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Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Five: Corner Shops

There's so much going on right now...holidays, weather, politics, church politics, Advent!  Let's think outside all of those boxes today.  Who knows, maybe when we retire we can all get together and open someone's dream store...

Corner shop:  Via San Francesco, 21/23, 80067 Sorrento, Italy
Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor 

These Friday Five questions courtesy of Friday 5:
  1. If you suddenly received a ton of money and could open up some kind of store or service just for the pleasure of having it (assume it wouldn’t have to be too financially successful!), what would it be?
  2. What service or store that no longer exists do you miss most?
  3. What local business do you think you could make better if you were to take it over? And if you don’t mind sharing, what changes would you make?
  4. What spot nearby seems to be impossible for businesses to survive in?
  5. We’ve all seen stores that combined books and records, beer and laundry, or coffee and whatever. One of my favorite places to get coffee in Honolulu is a cafe and florist, and there is a car garage that’s also a diner in a town nearby. What would be a cool hybrid of two disparate ideas for somewhere you’d like to hang out?
Be sure to let us know in the comments if you play, and post a link right to your blog so we can all visit! Here's how: just type in these letters/symbols, replacing the appropriate section with your blog address and what you want the link to say: 
<a href="the URL of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ask the Matriarch :: Facebook Friends

Boundaries are always an issue ministers have to be aware of, and the boundaries for a pastor once she's moved on from a particular congregation can be especially tricky. Social media has added another layer of complexity, and our question this week comes from someone trying to handle this appropriately.

Here's a social media twist:

I have become "facebook friends" with a few of the youth I knew from my first parish (over 14 years ago).  Most of them no longer live in the community, and my interactions with them are pretty sporadic.  After so many years, it's been nice to catch up a little, especially since seeing many of them at my former congregation's anniversary celebration this summer.

however, just recently, I got a question from one young woman who has come back and is pretty active in the congregation.  She asked me a question regarding a good problem they are having (they are having a lot of new members in their congregation) and wondered if I had any ideas for them.  I wrote back that she should talk to one of their own pastors regarding ideas.  

I haven't gotten back in touch with her again, and I'm not sure how to handle her question.  Should I just repeat again, "this is really a question for your current pastor"   Do I need to go farther than that?  I would hate to have to 'unfriend' her, as I do enjoy occasionally finding out what's going on in the parish, sort of like reading the newsletter.

kathrynzj offers:
I was going to tell you how hard core I am on this, but then I realized the distance in time there has been. It sounds like you handled it well. Did she come back and ask again? If that's the case then I think you either ignore the question and don't respond or simply tell her you're too far removed from the situation to really give any professional counsel.

Jennifer writes:
I think your response is right- go to the current pastor for advice. Be consistent and clear that you are no longer their pastor. End of story.

Martha counsels:
It sounds to me like you *did* handle her question, referring her back to the pastors currently serving the church. I wouldn't advise reaching out to her on this subject again. The last thing you want to do is offer advice on how to better accomplish ministry in a church you formerly served. I feel like there is a missing piece in the story if you think you might need to "unfriend" her. 

On the broader topic of being Facebook friends with members (from any age group) of prior churches, my approach is to not pay much attention to their activity on Facebook. If through the magic of Facebook's algorithms they appear in my news feed, I'm glad to see them; however, I don't "like" status updates, etc. I guess I would make an exception for a new baby or a marriage, or any other major life change. But I make it a point not to put them in groups or on lists I follow particularly. I also don't "friend" them, though I will usually accept a friend request. I recently received a Facebook message with a query about a book we used in a study group a few years ago. That question I answered directly, with a link to the book on Amazon, because it was objective. In any case where my ministry opinion might be solicited, I would do as you did and refer the questioner to the current pastor.

RevHRod/Heidi advises:
Last night I sat in a seminary presentation on the use of social media.  The RevGal giving the presentation suggested a number of useful things to keep in mind.  1) When you post something publicly it can go viral very quickly.  There is no confidentiality on Facebook.  2) You might want to consider having two Facebook pages; one for pastoring and one for friends and family.  3) Social media is an incredibly valuable tool for communicating the gospel, particularly with people who are under 30.

All of that having been said, this is really not a social media question.  It's a boundary question. The old rule about not messing about in your successor's parish should hold true no matter how 
the conversation takes place.  To do otherwise isn't fair or professional.  That doesn't mean you can't still be friends on Facebook, or even face-to-face.  It just means that you need to stick with your first response.  "That's a question you should ask your pastor."

Rev Red writes:
Social Media has certainly created new issues and concerns in the communication realm of ministry!  I do have former congregation members of all ages who are friends with me on facebook.  I have indicated to each one, when accepting their request for friendship, that I am not their pastor in this setting.  I also let them know that I will gently turn their "Pastoral needs/requests" back to them to take up with their own clergy.  I find that most understand and honor this or only need one gentle reminder.  I enjoy the contact that Facebook gives me with their lives and the churches.  The only person I have ever had to block from my page and from the church's page is a former pastor.  He is not happy with me, but was warned.
I think your response that turned the question back to the young woman to take up with her current pastor is adequate.  I don't think I would bring it up again unless she does. You have kept your distance as a pastor and allowed the friendship to still be. 
As a 60 year old woman, becoming familiar with and using social media,  including FaceBook and a smart phone with texting, is a challenge.  I also feel that it is an important ministry avenue. I actually have decided I enjoy it.   By friending my youth, I have a better sense of their lives.  Some of my congregation members seldom communicate except via texting or facebook.  I am adapting......some days anyway.

