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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Ministry and New Motherhood

Our question this week springs from the joyful yet challenging task of balancing ministry and motherhood. We have lot of folks around here with experience at this, so some of you may have special insight into her situation:

I am a new mom to a 4 1/2 month old daughter, and have recently returned to full-time pastor work from a 3-month maternity leave.  While the congregation is delighted to see my daughter at church events, I am sensitive about bringing her with me during regular workdays, wondering if some in the congregation might begin to think I am not really doing my job.  I'm guessing the matriarchs will (rightly) assess that some of this anxiety is more about me than the congregation.  But I would welcome any advice from seasoned pastor-parents about balancing work-with-child, work-without-child, and the perceptions of the congregation.  What have you learned along the way that might help a neophyte?  

Karen writes:

In my experience, (both personal and from observation) bringing baby to work seems to work best in smaller congregations where the atmosphere in the office is less corporate-feeling.  When my kids were tiny, I divided my workload into categories:  stuff I can only really do well when the kids are being cared for elsewhere, stuff I can do while the kids are around but need minimal attention from me, and stuff I can do with the kids in tow.

Another observation: where the pastor/parish relationship was good and open prior to the baby's arrival, this stuff is pretty easily and openly negotiated.  But if there were significant tensions pre-baby, the presence of the baby during work time becomes an opportunity for those tensions to get played out.

The baby in the office question is a short term issue at any rate.  Once the baby can crawl, all bets are off.  The day my 8 month old dragged all the books off the bottom two shelves of the bookshelf and attempted to eat the plant on the table in the work area was the last day she came to work with me.


We welcome a new matriarch to our group this week. Sharon, who blogs at  Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers:

Congratulations on your new baby and on your congregation's positive response!  This will be an adventure for all of you!

At church events, including Sunday activities, I suggest having a designated responsible person to be with her when you can't be. That way, you don't have to figure out whom you can turn to with her or who has her if you don't.  If the event is mostly social, like a church picnic or a Sunday School party, you can more freely be in the mom role, all the while being aware of occasions when you need to step back into the pastor role, sometimes without her at your side.  Having a previously-picked back-up person gives you that flexibility.  

As for her presence with you during the week in the church office, on pastoral calls and at meetings:  Do you have an agreement with your church governing board about what they expect that to look like?  Will it change as she gets older and more active?  Negotiating these expectations together, or just restating them at this time, might lower everyone's anxiety.  

I was more comfortable not having my children with me in the church office, on most pastoral calls and at church meetings.  I felt that the congregation and I needed to have some focused pastor time, and my children deserved time away from the church.  Your boundaries may vary!

I have discovered that serving as a pastor does grant us some blessed flexibility that can be used for our family's well-being.  Be ready to ask for what you need in order to set healthy boundaries and to balance all the sacred calls on your life!   And enjoy!

And finally we hear from +Muthah, who offers this wisdom and encouragement:

I am NOT a mother and so I have no hands-on experience BUT....  One of the important things about the ordination of women was to recognize that women who choose to be mothers have an important place in the ministry of the Church.  It is incumbent upon us women to include our child-bearing and raising imperative of creation in our ministry.  Being sensitive to the needs of the community you serve is important.  But at the same time, the congregation needs to be aware of the needs of clergy to be parents.  (Oh, that we could model this for our male clergy too.)  Balance, I think is the issue.  Help your congregation be a part of the raising of your child as much as you are part of raising their children.  Hopefully by your witness, these questions for the next generation of women clergy will not be necessary.

Thank you so much to our matriarchs, and best wishes to our questioner as she embraces this joyful adventure. What say the rest of you? What advice would you offer her? Please join us in the comment section.

As always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to respond to, please write to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Why is it the Women?

Kathrynzj at Volume II writes this week about the path of Amendment 10-A in her Presbytery, her participation in that process and vote, and her observations thereafter. Whether of that denomination or not, many of us have followed with interest the process of this amendment.

It's been a few days since Amendment 10-a didn't pass on the floor of our Presbytery. I was an advocate for this amendment and the speech I read can be found here.

If you are not a Presbyterian, the above link will take you to the exact language of the amendment, but suffice to say that the rhetoric is over the removal of the only ordination standard specifically listed which is: "...the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

Basically, if you're gay you can come to church but you cannot be ordained as a Deacon, Elder or Minister of the Word and Sacrament. Despite the fact that all of us fall short of the glory of God, you - as a GLBT person - are a second class citizen.

I have spent a lot of time the last few days running through a variety of alternative speeches that I could have prepared. None of them would have worked. Folks showed up knowing how they were going to vote, myself included.

As my emotions have moved from blind rage to simmering anger, I've been better able to put my finger on some of the things from our 'debate' that frustrated me so (the failure of the amendment to pass being primary, of course). Of all of the things there is one thing that I cannot seem to process enough to shake.

It's the women who I know for a fact came to our denomination from other denominations that would not let them have a voice in the church and certainly not an ordained voice. The one woman who spoke most vehemently (read:irrationally) about what "bringing in the gays" would do to the church and the denomination was one that I myself welcomed into our fold. At one time she and I talked about the wonderful gift that the PC(USA) is as it holds on firmly to the reformed tradition and is inclusive to women's voices as well. This denomination has been inclusive of women for the past 150+ years (Deacon), 100+ years (Elder) and 50+ years (Minister of the Word and Sacrament).

It is truly a gift to be part of a denomination that even if not at the forefront, does continue to evolve in its inclusiveness. So how DARE she slam that open door in the face of those who would like to step through next?!

I find this unconscionable.

