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Saturday, April 30, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Thomas? Again? You've got to be kidding!

Maybe that's where Holy Humor Sunday came from. I've heard it's about laughing at the great practical joke God pulled on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. I think it's the joke the lectionary committee pulled on all of us by putting Thomas on the second Sunday of Easter. Every. Year.

Now I love Thomas as much as the next gal or pal, but it's tough listening for a new word about a familiar story every single Easter season. What do you do about this? How do you keep from preaching the same sermon intentionally or unintentionally?

I have skipped Thomas a number of years, sometimes for other lectionary passages, sometimes for other resurrection appearances that are more fitting. I considered this year pulling Emmaus up to this week because of the feeding motif. We have communion this week, so it seemed like a good idea.

This year I kept myself from reading any of my previous sermons until I had a good lead on this year's. I think I'm heading in a different direction.

How about you? What are you preaching this week? Will worship be "traditional" or do you lighten things up somehow the Sunday after The Big Day? Is it typically a "Low Sunday" for your congregation? I usually try to plan something extra the Sunday after Easter to "encourage" (read: bribe) people to come who might otherwise "take the Sunday off."

As always, join us in the comments. I'm sure there will be lots of virtual goodies showing up. My husband will be baking bread a little later in the day, so I'll have some to share in the afternoon or evening. I look forward to spending this party with you! And for a little something to inspire your laughter:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Friday Five

Westminster Abbey
Admittedly the media attention directed at a certain wedding is a tad askew given the challenges our world faces, yet for some it is an appreciated diversion. I'm at kathrynzj's house, along with her mom and sister, for a pre-dawn pajama party complete with scones! And while the DVR will cover us if we oversleep, the participants in the actual wedding had better have someone to get them to the church on time.

With kathrynzj's help, here is a Royal Wedding Friday Five:

1) Will you be watching? If so, is this your first royal wedding?

2) The bride has chosen as her wedding cake a fruitcake. Where do you stand on this pastry?

3) The dress code for royal weddings has not seen the same sad decline as that for most other weddings. If you could design your own royal wedding hat, what color would it be and what special decoration would it feature?

4)  Any chance the Archbishop of Canterbury is using a Sustainable Sermon (tip of the mitre to the Vicar of Hogsmeade)? What would you tell the couple were you offering the homily?

5) Believe it or not, kathrynzj is getting up early mostly to see the wedding dress. By the time this post is up, the world will have seen it. Did you like it?

ALTERNATIVELY: If you don't want to play this, and think we are goofballs, that's okay. Instead of telling us we're goofballs, why don't you tell us something fun you're going to do this weekend. We promise to get around to visit all of you eventually!

If you play, please leave a comment, and you'll be likely to get more comments if you link directly to your post. Here's how!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Fun Gathering at the Festival of Homiletics!!!

I hope it's okay to bust into the "Ask the Matriarch" party today, but I thought I should let everyone know that we appear to have a plan in place for any Rev Gals or Pals attending this year's Festival of Homiletics event, taking place May 16-20 in Minneapolis.

We have tentatively arranged a meet-up at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Minneapolis. They have a restaurant there called the "The Great American Grill." The menu looks good and is reasonably priced. If I have a sense of numbers, I will be happy to make reservations.

So far, the plan is to meet there on Tuesday May 17th @ 5:00 pm for dinner. Worship is at Central Lutheran with Otis Moss III at 6:45. There is a concert to follow with the Peter Mayer Group being featured. This should allow for plenty of time to get to the worship and concert, as we will be right across the street from the venue. If anyone wants to arrive a bit early for dinner to allow for more meet and greet time, that will be fine too.

Further plans for Wednesday night dinner are to meet at Brit's Pub, time to be determined. We can arrange all of that at Tuesday's gathering.

It would be helpful to know who is planning to be at the Festival of Homies and who would like to join us for dinner.


Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.....

Ask the Matriarch -

Our question this week deals with a specific issue that may have broad application in many of our contexts. At one time or another, most of us have attempted to minister to a person or family who was causing disruption or other problems in the church. What do you do when that person is a child? What do you do when the parents seem to be part of the problem? Read on:

We have a ticklish issue relating to a family in our children's program. The family has two young sons whose behavior causes problems in school, church, daycare, and at home. These boys shove and hit other children at church, and act in wildly inappropriate ways at church functions. The boys have been diagnosed with ADHD but the parents have refused treatment. The parents believe their children are just being boys, and that they will grow out of this "phase."

We have lost children's teachers because they can't handle the stress of dealing with these boys. The other children are beginning to avoid playing with these boys. Other parents are growing weary of the situation. We are concerned about losing new families who have bad experiences with these children.

The church leadership group has tasked the pastors with working out a gentle but fair solution. We are a small congregation and want to help this family, but we don't know what to do. What are our options?

Muthah+ responds:
I had this problem in my last parish.  I did not handle it well because I depended upon my Christian Ed. person to do this. What I didn't realize was that my C. Ed. leader had had a child with ADD and didn't know what to do either.

This will take the concerted effort of the ministry team in your congregation.  First of all, you must call the parents in for a conference.  They need to know that hitting and violence is NOT allowed or tolerated.  They have to know that their children are acting out in ways that are injurious to other children and possibly the elders in you church.  You must be willing to 'lose' this family if they are unwilling to address the problems but make it clear that you want to work with the family in helping the children become happier in the congregation. 

Kids and adults with ADD need to have good structure for them to function well.  If the parents won't provide it, you will have to.  As pastor, you, with your team, will need to set clear boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior and be absolutely consistent in providing consequences for bad behavior. If you are not the pastor, you will need his/her agreement on this or it will not work. I would suggest the following:

                One parent must be with the children at all times.  Must attend Sunday school classes and be responsible for their behavior at other functions such as coffee hr. church dinners, etc. 
                Various alternatives for the children must be provided if they act out--clear outlines about behavior outlines for the removal of the children from an activity when they become obstreperous.
                Just as children are socialized by being in classes with other children, parents need to know that other children do not behave like their own.  Parents need to know how their children are acting in Sunday School classes.  It might help them recognize that their children need professional help.
I must say that after a very uncomfortable scene in my own parish, we were able to work out a way of dealing with my little ADD guy and the parents did work with us rather than leave the parish.  And finally both the parents and the kid got the help they needed.  The most important thing is not to become exasperated by the situation.  Know that the children are not happy acting out.  And what you want for them is to become happy and integrated into the community of Christ.  This is not a faith issue--it is a social /mental health issue  and with a bit of education on what causes ADD and how to deal with it, you, your staff and your pastoral team will be happier too.  Most of all pray for this family.

