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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Proper 13A/Pentecost 7

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
Lord, keep this nation under your care.

To the President (of the United States - or insert proper titles for national leaders) and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage wisdom, and forsight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts, give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens (and all humankind, all creation), that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society (and all the world); that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

From the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, "For Sound Government", page 822. Please adapt it to fit your nation and country, particularly if you are struggling as we are in the United States.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

11th Hour Preacher's Party:Wrestling Edition

Good Saturday morning, preachers and friends! I'm squeezing this in with all the other busy-ness that accompanies preparations for vacation. This week we continue the family saga in Genesis, with one of my favorite stories, Jacob wrestling with angels, a restless night of little sleep as he prepares to meet his brother, Esau following years of strained relations and separation. I will probably preach from this story.

But if I change my mind, and it's been known to happen, I might go with Romans. Last week I offered a brief review of Romans - when it was written and to whom, and it's general theme and context of "Justification" - as in, that's what God is doing in and through Christ. Then I reflected on prayer, our relationship with God, and the struggles we have understanding how God enters into the chaos and tragedies of lire, such as what happened in Norway. So, perhaps I will continue that direction, and if I were brave I might bring up the current power struggles in the three branches of American government....or. Not. I think we will, however, do some praying....

Lastly, one could reflect on the Psalm or the Gospel. Thoughts on food and feeding, anyone? For more on the RevGal sermon prep discussion check this out: Tuesday Lectionary Leanings

Speaking of food. And, don't we always speak of food at this party? ....I have some fabulous fresh summer fruits: blueberries, peaches, raspberries. I'm thinking blueberry pancakes and coffee, for starters. Later, fresh from my garden, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and basil, marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. And, well, more food will come around to sustain us as we work. So, pull up a chair, and let me pour you a cup of whatever beverage suits you!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Five: Decisions, Decisions (deja vu edition)

I am pinch hitting today, my first time, as your Friday Five RevGal.  Like the song "The Macarena" was for Los Del Rio, this could very well be a one-hit wonder, so thanks for playing!

Today we play off of one of my favorite and most memorable Friday Fives to blog from: Decisions, Decisions posted by Songbird last July 23.  I went back to that post to make sure I had new choices for you to make.  I found out -- again -- that she was then, as I have been recently, in the midst of a discernment process and thinking about what goes into decision making.    

A decision from history:  There is a chair that still sits in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). Legend has it that it was George Washington's chair, the back carved with a half sun.  Benjamin Franklin would look at it and wonder whether it was a rising or a setting sun.  Eventually Franklin decided it was the hopeful symbol of the rising sun, a sign of the future of our new republic.

How do you decide? Check out the following pairs and tell which one of each appeals to you most:  

1) Sunrise or Sunset

2) To the Mountains or To the Beach

3) Coffee or Tea

4) Advent or Lent 

5) "Raindrops on Roses" or "Whiskers on Kittens"

BONUS:  Tell more about one of the pairs.  Why did you choose it?  Difficult or easy choice?  A story from your own experience?

Share your choices with us!  
If you play, please leave a comment and add a link to your blog post.  For link directions, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Responding to Parishioner Hospitality

Life as a pastor means fielding a lot of social invitations. What are the expectations for how we express appreciation for such hospitality, and what are the rules for reciprocating? Our question this week comes from a colleague sorting these issues out and looking for input. Read on:

So far, we have received a lunch or dinner invitation each Sunday.  I know it's a bit of 'let's meet the new pastor and her family' thing and the invites will decrease soon.  We've accepted each invitation and profusely thanked our host(ess) after each meal.  Still I wonder if I should also send a thank you note as well.
There are a couple of families that have been particularly helpful (beyond a invite to lunch) and we feel that we should do something for them in return.  And there is a family that I could see us spending additional time with, as they have a son close to our son's age (one of the very few kids his age).  This is a very small community and I am aware that my spouse and son will most likely make friends with some of my parishioners - if they want to have social contacts, there's just not much of a choice.
So I am seeking advice.  What is appropriate to express appreciation for an invitation to a meal?  Should we plan on issuing a return invite (hubby likes to cook, so having people over for dinner is not a burden)?  How do other's handle favors/gifts to the pastor?   What are the pitfalls of accepting meal invitations and socializing with parishioners?  