Don't get me wrong, there were women on the 'for' side as well and there were men on both sides. But I find particularly reprehensible the act of suppressing another human being's voice and Call from God by those who once had their own voice and Call kept from them.

Have you written about this situation and amendment on your own blog, or would you like to share your thoughts now? Please do so in the comments. You can add a link to your post using this formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lectionary Leanings- Light and oil...

From a man born blind,  a prophet who is told that we do not see as God sees, to a passage on being in the light, there is a real emphasis on sight in these passages. A challenge to look below the surface not just within ourselves but also in others to see the true person not the outer projection...

And then there is oil, oil for anointing a king, and oil for our own heads, oil overflowing- a great symbol of restoration and healing becomes a symbol of calling...

How do we connect these? Is it by the river of anointing oil that we travel to the way of light?

Are we challenged as Samuel was to see strength in weakness, to recognise the hand of God upon an unlikely servant? 

Are we challenged as the Disciples were to recognise God at work, or as the Pharisees were to think outside of the box of their rules and laws?

How will you preach this week, which are the themes that stand out for you? Where are you preaching how will you enable these texts to speak?

Or are you looking at some different themes/ texts?

Let us know in the comments....

Before I go I'd like to point you to two excellent reflections on Ephesians and John over at Visual Theology.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Discussion: How Goes Lent?

It's a mid-Lent Monday, and over on Twitter I spy a discussion between various RevGals about taking time off, and how impossible it feels at this time of year. We have extra programs and ecumenical services or concerts and additional responsibilities that may or may not include getting a none-too-interested congregation to feel the purpose of a season of penitence or preparation or ...

I've been attempting to ramp up toward Easter by trying some variations in worship, which got me teased yesterday: "When are the flying acrobats coming?"

So how's it going, Gals and Pals? Let us know in the comments.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Prayer for Lent 3A

Lord of earth, sky and sea,
You have created this beautiful world we live in.
And we thank you for it.
You entrusted us to be stewards of this place called earth
and we haven’t always done a very good job.
Forgive us we pray,.
Heal your land
Heal your waterways.
Heal your land.
Help us to be better caretakers.

Lord we pray for those who thirst for good clean water.
We pray for those who have no water at all.
We pray for those in Japan whose waters are now radioactive.
We pray for those who lives have been devastated by floods and tsunamis.
We pray for those who thirst for your living water.

Lord we pray for those who are unhappy today.
We pray for those who are suffering today.
We pray for those whose bodies are ravaged by pain.
We pray for those whose bodies are affected from illnesses.
We pray for those who hearts are broken.
We pray for those whose are affected with grief.

Lord you know how to reach out to the tender hearted and to those in need.
Help us as your representatives to do like wise.
Help us to not be afraid of persons who are different then ourselves.
Helps us to not be afraid to be in conversations with those who are different then ourselves.
Help us to share with others your good news because your love has been poured into our hearts through your Holy Spirit.
We pray all this and more that rests in our hearts and minds.

Cross posted at the blog a Place for Prayer and rev abi's long and winding road

Picture found at New Life

Saturday, March 26, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Water, Water Everywhere

It will seem a little strange reading these desert texts in my context this week. There is plenty of frozen water still on the ground in the form of snow, some of it dumped freshly just this week. We are in the midst of flood warnings as towns up and down our river, including our own, prepare for what could be record-breaking spring floods.

Yet, even with all this water at hand, people are still thirsty. At least I'm still thirsty. We are thirsty for reassurance. We are thirsty for guidance. We are thirsty for compassion. We are thirsty for justice. We are thirsty for rest and renewal. We are thirsty, I am sure, for Living Water.

What are your parched areas this weekend? For what to do thirst today?

The texts are here/
Conversations from earlier this week are here.

I'm sure the table will soon be spread with lots of goodies and, especially this week, deep glasses of water!

(Photo credit: Found this picture at this blog

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Five: Spiritual Practices

Image: Austin Garrett Ward, Expressive Theology

My Sunday school class has hit the "pause" button on our study of First Corinthians and is spending Lent on Richard J. Foster's classic Celebration of Discipline. I have had this wonderful and very readable book on my shelf, along with the study guide for it, for years, but have never discussed it with a group.

Because there are only five Sundays in Lent, we are fairly galloping through the book, getting a quick introduction to the various disciplines. The church is also sponsoring a Lenten Centering Prayer group, allowing some of us to sample this discipline in community.

Following the image above, I like to think of the spiritual disciplines as vessels that prepare us to ride the wave of God's amazing love and presence in a new way.

For today's Friday Five, please share with us five spiritual practices or disciplines from your experience. They can be ones that you have tried and kept up with, tried and NOT kept up with, ones that you flirt with at various times, or even practices that you have tried and found are definitely NOT your cup of tea. Let us know what's worked for you...and not.

If you blog about this, do share your thoughts and a link in the comments. You'll use this handy line of characters to do it...<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.

(The Disciplines as outlined by Foster can be found here.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Interfaith Wedding Resources

I'm hopeful that some of you out there have some resources you can share for our questioner this week, as the matriarchs have come up almost empty. Perhaps not many of us have officiated at interfaith services? Or perhaps we all just "roll our own" as opposed to relying on resources? At any rate, if you do have resources you would recommend, please do share. Here is our question:

I am interested in resources for blended marriages. I haven't actually performed a mixed marriage between the couples, but often the families have some members who are Jewish or of some other faith than Christian and want the ceremony to be sensitive and inclusive. I've done a funeral like that and worked with a friend (rabbi) who was giving pastoral care to the family (but they wanted a Christian pastor to do the funeral so she called me). I've also used some of the blessings from her son's bris in child dedication services. Our combined resources made a great worship service. What do other revgals do in these circumstances? What say the matriarchs?