Jennifer writes:
Sounds like you’ve been put in a tough position and that the parents are undoubtedly having a rough time, too. What kinds of guidance and help can the parents provide and what kind of help would they like from you?

Recognizing that such a meeting might not result in everything going swimmingly, I’d suggest that one of the teachers who has witnessed some of the difficult behavior attend the meeting with the pastors and parents as well. Do share your concerns, but perhaps begin with some positive comments.  What are the things that teachers and others are saying are positive about these boys? Couple those comments with stating that “you want to help this family” and lead with those positive statements. Invite the parents to tell you what works well at home and to strategize with you about the behaviors you’re seeing. Ask for what you need from them—do you need the parents to be more present to their children at church functions?  Do you need their permission to help support better behaviors? 

I wonder what you’ve noticed about when there are problems—some children with ADHD have trouble being in large rooms with lots of activity and become overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Offer resources, if they seem willing to accept help. Are there other parents in the life of the congregation with kids with ADHD? Could they be of help and support?

At best, try to have as one of your goals concluding the meeting with information shared by all and strategizing shared by all. It’s a sensitive and important opportunity to model what it means to be pastoral, supportive, with everyone’s best interests at heart.

And Sharon, who blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy,  offers:
The question in this situation is, for me, not "how can we make the kids behave at church?" or even "how to we get the 'injured' parties to understand?"  The question is really, "How will we be the church in this very challenging situation?"  Unlike any other community or organization, we claim that God gathers the church together, not us.  So sometimes we get to respond to God's gift to the church of the person or family who doesn't seem like a gift.

This is a special needs situation.  Are those in church leadership, along with the other parents and teachers, willing to be part of a care plan rather than delegating the response completely to the pastors?  A group of two or three could go with a pastor to visit with the family -- at a park or playground -- to hear the parents' stories.  Pick lay people who are relatively mature in their faith, intense listeners and deeply compassionate.  "What can we do for you?" might be the approach rather than "how can we solve this today?"  If there truly are safety issues, then let the parents help come with ways to address that.  Perhaps this could be the beginning of a "care circle" for this family, meeting with them monthly to listen to them and to offer support and care.

Parishioners seem to have a high expectation that things in church will run smoothly, that everyone can be advised how to behave "appropriately," and that the pastors have super-powers to clean up messes and solve dilemmas.  When something very confounding shows up in church, we can be too quick to give up on each other and on the church.  I think this could be named as a faith building moment for this family and for the congregation.  It was through "problem people" who came to Jesus that the signs of God's realm were made visible.  May it be so for you and your congregation!

What wonderful responses from our matriarchs! What about the rest of you? What wisdom would you share? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Children in Church

My children are weasels.
Today's post is by Katie Mulligan at The Adventures of Tiny Church: On Children in Church. I, also, have seen this topic discussed on Twitter as recently as last week, so I imagine there'll be interest in the subject!

Today I got into my fifty-eleventh twitter argument over whether Sunday School should be held during worship or if we should insist that all children be in worship.

Theologically there are a lot of good reasons to keep children with us during worship, and I really have no good argument against them.

-Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 9:14

-Our children will not learn the liturgies and rhythms of the church unless we keep them with us in worship.

-There's more, but I'm not the best person to describe them all. There are beautiful, lovely, magnificent reasons to keep children in church. A twitter friend has posted her beautiful thoughts on this here at
Marginal Theology.

-Another twitter friend has gathered together the specific polity that insists children should be in worship here at 1000 Thoughts Per Second.

-And another twitter friend who is wise and hopeful reminds us that we are a connectional church here at The Viau From Here.

Last week, twenty seconds before I walked up to the pulpit to begin our service, I had to take away one of my children's shoes because he was beating his brother with them. While sitting in a pew. In the church where his mother preaches. This is not at all an unusual circumstance; balancing motherhood with pastorhood is more complicated than motherhood with church attendance ever was. I am lucky to have a congregation that is somewhat amused and tolerant of our shenanigans, but I'll go on record as saying that these shenanigans raise my blood pressure to stroke levels. And if you're getting push back from angry parents who don't want you to cancel Sunday School during worship, no amount of saying "I understand, but theologically it is correct to have the children in worship" is going to get them on your side.

If you really want children in worship, you're going to have to earn the parent's trust that you can do this and still honor the parent's spiritual journey.

Years ago, when I had my second child, I discovered that the church did not provide maternity leave, nor did they pay into state disability insurance. After a month's vacation, I returned to work to lead a youth retreat in the mountains, and I brought my baby with me. A dear friend came along to help, but Saturday night during worship the baby was hungry. And as dear as my friend is, she could not nurse the baby for me. And as competent as the rest of the volunteers are, nobody else was prepared to preach. So my friend brought me the baby and I preached while nursing. It was all I could think of to do, but I later was told that students and adults were uncomfortable at my public nursing.

Not long after, I attended a training for youth workers. Mark Yaconelli led a session on contemplative prayer and I showed up with my four month old baby. Sure enough, 5 minutes into our contemplative prayer session, the baby got hungry and started to fuss. An expert by now, I latched the baby onto breast, covered us with a blanket and finished the prayer session. In the quiet of that space the sound of my child lunching filled the room, complete with smacking lips, sucking noises and a cat-like growl he liked to do as he nursed. Mark Yaconelli was kind enough to make a comment afterward to the group of how my baby nursing reminded him of his own and the beauty of children and babies and how I'd done him a favor staying with the baby etc. I don't know if anyone else in the group agreed with him, but I was grateful for his kindness.

Two years ago at a Christmas Eve service my sons came with me to church. My oldest was willing to read scripture for the first time and did a lovely job. The little guy was bored to distraction by the service and wandered up to the pulpit to lay at my feet while I finished the service.

These memories are precious and part of my regular worship on Sunday mornings. Even my children beating each other with shoes is biblical--in fact the first time I preached at Tiny Church it was on Genesis 25:22 in which Rebekkah realizes that the twins in her womb were destined to strive against each other. Just as I read the words "If it is to be this way, why am I to live?" my oldest got the youngest in a headlock. The youngest screamed and ran under my skirt. Oldest came to stand next to me and beamed out at the congregation, who were merrily laughing at the show. Since I was auditioning for a job, I was less than amused, and with some effort settled the children back into a pew so I could continue preaching.

