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Monday, April 30, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: What's a Eunuch? Edition

Let us pray (prayer source)
Living God,
long ago, faithful women
proclaimed the good news
of Jesus' resurrection,
and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

The readings for Easter 5B can be found here

The Ethiopian Eunuch
So who wants to take on the challenge of creating a children's time with the Acts passage?  Can't you just hear the question "what is a eunuch?" coming loudly in the midst of such a story????

Actually, I find lots of sermonic possibilities int the story of Phillip and the Eunuch.  IF nothing else it shows the value of inviting someone to Bible study -- they might actually take up the mantle of Christian and seek baptism!

OR then there is 1 John (this is a dangerous week for Scripture readers.  More than once have I had a reader miss the "1" and read from the Gospel of John instead of the epistle.  Or maybe that is a comment on Biblical literacy...) and the love talk.  Must be a sermon in there.

In the Vineyard
And of course we can talk about vine and branches.  The church of my childhood used this passage for its' "motto".  A great way to encourage growing out in mission.  They did not do that all that well in practice.  But to see themselves as branches bearing fruit through the power of the Root had promise.

OR maybe you are off-lectionary this week.

Wherever the winds of the Spirit are blowing your worship planning this week please share with us all in the comments.

And does anyone want to take on the Eunuch in children's time?

Big Event 6.0: "In Her Own Words"

"In Her Own Words"

Ministers are handlers of words -- handlers of The Word -- although our time with words and Word is often shortened or strained by a variety of responsibilities.

So join us for BE 6.0 to enjoy an un-rushed, playful time with words that will encourage your spirit, enhance your preaching, and pepper your worship with ideas!

Our BE 6.0 leader is UCC minister and author Rachel Hackenberg, whose books are Writing to God and Writing to God: Kids' Edition; she blogs at "Faith and Water."

BE 6.0 will take place on a 5 night Bahamas cruise on Carnival Fascinaction from Jacksonville, Florida, departing Monday, January 28, and returning Saturday, February 2, 2013. We'll have stops at Key West and Nassau, the Bahamas. The Big Event is a unique combination of learning, relaxation and "galship."

Registration will be limited to 40. More details on cost and payment deadlines will follow in May.

Seriously, some of us would do this. (Right?)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Prayer for Easter 4B

During this Easter Season we celebrate that not only did your lay down your life for us,
but that you rose from the dead.
And it is in rising from the dead that so much was changed.
act of kindness are shown by your children to people who need human touch.
We are able to show love to others in practice and deed.
We celebrate this resurrection power that is all because of you.

A year ago tornados ripped through the lives and communities of Alabama,
Leaving in its swath a path of death and destruction.
Lord those people are still rebuilding, still healing and many are still traumatized.
Help us as the community of faith to not forget them,
to continue to reach out to help them rebuild and renew their lives.

But Lord Alabama has not been the only area hit with damaging power of nature :
there have been major disasters everywhere.
A kids soccer ball showing up on the west coast of America
reminds us that there is still lots to be done in Japan,
And it reminds us of other countries who are still recovering
and that it is taking a long time due to lack of resources.

Lord these people need our prayers, our help and our care.
Lord, these people need a Shepherd, a good shepherd.
They need one that knows them, loves  them,
 cares about them, comforts them and has compassion for them.

Truth be known we all need you as our good Shepard.
Will you be our good Shepard?

cross posted at A place for prayer and rev abi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher Party: 21st Century Sheep

I know I'm not the only one who has been wondering this this week, but I'm going to throw it out here one more time.  What in the heck does Good Shepherd Sunday, the Good Shepherd metaphor, sheep folds, and sheep mean to the so, so many of us who live in urban and suburban environments?  And really what does it mean to people who even live in rural areas, but areas where farming, ranching, and caring for the animals that work for us is entirely different now than it was in biblical times?  I'm not going so far as to say that these themes are irrelevant to us today, but I will say that our distance from them in time and lifestyle makes them very difficult.

I'm going to be spending much of the day today at a workshop about ministry in a changing world.  Facing Good Shepherd Sunday just serves to highlight for me how much the world has changed and is changing.

How are you preparing to proclaim the resurrection in your community tomorrow?  How are you being touched by the Scripture yourself?  For me those aren't always the same!

I remember last year RevGal Teri, who blogs at Clever Title Here, left some great facts and remembrances about sheep in the comments for the Tuesday Lectionary Leanings post.  They practically wrote my sermon, so I had to link them here.

One last helpful hint:  Do NOT under any circumstances do a Google image search for "dirty sheep" on any computer that belongs to your church, is inside your church, or could be accessed by people of your church.  Some of what you find has little to do with the Good Shepherd.  Just sayin'!

Come on in and join the party in the comments!  All are welcome!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Five; Sacraments... all is holy?

This Friday Five stems from some questions that have been running around my head and heart recently and are squeezing their way out through my blog here and again here

So I'd like to ask you some simple questions about the sacraments:

1. What does the Lord's supper/ Eucharist mean to you?
2. How important is preparation for this, and what form does it take?
3. What does baptism mean to you?
4. How important is preparation for baptism and what form does it take?
5. A quote/ poem/ song that brings you before God in a sacramental way, and helps you to engage at a deeper level...

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, April 26, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - When Trolls Lurk Under the Bridge

RevGalBlogPals has been a most beautiful bridge for this matriarch and editor - an opportunity to meet and interact with women and men across the breadth of Christian community whom I would never have known otherwise.  The community has encouraged many of us to try our hand at engage in a new form of communication that both connects and exposes us.  Such is the case with the RevGal whose question we address today...

Hi Matriarchs,

Not sure if this is a matriarch question or not.