Jennifer responded:

Like you, my best resources for blended ceremonies with another faith tradition have come from working closely with a faith leader from the other tradition. It's a fruitful and fun process to create a worship service that honors the traditions of both. If one does not have such a resource, I think it's very much worth seeking one out. What a fun question! I look forward to hearing more from the other contributors!


Thanks, Jennifer! I look forward to hearing more, too!

In my experience, there are multiple ways to approach an interfaith wedding. One is to have two entirely separate services. My husband officiated for a Christian-Muslim couple that chose this option. The Muslim ceremony was held on Friday night, with an imam officiating, and the Christian ceremony was held Saturday afternoon, with my husband officiating. It kept the integrity of each tradition intact, and allowed guests to fully experience both traditions. It was lovely.

A second option is to have a blended service with co-officiants - one from each tradition. I co-officiated for a Hindu-Christian couple that chose this option. The Hindu leader took part of the service and I took part of the service. This can be a little more difficult to pull off and to keep a balanced representation of both traditions, but I found the ceremony to be a very rich experience for all of us.

A third option, and the most common I've encountered, is to have a Christian minister officiate an essentially Christian service with elements from the other tradition blended in. It sounds like that is primarily what our questioner is asking about. I recently officiated at a service for a Christian-Jewish couple, and that's the approach we took. They were very clear about which elements they wanted included - the chuppah, the ketuba, the breaking of the glass - and I did some online research to help me understand the background of those traditions (I'm sorry I didn't keep a list of resources). I took the time in the service to explain each of the traditions, as at least half the guests were not Jewish. I learned a lot in the process, and I felt the service was an adequate representation of both their traditions (some Jewish congregants even thought I was a Reconstructionist rabbi, so I guess I explained things right!).

I'm sure there are other ways to approach it as well. My first resource is always the couple themselves, I try to get very clear on exactly what they are envisioning, and why. I think the idea of consulting a leader from the other tradition makes a lot of sense, too.

So what about the rest of you? Are there resources, online or otherwise, that you would recommend for someone crafting an interfaith wedding ceremony? Please share in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the Matriarchs to discuss, email it to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

-- earthchick

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wednesday Festival: RevGals Featured on God Complex Radio

RevGal and RGBP Board President Martha Spong (Songbird) was interviewed by RevGal Carol Howard Merritt for the most recent edition of God Complex Radio. The interview was released yesterday.

Click here to go to the GCR site and hear the entire interview.

From the GCR site:
In the fourth episode of our 4th season, we invited Martha Spong to join Carol Howard Merritt and Landon Whitsitt to discuss RevGalBlogPals and social media. Martha just got back from the RevGals Cruise and filled us in on what the RevGals have been up to in the last couple of years.

What exactly is RevGals? Well, listen in to find out more, but a brief explanation is that it is a group blog of … you guessed it… female pastors. They only have a few rules for membership. RevGals is for women clergy, women church professionals, and women religious, or those discerning a call to Christian ministry – who are committed to building a supportive online community for women clergy, women church professionals, and women in religious life – and who are active bloggers for the previous three months.

Listen into this episode and find out more about Martha’s experiences with RevGals and other lessons she has learned from ministry and social media.

Thanks to God Complex Radio and Carol for helping to spread the word about RevGalBlogPals!

Lectionary Leanings- Living Water edition...

Exodus 17: 1-7,  Psalm 95,  Romans 5: 1-11,  John 4:5-42

From water from a rock to water from a well there is a distinctly aquatic feel to the lectionary readings this week; I have to say that the Samaritan woman's story holds a special place in my heart. She comes to the well a broken lost soul and leaves it bursting with good news, running to the village where she'd previously been shunned to call them to come and see.

Her conversation with Jesus was many layered, questions of worship to challenges to lifestyle she does not shrink back from the one who offers her living water...

In Exodus too we see the quest for water, a thirsty people crying out for deliverance, yet quarrelling and questioning God's existence.

How will you use these watery images and themes this week, themes that speak not only of physical but spiritual thirst? In this time of Lent when we focus on the desert experience how do these images challenge, comfort and refresh you?

Will you be preaching on the lectionary this week? If you are, or if you're not chime in with some comments and share some living water...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Meet n' Greet, Part 2

As I mentioned last week, we've had lots of interest in the ring recently, and we have more new members to greet today! I hope you'll all take a few minutes to visit them and say hello.

Nancy Johnson is a United Methodist pastor in the Atlanta area, and she's writing at A Feast for the Soul: Reflections of a Clergy Cook. Aghast at the number of unused recipes in books and card files in her own kitchen, Nancy decided on a project:

I am going to work through every cookbook in my kitchen, prepare every recipe spilling out of the box. My plan is to do the unthinkable in our modern culture and use what I already have. The project is to pull these forgotten recipes from obscurity and place them on the kitchen counter, so that they may acquire the mantle of food spills and water stains that come from use.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will tell you that I may skip some. While my personal challenge is to try all – or almost all – of the recipes in my cupboard, I will take the liberty to postpone or exclude at my discretion. (If I were Julie Powell, for example, I would have skipped the aspics.)

Random Ramblings from a Reformed Reverend is the new blog of our old friend, 1-4 Grace. Welcome back to blogging! Here are a few ways she describes herself:

*Solo pastor from the south serving in the south *2nd Career pastor, was a teacher first *Wear my socks inside out *Love thrift stores and rumage sales *Collect vintage linens * Enjoy gardening

At The Song of Myself, say hello to Sharon Guy from Derbyshire, United Kingdom. She is a:

Forty something mum of two and wife of one. Enjoys reading, writing and blogging. GSOH! Reader in the Anglican Church. Seeker of Truth and Integrity. Will you join me on this rollercoaster journey?

