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Friday, March 30, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: The Tongue of a Teacher

The Journey of Holy Week begins....

so, I had an entire post here, but when I updated something via my iPad, the entire post disappeared - except the comments. sooooo

here is the abreviated version.

It's almost Palm/Passion Sunday in this part of the world, and in other parts it is already over and Holy Week has begun.

Where ever you are on this journey, pause a moment, breath, and know that you will find support here.

Friday Five: Holy Week Favorites

Holy Week is upon us.

Realizing that most of our readers are clergy, and that clergy don't necessarily have the opportunity to fully worship when they are responsible for leading (creating, writing, facilitating) worship:

I invite you to share five favorite Holy Week things, five things that are truly worshipful for you.  It may be that it's the way they are done in your congregation (or were done in a previous one).  It may be your personal preparation for certain services or observances.  

Breathe.  Be still.  Look to the week ahead, and Holy Weeks past, and imagine the worship.

Bonus:  a piece of music that "is" Holy Week for you.

Please share your thoughts in the comments, and if you participate on your own blog, do share a link so we can visit your worship. Here's the line of code that'll make that happen:
<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - From Family Leave to Full-time Ministry

This week's question provides an ample introduction of its own...

Hi Ladies,
I wrote a blog post on this topic (which you can view here), but I thought it might also be an appropriate topic for the Matriarchs. Here's the situation: I am United Methodist clergy and have been on "Family Leave" for the past three years. I am 35 years old, married for 10 years, and have two children who are 4 1/2 and 2. I have essentially been a stay-at-home mom while moonlighting (on a VERY part-time basis) as a hospital chaplain. I am preparing to go back "under appointment" (i.e. take a full-time ministry position) this year. That will begin on July 1 (in my annual conference, appointments are made from July 1 to June 30). I have no clue where I will be appointed, and will not know the details of that until the third week of March at the earliest. It could be the second week of April (the Cabinet meets once a month in February, March, April, and May to make appointments for conference clergy and churches) before I know anything. I have requested to remain in my current area, but there is no guarantee of that.
I am aware that my life is going to totally change once I re-enter full-time ministry. I have never been a pastor with two young children, and while I know that many many people "make it work" I am attempting to prepare myself and my family for how we will "make it work." My spouse is supportive (but also has a full-time secular job) and I am aware of basic "self-care strategies" that I have already or will put in place. However, I am experiencing a lot of stress over how I'm going to balance being a full-time pastor, wife, and mother (not necessarily in that order).
What I am looking for is concrete advice based on personal experience. What are some practices that you and your family have found helpful in achieving balance? How do you protect your children and spouse (if you have one) from church drama? How do you handle childcare? How do you enforce boundaries on your days off, vacations, and sickness? Those are just a few questions that have come to my mind.

I know that each family is different and what works for one family might not work for another, and that so much depends on the parish and community context (urban, suburban, etc). However, it would greatly quell my anxiety if I could begin making plans/strategies now rather than simply wait until July to do so.

Thank you!

Joy and peace,
 Wounded & Healing, blogging at "Free Falling and Defying Gravity"

From The Vicar of Hogsmeade, blogging here  

I have been a full time solo pastor and single mom since my kids were 3 and 1 1/2. In my first church as solo pastor, I could almost visibly see the older women relax when they learned I had full time childcare arranged. They were afraid I would either have the kids with me all the time or expect them to care for my kids. Once they knew I had found someone to care for my children during "regular" hours so I could be available to them as pastor, they were more than willing to be the occasional "back up" care for emergencies at night or on weekends. And then they set about loving my children so they could do just that!

The main thing about boundary setting is to remember that you have to set your own boundaries. Churches and church members will push against those boundaries. You are the only one who can hold them. Come up with phrases you can use regularly to hold your boundaries. For calendaring, an example would be, "I'm sorry I'm not available then," without explanation. If you provide explanations regularly, you'll hit a time when you don't want to explain either for personal reasons or professional confidentiality and you might feel stuck. So whether you are getting a pedicure, or have a pastoral counseling appointment, or a doctor's appointment, or a district meeting, you have control of your time and your boundaries.

For a different kind of boundary setting, there are "tricks" depending on your context. One church I served is very rural and their boundaries are not the same as mine. I was there about 15 years ago when boundary setting was not as talked about as it is now. But as I understand it from pastors who have served there after me, the culture is much the same as it was when I was there. The parsonage is across the alley from the church. The parsonage driveway is visible from the main road and the house can be seen for blocks. It can serve well as an example for "living in a fishbowl." It became important to be able to put my vehicle in the garage so people were not tracking my coming and going. What time I took the girls to childcare. How late I was out the night before my day off. How long it took me to go to the hospital and return. How many bags of groceries were being unloaded. Or any other purchases that could be observed. (Yes, those things were fodder for discussion and not everywhere is like that.) Having room in the garage required some work on my part but it gave me much more privacy.

In that same church, I had caller ID and used it to answer calls from family but not church folks on my days off. I had an answering machine that allowed me to hear messages when they were being left so I could screen calls. If it was an emergency, I would pick up or call right back. If there was no message left, I would not call back. If it was not an emergency, I would call back the next day. Several people in that church had a habit of saying, "I tried calling you ...?" and I would ask "Did you leave a message?" They always said, "No" and I would say "Well leave me a message next time and I'll call you back." Most of them did eventually learn that if they really had an emergency I was available but non-emergency calls could wait.

