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Friday, December 30, 2011

11th Hour Preacher NEW YEAR'S EVE Party

"And the last shall be first." I'm pretty certain a New Year's Eve Preacher Party when the last day of the year leads to the first sermon of the next isn't what Jesus was talking about, but it just seems like it fit so well.

Welcome to our last part of the year on the last day of the year! And what potential we have for the party, too. I giggled this week when I visited The Text This Week and found a gazillion of options for this Sunday. In what direction are you going?

  • The Wise Guys and Epiphany? (Children's time suggestion might be a Chalk Blessings.)
  • New Year (Maybe an interactive sermon time with discernment of what God might be calling the church to join in the New Year)
  • Holy Name of Jesus (Children's time idea - - Bring a baby name book, or if you have the capability do on-line searches in real time, looking up name meanings of the kids. Then talk about what Jesus' name/s is/are, why he has it/them. Another variation might be to talk about who gives people their names.)
  • Mary, the Holy Mother of God (I gotta admit, this one is about as foreign to my Presbyterian-self as it could be. Yet this post that I found via friends on the Incarnation has a lot to say about the woman who brought the incarnation into "caro.")
  • and last but not least, good ol' Christmas 1B (I LOVE LOVE LOVE Simeon and Anna. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Anna, but it's actually Simeon who reminds me of my husband's grandmother. She was so excitedly awaiting great-grandchildren in her life that the quilt she gave us upon that blessed child's birth, on her own birthday I might add, was graced with a label saying "For my first great-grandchild, with love, made in 1995." For those who don't know me that was not only 10 years before my baby girl was born, but the same year her father, the oldest grandchild, graduated from high school. Grandma was waiting a long time! In our congregation we will be singing the Song of Simeon as the prayer after communion.)
There are LOTS of beautiful options for this week, and I'm certain there are even more directions in which we are being led. What are you thinking? What is the Spirit saying to you and your church? Where do you need help from the community?

And then there's that totally non-pastoral question - - how in the world does writing a sermon fit into your New Year's Eve plans?

I'll start the morning off with the requisite fair trade coffee. I think my husband will be making pancakes, too. But, later in the evening we'll have to pop open our bubbly drinks of choice. I do drink champagne, but am totally looking forward to my favorite sparkling apple juice, too!!! The party to which we go offers both!

In the meantime, join this party in the comments. Looking forward to saying "Hi" to everyone who drops in!

Nearly New Year Friday Five...

A simple Friday Five for a busy part of the year; indulge me by sharing two fives:

As you look back over 2011 share 5 blessings, they can be as grand or as simple as you like,if you year has been like mine they are probably a mixture!

As you look towards 2012 share 5 hopes- again, anything goes!

Pictures and songs welcome!

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, December 29, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Dealing with a Stalker

Our post this week is a very serious one.  Our rev gal has blogged about her situation, and the matriarchs had the opportunity to read her blog posts, as you will notice when you read some of the responses. 

I have had significant security issues at church, where I am the rector. I have currently been dealing with a stalker, who is also a sex offender. I finally began writing about it in my blog, but wanted to formulate some question about church security. Before I had the stalker (this is his second time stalking me - he was in prison for a few years and just got out) I walked around church in a state of familiarity  that I was unaware of any danger signs. I'm working on finding the balance between being awake (a good Advent discipline) and aware, without being hyper vigilant.

After writing a 5 part blog series on my situation, I decided the story is so dark and disturbing that I took the blog series down. I do have all the text though. My stalker is a violent rapist and he had created what is called a 'hot room' in a bathroom at a nearby cemetery. This sort of room is created to bring someone back to. On Sunday mornings there were squad cars in front of my church for my protection This has been quite a journey for me and as a result I'm  thinking about doing a workshop on theology of self defense.

Have you ever had to deal with a stalker or someone who wanted to do you harm?

Have you found cause to increase security and/or surveillance around your facility?  Who participated in the decision-making?  What worked?  What would you do differently?

What advice do you have for this rector?

From Terri, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice
Goodness. I am grateful you have taken the self defense training. And, I am thankful your Bishop is taking this seriously and insisting you take some time off. 

From my experience and training this situation requires assistance from professionals who are trained in a comprehensive approach to violence against women. The threat of violence and stalking are a form of violence. Have you done any research into what help is available? Such as connecting with one of the various "Violence Against Women" organizations like "Not In Our Pews"? Even though this is not a domestic violence situation, they will have ideas of how to prepare and protect yourself. What I like about "Not In Our Pews" is that they partner with local social work agencies, churches, and law enforcement, to create a comprehensive approach to protect the victim. You can read more about them on my blog here.

Also, it seems that acquiring some training for you and your leadership team/vestry/staff will help. I don't know the thought process behind a stalker but it seems that secrecy may be one of their veils of abuse? Again, a comprehensive approach from organizations trained in domestic/partner abuse including churches, local law enforcement, and mental health agencies, can give you training and direction.

I hope you find the help you need and can live again with a greater sense of peace. You remain in my prayers!

From Muthah+, who blogs at Stone of Witness

Dear Sistah,

I have never had a situation like this. I have never been an 'object' of anyone's fascination.  It sounds like you are doing some important things for yourself. The self defense class is good to remind you of the power you do have.  You have spiritual power that this stalker does not.  You need only to call upon God to give you that inward power, the skill of not folding before fear and evil.  That is what your Indian story is about. 