Muthah+ responds:
Socializing with parishioners is both a blessing and a curse.  In small communities Sunday dinners are the way that new people are brought into the community. Invitations are important to accept and enjoy.  You also want to encourage the kind of hospitality that they are offering but there are several points you need to consider:
  1. How much do you want your family to be an extension of your ministry?
  2. How do you plan to set up the boundaries for healthy pastor/parishioner relationships?
  3. How much privacy do you and your family need to maintain good mental health?
Everyone has different needs.  As your newness wears off, these invitations will die down but enjoy them if you can.  You may reciprocate if you can, but perhaps an invitation to several families at once for a backyard supper might help. It gets costly to reciprocate to every invitation.
If you need to say to an invitation, "Can we do that at another time?  My family needs to have a Sunday Dinner at home.  You are also telling your flock that you do have boundaries and that YOU will set them. 
Remember that when you are making friends in the parish, when you leave that parish you will need to leave your friends too.  This is extremely hard. And it has been the hardest thing I have experienced in parish ministry.  If you can, cultivate friends outside of the parish too, it will help.  I have found that friendships with the families of other clergy in town were ones of long-standing. 
In my first parish I lived right on main street in dead center of town. All clergy become "our" clergy in small towns and it doesn't matter whether people are members of your particular church. I was fair game to anyone who walked by even when I was working in the garden or in the grocery.  Finally, because my tradition wears clerical collars, they began to understand that if I had my collar on, I was "working" and if I didn't, I wasn't.  We would laugh about it, but it was one way to set some boundaries for myself.  Being a cleric in a small town does mean that you live in a fishbowl.  But fishbowl living isn't hard when you have nothing to be afraid of in Christ.
Thank you notes, I think, are age related:  Older folks appreciate them (and are often sticklers about them); emails work just fine for younger folk.  But an attitude of gratitude is always important with your parishioners.  If they know that you are happy about being in their town, folks will generally do back flips for you.  But always remember you are an outsider.  They will ALWAYS see you as such--even if you are there 30 years.  But that is the value of clergy--we ARE outsiders, but trusted outsiders.  We bring newness to them for their sakes.
Take time to look at your family's needs and wants so that such invitations do not cut into your own need for family time. And enjoy your first cure.  They have much to teach you--more than you have to teach them at first.  They have generally been Christian in that place for generations and you have to find out just how they have lived their Christianity so that what you bring may be accepted.   

And Terri writes:
It is my practice to write a handwritten thank you note to parishioners who have had me over for a meal or a gathering, or done something for me. I think it goes a step further than an email or a verbal thank you, especially in the early days of a new call. I also use really pretty note cards for the thank you. I keep it brief, but gracious. 

Secondly, I like to entertain and have members over to my home every now and then. I have done this when I live in a rectory (manse, parsonage) and when I have lived in my own home. I often invite parents and their children since it is a better for the kids to get to know me, and me them, in a smaller setting. I also have leadership groups over for a thank you dinner, at the end of a program year. And this year I plan to have a Christmas open house with Christmas tree decorating for the kids. Tentatively I am planning a family time with hot cider and cookies and then an adult time later with mulled wine and cheese. I'm thinking about a Sunday afternoon from 2pm-5:30pm with families from 2-3:30, adults from 4-5:30ish...a stop in, visit, come as you can.

Lastly, I have had members of the congregation who are friendly with me and friends with my husband and kids. It's worked out well, with only a little effort on my part to reinforce good boundaries. By this I mean I do not share personal details of my marriage and family with members of the congregation, as I would a friend. 

I hope you and your family find living in this community to be delightful and that you are able to find appropriate friends and colleagues for you, even though those folks cannot be members of the congregation!

Thank you, Matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom and your experience! What about the rest of you? What thoughts would you offer in response to these questions? Please respond in the comments, and, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, drop us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Yelling in My Head

This week's post comes to us from Alaska, where ring member Julia Seymour spoke up about a column published in the local paper, and was later interviewed by local TV. Here's her blog post at Faith, Grace and Hope, followed by video of her TV appearance.

Yelling In My Head

So I don't have enough time to write and you don't have enough time to read all that I would like say about this article from the Mat- Su Valley Frontiersman: Faith : What the Bible says about a modern controversy. To sum it up: the pastor/commentator argues, through the apostle Paul, that because wife's body belongs to her husband and his to her- there cannot be rape in marriage. That is to say that if a man and woman have made a commitment before God and the state, there cannot be forced sex in the relationship.

Apparently, the state says there can be and the state's against it, where it occurs. However, according to Ron Hamman, pastor of the Independent Baptist Church of Wasilla, God says there can't be. Ron argues, even if there was forced sex (rape) in a marriage, you'd need witnesses to prove it according to the biblical standard. Well, Ron, most Christians I know stopped bringing in witnesses to prove the existence (and tearing) of the hymen on the wedding night a while ago. If I don't have witnesses to that incident, I can continue to claim my virginity, yes? (The existence of my son would, technically, refute it.)

Ron, friend, you mention Matthew 18 with regard to the biblical injunction for witnesses. Let me point out, in all humbleness, that the passage in question is for the reproving of members of one's own congregation, as opposed to suing them and making a show in public. This is about sin between members and pertaining to the life of faith, not about issues which actually have legal standing and bearing. Issues like, say, rape. You take two or three people with you, so that the reproof may be documented. Thus if the sin continues, you have witnesses to the fact that you encouraged it to stop. You may have to take the additional step of removing someone from the congregation, except that then Jesus goes on to say you owe your brothers and sisters forgiveness many, many times because of what you have been forgiven yourself.

Be that as it may, there is NO point where Jesus says you should continue to endure humiliation, bodily harm and subjugation. There is no point where Jesus says turn the other cheek so that your other eye may be blackened. There is no point where Jesus says the God-given gift of sexuality and sexual practice should be torn from you because someone else knows what is best for you. To return to where you are being hurt and demeaned is not forgiveness, but to give up on the promise of new life that God has for all. Freedom in Christ does not mean slavery to someone who claims to love you, but whose actions are otherwise.

Brother Ron, with the witnesses of the readership of this blog, I condemn your use of Scripture to manipulate women- half of God's human creation. I stand against your argument to allow rape within marriage. I damn your twisting of the freeing word of God to hold people to an idea of marriage that does not promote faith, service or growth in the love of the Lord. I reprove you for putting women down, attempting to remove their joy in their bodies and for condoning violence in marriage. Shame! Shame on you!