Some people might tell me that all this is a sign that I should not be preaching--that my obligation is to the spiritual education of these children who clearly need my guidance. To those people I say, "Please feel free to pay my rent and then we can talk." To Tiny Church, my ability to juggle these children and preaching seemed to make them think I would be a good pastor for them. I'm still there and we are doing well enough, so I suppose they are right. Again, I am grateful for their kindness.

But I long for the time when I could lose myself in worship. I long for the days when I could sing a hymn through without my children trying to slaughter each other over my lap. I miss the days when I could actually listen to someone's sermon the whole way through with no interruptions. I love the days in church when I can actually preach a sermon the whole way through without having to stop and discipline my unruly, beautiful children. And those days only come when my children are not in church with me.

I want to go on record, on behalf of parents who dare not say it, that there is nothing worshipful about attending church service with my children. Attending church with my children makes me long for empty nest syndrome. Attending church with my children makes me think I am not Christian anymore. Just getting ready for church with my children, attending to the fifty-eleven arguments from them about why they should be able to stay home instead of go to church is exhausting.

People tell me this is what spouses are for. But I don't have one of those, and even when I did, church wasn't his thing. People tell me that all we need is training for the congregation members to know how to help me with the children in church. Or that we can adapt worship so that children are involved and enjoying worship. Or that they should just be capable of this. Or that--well, what I'm saying is everyone has a way of telling me that my desire to be in church without my children is theologically incorrect and will lead to their spiritual malnourishment. People tell me how much they love having children in the church. People tell me so many things--but what they don't say is, "Children come sit with me and leave your poor, tired, wretched, exhausted mother to rest in the arms of Jesus a bit."

Ultimately I am told that if I do not have my children in worship both their faith and the future of the church are at risk.

I concede that this may be true. I was not a product of a church upbringing. My family did not belong to a church, nor did we attend regularly. I came in the door through the youth group at age 13, quite by accident. I never would have come through the front door, nor would worship have been the place to start with me. I was like a cat hiding under a bed, and it took 10 years to fully involve me in the life of the church. 15 years after that I am still learning the rhythms of the church--it is true that my upbringing had little to do with my faith or my church membership. And still here I am.

I offer two scriptures, since my theology and faith appear to be suspect in this matter. Although several years of arguments over same gender love have led me to the belief that there's a scripture to back everything. Which leads me to be grateful that there are different churches with different ways of doing things. Which leads me to a healthy suspicion of anyone who tries to say that this or that is the theologically correct way of doing things. But if you asked me, here are the scriptures (ripped from context) I would offer in defense of at least providing the option for children to go to Sunday School during worship.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
While there are many purposes to worship, at least one of them is to provide rest to weary souls. And this includes weary parents. If the sound of my children's laughter brings rest to your weary soul, please forgive me if the sound of their little voices saying "Mom, why do I have to be in church? I hate this." does not soothe my soul.
Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
So now, lookit. I know Jesus was talking about dishes and cooking and wymen's work of all kinds. I know he doesn't say, "Martha, go teach Sunday School while sister Mary worships." But I am saying nonetheless that raising children, raising them in the church, teaching them the rhythms and liturgies of our churches, that is a substantial part of our work as church members. It's as proper to do all that as it is to clean the house and cook a good dinner for the Lord. But sometimes--at least some of the times--we are allowed to set that aside and bask in the Spirit, to soak up the teachings of the Son, to commune with the Creator whose child we also are. And Jesus promised that this would not be taken away from us.

When you say, "All children should be in worship. I understand how you feel, but this is theologically correct." When you say that, you are saying to parents like me that a significant part of our spiritual life is over, kaput, dead, buried. And if you don't understand why we grieve that, then it's probably better that we go from your church.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. If you write about this on your blog, give us a link using the following formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to click here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Thomas, among other things, edition

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, by Caravaggio
I know, I know.

He comes up every year. If you've ever been an Associate, you know the joys of preaching him often.

Sometimes we get tired of preaching Thomas.

(But I love Thomas.)

There are other choices this week, including Peter sermonizing and Peter (possibly) writing a letter, and you can find them all here. You might also want to see all the ways this painting by Caravaggio has been re-imagined by doing a Google Image search for "Doubting Thomas." The word in the painting's title, though, is "Incredulity," which has more than one gloss. Yes, it's an unwillingness to believe (skepticism or doubt), but it is also inability to believe, which to me feels more like shock.

So as I lean into this text, I'm captivated by the shock they all felt and the likelihood that most of us would have been dubious about the reports, or hurt that we missed seeing him, or ... you fill in the next possibility.

Please join us in the comments and let us know about your plans for the coming Sunday.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4th Monday Book Review: UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity

Hi and welcome to the Monday Book Review. I’d hug you, but I’m still in a post-Easter haze and I’m unable to unwrap my hands from my mug of tea. So, why don’t you fix yourself a little something and then I’ll introduce myself before talking about UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why it Matters (David Kinnaman).

My name is Julia Seymour and I blog at Faith, Grace and Hope. I’m what you might call a reader. I try to read many, many new books each year and I’m rarely stopped by type or quality. Reviewing is a new venture for me and I thank you in advance for your patience. My goal in reviewing isn’t to summarize a book, but to pick out some highlights to give you a flavor of the book (from one person’s perspective) and some insight as to whether it might be worth your time to read this as well. Knowing that I am not the only reader out there, I invite you to submit reviews as well. What you review does not have to be explicitly religious to have themes that uplift, teach or challenge. I look forward to hearing from you!

Enough foot-dragging. And I am dawdling a little. To be honest, I did not love UnChristian. I didn’t even like it. There are a couple of levels to my dislike. The first is dislike because of discomfort. This book describes the results of extensive research by the Barna Group with regard to young adults and the church. The research results are not a surprise, revealing disillusionment, frustration, misunderstanding and disinterest in church for the most part. I do not like hearing that, but that does not make those conclusions untrue.

My second level dislike, however, is deeper and not as easily processed. In Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). In Unchristian, there is no Lutheran or Presbyterian, Methodist or Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Episcopalian or United Church of Christ. Nearly 95% of the time, for the book’s purposes, there are evangelical Christians of a specific “biblical worldview” or there are outsiders. In the chapter on politics, there is some mention of “non-evangelical born again Christians” and “other self-identified Christians”. According to the definitions in the book, I as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) would fall into the category of “other self-identified Christian” because of my own and my church’s stance of various issues.