I think we all come face to face with Evil in someway--it is essential to our growth in faith.  Your encounter is quite manifest.  And there comes a time when we all have to choose not to feed the Evil wolf.  You have chosen to do that with this question to us.  Now, like anytime we have to make a change in our selves to follow the Good, the practice is the hard part. Ask yourself first if you are afraid to die.  And then deal with that question.  Then ask yourself if you are afraid of being raped.  And then deal with that.  Once we begin to really think through scenarios, we fill begin to realize that we often have more fear of the fear than we have of the reality.  Of course we don't want these things to happen!  And of course fear (the right kind of fear) is necessary for self-preservation.  But it is often the fear of the fear that saps our strength and makes us powerless and vulnerable.  

Fear feeds a predator's desire to stalk.  In AA we have a phrase "fake it 'till ya make it."  It is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given.  Sometimes we have to live into a state of being before we can call it our own.  Start living as if you are NOT afraid.  This does NOT mean be foolish--take the precautions that are appropriate.  But live into your fearless love for God.  Living fearlessly t'ain't easy but it does make a difference and it will become a part of you.  It may turn him off. 

Building into your life ways of resting and restoring your strength will keep your spiritual 'immune system' in good health.  When was your last retreat?  Do you have prayer time morning and night worked into your daily schedule that are more important than "getting things done?" Do you have prayer partners that are lifting you and holding you in their daily prayers?  Do you hold them? 

 I rejoice with you in having a bishop who is understanding and helpful.  I had to leave a parish for almost 2 months due to stress and fatigue one time too .  I hated that I would be viewed as 'fragile' afterward.  But neither the parish nor the bishop saw it that way.  People understand when their beloved pastor has been hassled just because you serve them. 

Your buildings need to be secure--the parish needs to see to that.  Get a good security company come and do an evaluation of your offices and church and an estimate.  If your budget cannot support the changes needed ask the bishop or look for funds through various women's organizations.   Check out Take Back the Night and similar organizations that you can get more information so that you feel strengthen enough to enjoy life without 'constant hyper-vigilance'.

 You are in my prayers.  Rest now and come back fierce in your love for God and God's people.  Let "If God be for us, who can be against" be your mantra.  And let your friends in the parish know what you are fighting, if they don't already know.  They will protect you.  Believe me, the men in your parish will absolutely take care of you-- let their desire to care for you make you safer.  It will give some of them a real sense of being needed in a "woman-led church."  Use machismo to your benefit. If you need your home watched while you sleep, they will do that. This is what 'community' means.  Work with local law enforcement (I am sure you have already done this).  But spend this New Year living freely feeding the Good Wolf.

And I know that you can depend upon many of us holding you in our prayers until this man is caught or discouraged.

From Kathryn:

My friend, there are two levels to your question. Our church's governing body is phasing in increased levels of security (rekeying, sectioning off areas of the church, security cameras, more people presence). I can detail these efforts for those interested as I know from experience that churches tend to be all (mega church security guards) or nothing (why do we need to keep people from being in the building?).

However, after reading your blog post, clearly things for you are already at another level. I am sorry for the fear you have been living with. I am grateful your Bishop appears to get it, but have great concerns that this situation is not going to get better for you. 

I think at the very least an honest conversation needs to be had with local authorities, your family, your denominational authorities and the leaders in your local congregation about what security measures must be put in place for your own peace of mind.

Jennifer writes:

I have no personal experience with an on-site stalker, but trust that you have alerted your governing board, the local authorities and people close to you about this troubling situation. You should not, for any reason, be coping with this alone. From your blog, it sounds as though you have enrolled in self-defense classes, which is good.

Please allow others to assist you in coping with this. Thank you for asking for our help. I hope that you also find resources where you are to help you find the balance you seek and allow you to be an effective pastor and a wise and responsible person.

Please join in this very serious conversation, whether you have faced a similar danger or not.  And please join in praying for our sister and for all who face such violence, as well as those who are snared by sin into perpetrating violence.

May we all live freely in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Holy Innocents

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Erica writes about it at Don't Flay the Sheep:

I’m too much of a news junkie, mostly on my smart-phone. In my current life as a stay at home mom with a 10 month old baby and a kindergartener who needs dropping and off and picking up, I don’t get out much or see many other people. So I find myself paying way too much attention to that little box in my hand to get some sense of what’s happening beyond the 10 city blocks that are my present habitat.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a friend, on his twitter feed, was mentioning the need to pray for folks in Belgium after some act of violence. I jumped onto a news application on my phone and saw this headline: “More than 5000 Killed.”

Because there is no more appropriate reaction to such obscene wastes of human life than obscenity (and because the baby isn’t yet repeating what I say), I saw that headline and yelled, “Holy S#!t” 5000 people dead in Belgium?

And then I noticed that the headline referred to Syria. And, I’m embarrassed to write it, my reaction was tempered a bit.

The attack in Belgium had no where near that amount of casualty (6 dead including the gunman, more than 100 wounded). I knew about what was happening in Syria. 5000 people dead in Belgium would have been more shocking to me in that moment, because Belgium seems peaceful compared to Syria.
But it felt awful to realize that, in some way, I had placed more value on that number of deaths had they happened in Belgium than in Syria.

Today is the day Christians remember “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” This is one of the parts of the story that gets left out of Christmas pageants. After the Wise Men visit Herod in Jerusalem, looking for the King who the star is leading them toward, Herod gets jealous at the possibility of another king, and orders all male children under the age of 1 to be killed. It is a gut-wrenchingly horrible story, and it reminds us how fragile this human life that God entered as Jesus really is.
Jesus has arrived, light breaks though, but the fact is that there is still suffering.

