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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Funerals for Free?

Dear Matriarchs,

Is it customary to give the pastor an honorarium for funerals?  Most of my pastor friends receive some compensation for the work they put into that.  However, where I am-- it seems to be just a given that the pastor does funerals for anybody who needs them--even if they haven't been a member of the church for 30 years.  Families will gladly pay any musicians. (Including my husband who sang at a service for a church member a few months ago-- paid him a nice sum and told me "Thanks so much! That was such a lovely service." Umm...he spent 15 minutes getting ready for that.  I spent nearly 15 hours by time it was all said and done.)  Now, I've just learned that a family who came to our church years ago wishes to have a memorial service on Saturday.  Not only is that adding to my work week considerably (especially since I'm a one-woman band-- no secretary or anything) and taking up one of my days off, but the family is out of town and thus is not working with a local funeral home.  The family seems to be under the impression that I am a funeral director who is happy to make calls to arrange for bagpipes and musicians as well as working out the military honors with whomever does that.  And they would also like me to be available on Friday (my other day off) to receive flower deliveries.  "You only live two doors down from the church, right?  Can I give them your cell phone number for deliveries?"  I have set boundaries and indicated that I would not be in town to receive flowers and have given them numbers where they might make arrangements for bagpipes.  However, I am feeling taken advantage of-- and am getting generally grouchy about the matter.  I recognize that it is to late to handle this situation by asking for an honorarium, but I would like to be proactive in the future and have a policy in place--especially since my church does not.  I'm not as grouchy about people that are active members of my church, but the expectation that I am happy to do funerals for people I've never met because they once came to our church seems a bit ridiculous to me.  I would appreciate any wisdom you have to offer!

Fuming in Fayetteville

First, from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart:

If you have a governing body, like a council or a Session or a vestry, do get them involved in formulating a policy that feels acceptable to all. Would the fee be the same for members vs. non-members? Is there a difference in the fee if you’re conducting the funeral from the church or at the graveside or a funeral home?

Good stuff for a group to talk over, I’d say.  

With a policy in place, you can offer the policy up front to folks who need your services.

Best to you

From Martha, blogging at Reflectionary

When you say "where I am," do you mean in your church? Or are there other pastors in town not being paid? An honorarium for the pastor is absolutely customary in my area. Occasionally I hear of pastors who always give the money to the church, but most modestly paid colleagues--which is to say most colleagues--don't do that. (A predecessor in my first call told me that he was always grateful for the way a funeral would come just when both his boys needed new gym shoes!)

The easiest way to determine local trends is by asking the funeral directors in your area what their "usual and customary" honorarium for the pastor is. My church has a rate sheet on file with the funeral homes, and in the event we end up working with someone other than our two "usuals," I have a copy to send out via mail or email. This includes what the musicians are paid, and the Sexton, and what it costs to rent the hall for a reception after the service, and what it costs to use the Sanctuary and the services of the pastor for a non-member funeral. 

It's fairly typical in this area that church members do not need to pay to use the sanctuary, and I used to say the same about my services for church members. An experience with a demanding family made me fume, too (I didn't have to find a bagpiper, but there were other frustrations). I didn't like being upset about it when they paid everyone except me, but I was. After complaining to everyone appropriate who would listen, and getting the feedback that it was not unreasonable to be upset, I changed the policy. I also raised my rate to match the usual and customary for the up-market town in one direction instead of the downward-trending town in the other (a difference of $50). If a church member's family really couldn't afford the extra expense, I would be likely to know that and would of course gladly waive the fee. 

I have concluded that some people will believe our services are worth nothing if we don't ask for something, and they will then treat us accordingly. 

In your corner,

From Dorcas, who blogs at The Owl’s Song

I absolutely agree that it seems a bit ridiculous to expect that you would be happy to do a “free funeral” for someone who came to church once upon a time.  An honorarium is absolutely expected.  I discovered the hard way (some really difficult funerals and crazy family) that I had to come up with guidelines for funerals.  (Weddings too, for that matter.)  What I thought was common knowledge apparently wasn’t, and after receiving nothing but a thank you, or maybe not even that much, I came up with a set of guidelines that specified that an honorarium was expected (I gave a range of $50 to $150).  But I also included other things.  For example, I reserved the right to review musical selections, etc.  And no photographs during the service.  That one got added after a cousin came up to the open casket during the service and snapped a flash photo.    I’m very flexible about that sort of thing, but there are limits and many people these days seem to have no idea that certain things, songs, etc.  are just not appropriate in some settings.  Anyway, when contacted about doing a funeral, particularly for someone I did not know, it doesn’t take long for me to say, “I do have guidelines I’d like to send.  This is a difficult time to make decisions, and having some things clear in advance will likely make it easier on everyone.”  Hopefully most people at least have email so you can attach it and it can be quicker that way.  I also gave a copy to the local funeral directors who sometimes called for a family looking for clergy.

And from Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness 

As I get older and know that someone will have to do my funeral at some point, I am listening closely to your comments.  I am to be buried in the graveyard of my first church and I will have been gone from there for years. So this is rather an important issue for me too.