Have you turned away from your sister in faith when you saw bruises, the origin of which you could guess, because that was "between her and her husband"? Have you sent back a quaking daughter to her father because he was her "covering"? Have you refused to intercede between a woman and her adult son because he had the "equipment" that made him right in God's eyes and, thus, in yours?

Brother Ron, faith without works is dead and the fruit of your faith is rotten to the core. When you demean women, you dismiss God's work in them and through them. You destroy their power to raise up strong daughters and sons. You fail completely to follow Jesus' example of love to all whom he encounters, including those with vaginas.

You say, "The sad part is that it is this kind of Christianity that is ruining America."



Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Month End Edition

ANother week another sermon comes. And then I'll be on vacation until Labour Day!

But in the meantime there is a week of work. As we prepare for the week, let us pray: (prayer source)
In the darkest moments
of our lives, Intriguing God,
we have struggled with you,
believing that if we were to beat you,
you would have to give us whatever we want,
not realizing you have already blessed us
with everything we need in life.

When our hunger for hope
overwhelms us, Gentle Jesus,
you fill us with your presence;
when our need for more and more
would pull us further and further
away from you,
you heal us of our desires;
when we look away from those in need,
your tears of compassion
cleanse our hearts.

We would leave our pain behind us,
and run through your streams of
living waters, Spirit of God,
that we might embrace
our sisters and brothers in peace,
knowing that our broken relationships
have been made whole.

God in Community, Holy in One,
we lift our prayers to you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior,

The lectionary readings for this week are posted here

AS we continue working through the Genesis stories we have Jacob returning home, worried about how Esau will react. The night before they meet he has another encounter with the holy. He wrestles with a stranger all night, demands a blessing, and gets a new name.

Or we continue in Romans, but since I am not working with Romans I have not taken time to figure out what Paul is trying to say here.  (I get lost in Paul's rhetoric much o0f the time.  Is this hope here?  Is it commitment to the community? Who is part of the community??? Maybe others could weigh in...

And then there is the Matthew account of the feeding of the multitudes. One could preach on Jesus' willingness to interrupt his grief work (this follows immediately on Matthew's account of the death of John the Baptist) to respond to the needs of others. Or one could preach on the "what really happened" aspect of the story. OR one could highlight Jesus' first instructions--give them something to eat. Or is there another angle you would want to take?

And then there is the question of what (if any) impact the events in Norway has on our worship planning this week....

What questions do these passages raise for you this week? Or have you found an alternative to the lectionary for the summer?  Let us know in the comments.  Have you found an article or link that you find apt or helpful?  Post it too!  Blogged about what shape worship is taking?  Leave a link!
(If you need help posting a link you can find step-by-step instructions here)

Image Sources:
Jacob and the Angel
Feeding the Multitudes Drawing

Monday, July 25, 2011

RevGalBookPals: Hillel- If Not Now, When?

Happy Monday! Grab a cup of tea or coffee (or if you’re like me, a delicious cold Coke) and let’s talk about Hillel: If Not Now, When? by Joseph Telushkin. This is one volume of many in the Jewish Encounters series by Schocken.

I selected this book for two reasons. The first is that Hillel is the historical rabbi to whom Jesus is most frequently compared. Since their lives are but two generations apart, it is easy to assume that Jesus would have been taught in the rabbinical tradition of the School of Hillel. Secondly, Hillel is featured in the following well-known story: A Gentile came before Hillel and asked of him, “Convert me to Judaism on this condition: that you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”  Hillel said to him, “That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”

This story has always captured my imagination because Rabbi Hillel distills Judaism’s ethical essence and then sends the man forward, hoping and assuming that will the new convert will be able to fulfill the ethics now, as he studies to master the religious aspect of Jewish life.

This is such a bold statement and it’s part of why Hillel’s influence has lasted into modern times. Yet, Telushkin argues, and I agree, that we still have much to learn from Hillel’s openness to converts and his creative faith imagination. One of his profound gifts was the concept, tikkun olam. First associated with Hillel, but by no means limited to him, the “phrase literally means ‘repairing the world,’ although it is sometimes translated as ‘perfecting the world’ or ‘bettering the world’.” (47)

[Hillel said,] “In a place where there are no men [willing to take action], try to be a man” (Ethics of the Fathers 2:6): Do the right thing, for if you don’t, people’s lives will be diminished rather than elevated by the Torah. I understand Hillel’s usage of the concept of tikkun olam as intended to create a safeguard against the dangers of legalism. Ironically, religious are endangered not only by external threats, but sometimes by their endemic strengths as well. (55)

Telushkin goes on to point out that in Judaism, and many other religions, the details of prohibitions become their own ends, rather that opening an understanding of what is best for our neighbors, ourselves and all creation. If we adhere to the letter, but miss the spirit of the law, we undermine the healing and creative powers of the Scripture and in doing so, dim its light from those who might be drawn to it. Hillel promoted the concept of tikkun olam to prevent his students, and later generations of Jews, from becoming mired in minutiae and able to rejoice in the life-giving power of the Torah.

Telushkin decribes Hillel’s patience, moral imagination, optimism, nonjudgmental nature and intense curiosity, but also acknowledges some of his historical shortfalls, including his occasional misogynist opinion. Hillel is more willing than other rabbis of his generation to allow a man to divorce his wife because she has failed to find favor with him, in any area, than to restrict the possibility of divorce to a case of adultery.

