Visit our new site at

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Extra: Study Leave

I'm on Study Leave this week, and that's my excuse for the late posting today. My apologies!

I thought we might share ways we have spent Continuing Ed or Study Leave time. If you've found a creative way to use time off with little money, or have been to a conference or program others might like, please share in the comments. Thanks!

As for me, I'm hoping my week doesn't end up looking like the one in the graph. :-)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prayer for Reformation Sunday

Here we stand, Lord,
The people you have redeemed.
Here we stand, Lord,
giving thanks to you for you are good.
We give thanks that your love lasts forever.
We thank you that you free those who are oppressed.

Here we stand knowing that it is you
We all can cry out to for help in times of trouble.
We know that you will not only deliver us but
That you will lead our way to where we need to go.

Here we stand by the living water
That you set flowing for all.
We drink freely from your waters
That gratifies everyone who is thirsty.
And we thank you that you also
Give plenty to eat for those who are hungry.

Here we stand with those who reformed the church so long ago
And with those who still are reforming the church today.
Here we stand witnesses to your good news for all.
Here we stand your servants, your followers, your children.

cross posted at a place of prayers and rev abi's longand winding road

Saturday, October 29, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Have You Seen My Fringe? Edition

Hello, Preachers!

Have you seen my fringe?

It is long, and it is pretty.

It is shiny, and it is nicer than yours.

I would love to invite you to sit at the Preacher Party table, but I'm not sure there's room due to the immense gloriosity of all my fringes.

But if you would like to work on your sermon, I think there might be some space at the other end of the banquet table.

Okay, not really. There's room for all of us at the RevGalBlogPals table. But this week's gospel lesson certainly asks us to consider what form our fringe takes today. What are your thoughts? How do you make this lesson one for the children? Or are you headed to another selection in the lectionary? There are great thoughts about Reformation Sunday over at our Lectionary Leanings post. Join the conversation in the comments. Whatever else befalls, we will finish our sermons!

Friday, October 28, 2011

What lifts you? - Friday Five

Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with depression, I know that from reading other folks blogs that I am not alone in this, and from time to time if not suffering from depression that everyone feels down. With that in mind I wonder what lifts you? So I'd like you to share 5 things:

1. A Scripture- it might be a verse or a whole book!

2. A piece of music.

3. A place.

4. A person/ group of people

5. Something you do...

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, October 27, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Being a Woman and a Pastor Among Men

Here's our question for the week...along with no fewer than 5 responses!

Dear Matriarchs:

I am a "mature" second career minister in a small family sized city parish. I am also the first woman minister. Although I haven't experienced any negative feedback, I have noticed that the men in the parish simply don't seem to know how to relate to me. And to be totally honest, I'm not sure how to relate to them. I took this call after experiencing a very public and humiliating marriage failure. The experience has left me shell shocked and with a rather jaundiced opinion of men which I suspect is likely adding to the awkwardness of relating to the men in the parish. After 20+ years of marriage, I simply don't know how to relate to men in this capacity. When I was married, my partner would always "pave the way" for me, initiating conversations and often guiding them.

As a result of this awkwardness, the ministry to the men in the parish (which, in the past has been quite vital in the past) has ground to a halt. There are a couple of the men that I relate well to, and recently I asked one of them to see if he could work to gather the men together again. He has set up a men's breakfast for a Saturday morning not too far in the future, and although I offered to cook, he told me that part of the fun and fellowship comes about as the men prepare their own breakfast. Which I can understand. When we spoke about the spiritual aspect of the morning, I didn't get a whole lot of direction, although he indicated that it was something they wanted. I didn't offer to come in to do it because I felt (maybe wrongly) that the men would want to hear a male voice (after all they get to hear me every Sunday morning). I offered to invite a male colleague, but that may be difficult, given the time constraints.

What do you all think? do I provide materials? (if so, do you have suggestions), do I find a male colleague do I "drop in".....

The Lady Father

Terri, blogging at SeekingAuthenticVoice, writes:

I am so sorry you have had this sad, public, humiliating experience. Learning to retrust yourself and others (men) is a difficult process. I commend you for your ability to articulate this concern and face into it so openly. It sounds as if you are doing some good work toward healing? If it were me I might find myself a male spiritual director and a male therapist to help me relearn to trust myself, trust male voices and to understand men a little better.

In terms of this event, if you can manage your anxiety well enough, it could be a good relearning process for you and an opening for the men to see you in a more trusting place. I would create a reflection that meets men in areas they can relate too. So for example, I might build a reflection off of the movie, Moneyball. It is filled with a number of concerns: winning, competition, personal integrity, family and love of children. It seems this might give you a way to anchor a spiritual reflection building off of imagery that men can relate too, keeping the subject matter not too personal for you, but also allowing you room to flex your leadership and spiritual muscles a bit. If Moneyball doesn't appeal to you, you could use another movie about sports (A River Runs Through It, about fly-fishing and a Presbyterian minister and his sons).

That said, it is awkward, even in the best of circumstances, for men to become comfortable with women in positions of leadership, particularly when it is their first experience of it. But it is possible for this to be a good process for all of you. Down the road, bringing in outside speakers who can talk about the differences in leadership styles, might be a way for each of you to learn. Or inviting your vestry/leadership to read a couple of books together on leadership styles might be useful. (Alban Institute has many options). Also, finding a consultant such as Jim Gettel of Middle Voice might offer an outside voice to help guide you and the leadership through the early days of this new leadership. Jim helped me through a very challenging leadership dilemma and I highly recommend him.

I do hope that this becomes a source of healing and renewed wholeness for you. It seems as if it could be a wonderful opportunity. And, putting in place some support systems for you, may be a healthy means toward this. Having trusted men, outside the congregation, with whom you can process your anxiety, may help.

I will hold you in prayer during this time.


Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness, offers this:

Dear Lady Father,

I can relate to the awkwardness. While I was not in the first wave of ordained women, I have always been 'the first woman' in every parish I served. I am now in a diocese where women have been prohibited until just 2 years ago.

1. I think you need to deal with your own 'stuff' re. the marriage break-up. That may be coloring how you relate to the parish. But go easy on yourself. We all have our baggage in our work. I really don't think that this is a problem of being a woman, however.

2. Remember, in a family-sized parish you are the 'chaplain'. Until you have been there long enough for the parish to center around you (about 10 yrs.) you are an out-sider to them. It is the way that parishes that size work. Getting them to be pastor-centered would cause havoc unless the parish is growing by leaps and bounds. You will never be the pastor or rector--even if your title says so. You will always be the person that comes from outside of this relatively closed system. You can only enter this parish if one of the matriarchs or patriarchs 'adopts' you. Work on that. Once you have the approbation of one of the patriarchs you will be home free.