There are several things that you can do to help yourself:
·  Check with your lay leadership and explain the amount of time you are putting into the funerals and discuss what kind of remuneration you should receive.  Then they can support you as you put into place some good guidelines for your congregation.  And most likely they will use them long after you leave.
·  When you meet with the family, you should provide them with the cost of the funeral--the use of the building, the the bulletin prep., the time of those who prepare the sanctuary, those who clean up afterwards and those who do the flowers etc.  Have a little tri-fold on "Funerals at St. Swithen"  For out of town folks, send them an e-copy of the pamphlet.  Your fee should be just a part of what the parish should receive for having the funeral in the parish.
·  You should also have a funeral/wedding committee or altar prep group of lay folks who make it their ministry to do such things as receiving the flowers and preparing the church for the funeral. That should never be the pastor's responsibility.
·  Talk with your funeral home directors.  I was in small town ministry and I worked with the funeral directors and they often gave me the check for those who were not regular members of the parish or from out of town.  I would tell them a fair amount for the preparation that I did and they then negotiated my fee.  I was in one town, though, that I didn't trust the funeral director.  So you need to know your territory.  The people in your town or city know who the honest guys are.  So do other clergy in your area.
·  It was understood that members in good standing of the parish did not need offer an honorarium and that was fine with me.
·  You are always going to get stiffed by a minority--I don't know why people think they can get away with it.  But I have found that when I make my expectations known, someone will mention it to the family.  People who are not church folks do not know how much planning a funeral takes.  They truly think we can do it out of our hip pockets--or they have no notion of how we are paid.  
·  If you are in a large parish where the business model is normal for your parish, you could send them a bill.  But first talk to those around you to see what the going rate is and what is the local norm. 
·  I was in the North for much of my career and throughout the winter internment was separated from the actual funerals and so all of those internments had to be done usually before Memorial Day.  I always had to find a way that my Saturdays were clear the weekends in May so that I could get those done.  
There will always be some funerals where you don't want to receive payment.  Just let the family know that this is your gift to them given whatever circumstance it was.  I often did funerals for the poor in our communities for nothing simply because the cost of the funeral home was often more than they could handle.  

I am sorry you were ignored at this funeral.  You aren't the first and won't be the last and it will happen enough times in your ministry for you to notice just how people who are not part of the congregation respect the clergy.  It is one of the down sides of doing this work--but at the same time it is often at those service that people find the Church after being away for years.  I always felt that the ministry expended always came back to me or the congregation some how even if I personally wasn't paid.  

Now it's your turn...share your experiences, insights, suggestions below.  And then help fill up the question queue again.  Send your ??? to us here.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Festival: More Musings on Ministry

Robin at Metanoia has been musing about ministry from the position of a newly ordained pastor.  Here's the most recent installment. 
This morning The Questing Parson writes about an encounter with a young almost-pastor and his counsel to her with respect to her first assignment, for which she has grand hopes of growth in numbers.  “Slow the decline and then work on increasing the membership.”
Last Sunday, as occasionally happens, a visitor new to our church made a complimentary remark as to the accuracy of what she had heard about me.  As I thanked her, I looked around wondering, "So where is everyone?"  Word of mouth has not translated into numbers.  Not, I realize, that the numbers are about me.  And I'm trying to focus on depth rather than breadth, something which has been noticed (without prodding from me) by our leadership ~ but, naturally, I am aware of the quantitative element.

Meanwhile, my friend Michelle, who is chemistry professor and contemplative, and a published writer on both, is developing a writer's website.  I've just posted a comment on her FB page, stating that "I love the juxtaposition of the worn and battered composition books with the technology of the site -- reflective of your unique personal blend of contemplative and chemist. It evokes both Marie Curie and Thomas Merton gone contemporary in venue. (And you may recall that my 11th grade writing teacher instructed us that we were forbidden to use the word "unique" unless it applied, which situation was highly unlikely to occur. Here, finally, it does.)"
And now I ponder the connection, a matter which I've begun to process only recently.

Back in my Methodist (Questing Parson's milieu) days, I was a young attorney, struggling to make sense of the demands of my profession  in the context of a new and wobbly Christian faith.   In retrospect, it's clear that I had embarked, determinedly but without guidance, on a path toward a contemplative orientation.  Even when I asked as directly as I could (and I hasten to clarify that I did not know how to articulate the questions I had  or what it was that I was seeking), no assistance was forthcoming from pastors or congregational leaders.

I find myself wondering more and more frequently whether, if someone had been able to point the way, I would still be both a Methodist and a practicing attorney.  If I had been able to integrate both dimensions of my life, would I now be sharing my legal expertise as a leader in the United Methodist Church,  as does a Presbyterian friend with great generosity and care, and offering retreats and spiritual direction to my professional colleagues, as does a Catholic lawyer I know?

And what, exactly, is the connection between depth versus breadth and offering a doorway into the contemplative life in the context of the everyday?  I know; it seems obvious.  But in practice, a good deal more difficult than it looks.

I have been ordained exactly seven months today.  I suppose I am not required to have it all figured out yet.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- How does 1+1+1=1? Edition

Well that clears it up....
Let us start with an old prayer -- an excerpt from St. Patrick's Breastplate:
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Or here is the whole prayer in chant form (as seems most fitting):

This week is Trinity Sunday.  And I am SO thankful to not be preaching. I remember many years ago reading a story about a gentleman who rarely went to church on Easter Sunday but always went on Trinity Sunday.  Why?  Because he knew that most preachers could do a passable job of the Resurrection but always wanted to see how the preacher could explain the totally unexplainable (or incomprehensible) doctrine of the Trinity.

At any rate, the readings for Trinity Sunday Year B are here.