It’s one of the hardest truths about Christmas: here we’ve been waiting, we get a few days of oxytocin-induced happiness with the baby Jesus…and then we remember that everything is not yet right in the world.

The tally these days is still terrible. 6 in Belgium. Over 5000 in Syria. 8 in a family in Texas. More than 1000 from the typhoon in the Philippines…

Every one deserves to be remembered.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lectionary Leanings~On the 8th day of Christmas

Welcome to 2012! On this first day of the new year and 8th day of Christmas will you be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name, or the second Sunday of Christmas? (Readings found here.) Both options feature gospel reading from Luke, the first focusing on the naming of Jesus after the shepherds' visit, and the second on the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the encounters with Simeon and Anna, and both are rich with possibilility: what is in a name? And what power in the witness of two who have longed waited for the sight of the savior!

If you are on the second Sunday of Christmas, you also have the option of tackling Isaiah or a portion of the letter to the Gelatins. And if you are celebrating the Holy Name, you might choose from the Aaronic blessing in Numbers or the beautiful hymn in Philippians.

After a full Christmas weekend, many of us are feeling low on energy, and in this in-between time, it may be a "low Sunday" as well; perhaps you're taking this time to go off lectionary or have a special activity planned. Some of you might take this week for Lessons and Carols or the Christmas pageant.

Share your ideas, ponderings, and plans with us as we welcome a new year and continue our celebration of Christmas.

  • This cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘My Pew: Things I have seen from it’, published by Canterbury Press.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday Extra--Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day! At my house the Internet is down, and so is the phone, so we will be left to more primitive resources for our entertainment. How will you spend the Day After? Chime in below with a comment. And don't forget to take a nap!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Prayer for Christmas Day on Sunday

Your light has come into our world to shine brightly in our darkness.
We rejoice in your light, we are so glad because with the light you have set us free.
In fact we know and celebrate that even to this day the darkness has not overcome it.
It is through the birth of your son that your light entered into the world
and we too want to be children of light.
We are grateful for the birth of your son
who has become known as the wonderful counselor.
Our governments need him as their wise counselor
because they have often become stalemated with each other.
Our churches need him as their ideal counselor,
because they are at a loss as how to deal with our culture
that sees the church as irrelevant.
Our families need him as their counselor
because they struggle with how to be a healthy family in this day and age.
We as individuals need him as our sage counselor
to help us in how to live as your children of the light.

And we are grateful for the birth of your son who has become known as Mighty God.
We need a Mighty God to establish justice in this often unjust world.
We need a Mighty God to bring about righteousness in a world
that is often anything but righteous.
We need a great big God to believe in when it appears there is so little to believe in.
We need a strong God when we feel so small, so weak and so puny.

We are grateful for the birth of your son who has become known as Everlasting Father.
We need the everlasting father for those who are fatherless, for those who have been abandoned by their fathers, and for those who don’t have good fathers.
We need the everlasting father for his love and his mercies for all of us.
We need the everlasting father for guidance, leadership, firmness yet gentleness.
We need the father who lives forever that we get to live with forever.

We are grateful for the birth of your son who has become known as Prince of Peace.
We need a Prince of Peace in a world that is always at war with one another.
We need a Prince of Peace to help us navigate the conflicts of relationship
we often meet in life.
We need a Prince of Peace to calm and sooth our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
We need a Price of Peace to establish his Kingdom of peace in our lives forever.

Lord what a wonderful gift you have given us in your son Jesus who is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
We thank you for this gift today and everyday.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: All Christmas, All Weekend Edition

Good morning, preachers! It's Day Two of our Christmas prep preacher party. When will the bells ring for you?

Whether you're preaching tonight or tomorrow or both, we're here to get everything ready together. At my house, the coffee will be on all day, and there are Christmas cookies galore. Pull up to the table and join the party! Join us in the comments and tell us about your plans, your hopes, even your dreams of tomorrow's Holy Nap or trip to the airport.

Meanwhile, here's a favorite carol of mine, one of what I call the "non-negotiables" for Christmas Eve:

Friday, December 23, 2011

11th Hour Preacher's Party: Christmas Eve edition**

As we prepare for this most holy night, let us begin with prayer

Most gracious God, for our salvation you were born and manifested in a human body: Help us see your likeness in women and men of all nations,races, and cultures, that we may rejoice in our diversity and live together as one; in the name of your child, our Savior Jesus Christ, given to us this holy night. From Women's Uncommon Prayers, Christmas I, source, St. Anthanasius, 4th c.

The days and hours leading up to this holy night are often filled with planning, setting up, meetings, rehearsals, writing, thinking, doing, decorating, arranging, cooking, wrapping, caring for others, pastoral visits,...countless tasks...leaving little or no time for the pastor to slow down, take a breath, and just be.

Let us take that moment.

And then, as you are ready, share with us what you hope to say to those who come to celebrate the birth of Christ in your church this year. Are you preaching on one of the Christmas Texts or on the nativity or the incarnation or some Christmas theme? Are you preaching Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day? (Songbird will be here to host a party for Christmas Day preachers). Me, I'm pondering the idea of preaching on gratitude, and connecting that to the gift God has given us in the birth of Christ...and, yes, I'm preaching both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - and hoping I can preach the same sermon at both services since the congregation will be different....

Perhaps you have been so busy you haven't had a moment to really think through what you hope to say...we're here to share ideas, stories, quotes...and to offer prayer and support.