3. I found letting the Men's group 'cater to you' works. It may not be 'womanist' or how you would have it. But if you can make some connections by letting them treat you as 'their special person at the breakfast' it will break down some of the barriers. They want to serve their priest and you need to allow yourself to be served. You can bet that "Father Mann" would not be cooking them breakfast! And yes, it IS important for the men to carry on their ministries in the parish. Ask them how you can serve them. They WILL tell you if not in so many words. If they need a male pastor to be present to them, they will tell you.

4. If there is a man (especially if he is a patriarch) that you trust (and you also have a good relationship with his wife), he can help you breakdown any barriers. Talk it over with him and with his wife. I always found that the answers to the dynamics of a parish were to be found among the members of the parish. They may not be able to express them in social dynamics language, but they do know each other well enough that they know how to deal with them. Use the people who called you to gain insight into the congregation. ( I know that this is not the 'clean' above-board way that we would like to work in a parish, but parishes are seldom clean and above-board---ESPECIALLY SMALL ONES!

5. Also, there is a very old pamphlet on the size of parishes called Sizing Up the Congregation, by Arlin Routhage that is worth its weight in gold. That little bit of information saved my bacon on many of occasions. I am sure it is out of print, but the material is still quite relevant. Google it.

And enjoy being their 'first.' I was quite interested that President Obama called +Gene Robinson to find out what it meant to the "The First". We all have had to go through this but it is something to rejoice about. I found that there was some great freedom because I could do things that predecessors could not do because I was "the first." But also know that there will be a certain amount of anxiety about having a "first'. Know that you can only bring a certain amount of change into the parish dynamic because you provide a certain amount yourself. I knew I couldn't move the altar because just dealing with having a woman priest was enough. But I prepared them to move the altar and they did that during the interim before the next rector came.

Most of all, love your folks. Be present to them as much as possible. Be visible in their community as much as possible--go to school ball games if that is the way to assure them of your support in the community. Support the various organizations that are the glue to the town. And whatever you do--don't criticize their hometown. (I stubbed my toe once!)

Kathrynzj adds:

First, prayers for you as you continue to recover from the end of your marriage. I am continuing to recover from that as well - also public and humiliating - and encourage you, if you are not already, to get involved in a therapeutic relationship. I did the whole recovery thing solo for awhile and found that my friends, congregation and I were suffering for it.

I think as you presented it, I would let the men do their thing. They've done it in the past and so someone will be able to lead. Their understanding of how to relate to you will take time, as will your own healing and understanding of how to relate to them. Continue to touch base with the gentleman you asked to be in charge of it so he knows you still support the ministry, but give them time to build back up as a group and you time to gain your footing with the new understanding of who you are, never forgetting, of course, Whose you are. Blessings on your continued journey through sometimes painful and awkward territory.


From Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart:

You’re a brave soul to name all of the feelings and frustrations that are going on in your mind and heart!

That you’re sensing an awkwardness is a first step. That you can identify some men with whom you can relate well is another good step.

I wonder if you would feel comfortable gathering those guys and be as transparent as you feel able to be. Let them know you’d like to be supportive of a revival of the men’s ministry.

Let them know that men’s ministry doesn’t feel like one of your strengths, but that you understand that it’s been vital in the past and you’d like to encourage it to be once again.

Ask them if they would be willing to take leadership roles. Ask them to tell you about what made it great before and what they’d like to see happen in the future?

A new day is a great time to seek direction from the whole group. They may have ideas to share and are just waiting to be asked!

Then ask them: “What role (if any) would you like me to play?” Keep asking questions. Don’t assume. Be open and invite open conversation.

I know you’re anticipating that the breakfast is coming up soon, but you ask one of the guys you find approachable to lead a brief devotion.

Would they like you to drop by? Ask them. Don’t assume.

Does the leadership have to come from outside the group? Ask them this question and any other questions you have!

As an additional thought, I’m thinking that you’ve had and will continue to have men who have pastoral needs, serve on leadership boards, attend worship, are involved in mission and more in your parish.

Sorting out how you relate to men seems like a real growing edge.

I hope your denomination provides good benefits and that you might have some willingness to seek some counseling for your own health as well as your relationships as a minister/pastor who is and will be engaged in ministry with men and women, too.

Please get some help with this. Your ministry will benefit from some therapy and direction, and your heart will heal, too.

And from Sharon, blogging at Tidings of Comfort and Joy:

Your situation takes me down a couple of familiar roads. I still remember being so surprised at how utterly lost and awkward I felt at the first wedding I officiated after the end of my 20+ year marriage. To be disoriented after such a major life trauma, especially concerning your interactions with men, is normal. I encourage you to use all the resources you can muster to work through the divorce after-effects, including counseling, spiritual direction, and support from trusted females in your life. It helped me to be around men I did trust -- relatives, friends, neighbors -- to help get back my confidence in relating appropriately to men.

As for the men's breakfast: I was the first female pastor in a congregation that had a monthly Saturday men's breakfast. They didn't want anything of a particularly spiritual nature at their meetings; they had speakers and programs, and the attendees were not all from our church. I got the distinct message that this event was for men only, but they did invite me to be the program one Saturday to introduce myself to the group. It was an interactive time together where I got to know them too. After that, I would often poke my head in while they were cooking, say hi, and leave before it could seem like I was looking for an invite. So, because you are their pastor, I think you could ask to come to one of their meetings for a little while to introduce yourself to them, to welcome them into the life of the church, and to express your ongoing desire to be supportive in any way you can. Then -- my advice: Leave that group to themselves until they ask for you.

Above all, be gentle and patient with yourself as you regain your confidence and comfort levels. This congregation called you, as you are, and is looking forward to your ministry!

Given all of these insights, I can't imagine adding more...but maybe you can! Please use the Post a Comment feature to join the conversation. And please send your questions to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Speak to Me of the Resurrection

The Shepherdess shares her experience of being ministered to at her mother's funeral.  Please share your thoughts here or on her own blog.  

A few times lately I have made reference to the fact that my mother passed away in September. Actually, I despise that phrase: passed away. Makes it sound so benign and innocent. She was peacefully at rest when she “passed away” but I do not believe for a moment that death itself is sweet, innocent or benign. She had finally been removed from the heinous machine that forced air into her mouth and demanded that she struggle to exhale in some sort of epic battle designed not to torture the patient or family, though it certainly seemed to do that quite well, but to reduce the amount of CO2 in her blood. She had been given anti-anxiety medication to keep her from panicking as her body became increasingly powerless to provide itself with adequate air. She’d also had enough blood thinner to give her hands and arms cruel maroon gloves; marks of the battle. At the end, it was the most peaceful I had seen her in years but I do not believe it is death itself that gave that gift.