And Terri adds:
I think your response was fine and appropriate. It clearly states to her that you will not engage in conversation about the congregation - but you are interested in tidbits about her life. I think it is fine to remain Facebook friends with her unless questions like this increase.


It sounds like our matriarchs are pretty much in agreement on this one! What do the rest of you think? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section.  

We need more questions for our queue! Please email us at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Interruptions

RevGals & Pals,

Advent is practically upon us, that holy season of collisions and contradictions: the Not Yet interrupting the Now ... the birth of Something that already Is ... the disruption of complacency to reveal God at home among us ... the miraculous surprising the ordinary ... not to mention our contradictory preparations for the coming of Christ versus the coming of Christmas.

A sampling of insights from around our network, on the interruptions & contrasts that shape not only Advent but also our lives:

~ Elsa reflected on rocks this past Reign of Christ Sunday: rocks that interrupt our journeys, trip us up, stub our toes, make life hard ... yet the same rocks can represent possibilities, when we (with help from community & Spirit) can imagine it.

Deb at Unfinished Symphony shares, for our pondering, the collision between perspectives on that infamous word, "vocation."

Stratoz celebrates the professor who reminded him to see contrasting worldviews beyond his own world of studying biology...which just maybe opened his eyes to dating a poetry major & artist.

~ Not Fainthearted reminds us that waiting is not a mere liturgical observance; it collides with the practical, social, spiritual needs of our lives: like having a job that feels purposeful and provides income.

~ BookGirl recently experienced that very hard, very real collision of death interrupting life; prayers of grief & tears & holy comfort to those affected.

~ Katherine at Any Day A Beautiful Change celebrates blogs as a medium for interrupting our daily routines to enjoy a conversation (and she celebrates her 1000th blog post - congratulations!).

~ Bonnie offers a playful picture and invites us to be present in the Now, even as we await the Not Yet.

~ And Diane reminds us, thank God, that the One who will interrupt our lives this Advent doesn't need our decorations & preparations in order to arrive!

Blessings as you prepare (as much as any of us can) for the interruptions that come with Advent.
~ Rachel

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Merry Christmas???? Edition

Well, welcome to the beginning of a new liturgical year!  And as usual the lectionary readings for Advent 1C (read them here) have such a wonderfully Christmassy feel to them.  No wonder folk complain that they don't match the season!!

At any rate, shall we begin our week with Prayer?? (prayer source)
O God of all the prophets,
you herald the coming of the Son of Man
by wondrous signs in the heavens and on the earth.
Guard our hearts from despair so that we,
in the company of the faithful
and by the power of your Holy Spirit,
may be found ready to raise our heads
at the coming near of our redemption,
the day of Jesus Christ. Amen

So where are we this week? We could go with the fairly standard Messianic (at least in Christian terms) passage from Jeremiah.

OR possibly we go with Luke's apocalyptic and the signs we should watch for?

Is this how we start on the road to Bethlehem???????????

please share your early Advent thoughts in the comments.  And if you have a great idea for Advent candles share that too!  Chances are someone somewhere is still looking for that piece this year.

(Sorry for no pictures but my regular machine died tonight (hard drive issue I think) and I am using my partner's [tiny screen and keyboard] netbook)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King Sunday Prayer

O Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come,
We live in a world that is constantly in change and flux.
It is hard for us to go through all of life’s many changes.
We look for someone who is constant, for something that is secure.
It is comforting that you are that one sure thing.
And so we put our trust in you to guide us and to walk beside us.

For some the changes in our neighborhoods and cities are cause for distress.
Some hate the aging process for what it does to our bodies and minds.
Some struggle with work related layoffs, job losses, higher demand on the ones left working.
Some are lost with divorces, losses, breakdown in communications in their relationships.
Some such as those in the Mideast are in shock over the civil unrest, terrorism, wars.
And we have all be effected by climate change whether its drought, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires.

In all this we look to you for our rock, our place we can go to for sanctuary and peace.
And in your love and grace we find that which we look for the peace we need.

Oh Lord God, you are the one who is and who was and who is to come.
In you we put our faith in trust to hear and answer our prayers and the cry of the needy.