This basically sets up the major problem that I found in this book. It’s written under the premise that church people (read: evangelicals) are becoming more known for acting in unChristian ways than for representing Christ. True enough, but that mindset cannot be overcome by a book that continues to presume that certain traditions, a certain type of worldview, and a certain reading of the Bible are the only way. The essence of the book’s conclusions at the end of each chapter was that Christians must love and be in relationship with the people around them, outside the church, because that is the only way to change them.

The book summarizes thousands of questionnaires and hundreds of interviews with Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (between 1965- 1983). Specifically, the interviews were both with people inside and outside of the church. The results shape the book by creating conversation around the interview results showing that young adults mainly see church as hypocritical, salvation-oriented rather than relationship oriented, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political and judgmental.

The chapters that summarized the results of the findings were a little helpful. Regardless of your denomination, you likely pass young adults and teens each day whose image of church or Christians encompasses one or more of these labels. Understanding that does give us some framework for the hurdles in front of us as we run (with patience) the race.

UnChristian goes on, however, to talk about how to be more Christlike, which is good, yet it can never fully step back from its agenda. If the end result of each chapter, exposing the church’s unchristian behavior, were a clarion call to loving our neighbors for the sake of Christ and Christ alone, then I would have less of a problem. Instead, I got:

“A person with a biblical worldview experiences, interprets, and responds to reality in light of the Bible’s principles. What Scripture teaches is the primary grid for making decisions and interacting with the world. For the purposes of our research, we investigate a biblical worldview based on eight element. A person with a biblical worldview believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and he still rules it today, salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned, Satan is real, a Christian has a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people, the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teachers, unchanging moral truth exists and such moral truth is defined by the Bible.” (75)

I read that and I feel like an outsider. According to that standard, I’m barely Christian. And there isn’t room in that worldview for me to consider myself along the path to deeper faith. There are places there that I will never go. If I feel that way, how does someone who wrestles with faith because of the church react?

“Americans of all ages remain deeply divided about gays and lesbians, but on the whole, most have a negative view. Conservatives sometimes take comfort in the fact that most Americans have no sympathy for the plight of homosexuals and reject their interest in marriage and adoption, among other things. In this context, political efforts have found traction, because antihomosexual initiatives generate a sufficient number of voters to win elections.” (99)

David Kinnaman, the author, goes on to relate that Mosaics and Busters have a different take on the “plight of homosexuals”. Unlike the generations preceding them, they are more likely to subscribe to the idea of marriage equality and the rights of gay men and lesbians to adopt children and create families. Kinnaman uses the phrase “unconventional” to describe this viewpoint. He goes on to relate how the church needs to allow that all sexual sin is equal in the eyes of God; however, it’s very difficult to hear even that concession over the regret that rushes around his discussion of the abandonment of “traditional values.”

“Mosaics are more skeptical than any previous generation of the role of the Bible in public life. In one study conducted by the Pew Research Center, young Americans were the least likely age group to say that the Bible ought to be the most significant influence on the laws of the country, instead favoring “the will of the people” as the best way to determine legal boundaries. This preference for majority rule stems from not knowing the Bible’s content, questioning its truth, and preferring feelings and expediency to absolutes. Of course, just because this is the perception does not mean that we abandon the idea that the Bible should help us determine the laws of the nation. But we must realize this is an increasingly rare sentiment among the nation’s younger population.” (163f)

(Wait a minute, would you? I have to go retrieve my book from across the room where I just threw it. Deeeeeep breath and…)

If you agree with Kinnaman’s concerns here, I respectfully ask that you substitute “Bible” in this paragraph with “Koran” or “Bhavagad Gita.” See the problem? In this concern for the failure of Christian fascism, the author can hardly believe that other ways or guidelines for governing a country exist or that we should use them. We cannot expect that Christianity will be the dominant view in the United States forever and once we allow religious voices to shape democracy, then we will not be able to stop which religious voices get to do it. Furthermore, Kinnaman’s disillusionment with Mosaics here is a perfect example of why that generation might be experiencing the church as too political.

Which brings me back to the major source of my dislike. Voices like Kinnaman’s are loud. Very loud. The book uses commentary from thirty pastors and Christian writers and speakers (4 are women). The reality that kept hitting me is that I can’t be louder than most of these people, even though I desperately want to acquaint people with my biblical worldview. A worldview where grace is the lead story, where God is calling each of us to specific vocations, where love wins.

I am not able spread that worldview vertically and vocally. I can, however, spread it horizontally and relationally. In the end, Kinnaman does call for Christians to be Christlike through forming and building relationships. Through being like Christ. I think that what most of us know and find to be true. What we have to do to have people trust us in that relationship build is to be honest about who we are, who we believe God to be and why the relationship is important.

Even in the mainline tradition, we can struggle with why the relationship is important. It’s not for the budget or to boost attendance. It’s not for the building fund or to make the new project get off the ground. It’s not to keep the church open for the funerals of the pioneers or even to provide space for the ministries. We build relationships for the sake of Christ. Because it is what Jesus would have us do, so that at the end of the day, we know that we are not alone. And where two or more are gathered…

What to do if you already have UnChristian on your shelf? I would suggest you read Chapters 1-3 and the Afterword. Those will give you a framework to launch a discussion with young adults in your congregation or neighborhood (maybe in a neutral spot like a coffee shop or bar) with regard to how they perceive church and Christians.

I’ll be on a plane most of today, but I look forward to your thoughts and discussion in the comments.

Kinnaman, David. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… And Why It Matters. BakerBooks, Grand Rapids, MI: 2007.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Evening After Party

By special request, it's the Easter Evening After Party! We know you have Easter stories. Come and share them here!!!

Here's mine...this morning thirty-six of us met in the mist to await the sun coming over the treetops. Half a dozen little children accompanied us, and when a Deacon read the lesson from Acts, the littlest asked her grandfather, "They talkin' 'bout Peter?"

"Yes," he nodded.

"Peter Rabbit?"

Add your stories in the comments, and thank you so much for spending the week making this a joint effort for so many!

Sunday Prayer: Easter!

open us
to your mystery
of love.

Open us
as you 
were opened for us
in love.

God of all
Reaching out your hand
in love

May we take
the hand
extended, open
for us.

And may we
the same extended
love, all.