 On this Sunday do you choose to preach the doctrine or do you choose to preach one of the passages?  Certainly there is a sermon to be found in Isaiah's vision?  ANd many sermons could come from the Nicodemus story [is it just me or does John 3 show up far too often in the lectionary cycle?].

Where are you headed this Trinity Sunday?  Is it possible to explain the Trinity in one sermon?  Maybe it helps if, like St. Patrick did in legend, you have a helpful 3 leafed plant to pick on as an illustration....

{PS: I have heard it suggested that the math for the Trinity is not so much 1+1+1=1 as 1*1*1=1 -- which at least has the value of being a logical mathematical statement}

RevGalBookPals: Any Day A Beautiful Change

Today we review Any Day a Beautiful Change, a new book by ring member Katherine Willis Pershey, whose blog has the same title. See the end of the review for a chance to win a free copy!

I am not a young clergywoman, and so possibly not the intended audience for Katherine Willis Pershey's small but powerful memoir.  And I will admit, I approached her book with some fear and trembling.  Though I read many memoirs, I have avoided sometimes those that have dealt much with motherhood and ministry, a combination I have yearned for but have not been able to experience.  Yet I'm glad I read this book, because Katherine Willis Pershey is not afraid to tell the truth.

She tells the truth about her own life, about the challenges of life in a tiny parish, and how the members there supported her.  She tells the truth about her courtship and marriage, about the specific challenges that she and her husband faced, and in those I think all of us can recognize our own challenges when we have tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to navigate the terrain of ministry marriage. 

What I am most impressed with is that she doesn't spare herself.  She tells the truth about her own missteps; she extends grace to herself as well as others.  And she carefully weaves throughout her story the stories of Scripture.

I was particularly moved by her chapter, "Saved by the Childbearing."  She considers one of the most difficult passages of Scripture in terms of her own experience of becoming a mother, and navigates through both the Scripture passage and the early days back in her church.  In closes, she muses that though she exegeted one particular passage, "Saved by THE childbearing," meaning, saved by the One born fully human and fully divine, she considers another truth later on:

"though it seems an affront to my feminism and my faith, it's true:  I am one woman who has been saved -- at least in part -- by childbearing.  Not just the childbearing that Mary undertook to bring the newborn Christ into the world, but the childbearing I did to bring the newborn Juliette into the world.  Her birth opened something in me, and while that opening is a magnet for fear -- and oh, what a risk it is to love so completely-- it is also an invitation to greater faith, love, and holiness." (p.47.)

To me, the close of her book does not seem to be an ending, but more a "to be continued..."  At the conclusion of her book, she is setting out from California to Illinois, with her husband, a two-year-old, and a new call, and more new and unexpected life.  There is more beautiful change in store.

But like the close of the book of Acts, perhaps the ending is an invitation to each of us to consider our own unfinished lives and ministries, and how the tasks and relationships that God has called us to make us the people that we are.

What are your insights, thoughts, and experiences upon reading this book?  Let us know what you thought, what moved you, what caused you to wonder.

Chalice Press provided a free copy of this book for review; no promises were made to the author or reviewer in exchange. Chalice Press is also offering a free copy of "Any Day A Beautiful Change" to a follower of RevGalBlogPals. To be entered in the drawing leave a comment here or reply to a RevGalBookPals' post on our Facebook page or group, or send us an @ response on Twitter. The deadline for commenting is 9 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday, May 29. The winner will be determined using a random number generator. Many thanks to Chalice and to Katherine Willis Pershey!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Prayer: Pentecost

(bonfire at the BE 2.0, photo by Terri)

Holy and Gracious God, we give you thanks for
family, friends, life, love - for
All the blessings (name blessings and thanksgivings)
you have bestowed upon us.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of our Mothers and Fathers, your desire for
us leads the way, may we have
the ears to hear the cries of this world -
responding with Your hope.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer.

Compassionate One, fill us with your love that we
may see deeply into all the needs
around us, (name the hurts, needs, and hope you are carrying)
help us to care with Your heart.

In Your mercy, hear our prayer.

May Your love, Your grace, Your compassion,
Your mercy, carry us away, this day
and lead us with love
to be Your hands and heart in the world.

Friday, May 25, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: On Fire Edition

It's here!  It's here!  PENTECOST is finally here!  Can I get an "Amen"?

If you were suffering through the Easter lectionary like I was, you are ready like I am for a big ol' tongues of fire, rushing wind, out-pouring of languages Pentecost celebration!  I am so ready.

Too bad hardly anyone will be there to celebrate with me.  Ho hum.  I hope our gals and pals in the non-US parts of the world will have sanctuaries bursting with excitement and Spirit.

What sorts of sermons and creative ideas are brewing?  The options seem endless for children's sermons even.

We had a lot of fire burning at my church this week leading up to Pentecost, but in a good way. We held a fundraiser by smoking 8-10 lb pork "butts" (some people call them shoulders, but this other name was WAY more fun to say in church for the last 6 weeks) for folks who had ordered and prepaid.  My husband and another man spent 48 hours at the church around the clock tending fires and cooking 110 roasts for 12-16 each over 4 grills.  They were awesome.  Others spent time, too.  The wind-spirit carried the smell throughout the neighborhood.  The flame cooked the meat.  The money will re-stock our benevolence account so that we can continue to serve our neighbors in need.  Definitely a sign of life, spirit-life reaching out beyond the too-often insulated community of our church. 

Where's the Spirit carrying you this weekend?  How is the Spirit equipping you and your church for where you will be sent?

Join the party in the comments.  It will be a wonderful weekend!