My blog is mainly sermons, which I started as part of being involved in RGBP Saturday Night preacher party. My blog doesn’t have my name on it, but it wouldn’t be too hard for someone to work out who I am if they wanted to know.  I noticed last week that I have a new follower on my blog, whose name I did not recognize.  I have been able to follow through the links to find his blog. Why would someone so sure of the TRUTH – lots of capitals in the blog – want to follow a blog that is very different theology to what their blog espouses? My first reaction was to wonder if someone is checking up on me, but I can’t imagine who, or why. My theological perspective is within the broadness of the denomination I am part of, so that isn’t an issue.  

I know that what I put in the blog is there for all to see, but somehow this spooked me, now I feel a bit foolish for letting it worry me. Maybe I am just feeling paranoid. Should I be worried?

From Muthah+  who blogs at Stone of Witness

Dear Blogpal,

After a colleague shared her experience of being stalked, I am a bit more aware of what some folks have to deal with.  I have never had that happen due to my blog work or because of anything I say.  I am aware that many of the things that I write or say make me vulnerable to all kinds of criticism and professional attack, but I set myself up for that knowingly and welcome it because I believe it is part of how people interact with difficult issues.  I tend not to engage with comments on my blog.  And I do moderate all comments.  I do not tolerate inconsiderate posts.

But your issue does not seem to be about what you are writing.  It is more of the presence of someone who is following you for personal reasons.  It isn't paranoia when it is just good sense.  Pay attention to those 'icky' feelings and find a way to block this person from commenting or following your blog.  If he is local, perhaps a background check is in order. Maybe some of our more geekie sistahs can tell you how to block him.  Be safe but don't stop what you are doing.  If what you are preaching is the Gospel, never fear preaching it!

From Martha, who blogs at Reflectionary

Take it from someone whose Internet history stretches back to Usenet: some people will do anything to get attention. Unless you see something very specifically tying the person to your own community or denomination, I would guess this one is what we call a Troll, a person whose intention on the Internet is to sow discord and create disruption. And the first rule when dealing with them is "Don't Feed the Troll." There is a man who has followed some of our ring members and left comments here in the past--very conservative and full of CAPS--and it wouldn't surprise me if you have attracted the same guy. The Christian Troll is a slightly different variety. He (or she, but mostly he) wants to sow discord and create disruption in the name of Jesus. The same rules apply. Do not feed. 

With sad experience (so do as I say, not as I did)

From Kathryn…
My experience with these folks is that they eventually lose interest and seek other places. If they begin to comment negatively, then there are ways to handle that (3 Ways to Deal with an Internet Troll - ). It sounds like your blog is not exactly inflammatory and its content is in line with your own beliefs and the tenets of your denomination so even if it is someone from your congregation or denomination that is 'checking up on you' there should be no problem.

Don't let your imagination of the unknown get the better of you (in other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain). That said, if things do start to escalate via comments or other means - it may be wise to keep track and pay attention. 

Now it's your turn.  Use the "Post a Comment" function to add your insights.  

We welcome your questions, and the queue is getting short, so send them to us here.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Frick & Frack: A Tale of Justice

Many of you have doubtless been following the controversy over Columbia Theological Seminary's recent decision not to allow same-gender couples in committed, covenental relationships, to live on campus in "married student" housing.  There've been many eloquent letters written to CTS about this issue, as evidenced by the one below (by MaryAnn McKibben Dana of The Blue Room) and the one to which it refers (by Michael Kirby). 

Below is a letter I am sending to the president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. Steve Hayner, and members of the “cabinet”:
I know you have been receiving countless communications about your recent announcement regarding Columbia’s housing policy. One of these letters is from my friend, Michael Kirby.

I write now, with his permission, to tell you a part of the story that he did not.

Michael and I were friends long before seminary. We met in Houston, Texas, both former Southern Baptists who attended the same church, St. Philip Presbyterian. Michael was an elder; I was a deacon and later a staff member. We were in Sunday School class together. We sang in the choir together. We went on young-adult retreats together (back when we were young adults). And, nurtured in the loving care of that amazing church community, we felt God calling us to ministry—not exactly together, but in parallel.

We were interested in some of the same seminaries, and happened to attend the same CTS Inquirer’s Weekend in November 1999. We didn’t talk much that weekend, giving each other space to discern, but I found myself wondering whether he was as lit up with excitement as I was over what Columbia had to offer. He was.

I still remember the tentative conversation with Michael the day the scholarship announcements went out, and the explosion of joy when we found out that we had both received identical scholarships. Over the years at Columbia, it’s fair to say that we competed, but in the best possible way: We drove one another to do our absolute best. We supported and encouraged one another and studied together. We gave each other tips for navigating our home presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry. We each found our own niches and leadership opportunities while drawing closer to one another. We remain close to this day. I celebrate his ministry in Chicago and across the larger church, particularly as a voice for justice and for the compassion of God that knows no bounds.

I’ll be honest. In my early stages of discernment, when I pictured myself in seminary, I imagined striking out on my own, not with someone from my hometown. But I cannot imagine my call story without Michael Kirby.

Our stories diverge in one important way. Michael, a gay man, arrived at Columbia unpartnered, whereas I came with a husband. And therein lies the cruel twist: despite our similarities in background, despite our mutual commitment to academic rigor and excellence in ministry, and despite our shared love for the church, had Michael been the one to arrive with a husband instead of me, he would have been barred from campus housing.

That, in short, is a travesty.

I do not envy you the many constituencies and interests you must consider in stewarding Columbia Seminary, an institution we all love and revere. But as you listen to the myriad voices on this issue, don’t forget the future Michael Kirbys out there:
folks who are just now feeling the Holy Spirit tug at them,
folks who feel most alive when they are serving the church,
folks for whom a seminary education may be out of reach financially if they are forced to live off campus…
And folks who will not consider Columbia Theological Seminary so long as they and their families are excluded from a vital part of campus life.