Crossposted on A Place for Prayer and Seeking AuthenticVoice

Saturday, April 23, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Betwixt and Between Edition

It's Holy Saturday. Do you know where your sermon is?

Or maybe you're preaching two.

Or the same one twice or three times.

Whatever faces you, Vigil or Sunrise, trumpets or Handel, we are here for you.

Whether the tune that makes it Easter is "Llanfair"(Yes, I'm looking at you Presbyterians) or "Easter Hymn," you're welcome here.

If you're baking a ham for 17 relatives, or planning to take your young adult children out for sushi, you have a place at this table.

If you're dying Easter eggs and filling baskets, you may sit at the Children's Table. 

(Just kidding. If you are juggling Teh Bunny with all the church stuff, God bless you.)

Whether you're preaching from John or Matthew or planning to include as many accounts as possible in some way, we want to hear about it. Join us in the comments and tell us how things are going. If you've got the best children's message ever, we *definitely* want to hear about it!!!

If you're a new friend following us over from Facebook, please be sure to leave a comment and introduce yourself. You don't have to be a blogger to participate in the Preacher Party.

I have a supply of coffee and hot cross buns for starters. We'll break out the jelly beans later. Maybe we'll find our sermons hiding somewhere behind all those lilies being arranged by faithful hands. And when the next dawn breaks, let's shout that blessed word we've been saving up, all together. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: My Song is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week Prep Party -- Maundy Thursday Edition

We are deep into Holy Week now, with the darkest nights upon us. During this sacred time, many of us are juggling multiple demands and multiple texts. Are you preparing for a Maundy Thursday service? Thinking through a Good Friday service (or services)? Grappling with the Easter texts? Trying to prepare special meals and celebrations for your family or friends in the midst of it all?

It can be a discombobulating time internally as we prepare multiple celebrations. How do you prepare to preach Easter when you are at the moment trying to observe Maundy Thursday? If you are also preparing to host an Easter meal for your family, or even just needing to prepare a dish to take to celebrate with others, how do you balance the practical demands involved in that kind of preparation with the daunting demands of leading people spiritually through this holy time?

It can be a tough season! Let's don't go it alone! Join us in the comments section to work through texts, prayers, lessons, recipes - whatever is on your plate! Share your burdens with us, and we will shoulder it all together. By listening and encouraging each other, we can virtually wash each other's feet, and, in doing so, perhaps help prepare each other for our own fresh encounters with the deep mysteries of our faith.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Inclusive Language

Ready for a wee break from Holy Week sermonizing? Here's a question for you all.

Anonymous says,

I recently received an invitation from a male pastor who I did not previously know. He expressed familiarity with my ministry, which is feminist, and in which I use inclusive language as a normative practice (although he did not acknowledge those aspects). When I preach I use a combination of some gender neutral for God and the people of God and some explicitly feminine for both: "We are women and men made in Her image."

The invitation is for a celebration of women in his congregation. I am welcome to use any text - they are not a lectionary church. But for my information he sent me some promotional material about the event. They are celebrating women as "being made in His image." I don't have to preach from Gen 1:26-27, but I think I will. I was a bit mystified by the clear openness to a feminist preacher yet normative use of male language in the congregation.

Also, they have moved from KJV to NRSV which is a big deal in their context. (They are Baptist and in the South, but not affiliated with the Southern Baptists.) And the PR shared he is moving towards making a Deacon's Board with women and men with the same responsibilities. He's also inviting one of his feminist seminary professors to come in several weeks after me for congregational teaching.

I'm curious how much inclusive language work (gender neutral and/or explicitly feminine, particularly for God) members of RevGals would do in this situation.
What advice would you offer to Anonymous? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb God named me.
Is. 49:1

It's Tuesday in Holy go your preparations? The texts for this day may be found here and the preachers I know are all over the week in terms of which service they are preparing for today.

Are you looking at Maundy Thursday? Good Friday? Saturday? or are you already crafting your words for the Great Festival Day?

Share in the comments where you are and where you are going...or hope to be going. In the end, the news is good!

I just made a big pot of Starbucks' Kenya, and I have seedless grapes in black and green. Come on down.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Week Prep Party--Holy Monday Edition

By popular demand, our posts this week will focus on preparations for Holy Week services. Whether you're preaching or presiding or simply praying your way through the week, please join us in the comments and share your thoughts or links to posts you want to share.

You don't have to be a blogger to post a comment. If you're a new Facebook fan, please know you are welcome to join our conversations here *and* there.

This is Holy Monday. The texts for the day can be found here. At the beginning of a week of both dread and anticipation, we read the prophet Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-9, NRSV)

We do wait.

At my house, the coffee is on, and we have Honey Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread in the toaster. Won't you join me?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Palm/Passion Sunday

God of all hopefulness, God of my life
On this holy day of Palms and Passions 
and through this 
the holiest of weeks,
when our Lenten journey
finds its completion
through pain
losses of all kinds,
through fear
and finger pointing.

Through a (self) examination of
all the ways we work against you -
against your hopes and dreams 
for creation
against your love poured out 
in flesh and blood -
we hang our heads and bow our hearts
seeking your forgiveness
yearning for your guidance
desiring your compassion.

Fill us we pray, with the ability to
turn to you, kneeling before your grace
open our spirit that we may take you in
let you in
receive you in 
taking You in..

Into our hearts and minds and souls 
Let you in
that we might turn to you, 
return to you, 
be transformed in you, 
through you, by you, 
for you.

once more,
this day, this week,
into a new self, 
me, you.

May we become a new people, 
a gentle people, 
a people of
love and compassion, 
born anew from our
deepest sorrow 
through the breadth of your 
and love.

And then, may we do likewise.
And, love.

Crossposted on A Place for Prayer and SeekingAuthenticVoice

Saturday, April 16, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Palms, Passion or Both Edition

Dear Gals and Pals, you are now entering Holy Week. You may not turn back.  You must keep going forward.  We will all be with you, praying for you, throughout the next week, until we all emerge on the other side of the Feast of the Resurrection.

We enter Holy Week tomorrow, on "Palm Sunday", as it was called when I was a little girl.  Or "Passion Sunday", as we call it now.  What do you call it?  Which takes precedence, palms or passion?  And, how do you observe the day?  Do you do anything special, other than palms?  (Hint:  my church has a tradition of getting a donkey every year).  Let us know what creative plans you have for the day, or, for that matter, for the week.