Inspirations Friday Five.

Very quickly;  this week

1. What has encouraged you?

2. What has inspired you?

3. What has challenged you?

4. What has made you smile?

5. What has brought a lump to your throat or a tear to you eye in a good way?

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, May 24, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Facilitating Studies Online

Summertime can be a challenging time to gather people in person around a Bible or other book study.  Our sister brings an idea for a Facebook group bible study, and would like to hear from some of us who have had some experience with this means of interaction.

Somewhere, sometime during Lent an idea was posted in the comments section of RevGals...about starting a FB group bible study.  Intrigued, I made a mental note to myself to file this away.  Now, as summertime approaches I am wondering about doing something like this for summer.  Here is what I am working with.

1.  Very few people in the congregation are on FB.
2.  The church does not have a FB page.
3.  I do have a FB page.
4.  I made the decision to include parishioners if they friended me...I won't post anything on FB that I would not say in a public space.
5.  One of our very few younger working women has expressed an interest in a bible study which does not meet at night or during work hours.

Here is what I am thinking/pondering/asking:
1.  What has been the experience of those who have done this?
2.  Any unforeseen pitfalls that occured?
3.  I could see some of our "very interested (read nosy, gossipers) signing up just to "keep tabs"...not with the intent of participating.  Am I being overly concerned there?
4.  This has the potential to reach those who do not attend, not members, but are social media types

I realize perhaps not a typical AtM...but I always glean so much wisdom from the "M's" and other who comment.   Thanks.

Martha, who blogs at Reflectionary, has some experience using social media in this manner…

I tried adding a blog component to a Bible Study last fall, but I found writing up the topics of the day after teaching the class was more of a time commitment than I could make. It took over an hour to write an adequate blog post, and after spending 90 minutes in the class itself, I had to move on to other things. I feel badly, because one of our younger working moms was reading it and left some comments.

If I were going to do an online Bible Study for church via Facebook, I would use the closed group option. A group is great because all those subscribed get notifications of activity, so there are prompts to keep up. A closed group means people can't stop by just to snoop. They have to be *in* the group. 

The drawback of the closed group, obviously, is it's not an effective outreach tool unless you have another page from which to promote it and invite people. And if, as you point out, there aren't many church folks on Facebook, it may not be the best "setting." Like any other church activity, social media requires critical mass to feel like a thing that's actually happening.

Hope this helps.

Kathryn adds:
I have been involved in both the congregations that have a fb presence and those who do not. I'm not sure I would use a Bible study as a reason to get people on fb. There are challenges with a congregation that expects fb to be used as a communication tool (how come you didn't see that my status update said that my grandmother died?). Also, do you want to be the one teaching  fb etiquette to the social media newbies?

What if you started something with the folks that are already on there? Or if you did a blog instead of running it through fb. Would it be live chat for a certain period of time during the week or would it be a post with folks free to comment through the week?

Okay, now to answer the questions you actually asked... :)
1) The attempt at a FB Bible study didn't take. We are now building a blog following and that has been easier to maintain.
2) The way folks filter their newsfeeds made it so some folks missed what was going on inadvertently. Also, we had folks join fb that should never have been on fb.
3) No. You are not being overly concerned there.
4) Maybe. For your situation you'll need to do a 'work smarter, not harder' analysis. If it does build some steam, but no one in your church notices, does it become something you are doing in your free time? And is it worth that free time?

Looking forward to reading the other answers as well. I'm sure someone has pulled it off effectively! Blessings upon your ministry!

Earthchick, blogging at earthchicknits,  also has some experience with this type of study:

I started a Lenten study group on Facebook this past Ash Wednesday, and it ended up being a really wonderful experience. I did it almost on a whim, after reading one of the RevGal comments about this sort of thing right before Lent. I created it as a "Closed" Group - meaning anyone could join (though I had to approve their membership) but that no one outside the group could see what any of us wrote. It felt safest to me that way.

25 people joined the group. Of that group, roughly a third of those had no official connection to our congregation (with the bulk of those being people who don't live in the area but know of either me or our church somehow); another third were people on the fringes of our congregation (either very sporadic attenders or brand-new to the congregation); and the final third was made up of active church members. Two of the people who participated were former congregants who no longer live in the area, one fringe member who participated was someone who is hearing impaired - for these three people, the Facebook group made involvement in the congregation possible in a way that it hadn't been before. Of the 25 people in the group, the most active participants (judged by regular comments) by far were those who are on the fringes of congregational life and those who have no official connection to our church - it was quite surprising, really. 

So to your fourth question, YES, doing something like this has the potential to reach a whole sector of people your congregation might not otherwise reach. As long as your goal isn't necessarily to turn those Facebook participants into people in the pews, then it's great. For me, this effort was an experiment with a goal of helping connect people to each other and to God in meaningful ways beyond the walls of church, without concern for whether or not they had (or would have) official affiliation with our church. I believe it accomplished this goal, and to a greater degree than I anticipated.

What I also didn't anticipate was how much time and effort it would require from me. With the pace of social media as it is, I felt the need to post something every day. That was great in the beginning of Lent, when I had a lot of energy and ideas, but towards the end, it was feeling a little overwhelming. On the whole, though, I felt the effort was worth it, and I felt like the experience helped me grow spiritually and relationally as well. It was really great to get to connect to people in this way, and I would highly encourage you to give it a try.