My mother was a United Methodist. Even though she’d not attended a UMC church in, oh, decades, she always said she would be a Methodist till the day she died. And she was. Yet, she had been very active in the Presbyterian congregation I grew up attending (I was the only PCUSA in my family as a child and I’m the only Lutheran now, though my family as a whole is an ecumenical movement in its denominational diversity) so when it was time to plan her funeral, it was this Presbyterian congregation that was the only reasonable choice.

I did not envy the pastor’s job for that day. I’ve always thought it would be hard to preach for another pastor’s family member’s funeral, but to complicate matters with the various traditions involved could only have tangled matters further for him. When my aunt and I went to visit his office and plan for the funeral service, I felt a great deal of compassion for him. He was ordained only a few months before I was and he, too, is in his rookie call just like me.
At the meeting, he asked all the right questions about scripture and music and details of her life. He used really good pastor magic tricks of getting people to tell stories of the life of the dead. It is the stories, after all, that breathe life back into memory and image recorded in the brain and provide us with cords tying us to those who have left us behind. He made notes but not obviously so and though I do not want to critique, I cannot help it. It comes with the territory. But then, he asked perhaps the best question ever.

“On the day,” he asked me, “the day of the funeral, what do you need to hear?”

It was the very best question he could have asked me.

“Speak to me of the Resurrection,” I said. That is, after all, what gives me hope. In the Resurrection, my mother will not struggle for breath, she will not worry about having a bad hair day, she will not have such anxiety that every muscle in her body is as tight as a rubber band stretched over a too thick newspaper. In the Resurrection she will not be afraid of identity theft because her identity will be secured forever. In the Resurrection she will not worry about how to get her books from the library or whether or not someone will call during her nap.

In the Resurrection I will not cry and if I do, God will wipe away every tear.

I do not like funerals where we spend all our time hearing about how great the person was or how amazing and unique and strong and honorable they were. My mother was all these things and much more, but I do not need to hear that from a pulpit and I do not need to hear that when I sit, alongside my family and friends, slain from the reality that is pain, loss and death. No amount of fond memories can stand against such realities as this. No amount of happy thoughts or melancholy reminiscences or funny stories can ultimately be anything more than mere wraith before the blast of permanence that is death and is unavoidably, arrogantly staring at us in the shape of a coffin. Do not tell us she “passed peacefully”. This is all too real and those things too fragile, fleeting and foolish. Do not tell us she is “in a better place” or “this was God’s plan.”

Death was, is and never will be God’s plan.

The pastor was a good Presbyterian and the service was probably only about twenty minutes door to door. He spoke about my mother’s fortitude, her love of football and NASCAR, of reading and Sudoku, of me and the rest of her family, of her strong political opinions and, well, opinions on about everything. “I have hope for Jeanne,” he said, “not because of her strength or anything she did but because of the hope of the Resurrection.”

“Loss is real. Pain is real. Death is real. But hope in Resurrection in Jesus Christ is a far greater truth than any of these.”

Now that’s what I needed to hear. It is not a truth that stops tears…yet…but it is a truth that can withstand death.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 25:7-8

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Reformation Sunday Edition

My husband helped me photoshop this goofy picture years ago when I was in seminary. At the time, I badly needed a laugh. I was six months pregnant for one thing -- can I get a witness? And, I was taking a class on reformation history which I loved but which at the same time filled me with dismay. I could feel the baby moving inside, as my classmates and I talked about men so filled with self righteousness that they ripped at the flesh of their opponents with hot tongs. How, I wondered, could I bring a new life into a world so filled with hypocrisy and violence?

Since then, I've taken a more nuanced view of things. Turns out, however, I'm unsurprisingly not the first person in history to question the hypocrisy of religious leaders. Today's texts might lead you in that direction if you are preaching either from the gospel, or from the prophet.

Or, perhaps you are preaching from the Reformation texts themselves.

Whichever way you are headed, chime in. The comments are open. This week's texts and commentary found here.

(BTW, I've been on a pretty regular Lectionary Leanings rotation for a while, so I'm bowing out for now. This will be my last Tuesday post. Gord will keep on as your every-other-month host, and he'll be joined by Rev. Dr. Mom who will begin in December. I would say I'll miss you, but I'm sure I'll see you in the comments! Many blessings, Juniper)

RevGalBookPals: A Thousand Lives

When I heard Julia Scheeres had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. I read  her memoir, Jesus Landseveral years ago and found it fascinating. I was even more eager to read the new book: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception and Survival at Jonestown. I was not disappointed. Scheeres was working on a novel about a charismatic preacher from Indiana, when she looked up Jim Jones and then discovered the released, but untapped FBI archives, audio files and documents, of Jonestown.

In her introduction, Scheeres writes, “I believe that true stories are more powerful, in a meaningful, existential way, than made-up ones. Learning about other people’s lives somehow puts one’s own life into sharper relief… You won’t find the word cult in this book, unless I’m directly citing a source that uses the word… The word cult only discourages intellectual curiosity and empathy. As one survivor told me, nobody joins a cult.”

As I read this book, that last sentence came to me over and over: “Nobody joins a cult.” The book opens with a brief description of people arriving in Guyana to go to Jonestown. It quickly flashes back, then, to the early life of Jim Jones and his attraction to the church. He was drawn to the power and attention given to the man behind the pulpit and the physical aspects of devotion in Pentecostalism (speaking in tongues, slain the Spirit, dancing and prophesying). He began preaching in his late teens and proclaimed a message of God’s call to racial integration.

It was Jones’s push toward racial harmony that drew people to his church. In the book, many people recount how the Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church was their first encounter with black and white people worshipping together. The success of Jones’s ministry and its focus on neighborhood service drew much attention and many accolades. Many people were willing to give freely to such a mission and that initial dedication is what many of his followers would bring back to their minds when they later thought Jones was straying from his message and, possibly, his sanity.