What profoundly gifted servants of God will you never have the opportunity to nurture and grow with as a result of this policy?

Thank you for listening.
Peace of Christ,
The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, M.Div 2003

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lectionary Leanings~~Good Shepherd edition

It's the fourth Sunday of Easter; it must be GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY.

No, I'm not really that excited about it...while the readings (found here) are indeed beautiful, like so many of the well-known texts assigned for the  Easter season, it sometimes feels like a real challenge to come up with a fresh perspective on them. 

We begin with another passage from Acts: this week we find Peter, who along with John has been arrested, testifying boldly about Jesus' identity, proclaiming that " 'the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.' "  Our psalm is the oh-so-ever familiar 23rd (and as an aside, which version do you use for this psalm, the beloved KJ or something more contemporary?) In our epistle (perhaps my favorite reading for the day) we are reminded, "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." Finally the gospel, Jesus uses the metaphor of the Good Shepherd to illustrate not only his love for humanity but also his willingness to lay down his life for those to whom he has come.

What path will you follow this week, preachers? Are you following the apostles in Acts? Exploring perhaps one of the best-known metaphors for Jesus and his loving care for us? Thinking about what it means to live in a post-resurrection world? Please share your thoughts, inspirations, ponderings, and yes, even your frustrations with us.

To get us going, here is a prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
          to care for all that are close to us,
                    to protect those who are threatened,
                    to welcome those who are rejected,
                    to forgive those who are burdened by guilt,
                    to heal those who are broken and sick,
                    to share with those who have little or nothing,
          to take the time to really know one another
                    and love as you have loved us.

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
          to spread compassion to those who are far away,
                    to speak for those who are voiceless,
                    to defend those who are oppressed and abused,
                    to work for justice for those who are exploited,
                    to make peace for those who suffer violence,
          to take the time to recognise our connectedness,
                    and to love as you have loved us.

Good Shepherd,
Teach us to follow you
          and to be faithful to calling you gave us
          to be shepherds in your name.  Amen

(prayer found here)

Monday, April 23, 2012

RevGalBookPals: Religion for Atheists

Let’s be honest. I am not (and likely you’re not) the intended audience of Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton. Given that I am a religious (Protestant) woman, a book with very little mention of women, no use for religion, and particular disdain for Protestants should have very little appeal. And, to be truthful, I have read it now and it is neither bad nor good. Ironically, it’s kind of lukewarm.

De Botton makes it clear in his introduction that he will be irritating both the religious readers and his fellow atheists. His premise is fascinating, regardless of whether or not you believe it to be flawed, in that he poses that religions alleviate certain needs and concerns of humanity in a way that secular society has not:

[F}irst, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of the loved ones and to our decay and demise. (12)

Arguably, secular society has not solved those problems because it cannot- having neither the capacity or desire to do so. De Botton posits that the capacity is within secularist society and that, by examining how religion has dealt with these issues, (through purposeful community life, calendar structure, education, and institutions) secular society can also bring solutions to bear on the inevitable struggles of human life.

Throughout the book, de Botton lists what he perceives to be the fundamental struggles of human life- all tributaries to the river called “How to live and how to die”. He points to how he perceives religion to have dealt with these issues. When he says “religion”, he means Roman Catholicism (historical and contemporary), Judaism (main forms), and Buddhism (various forms mentioned). It would seem de Botton understands Catholicism to have had the most profound effect on shaping public institutions and public life. Judaism, from his point of view, offers great guidance for private living and living as individual within a community. And, it would seem, his own experiences with Buddhism prevented him from omitting it from the book.

In one example, de Botton explains how Christianity (read: Roman Catholicism) has structured communities to help people deal with their bodily and psychic needs so that they can, in turn, help those around them. In churches, people do things that they would not typically do elsewhere: sing with strangers in a group, convene without regard to prior association, speak together, confess to deep troubles and painful behavior, absolve others, offer consolation and peace to non-relatives, and so on.

In essence, religions understand that to belong to a community is both very desirable and not very easy. In this respect, they are greatly more sophisticated than those secular political theorists who write lyrically about the loss of a sense of community, while refusing to acknowledge the inherently dark aspects of social life. Religions teach us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober, but they also know that if they do not allow us to be or do otherwise every once in a while, they will break our spirit. In their most sophisticated moments, religions accept the debt that goodness, faith, and sweetness owe to their opposites. (63)

Part of my struggle in reading this book is that I have a religious linguistic framework in my head. When I read, “There could be temples to spring and temples to kindness, temples to serenity and temples to reflection, temples to forgiveness and temples to self-knowledge,” my thoughts are that de Botton is simply make those ideals into gods. That’s not atheism, it’s polytheism with the deity being the philosophical premises that de Botton holds dear.

De Botton does point out some of the real flaws in secular society. The free market is not set up to psychologically or emotionally prepare a person for dying or for death around them. The commodification of our bodies does not actually teach us how to live or live well. The constant barrage of information does more to separate us from our fellow humans and other animals than it does to bring us together. In a fear of seeming “religious”, the institutions that provide information, universities, museums, music programs, do not actually teach people how to live with that information, to use what is being learned, seen, heard, or observed toward better living and better dying.

While de Botton offers a structure for secular society to begin to convey these ideals, I am not entirely sure how it would be accomplished. The book is full of provocation (and occasionally disturbing) pictures and photo-shopped images of advertisements promoting forgiveness, art work that offers perspective on the length of human existence, and structures that draw one out of one’s self (and presumably out of one’s self-absorption).