Can you offer some insights based on your experience?  Or do you have more questions than answers?  As one who is planning to facilitate a book study this summer in real time and via blog, I am interested to hear more.

May you live in God's amazing grace+

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Festival: The Value of Girls

Today's post leads to an extensive discussion in the comments at Reflectionary. Join in the conversation at Martha's place, won't you?

I’ve been writing vignettes about my past, and there are more to come, as I try to reach a deeper understanding of myself and how I got to be the age I am without figuring out sooner that I’m not straight  (in case, gentle reader, you hadn’t caught on to that part, on which there is more to come.) I thought I was pretty much the last girl raised with the post-Victorian genteel Southern attitudes I like to blame for my late epiphany, but I’m discovering that women considerably younger than I am and raised in very different social settings internalized the same ideas about how their value derived from the attention of men.
My friend,Lia, said it would be good to have a discussion about it, in longer phrases than the 140 character limit allowed by Twitter, so here we are.

Living the dream: yours truly as a bride, dancing with her father, 10/8/83.

Some questions to get us started:
  • What was your socio-economic and geographic setting when you were growing up?
  • What were the expectations for you?
  • Who told you what value and success might look like for a woman?
  • Was that success wrapped up in attention from men?
  • Were there definitions of what kind of attention was appropriate?
  • Was there cognitive dissonance? (In other words, did you hear one thing and see another?)
  • Was there an a-ha moment suggesting there was something wrong with the whole social construction?
  • And since I’m reading “The Purity Myth,” did virginity form part of the definition of your value?
  • And how about marriage?
  • Do your past and/or current understandings of sexual orientation (yours and others) form part of the subtext of this conversation?
  • What’s your basis for valuing yourself now?
I look forward to your thoughts and stories and hope you’ll share them here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Fire and Tongues and Dry Bones--OH MY! Edition

What would we do now?
We open with prayer (prayer from this liturgy site)
Call to Worship
L: The Day of Pentecost is here:
P: the day when the flames of faith dance in our hearts.
L: The Day of Pentecost is here:
P: the day when our babbling speech becomes the Good News for the world.
L: The Day of Pentecost is here:
P: the day when compassion is seared into our souls.
L: The Day of Pentecost is here:
P: let the people of God rejoice. Alleluia!

Prayer of the Day
L: Spirit of the Living God, dance with us on this day.
P: Come, Whirlwind of Wonder!
L: Sing to the groaning of creation.
P: Come, still small voice of Hope!
L: Enflame us with your passion for justice.
P: Come, Liberator of the Least!
L: Purify us of our grasping greediness.
P: Come, Advocate of selfless living!
L: Silence our gossiping tongues.
P: Come, Harmony of God's Heart!
L: Wind of God, blow through us; Fire of God, burn within us;
Tongue of God, speak to us on this day of renewal and birth, even as we pray as Jesus teaches us,
Our Father . . .

The Readings for the Festival of Pentecost in Year B (with all their varied options) can be found here

PRophesy to them bones!
Part of me is tempted to ask the Ezekiel question "Can these Bones live????" as the intro to the sermon this year.  On my bad days that is the question I want to ask the institutional church.  On my really bad days I hunch the answer is a resounding NO!  Then again I suspect that is the answer Ezekiel had at first as well...

 Then there is the quintessential Pentecost reading from Acts.  As always I find it hard to deal with a  story we read Every. Single Year.  But still the drama, the power of wind and fire, the extreme possibility of new life!!!!  Somehow it hits me more on Pentecost than on Easter.  (Full Disclosure:  In my mind Pentecost is 2nd only to Easter in the running for the most important festival of the Christian year, eclipsing all others by a magnitude of 10)

And then my mind turns to the creation groaning.  Groaning for what?  What is being born?  Do we know?  Paul suggests not, or at least we don't know well enough to pray for it.

Maybe when we have embraced the "Spirit of Truth" (of course a few pages later Pilate asks the very pertinent question "What is Truth?") we will know if the bones can live, we will know what is being born....or maybe we will still keep striving blindly, sometimes hitting the mark, sometimes going way wide.

As a Sunday School teacher 20 years ago I was one of those who used the "birthday of the church" imagery for this Festival.  I know why we used it, why we still use it from time to time, but I am not always sure it strikes right on the head.  Unless by birthday we aren't talking about an anniversary but those labour pains PAul talks about in Romans.  Not celebrating what happened long ago but what is happening here and now in surprising ways and places....even in a valley of dried out bones.

Certainly that might preach?

Where are you heading this Festival week?

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 Big Event 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."
  • Session One -- The Word Became Flesh (remembering our childlike wonder & playfulness with words)
  • Session Two -- Word Mandalas (creatively exploring the breadth of words)
  • Session Three -- Foolish Questions (using humor to "break the ice" with church-y language)
  • Session Four -- In Our Own Words (lifting up our own writers' voices in prayers and psalms)
  • Session Five -- Women of Few Words (drafting our words for the upcoming Lenten season)
BE 6.0 will take place on a 5 night Bahamas cruise on Carnival Fascination 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. The cost for an oceanview berth will be $500; for an interior berth, $450. This includes a registration fee. 

Please email RevGalBlogPals for a registration form and brochure containing payment details.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Prayer: Easter 7B

In peace, let us pray to the One, Holy and Gracious God.
Oh God, you know what is in the heart of everyone,
We pray especially -
For all people in their daily life and work;
For our families, friends, and neighbors,
For those who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of God,
For those who are alone
For those who are unemployed
For those who are struggling.
be with these we pray for, that your joy may be in all.