When you go on vacation, arrange for another pastor to take call for you, another nearby Methodist or a trusted pastor in that community. I have usually traded call with nearby Methodists. Taking call for them when they needed it and them covering for me when I needed it. Then while you are gone use the caller ID on your cell phone and listen to messages. Do not return messages that are not emergencies until you are back "on duty" not just back home. If the message is an emergency hospital call or death, call the on-call pastor first to make sure s/he is aware of the situation. Then let them cover for you, that's why you set it up. If you must, a phone call to the family expressing your trust in the pastor on-call to provide pastoral care for them and that you are sorry you are not available will let them know you care. You can remind them of when you will be available to them on your return. If you come back from vacation for "this" one, you'll end up coming back for others, too. Respect your family enough to protect your time together.

For sickness on Sundays, after you have been at the church for awhile, you can ask the leaders informally how that has been handled previously. There may be a lay person with speaking skills that is willing to fill in at the last minute. They may expect to have a hymn sing on those Sundays. They may want someone to read your sermon in your place. Once you hear their solutions, you can start working on a plan that you find acceptable. You may also want to find out from the district office who the certified lay speakers are in the area. Many of them have limited opportunities to speak and are more than willing to be pulpit supply for vacation or be a sick day back up.

From earthchick, blogging at earthchicknits:

This is a tough issue, and one I feel I am constantly sorting out for myself (and probably will be until my kids go to college - and maybe after that, too!). My children are in grade school now (2nd grade), and I can say that it does get easier. When they were toddlers and preschoolers, it was much more intense. That is where you are now - but know that it will get better.

In terms of achieving any kind of balance, it is a constant juggling act. The flipside of a job that knows no time bounds is that I have built in flexibility - I have the freedom to leave the office to chaperone a field trip on Tuesday because I know I'll be at the church till 9:30 on Wednesday night, for instance (assuming I have set up my appointments and meetings in such a way that I can make the time on Tuesday). I can stay home with a sick child and still get work done because so much of my work is on the computer and on the phone. Whenever I get frustrated at the number of night meetings I have, I remind myself of all the things I'm able to do (like pick my kids up from school) that I wouldn't be able to do if I worked a regular 9-5 job.

I know that some people have found successful balance in working with a sort of "block time" schedule for the week. Others commit never to work morning, afternoon, and evening in one day - to only do two of the three each day. I take a more organic approach, adjusting to the demands at home and at church as I go. However you strike the balance, it will take a serious commitment to personal well-being (which it sounds like you have). A supportive spouse and an understanding church go a long way, too.

The question of protecting spouse and children from church drama is a good one. My spouse and I are co-pastors, so the issues for us are a bit different - we process with each other a lot - but we try not to talk about church business too much in front of the kids, especially as they get older. We try to engage them about their own experience of church - what did you learn in Sunday School today? what did you sing in Children's Choir today? - so that their predominant sense of church isn't coming only from us. They are still at an age where they think it is cool that their parents are the pastors, but I don't know how they'll feel about things as they get older. For now, it works well to save the serious discussions about conflict or challenge for times when their ears can't overhear.

Childcare is maybe the trickiest issue of all. With a regular 5 day a week, 9-5 job, there are some fairly straightforward options. With a schedule that is different every week, and without the financial means of people in other demanding professions, we have found this a real challenge. When my kids were toddlers, we hired in-home part-time care, using craigslist, and we had good luck both with hiring other mothers and hiring college students. Our church also has a commitment to providing childcare for any night meetings, but that can be tricky, too, because you don't necessarily want your toddler to have to be in the church nursery till 9:00 at night! Childcare is another thing that does get easier as they get older, but even now we find it to be a hassle.

In terms of enforcing boundaries on days off, vacation, and sickness, that's something I don't think is any different for parents than it is for other clergy. You just have to decide to do it, and then do it. Decide what your day off is going to be, and then stick to it - even avoiding email, if possible. On vacations, make a plan for back-up pastoral care, so that you don't have to be contacted. You are the only one who can set your boundaries and enforce them - no one else will likely do that for you, but they can honor them.

Though combining ministry and motherhood can be extremely challenging, I have also found it to be a really wonderful combination. I think being a mother has enriched my ministry, and I think my role as a minister has provided me the flexibility to be the kind of mother I'd like to be. There's actually so much in common between pastoring and mothering, so I feel like my skills are constantly getting sort of mutually sharpened. The better I am at being a minister, the better I am at being a mother, and vice versa. 

I hope that as you move back into full-time ministry, you will find every grace and blessing you need to navigate this adventure!

From Martha, blogging at Reflectionary

My children were all in school when I was ordained in 2002, but since 7-year-olds need Mama when they’re sick just as much as 4-year-olds do, here’s my 2 cents worth.

What are some practices that you and your family have found helpful in achieving balance? -- Even though that 7-year-old is now a high school junior, I still do what I did then: if at all possible, I'm home at the end of the school day. There is nothing like being present, just in case. My kids were 16, 11 and 7 when I began my first call, and just checking in, even if I brought work home, helped. We all understood the concept of homework, because we had lived through my seminary education together. :-) I was able to do this because I lived under ten minutes away from church. I was very frank about my intention to do this, especially on days when there were meetings or activities scheduled in the evening. I think the important thing was being clear about it. I was the first settled pastor not to live in the parsonage (which was in the parking lot, literally), so talking specifically and directly about what would work, for the church and for my family, was important. I felt safe in laying out this boundary because my Church Administration professor, an older guy who served a very large church, told us he did the same when his kids were at home and his wife had a job that didn't allow her to be home in the afterschool timeslot. I figured if Rev. Professor Tall Steeple could do it, so could Rev. Mama Small Church. 