In the discussion of Jesus and Hillel, Telushkin notes that many scholars are making more of an effort of acknowledge Jesus’ Jewish roots.

Comparisons between Hillel and Jesus are inevitable, but will always be unsatisfactory because they inhabited two different religious spheres… It may be easy for Jews to say that what is true in Jesus’ teachings is not new (e.g., the emphasis on loving one’s neighbor and loving God), and what is new in his teachings is not true (e.g., the injunction to “offer the wicked man no resistance,” and the claim that he has the authority to forgive sins). But just as many New Testament scholars have been restoring the Jewish context of Jesus, so it seem appropriate for Jews to acknowledge not only that aspects of Jewish culture made their way powerfully into the teachings of Jesus, but that the openness Christianity displays to Gentiles was already comfortably embraced by Hillel long before Jesus had preached his first sermon.” (140f)

It is always worth talking about Christianity’s Jewish roots, not as supercessionism, but in a way that gives a deeper understanding to who Jesus was as the Son of Man and to further understand the long-standing nature of some of our own Christian practices. Part of the way we can heal the past and squash the future of anti-Semitism is to speak truthfully about Judaism, about the hope of the Hebrew Scriptures and the faithful (and real!) people therein.

In Hillel’s time, as in our own, people were always too busy. There was too much to do to devote time to studying the Torah, to which Hillel responded, “If not now, when?” No one ever gets more time. Telushkin writes, “Delaying Torah study won’t lead to future learning, but to no learning at all.” (162) This doesn’t only apply to the study of scripture, but also to justice work, love for neighbor and even self-care.  How many times do we sigh over hearing about the same “lack of time”, perhaps we can inspire (and be inspired) by the two-thousand year-old words of Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”

This book was extremely readable and has several useful appendices, including a glossary of Jewish terms in case you have trouble telling your Torah from your Talmud and your Mishah from your mikvah. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes religious history, enjoys armchair philosophy, is looking for an interfaith book club possibility or wants to make a deeper connection to Christianity’s Jewish roots.

I am curbing all that I want to quote about this book, which I really enjoyed, and I made many notes in my own (purchased) copy:

Telushkin, Joseph. Hillel: If Not Now, When? Schocken Books, New York. 2010  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Prayer: 12A/Pentecost 6

Oh God, how are we to understand the tragedies
that befall your creation?
Humans inflicting pain on others -
economic pain,
emotional pain,
physical pain,
even the taking
of life.
Why all this violence?
Why so much anger?
How are we to pray?
What can we say?
We give it all to you.

To you, O God,
We incline our lives.
Giving you our silent
tears, the screams that cannot
leave our chest, the agony of
grief so deep we do not know
how to pray.
What are we to say?
We give it all to you.

With sighs too deep for words,
we give it all
to you.

Trusting in your Spirit
to do that which we
To guide our lives
to turn our hearts
to transform this
broken world
and bring forth
as only You
can do.

We know not how to pray
but with sighs too deep
for words, Your spirit
births us whole, again.

Friday, July 22, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Plenty O' Options Edition

First the food! I picked up some nice fresh nectarines at the grocery store yesterday. (I can't stand the feel of peach fuzz.) There are pancakes at our house that we can share. Or, if you prefer, there's leftover pizza in the fridge. You can have it cold or heat it up. (I think that is one of the "There are two kinds of people in this world..." this is actually true.)

And now on to what has really brought us here today....
It feels like the last few weeks have had no shortage of interesting preach-able options, and this Sunday is no exception. "Plenty" and "options" even describe the content of the texts themselves. Jacob, once he puts in enough work anyway, has two wives (not to mention their maids) to choose from. The gospel text has wheat and weeds - to pick or not to pick. There's also the question of how much to include. Do you stick just to the parable or to do read all the way through the interpretation? From Romans we have one of the best loved and most hope-filled passages (at least in my opinon) in Scripture, a laundry list of things that CAN'T stop God's love.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. What are you thinking about so far? And what do you have going on? We are in the thick of wedding season (at least in the northern hemisphere). Is anyone presiding today? We have had a lot of gals and pals in transitions this summer. Stop in if you get a chance and let us know how those are going. Coffee is on in the morning and let me know what you need the rest of the day. Looking forward to the party today!

(I'll try to spice this up with some pictures in the morning. That's one downfall of doing it from the iPad. I can't figure out a good way to load a picture in a post.)

Overcomers: Friday Five

Today is the Feast day of St Mary Magdalene, and as I've been pondering her life, and the inspiration she is I find in her a wonderful mix of struggle and devotion. She is both the woman who needed a deep healing and the woman who was declared (by many) to be the first amongst the apostles. She inspires me by the way she overcame so much to become so much. When I stop to think about the folk who do inspire me they are almost always overcomer's in some way or another.

With that in mind I bring you this Friday Five; List five people who inspire you to dare to step out into becoming more: Bonus question, a song or fictional character that inspires you to move beyond boundaries!