Ultimately, the proposals fell flat. While the idea is lofty, de Botton will have difficulty selling this premise. That is precisely the problem in that secularism will buy anything, when the price is right. The mysteries of religious, from the perspective of non-believers, come at too high a cost. Yet, the vagaries of living and dying are cheapened when they are not taken seriously. De Botton has tried to provide currency for claiming and reclaiming those mysteries, but I am not sure anyone will buy his argument.

The worth of this book for a believer (a religious person) lies in what de Botton says religions do. Do you understand what you believe to offer daily, weekly, monthly, yearly guidance? Does your particular religiosity offer you guidance for the here and now or merely for getting by until the sweet by and by? Do the elements of your faith, sacraments, catechism, art, music, and literature, bring you to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the mysteries of living and dying?

Inasmuch as de Botton (one atheist) believes that religions do these things for their adherents, we should ask ourselves what it is that we believe? Are we communicating what we believe or are we working toward believing that which we communicate? Perhaps we need a slim volume- a combination of Scriptures, church history, art history, and instruction- entitled, “Religion for Believers”.

I would recommend this book for reflections with a more advanced book group or Bible study or for the next time you and your best friend agree to read something together. This book needs discussion after reading. 

de Botton, Alain. Religion for Atheists. Pantheon, New York. 2012. 

This book was purchased for review. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Prayer for Easter 3B/Earth Day

Oh God,
We come celebrating your love that you have for us your children of God.
And because we are your children we know that when we pray you answer us.
We know that we can bring our needs, our troubles, our questions,
our lives, our world, our hopes and our dreams to you.
We know and believe that you listen and you care.

Creator God,
We do pray for our world that we live in
this wonderful planet you created for us to live on. 
We pray for its wellbeing because you made it and called it good.
And we pray that we do our parts as stewards to take of earth.
We are so grateful for this earth, our home.

Loving God,
We pray for those in our midst who need our prayers for their lives,
 their struggles, their healing, and their restoration.
We pray for those in our communities who are without jobs, without homes, without food, without family, without food, without means and resources and without hope.
We pray for those in our world who are living in extreme poverty, violence, abuse, slavery, and cruelty.

Faithful God,
We thank you for the resurrection of you son,
we live into the hope of the resurrection.
May your resurrection shine light in our lives.
Make your presence known to us as you did to the disciples.
Open our minds also that we may understand what you have to teach us.
And how we are to live and be.

 cross posted at A Place for Prayer and rev gal blog pals

Friday, April 20, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: Inspired to Address the People, edition

So, one time I pulled an all-nighter...

Don't laugh.

Okay, go ahead and laugh, if you are so inclined. Although this photo is an old one, it is none the less reflective of how I feel. Wiped out. It's like I was in a marathon that began last August and ended with Easter. Yup. I'm done.

Well, except like all of you I still need to craft a sermon for Sunday.

And, can I just say...these readings are not exactly inspiring me.

Maybe, though YOU are inspired.

I sure hope so, please, share the inspiration! I mean, are you inspired by Peter addressing the people? Or, maybe by the Psalmist pleading for God to answer? Perhaps you are pondering 1 John and the love of God? Maybe the peace of Christ from the Gospel of Luke calls to you?

And, what about a children's message? Please share with us your creative inspiration for our kids!...or if you are stymied, ask for help - there is bound to be someone here who has an idea that will launch your next spirit filled reflection.

Well, anyway. It's still Friday night, here, as I write this. But I know that it is already well into Saturday for some of you. So, even as I am heading to bed, I hope those of you who are working hard will get the party started! I have tea, jelly beans, and ice cream for the late nighters...and in the morning I'll have fresh brewed coffee...and, something else to eat - we'll see what inspires me!

Friday Five: Internet Connections

I have vaguely been hearing about the coming trend of people using mobile internet devices rather than desktop computers. Having four adult children, I see them using cell phones, laptops, tablets, ipods/iphones/ipads instead of the desktop computer, which I am using right now.

So I am asking you to answer the following questions about whatever device you most often use these days, first by telling us what you have:

1. Do you use social connections, like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in or whatever else there is? Describe how you use it/these.

2. Do you text on your cell phone? Work, friends, family?

3. Do you play any games? Which ones?

4. How do you predominantly use the various electronic devices you possess?

5. How do you feel about blogging? Are you as involved in blogging as when you first started? What facilitates your blogging?

Bonus: Anything you want to add. You might like to discuss what helps you most in your vocation with internet connections.

It is always fun to play and meet new/old friends through Friday Five. If you'd like visitors to your blog, please leave a comment with your info. For a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - When the Pastor's Life is Turned Upside Down

We who care for persons in times of crisis will at some point find ourselves aching and grieving.  This is the reality in which one of our RevGals found herself  - and she sent this message to the matriarchs a little over a week ago...

In the past few months my life has been turned a bit upside-down with a diagnosis of leukemia in my father, with whom I am very close. I am wondering if you could provide some insight into how to operate with my congregation during this time while he's undergoing treatment and spending a lot of time in the hospital. It's also possible that treatment will turn into hospice and it will be a waiting game to know how much longer we'll have him with us.

Here are a few details:
- the congregation I serve is thankfully very helpful, and I do not anticipate them using any absence of mine due to this situation as a way to critique me or try to fire me
- my father is a pastor as well, and he actually filled in for me in the congregation when my daughter was born at the end of the summer last year, so they know him in that way and also care for him
- I'm not looking so much for logistics as a more holistic way to approach this, including what in the world I'm supposed to do with myself if he actually dies. I think I will be basically non-functional if that happens
- to be frank, financially, I cannot afford to take a leave of absence if it would have to be unpaid

Thank you in advance for all your help!

Sarah, blogging at  Never Perfect Always Real
[Sarah indicated an openness to be identified and a desire to blog about her experience.]