How do you protect your children and spouse (if you have one) from church drama? -- Yeah, I'm not sure that's entirely possible. All three of my kids were sitting in church when the organist resigned during the announcements, about three months into my first call. We lived and learned. ("Some people don't handle things well. We bless them and say goodbye as kindly as possible, and if we need to get mad, we find an appropriate venue for it." These are good life lessons, in church or out of it.)

How do you handle childcare? -- Since I didn't have preschool age children, I'm not sure I can answer this one the way it's needed. During school vacations, I tried to find a balance by having their dad cover part of the week, while I did the rest in some combination of bring the younger child along with me or working from home. The key there was getting my schedule information to the people who needed to know it.

How do you enforce boundaries on your days off, vacations, and sickness? -- I would suggest a different word. "Enforce" sounds like you expect to need to lay mines in a demilitarized zone. How about "how do you *maintain* boundaries," instead? Boundaries are like the fence around my backyard. The fence is sturdy, mostly, and it keeps my personal life enclosed safely. I have to keep up the fence, literally maintaining it if I want it to stand. So I maintain a healthy boundary around my days off. Maintaining also means paying attention to the places where the world is most likely to encroach. If there is a repeated event or need that coincides with days off, I reconsider the calendar. (For instance, my first church served at the soup kitchen once a month on Friday night - my day off - but I loved going, and they needed my help. I tried another day off, but in the end Fridays renewed me more, and if it really conflicted with something personal, I didn't go every month.) Most of the churches I've served have been very respectful of vacation time, so it hasn't needed defending, but turning off the cell phone helps if not. And where sickness is concerned, especially with younger children, I would just say, "I'll do what I can when I'm at home with 7-year-old, but the work will still be there when I come back, and it will be done." Once people could see that was true, I never heard a word about needing to work from home or even taking an honest-to-goodness sick day off.

One last thing, there is also a gate in the fence, and sometimes opening it is the right thing to do. I don't recommend opening it all the time! But when the temptation is there (a death while you're on vacation, a person in distress on your day off), remember that if you open it for one person, people will expect you to open it for others. Be clear about the impact of opening the gate and discuss it with your Pastoral Relations or Pastor-Parish committee. Engage them in maintaining your fence. When they're on your team, they'll tell others why it's good for your fence to be painted or refurbished, or why you need to replace the 3 foot picket with a 6 foot stockade. :-)

From Ruth, blogging at ‘Sunday’s Coming!’ 

OK – concrete advice based on personal experience: bearing in mind my ‘baby’ is now grown to the grand old age of 17!

I hear your anxiety to do your best for everyone in this situation, and the first thing I want to say is thanks be to God that you are in this wonderful, rich ministry (to your family & the church) and that you recognize the need for planning and adaptation.
I remember a wise woman saying to me when I had my daughter ‘just as you get used to the stage she’s at, it will change!’ - and that has been true of my ministry alongside her growing up, as well as the growing up itself.

Involve your church folk in what’s going on. This doesn’t mean letting anyone think they have an equal vote with you as parents! But I have been blessed my church ‘grandparents’, ‘baby-sitters’, ‘big brother and sisters’ - who have all made my daughter’s life richer – and my life far, far easier. They have loved to help – she has loved them – we have all been a happy family in God.
But there have been times when I have had to listen to my child, or listen to my instincts and NOT ask certain people to help – you then have to make sure that you know how to ask for the help you need from the people you need it from, and not be too ‘general’ in your requests and get landed with someone you don’t want (I hope you know what I’m saying, here).

Be prepared for the guilt – that you should be working for the church when you’re with your children; that you should be with your children when you’re at church; that you should put your spouse first more often...Guilt, Guilt, Guilt. Have good friends who can say ‘you’re doing an OK job in all three areas – stop feeling guilty’ and good allies who will help if other people try to put guilt on you. You WILL miss some work commitments because a child is ill at an inopportune moment – but Jesus DID NOT put adults before children & had some quite tough things to say about those who thought kids were not the ‘real work’ of the kingdom. (Having Jesus on your side is such a bonus in churches!).

The thing I really wasn’t ready for was the way that being a mother opened doors in ministry that would not have been open otherwise – God has taken me to places where I have been able to share Gospel love with people in really exciting ways. I am NOT saying being a mum/minister is the only or best way, but it is different, and people in churches have seen this difference and appreciated it. God will use you in new ways as you – Rev & Mum -  believe it!

Final thing that I found – sometimes it was the other mums who helped me cope with the church folk – not the other way round. I have always tried to be ‘loyal’ to my church community – but it is another aspect of being open with people that sometimes I was honest about problems I was having – and it was my sisters in the playground who helped me through. Jesus had something to say about that, too ‘whatever did for the least of these, you did for me’ - that cuts both ways – sometimes I have been the servant, sometimes the served.

I pray God blesses you & strengthens you for this great challenge!... And that you get joy from it, too.

And from Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart

You have a lot of good questions and it’s understandable that you have some anticipatory anxiety. I hope we can help a little bit with the anxiety….