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Even better, get in the habit of posting 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.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Preaching in the Face of Controversy

We all know how important it is to have some understanding of the context in which we are preaching. Sometimes, though, knowing the context can make the task of preaching more complicated. How does a visiting preacher preach, knowing there is conflict, chaos, controversy, or other concerns in the congregation? Here is our question this week:

What text and/or topic would you suggest I use as a visiting preacher at a church where there was an altercation this week involving physical contact and violent threats during a meeting about firing the music director?  The police were called and one or more persons have already contacted an attorney about a law suit.  Though I'm known by some of the parishioners because I've preached there before, I don't really know the principals well, including the pastor, who was the one who said, "Call the police."  I don't think preaching about the midwives in the time of Moses (Exodus 1), as I'd planned, will address any concerns those people have at this time.

Muthah+ responds:

It is times like these that I REALLY appreciate my denomination's centering on the lectionary!  It means that I cannot use the pulpit to hit people over the head.  If there is an particularly apropos reading then I can blame it on the serendipity of the Holy Spirit; we can all smile and move on. 
When emotions are high it is important to hear that God is still in this place, that peace is still possible and God is forgiving.  Church fights are always 'family quarrels' and can be much more debilitating than any other disagreements.  I would not preach prophetically in this case, but preach with the intent of healing, of the coming together of people who are hurt and looking for some salve for their woundedness.  Do anything you can to dial down the emotions in the congregation.  You can do this better than the pastor because he is evidently on one side. 
In this case I would preach something about finding peace in the love of God.  I would not use the Matthew 15 passage because you are not the pastor.  The story of Elijah on the mountain after the whirlwind and God speaking in the still small voice might be good. Or perhaps even the story of Jacob and Esau reconciling after Jacob's stealing his birthright.

And Sharon offers:
Oh my goodness!  You really can't make this stuff up, can you? 
I would probably default to the Lectionary texts.  I have found them to be rich sources of good news, perfectly timed for all kinds of weird situations.  Using the appointed texts helps me rely more on the Holy Spirit than on my own decision-making and comfort levels. That said, if the Spirit is (or was) already leading you to another text, by all means go with that.  Most (all?) of the Bible's background scenery is controversy and conflict, if not outright war. Even Bible hero Psalm-writing shepherd David had a dark side!
Can you also look for ways to bring in your faith tradition's values?  In the UCC, for example, unity is a core value with both biblical and historical roots.  Also, if you know anything about that church's history, or the history of the "neighborhood," I bet you will find something to share from that, too.
My prayers are most definitely with you!


Thank you so much, Matriarchs, for your thoughtful responses. What about the rest of you? Do you have advice for our colleague? Let's continue the conversation in the comments, and, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dolt]com.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday Festival: To celebrate our 6th anniversary

To celebrate the 6th Anniversary of RevGalBlogPals, here's a post from our founder, St. Casserole.

(And be sure to read the post where it all started, on July 19, 2005.)

I called a friend this morning asking the question,"what does it cost you to believe as you do?" He gave a thoughtful answer commenting he felt homeless most of the time with groups of friends. He means homeless in the sense of having no group who shares his understanding of the world.
I know what he means.
I don't fit the categories of theological church life, either. I'm accused of being in one group or the other by people who do not listen to me. They don't know but they feel better if they can peg me in a group.
Later today, when I napped, I had a dream about the RGBP Big Event. Number 5 is coming up in January for the group and I'll be on the big ship laughing with great women.
The dream was filled with women. Many I recognized from RGBP, others I gave faces to because I don't know them IRL. Everybody was talking and being happy to be together.
Other dream life stuff filtered through like getting stuck in a room filled with a wedding party wearing the worst outfits a dreamer can imagine. All sorts of pink shiny crystals sewed to anything moving.
The dream spoke the truth. I see women who understand me at the Big Event. What a great feeling it is to feel "at home" even if it is only 5 days a year.

Are you wondering why I napped? I'm going to the first showing of Harry Potter tonight at midnight with LH and friends.

Glad to see you again,
St. Casserole

We're glad to see you again, too!

Actually, we're glad to see all of you. I hope you'll take the opportunity to share a RevGals experience in the comments, or write about it on your blog and post a link here. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Kingdom as Change Agent Edition

As we move further into our week we pause to pray: (Prayer source)
O sovereign God,
in Jesus Christ you set your holy reign upon this earth
and within your people.
So let its coming be like the mustard seed
that grows into greatness,
and like the leaven
that mixes with the grain
until the whole becomes greater,
to the praise of the triune God,
who lives forevermore. Amen.

As I look at the readings for this week I remember when I used to find a unifying link between all the readings for a coming Sunday.  Gee am I glad I stopped doing that!  You can read the options here

What grabs your attention this week?  Is it the story of Jacob the trickster getting tricked (although then you would have to deal with an unfortunate model of marriage -- I wonder what Rachel and Leah thought of this whole episode)? 

OR maybe 1 Kings and the gift of wisdom to Solomon? 

OR are you playing with Romans as we now come to a favoured verse of mine "neither height nor depth..."?  It seems those last couple of verses would have paired well with Psalm 139 last week.

And of course there are these small parables about the nature of the kingdom in the Gospel.  Once upon a time I preached these (particularly the yeast and the pearl) as saying that the kingdom was like a rotten potato that would, given time, turn the whole bin.  What was I thinking????

Or are you on a summer sermon series that ignores the lectionary?  Preaching on topics requested by the congregation?  Let us know in the comments where you think God is leading you and your community this week?

Image Sources:
drawing of Jesus telling stories
Jacob Reproaching Laban

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meet-n-Greet--em-powered edition

I'm so sorry I wasn't able to get the Meet-N-Greet up last week...the crazy storm knocked out power to almost my whole town and I couldn't do anything but read and wait. Now that the power's back on, I hope you won't let my delay slow you down as you head to visit our newest ring members!