And, of course I have lots of goodies to share. Cookies, coffee, tea, fruit, and homemade chocolate spice bundt cakes with apple and pears.

Sit a moment. Catch your breath, and share a cup of coffee with us. We're here to help you get through this weekend.

**Friday Five will return next week...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - You can call me... Edition

We have a follow-up question from a newlywed whose parishoners don't know what to call her...

Hello! Thanks for the words of wisdom earlier this year as I prepared to get married. We had a great wedding last month and are working our way through the thank you notes. We know that thank you notes and holiday cards will be our opportunity to inform people about our married names. Both of us have hyphenated our last names. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname and Bride Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. So that means we are now the Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname Family. The return address on the thank you cards reads "The Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname Family." We are just starting to get Christmas cards addressed to: Mr. and Mrs. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. This drives me insane because I'm offended that I'm now only identified as "Mrs. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname" for two reasons. The first reason, of course, is the disappearance of my first name and the second reason is that it completely ignores my title as an ordained minister. I'm not really a big fan of formal etiquette and titles but his side really is (which made addressing the wedding invitations oh so much fun...). They were extremely concerned that we every single military title correct for our guests, which we did. Now, I'm finding they have no regard for my civilian honorific and that bothers me.

Matriarchs, please help me put this into perspective. Do I just try to give them the right example this year and hope they'll pick up for next year and try my best not to let it bother me it if they don't?

My understanding from this website is that on envelopes we should be addressed as The Reverend Bride Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname and Mr. Groom Hisfamilyname-Herfamilyname. In ten years will I be so over this that I'll just be going by Mrs. instead of Rev.?

I think I got pushed over the edge today by a card sent to me at work from someone who was a member of my home church and it was addressed:

Mr. and The Rev. Mrs. Groom Hisfamilynameonly

The Rev. Mrs. made me want to vomit.

Please help! 

Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart, was the first to respond:

I remember this phase of life so well!  Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and my beloved and I were wed, we had the same experience and the same laser-like attention to the matter from people who thought it all over terribly carefully and erred on the side of leaving off my title and my first name….just like you’re experiencing!  My beloved and I are both clergy and for some reason, his title would be retained and mine wouldn’t. Gag.  I even had a member of the congregation he serve write me a letter in which she ruminated on paper about how to address the envelope and future Christmas cards and said, “I assume that you’re just so delighted to “finally” be married, that I naturally surmise that you would love to be called Mrs.Your Beloved’s First and Last Names.”  “Well,” I muttered while carefully replacing the note in the envelope, “you assumed incorrectly.”

I think continuing to model your preferred example is the best route to take. Maybe the conversation will even come up over eggnog in the next few weeks and you’ll have the chance to speak your mind, lovingly, of course!

Kathryn adds:

As someone who suffered through this with in-laws who were incensed that he married a FEMALE minister (the horror!) and who has seen all kinds of hack jobs of titles and last names let me offer you this advice: let it go.

Make sure your return address has it correct for those who care to get it correct, and then enjoy the ones that get it right. Do all you can to get over the ones who don't. They won't..... ever. Maybe for each one who gets it wrong the two of you could put a $1 in the 'date night' jar.

Sharon, blogging at Tidings of Comfort and Joy, offers the following:

You have raised a situation that is important to you, so my answer will be "YES" to the question:  "Do I just try to give them the right example this year?"  I suggest that you use return address labels that more explicitly spell out the "hers and his" designation, with titles, rather than the  "hyphenated-names family" designation.  Each year, you could put a blurb in the November church newsletter that says: "Christmas cards to the pastor's family may be sent to [insert preferred forms of address here]."

I'm hearing that you feel some disrespect from your spouse's family and, possibly, there is a power struggle beginning to simmer.  If so, this is about more than how they use your clergy title and how they address your Christmas card.  We are here for you, with advice and hugs, as this develops.

And "YES" to the part about "try[ing] my best not to let it bother me it if they don't?"  A very big "YES!"  Please.  And don't simply "try" to do your best. Do not allow this to bother you even for one month, much less ten years.  Really.  Just don't.  Please consider whether this is one of those times when it is better to be loving than to be correct. 

Wishing you fewer barf bags and more mistletoe,

And from Muthah+ blogging at Stone of Witness

Write out your name the way you WANT to be called (whether it follows the rules or not) and stick to it.  Keep putting it out there and the folks who care about you and love you will use it.  Others will be knuckleheads and ignore them.  I have found that military are the worst about titles themselves but once they are out of their comfort zone--all are civilians!

Remember us revgals are still new in history.  In most mainline traditions we have had only 2 generations of ordained women in our midst.  It takes a long time for patterns change.  In my lifetime we have finally gotten an abbreviation for adult women who do not chose to use their husband's name--Ms.  Before that I was called "Miss" long after I had graduated from maryjanes and crinolines.  So it is still incumbent upon us to help the public to understand what is proper address.

I am from a tradition in which male clergy are called "Father". I hate the title--my theology and psychology rebels against it and the parallel "Mother".  But it seems to be what people are using here in my new home.  It is something I am having to "endure".  You are right, in 20 years it won't matter.  But I do think that we can influence how titles and terms are developed in our communities when we gently correct and just say "I prefer...."

Do you have experience with this issue?  A successful strategy for teaching people what you'd like to be called?  Let's talk about it.

A blessed Christmas to you all+

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Being Church?