I’d suggest two things, right off the bat:
When you know where you’ll be serving, explore lots of this with appropriate leadership in the congregation. If you have a parish-pastor relations committee or a personnel committee, a person or two from such a group could be very helpful to you in discovering what the congregations expectations may be. They may have some policies and procedures in place. If not, it would be great to have some casual conversation with a supportive leader or two in your midst about what re-entry into ministry is feeling like for you and what some of your joys and fears feel like at the outset. They may be able to allay some of your fears or work with you to formulate some plans and emergency policies, etc.

When I was a young mom and my spouse and I served two different churches, we had a great childcare arrangement and a back-up plan in case our childcare arrangement blew away. It worked beautifully, and we were able to pick and choose which church events our children would attend with one of us (primarily because both congregations loved opportunities to enjoy our children.) Note to self: have a great child care arrangement. It’s very challenging to parent on the job and everyone feels shortchanged. I did take my infant on some visits with me, but only occasionally and only if I was expressly invited to. I didn’t impose my children on my workplace and think I kept good, clear work/family boundaries. I think that’s important. When the roles and the boundaries get blurry, it’s very difficult to feel as if you’re doing well in any of your roles. At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to take a personal day because a child is ill. All professional people have to, at one time or another. Life is complicated at times, but with good communication and some anticipatory planning instead of anticipatory anxiety, all manner of things can be well.

The answer to the self care question is the same for every clergyperson, married or single, children or not.  Take your day off!! Don’t check your e-mail. Don’t break the rule and stop by the church office. Take your day off!! Ideally, negotiate to have one day off and one Sabbath day. That’s not always possible, but it’s a great thing to strive for. If you have church staff, ask them to take messages and only contact you in case of an emergency—and define for them what an emergency is. Arrange for pastoral coverage when you take vacations or attend continuing education events. Take your vacations. You can’t recharge your batteries without taking them. An exhausted, drained clergyperson is not a pretty sight, and your family and congregation want you to be well.

As a third suggestion, find a clergywoman who has walked this road before you. Perhaps it’s someone local with whom you can have lunch once a month. Perhaps it’s a RevGal who can be your online buddy. Find support—you clearly have lots of questions and some worries as you return to ministry. A mentor can be a great help. My kids are elderly at this point (17 and 22) but I’ve been in ministry for 29 years, as a single person and as a married person and a parent. I’d be happy to be a source of encouragement to you, and I’m sure there are even better sources out there as well. IF you have the resources for a spiritual director or a therapist, they can be super helpful, too.  Find a mentor and confide in and learn from her, and know that ministry, marriage, and parenting can all be so fulfilling if you just expect that they will be nutty at times.

Thanks to all of our matriarchs who chimed in!  Come join in the conversation by posting your comment below.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Get Rid of your Crappy Pastor

Rev David H writes at Called to Passion about how a congregation can get rid of a crappy pastor:

I simply cannot count the number of complaints that I get to hear about other pastors. I've responded to such complaints many ways over the years. The simply smile and nod, without actually agreeing -- or conversely, the serious head shake. I've advised the individuals to go and talk to their pastor about their complaint. I've even tried to convince the complainer that their pastor really is pretty good.

But enough of that. I know what most of these complainers want ... They want to get rid of their crappy pastor. The sooner the better. And so, without further ado, six steps to get rid of your crappy pastor and get a better pastor in your congregation.

1) Pray for your crappy pastor. I know, you really don't want to pray for your pastor right now, but give it a try. Pray for your pastor's preaching, for your pastor's life, even for the pastor's family. Prayer was one of those things that Jesus was kind of big on, so go ahead and give it a try.

2) Make sure your crappy pastor takes a day off. Really, you don't want your pastor doing all those things that annoy you any more than absolutely necessary. Make sure everyone knows when the pastor's day off is, and that doesn't call on that day. If there is a congregational event, or an emergency, or a wedding, or a funeral on the normal day off, let it be known that your pastor will be taking another day off to make up the time off.

3) Insist that your crappy pastor take every week of vacation in the contract. Many pastors leave unclaimed vacation days every year. Let's face it - you don't really want your pastor around anyway, so encourage him or her to take all of the allowed vacation. And make it easy decision for your crappy pastor to leave town! Line up volunteers to take care of all the work around the congregation so the pastor doesn't have to work extra hard before leaving and when coming home. Offer up your vacation home, or a gift card for a plane ticket out of town. Make sure everyone comes to worship, so the pastor doesn't feel guilty about leaving for a Sunday.

4) Continuing Education Events. Speaking of getting your crappy pastor out of town, by contract your pastor probably has continuing education time. Make sure that your pastor is attending lots of events with exciting speakers, great preachers, and innovative thinkers (you know, just so your pastor can see the ways in which he or she doesn't measure up). While you're at it, go ahead and increase the continuing education budget - make sure there is no barrier to your pastor getting away from your congregation and to these events.

5) Take over the tasks with which your pastor struggles. We all know that pastors should be good at everything in the parish - from administration to preaching, from visitation with the elderly to youth events. Chances are, your crappy pastor has some places where there are struggles. Hire an administrative assistant. Get the parents and other volunteers to coordinate and host the youth events. Get a group of volunteers together to visit with homebound members. There are all sorts of ways to make sure that your crappy pastor doesn't mess up these tasks that he or she is already struggling with.

6) Encourage your pastor to spend more time in prayer and reading. Now that you have freed up your pastor from all those tasks that were the worst trouble points, there is all sorts of extra time. You don't want him or her to jump right back into those tasks and mess them up, do you? Encourage them to go and read, or spend time with other local pastors, or spend more time intentionally in prayer.