Jones later proclaims himself as “the one they call God” by denouncing the violence and segregation of the Bible (he repeatedly points to its “support” of slavery). When he moves his congregation from Indiana to California, everything becomes about loyalty to him. Even in the Indianapolis congregation, Jones presses people to lie on the floor one Sunday to test their trust in and faithfulness to him. This is one of the first signs of his maniacal behavior and the demands he will place on his followers. Even as evidence of Jones’s deceptions and pressures became evident, Scheeres writes:

True believers had an answer for everything. They excused Jones’s peculiarities with the maxim, the end justifies the means. The beatings, the swats- it was all showmanship, they said. The disciplines didn’t really hurt. Jones’s antics- like stomping on a Bible or [swearing during a sermon] – were all theater. He likes to get a rise out of people to force them to pay attention. Those members who were offended by his increasingly bizarre and cruel behavior kept quiet, and in their silence, seemed to condone it. (p. 88f)

Eventually as people move to Guyana, the book becomes like a horror movie. I could barely contain myself from screaming, “Don’t get on the plane! Escape through the jungle! Don’t eat the sandwich! Don’t drink the Kool-aid!” That last line is what most people know, if anything, about Jonestown- that nearly 1,000 people died there in November 1978 because they followed their leader, who was obviously crazy. People who are old enough to remember the story may recall a few other details- the number of children killed, the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan, the pictures of the dead spread out in a field.

“Don’t drink the Kool-aid” is hardly the complete legacy of Jonestown, idealized to many who died there as a socialist paradise where everyone contributed and received according to their abilities and needs. Even as Jones obviously unraveled, people alternately agreed because they believed in the truth he had preached at one time or because they want him to leave them alone. Jones held two suicide “drills” before the actual incident. People were routinely harassed into voting to “support revolutionary suicide” so many times that it ceased to become shocking. You know the ending to this book, but you don’t know the story.

One thing that I kept turning over in my mind as I read this book was the knowledge of the cults we have seen and that continue to exist since Jonestown. A thousand people died, manipulated to death by a drugged madman convinced he was God. And since we’ve had Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, and several others. My inability to complete the previous sentence in the way I want brings me to my point in recommending this book: just because people are clean and tidy or are technically protected under the First Amendment doesn’t mean they are not in a cult. No one joins a cult, but almost no one is able to voluntarily leave one. If you’re like me at all, names and pictures are coming to your mind of current organizations, supposedly religious in nature, that manipulate, mentally torture and extort those who join.

When we dismiss the people of Jonestown as weak-willed, we are ignoring the truth that history repeats itself and the only way to stop the cycle is to speak the truth. Loudly. Frequently. In all times and places (or close to it). Many of us still come to new congregations in which people are surprised to be encouraged (or allowed) to ask questions and take truths apart. Our ability to question and even doubt does not undo what is true, especially about God. The more questions are encouraged, the less anyone person can claim to have all the answers. That can be unnerving, but it can also be empowering. And it’s the only way to prevent the success of cult mind control.

A Thousand Lives gave me the shivers… because of what’s in the past and what could easily be in the future. Probably not a book for a women’s circle, but possibly good for your young adult book group, for fans of true crime or contemporary history, or anyone who wonders how things like this could (and do) happen.

Scheeres, Julia. A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception and Survival at Jonestown. Free Press; New York, NY. October 2011

Reviewed copy purchased by reviewer. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Prayer for Proper 25A/Ordinary 30A/Pentecost +19

You are the one we turn to time and time again
No matter what goes on in our lives.
You are our sanctuary when times are rough.
You are our encourager when we feel discouraged.
You are our God who loves us even when we feel unloved.
You are our host who welcomes us when we feel tired and weary.
You are our nurturer when we need to be taught how to live as your children.
And we are your children, who seek to know you more deeply in our lives.
We are your followers who seek to live as you would want us to live.
We are your servants in a world that has so many great needs.
We are who others look at to see how one lives when they say they believe.
And we come back home to you daily seeking that warmth, that love, that encouragement,
Your hospitality and love makes it possible to then live as your children so that all may find their home in you and feast at your heavenly table of plenty.

cross posted at a place for prayer and revgalblogpals

Friday, October 21, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: In the thick of it

I feel like every time I start a church newsletter with "It's that time of year again" a puppy dies, but ....

It's that time of year again! We are right in the middle of everything. Over the summer when attendance is down and activities are low, and in the winter (for those of us north or south enough to really experience it) when it's too hard to muster up the energy to come out, we crave Sundays like this, don't we? Those Sundays that come early enough in the year that everyone is still engaged, but far enough along that we have found our groove. The Sundays that are full of Sunday School, Adult Ed, worship, and fellowship. So, if that's the case, why am I so tired? The grass is always greener....

What's giving you energy as you finish your preparations for Sunday? What are you thick in the middle of? Do you have a great idea for the sermon or are you here in search of one? Either way the community stands ready to walk with you. Join us in the comments; ask for what you need. Share what you have. All are welcome today and always.

Friday Five: My Life Stages

Since it is almost my birthday and because my spiritual direction peer group is reading Living Fully, Dying Well by Edward W. Bastian and Tina L. Staley, I am thinking of my life in stages. For the latter group, we filled out a form dividing our life into 7-year increments, documenting "significant moments," then "people who guided and influenced me," and ending with the question, "What did this phase contribute to the continuum of my life?" This was a life Review Exercise devised by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.

For today's Friday Five, I am suggesting that we each divide our age into 5 sections. You don't have to say your age or ages for the different parts, unless you want to. In each of the 5 points, please describe a memorable and/or significant event, either good or unpleasant.

After you play at your blog, be sure to leave a comment here. If you provide a direct link to your blog, you will encourage more visitors! For a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - A Pastoral Concern

What is our responsibility to those who have absented themselves from the congregation, but have not removed their membership? That's the question one of our Revgals is mulling over this week...

I have been serving my church for almost 7 years. And, a few years ago, we went through a really painful split. A few of our long-term members left and will not be back until I go...if then. It was awful at the time, but the church survived and we are healthy now. As for the members who left, most are going to other churches (though they have said they will never 'officially' move their membership). My question is this: what is my pastoral responsibility if there is an emergency or a crisis? If they had simply 'faded away' from church, that would be one thing. But, they left angry and acting very hateful, and they have continued to be angry and hateful to church members who have seen them since the hubbub. I'm not sure what my response should be if they have a medical emergency.

Muthah+ responds...

Often in our ministry, we face issues like this. When we arrive in the parish, our presence (it is not about us) brings issues in the parish to a head. The persons who left, left for a reason. You are most likely NOT the reason. The reasons are within the congregation and probably have been for years. The new pastor just becomes the lightning rod for those issues.

If they want you to minister to them in emergencies, offer. But don't be surprised if they cannot accept your gracious offer. I find such changes in the static community are what enliven congregations. They give fresh energy to those who were not a part of the conflict. They also free up those who led the conflict to extricate themselves from the dynamics of the conflict and sometimes learn new ways to live out their faith lives. God is always providing such ways for parishes to grow--if not in numbers then in faith.