We will!!

I'm especially delighted to introduce Holly at A Holly Moment, because we had the chance to meet in person at BE 4.0. Holly is a Presbyterian pastor who blogs about life with "a crazy fun loving husband, a spirited four year old and two blue-eyed little men." She's also an amazing photographer and can build almost anything with her own two hands!

Anita Mathias blogs at Dreaming Beneath the Spires, where she writes about the arts and faith and says:

My books include "Wandering between Two Worlds" and "The Church that Had Too Much." I live in Oxford, England. I have a B.A. and M.A. in English from Somerville College, Oxford University, and another Masters in Creative Writing from the Ohio State University, and still love both literature and writing!

Finally for today, say hello to Lesley, who blogs at ... naturally ... Lesley's Blog:

I am working in the Bernwode Benefice in rural Buckinghamshire. I consider myself to be a priest, mother and General Dogsbody. I love mission, psychology, reading, crosswords and anything that makes people laugh. I write about my thoughts on church, life, faith and some tough stuff too. I am incurably post modern but fun. I hope you enjoy my blog.

Welcome to all these wonderful bloggers!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prayer for Lent 2a

Second Sunday of Lent A

Prayers from our heart to the heart of God;

Merciful God, in this time of quiet and silence we come to you.
We come to like Nicodemus seeking answers to our questions.
We come to you not sure we understand what the bible teaches, what the Sunday School teachers teaches or what the preachers preaches.
We come to you seeking faith to accept your wonderful gift of love.
Fill our hearts with your love.
May your Holy Spirit blow through our lives and through our churches.

Maker of Heaven and Earth, in this time of rejoicing and singing we come to you.
We come as David and the pilgrims seeking your help for all of us.
We come seeking your help in our time of need.
We come asking for your aid for those who are sick, wounded, chronically ill, and terminally ill.
We come looking for you to assist those in Japan who have lost so much and so many loved ones; who now may lose more to nuclear radiation.
We come praying for you justice for the poor, the homeless, the slaves, the children, and the helpless.
Fill their hearts with you love.

Covenant God, in this time of wonder and awe we stand still to listen to you.
We stand waiting for the word from you just as Abraham did so that we too can go where you lead us.
We stand waiting for your word of blessing for our lives when so many times we feel more stressed then blessed.
We stand waiting for your word of promises to us and to your church.
We stand waiting for your word of life for our dull and lifeless world.
We stand waiting for your word of grace in our lives.
We stand waiting for your word of creativity in our lives, our churches and our world.
And then Lord we are then able to go forth with you leading our way.

cross posted at rev abi's long and winding road and a place for prayer

11th Hour Preacher's Party: Faith?, Faith!, Faith....edition

The Lenten Seasons (Year A) when we focus on all the great stories in the Gospel of John is my favorite of all the seasons. Each Sunday offers us rich texts about the nature of God, humanity, Jesus, and what it means to become a people of faith. It's a "metaphor thick" time, offering layers to unfold and new insights to gleam, and lots of material for the preacher...

Then again the preacher might be tempted to reflect on the Epistle or the Hebrew Text of the Older Testement....and even then, thick...very thick stuff to delve into.

So, what text is sticking to you, or, uhm, with you this morning?

I have the usual array of require sustenance: coffee. more coffee. and tea for those who prefer....oh, and of course, food. I think this morning pancakes are in order....I can make them thick and fluffy, or thin and french crepe like...what's your preference?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Five: Springing Forward

Whether we liked it or not, we all "sprang forward" with the change to daylight savings time in the USA this past Sunday. There is lightness and brightness slipping in as spring approaches, so let us consider what is springing forth in our lives right now.

Name 5 things that are springing forth, possibly including :
  • what you hope for
  • what you dread
  • what you observe
  • what is concrete
  • what is intangible
I will be away this weekend, and so I promise to check in with you all on Sunday evening!

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment with the formula I can never print out--click here for the info about it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Teenagers and the Occult

Our question this week is a thought-provoking one. Perhaps some of you have some experience you could share.

Flighty Fashionista is a 14 year old who was confirmed last year.  During Confirmation Prep, she showed an unhealthy interest in the occult -- I had her read the Gospel of Luke and her favourite scripture was the Temptation of Jesus, not because of what Jesus did, but the way the Devil behaved, she was filled with all kind of questions about how and why.  Last night she came to me asking me about Ouiji boards, were there ghosts in the church, did I know any spells, and so on.

She is the daughter of a long standing family in the church and I'm pretty sure her grandparents and parents would be appalled.  How should I proceed?

Muthah+ rings in:

Dear Sister,

I used to teach this age group before I was ordained and I loved them even if they drove me up the wall.  Your fashionista may be doing something to get your goat or her parent's goat.  Or she may be fooling around with other kids who have some weird ideas.  But whatever you do, do not dismiss her.

Offer to take her out for a soda or a lunch on a Saturday.  Let her pick the place where she is comfortable with you other than your office.  Get her to ask her questions and take them seriously.  Ask her how she understands how charms and spells work and then ask her how God works.  Be prepared to share with her the difference between mystery and magic.  I would imagine that she is having a hard time understanding the difference between hope and fantasy.  It is a very common issue with teens her age.  Then share with her some of your own story--she needs to know how God really works in people's lives. 