There you go! It's foolproof!

If you do these six simple things, I guarantee you will get rid of your crappy pastor. Get your congregational leaders on board with this plan. Recruit the key people in the congregation to help you with it.

Pray for your pastor, make sure your crappy pastor takes all of the allotted vacation and days off, send your pastor to amazing continuing education events, recruit volunteers (or hire other staff) to fill in your pastor's weaknesses, and make sure your pastor is spending time praying, reading, and dreaming.

Yup, that's it. Do those things, and I guarantee you will stop complaining about your crappy pastor. You will hear better sermons. People will feel more ministered to. Exciting ideas will start to come from your council meetings.

And all these things without having to go through the search process and hire a new pastor!

Take these six steps, and watch your crappy pastor become the sort of pastor you have always wanted. 
Other ideas about getting rid of crappy pastors?  Comment here, or at RevDavid's blog. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Marathon Begins Edition

Once again the Lenten road has brought us to Palm Sunday.  And for some of us that means that between now and the proclamation of He is Risen? He is Risen Indeed! lies a marathon--but a marathon done at sprint speed.  And so I think we need to begin with a prayer.  (This week the prayer comes from here)
Steadfast Love:
you hand us the palm branches,
so we can wave them in hope;
you steady us in the days
when pain is stuck
to the bottom of our lives,
when fear is our constant companion.
We empty ourselves
so you might fill us with joy.

Humble Healer:
When our mouths turn numb
and we cannot speak our dreams,
you tenderly caress our cheeks,
leaning over to hear our faltering words.
When our arms have grown weak
from the burdens we carry,
you take them from us,
and strengthen us with your mercy.
We empty ourselves
so you might fill us with grace.

Voice of Wisdom:
when death hovers so close
we can feel it's cold breath,
you come to us,
the warm breath of resurrection
pushing aside our fears.
When we hesitate to walk into
the unknown stretching before us,
you tightly clasp our hands
and teach us the first step.
We empty ourselves
so you might fill us with peace.

God in Community, Holy in One,
we open our hearts to you,
as we pray as Jesus has taught us, saying,
Our Father . . .

Palm Sunday Procession
Of course the first decision that needs to be made this week is what do we call it?  Is it Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday?  Or is it Palm/Passion Sunday?

Are you focusing on the parade into the city with these readings?

Or are you using these readings to tell the whole sordid story for the "benefit" of those who will choose not to attend worship again until the Easter proclamation?

Jesus Before Pilate
Or maybe you start with Palms and move to Passion?

Yesterday there was a discussion about using Borg & Crossan's book The Last Week in worship planning this year.  Anyone going there?

And of course this year Palm Sunday is also April Fool's Day (personally I can't wait until 2018 [I think] when Easter Sunday is April 1-- think of the possibilities that raises!).  Is the conjunction of dates influencing your thoughts this year?

Take time in the comments to share what is happening in the worship life of you and yours over these next couple of weeks...and if you have links to helpful sites to get through the marathon share those as well...

RevGalBookPals: The Last Week

We have a great and timely review today from Bonnie Jacobs, who introduces herself again below:

Hi, I'm Bonnie Jacobs, a United Methodist pastor who has been a member of RevGals for less than a year.  After retirement, I opened a bookstore with a friend, selling mostly used books, a goodly number of which we found on our own shelves as we were downsizing (she was an English teacher).  Since then, I've blogged about books, taught Religions of the World as adjunct at Chattanooga State, and preached when someone was absent from the pulpit.  This book seemed like a good one to discuss as we approach Palm Sunday and Easter.

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem ~ by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, 2006

No matter how many times I study a passage of scripture, I can always find something more in it.  If I look at it from a different angle, the light falls on something I didn't notice the last time.  If I approach it while dealing with something in my life or in the lives of people in my congregation, I see something new.  It happened again this month, as I took another look at the gospel of Mark, along with Borg and Crossan.  A few days ago, two of you touched themes in this book.  I loved the thinking in this exchange on Facebook:
Gord said,
"Palm Sunday is April Fool's day this year.  Any thoughts on linking the two?  (Personally I'd love it if the full moon was a week earlier and Easter Sunday was April 1.)"
Elaine responded,
"I've been thinking along the same lines.  The Last Week by Borg and Crossan talks about the entrance of two different parades ... that might be a way into the connection."
Borg and Crossan discovered that many Christians are not clear about the details of events during the week leading up to Jesus's crucifixion, so they present a day-by-day account of Jesus's final week of life, with eight chapters for the eight days.  (Notice that this would fit nicely into a Lenten Bible study.)  They begin by differentiating between what we call "Passion Week" (a time of suffering) and what Jesus was passionate about — the kingdom of God.  Let's take a look the first two days.


On Palm Sunday, as Elaine mentioned, there were two entries into Jerusalem.  The triumphal entry of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, riding on a horse and leading his soldiers into the city, symbolized the military strength of the empire.  The other entry was a peasant procession that Borg and Crossan suggest "looks like a planned political demonstration" (p. 4).  Pilate represented a domination system of political oppression, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation.  And Jewish leaders were on his side.
"What was new was that the temple was now at the center of local collaboration with Rome" (p.15).
The temple authorities raised tribute for Rome with an annual "temple tax."  They were supporting imperial violence and injustice.  And here we have a chance to mention April Fool's Day, as Gord wants to do.  Jesus, riding his little donkey, was making fun of Pilate.  Making a fool of him.  Making an important point about the kingdom of God, that it was nonviolent.