We moved to address her questions immediately, in hope that we could be of timely help to her. However, after beginning our preparation for today's post, we received word that Sarah’s father’s had died.  Our deepest sympathies are with Sarah, and I know that you will join us in praying for Sarah and her family.

Terri, blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice was the first to respond:

I am so sorry to learn of the illness and subsequent death of your father. I am grateful to know that your congregation is caring for you and understanding. Grief is a powerful reflection on the depth and potency of love in our lives. Grief takes many forms, and just when you think you understand the way grief is manifesting for you, it will rise up in a new way: varying degrees of despair, crying, anger, loss of concentration, fatigue, are just a few ways grief appears. And moving through grief takes as long as it takes – one cannot rush through it. So, it is wise that you are seeking ways to care for yourself during this time.

I find it most helpful for me, when going through times such as this, to build a support system for myself. This support system includes the congregation in its ability to understand and be gentle with me, and to the degree in which I reveal small pieces of myself, as appropriate. Invite them to pray for you, let them bring you meals. My support system also includes people outside the congregation. People such as a therapist who will help me deal with my feelings and how they are manifesting. I also seek out a spiritual director, someone who can pray with me and help me see my grief through a faith and spiritual perspective. It also helps to have friends who are willing to hang in there with me – the on-line community has been invaluable for me. You may also find some solace in reading Robin’s blog.  Although her grief and loss was different than yours, her emotions and her struggle to move through grief reveal universal aspects. Also, reading may help. Sometimes reading/praying the Psalms every day is helpful as they speak so deeply into human emotion. Other books on loss and grief may help. Engaging in some form of expressive art – coloring mandalas, for example, may be centering and expressive, prayerful.

I hope you are able to take a little time off in the early days of this loss. In time you may find that work helps you. Sometimes engaging in the stuff we do every day enables us to move through grief with a little less of the thickness of despair.  Working reminds us that life goes on, engages us with others who are also suffering, and with those who have moved through to the other side. Sadly there will also be those who do not understand, who are incapable of empathy, lack experience with grief of this nature, and encounters with those people will cause frustration and pain, or perhaps you will just recognize their limitations…. Moving into work is like learning to exercise all over again – we have to remember to take it slow, build up our stamina, strength, and flexibility, until we can work at our old pace. So, when you begin work again, be gentle on yourself, stop when you are fatigued. Give yourself permission to take naps, rest, walk, or whatever is helpful. It’s helpful to remember that grief takes its own time.  I will hold you in prayer.

Muthah, who blogs at, writes:

I am so sorry you are having to deal with this, but it is one of the realities of our lives.  We are both pastors and daughters and we must balance it all.

Six weeks after I began my first parish (1984), my partner blew an aneurysm in the brain.  It was Saturday and I knew I wasn't going to be able to do Sunday services.  I called my board chair and apologized profusely.  He is a wise man and he said to me:  "Don't worry, we are all Christians here.  We can understand what family means."  It startled me.  And it dawned on me then that being a pastor isn't a job--it is being a part of a family.  It wasn't until much later that I found out that both my secretary and my board chair had lost spouses to aneurysms.  Folks can relate and can support you.

Your parish understands the need to be a daughter during this time.  Sit down with your leadership and work out what you HAVE to do, what can be done by others and what you can't do and will need to hire someone to do.  What you will be able to do is witness to them how to deal with severe illness and perhaps hospice.  It will be a part of your congregation's lives too.  If you have a judicatory presence, inform them too but after you have worked it out with your congregation. 

Dying is so much a part of our pastoral lives and people in our congregations often try to ignore it.  When you witness to assisting your father into that life we all wait for, you will be preaching much more than what you will say in the pulpit.  You may have to put some career things on hold but for the most part your people will honor and respect you for this witness.

My prayers will be with you as will be many from this RevGal group.  

And welcome to Crimson Rambler, our newest Matriarch!  She blogs here and writes:

Dear friend,

First of all, let me say how sorry I was to learn of the loss of your father, especially as I realize you were hoping for more time with him and more time to prepare for this change.

You’ve asked us for a “holistic way” to approach your loss, as a person in active ministry, and these are some of the thoughts that occurred to me.

First of all, it’s important to name what you’re experiencing as it happens; some of it to your congregation, although perhaps not all of it—some of it to a trusted confidante such as a spiritual director, possibly a churchwarden, a colleague, or even one of the congregational matriarchs.  In my experience it has been very helpful to arrange some such support in advance, if you can: “I’m going to get a most unwelcome phone call presently, are you at home? Is the kettle on?  Can I impose upon you for a little while after the call has come in?”

As to how we can operate and what we will “do with ourselves” when we are bereaved in the midst of our people – we try to operate as we encourage our congregants to operate through their own losses: attend mercifully to your needs for food, sleep, prayer, domestic routines.  Do as much of your regular work as you can, it can offer a welcome respite from grieving.  Appoint someone, or more than one, to take custody of your calendar, your mail, and your keys -- and whatever other life-support items you’re liable to mislay. 

Encourage your congregation to share their own memories of your father’s ministry and manner – share the grieving – laugh when you can and cry when you must. Avail yourself of the comfort they offer.  Recognize that their lives will return to a normal pattern more promptly than yours will – invite someone to walk with you in the week or two following the funeral, after forty days, on the first anniversary.

One of my colleagues, when his father died, said that at least it prevented him from becoming “inured” to the losses he ministered to in his congregation (large, lots of funerals).   I am not sure whether that thought is helpful, but I offer it.

Please know that you continue in our prayers and in our hearts through this sad time…

Almighty God, your love never fails, and you can turn the shadow of death into daybreak.  Help us to receive your word with believing hearts, so that, confident in your promises, we may have hope and be lifted out of sorrow into the joy and peace of your presence; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen                                                                            Evangelical Lutheran Worship

In life and in the valley of the shadow of death, may we live trusting in God's amazing grace+


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday Festival: A Shared Calling

Today's offering comes from Questing Parson.  Thank you, Parson! 