She is really a post-modern child.  She has a foot in fantasy and magic as pre-modern people do, and the experience of modernist science, but is overwhelmed with the technological instantaneousness of the post-modern age.  No wonder our kids are sometimes confused.  The more that you can be REAL with her, she will get out of her magical world and meet you straight on.  Enjoy the relationship!

Thank you, Muthah+, for sharing your wisdom!

What about the rest of you? Have you had experience with teenagers interested in magic, Satan, and/or the occult? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts, advice, and experiences in the comments section.

As always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com. Our queue is quite short right now, so we should be able to get to your question soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Church

Today's post is by Pastor Julia, who blogs at Faith, Grace and Hope.

I’m at the Big Event 4.0 with the RevGalBlogPals and we’ve been discussing how to define “church”. As you may guess, most of us write blogs, among other things, and we’ve noted that our blog traffic isn’t limited to the people whom we see in our places of worship.

Knowing that we don’t want to limit our audience (really!), then we’ve been trying to figure out what to call the people with whom we converse through electronic media, but whom we do not see in the pews.

In other words, are the electronic spaces “church”?

What is church?

There is something to be said for the face-to-face interaction, the bodily presence together, sacraments experienced in the flesh, the sharing and mutual hope for God’s peace.

On the other hand, there are people who have been hurt, who struggle with doubt, who cannot yet step into a sanctuary precisely because it does not provide sanctuary (as it were). Yet these brothers and sisters have something to contribute to the community of believers.

If we limit the definition of “church” to the space inside a building that occupies a specific address, that is too fine a point. Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the importance, even the longing for, interaction in person.

The Incarnation, that is God among us in Jesus, helps us to understand our need for interaction and congregation in the flesh. Even the most introverted among us longs, occasionally, for the consolation of company.

Electronic church is real and cannot be dismissed. The bounds of electronic church demonstrate the need for fellowship, collaboration, support, debate and exegesis that define some of the best parts of the Christian faith.

So many words in that last sentence need defining: exegesis, Christian, faith, fellowship. We argue about what they mean and does a particular word mean to me the same thing that it means to you?

And, I think, that’s one of the best definitions for church: a place where one gathers with others and knows the love and presence of God, through the indescribable means of conversation, shared burdens, and the Spirit.

Sometimes that happens in the church and sometimes church happens.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: God So Loved Edition

If not the most famous Bible verse in the world, the one tucked into this week's lectionary reading is certainly among the most ubiquitous, found everywhere from stadium signs to fast food cups to your childhood list of Sunday School memory verses.

Speaking of stadium signs, if you Google John 3:16 images, you get a photo of this guy, the Rainbow Man, who carried his John 3:16 sign to major events throughout the 70's and 80's. Which seems sort of sweet and kooky until you read further and learn that he's in prison for life for kidnapping. For goodness sake, how did these 26 words of love beget such an act of violence?

Which is just the first of the long list of questions I bring to this week's text, and in particular verse 16. What is the power of this one scripture verse anyway? And what is its purpose? Is it a slogan? A test? A cipher? Is it helpful to rip it out of context, as it so often is? And if you read the poetic, mysterious words around it, does that clarify or obfuscate the meaning?

Maybe the power of this scripture is more in the questions it raises than the facile answers it seems to provide. If you are interested in walking the text down that road, you might find illumination in David Lose's recent Huff Post column in which he views the recent Rob Bell controversy through the lens of this week's lectionary:

Interestingly, the word for "world" (kosmos in Greek) everywhere else in the Gospel of John describes that entity that is at complete enmity with God... This gives John 3:16 a bit more punch: "For God so loved the God-hating world that he sent his only Son ," we might accurately translate. Apparently, at least according to Jesus, God really, really, really loves the world.

'Course, you don't have to be preaching the gospel to be preaching the good news. What are you focussing on this week? Chime in - comments are open!

Photo from Scott Beale at Laughing Squid. Links to texts for this week found here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Meet n' Greet

Happy Monday! 

I'm happy to introduce several new ring members today, as well as pointing you to a current member's new blog. If you applied recently and don't see yourself, don't worry! There will be another Meet and Greet next Monday. New members, if you don't have our button yet, please add it to your blog! And not-so-new members, I hope you'll go leave a greeting with our new friends.

First, go visit elbyviau (formerly of Clever Titles Need Not Apply) at her new blog, The Viau from Here. RevGalBlogPals inspired her to start blogging in the first place! You can also find her on Twitter: @lauraviau.

Next, say hello to Nancy Wallace, who blogs at Seeker. She writes about herself:
I don't think Christians have to have closed minds. There is always so much more treasure to seek out and find, sometimes in unlikely places. As I get older I want to keep on seeking and I'm committed to keep on turning towards Christ, the "Light of the world".

JMe Lowden blogs at The Lowdens' Lines with her husband, Bob. They are an ELCA clergy couple who spent some time in Africa, and say about their blog:
We hope that these brief lines and stories will, in some small way, be blessings for your days and will provide an update of the ways life is blessing us. 

Dawn Trautman blogs at Urban Nomad. She writes:
As an Urban Nomad I live and work without a permanent home. As a professional actress, I move all over the country to perform in various musicals. As a certified life coach with degrees in Lutheran theology and organizational psychology, I see life lessons in all of myadventures. My sense of stability comes from strong connections to people and deep commitments to goals. 

I first found Sister Sarah's Excellent Adventure just after last year's earthquake in Haiti. I'm delighted she has asked to join the ring! She writes:
I began this blog as I prepared to leave for a seminary field education placement in a parish in Haiti, creating it as a way of sharing my experiences and reflections over the summer with people at home. I am still blogging because there is more to share about Haiti. While I may not be there now, at least I can share my Sisters' experiences and my own reflections. And I can look forward to the day I move back, which I hope will be in the autumn of next year (2011).