Most likely this whole issue has nothing to do with you--we gals often take on the responsibility for everything. And if things are going well with the congregation, let yourself off the hook. If there are those who still mourn the 'departed' in your congregation, I would suggest that you ask them to call on them--not you.In an emergency or when there has been a tragedy in the family, offer your condolences or offer your prayers. If that family needs you, they will let you know.

Faithfully, Muthah+

Do you have experience with this situation? Do you have opinions about this as a lay or clergy person? Join in the conversation.

And please keep our mailbox full! Send your questions to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace today+

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Injury and Gratitude

Clergy, women and clergywomen in particular often have trouble asking for help. But sometimes things happen that leave us no choice. Today's post comes from Rev. Katie M. Ladd, who blogs at peaceable kin-dom. I hope you'll leave her a thought in the comments here or at her blog.

Injury and Gratitude

On October 7, a car ran a stop light, turned left, and struck me while I was walking across a crosswalk in my neighborhood. It struck my right side with my left crashing to the pavement. Witnesses corroborated what I thought at the time - that the car was going about 20mph.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 5% of accidents involving a car striking a pedestrian at 20mph are fatal. This number jumps to about 50% if the vehicle is traveling at 30mph. At 40mph, the fatality rate is 95%.

On the evening of October 7, I was walking with someone to dinner. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a headlight and the corner of a bumper turning in to us. I was closest to the incoming car and put out a hand as it reached my side. It didn't stop. The driver hit the brakes after striking me.

The significant thing about this event isn't the accident itself. A good person made a bad driving error that sent me to the emergency room in the back of an ambulance. There is nothing unusual or remarkable about this. Accidents happen all the time. What is remarkable is the overwhelming grace that I have experienced since that bumper contacted my side.

The man driving the car apologized at the scene. Bystanders quickly called 911. The police officer who arrived at the scene was kind and calm. The EMS teams was kind, calm, and had a good sense of humor. I happened to be wearing my favorite pair of jeans. As I lay on the asphalt and they pulled out a C-collar, they jokingly asked if I minded if they cut my pants leg to inspect my leg injury. When I paused before answering (they were my favorite pair of jeans, after all), the EMT laughed and simply said, "I have to cut them." They were very gentle putting me on the backboard and they overwhelmed me with their kindness all the way to the hospital.

The hospital staff allowed me to be quite the baby. They played "What's My Line" with me to keep me distracted (no one guessed that I am clergy). The radiology technicians were very careful with me, fully aware that what they had to do was very painful for me. All of the nurses, doctors, and technicians were kind. After I was released from the hospital, my blood pressure went down and the same guys who scraped me off the pavement showed up at my door. We had a lovely reunion.

A friend came to the hospital and stayed the whole time; she even took me to an all night pharmacy after I was released from the hospital. A couple of days later, she made and brought dinner to me.

Another couple of friends helped with crutches. And yet more friends have made me dinner, driven me to doctors' appointments, sent flowers, and taken me to lunch. Even my selfish cats seem to know that something isn't quite right.

A clergy colleague stepped in and led services for me on October 9.

In July I moved to a new church. Here it is in October and I am not very available to them, but they have been remarkably gracious. They encouraged me to take the week off of work. People volunteered to come in to the church and help out as needed. The congregation sent me a card. A couple in the church sent flowers. They have been very flexible with rescheduling meetings. I have experienced the power of our baptismal covenant at work this week.

These have not been an easy twelve days, but they have been holy days. As our country fights partisan wars, as the OWS people stand up to government corruption and corporate greed, and as I see bad news after bad news reported in the media, this past week and a half I have been reminders of the goodness in the world.

If that car had hit me even slightly differently, I very well might not be able to type this post. I am very lucky that, despite my injuries, I am able to be up and about. I even led worship this past Sunday (with the help of another pastor who presided over Holy Communion). I am very aware of the combination of sheer luck and grace at work in my life.

I am being tended by caring and kind medical professionals. I am being loved by wonderful friends, family, and congregation members. I am being supported and prayed for by colleagues. Grace is everywhere.

In response to the grace that I have and am still receiving, I am very grateful. Thank you to all who extended concern and care to me. Thank you for being patient with me - with my forgetfulness, immobility, fatigue, and periodic grumpiness. Thank you for reminding me that community still exists in our world. Thank you for your witness for kindness and simple care.

I feel like I was hit by a car...and I was. But, I also feel like I have been embraced by God...and I was. This, I hope, is not only a lesson for me but for all who read this. 

~Rev. Katie M. Ladd

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - That about says it all Edition

This coming January, my congregation will be studying about the connections between Islam and Christianity. I am blessed to be working with a facilitator who takes his preparation very seriously, so he's been studying for months already. Today, he came into my office with a question, "You know how there are five pillars of Islam? Well, what would you say the pillars of Christianity are?"

I'm so glad he asked me that today, because this week's gospel reading was in the front of my mind, and so an answer ("You shall love God will all your mind, heart and soul; and your neighbor as yourself") rolled right off my tongue. Of course, there are many other possibilities, but I would venture to guess that whatever your particular House of Christianity looks like, this is one of the pillars holding it up. How would you answer this question?

(I have read quite a few commentaries trying to find a useful explanation of the second half of this week's gospel reading, by the way, but most of them brush if off with the equivalent of a chuckle and a "dont bother." Which, pig-headedly, makes me half want to preach a sermon on Davidic lineage or something, although I probably wont.)

How about you? What are you focussing on this week?
Are you saying good bye to Moses after your long journey together?
Starting at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with Psalm 1?
Or continuing your little series on Thessalonians?

Whichever direction you are heading, check in. The comments are open!

Picture of the 5 pillars of Islam found here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Extra: Church and Politics

Songbird occupying Portland, briefly.
Do you talk about politics in church?

Saturday I went with a colleague to the Occupy event in our small New England city. We went to check out what was happening and ended up observing a "teach-in" by an Economics professor from a local university. It struck me that we are out of place at either a progressive or a conservative political event, two women in clergy collars. Lots of conservatives are surprised when women are pastors, and lots of progressives assume all pastors are conservatives.

And although my friend serves a large, more overtly liberal congregation, while I serve a smaller not-so-liberal one, we both know that there is a funny dividing line between talking about justice in church and being perceived as talking politics.