Today is my birthday, so I believe there are special plans for me throughout the day.  I have the coffee (fair trade toffee caramel is my fave) and cinnamon Tea, but, truth be told, instead of blueberry pancakes, I think there will be some special birthday surprise.  I'll tell you more about it later.  I'm sure it won't have any calories.

So, I invite you come come for breakfast and conversation, stay for support and encouragement throughout the day, as we enter this Holiest of Weeks.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Five: Birthdays

April is a month of family birthdays for me: Today is my mother-in-law's 80th birthday and on Sunday my third child's 26th birthday, so I am thinking about birthdays. Easter would have been my mother's 93rd birthday, but she died when she was only 72 years old.

I love to celebrate birthdays, but I know others don't like to as much. My second child doesn't care about birthdays that much.

How about you? What do you think of birthdays?

1. What are your feelings about celebrating birthdays, especially your own?

2. Do you have any family traditions about birthdays?

3. Is it easy to remember friends' and family members' birthdays? If so, how do you do it?

4. What was one of your favorite birthdays? (or your unhappiest?)

5. Post anything else you want to share about birthdays, including favorite foods, songs, and/or pictures.

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, April 14, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Devotions for the Pastor

Our question this week comes from a new reader with a question many of us have no doubt struggled with from time-to-time. We work so hard to nurture the spiritual lives of our congregants - but how do we get nurture for our own spiritual lives?

Greetings Matriarchs of Rev Gal Blog Pals. I have just recently been connected with your blog and am begining to plug into the various supports you all support. I am hoping in polling all of your wisdom and the various sources for support now, where can i find a meaningful and engaging 'devotion' geared toward such a, shall I say, elite group?

I am struggling in my current situation as a Christian Education Director (a much needed training and educational first step, for me) in Ordination to find something that helps 'feed my soul.'  And of course, ideas on where to connect with others - most churches I've seen provide young adult gatherings, and obviously they are on Sundays (am/pm), the same time I am working.

Thanks so much for your input and I am excited to be connected!

Jennifer writes:
Dear New Friend,

Welcome to RevGalBlogPals! I hope you’ll find lots of support, laughter, compassion and joy in engaging with this fun group.  But yikes!--- were you suggesting that we are “elite”? I’m thinking you need to get to know us better!  We’re pretty authentic and diverse and not “elite” or “elitist." All who support and encourage women in ministry are welcome here.

I’m not exactly sure I understand your question, but I think that maybe you’re asking for suggestions for worship and reflection because you’re working during worship or the hours that a young adult group might be meeting.   You’re wise to recognize that church work isn’t the same think as reflection and worship---although our work can (and hopefully does) feed our spirits.  Everyone needs quiet time/reflection time/ and also  time when we’re not necessarily playing a leadership role. You’ve also mentioned that groups in which you might participate conflict with your work schedule, so I’m guessing that you’re thinking along the lines of a Bible study or small group and that you’re looking for soul friends and spiritual connections with others, perhaps.

What feeds your soul? Is it reading, Bible study, walking, exercise, cooking, pottery?  Where is your passion? Depending on where you live, you may be able to discover within or outside of the congregation something that meets your need. There are lots of on-line resources for walking devotions (Pray as You Go comes to mind) if something other than a conventional Bible study or small group interests you. Take a class, be a student rather than a leader, go have fun and embrace God’s creation and creatures!

If you’re looking for a group, you might think about looking for something that meets through the week. Have you thought about gathering a group of friends/colleagues (other directors of Christian education or clergy, perhaps?) with the clear communication that you’re gathering folks, but don’t necessarily want to lead them in a book group, bible study, small group, lunch bunch, a movie group….who knows?  Are you part of a connectional denomination that might connect you with others? Perhaps someone in your denominational office can be helpful.

This is a rambling response, but hopefully touches on some of what you seek. Please stick with the RevGals. Each day provides connecting points, in prayer and laughter and thoughtful conversation. The more you participate, the more connections and feedback will blossom.

All the best to you!

The Vicar of Hogsmeade offers:
Over the years, I have found that different seasons of life have called for different devotional practices or different groups of people to help me connect to God in ways that help my faith. The most consistent resource for me has been to draw on ancient practices of the Spiritual Disciplines. More recently, I most consistently use "The Divine Hours" as compiled by Phyllis Tickle.

I first discovered the Spiritual Disciplines with depth when leading a small group. I'm not sure that anyone else in the group was as drawn in to them as I was. We were using "Spiritual Classics : Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines" edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin. That particular group in my local church helped me realize that I wanted to be in a group that was willing to engage deeply with God.

I have used different strategies in order to have that kind of group. In one setting, an already formed group invited me to join them. In a couple of other settings, I have called other pastors and created a group. After some time in one of those groups, we discovered that everyone had wanted a group but couldn't find one. I happened to be the one that actually picked up the phone and asked others to participate and the group was formed. So don't be afraid to make your own group! I just recently joined a group due to an invitation from another RevGalBlogPal of another denomination.

If you need to create your own group, be creative about how you put it together and who you invite to participate. Here are some of my suggestions for recruiting others to be in a group with you: Our new Facebook page might be a place where you could find others in your area with whom you could meet. Or the Facebook page could also serve as a place to ask for others to join you in an online setting. Ask others in your denomination what they do or who they know in a similar situation. A ministerial association is another place you could potentially find others who are interested. Look up churches in your area of other denominations and call them. (I would be glad to have a phone call like that from someone. It's nice to have phone calls from folks who are not upset or selling something.)

Sometimes it takes a while but I have the effort to be well worth it.

Thank you so much to our matriarchs! This is an important issue for every minister to take seriously, and it's great to have input from other ministers about how they are handling their own devotional life. What about the rest of you? Please share in the comments section! And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Palm or Passion or Both or???

Our different traditions have varied ways of treating the Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday shift, and it's been interesting to see the discussion around it this year.

Those who don't have weekday services in Holy Week, or who find them woefully underattended, worry that their people will not have the opportunity to experience the Passion at all, and will go straight from this week's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem to next week's RESURRECTION BASH!

Moving from usual practice, I'm including here a few links to items by folk outside our ring, because they have been much discussed WITHIN the ring. With our new Facebook page and ongoing Twitter presence, some of that discussion has taken place in those venues, and I wanted to bring it back over to the blog, too.

I think Songbird encapsulated the discussions and confusion in a tweet: "So Palm is not supposed to have Passion and Easter is not supposed to be special. I think I'll just
go back to bed."