Chris Ayers blogs at Liberal Baptist Rev, is the pastor of Wedgewood Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, and declares his blog space open to all "persons of any color, culture, age, ability, economic status, sexual or affectional orientation; skeptics and those who pursue common or unorthodox religious paths."

And finally for today, we welcome The Seedbed:
The Seedbed is a group blog of religiously-interested wisecracking women, begun in 2010 by Sarah Morice Brubaker, a faculty member at Phillips Theological Seminary. (About three seconds of reading will likely prompt you to realize that neither PTS, nor any other institution with which any of the bloggers are affiliated, has any responsibility for the site or its contents.)

We're happy to welcome all of you!!! Look for more introductions next Monday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: God of Day and God of Darkness

"God of day and God of darkness,
now we stand before the night.
As the shadows stretch and deepen,
come and make our darkness bright.
All creation still is groaning
for the dawning of your might.
When the Sun of peace and justice
fills the earth with radiant light."

-- Marty Haugen

There is something so plain and simple about this video, you can hear the chair creak, there are no vocals, yet the guitar speaks with power. The tune is Beech Spring, to which Marty Haugen set God of Day and God of Darkness. All through Advent, I wrote about light and flame, now we're sitting in a moment where the earth itself is groaning, and it's people as well. Lent always seems to shift the earth under my feet, re-grounding me in the ashes and dust from whence I came.

As Lent begins, where is the music in your life and your community grounded? Share with us in the comments!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayer for Lent 1a

Lord, we are heartbroken over the devastation in Japan, the lives lost,
This is not the first time recently that there have been earthquakes or flooding,
but it doesn’t keep our hearts from hurting.
It reminds us how quickly life can change and how short our time on earth is.
It reminds us that we live in a natural world.
It reminds us to call unto you Lord.

And so we call upon you for
hope and healing,
guidance and strength.
We pray that we be able to offer our hands and resources to help.

Lord you promise to those whom are faithful that when we pray;
At a time of anguish, you will hear us,
You will be our place of safety,
That you will care for us in a time of trouble,
And that you will be deliver us.
We claim those promises now.

Lord as we begin this time the Great Fast
We ask you to walk with us as we go through
Life’s trials and temptations.
During this time as we journey to the cross with Jesus,
Help us to keep the fast, help us to understand Jesus’ journey, and
Help us to remain faithful to you.

In the your son’s name, Amen

crossposted at place for prayer and revabi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher Party: Tempting Edition

Good morning, gals and pals!  I was tempted to post a picture of some donuts here this morning, or perhaps sweet rolls, or a piece of cake, but instead I decided to include a piece of art by the Japanese Artist Sadao Watanabe.  This one is Christ and the Devil.  I found it here.  I have been thinking a lot about Japan lately (I spent three years there many years ago), and those thoughts are seeping into my thoughts about Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness.  

What about you?  What thoughts are seeping into your worship preparation today and as we enter the season of Lent?  Where is your preaching leading you?  What are your temptations?  Feel free to ask for ideas on a children's message, and weigh in on other Lenten issues as well.  Also, if you need inspiration, please don't hesitate to check the conversation here

I am making blueberry pancakes (again).  I am a creature of habit, after all.  I hope you enjoy them.  Please come for breakfast, stay for lunch and take many breaks with us to inspiration, sustenance, bread in the wilderness.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Five: All About Cars!

Maybe it's just me, but I often remember how long ago someting occured or something about it by recalling the car we had at the time. For today's Friday Five, tell us about the cars in your life. Maybe we can even tempt some of the guys of the ring to join us. Specifically, tell us about:

1. The earliest recollection you have of a family car
2. The first car you drove when you could (legally) get behind the wheel yourself.
3. A memorable road trip
4. The car you drive now. Love it? Hate it?
5. An interesting story that involves you and a vehicle. (No, I do not have a dirty mind!)

If you'd like to drive more traffic to your blog, put a link in your comment this way: 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.

Bonus: What's your idea of good "car music?"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Blessing of the Animals

kitty in a box
(personal photo, earthchick)

We have such a fun question today!

My church governing board has expressed an interest in having a “Blessing of the Animals.” Our church is located in a semi-rural suburb of a major metropolitan area. In our particular town, lot sizes are limited to 2 acres or more, so the neighbors (none of whom are members) envision themselves as ‘gentlemen farmers’ or ‘urban ranchers.’ My congregation would like to reach out to the surrounding community in a welcoming way and thinks this might be a way to do it.

I am a 7th generation Presbyterian who knows NOTHING about such services. I’ve never seen one (other than on the ‘Vicar of Dibley’) and don’t quite know where to start. I’d love to hear from those who hold such services where you get your resources, your liturgy. Is it held at a particular time of year? Are ALL animals welcome or just smaller animals? Inside or outside? During regular worship or as a special service? How do you keep the dogs apart and the dogs away from the cats and vice-versa? If you had the choice to make, would you start such a tradition or are you continuing something that was started before you arrived in your present call?

Perhaps I should confess that I still miss my 18-year-old indoor cat who died 2 years ago and I’m not much of a dog person, so I enter this whole project with some hesitation.

We have a wealth of experience among our matriarchs, who were very happy to share their resources.