What's your situation? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

prayer for Proper 24A/O 29A/P +18

Dear God,
Long ago the Pharisees and Herodians asked your son to ask is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not? One of the major causes for the American revolution was "No taxation without representation". Now, God, we live in a time where the question is how much taxes is enough or too much? God, we pray for wisdom as they decide these questions about taxation, budget, and funding the needs of our country. Help us to remember also, the answer that your son gave was; to give to the Emperor what was the emperor’s and to God what was God’s. Sometimes we seem to forget the part about giving to God what is God’s. Forgive us God and help us to remember to give to you what is yours.. Help us to also remember that you then take what is given back to you and generously use it to spread your good news here and around the world. You make possible what seems to be the impossible. You bring healing and restoration to what seemed like total devastation. You bring peace and justice to where there was once only wars and injustice. You bring salvation and wholeness to the lost and broken hearted. And we thank you for what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do; by giving to you what is yours. And we pray for all people here and everywhere that need you in their lives. And we pray for those here and everywhere who live in poverty, hunger and starvation. And we pray for those here and everywhere who are ill, in pain, and suffering, And we pray for those here and everywhere who are looking for work, trying to maintain their homes and family. We pray for children, youth, and adults here and everywhere. We pray for our churches, church leaders, and church workers here and everywhere. We thank you for hearing our prayers. We thank you for the transformation that you are making in our lives. We thank you for the deliverance of all in this world. Amen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: "Take Out a Sheet of Paper" Edition

Pop Quiz!I still remember the panic that erupted when the teacher started out the class with those two little words: "Pop quiz!"  Getting a sermon together can feel to me like being put on the spot like that.  The good news is that this is a place, unlike junior high, where it is perfectly fine to look off of each other's "papers" to get inspiration and ideas.  

This week, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test and Moses puts God to the test.  Perhaps this week of church life has put some of us to the test.  I don't know if it makes sense to ponder this, but I wonder if there is a connection between testing, testimony and feeling (or being) testy?!

It's your 11th Hour Preacher Party! You are each invited to share what you have and ask for what you need.  And please do link up your finished sermons so we can celebrate with you.

I just brewed some fair trade Nicaraguan French roast coffee, so help yourselves to a mug of that and some pumpkin spice muffins.  

Welcome to the party!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Five: Scattered!

So, I don't know about you, but I have had quite the scattered week.  Sometimes, life is that way, right?
In the spirit of Scattered-ness, I offer you a scattery kind of Friday Five:

1.  I lose my keys all of the time.  Even if they are in my hand, I still am looking for them.  Sigh!
What is something you chronically looking for, if anything?

2.  What movie are you looking forward to watching sometime in the future?  (me, the new Footloose!)

3.  What is one of your favorite comfort foods?  (me, pizza. hands down).

4.  Story time.  Tell us a story of one your favorite people that has touched, blessed your life.

5.  What do you do to focus or calm or center yourself?  (please, I need ideas!!!)

BONUS:  Share the first thing (or second thing) that comes to your mind after your read this!

I can't wait to read your plays!
After you play at your blog, be sure to leave a comment here. If you provide a direct link to your blog, you will encourage more visitors! Here's the formula: 

<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Peeping Out

Sometimes a question is so simple, and so poignant, that it needs no introduction:

I wonder where matriarchs and others stand on making your sexual identity known to a congregation?

I am a lesbian and in a stable (loving & wonderful) relationship, but I have never used the ‘L’ word with any congregation I have served. When I’m being introduced to a church it feels like a BIG thing to identify as a ‘lesbian minister’ when really I just want them to decide under God whether I am the right minister for them. I don’t feel that my identity is totally proscribed by being in a relationship with another woman. BUT then once I have got to know people it feels like pulling the rug from under them to suddenly say ‘Oh yes, and by the way, I’m gay’.

So what has happened is that in my present call (where I’ve been a few years now) some people have worked it out & ask after my partner, and others feel sorry for me ‘being on my own’. To them I try to say ‘I have support, I have good friends, N – for example’.

It feels as though some people choose not to see what is. I never lie about (for example) who I’ve been on holiday with, if people ask – but I’m not completely out and open & I suppose my question is – should I be?

It’s even a bit scary writing all that down – for so long the culture in my denomination has been not to make a fuss & just like people “get it” in their own time.

Thanks for your thoughts,

“Peeping out of the closet”

Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness, responds

Dear Peeping,

For years I did the same thing and it was only when Bishop Gene Robinson was elected and confirmed that I finally faced the reality of my existance. I was outted by a colleague to my parish and it cost me my parish. And even though my denomination (Episc.) was supportive of LG clerics, the reality was quite painful. It was only through the graciousness of a Lutheran bishop that I was able to work and get to retirement with enough credits to receive my pension.

Coming Out is an exercise of integrity. And I would not suggest it unless you and your partner have come to a place in your relationship where you want to live in the fishbowl that being Out requires. And for a while you will be seen as a 'one-issue' person even when you are not. This is one reason that I stayed quiet for so many years. My sexual proclivities don't define me. My partner is straight and our 35 year old relationship is a celibate one, but that doesn't seem to matter even in a denomination that says it supports LGBT issues. My being Out has had some splash-back on her too--she too is clergy. This has been the hardest to deal with.

If you choose to do more than peek Out, I would talk to your jurdical officials first. I would also then get a good spiritual director or therapist who can help you keep your eyes on Christ in the process. Clothe yourself in the integrity of your faith and have some good sistahs around to hold you up. It could get nasty--for some reason this issue seems to bring out meanness in those you would least expect. Make sure that your partner is supportive and willing to be a 'clergy wife.' And surround yourself with those who will love you through this step in your life. Do not try to come Out on your own.

I am so glad I was forced to claim myself as lesbian. I have never known such freedom. It was a surrender to the love that God has for me and forced me to trust in God in a way I never had. In retirement I don't have much income to play with but I have enough to be who I am. Keep supporting Medicare! and we may be able to know a peaceful retirement and watch a new day when straight folk will understand that love is love when it liberates and fills our hearts with joy. Just this past week I found that my former little Lutheran parish called the first partnered gay man in the synod. That, in itself is worth it.

Do you have some thoughts regarding this question? Please join the conversation by posting them below.

Do you have a question for the matriarchs? The queue is empty - no waiting! Please send your questions to us here.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday Festival: The Rule of Membership

This week's Festival post comes from Elsa Peters, who blogs at (im)possible things with God. You may leave comments for Elsa here or follow the link.

The Rule of Membership

Last night, I watched the sun set in Kettle Cove while reading Adam Hamilton's Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched. The view was awesome (as you can see) but this particular book leaves me a little numb. Numb is the wrong word. It just doesn't fit where I am in my faith journey and I can't quite put my finger on why. Nevertheless, it's something I'm required to read as part of my commitment as a Lewis Fellow. Next week, I will make my way to Kansas City where I'll see Hamilton's church. Maybe I'll even ask him a question or two.