Here's a tweet that keeps coming back to me....
Shane Claiborne @Shane Claiborne  What Chores Would Jesus Do? "Church is not something we attend. It's something we are."

 The linked article refers to a group of people living in intentional community, and it's an interesting read, but it's not really my point here.  While I'm not feeling called to a monastic life, I have been thinking a great deal, in this time of such commercial pressure to be happy and joyful and madly gifting, about what church is meant to be in our lives.

Church is not something we attend.  It's something we are.  

Our RevGals in the UK all seem to be doing something called Messy Church, which intrigues me (messy being one of my favorite states).  Sally writes about Messy Church at her Methodist chapels:
Two pictures that will stay with me this week, two very different churches packed with families for Messy Church...

Picture one, children sat around the feet of the story teller, gazing at her with eyes like saucers!
 Picture two, a dad so chilled at Messy Church that he lay on a rug on the floor, head on arms behind his head and simply enjoyed being while his children were having fun!

Who needs a hymn prayer sandwich?

But, as Sally's next post shows, some people do need a "hymn prayer sandwich."  There are folks in the congregation truly mourning the removal of the familiar pattern of prayer, study & worship that they've known all their lives. 

In a similar vein, Liberation Theology Lutheran's Florida church chose to swap sermons for creative activities during the Sundays of Advent:

About a month ago, a group of us gathered at the parsonage to talk about a different approach to Advent.  I'm lucky to have a pastor who's a creative guy and thus, is open to doing worship with creative elements--especially if one of the lay people wants to take the lead.

Our pastor had a vision of having an alternative creative activity that would take place each Sunday in Advent.  We anticipated that mainly children and youth would participate, but certainly adults would be welcome too.  I had a vision of people who learned by hands-on activities working on the creative offering and listening to the sermon.

Those of you who have worked with groups of children will laugh.  But I'm calling it a success.  Do I think that participants in the creativity project got the exact same message that they would have, had they been listening to the sermon?  No.  But do I think that they'd have gotten those messages if they had been sitting in the pews?  Not necessarily.

Our experiment turned out to be a success, so I thought it worth documenting here. 

For Advent 1, the participants made 6 banners, with the Advent themes of Joy, Hope, and Waiting.  Below you'll see a sample.

For Advent 2, with its theme of Good News, participants made paper chains out of newspaper.

I thought our plan for Advent 3 was most ambitious.  The theme for the Sunday was the message of light breaking through, so one of our team came up with the idea of turning the windows in the back of the church (windows that connect the sanctuary to the nursery and to a rehearsal space) into a stained glass look by painting on them.

Below you see the windows in the before-but-prepped stage:

Below you see the participants painting the windows.

I particularly like the shot below, with the cross in the distance.

And below, the finished windows:

For Advent 4, with its themes of promises kept and the Magnificat, I thought back to what we'd done with silk and interpretive dance at a Create in Me retreat.  I had a vision of people writing/drawing onto silk the ways that they'd seen God keeping God's promises and prayers for what they still needed/wanted God to do.

I bought 12 yards of silk from
Dharma Trading Company, after a very helpful Customer Service rep helped me decide what would work best for the project.  When it arrived, I thought, well, I've bought far too much fabric--as I so often do.

 But as it turns out, we used the whole length. And then we processed up the aisle as the offering was brought forward.

If I decide to do more with silk and liturgical dance for Pentecost, we'll practice more before we process.  We didn't quite get the hang of getting the silk to drift and float through the air--and of course, the children participants were shorter than the Create in Me participants.


We put the silk at the bottom of the tree.

It's been an interesting, creative approach to Advent.  And I know that some of our participants wish that we could keep having creative activities, even after Advent ends.

Finally, from achurchforstarvingartists, Jan shares this meditation on the purpose of being church:

Church Friend #1:  Since our pastor retired, our worship numbers are down
significantly.  We didn’t realize how many people came just to hear him preach.  And then they went to brunch.

Church Friend #2:  That’s not really church, you know.
 Many of us have participated in Destination Worship to hear a great preacher preach.   A friend just told me over the weekend that she would be visiting Texas for Christmas and while she’s in Houston she will definitely go hear Joel Osteen.  Because he’s Joel Osteen.  (Maybe not everyone’s idea of a Great Preacher but we’d all agree he is a famous preacher.)
I’ve traveled to Grandville, MI to hear Rob Bell preach.  I’ve made several pilgrimages to hear BBT.  I’ve made special efforts to hear other fine preachers deliver God’s Word.  My faith has been impacted by their teaching and I have a richer understanding of scripture from those sermons.  But I can’t say that my experience was truly “church.”

My friend Steve Knight wrote earlier this month about Participatory Church.   For generations, many of us believed that being a Christian meant spending Sunday mornings in a church sanctuary, sitting in a chair or pew, hearing a sermon and then going home  (or to brunch) comforted or smarter or stirred spiritually.  And that’s that.
Jesus taught something completely different.

It’s easy to go hear a fine sermon and then return home and forget about it until next week.  It’s easy to go get a shot of inspiration and then continue life as usual.  But being a church together, being The Body of Christ together involves a commitment, relationships, a change of perspective and priorities.  Way harder.
Advent is often about theatre and pageantry in the institutional church.  Concerts and “special music” fill those weeks before Christmas.  Consider The Church Christmas Pageant.

Who doesn’t love a Christmas Pageant?  The kids are cute.  The pews are full. The story is familiar.  It creates happy memories and brings people together.  What’s not to love?