And that leads us to Monday.  Remember the story about the money-changers in the temple?  Actually, they were in the courtyard of the temple.  Jesus took a look around the place on Sunday evening (according to Mark) and saved his second "demonstration" until morning.  But notice he did check it out.  He was preparing for the next day, just as he had lined up the donkey ahead of time.


Overturning the tables was planned, just as Jesus planned his entry into Jerusalem.  These were two demonstrations against the system.  Sunday, the anti-imperial entry into Jerusalem, and Monday, the symbolic destruction of the temple.
"What is involved for Jesus is an absolute criticism not only of violent domination, but of any religious collaboration with it" (p. 53).

"There was a terrible ambiguity in that the priest who represented the Jews before God on the Day of Atonement also represented them before Rome the rest of the year" (p. 41).
Borg and Crossan give compelling details that show how Mark carefully painted a picture of Jesus demonstrating against violence and injustice.  In the preface, they show how the word passion has come to mean the suffering of Jesus during Holy Week.  Yet the passion of Jesus, what he was passionate about, was the kingdom of God.
"The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.  It was that first passion for God's distributive justice that led inevitably to the second passion by Pilate's punitive justice" (p. viii).

The authors point out how Mark used "frames" around scenes to make his points.  It was fascinating to me to see the stories of healing the blind before and after the disciples had totally misunderstood Jesus.  In other words, they were blind.  After reading this book, I can see that Mark was a much more sophisticated and nuanced writer than I had realized.  The careful placement of the stories of blind men being healed, immediately before and after the lack of the disciples's comprehension, serves to emphasize that part of the story.  The point is made with the frames:  the Twelve just don't get it.  They can't see, and thus miss the point of what Jesus is trying to teach them.  This is a major point in the book:
"Notice, above all, how repeatedly Mark has Jesus insist that Peter, James, and John, the Twelve, and all his followers on the way from Caesarea Philippi to Jeusalem must pass with him through death to a resurrected life whose content and style was spelled out relentlessly against their refusals to accept it.  For Mark, it is about participation with Jesus and not substitution by Jesus" (p. 102).
That understanding is from the Wednesday chapter, but it is made even more explicit in the Friday chapter:
"Was Jesus guilty of advocating violent revolution against the empire and its local collaborators?  No. ... was Jesus guilty of nonviolent resistance to imperial Roman oppression and local Jewish collaboration?  Oh, yes.  Mark's story of Jesus's final week is a sequence of public demonstrations against and confrontations with the domination system.  And, as all know, it killed him" (p. 163).
Another quote, this time from the Easter Sunday chapter, points out how these authors understand the point Mark and the other gospel writers wanted to make:
"Good Friday and Easter, death and resurrection together, are a central image in the New Testament  for the path to a transformed self.  The path involves dying to an old way of being and being reborn into a new way of being.  Good Friday and Easter are about this path, the path of dying and rising, of being born again" (p. 210).
And finally, using the gospel of John, the authors give their understanding of the claim that Jesus is the "only way."
"The Jesus of John's gospel speaks explicitly about being 'born again' (3:1-10).  In another passage, he says that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit (12:24).  He speaks of this way as 'the only way' (14:6) in a verse that has unfortunately often become a triumphalist claim justifying Christian exclusivism.  But within John's incarnational theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus incarnates the way of transformation.  This is what it means to say, 'Jesus is the only way.'  The path we see in him — dying and rising — is the path of personal transformation" (p. 211).
This review may seem to have little focus, hitting these points as it does.  But taken all together, Borg and Crossan show what Mark was attempting to do in his narrative.  It may be a new way of seeing the story for you, not what you were expecting.  It happened to Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as a basis for what they wrote, according to most scholars.  Borg and Crossan show where those gospels changed a thing or two, here and there, not aware of what Mark had been doing, like with his framing technique and is found at several points of his story.  (Monday's page 33 has a chart of half a dozen stories Mark "framed" to make his point.)

I highly recommend this book to you.

Quotations are from the paperback edition published by HarperOne, which I bought myself.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sunday Prayer: Lent 5B

Gracious God
We come to you
broken – from
That which confine us
the prejudice buried,
weighted down with fear
distorted self protection
breaking me, breaking you.

And, so we come to you
to be made whole.

For you God,
put your love within us
you wrote it on our hearts;
that we may be your people.

On this night/day
we pray for those
who weep,
who are struggling

from lack of -
clean water
healthy food,
quality, affordable health care.
Women who want to make decisions
About their families, their lives
Our bodies, how and when,
And with whom.

And, so we come to you
to be made whole.

For you God,
put your love within us
you wrote it on our hearts;
that we may be your people.

Compassionate God

God of covenant,
God of love -
We come to you

for peace and harmony,

.Loving God
We offer up our
And,  come to you
to be made whole.

For you God,
put your love within us
you wrote it on our hearts;
that we may be your people.

Gentle God

God of covenant
Of Love,
Glorify us through
Your love.
Draw us to you,
Into you,
Anoint us
with your 

Write your
Compassion in our hearts
that we may love
As you love.


11th Hour Preacher Party: "We Wish to See Jesus" (Now, Please!) Edition

Can you see me now?
Welcome to the 11th Hour Preacher Party for the 5th Sunday of Lent!