For now, I'm musing over what I read about membership last night. Tonight, we'll host a meeting for potential members. We'll do what Hamilton points out that churches do. We'll give them a little background. We'll try not to make it too scary. We'll try to tell them who we are and then make a really soft lob toward asking them to make a commitment. Of course, Hamilton also makes the well-founded point that we don't ask much. So, he tells us what they do in his church. They ask their members to make the following commitment (which I actually cut and paste from the website):
  • To worship regularly.
  • To continue to grow in your faith by participating in a small group study.
  • To serve God with your hands, by volunteering in service to the congregation and the community and world.
  • To give in proportion to your income.
Doesn't sound all that unique to me. He writes in such a way that this provides a formula in the magic method toward reaching the unchurched. Somehow this commitment will speak to them. Maybe but it doesn't speak to me. I'm part of that generation that doesn't like institutions and doesn't want to join anything that sounds remotely like an institution. This sounds like exactly that institution to me. So, you lost me but that's not really his point. He's interested in creating a pathway that creates mature disciples -- but that maturity is going to look differently in each church. That might mean regular worship or tithing, but it might not.

Increasingly, I'm more and more interested in monastic life. I'm interested in the ways that the monks and nuns have chosen to live in the world. I think there is an interesting parallel with those of us that choose to be Christian in today's world. We don't necessarily retreat from the world but we do try to find some way to order our days. We're trying to find some covenant that will hold us accountable. We're trying to understand what it looks like to choose to associate with a particular group of people with a shared set of ideals. That could be an institution. That might work for some but I'm still not grabbed by this list. It doesn't give me a daily orientation of how to live in the world. Instead, I'm more interested in choosing to live by a shared rule as the members of the Iona Community do. When you join the community, you covenant to this five-point rule:
  • Daily Prayer and Bible-reading
  • Sharing and accounting for the use of our money 
  • Planning and accounting for the use of our time 
  • Action for Justice and Peace in society 
  • Meeting with and accounting to each other. 
I know there are churches that are choosing this sort of order. I've seen them though I can't find any of their website right now. For me, it is so much more exciting to know that there is a group of people that has shared in this huge commitment. There is something unique about the commitment we share and there's a group of people that holds me accountable to that rule. Now, I'm not actually a member of the Iona Community. I haven't joined because I haven't been in a space where there are other members in my geographic neighborhood -- but it's the kind of church I dream about leading. It's the kind of commitment that excites me about such an institution as the church. For me, this five-point rule sounds more like the community I understand the church to be. For me, that's what really matters. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Whose Coin Is It Anyway Edition

I rarely try to preach on more than one, or - on a really ambitious day - two scripture lessons. Sometimes, though, I try to discern a common thread, imagining preaching on several of them. This week is as challenging as any I can imagine for the how-do-those-lectionary-scriptures-hang-together game.

And, anyway, any one of these scriptures is rich enough for at least one, if not several, sermons. You could, for example, kick off your mini-series on Thessalonians. Thessalonians! You don't get to travel down THAT road very often if you are a lectionary follower.

Or, you could visit the God of Isaiah, smashing bars of solid metal with one hand and doling out hidden riches with the other.

Or, you and Moses could continue your conversation with a God too awe-some (in the original sense) to be seen from the front.

Or, is it the Good News for you this week? How do you preach the Matthew text during what, for many of us, is Stewardship time? What did Jesus really mean - should we pay taxes or not? Or, is this really more about power than money anyway? On a first reading, and maybe on a 4th or a 40th, this scripture sure raises more questions than there are answers. How comfortable are you, as a preacher, asking questions and letting them hang in the air? This might be the week to test that comfort level!

Check in, the comments are open for questions AND for answers. You can find this week's readings and lots of other helpful resources at Working Preacher.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy RevGalBlogPals

They're all over the place, protesting, speaking, singing, playing drums, sleeping in tents, employing the human microphone.

So I'm declaring this Occupy RevGalBlogPals Day. This is your space. (No pepper spray to fear.) If you could speak to the world about something you wish would change, what would you say? How about to your own community, or faith community?

Share your thoughts in the comments, or if you write something at your own blog, leave a link.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Prayer for Proper 23A/Ordinary 28A/Pentecost +17

Holy One,
We are grateful for your daily presence in our lives.
Lord, we thank you for your love that lasts forever.
Remember us O God when you consider all your people.
Bring us all into your arms of salvation.
Lord, we are all in our own exile away from you.
We have chosen to sin against you and your children.
Forgive us, save us, bring us back to you

Hear o Lord, the prayers we bring to you.
We pray for our church, our church leaders and for churches everywhere.
We pray for good weather, good crops and good harvest all over.
We pray for the well being of each of our own communities and for the citizens who live in it.
We pray for wellness for our families, companions, and all those we love.
We pray for all those in need: the sick and the suffering, prisoners, captives, and their families, the hungry, homeless, and oppressed.

Help us to rejoice in you God even we don’t feel like doing it.
Help us to not be so anxious about things instead help us to talk to your about our needs and requests.
Help us to know that peace that only comes from you when we are feeling worried.
Help us to keep our focus on you in our lives, no matter what.
Help us to learn the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Help us to remember that we can do all things through you who gives us strength.

Thank you for hearing and answering our prayers. Amen.

cross posted at a Place for Prayer and rev abi's long and winding road

Saturday, October 08, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Come to the Banquet Edition

Good morning, gals and pals.  Whether you are preaching the gospel story of the wedding banquet or NOT, I invite you this morning to come to a virtual banquet of food, laughter, conversation and encouragement.  I'm not preaching this weekend, though I have an actual wedding this afternoon and banquet afterwards.  Yay, me!

We're in the middle of stewardship season here, and connecting the words of Paul in Philippians with joyful giving (at least, that's what I've heard from the preacher.)  I'm in the middle of calling a bunch of people and inviting them to speak, or write, the end of this sentence, "I give because...."  But, what about you?  Are you struggling with the good and bad news of the gospel, where there is a huge party, but also weeping, and gnashing of teeth?  are you working your way through Exodus?  are you with Paul as well? 

As per usual (until someone gets tired of it), we have blueberry pancakes for breakfast, we have orange juice and fair trade coffee, with a little side of turkey sausage, if you'd like.  There will be more feasting throughout the day.  Maybe I'll even bring something back from the wedding banquet!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Five: The Things We Do For Love

I have a friend who, when she has to be away from her child, goes to the trouble of planning a present for each of the days they will be apart. (This is not one of those stories where "a friend" means the person who is telling the story.) I'm impressed by her organizational skills and her creativity and her thoughtfulness.

She does these things for love.