Muthah+ writes:

I am an Episcopalian and I can assure you that there is no official service for the Blessing of the Animals. The Vicar of Dibly not withstanding.  Usually such celebrations happen around or on the Feast of St. Francis (Oct. 4) for obvious reasons.  What is fun is that you can make of such a service what you want, or what you need.  Readings that talk about the greatness of the animals.  Songs that remind people of their childhood.  Get the parish involved into bringing their animals. 

Cats need to be in cages.  Dogs need to be on leash.  Birds need to be caged too for the sake of the kitties. It was the snake that gave me a little pause. (pardon the pun). If you are a large group, put the cats in one place and the dogs in another.  Remember that many of our pets are predators and some of our pets are prey and will basically know real fear if placed near each other.  (The wisdom of a veterinarian parishioner at my last parish)  But be prepared for messes, fights and have experienced animal helpers on hand so that you can address the whole parade with confidence and light heartedness.

If you want to have it on a Sunday morning, make it in the spring or fall when the weather is nice so that you can go outside for some or all of the service.  This isn't, of course, about the animals; it is about their owners. 

Have fun.  You will gain incredible insight into your parishioners by seeing them with their pets.  I have always held that the "Dog Whisperer" has given me as much insight into parish dynamics as Ed Friedman.

Terri, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice, offers:
As a priest in the Episcopal Church I have celebrated many Blessing of the Animals. We usually have the blessing day sometime in early October, around the “Feast Day” of St Francis, which in the Episcopal Church is designated as Oct. 4. Here is a link to the prayers and scripture readings assigned to the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Most of the churches I have served at have preferred to host their blessing of the animals/celebration of St. Francis on Sunday morning in the midst of a regular Sunday service. This is complicated since it means the animals are in the church and, being Episcopal, we also have a weekly Eucharist. Sometimes I have held a special service, outside, on an evening or a Saturday afternoon instead on Sunday morning. Holding it outside is always risky because of the weather, so being prepared to hold it indoors is important.

I have found that having it indoors in the midst of Sunday morning services is simple. There is a bit of holy chaos, not unlike a baptism with babies, in that there might be more noise and movement. I also do the blessing at the point in the service when I would do the baptism, or the wedding vows, which enables us to follow a typical pattern of worship: Congregation gathers in their respective pews – allowing extra room for dogs and cats to not be too close to one another. I encourage people to bring cats, reptiles, and other animals in crates or containers. Dogs must be on leashes. The altar party processes in as usual, followed by the opening prayers, scripture, and a SHORT homily on St. Francis and why a blessing of the animals. Then we offer the instructions for coming forward for the blessing.

In small churches I, along with anyone else designated to offer blessings and prayers in the congregation, go into the pews and bless the animals where they are. In larger churches, or when outside, I have had the people line up, as for communion, and come forward to  various “stations” where the designated people will bless the animals. The blessing itself is simple: I lay hands on the animal, if possible, or if in a crate, I lay hands over. I ask the name of the pet and say a prayer of blessing: giving thanks for the blessing of this animal in the life of the human and the human in the life of the pet. And I ask God to bless its life.  It usually goes really smooth and well, even if there is some barking or animal fussing.  After the blessing people return to their pews and the service continues until complete. For the Eucharist we repeat what we just did for the blessing – either I go to them or they line up again, pets in tow, to receive communion. It actually works. I’ve done it for ten years....

Large animals, like horses, I ask to remain outside and I come to them.

Some pointers: I eliminate every component of worship that I can – Nicene Creed, Prayers of the People, etc. or keep the prayers really short. In essence the blessing of the animals takes the place of those elements. I preach a very short homily, five minutes, just enough to get give folks some bearing on the day. I advertise for a long time so folks know the event is coming.

Rev Honey, who blogs occasionally at Somewhere South of Southwhere, writes:
I instituted a “blessing of the animals” service about 10 years ago, and we hold it about every other year.  The whole event from start to finish is about 40 minutes long.

We schedule them on Sunday afternoon, closest to the date of the commemoration of Saint Francis on October 4th.  We hold the service outside in the front yard, which sits back from the road.  We create a simple service, with participants introducing their pets, a reading from Genesis 1, and offering prayers of thanksgiving and a blanket blessing for the animals’ health and well-being.  We have often had treats for the pets – dog biscuits, cat nibbles, pieces of apple and lettuce, and cookies and lemonade or ice water for the humans.

We do communicate clearly that we expect each pet-owner to keep their animal(s) under control.  In the past we have had cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, fish, and a turtle.  It has been a joyful event which builds community, and very meaningful to the people who participate.

And Diane Roth, who blogs at Faith in Community, adds:
I have done a few Animal Blessing Services in the last few years, and they can be a good way to invite the community.  We have always had them as a separate service, on Sunday afternoon, not at regular worship time, but I do know a few churches that have done them at their regular worship.  As for worship resources, I checked out Roman Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran Resources.  I keep the worship component as simple as possible, as just having animals around makes it complicated enough!  I benefitted greatly by having a team to help me put together the event.  The helped with logistics (should we hold it indoors or outdoors?/ should we have a fellowship time afterwards?/what about provision for 'accidents'?)  As for keeping the animals separate, my husband's church has different areas for dogs, cats, horses, and "other."  They also have a welcome team when you first come in to give each person a plastic bag, and direct you to the appropriate area. 

At my church, the bulk of the service is held outside.  This especially seems to work for music.  We have a small chapel, and we bring the animals inside for an individual blessing at the very end of the service.  But some churches have the whole service outside.  There's a large Episcopal church in our community that has a very well-known animal blessing service; they have their whole service inside, I believe. 