I invite you to take a moment to marvel at the technology that is probably within your reach at this moment.  Just 20 years ago, composing sermons meant writing in pen on a yellow legal pad (or, heaven help us, using a typewriter!), spending hours at the seminary library, and stocking the bookshelf with commentaries.

Today, there is no need for an 11th hour preacher to leave her/his home.  We can wear comfy clothes or stay in flannel and fuzzy slippers.  We are fully resourced with our computers and tablets, search engines, TextWeek, LiturgyLink, and Kindles and Nooks and digital books. And, wonder of all wonders, we can be in the company of many brilliant colleagues -- all of you! -- connected and communicating on a world wide web. That's progress!

That same technology also brings us news stories that reveal the progress we haven't made. In 2012 --  unbelievably -- women's rights and civil rights are not yet already-settled, taken-for-granted, all-for-one-and-one-for-all human rights.

Wishing to see Jesus?  Yes, please!  And sooner, not later!
Where is Jesus in the stories of Trayvon Martin's tragic death and Susan Fluke's testimony profaned?

Will you address either of these this week?
Or are there other church or community issues you will tackle?
How can we help you &/or pray for you today?

I am so grateful for the really wonderful RevGal blog posts this week in response to the death of Trayvon Martin.  Here are a few that I gathered up for your inspiration:

Skittles and Iced Tea at Presbydestrian (Kathleen M. Sheets)
Should Not Happen at Rev Momma (Beth Spencer Anderson)
Remember Trayvon at Faith Grace and Hope (Pastor Julia)
The Politics of Fear at Faith and Water (Rachel Hackenberg)
By Heart at Reflectionary (Martha Spong)

If you know of other RevGal blog posts or other articles that you would like to highlight today, please post them in the comments.  If possible, I will add them to the list.

As always, the coffee is hot, the welcome is extravagant, and the snack table is ready for your delicious offerings.

Welcome, everyone!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Five: Vital connection...

(Dance floor)
OK I'll admit it, right now I am exhausted, there is so much going on and so much to do that I fell like I am running around in small circles, add to that the fact that there is so much that I'd like to do ....

What I need to do is give myself permission (make myself) to stop and to refocus, to breath the air and smell the roses to get perspective and to rest in God's presence, and sometimes that can be hard to achieve but I know that the harder it gets, the more essential it becomes. Somewhere deep inside I hear the Spirit whispering to my soul:

Live in me, make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself, but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined to me... (John 15: 4)

So I want to ask you

1. How do you intentionally make a vital daily connection with God? What roots you and gives you life?

2.  Do you have a favourite space/ place that you go to?

3. Is there a particular passage, phrase or prayer that brings you immediately into God's presence?

4. Music- essential ingredient or distraction- discuss

5. Silence and solitude or engagement with like minded others?

Bonus, a poem, piece of inspirational prose or music that speaks to you of that vital connection... 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, March 22, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Dealing with Whiners

This week's question is on such a tough issue. Our wonderful matriarchs have such wisdom to share, and maybe you do, too. Read on.

I'm a new pastor and my church has recently gone from several months of being on its best behavior ("We want this new pastor to stay!") to more of who they really are. Unfortunately, who they really are is a bit toxic. They are good people, hard workers, and incredibly dedicated to this church, but they are also whiners. Serious whiners.

Just in the past few days I fielded an angry email from one man because the website has not been updated to his specifications and he's TOLD me TWICE how it should be; a 30-minute conversation with a woman who is upset that our church accidentally threw out a $35 box of plastic spoons during a recent renovation (this happened four months ago and she is still at it); a woman who yelled at me for ten minutes during a prayer meeting because she was angry she wasn't asked to serve on the church board, over a dozen minor health complaints (my knee's been hurting, I have a cold, etc.), and general kvetching about our church secretary's work performance (she does a stellar job).

I'm a solo pastor and I work an average of 50-60 hours a week. I'm getting exhausted not from the work of ministry but from the work of dealing with so much whining. I feel like I'm being pecked to death by ducks. Do you have any suggestions for how to better cope with the grumbling? Is there a way to help curtail it, or does the work need to take place in my own head and heart so I can handle it better?

Or perhaps this email shows my true colors - that I am a whiner, too?

Please help!

A Very Tired Pastor

Muthah+ has a lot of experience from which to share:
Dear Duck Pecked,
Been there, done that and the t-shirt is already a dust rag! 

If you have judicatory officers that you can depend upon bring them up to date.  You don't say how long you have been there.  But if this is in your first year of incumbency, I would suggest that you bring in a consultant to help your council and you to deal with the whine.

If you are in your 3rd year, know that 3 years in is just the "Terrible Two's of Parish Ministry":  it is the time when everyone complains and then after they don't run you out, they know that they can trust you.  It isn't conscious on their part.  It is just part of the dynamics.  Don't take their whining to heart.  It is just the way that this group of people play the "do you love me enough?" game.