And although love looks different depending on how we best express it, there are definitely things we do for love. So for today's Friday Five, please share the following five things:

1) Something you did for love that was a hit
2) Something you did for love that was more of a miss
3) Something someone did for love of you
4) Something you *wish* someone would do for love of you
5) Something you've done for love of God

After you play at your blog, be sure to leave a comment here. If you provide a direct link to your blog, you will encourage more visitors! Here's the formula:

<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, October 06, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - About Leadership

Our question this week is a reflection on leadership...

There is a plethora of books on the subject ranging from those in the corporate world to those which Alban publishes. How do you define leadership and what is your style of leadership? I know all the buzz words such as collegial, collaborative, participatory, etc. I have experienced leadership which has been autocratic and "my way or the highway".

My style of leadership is invitational. I invite those in the congregation I serve to take time to reflect if there is a sense of God in prompting them to serve in a particular role, to serve in the community, to volunteer for XYZ ministry. I also tell them there are seasons in our life when we must say "no" and that "no" is a complete sentence. This congregation has a history of using guilt to get people to serve or nominating them when they are not present and/or without their consent. I talk alot about sense of call, listening for the Spirit, paying attention to the nudging of the God, and being aware of where our blind spots are. Our areas of resistance can be just as information as our areas of affirmation. We have spent some time on gifts and the vast variety there are.

I hold fast to not filling slots with warm (or for that matter cold) bodies and also considering if those slots need to be "let go" of to make room for new ministry. I encourage them to explore areas to discover new gifts and how it is OK to discover new gifts or affirm that at this point in my life that is not my gift.

Here's the rub: It is much easier for someone else to do it. Everybody wants a ministry to kids and youth, or everyone thinks having someone besides the pastor visit is a good idea...but that is as far it is ever goes. There is ministry being done most of it which is focused inside our walls and that ministry which is outside the walls consists of writing a check to support various mission projects.

After being here 2 years I would say this congregation is very comfortable where they are and embrace the status quo.

My thoughts thus far: This congregation had not yet decided whether it wants to live or not. (Of course, they would be first to say....YES). Secondly, invitational leadership is part of my DNA but is it possible this congregation needs a different style. If I cannot not adapt, then perhaps I am doing them a disservice by staying in this call. Third: Is it possible for invitational leadership to work in any church?

Sharon at Tidings of Comfort and Joy writes in response:

I was a science major in college. In our lab experiments, there were instructions for how it was supposed to work and, if we followed all the steps, the results would turn out consistently and predictably. I see church life as a lab to live out what we pastors have learned/are learning and what our congregation is learning about our faith. Seminary, preaching, reading books, studying Bible, Sunday School class -- all the theory, lessons, God revelations and good ideas work themselves out in the lab of congregational life gathered and scattered. Our faith lab experiments -- it turns out -- have amazingly unpredictable results given the relatively clear mandates of our faith! Forgiveness lessons alone . . . but I digress!

About your first point, if your congregation hasn't decided whether it wants to live, they are the norm at this time in church history. Many of those congregations are predicted to die before the end of this century. Assume that yours does want to live and treat their "illness" aggressively. I recommend Paul Nixon's book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church as discussion and planning fodder for your church council meetings.

About your third point: Yes, it is possible for invitational leadership to be effective. In my experience, it means letting happen the mess that happens when you deliberately let things fall through the crack. Some of that mess may be that you will be accused of being an ineffective leader and/or not doing the job they are paying you to do. Keep on inviting! Invite them to embrace that this is their church vitality, their ministry, and their own faith growth that is at stake.

About your second point: Simply stated: Yes, it may come to that. It's time to leave when you know (however you know) that God's invitational leadership is inviting you to somewhere new and inviting this church to embrace someone else's pastoral leadership. You gotta say yes to that if it happens.

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions about leadership! In my experience, pastoral leadership turns out to be more of a dance than a science!

Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness adds:

If there is anything that I have learned over the years that there are different strokes..., not only of how to lead but how to be led. And we need several different styles under our belts. The kind of leadership that we have naturally is not the only kind and clergy need to be proficient in many. I like your natural style. The invitational is the most important in most situations. But there are the cheerleading style, the 'let's do it together' style, and at times there is a place where the "my way-highway" style is necessary when you need to be protective in the face of a bully.

I am ashamed to say that naturally I have a coercive style of leadership and I have had to learn another form to keep from alienating folks. But sometimes a 'kick butt' style---especially when it is a total novelty can wake folks up to their responsibility as long as it is done with humor.
The big problem is that you have a community that is passive. They have somewhere along the line (probably by being a part of today's culture) either experienced the ministry as something that they were supposed to be the recipients of rather than the doers of. First of all you need to find where their passion is. What turns these folks on? What excites them about their faith? Then you need to get out of their way!

All too often we clergy types either present or try to keep on the ministry of some past cleric that is not exciting to them or to you. Or we have accepted a denominational pattern that has always 'looked like the way church is supposed to be'. It might be interesting to see what they want to do---and if they tell you they all want a vital youth group and they are all over 60 they aren't being realistic.

You don't say how long you have been in your congregation, but make sure that they trust you enough to 'disturb' them, to challenge them. There is nothing wrong with dying if that is what they want to do. And they are not going to tell you that they want to die unless they trust you well enough to know that that you are going to be there to hold their hand while they die. IMHO, churches are damned hard to kill off. And they don't want die especially if you are there to play step-n-fetch.
I have just started a bible study for a group of seniors in my parish and it is the most lively and 'subversive' group in this large, predominantly 40 something parish. They want to DO stuff after studying Amos. They want to talk to the youth about 'their eras'. They want to feed the hungry. They have found some energy simply because they have heard the word of God.
Start small and tend it well and it will grow. Trust your own relationship with God to be your guide and don't expect results in your tenure as pastor. Maintain your own integrity as a faith filled person. That is the most faith-filled leadership style that you can have.

I am a celibate lesbian who led a small country parish before I retired. I was the only pastor they could get and there was always grumbling during my tenure. The conservative farmers in the community didn't know what to make of me. But they 'suffered me' and we came to a grumpy respect. I did not discuss LGBT issues in the parish--they didn't want to. So we didn't. I retired 2 years ago and I have just heard that this parish has just called a young gay partnered man to serve them. They are the first in their judicatory to do so and they are so proud of themselves that they can't see straight. They are excited by his energy and his caring. I could never have led these people to this decision--it came from their own energy. Who would have guessed?

There are some excellent insights here...what can you add? Come, join the conversation.

We have no questions in the queue for the matriarchs, so please send your questions to

May you live in God's amazing grace+