For this community, the nation, and the world;
that all may live with justice and equality
that God's joy will be in our hearts
and the hearts of all
and God's joy will be complete.

For the just and proper use of God's creation;
Because you, Oh God, know what is in the heart of everyone,
We pray especially for -
those who suffer from hunger, fear, war, violence,
oppression and for
those who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;
May we be your hands of compassion,
and your heart of love.

For the special needs and concerns of this community.

For all the blessings of our lives.

May your joy be in us,
May we share your joy in all we do
and in so doing, may your joy be complete.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: Can I Grab Your Attention? edition

One afternoon, while running errands, my husband and I saw this peculiar looking goose/duck. Apparently it lives with a group of other water fowl, primarily ducks, along a waterway that runs through town. The bird is an attention catcher.

Our readings this week grabbed my attention. First I have wondered about the democratic sounding text from Acts - the methodical manner in which the disciples choose the one who was to replace Judas. No one was grumbling about the terrible thing Judas did, just a simple - "Judas turned aside to go to his own place..." and so a replacement was needed. I'm finishing a sermon series this week, but if I were preaching on the text it is unlikely I'd choose this portion of Acts.

I might, however, preach on 1 John, and what it means to "have life." Or the Gospel and what it means to "be known." Life and being known, as God gives life, and God knows.

Well. Maybe.

So, what has grabbed your attention? What is stirring in your thoughts as you prepare to preach? Do you have a good idea that excites you? Or are you struggling to break open the word this week?

Where ever you are in the sermon-writing process, we are here, paying attention, and offering any support we can. I have some delicious fresh cherries, a couple of papaya, and some fresh brewed espresso. (Or coffee or tea, your pick).

Pull up a chair, what can I get for you?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Five: Pests

After lots of rain and high temperatures, the flea population has mushroomed in Corpus Christi, TX, more specifically in our home! We have three dogs and one indoor cat, who have had their monthly flea treatments to no avail. Unfortunately, my female body is the one the fleas love to bite. So as you are reading this FF, our pets and ourselves will be gone from the house for 3-4 hours, after a pest company sprays all the floors.

With fleas on my mind and on my body, here is an insect-ious Friday Five:

1.What kinds of pests are in your neighborhood or area?

2. Is there a time of year or day that increases their activity? Weather affects their activity or not?

3. Is there any pest that was new to you when you moved to a new location?

4. How do you treat insect bites? Are you allergic to any?

5. Anything else you want to write about connected with insects/pests.

Have fun! If you play, post a comment on this post with a link to your blog!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Interfaith Marriage and Parenting

It’s wedding season…and our first wedding question of the season!

I have my very first couple to walk through the premarital requirements of the Episcopal church.  They are a thoughtful late-20s couple, both professional.  One is Christian, one is Hindu.  Both sets of parents are still married and both are very supportive.  I will perform the Christian marriage on a Saturday.  There will be a Hindu marriage on Sunday.  All bodes well, I think.

The couple would like to talk about strategies for raising future children in a household with two religions.  They each see religion as a way to God, neither sees their way as the only way.  I have no idea what ideas to offer them as I get ready for another meeting with them.  Any hints or tips or potholes??  I believe they will navigate it all just fine, and I think they are looking more for assurance than nitty gritty details.

Thanks for your thoughts - I love having the Matriarchs as a resource!

Crimson Rambler offers these thoughts in response:

Prayers for your wedding couple and their families!  And felicitations to you as well, with this joyful occasion before you.

The quickest and simplest response to their request for child-raising strategies would be to refer them to a couple or a family who have been living in this inter-faith reality and doing so ACTIVELY.  There are inevitably surprises along the way that are hard to imagine for those of us who haven't been so living!  But I would not hesitate to reassure them that it can be done, and has been done -- and it will help them to know, now, at least in theory, that they can't foresee and plan everything, so that they can begin to develop a strategy for how they will respond in the future.

It is wonderful that both the parental families appear to be supportive and solid.  Not everyone in both faith communities will be so.  Have they a strategy for response to the inevitable ignorant or hostile remarks they and their children will encounter?

But again -- a couple who have "been there" are your best possible resource.

All blessings to you and upon these young people!

And Muthah+ , blogging at Stone of Witness, these thoughts:  

In my understanding of the Christian walk in the Episcopal Church, I would ask them how they plan to raise their children.  I would not necessarily expect them to raise their children Christian.  I would ask how they plan to help their children to learn the values they have from their faiths.  They need to find a way for their children to live out the way of the Holy given their disparate customs.  

Ask what the expectations of the grandparents will be?  How do they want their children to live reverencing both of their traditions and yet helping them to find their own pathways.  The discussion is more for them than it is for providing you with answers.  It begins them thinking about parenting, how they will honor the rites and rituals of both families.

  It is VERY important that they are clear about this with each other so that the children are respectful of both of their grandparents' traditions. The  couple needs to know that there will be places in their marriage when one or the other will in some way insult the traditions of the other without ever meaning to.  They need to know how they are going to handle it and how they will be able to keep conversation going.  This will apply to much more than faith.  But they might be able to start with their faiths and go farther into their relationship discussing how they are going to communicate.

Come share in the joy…add your toast, your blessing, your word of encouragement for the preside!