1.  If there is a lay leader in the parish who understands group dynamics a bit talk with them about what you are doing and why. 
2.  Force yourself to get the rest you need.  And keep a regimen of self-care.  This is the first thing to go in a parish like this and this is the reason that they are successful in running out their pastors.  If you are self-differentiated enough to take care of yourself and still be their pastor, you may pattern a new way for them to be parishioners.
3.  Find someone to monitor your pastoral care: a therapist who can help you keep differentiated or a spiritual director that you can see regularly.  If you have to travel to do so, travel.  The time away will be healing.
4.  Keep a scheduled time for prayer.  I know you live in a fish bowl and everyone thinks they have a right to your time.  But your prayer time IS work time.  And it needs to take priority over every other thing that you do.  All too often folks in the church do not understand that prayer is the bedrock of ministry and we can't or shouldn't do it without it.
5.  If your secretary is competent, support him/her.  Part of the pastor's job is to protect her staff.  Ignore the 'red pencil clack'.  We all make mistakes and the parish bulletin is where errors are found most if the red pencil crowd is bored.

Duck-pecked, you are in the midst of ministry.  There are some parishes that just do that to their pastors and then wonder why we leave.  Let them know gently that you don't like it, but they may be unable to change.  Just love 'em a lot and ignore their jibes. They may be able to see what you are doing as an example of Christ's love for them.  

Invest in the whole series of the Vicar of Dibly and laugh.

Sue writes:
Dear Very Tired Pastor,
I used the term "pecked to death by ducks" at least twice last week, so we're totally on the same page. Some of the compaining/whining I've heard has been legit, so I've dealt with those things accordingly (usually by notifying a committee chair). On the other hand, some has also been trivial and could have easily been handled without my involvement on any level.

It's good to have your intuitive senses on the alert and get a sense of who is always going to give you that "pecked to death" feeling. I can name half a dozen here. They are lovely people, but when I see them coming, I know I'm going to come out of the conversation either feeling like I've misbehaved OR having a few tasks to perform that he/she could easily have done themselves.

So: tactics!!!!

First: Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. There are some people who just need someone to listen to their kvetching and really don't want much done in response. From a pastoral perspective, these are often sad, lonely people who have forgotten the art of positive thinking and lively conversation. The problem is, they can suck up half a day if you allow it. With a few of my folks here, as soon as they sit down in my office, or I arrive at their home for a visit - I set the clock. Not literally, but I say politely, "I have 30 minutes before I need to take care of some other business, but I'm glad you're here for that time! Let's talk...."  This works on two levels: the person feels valued and you have a time boundary for your discussion.

(Totally unrelated, but boundary-wise issue: I had to politely ask a woman to stop touching me when I talk to her on Sunday mornings. I have a very definite perimeter of personal space, which is not an unreasonable one, but this one woman cannot seem to talk to me without touching my arm/hand/shoulder. She doesn't pick up the physical clue of me stepping back a foot or so while maintaining eye contact. She was just following me around to touch me again. Honestly, it's like we were dancing! I think she understands now. I used lots of "I" talk and made it about me, not her....etc......add to list of things not taught in seminary!)

Second: Designate designate designate. When someone comes to you wondering why x,y, or z isn't done, would you be able to ask "Really? Who is responsible for that? Perhaps YOU could contact that person and ask about it?"

Third: When faced with talk about other staff, I cut people off. Not rudely, but with a full understanding that it is not appropriate for me to have any discussion about other staff people with parishioners. I direct them to the chair of our Ministry and Personnel committee and hand them her name and phone number. The job of the M&P Chair is to field complaints, warranted or otherwise. I don't even let the complaining person finish telling me his/her complaint. I don't want to know. I don't need to know. If they find that rude, I really don't care. We don't have any status such as "Head of Staff" even in churches where there is more than one order of minstery personnel - so it simply is not part of any UCCan minister's job description to deal with such complaints.

Finally: I find that most whiners chase me after worship on Sunday with their gripe. I've started inviting people to email the church address, or leave a phone message, so I can take a closer look at their concern during the week when there aren't so many other people waiting to greet me. They never send the email and they never call. Once Sunday is over, they've lost their head of steam.

Remember that your time is valuable. Despite living out a vocation, you are still a professional, and your time needs to be reserved for real church needs. Interesting that this question should come up this week. Awhile back I had a discussion with a woman who was complaining that a piece of art in the church had been moved ~eye roll~. I had been on holidays when it was moved, so I had NOTHING to do with any of it. That did not stop her from yelling at me on the phone and ultimately hanging up (I think she hung up because I wouldn't engage her by raising my own voice....). I gave it two days and called her to see how she was doing. Not much better actually, but I pulled up all my assertiveness reserves and told her very gently that as the minister of our church family, it was inappropriate for her to hang up on me. She apologized. I'm having lunch at her house today.

People get over stuff. Thanks be to God!

And Kathrynzj offers:
I am tempted to tell you to preach on the wilderness passages in Exodus over and over again, but then the Scripture would be whining at you too. 

First question - is this really the entire congregation or a whiny, vocal minority? I ask because you can micro-manage the latter, but the former may require something more drastic. In my own experience, the whiners want to feel heard. So, I call them every two weeks and let them kvetch away. I realize this seems like I'm catering to them, but what it means is that they don't interrupt me, I am going to them and on my time AND by phone so I can be doing something else at the same time (you heard me).

Also, create 'no whine' zones. Your day off is sacred - physically and emotionally - don't check the email, answer the phone or stop by the office. If they can't behave in prayer meetings - stop having them. These are not town halls, they are PRAYER meetings. You only have so many hours in your day/week - those who get to use that time need to be worthy of it or at the very least have their interactions with you be on your terms, not theirs.

Thank you, wonderful matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom and experience with this difficult issue. What about the rest of you? How do you deal with grumbling in your congregation? How do you handle it, both tactically speaking and emotionally speaking? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

And as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.