On a reasonably regular basis, the parson disappears. Well, he doesn't completely disappear, but it might as well be the case. On those scheduled times, a few sentences appear in the Sunday bulletin informing the congregation the pastor will be unavailable on a specific date and, in the case of an emergency, he can only be reached by contacting the Chairperson of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, who has the phone number of the place the parson's hiding. Charlie Brown, the parson's faithful canine companion, is dropped off at the vet's office where he spends the day. The parson then turns off his cell phone and heads toward the small church-related college twenty-five miles from the parson's church.

By mid-morning the parson was settled back in an armchair located in a corner of the library of the small church-related college tucked away in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, book in hand, notebook and pen for notes resting on the chair's arm. The notebook already had scores of pages filled with notations. It was promising to be a good day of study and reflection.

“Excuse me,” she said in a hushed library tone, “you're the Parson, aren't you?”

The parson put the leaned forward, put the book on the coffee table, and said, “I am. Have we met?”

“Yes, we have,” she responded with enthusiasm. “My aunt is Geraldine Powers. I've visited your church with her two times.”

The parson now recognized having seen her at church, talking with her as she left, but for the life of him he couldn't place Geraldine Powers.

“Yes, I remember, how are you? I didn't know you were going to school here?”

“I enrolled in the fall. Since I decided to go into the ministry, I thought it would be better to go to a church school. Besides, I study a lot more here than I did at the university.”

“Well, I'm glad for you,” said the parson. “When did you decide to go into the ministry?”

GlissonChapelShe sat down in the chair which was ninety degrees to hers, then she leaned forward. “It was really a quiet thing. I mean, I didn't hear any voices or anything like that. I was just sitting in a chapel at a youth camp in Dahlonega, where I was on a weekend retreat. Something unusual happened. I just felt like I was in the presence of God and when I left that chapel I was headed for a life in the church.”

“Oh, my goodness,” the parson exclaimed. “I sat in that chapel when I was about your age, too. And here I am.”

“Cool,” she said. “Maybe we should form a 'Called at the Chapel' society.”

“Now, that sounds like a plan,” said the parson. “And from what I've learned over the years there would be a large membership.”

She smiled. She leaned back in her chair. “Can I ask you a serious question, Parson?”

“Sure,” said the parson.

“Why do you keep doing it?”

“Keep doing what?” the parson asked.

“Keep serving the church Sunday after Sunday, week Almost all of them after week?”

“Why do you ask that?” the parson asked.

She seemed to think about her response a moment, then replied, “I just keep getting these doubts. Here I am just six months after knowing I want to be a pastor and I'm having doubts.” She took a deep breath and said, “Look, Parson, since I've been here I've gone to lots of different churches every Sunday. And I've been talking to a lot of pastors. You know what? Almost all of them are frustrated. I just had no idea how many ministers were so upset with the church. Are you?”

The parson took a deep breath. He began to formulate an answer in his mind. But she gave him a reprieve.

“Oh, Parson, I know you're not upset like some people. I mean, goodness, look how long you've been a pastor. I guess that's why I wanted to talk to you. Why do you keep doing it?”

In a split second the parson's mind raced back over the last forty-seven years. In particular he raced back over the last six months. He looked at her. He envisioned her next decade, her ordination, her first church.

“Remember the chapel?” the parson asked.

“I do,” she said.

“That's why,” said the parson. “That's why. There's no other explanation. It's a crazy reason. It's not logical. But it's why I keep going. It's why I'm going to preach next Sunday and make the hospital visits next week. It's why when attendance is an insult I preach anyway; it's why when …. Well, it's why. That chapel in the mountains is why.”

She looked at him a minute. “Do you come here often?”

“I do,” said the parson. “At least once a month.”

“Can we talk again?”

“I'd like that,” said the parson. “I'd like that,” said the parson. “That would help me a lot.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lectionary Leanings~~Is it Tuesday again ALREADY?

Here we go again, starting with an apology from your host for forgetting what day of the week it is. But better late than never, right?

Let's begin with prayer:

Holy and righteous God,
you raised Christ from the dead
and glorified him at your right hand.
Let the words of scripture,
fulfilled in Jesus your Son,
burn within our hearts
and open our minds to recognize him
in the breaking of bread. Amen.

Our readings this week continue the themes of Eastertide: In Acts we hear more about the early church in Jerusalem, focusing on Peter's teaching and admonition to the crowds who have witnessed him healing a lame man in Jesus' name. Our epistle from 1 John reminds us that we are beloved children of God, something I find very comforting.

Luke's gospel features another post-resurrection visit by Jesus. In the penultimate verses of the Gospel Jesus comes reassuring his followers with peace, and reaffirming the reality of his presence by eating with the disciples and allowing them to touch him, reminding them that they are witnesses not only to his life and ministry but also to his death and resurrection.

Where are you headed this week, preachers? Are you in Jerusalem with Peter? Gathered with the disciples waiting for Jesus to appear? Are you going off lectionary for a special observance or "just because?" We're open for your questions, your inspirations, your frustrations, whatever you might be bringing to the table as we make our way through Eastertide.

Monday, April 16, 2012

RevGalBookPals: Still by Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner generously provided many, many copies of her new book, Still, to RevGalBlogPals.

She gave the books with no strings attached, but we are immensely grateful for her generosity.

Many of us have had the book for several weeks now and a few of us (I hope) have gotten around to reading some or all of it.

I found it so conversational that I had trouble putting it down. It felt like I was interrupting her in the middle of a thought. The writing style is unconventional and a little unpolished, but it worked for me for this particular topic from this certain writer. My review of Still is here.