My hope is that this perennial favorite is more than a sentimental exercise.  I hope it touches souls and points us to something holy and beautiful.  But to be honest, sentimentality often wins.  We prefer easy worship.  We go.  We hear and watch.  We come away spiritually moved or entertained or informed.

But that’s not what it means to be the church together.  Jesus asks for more.

What are you finding this Advent that, to you, is truly church?  Is it in doing, being, sharing?  Finding new ways of experiencing?  For me, with an ill spouse for the last several months, church has been, not attendance at services, but presence (face to face and virtual) of many in my community of faith...both the one to which I "belong" and the one that I have found online.

May your gift this year be a new realization of God in your life and the lives of those you serve.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lectionary Leanings~Making a list and checking it twice...

Here we are preachers, in the last days of the count down to Christmas. All four candles in the Advent wreath have been lit, the church is "greened," the music is planned, and now it's time for sermons--and if you have multiple services, that might mean multiple sermons as well! We have three propers to choose from for Christmas, and they can be found here.

Will you be preaching the traditional Christmas story from Luke? Or perhaps you will take a different perspective and focus on John's beautiful prologue, read in some traditions as a "second gospel." I first heard it read that way--at the end of a magnificent midnight service--my last year of seminary when I was lucky enough to serve on the altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and while I had never particularly associated that passage with Christmas, hearing it in that context changed the way I thought about it for ever.

Will you celebrate both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Will you have a pageant? Will you be up all night wrapping presents after the late service on Christmas Eve (my usual habit)? What are your plans for this most holy time?

Monday, December 19, 2011

RevGalBookPals: Between Heaven and Mirth

            It’s one of the busiest seasons of the year and you know what you need… a book recommendation. (Insert derisive snorts, patronizing chuckles and semi-hysterical giggling here.) In the midst of worship planning, family activities, other people’s emotional baggage, your emotional baggage, the unavoidable calories, the avoided gym and everything else, Christmas needs joy! Thus I bring you a quick review of James Martin’s new book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the Heart of Spiritual Life. (The letters “SJ” should follow Martin’s name since he is a Jesuit priest. I didn’t, however, know where to put the apostrophe, so I’m making this note.)

            If you are too busy to read a whole review, here’s the upshot: Good book that brings together lots of research and writing on laughter, spiritual health and joy. Definitely church book club material. Mainly Roman Catholic writers mentioned, with some Protestants. Luther makes an appearance, Calvin and Wesley do not. Skip down to the comments and share a joke.

            Back to our regularly scheduled programming: Martin begins by pointing out that people don’t usually associate humor, light-heartedness and joy with Christian practice. Even though joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, Martin says that religious people often view God as a “joyless judge” and are thus more concerned with sin and seriousness, than playfulness and celebration. (9) The popular conception of religious people in much of contemporary culture is dry and humorless, with a side of disapproving glumness. All of that AND self-satisfaction!

            Okay, so I know (and you know) that NO Rev Gals or Blog Pals are like that, but we might know someone who is. Or, if you’re like me (or James Martin), people from within and without the church often comment on how surprising your sense of humor is for a pastor/priest/sister/lay leader/Christian/Sunday School teacher/church musician/etc. Somehow our joy has to bubble up more loudly and drown out the droning chorus of judgment that attempts to speak for Divine Desire.

            Martin discusses the psychological significance of joy in bringing us to a deeper place of gratitude and awareness of God’s work in the world. In his discussion of Jesus as the Savior, he skims through the way the Savior is portrayed in the gospels. Just because there is not documentation of Jesus’ laughter and joy doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Martin stresses again and again. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

            In fact, Martin posits that to deny that Jesus laughed and rejoiced is to commit a kind of heresy. “If Christians truly believe that Jesus was ‘fully human’ [as well as fully divine], they must also believe he had a sense of humor.” (54) There are many puns and plays on common scenarios in the parables that are often lost on the modern reader. The careful preacher draws them out and explains them, but it is work to explain and work to receive.

            In some of the best sections of the book, Martin covers how to find joy in your vocation (the situations to which you are called), in service and in relationships. He talks about how the joy we draw from each of these scenarios brings us closer to God, the source of all joy. In a written Q & A, Martin writes:

            What can I do if I live or work in a joyless environment? First, remember that your environment doesn’t define you. One of the most difficult things about living in an environment (home, workplace, religious community) lacking in joy is that you may gradually assume that (a) you should not be joyful; (b) you are not naturally joyful, since you’re experiencing so little joy; or (c) the world is a joyless place. Joy-free persons sometimes seem to be joy vampires, sucking the happiness out of everyone’s life as well.
            In these situations, it’s important to remind yourself that (a) it’s okay to be joyful; (b) you do in fact experience joy in other areas of your life; and (c) there is joy in the world, though it may be outside of this house, workplace, religious community… Hang on to your joy as you would hang on to your belief in God. (165)

            This is a good reminder when we all feel swamped by to-dos that seem to suck the joy out of life. We should cling to our joy as tightly as possibly. On the other hand, I'm not crazy about the fact that Martin does not suggest that being in an environment with joy vampires may not be God's desire for you. 