Oh, and by the way, the queue is nearly empty.  We welcome your questions at

May you live in God’s amazing grace+

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Servant or Friend

Today's post is is from Young Seeker at Seeking the Moments:  

It is the story of my life that I am either two steps ahead of the group or two and a half behind.  The literal side of me wants to blame it on my Dad because from the age of 3, I would strive to match my stride to his.  His inseam was a gigantic 36 inches long... and I was barely 4'5" tall.  But, that story doesn't ever work because now that I'm "all growed up"... my inseam is a whopping 36 inches and let I find myself falling behind.

The humorous side of me says that it happens that way so that there can be a great roar of laughter when I finally catch the punch line of a joke.

Whatever the case may be, I believe it might work to my benefit when it comes to spirituality because 9/10... someone has "been there and done that" before and often has wisdom they are dying to pass on.

This past Sunday, I found myself as the sole musician in worship.  And normally, while music and singing is something that I am willing to do at the slight of a whisper, this week... I struggled. I knew the songs. I knew the tempo. I knew that the group would try to slow down the Sanctus.  I knew what to expect, or did I?

Growing up, we were encouraged from a very young age to "get involved" in the church.  As soon as I was old enough to be an altar server, I literally served every Sunday at 9am from that Sunday until I "retired" in my late (late!) teens.  From there, I moved onto other ministries within the church and never thought anything of it.  As the sermon reflected around the notion of no longer being God's servant, but God's friend, I struggled. 

When Sr. Mary wrote Servant Song, I think she understood that we were meant to servants; Mother Teresa was quoted saying, "God has no hands on earth, but our hands; no feet, but our feet..."

"What do you want of me Lord? Where do You want me to serve You?
I am Your song, your servant. Singing Your praise like Mary"

And yet, this week, I was challenged to be an equal... a friend. Someone who is willing to "sit down with Jesus over a cup of tea and "tell all""; I think it's easier to serve.

It is easier to sit at a piano and play music than to sit honestly and humbly at the foot of an altar.  It is easier to fill the quiet with music or the sound of joyful service to another than to open up the gates. It will make me sound like a horrible and greedy person, but I really wish that Jesus would have consulted before he just walked in and said, "No, no... I don't call you a servant... I call you a friend" and before he implied that friends know the intimate details of one another. 

It is easier to be the sheep who follows a shepherd to the green pasture than to walk alongside a friend.  When walking beside someone, I am the person who is tempted to still go my way - and if the friend follows then the conversation continues and if they don't, then we head our separate ways for a bit. 

It is easier to scrub dishes, pots and pans, and clean the table than to sit in conversation with another. Easier to ensure that the kitchen is tidy after a common meal than to have another beat me to it.  Easier to create gifts, plan co-workers surprise birthday parties, and pass around homemade cards than it is to console them after they get disappointing news.  Truly - I am the person trying to make awkward jokes about a situation or the weather to simply brighten the office!

Then again, maybe I want to have my cake and eat it too?  Maybe I am truly struggling because somewhere deep down inside, I long for the day when I can pour a cup of tea, sit in the sunshine, and converse freely with a friend... as though no time had past since the last time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Rise Up!" Edition

I want my Jet Pack!
I note that one of the options for this week is Ascension Sunday (Readings here -- although the more liturgical among us might point out that Ascension day proper is actually Thursday).  And maybe it is just my strange thought patterns but the first thing that came to my mind was this:

On a more theological note though (not that Cats isn't a theological treatise but, well, you know...) what might one do to make the Ascension story accessible and relevant to a congregation?  Obviously the writer of Luke-Acts thought it was an important story -- he included two versions!  A word of warning though -- I personally would avoid trying to link the story with modern astronomical knowledge ;) .

The other option for this week is to use these readings for Easter 7B.

Replacing Judas
Here we have a new model for choosing Session members.  And really there are days when drawing lots makes as much sense as any other nomination process I have seen.  However I remember noting in a seminary assignment that in verses 22-23 Peter lays out some criteria for an apostle and that Paul (who takes up a remarkable amount of time in the book of Acts) does not meet those criteria.  Not. At. All.

Jesus Prays
Or maybe you would choose to soak (wallow?) in this week's section from the Farewell Discourse in John's Gospel.  I swear, sometimes I find John soars to rhetorical heights, but sometimes I need a higher degree to figure out what the heck he is saying  (mind you I say the same thing about the letters of Paul).  Just who is of which world in this passage?  And which world are we supposed to be part of?  Or in?  Not to mention that there is something voyeurish about this whole chapter seeing as we are (as it is written) listening in on a prayer.  And so we the readers/listeners get talked about in the third person.  Ugh!

And where in any of these passages is a Children's Time topic????

Share in the comments which way you are leaning this early in the week...

RevGalBookPals: Grace at the Garbage Dump

          I do not know Jesse Zink well, but we both volunteered at the same radio station in Nome, Alaska. He followed my time there, with no overlap, but our paths have crossed occasionally. Via the internets, I followed his trek from Nome to Itipini, South Africa through his blog at that time. Zink now has a book out about his time in SA called Grace at the Garbage Dump. Zink did not ask me to read or review his book, but he's a challenging theological thinker and writer, so I acquired a copy for myself to see what he had to say. I was not disappointed.

