, and to tell others the good news.

O Lord along with this prayer, we also pray for the people of Haiti, the rescue workers, the Doctors and nurses who are providing aid and healing to a devastated people.
O Lord we pray for those around us who may be living their own devastated lives.
Provide the resources, the aid, and the human touch they need for restoration.
In the name of your son,

cross posted at revgal prayer pals and rev abi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher Party: In Deep Water Edition

Good morning, gals and pals! In pondering the texts for this week, Peter casting his net into the deep water and catching a ridiculous abundance of fish is the image that sticks in my mind. For in the variety of texts, there is an embarrassment of riches. From Isaiah's vision in the temple, to Peter teaching from Simon's fishing boat, from Paul's recitation of the basics of the faith; from the coals burning Isaiah's lips to the Simon's fishing nets tearing under the weight of so many fish -- well, we're definitely in deep water. (or maybe we're feeling like our sermon smells like some slightly old fish!) You'll find a great discussion of the texts here.

I have oatmeal with raisins this morning, fair trade coffee and Good Earth tea. I have cleared a little space on our dining room table, a place where there aren't books and papers already, and even put some colorful placemats and napkins out (what color do you think?) And you know what? This particular table miracululously gets bigger every time someone sits down.

So, I hope you'll join us, for a little while, or for the day. Let us help you as you cast your net into the deep water. If you nets are breaking, we'll come and help you.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Staving off the gloom; Friday Five

Candlemass is past, and Christmas is well and truly over, here in the UK February looks set to be its usual grey and cold self. Signs of spring are yet to emerge; if like me you long for them perhaps you need ways to get through these long dark days. So lets share a few tips for a cold and rainy/ snowy day....

1. Exercise, what do you do if you can't face getting out into the cold and damp?

2. Food; time to comfort eat, or time to prepare your body for the coming spring/summer?

3. Brainpower; do you like me need to stave off depression, if so how do you do it?

4. How about a story that lifts your spirits, is there a book or film that you return to to stave off the gloom?

5. Looking forward, do you have a favourite spring flower/ is there something that says spring is here more than anything else?

Bonus; post a poem/ piece of music that points to the coming spring......

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 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.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Ask the Matriarch -

This week we have a general question about pastoral care:

I have a general question about appropriate ways to support parishioners when their family members (in this case, members of other churches) are sick, dying, or have passed away. I imagine there's a spectrum from personal presence and listening and supporting all the way to some sort of participation in services. Perhaps this is always a case-by-case basis, but any words of wisdom you might have would be helpful. I'm always worried about stepping on other pastors' toes if I do too much, or not providing enough support to the folks from my own congregation if I don't do enough.

Jennifer responds:

I believe that you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes when you’re concerned about your own congregation’s needs. Pastoral care for your congregation’s members is always appropriate, but unless you’re asked by the family, I don’t think you need to visit the person who is ill. Prayers on their behalf are always in order!

If you’re wondering about participating in services conducted in other churches or settings, if the family wishes you to participate in the service, the invitation should be cleared with (and should really come from) the deceased’s clergyperson or religious leader.

When local, I try to attend the service or visitation for a member’s family member. Again, I feel as though that’s my pastoral care for those who are part of the congregation I serve.

Dorcas writes:

It is difficult to walk that line of caring but not overstepping boundaries. It is difficult to generalize, and it always seemed to work at on a case by case basis, as you mention. If a family member who was part of my church requested I visit their loved one in the hospital, nursing home, etc. I did so. Sometimes, depending on the relationship I had with the ill person, I would comment about their pastor, or some related comment, especially if members of the patient's congregation also happened to be in the room! Showing up at a viewing or even a funeral is always fine, in my opinion. Just being there is something any caring person might do. If actually asked to participate in the funeral, I would let it be known that it is really the call of the family member's pastor. If that person was fine with it, I participated to the degree appropriate. I only recall one instance where the other pastor seems miffed that I was even asking, and I bowed out of participating--which was sad because I had a connection to the deceased that her pastor, sadly, did not.

And mompriest offers:

I always ask these two questions: "What can I do for you?" "What would be helpful?" If they look like they are, or will be, completely overwhelmed by that question I say, "I'll pray for you and your family." and "Is your loved one being visited by clergy in the hospital/home? Sometimes, as appropriate I ask, "Who is their pastor, maybe I'll call and see if our church can be of help during this time." Or less frequently, but as seems useful, I may ask, "Would a visit from me be helpful?"

After asking those questions, as relevant, and depending on the answers I may call the pastor of the loved one's church and have a conversation, perhaps offering to help with the visitation schedule to this parishioner. This is particularly helpful when I live closer to wherever the patient is located than their church clergy/congregation. Often that church/clergy appreciates sharing visitation - I may offer to go once a month or more frequently, depending on how critical the situation is. Or maybe I find out that the person is being visited often enough and then I can assure the family of that and then help my parishioner with their grief and stress.

I also send my parishioner a card and call them during the week. Sometimes people are more willing to accept help .

As the situation unfolds I stand ready to help as is helpful but mindful - as assessed by the answers to my questions - to not interfere. At the very least I will try to go to the wake if there is one and or the funeral, where I will sit in the congregation unless asked to help in some other way.

So those are the helpful answers from our matriarchs. What about the rest of you? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments. And as always, if you have a question you would like the matriarchs to address, please send it to

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Freestyle

Reebok Freestyle: Now in fabulous colors!

Today is your day to post whatever you are thinking and writing about. We had no nominations in the queue so....let it roll!

If you post a link in your comment, who knows who you might meet? Use this formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - God Calling Edition

The two call stories in this week's lectionary readings - the call of Isaiah and the call of the fishers - are very different in many ways. Isaiah's call comes in the form of a mystical vision in the temple, complete with seraphim. (What ARE seraphim anyway? My Bible dictionary is no help here. I think it says something like: "Heavenly creatures, of unknown description. See angels.") The call of the fishers, on the other hand, could hardly be more prosaic, coming as it does plop in the middle of Peter, James and John's work day.

But, the stories do have a similar trajectory, which might make it fun to weave them together in a sermon. Both start in a very particular time and place, in both stories the Divine speaks words that beckon, and both feature protagonists who declare their unworthiness before God but follow anyway.

If, on the other hand, you're taking your sermon in an evangelism direction, rather than a call direction, you might want to consider Ann Svennungsen's words, as quoted by Kate Huey: "The calling is not to hook people and drag them in," Svennungsen writes: "It is rather to cast the net of God's love all around--open to all the world--and then wait with patience for the Spirit's work and to see if any are caught by God's vision and grace."

Are you preaching on psalms instead? Continuing your series on Corinthians? Or veering off the lectionary course altogether? (By the way, if you are considering moving off lectionary, this new discussion over at Working Preacher has just come to my attention).

Let us know in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you!