            Does Martin acknowledge that there are times of mourning, darkness or deep frustration? He does. He stresses the importance of finding support, someone who may bring joy to you when you feel it is absent within yourself. Most of us have experienced periods wherein we were afraid or certain that the light would never return. This happens from personal events, as well as our reaction to local and world events. Martin writes,

            As I’ve said, sadness is an appropriate and natural response to suffering. God desires, I believe, that we be honest about our sadness and share it, in prayer, with God. But even in the midst of great tragedy, knowing that God accompanies us can lead us to a deep-down joy that can carry us through difficult, and sometimes unbearable, times.
            Likewise, “rejoice always” does not mean that we should simply “look on the bright side” in the face of injustice. The anger that rises in you over an unjust situation may be a sign that God is moving in you to address that injustice. That is, God may be speaking to your disgust over what you have read, or your shock over what someone has told you. (How else would God move people to action?) (188)

            We need to reclaim joy as our spiritual inheritance. Joy isn’t about silliness (most of the time), but about truly celebrating what we believe God has done for the world through Jesus the Christ. I am deeply saddened by the idea that many people would say they don’t see most Christians living this way. I’m not convinced that’s true, but perception can become reality.

            In truth, Martin’s insights are great, but the concepts here were not new to me. However, I could see many people whom I know who would be fascinated by this book. The concepts of the difference between joy and happiness, the truth about humor in Scripture, and the jokes in the book would go over well in almost any church book club I can imagine.

Throughout the book, Martin quotes many Roman Catholic theologians and saints, as well as other religious scholars and historical figures. For people who are unused to reading summary non-fiction (in which an author summarizes other works), it may take some adjustment to get used to the quotations and, possibly, to not knowing some of the persons quoted.

For the next few days, take a moment and remember that you are not the Savior of the world. Furthermore, you’re not a superhero because superheroes wouldn’t need a Savior. You’re a person going forth, with the help of the Spirit, to share the good news of great joy! You are not alone. You will not fail.

And if that doesn’t bring you joy, consider this: For about 1900 years, Christians have debated the Virgin Birth, but accepted the idea that a woman who was 40 weeks pregnant rode 100 miles on a donkey. 

Share your joyous Christmas memories in the comments!

Martin, James, SJ. Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the Heart of Spiritual Life. HarperCollins, NY, NY: September 2011. All quotations taken from the EPub Edition.

Copy purchased for review. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Prayer for Advent 4B

God of Advent,
We are so close to Christmas Day, that
We can see your light shining in the dark
As we come closer and closer.
And as we draw nearer we find ourselves
tempted by all the busyness
Of the holidays to lose our focus on you.
Help us o Lord to keep our eyes on you.

God of Advent,
We have been waiting for what seems like a long time
For that special day to celebrate the birth of your son.
We have waited with hopeful hearts.
We have waited with longing for your peace.
We have waited with a desire for your joy.
And now we wait with a yearning for your love to be born in us again.

God of Advent,
When your steadfast love is birthed in us we will sing of you
And your love forever and ever.
When we are anointed by your love,
we will open our hearts and hands to the lonely, the needy,
the sorrowful, and those who are hurting.
We pray that we are able to share your love with all we meet.

God of Advent,
We pray that we are able to say yes to you when you call.
We pray that we are able to say “Here I am to you Lord.”
We pray that we can be your servants.
We pray that we can say as Mary said so long ago,
“Let it be with me according to your word.”
May all that we are glorify you, and may we rejoice in you
For you are our God, You are the rock of our salvation.
Yes, all our praise and love is focused through Jesus
On you o God.

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: Four Candles Edition

Good morning, preachers! Here we are -- can you believe it? -- looking at the last Sunday of Advent, all lit up by four candles.

Mary's story has me singing "Let It Be" along with the Beatles. A true child of the 60's here!
I still find inspiration in Mary's response to the challenge-blessing that shows up to transform her life. This year I'd like to be the angel in that play, the one who gets to break the news, share the joy and begin to chase away the fear.
Alas, I am not the designated preacher on Advent 4, nor will I get to play a role in the Sunday afternoon children and youth Christmas play. My own offering this weekend is a Mary-inspired meditation for today's "Blue Christmas" service.
Who's got baking to do and gifts to wrap?
Who's looking forward to a little time off after Christmas?
What about Christmas Day ideas?
This party is for you!
So, come as you are and share what you have!  Especially welcome are warm cookies, cool children's sermon ideas, embryonic sermon thoughts, deep or light questions, pressing prayer requests, and hot coffee.  
Give us a link to your sermon so we can share the joy of completion.

C'mon, let's get this party started!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Five: To Do Lists

Ever since I was little, I heard that Santa is making a list and checking it twice. I can see why he has to keep checking it, because there is so much to do before Christmas! Only nine days left, and I don't have church services to plan, but there is much left to be done. My daughter-in-law tells me that she feels behind, which is how I have been feeling.

No matter how organized you are, there must be some things you still need to do. For this Friday Five, tell us five things on your Christmas "To Do" List. Include anything you have decided to skip doing this year. As a bonus, give us something that helps you remember why this season even exists.

As always, leave a link to your blog post in the comments section. Go here to find out how to do this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - When the Numbers Don't Add Up

In addition to the "wonders of God's love" which we are preparing to celebrate with our people, many of us are also preparing for annual meetings, budgets and the like.  Our question this week pertains to this challenge...

It is budget development time. It is stewardship pledge time. Increasingly, the two sets of numbers (anticipated income vs. anticipated expenses) don’t match up. Our congregation is shrinking at a fast rate, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before we will have to make tough decisions. I’m seeking counsel as to how to go about those tough decisions – what (and who?) to cut, how to do it with integrity, communications and preparations to be done in the wake of such decisions.