Pastor Lynn at New Every Morning is "Mom, wife, aging farm girl, baker of cookies, chaser of butterflies, Pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota"

An Augustinian nun (and neuroscientist) is blogging about "living an ancient rule in the modern world" over at Finding Grace in Ordinary Time.

OneOfGrace at Not Graceful but Grace-filled is a priest in the Episcopal Church and a past BE-cruiser.

Laura at God Will Make A Way is "a wife, mom of three and a United Methodist Pastor. There have been many times where it seemed like there would be no way to do what God was asking me to. However, God has shown me that truly, "God will make a way where there seems to be no way."

Jan of A Church For Starving Artists had a gmail/google/blogger drama that led to the loss of her blogspot blog. She's starting fresh on wordpress, so update your blogrolls and check out her new home!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Prayer: Proper 11A/Ordinary 16A/Pentecost +5

Sweet Spirit of Sleep, who brings peace and rest
to weary bodies,
Empty us of aches and pains,
for we struggle as seeds through unyielding earth.

Bring us the timeless nature of your presence -
the endless void of our slumber.

Make us aware of the work we can do while in your time
Make us to know our dreaming,
where past and future are reconciled.

Come let us honor sleep, that knits up
the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day's life,
sore labor's bath, balm of hurt minds,
great nature's second course,
chief nourisher in life's feast.


(Prayer from Congregation of Abraxas, in "Earth Prayers from Around the World" edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon; HarperOne: 1991)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: "Taking the Bad with the Good" Edition

Chen's Acupuncture pain management STOP & SHOP Deluxe Mixed Nuts by s58y Flickr Seattle acupuncture, Bellevue acupuncture, Redmond acupuncture, Kirkland acupuncture
Good morning, all of you 11th Hour Preachers! This is the party for preachers who are in some stage of sermon prep today -- and those who love us.  You are welcome here!

For me, this week's pulpit prep is distinctly unusual.  Since last Monday, I have been letting my congregation know that I am resigning as their pastor.  Last Sunday, everything was "normal"; this Sunday, things will be different.  That, plus a week of laryngitis and bronchitis, and I am feeling more than a little wobbly about Sunday.

Even so, I'll dare to begin our sermon conversation: 
I'm going with the "Wheat and Tares" in Matthew and the familiar Psalm 139. Sermon title is "Knit Together" and will focus (I think!) on God as the one who knits us together as a body.  As I write this, it feels very embryonic, and not in a particularly cute way. 

I also offer inspiration in a quote from At the Edge of the Enclosure:

All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.  [Martin Luther King Jr 1929-1968]

What direction is your sermon taking?
Who has a children's sermon or an illustration or a snack to share?  
What are you trying to keep and what are you tempted to toss?

Let the party begin!  So glad you are here!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Five: My Name Spells Gratitude

A wise person once told me to make an ABC list of things I am grateful for any time I feel sad or depressed. It is a good practice when one is feeling happier than that, too. So for this Friday Five, I suggest that you use your name or nickname of about five letters and express your gratitude about something that starts with each letter. Some people have longer names, so you decide how you will go about this! (Last names, middle names, and nicknames count!)

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, July 14, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Ministry Expense Reimbursement

Clergy compensation issues can be sticky enough on their own, but what about ministry expenses, which - as one of our matriarchs points out - is really a separate issue? What happens when ministry expenses go up but reimbursement for those expenses doesn't? Here is our question for this week:
Talk to me about the line item(s) for ministerial expenses in your church. How is a figure determined? What guidelines are used? How are adjustments made? I serve a congregation that is affiliated with a loosely structured denomination; the denomination gives no guidelines for ministerial reimbursement. The ministerial expense line item at my church was adjusted downward (by 20%) several years ago (during my tenure) when a number of other budget cuts were made; the figure has not been revisited since then. This line item covers mileage, books, continuing education, hospitality, and other professional expenses. Over the last few years, mileage has taken a bigger and bigger cut of the line item - the reimbursement rate for mileage has risen by more than $.10/gallon since I began serving this congregation. Given this fact, I now have less and less left each year for continuing education (the terms of my call grant me two weeks of it a year). I feel I need to approach the Pastor Relations Committee about requesting that the Budget Committee approve an increase for next year, but it would be helpful for me to know how this works in other congregations and denominations, and what, if any, guidelines you use.

Muthah+ responds:
This one is a tough one for several reasons because it has to do with those invariables in the way we are paid and the various ways that our denominations make provisions.
In my last parish which was out of my denomination, I had to negotiate this part of my payment in a way I was unfamiliar and I didn't do it especially well.  My denomination had fairly clear guidelines about such costs, the last parish didn't.
But in this case, I would take it to your committee and explain to them that you are losing money by working for them.  Explain what you need to break even on your expenses.  If you have a couple of years of accounting to use as your evidence, take it.  Most congregations don't want to take advantage of their clergy.  Usually they are unaware of the effect their cuts on the reality of their clergy's lives. And many pew sitters are unaware that continuing ed.  is something that they are going to benefit from.
 It would also be good to provide some alternative cuts (ie. to heating or a/c budgets) which would mean the congregation might be a bit uncomfortable,  (smile when you say it!) and they might catch on. 
Also you need to show them that the cost to attend a conference is greater, the cost of travel to get there is greater, etc.