What about you?

Today, let's talk about Still. Post a link to your own review in the comment section. If you are not certain how to write a review, pick out a couple passages that were significant to you and comment on them briefly. Even if your comment is, "This moved me and I'm still figuring out why," someone else may well relate to that experience.

Let us show our appreciation for Winner today by offering up inspiration and thought-provoking questions that came to us through her writing in Still.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prayer for Easter 2B

Resurrection God,
You are the light and you sent your son to shine your light in the darkness of this world.
Lord you know the places and times in our lives that have darkness in us.
You know the dark places and times in this world.
Lord shine your light into the darkness that we may be able to see our way again.

Resurrection God,
We marvel at the Early Church’s unity;
How they loved one another as you loved them,
How they saw to each other’s needs;
And how they cared for each other.
Lord would that we would be like that in our churches.
Empower us with Resurrection Power to be able to be that way.
Breathe your Holy Spirit on us that we too would be of one mind and heart.
Give us the peace you gave the disciples.

Resurrection God,
We admit that we are like Thomas we have our own doubts
And we too want to see and touch you.
We too have more questions than answers
And yet we want to believe.
Pour your blessing on us who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Let your grace fall upon us all.

Cross posted at a place for prayer and rev abi's long and winding road

Doubting Thomas by Jonathan Hilson

Saturday, April 14, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: "The Sunday After" Edition

ConfettiHello to all the preachers who drew the short straw on "Low Sunday"!

You know who you are. 
You didn't schedule a vacation week for the week after Easter.  
Your church isn't mentoring a seminary intern who can "practice preach" this week.
Or, in my case, the Conference Annual Meeting is this weekend at a nearby resort, and our church didn't afford to send me this year.

It's often called "Low Sunday" -- low attendance, low expectations, and maybe even low preacher energy after last week's big blow out.

But no matter.

Like the disciples in the Upper Room, we might not have reason to expect much this weekend, but perhaps that's just when something -- or someone! -- amazing could show up.

As a matter of fact, here YOU are and I am so glad you stopped by today!

Grab a cup of coffee -- it's always fresh, hot, and Fair Trade.  

Share whatever you have brought to the party -- what you are eating, what bothers you or excites you today, what you need prayer for.  

The door is open!  Come right in!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Five: Mission Impossible!

I am in mission trip mode right now, as I get ready to take a group of youth to DC to do service work around hunger and homelessness issues.   So, in that spirit, our FF is Mission Style!  So here are your questions:

1) Have you ever been on a mission trip, as a participant or adult chaperone? What was it like?

2) What is the worst thing that happened to you/your group on a mission trip (or retreat, or camp, or Habitat for Humanity experience, or something like that--hey, this is YOUR Friday Five, so you get to play it how you would like.)

3) If money were no object, where would you want to go to help and serve?  What would you do?

4) What would be your advice to someone who will be sleeping in a gym with 20 other people for a week?

5) Any parting thoughts, stories, or questions you have around the whole theme of Mission Trips?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - About Patriarchs and Matriarchs

This week's question comes from one of our ring-members who pastors a smaller congregation...

Many church studies point to small churches having a matriarch and/or patriarch in the congregation. This person can be a great help or may also serve as a gatekeeper.  My current call is a church with membership under 100 and in an agricultural community.  I've been listening and watching to see who serves this "unofficial" role in the congregation.  From all my reading this person tends to a long time member, perhaps a generational member, and it active in the church.  

Here's the deal:  We have a patriarch who is 33 years old.  This person's mother played the organ for years before dying of cancer.  He is the only "youngish"  person active in the congregation.  (His wife...not so much...she is currently on our session but said yes out of guilt or pressure by her husband).  I think other members do not want to make "Elmer" mad since he is the only younger person who is they defer to whatever "Elmer" wants.

An additional rub:  Elmer was on the committee that called me and we just do not click.  Elmer was quite enamored with the previous pastor and I still hear about all the previous pastor did.  I know Elmer struggles with my theology...let's just say we are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  

Has anyone else run into a situation like this?  Any pointers for navigating these waters?  

From Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart

My experience is that folks who have a hard time making room for a new pastor because they’ve had a significant relationship with the previous pastor are waiting to be noticed/needed/understood by the new pastor. Are you getting to know Elmer and his wife? Are you reaching out to them? Oftentimes theological differences can be weathered if there’s a mutual respect and a relationship of care and concern.
You sound sensitive to and observant within your current call. That’s great! I think it would make a lot of sense to spend some quality time with Elmer and perhaps his wife, too. Listen to them, learn from them in order to understand what they love and care about. Do you need their help with any particular projects or ministries? Enlist them. See what you can learn together—they need to get to know you, as well.

From the Vicar of Hogsmeade
Gatekeepers come in all shapes and sizes -- and ages. Whomever has "veto" power, whomever must be kept happy is probably a gatekeeper. But gatekeepers can also have the power to "rally the troops."

Try to build bridges where you can and leave the "hot" spots alone as much as you can. Look for ways you can show appreciation for him or show support for things he cares about. He probably talks about the previous pastor because he felt important to the previous pastor. He doesn't have to become your buddy. But you don't need him to be your enemy. People with very different theologies can work together for the good of the church. If he knows he has value to you regardless of his theology, you are more likely to be able to work together for the good of the church.

My experience of rural communities is that the overlap from church and community is huge. I was a very active LION in several small communities because all of the gatekeepers for the community and all the churches were there. I gained credibility and built relationships because I showed that I cared about the things that were important to them. In my small, rural churches they couldn't see any difference between LIONS club broom sales to help the blind and church service projects/special offerings. So when I helped with their "favorite" things, they were more likely to go along with my "church/Jesus" things.