We’re (“we” is our governing board) currently developing our 2012 budget, and to estimate our income, we use a quite accurate formula based on the amount that people pledge. This budget will go to the congregation in January preceeding our annual meeting. For this year, we allowed ourselves permission to take the $14,000 discrepancy if needed from reserve funds. (I estimate we’ll end up taking about half of that). That’s not sustainable, nor the kind of practice you want to do habitually!

Other than nickel-and-diming ourselves to death, there are two logical pots of expenses from which to cut: staff, and apportionment money sent to the larger denomination. The voices who care about being connected responsibly to the larger church get fewer and fewer each year, and the temptation of reducing the amount we send – or cutting it altogether – is always there, and increasing. I don’t know how long we can hold off such attempts.

Regarding staff – as a shrinking formerly middle-sized program church, we probably are overstaffed, but haven’t yet faced this hard truth. I can’t imagine how one goes about making those decisions of who to cut and how, and don’t welcome that task! Of course, my salary and benefits are by far the greatest expense. My leaders want to make sure that my compensation doesn’t lag too far behind the denominational guidelines – for which I am grateful; but they’re not so conscientious about the other staff members’ compensation. I am uncomfortable about the gap between my compensation and that of others’ (I think that may be a female thing), and the truth is that our household income is quite comfortable – I don’t need a raise. And in fact, don’t “need” what I make now. But I know it’s not helpful or healthy to enable poor stewardship by sacrificing so folks don’t have to give as much.

I would welcome the experience and advice of others who have navigated through the thicket of budget shortfalls – how do we do this wisely, well, and with integrity?

Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart, offers the following:

Your observations are all thoughtful ones! Church budgets in difficult economic times  are challenging.

As a pastoral leader and an administrator, I think it’s important to ask framing questions, in order to be clear about your desire to help the congregational leaders make good decisions that reflect their theology and the values of the congregation.  For instance, our congregation is quite clear that when we have lean years or concerns, we look at mission LAST as a place to make budget cuts. We have frozen salaries, cut back on program expenditures, looked for revenue from other sources, but mission and denominational support are seen as important commitments and priorities we wish to uphold.

I hope you have a thoughtful personnel committee that does regular salary reviews so that they’re compensating staff fairly across the board. We talk about the budget and about giving all year long, and while we often have a lean period of giving in the summer, we spend the fall months catching up and usually complete the year able to meet all of our commitments. If you’re concerned about being overstaffed, it might be helpful to suggest a review of the staffing rationale for the congregation—and perhaps your denominational representatives could help with that. It’s awfully hard to assess these sorts of things from within.

I hope some of these rambling thoughts help. Blessings upon you and your congregation as you discern a path for the future together.

Kathryn adds these thoughts:

Wow, what an incredible timely question - you are certainly NOT alone.
In my experience the key ingredient to these tough decisions is: communicate, communicate, communicate. Communicate early. Communicate often. I would start with the governing board (maybe even combined boards) in January - post the setting of the 2012 budget so that it does not look like there is an ulterior motive. Start talking about what is important to everyone and try to steer away from the unhelpful conversations (if we brought in 10 members per month we could meet budget).

Ask the hard questions:
- Is the money out there and we're just not getting it? (Meaning: if we need to replace the boiler, will folks step up or are they really out of funds?)
- Do we need to downsize staff (which includes lowering expectations of the programs) and if so, how do we do so with integrity and in the way we would all want to be treated?
- Why do we exist?
- How long can we sustain the practice of dipping into the reserves/endowment?

That last question is key as so many churches right now are struggling to pay bills, but sitting on huge reserves/endowments in the name of saving for a rainy day. Friends it is POURING!

As for the apportionment - it's a slippery slope. And once the church is not paying that and STILL struggling what does that leave? A still broke church that now has no connections!

The bottom line is that you want their decisions to be THEIR decisions as they will have to live with them for far longer than you are in their presence. Prayers ascending for you and so many who are in similar situations.

Thanks to Jennifer and Kathryn for their thoughtful responses...and thank you in advance for yours.  Please add your two cents (or more if you can spare it!) by posting your comments below.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Those Stanzas Nobody Knows

Today's post comes from ring member Not Fainthearted, who blogs at This Journey. Feel free to leave a comment here or back at her blog!
Most people know, I like to sing. Always have. Even when I thought I was more of an instrumentalist. I was always one of those kids who knew the words to stuff. All the words. Not just the first verse or stanza and refrain.
We have a strange relationship to singing in this country. Even in churches – where it’s often one of the few times the people get to genuinely participate – it is hijacked by someone with a microphone. Either “the band” or the preacher. Often the preacher does the worst part of it by allowing a sensibility to grow that says “We can’t sing all the stanzas. People don’t really like to sing, plus it will make the service go long.”  Never mind that the actual timing of the elements in a worship service don’t bear that out.
As a result, we’ve lost touch with a pretty impressive body of literature and poetry.
Take these two stanzas for instance. Most everyone could manage to limp their way through the first stanza without benefit of the hymnal (or projection screen. gag.) How many even know the hymn could speak so beautifully and directly into our present day?
And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow;
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!
Comforting, poetic and inviting rest. Who doesn’t want a little invitation to rest this time of year? Rest and enjoy the beauty of a free concert. What’s not inviting about that?
I like the last stanza too as it speaks of hope and the idea of peace winning out and our getting to join the music of the spheres unreservedly. Some day, anyway.
For lo! The days are hastn’ing on,
by prophets seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold,
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and all the world give back the song
which now the angels sing.
Do you know the Christmas carol? Did you remember those stanzas?