Sue writes:
I've been at my present pastoral charge for ten years. When I started, I had line item on the budget for "Minister's Discretionary Fund" set at $400. Its purpose is for me to have funds to use to meet with parishioners who don't want to meet either at home or at the church, so we can go out for coffee or lucnh and I don't have to either pay for it myself or claim it through another budget line. Other uses are for things like Admin Assistant Day flowers and other unexpected costs related to being out in the community. It really is my discretion that determines the use of the money. 

It helps with confidentiality at times, in that I simply tally up the amount spent at year end in VERY vague terms (ie: lunch with client = $40). No one asks who the "client" was or where we went. The congregation trusts me to use the money wisely. At year end, my total is tallied, and whatever amount I have used from the total is reimbursed to maintain the $400 for the coming year. In other words, if I only used $200 of the fund, that much is given to me Jan 1 so that I can start the year with a full budget.

My present discretionary amount is $600 per year. This discretionary line is entirely separate from Cont. Ed, Books, Mileage, Phone and salary. Each of these has its own line under "Minister Expenses."

Sharon offers:
In the United Church of Christ, clergy compensation guidelines are calculated and suggested to local churches by each conference. Sometimes these include expense reimbursement guidelines which I use as a guide.     
The question today is about expense reimbursements rather than clergy compensation.  That is a very important distinction.  Do what you can to separate them in the budget document so that people don't lump in reimbursements with "how much we pay our pastor."
The best time to educate the congregation and claim what you need is with the initial contract/covenant negotiations.  At that time, stipulate "conference guidelines" rather than a dollar amount for things like vacation time, sabbatical leave, and continuing education time and expenses.  Never, ever believe a well-meaning group of church leaders who say they will significantly increase any of this later if you agree to less now.
Also, look for any expense reimbursement line items that can be stated as things rather than money.  My covenant states that the congregation will send me to General Synod (UCC national gathering) which meets every two years.  Until it got moved to Tampa, I was going to Hawaii this year!  Other things might be "two journal subscriptions" and "10 professional books" and "2 lunches per month with parishioners."  Know what you need and want in your ministry and ask for it.  If you have a Pastor/Parish Relations Committee (I don't), educate them about how these reimbursements benefit pastor and congregation, and then they will be able to advocate for you.
Generate creative alternatives.  I don't need maternity leave at this time in my life, so my covenant states that I get a week of grandparent leave at the birth of each grandchild.  You might need more books if you are just starting out, or you might need an extra week of vacation some year instead of a raise.  
A term that is helpful to use:  "This is the cost of doing ministry." Lately in my congregation, I say: "This is the cost of supporting a full-time pastor."  If we get to the point of making a budget cut that cuts something is in our initial call covenant, that is called "breaking the covenant" which is more serious than playing with numbers. Show them an itemized list of what that $100 (or $1000) a year line item will -- and will not -- reimburse.  Adjust your own ministry and their expectations accordingly if they can't reimburse what it costs you to do what you do. 
The list:  A full-time professional pastor can expect to be reimbursed for all of her local travel (mileage, parking, tolls), some books and journals, some hospitality to members (meals), trips to wider church meetings, and all of the materials and stuff you buy for Sunday School, confirmation, etc.  You can estimate the cost of those for budgeting purposes, but try not to get all of those lumped into one line item dollar amount that can be misunderstood and easily cut.  No one wins if the budget bottom line works, but the pastor is stressed and resentful over it.

And finally, welcome to our newest matriarch, Kathryn, who writes:
In the PC(USA) every Presbytery (geographical grouping of churches) has minimum requirements for the ordained clergy and Directors of Education. In our Presbytery, Continuing Education ($800) is the only reimbursable account with a minimum dollar amount specifically tied to it. Mileage is the current IRS allowable rate but there is no recommended budget amount. Different churches handle it in different ways but in our Presbytery most folks have a professional expense allowance in addition to the mileage and continuing education line items.

Obviously I am working in a very different system than you are, but I have found when it comes to money conversations, if I can outline why I need the increase it goes a lot better than if I just ask for a percentage increase without any explanation. Also, I think I would ask to have the mileage separated out into a different account.

If you go over on mileage, that is far easier to explain (there was that funeral on the opposite coast, Suzi Jo had heart surgery in Tijuana, etc...). If you go over on an account that is mileage and con ed then the con ed is always going to get blamed. Let's face it, that revgalblogpals cabin upgrade to the balcony suite is a little harder to get sympathy for than an overrun of hospital visits.

Wow! What a wealth of wisdom from our matriarchs! Thank you! What about the rest of you? Please share your thoughts and your experiences in the comments section.

Our queue remains empty. Have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss? Write us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Festival: understanding ritual

This week's Festival post comes from Katie Z. Dawson's blog, salvaged faith. Katie raises some wonderful questions about why we do what we do in church. In the comments, I hope you'll share your thoughts! 

understanding ritual

Today I get to co-officiate my first inter-denominational wedding.

Well, that may not be completely true.  There have been plenty of folks from different protestant and even different Christian backgrounds who have married under my authority.  But each couple chose to go with the Methodist order and flow and style... their traditions weren't so important, or different, that it made a difference.

But today's wedding will be in a Catholic church, with a Catholic priest and I doing the ceremony.  I'm preaching and reading and praying, and he's generally presiding and taking care of the vows. 