Wow! What fantastic and helpful answers. I personally have never offered a Blessing of the Animals service, and now I'm really eager to do one. Others of you may have more resources or input to share in the comments section. I would like to follow up on one aspect that hasn't been covered. The original questioner mentioned her own grief over losing a beloved pet. Knowing that there will be some in our congregations who have recently lost an animal companion, is this ever addressed in a Blessing of the Animals service? Have any of you ever provided an option for people who have recently lost a pet to bring a picture or other memento to have blessed, or do you otherwise include their grief in your prayers or rituals? 

Thank you matriarchs for sharing from your experiences! The rest of you, please do share in the comments section. And our question queue remains pretty low, so if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send them to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Reflecting on the BE

Ready for Eucharist, with the disco blaring just to the right.

It's Ash Wednesday, and as we set aside the season of celebration and fatness (pancakes, anyone?) we look back. Those just returned from the Big Event (4.0) have been doing some writing about it, and today's Festival shares those reflections. Enjoy!

A musical reflection from the Crimson Rambler, and a photo-one, too.

RevMibi reflects on re-entry, and refers to the BE in her sermon from Sunday, "Spring Break."

Jules' reflection shares her reactions to being in a large and ebullient group, as well as smaller, more intimate ones.

Holly, who is not (yet) a ring member, shared this reflection of the effect the experience on her life. "I laughed because these women are raw, and witty, and the rap music in the next room was so loud."

Songbird writes about the start of the event, and how it played out too.

I think there are perhaps some of us (like this editor) who have not had/taken time to unpack the experience into a blog post yet. If you do so in the next week or year or so, please share a link to that in the comments using this little html string: <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, March 08, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: The First Temptation of Christ Edition

I have not read Reframing Hope yet, but it's on the top of my to-read-asap stack. Having checked out the discussion yesterday, I'm wondering how/if those of you have read it are taking the the wisdom of the book with you into the next 40-days-plus-Sundays. In other words, as you accompany Christ through the sometimes difficult days of this Lenten season, what gives you hope?

We are leaping the lectionary (instead of leaning into it, I guess) at my church this week, and beginning Lent with an exploration of the 23rd Psalm. As we follow Jesus into the desert these next 40 days, we will be meditating on these words and how they have resonance for us any time we walk through a dark and seemingly lonely place. How about you? Which of these texts is calling you? The first temptation of the Earth Creatures? The first temptation of Christ? Or Paul trying to make sense of it all?

Also, would love to hear your Ash Wednesday ideas/traditions. We are having an acapella service this year for the first time, and the simplicity and perhaps starkness of voices alone seem like a fitting way to enter the season.

Finally, any particular themes, spiritual practices or intentions leading you and/or your flock into the season? The comments are open.

Fascinating art (who IS that child anyway?) found here. Links to texts for this week here.

Monday, March 07, 2011

RevGalBookPals Discussion: Reframing Hope

At the Big Event 4.0, we were blessed to have Carol Howard Merritt leading us in a program that took off from her book, "Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation." Carol spoke about her book and also shared some great ideas that pushed us to think about ways we can get a wider audience for our own voices.

Our frames, or constructs, influence the way we approach the life of the church and the way we interact with the world. Carol is a great advocate for mainline churches, believing we're not done yet. But faithfulness seems to require tilting our heads a bit to the side, trying to get another perspective on what God is calling us to do and be. In the book, Carol examines the ways cultural shifts necessitate reframing our understanding of authority, community, our mediums of communication, the ways we tell our story, avenues for activism, attention to creation, and developing new traditions for expressing our spirituality.

Did Carol's insights resonate with your experience? Were there ways she pushed you to think about things differently?

Please use the comments to share your thoughts.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday's Prayer

Oh Lord hear our prayers
Prayers for hope for those who feel hopeless
Prayers for healing for those who need healing
Prayers for jobs for those who are jobless
Prayers for community for those who feel lonely
Prayers for peace for those whose lives are filled with conflict.
Prayers for understanding for those seeking to be understood.
Prayers for comfort those who grieve.
Prayers for food for those who hunger.
Prayers for shelter for those who are homeless.
Prayers for clean water for those whose waters are contaminated
Prayers for rain for those who live in drought.
Prayers for a time of drying for those who are facing too much rain.
Prayers for freedom for those who live under dictatorships.
Prayers for wisdom for our leaders.
Prayers for Spiritual growth and health for our churches.
Prayers for your Kingdom to reign here on earth.

Forgive me for posting this late, my mind was still cruising.

cross posted at a place for prayer and rev abi's long and winding road

Saturday, March 05, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: T-Figgety

Girlfriends, and Guyfriends, too, it is one of the High Holidays of the Preacher Party: Transfiguration Sunday. I'm not one to set comment challenges, but some of our liveliest parties have fallen on this Saturday of the Great T-Fig Vigil as we struggle to nuance approaches to a text that doesn't differ all that much from one gospel to another.

Can we find something in Matthew's version that speaks to us?

For those of us who attended BE 4.0, this is a re-entry weekend. We're coming down off the mountain of (Carnival) Inspiration and wondering how to walk on land again. Can we tolerate ordinary reality? Is there a way to share the visions we may have seen for our lives?

So, we gather here together, whether we're preaching T-Fig or not, and we share coffee and stories and ideas, and we offer encouragement and jokes (please! make us laugh!), and before it's all over, we have those sermons, the little miracles of our workaday weeks as preachers.

Come, join the party. There's coffee and grapefruit and oatmeal and even organic pop-tarts! A special welcome to T-Fig lurkers: say hello to us, we would love to know you.

(Thanks to God_Guurrlll for this photo taken from the Aft Deck, pizza side, overlooking the Serenity Deck.)