            Itipini means “at the dump” and Zink went there to work in a clinic through the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps (YASC). Zink makes no bones about his struggle with the term “missionary” and his painful awareness of a burgeoning messiah complex. Even as the post- apartheid situation of painful race relations, socio-economic struggle, and rapid social change unfolds in front of him, Zink seems to think each difficult situation is an anomaly. Until it becomes obvious it isn’t.
            Very quickly, the reader comes the crushing realization through Zink’s words that you cannot save people with whom you cannot communicate. The language barrier between Xhosa and English isn’t simply a hurdle, it’s the long jump where Zink takes a flying leap, falls on his face, and then is helped to limp around the track of conversation by the people he expected to be helping. Zink writes:
            As I sat down with my journal one evening, I realized something new. I wrote, “In this year I will need to shift my focus from doing to being… I need to realize that perhaps the greatest gift I can give right now is that of a loving and supportive presence. I won’t be able to quantify the results of my work. I am not at peace with this.” The Western, results-oriented culture was a deeply written part of my identity. But I had reached a place where I was no longer as able as I am in my own culture. Though I could acknowledge to my journal that who I could be in Itipini was more important that what I could do, it took many months before I could even begin to be a little comfortable with the idea. (p. 33)
            You cannot save people who do not want to be saved. Zink’s devastation is veiled, but only thinly as he watches people slide beyond treatment for HIV or AIDS, despite the availability of anti-retroviral medications. He recounts men and women who wait too long for testing or who put off blood counts or check-ups. Deciding how to respond to the behavior of other competent adults with which you disagree is a challenge in any culture. It is made even more complicated and painful, when one questions life and death decisions:
            The trouble is that effective education and true empowerment take enormous amounts of time, and often there are preexisting- and incorrect- assumptions that need to be broken down and overcome. HIV, [tuberculosis], and burns killed much faster than we could educate, leaving us in an uncomfortable position. Either we mandated behavior to people whose guests we were, with the likely result that the mandate would be ignored, or we let people make their own decision and watched the predictable results unfold, powerless to stop them. We had done our best to muddle through. The end result of that muddling was that we stood by ineffectually as preventable deaths unfolded before our eyes.
            The aphorism “Give me a fish, feed me for a day; teach me to fish, feed me for a lifetime” is well known. But it has nothing to say about how long it takes to teach someone to fish or about what can be done in the interim period until they have made that knowledge their own. “Live and learn” is often used to exculpate ourselves from situations where we’ve tried to teach someone but made no progress. Thinking about the deaths of Thandeka, Lindumzi, and NoFirst, I was left asking, “But what happens if they don’t live?” (72)
            Finally, you cannot save people through money without relationship and the relationship may not be enough. Zink is clearly able to understand the painful connection and difference between becoming a source of funding as a means to life and doing the same as a way of life. He struggles, intensely, with the times that he has to function as a piggy bank, broken up and divided out for small needs. The reader can sense his struggle with incarnational ministry in these moments, he is present, but is discomfited with the role of being Christ’s wallet. It’s not the bodily image that he (or any of us) imagine filling when we work with other people.
            I moved to South Africa full of good intentions and the desire to serve and even save people, to put their needs ahead of my own and figure out the ways in which I could help. It wasn’t until I failed Nolizwi so dramatically that I realized the trouble with this way of thinking: it puts the onus of action- and responsibility- squarely on my shoulders. And the results of my actions, no matter how good my intentions, are beyond my control. That’s doubly true when my actions were mediated through a series of culture and language barriers I couldn’t ever fully understand. I tried, and tried hard. And I failed.” (155)
            Ultimately, Zink comes to terms, in part, with what he already knows. Only Jesus saves and He has already done so. Mission belongs to God, Zink writes, and we are gifted with relational opportunities as a result of God’s mission.
            It could be very easy to criticize Zink’s motivations, hesitations, or lessons learned. He’s young, hopeful, and drawn by the call of the Spirit into relationships with the least, little, and lost. He has not yet developed the hard edge of cynicism of years of church service. He’s not yet overanxious about budgets, councils, and general conventions. He still believes change is possible.
            If you think that way (and maybe you don’t), here’s my question for you: do you want him to be hardened? Is that the goal of the church- to wring service out of her youth, call them into parishes, and drain the joy of salvation from them like sap from a tree? Certainly not. Zink’s writing reveals a heart for service that was the key to the early church and is the hope of the future church. His work since returning to the US from Itipini has included studying for ordination, but also travel to other African countries. His writing on the church and people of South Sudan and its potential for a bright future is informative and motivating. 
            Mission work, even medical and educational missions, has the distinct possibility of becoming the new voice of colonization in the nations of the African continent. The seeming stability of churches and church workers teeters dangerously between empowerment and empire. Zink, and voices like his, raise this concern and point to the delicate work of being in a place where God is already doing. We do not save, we do not undo history, and we cannot slingshot people into a technological future, which they may or may not wish to embrace. We sit with, we cry with, we learn with. We abide.
            I highly recommend Grace at the Garbage Dump for your personal reading, if not for your church book club or any Christian education class from high school and up. In particular, if you are in a denomination that talks about the conservatism of the churches in Africa, this book is for you and yours. What does it mean to be the body of Christ with limbs across the world? A body with limbs that are dying from AIDS, TB, and malnutrition? A body that is schizophrenic about social issues and divides against itself? We cannot undo that we have been made one in Christ because it was not our doing. Thus, we are God’s mission- a mission of relationship and reconciliation. The goal of that mission for us, according to Zink, is to learn to spot grace. Everywhere. Even at the dump. 

Zink, Jesse A. Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century. Cascade Books. Eugene, OR. 2012. 

This book was received from the publisher for review at the request of the reviewer. No promises were made to the author or the publisher in exchange for a review copy.