I have to admit that going into this wedding I wasn't sure what to think.  I have my own authority and traditions and ways of being that are being set aside for this particular ritual.  In my church we don't normally hold the gospel in such high respect and honor.  In my church we don't typically bow before the altar and the cross.  It's not better, or worse, it's just different.

As someone who is outside of these traditions, they feel a little unfamiliar as I do them, but I am also hyper-conscious of why we are doing them.  I understand the respect and honor and submission involved in these ritualistic acts.  And that makes them beautiful to me. Yet I also understand that just as ritual acts in my own tradition become rote and familiar that we sometimes take them for granted and go through the motions without any remembrance of why we are doing them.

This experience makes me want to go back with an open eye and look at every action of our typical Sunday morning worship.  When do we stand and sit?  When do we make motions?  What is the purpose of our acts of worship?  And then to talk about them... To spend a few weeks or months, or maybe at least one Sunday every month reminding folks as we worship what we are doing and why we are doing it. 

"Let us stand together as we hear the gospel to honor the words of Jesus." 

"Let us bow our heads together in prayer as we surrender ourselves to the power of God at work among us."

"Let us sing with exuberant voices as we give thanks for these blessings God has given us."

A few words make a world of difference.  And they might be enough to jar us out of complacency and to truly worship.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Weeding or Dreaming or Theologizing Edition

As another Sunday approaches we pray (prayer found here):
every word you have spoken
of hope found in the depths of life,
of healing surprising our pain,
of grace jumping rope with children,
will all come true -
even when our stubbornness
deafens us to your whispers.

every hope you have for us
of kindness never ending,
of persistent patience,
of sacrificial service,
can be found -
even when others cannot
see them in us.

every dream you have
of peace becoming our best friend,
of joy bubbling from our hearts,
of strangers welcomed as kin,
will happen -
even when we insist on
living out our fantasies.

Behind us, under us, beside us, over us,
you are ever and always with us,
God in Community, Holy in One,
and so we lift our prayer to you saying,
Our Father . . .

THe readings for this week can be found here

Sadly, we skip the story of Jacob and Rebekah conniving to steal Isaac's blessing which is why Jacob is running away this week.  But still it amazes me that the ancients kept these stories of the one who will become the father of the nation.  Are these the sort of stories we would tell about our national heroes? (Although as I ask that I remember the beginning of the series Newhart where Dick learns that during the Revolutionary War the Stratford had been a brothel)

It could be tempting to go with Psalm 139, one of my personal favourites.  Is it blessing or curse, threat or promise that God is so ever present?  The writer himself seems unsure somehow.

Some of us have been revelling in Romans these past few weeks, and Paul continues on with flesh and SPirit talk.  This week's essay at Journey with Jesus suggests that this passage could be used in a discussion of universalism.  Which might be tempting too....

And then we have the Gospel reading.  Another parable and another interpretaion of a parable.  I remember when I was in seminary a comment being made that at times Matthew seems to have a bloodthirsty approach to judgment issues.  As one who does lean to Universalism I have to ask what right any of us might have to decide who is a weed.  The story also reminds me of a tale from the Albigensian Crusade.  As the story goes, one of the leaders called out in the heat of battle "Kill them all and let God sort them out"  (which sadly seems to be a typical Christian approach to crusading).  But of course the parable gives to opposite message--let them all grow and let God sort them out.

Where is the Spirit leading you this week?  What message is God planting in your heart to share with the people with whom you worship?

Images found here

Monday, July 11, 2011

RevGals Big Event 5.0 Registration Update

Extra! Extra!

Late-breaking news: Registrations received to date for the Big Event are up to 33, with three more promised to arrive any moment. We can accept registrations up until August 10, assuming the travel agency payment due on August 15 is also paid on time.

Email RevGalBlogPals for the registration form, or let us know if your check is in the mail. To read more about Big Event 5.0, "Take the Book Out of the Box," click here.

(Today's regular feature, Monday Meet & Greet, has been pre-empted by a severe storm that knocked out power to Teri's home. Apparently she and her neighbors may be in the dark for up to three days! Please keep all affected by the storm, and those working to restore services, in your prayers. Meet and Greet will return next week, "if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise" as my grandmother would say.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Music Videos: Kyrie in a Major Key

The wind blows hard against this mountain side
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road....

Kyrie eleison
Down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison
Through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison
Where I'm going would you follow?
Kyrie eleison
on the highway in the light — from Kyrie, Mr. Mister

I'm back from almost 2 full weeks of silence, the last 8 days of them on retreat here. When I got back in the car to drive home, this was at the top of my play list. Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. I loved the joyous beat of it all, propelling me back out into the world and down the PA turnpike.

One joy of my retreat was hearing five terrific Jesuit homilists preach on, among other texts, Matthew's description of Jesus setting the disciples feet upon the road (here and here).

Many of us are traveling this summer, in body and soul. On retreat, on holiday, to new ministries, to and from school. May the Lord have mercy on all our roads, may the cooling winds of God's Spirit blow from every corner of the earth to renew us.

What music moved your soul this weekend? Share with us in the comments!

I checked my music library to discover I have almost 2 hours worth of Kyrie's in it -- this would be by far the liveliest! If you find yourself in need of something a bit more calming, try this Kyrie by British composer Margaret Rizza.