She referred to these two posts: Karoline Lewis' blog in
The Christian Century Against Passion Sunday and Bruce Reyes Chow writing on Why Easter Worship Service Should Be Nothing Special. What do you think? Are you making any changes to your traditional way of handling this? (And by the way, what IS your tradition? Does it follow your denominational tradition? If not, why?) You may respond in the comments here, or if you have a blog post to link here, use 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, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Talking About the Passion" Edition

Sunday's lessons may be found here.

We may be observing Palm Sunday. We may be observing Passion Sunday. But whatever the focus in our churches this coming week, we will have arrived at the crux, so to speak, of the Christian story; the point at which God's radical identification with humanity takes Jesus to his death.

Our challenge, as preachers, worship planners and worship leaders, may be to move laypeople beyond the perception that Sunday's significance lay beyond the novelty of the palm fronds in their hands. It may be reminding "Easter People" that getting to Easter involves traveling through Holy Week. We may have situations in our congregation that make this part of the Gospel story more meaningful.

What are you thinking, as you plan your way into the coming Sunday? As always, we appreciate your insights and inspirations here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

RevGalBlogPals on Facebook!!! and 2nd Monday Discussion

We've done it!!! RevGalBlogPals is now on Facebook. You can visit our page here. It's a public page, so you don't have to be signed up for Facebook to see it. We'll use the page to promote posts from our blog. If you "like" us, you'll be able to post to our Facebook wall to ask questions or make comments.

Our 2nd Monday Discussion topic for April will, appropriately, be Facebook. Lots of churches and even more pastors are using Facebook as a ministry tool. But pastors, most of us, don't stay forever in one ministry setting. As Facebook has become more universal, it's clear we need to talk about whether to keep those Facebook "friends" when me move on to a new call. Do you really want your Facebook wall covered with posts and comments from your previous congregation while you're trying to get to know a new one? If you decide to "de-friend" people from the congregation you're leaving, do you notify them or just disappear from their lists? What's the etiquette?

I have some ideas, but we want to hear yours! Please share your Facebook stories in the comments, and be sure to stop over and "like" us, too! We have 180 fans just since Saturday. Many thanks to Mary Beth Butler for setting up the page!!!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Prayer Lent 5A

Let us pray for the whole world
for all creation, for every living creature
for plants and flowers, for animals and for
fragile human beings.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for those who suffer
the sick and dying, for sorrow, and for the loss
that separates us from the love
of the eternal God.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the nations of the world
for all people, for the land and water
that sustains and renews life.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the leaders of nation and cities;
May they remember to lean into you and to
listen to your words.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear Our Prayer.

Gracious God, protect those who have no place to
live and no one to love them. Help them to know
you, and to know love.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear Our Prayer.

We offer up our prayers of concern particularly
for those we love, family, friends, and others.
Fill us with Your Spirit.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear Our Prayer.

For all the blessings of this life we offer thanks,
help us to have generous hearts and giving spirits.
Help us to be your hands in the world.
Gracious God, in your mercy,
Hear Our Prayer.


Crossposted on A Place for Prayer and SeekingAuthenticVoice

Saturday, April 09, 2011

11th Hour Preachers Party: unBones, unBinding, unBlinding, unBreathing edition

Wait? Unbreathing?

Sure, maybe....our readings this morning offer us a variety of directions, the new and the familiar, to ponder.

Ezekiel's vision of dry bones coming back to life brings us one of the most powerful images of God restoring new life, of faith, of resurrection.

Psalm 130's lament, crying out for God, echoes the plea that every human utters at some point in life...or as one of my friends is fond of saying, "OH GOD - BE GOD!"

Roman's, the assurance of God coming to us in the Spirit, tending to that which we really need, regardless of what we THINK we need.

John, letting go of all that binds us and keeps us from the love of God...what will it take for us to proclaim God's love for us?

Yes, many directions we can go this week as we ponder the ways we too need to be unboned (or reborn), unbound, given new sight, and discovering new life and breath.

Share with us where you are going. If you are stuck and need help unbinding, we're here to help with that. If your can't see your way from one thought to the next, we're here to help with that too. If you have a great title and pages of notes, but don't know how to pull it all together, we're here to help with that too. Whatever....

and, of course, always lots of sustenance to keep us going. This morning, coffee, tea, cinnamon raisin bagels, yogurt with banana, honey and, pull up a chair, what can I get you?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday Five: Moving Towards Resurrection

Though I am from a non-liturgical denomination, I find myself longing for some of the expressins others of you may experience at this time of year. The same thing happens to me during Advent.  At both times I am drawn to the symbolism of darkness becoming light, of longing turning to joy. One of my favorite thngs at this time of year used to be draping the wooden cross at the rear of our sanctuary with a dark purple velvet cloth and adding a crown of (ouch!) thorns--and what a lovely thing it was to see that same cross on Easter Sunday morning, draped in glowing white with a golden, jewel-studded crown added.  Not being a pastor this year, I am missing some of the symnbolism I always tried to employ.  I may find a nearby Episcopalian or Lutheran congregation to visit at some point, acually. 

Meanwhile, today I am asking for your thoughts on that movement from darkness to light.  Tell us five ways in which you are anticipating, or your life is moving towards light, joy, hope--new things:  new ideas,  new hobbies, new people...and so on.

It's always helpful to post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment using the following formulation: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to click here.

I am out of town and may or may not have access to a computer today.  I will read your responses when I return, however. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - The Newly Retired Pastor

We've all heard the stories (or dealt with the situations!) of the retired pastor who sticks around and makes things difficult for the long-suffiering current pastor. Today's question comes from the other side - what happens when we are the ones who've retired? Our colleague has retired and she is not involved in her previous parish, but she is still in the community and wants your advice:

I would love to see some discussion of this one:  what are the best ethical and collegial guidelines for a RevGal who retires from her parish and from full-time regular ministry but remains in the (large -- 700,000) community, and whose children continue to worship at Previous Parish?

I think we all know about retired/moved clergy who make nuisances of themselves with or without do we not become them?

Yes -- it's my own situation!  I think I've avoided some of the hairier traps...but I would really like some other minds on this one, because it's a much bigger and subtler challenge than I imagined it to be.

[My children suggest I just send a pretty card to the Rector who preceded me, with the message: "I take it all back."]