What does Elmer do outside of the church? Are there any community projects he's involved in that you can support? 4H, FFA, Scouts Where can the church build bridges with the community where Elmer is already involved? Can he help the church reach out to other young people? Can you work together to "rally the troops" and move beyond the walls of the church building to other young people in the community?

From Terri - blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice

Matriarch's and Patriarchs come in all ages. Their role is part of the DNA of the congregation and someone(s) is going to be that person(s). As one who is relatively new to that system, the Pastor needs to align herself with the Patriarch/matriarch, for nothing will be accomplished without the blessing of that person (s). It is very common for this person to serve on the call committee - to have some vision of how they think the new pastor will be, and their role in directing the new Pastor.

It is most helpful if the Pastor can set aside her own hopes and dreams for the congregation (for awhile) and learn to work with the Patriarch/Matriarch. No doubt this is challenging when the theology of each are polar opposites. But ultimately the theology of the Pastor should not be imposed on the congregation, even though it is also the responsibility of the Pastor to help the congregation grow in understanding. The Pastor's job is to tend to the dying, baptize new members, lead worship on Sunday. That is how this kind of system works. And if the Pastor does not play by the rules the Pastor loses.

Theoretically it takes five years for the Pastor to accrue enough relationship clout to make any significant headway into the system. That is, if the Pastor can stick it out long enough. Many do not.

So, in terms of the theory it may take you five years to get any steam. In the meantime you need to do everything you can to build relationship with the Patriarch. If you can't do that then you need to bide your time until you can search for a new call.

Now, how to build relationship? Seek his counsel. Make suggestions to him first.  Learn how he makes decisions and what it takes for him to support you. Do things like the old Pastor did, as you are able. Honor the voice of the one he admires...until that alliance moves from the old Pastor to you.

With a couple of other parishioners (those whom you like and who seem supportive of you) take he and his wife out for lunch or dinner...or in some way be social. Build relationship.

Over time, if possible, send him to conferences and learning opportunities that align with your theology - let others tell him the same thing you understand. If sending him someplace is not affordable or possible, try engaging him (and others) in book studies. Again, let other voices lead the way so you can remain neutral while working to build the relationship.

And then, find someone you can talk too - someone not in the system in anyway - from another denomination or whatever, but someone who can be either a spiritual director to guide you while you work through this. Or someone who can be a consultant/coach, someone who understands clergy/congregation systems. And, invest in some leadership books from the Alban Institute on small church leadership.

If he is a healthy person, and if the system is healthy, they will come along and in time you can be the kind of Pastor you hope to be. Five years seems an eternity, but in the history of a church it's nothing. And, certainly you want to maintain your integrity so that you can leave with dignity or stay with enough authority to feel as if you are an integral part of the system. Only time will let you know which is possible.

Small churches can be really wonderful places. Like a family, one where you know and love all the people - even with their foibles and idiosyncrasies. They can also be clergy killers. I pray yours will be wonderful. I will pray for you.

From Muthah+

Dear Small church pastor,
I had a similar situation in which the previous patriarch had basically chosen his successor, the local bank manager, which caused all kinds of difficulties at a time when farm foreclosure was rampant.

I must admit it was the bank manager's wife who was the real trouble maker but I won't go there....

You are not going to shake your patriarch.  If you are over 50 ASA, I would say that you can ease into becoming the "PASTOR" of a pastoral sized church.  If not, I would suggest that you continue to be the chaplain to the people as best you can.

A rule of thumb:  If you do your job by pastoring your seniors and visiting the home bound and preaching, your naysayers will give up and find that you are not the previous pastor.  Your 'patriarch' will not be able to discount you if you are ministering to the seniors who need the care.  Try not to go against your leader but offer an alternative to those who might appreciate a different way of looking at their faith.  If he draws a line in the sand, just don't engage.  That non-anxious presence will provide you with ways of dealing with members who do want to hear your message.  Whatever you do, DO NOT SHOW your anger at the patriarch!  Yell at people outside of the church (not in the community), kick a can, do something other than get frustrated with your patriarch.

Slowly you will be inviting new members into the congregation.  It will be interesting to see if one of your senior members steps up to the plate to welcome them.  Then you will know if you voice is being heard.  

And from Martha, blogging at Reflectionary

I can understand why people don't want to offend Elmer. If he is the only member of the younger generation showing an interest in keeping the church going, he is important to them. He may not see eye to eye with you, and he may not see eye to eye with other church members, but if there is an actual conflict, church members will ask themselves, "Who is going to be here longer, Pastor or Elmer?"

So first, I would pray. That sounds obvious. But one of the most effective methods of coping with the people who get in my face has been praying for them and about them. I pray to understand that person better, I pray to like that person (if possible), I pray to love that person on behalf of Jesus and I pray to be sensitive to the ways in which that person contributes in a positive way to the church's life. If that person has a spouse or children or parents, I pray for them, too.

And second, I would do my job extremely well, with a focus on the things that (1) people can see -- worship leadership and sermons, in particular and (2) things to which Elmer pays attention. If he is interested in the budget, I would make sure to understand that well and let other people see that I am accomplished in that area. If he is interested in having older folks visited, I would make sure my visiting strategy is as well-known as possible without being overly revealing of people's personal information. Just being able to read and explain the budget has scored me points with various Elmers of varying ages, people who might not agree with me on other things but who see that I take an interest in the area of church life that concerns them most. If they're that important in the life of the church, their interest often is in a thing that matters for the health of the community.

This is not the same thing as deferring to Elmer or Bob...or Jeanette, for that matter. Don't defer to keep the peace. Excel at the things that matter in your context, not to please Elmer, but to be fierce and fabulous for Jesus.

Want to join the conversation?  Please, don't let us stop you!  Post your comments below.

May you live in God's amazing grace+