Sharon Temple responds:
This is a great question, and one that I am so happy that you are so conscientiously asking it.  Here are my suggestions:

Take the new rector to lunch, the only agenda being to let her/him know that you care about her/him and the congregation and that you support his/her ministry in every way.  Be a caring colleague to him/her.  Welcome him/her to contact you at any time if there is anything that you can do to show her/him that support.  If you truly are social friends with one or two people in the church, reveal that at this time, and the two of you agree on boundaries.  Everyone, especially the rector, needs to know that your responsibility, if there is one, in that church is to support the current rector and that you and s/he are on the same team. 

I would only go back to your former church for family baptisms or other rites, and for the occasional very special "performance" if it involves your  child or grandchild. Be simply a person in the congregation.  Consider not staying for any after-party.  Don't accompany them to the church picnic or annual (whatever big event).  

I would encourage you not to call anyone in the congregation for any reason -- including births, deaths, major tragedies, etc.  Don't go to funerals and funeral visitations.  If you feel you must respond to something big, send one card, signed with simply your name, no "Rev." or "Pastor."  

If you get a request from a former parishioner, tell them to talk to their rector, and then you yourself call him/her to let them know of the conversation.

And if you get any complaints from anyone about the new rector, your first response will ideally be:  "Have you talked to her/him about that?"  The next thing you say will ideally be:  "You need to talk to her/him about that."  And don't call the rector to report this.

Karen Sapio writes:
I'm on the opposite side of that equation.  There is a large, church related retirement community in my town so there are several former pastors and/or their widows who live nearby.  (Although my immediate predecessor lives a few states away). 

I would suggest inviting the new pastor for coffee/lunch whatever and having a frank conversation about the potential pitfals.  Explain that you are trying to do this right, that you will decline requests from active members to perform pastoral functions like weddings and funerals.  Ask her/him to call you if he/she perceives any problems brewing and promise to call him/her if you find yourself in one of those "gray areas" of relating to a former parishoner and need input.  Gray areas might include: visiting friends (who happen to be church members) in the hospital or at home after surgery or chemo, weddings for young adults who grew up in the church and don't know the new pastor who now live elsewhere and want you to perform their wedding in their town, etc.

Muthah+ offers:
Dear Sistah Retiree:

Ohh, Sistah, I understand totally!  We may be retired, but God isn't done with us yet! 

First of all, you have never been pastor to your children.  Your former parish understands that.  Best bet is to make friends with the present rector.  Explain to her/him your situation and that you agree not to meddle in the parish and that you will take directions from him/her.  As long as you are open about your 'noninvolvement' in the parish, your statis will be that of 'rector emeritus' rather than 'that meddlesome priest.'  You make it clear to your children and your former parishioners that you visit as family, not as pastor/priest. You also make it clear that you will not visit in the parish without contacting the present pastor of your presence. Transparency, a real desire for the present rector to suceed, and a well-worn collegiality can assist the present pastor to the place of real leadership. It helps keep your eye on Christ's ministry in that place rather than 'your' ministry, 'my' ministry, or some previous rector of 30 years ago.

When visiting the kids, make it a point to visit with the present pastor to chat about the parish, about all those *&%*% individuals who were problems, laugh and help him/her to laugh at the sticking points in their ministry.  Be a wise colleague rather than someone who can fix present problems.  Be an ear and a comfort rather than a problem solver.  Remember, your successor knows your ministry and your faults better than you do.  Own your faults and bless the present pastor in being the one who will correct them. 

If there is anything that we retired women clergy have to offer those who come after us it is friendship.  All too often we have been caught up in the 'competition' for jobs, 'competition' for success.  With retirement we can truly become the glue in our dioceses, synods and conferences, offering steady friendship, a ministry of presence and a witness to faithful leadership that is not based on self-interest.  Even if you think that the present pastor is a total dolt, offer that colleague unwavering support and collegiality. 

Another important part of our vocation is to be intentional in our present ministry.  Just because we are drawing pension does not mean that we do not have a significant ministry.  Be clear and claim what you want to do and do not want to do.  Be clear with the rector of the parish which you attend about what you want to do.  I attend a parish where the rector lets me preach occasionally and I teach adult ed. courses for him.  He loves having someone who will let him let his hair down and shoot the breeze.  We've shared our faith stories and are learning what each other needs to be faithful to Christ in our work together. 

And Terri counsels:
I like what your children have suggested, not that you need to do it, but the suggestion makes me chuckle.

The most important aspect for the wellbeing of the congregation is to make certain that you do not become triangulated into congregational concerns. This means: make certain that the current pastor trusts you and knows that you have her/his back by not saying or doing anything with members of the congregation that relates to the life of the congregation; call the current pastor if you hear things that are of concern - in other words if you do get triangulated do what you have to do to de-triangulate yourself by going to the sources and sharing information - don't carry the anxiety, it's not yours; tell members of the congregation that you will not discuss congregational life other than simple stuff like "Oh, there's a whatever event?" Or "Thank you for letting me know about the funeral,wedding, baptism, but I cannot attend." ; if you bump into members of your fomer church - or if after a time (a year of being gone) you have coffee or lunch with one of them - steer the conversation to your personal lives not church suff; boundaries are so important. But mostly, if/when members of the church talk to you about "issues" that are rising in congregational life don't comment on them - refer people to back to who ever is part of the issue - encourage them to talk to each other, not you. You do not need to be the one who carries the anxiety, instead be one of the voices that encourages the membes and leaders to work things through for themselves and with each other. This is especially important with your children who remain in the parish - a fact which automatically keeps you a part of the life of the congregation - and requires you to be very clear about what that means. Hopefully the leadership at the church is healthy and you can support the leaders and remain an intentionally self-differentiated former pastor. If it's not healthy you still need to remain differentiated, not part of the system, by encouraging the leadership to work things through themselves.

One way to know if you are getting involved is if you begin to feel "anxious" (or invested or concerned) about what is going on and have the impulse to do something. All you can or should do is encourage people to work out their own anxiety and work on yourself (with a spiritual director/therapist?)  so that their "stuff" is not your concern.

Also, when you bump into former members be authentic. You can still care and share stories about life - you just don't want to fall into the role of pastoral care or directing a course of action. Listen, and say you'll hold them in prayer, and make sure they have told the pastor and leadership team.

Lastly - I hope you have the means to travel and leave the area frequently. It will be good for all of you.

Primarily, I hope all goes well and you enjoy your retirement.


Great question and fantastic answers. Thank you, Matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom!

What about the rest of you? What experience or advice would you offer? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. And, as always, send your questions to us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.