Posted at rev abi's long and winding road and A Place for Prayer

Saturday, November 24, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: New Year's Eve Edition

Does everyone have their party hats and noisemakers ready?  How about a bubbly drink for a toast?  Tonight is New Year's Eve Eve.  Right?  I mean, if Advent is the liturgical New Year's Day, then Reign of Christ/Christ the King must be New Year's Eve, which makes tonight  New Year's Eve Eve? 
The traditional music for this liturgical celebration tends to fit the celebratory mood, but the Scriptures always point us toward a very different sort of king to honor.  Likewise the flow of the liturgical year moves us quickly and paradoxically from a celebration of honor, royalty, and majesty to a period of waiting for a scandalous, humble birth. 
Where are you in the liturgical year and your preaching?  How are you addressing Reign of Christ/Christ the King?  Or are you on something completely different?  (I'm in the Narrative Lectionary and a week off in that to boot.)  Join us for a party in the comments.  I'm guessing I'm not the only one on this side of the ponds with turkey leftovers to share.  No pie left though.  Pies didn't even make it to Friday in our house.  I think it had something to do with the homemade bourbon whipped cream that topped them. (OH. MY. GOSH. It was good.) 

That said, there are plenty of sermon and worship goodies to share around the party, though, so regulars and lurkers (one of you who I met last week, especially!!!), come on in and join us.  Let's get this party started!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Five: Leftovers

It's my week to host the Friday Five! :)

Here in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. At our home, we hosted 20 people for dinner -- what fun! The dishes are (mostly) put away... and we're ready for leftovers. The turkey carcass will start its journey towards soup this morning in my kitchen. And the various left-overs from our holiday spread have either been sent home with guests who wanted some, or stacked in my over-stuffed refrigerator.

So let's think about leftovers today...

1. Leftovers are sometimes a "kitchen surprise" at my house when unlikely combinations just work great! For instance, my mom often made a casserole with leftover chicken/turkey and water chestnuts! What has SURPRISED you in this season of Thanksgiving? It can be culinary, personal or spiritual.

2. Share a recipe or a favorite way to use up all the extra food from a big holiday meal! What's your specialty? Tacos? Pot Pies? Soup? Eggrolls? (It goes without saying -- we want the recipes!)

3. We have a Sunday in between Thanksgiving and Advent this year, (to which all the preachers say, "THANK YOU!") Are you wrapping up Thanksgiving, preaching about Christ the King, or having "leftovers" with someone doing pulpit supply? (I would note that as a seminarian, this was the weekend I was always assigned to preach.)

4. Do you give the holidays their due? Or are you tempted to rush past the fall festivals for a love of Christmas? Because The Johnnie is home from college for the weekend, we will being decorating the house for Christmas. Are you likewise tempted, or are you waiting a week?

5. Is there some THING, some TASK or some ONE who gets the "leftovers" of your attention? Hmmmm... yeah, that one may not be easy to answer

BONUS: A photo of your last holiday spread, family/guests or soup pot. Or those who are begging for the same.

Be sure to let us know in the comments if you play, and post a link right to your blog so we can all visit! Here's how: just type in these letters/symbols, replacing the appropriate section with your blog address and what you want the link to say: 
<a href="the URL of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Dealing with Conflict

We all know that conflict is an inevitable part of congregational life, but it sure can take its toll on those of us in leadership. Many of us in pastoral ministry are, by nature, people-pleasers, or at least very people-oriented, which can make dealing with conflict all the more stressful.The stress of it is often compounded by the fact of email, which allows conflict to come straight to us in a constant and disembodied way. Our question this week comes from someone who is dealing with the exhaustion and dread of opening emails which seem to bring fresh conflict regularly. We have some great responses from our matriarchs. Read on!

I'm a newer clergywoman: not quite fresh out of seminary, not quite seasoned. The things is that every day I dread opening my email. Every day it seems that there is some new conflict that needs to be stepped into, moderated, responded to, or deflected. This congregation also has a history of pastoral distrust, for good reason, so may be a contributing factor.
I am not horrible at conflict. I mean, I have a ranges of responses at my disposal, from standing ground, to apologizing, humanizing the conversation, stopping and listening... CPE did me well. But the thing is that I find it incredibly stressful. Every time something comes up, it seems to take all of my mental and emotional energy.
So here's my question, is this just what ministry is like? Is this is something that either gets better when you're longer at a congregation or a person can get better at? Or should I plan on several decades of being like this?

kathrynzj writes:
Well, judging by the fact that I could have written the very same inquiry ten or so years ago, I think the answer is that we get better at it. Here are some personal and practical things I did to help create a shift in how church challenges effect me.
a) I remind myself that it ain't all about me, sometimes it ain't about me at all. This understanding takes practice and is not always instantaneous, but I usually can get my head wrapped around what exactly is being projected on me. It sounds like you already get it - established distrust of the pastor - the next question is how do you grab that truth faster before the latest conflict has you feeling that dread.
b) Think of the big picture. In 5 years is this going to matter? In 10? And a more humorous approach: Did Jesus die for this? So many church conflicts are petty, and if we can put them in perspective it can go a long way to helping us keep our sanity.
c) Ask yourself: do I really need to solve this? I am a problem-solver and I tend to be all or nothing so not only did I follow up on every little thing, but I wanted it RESOLVED! That ain't ministry. This is why I like doing stuff around the house - painting a wall gets completed, getting the body of Christ to behave never is. You listed great things CPE taught you, one that mine taught me was: sometimes it's okay to walk away.
d) If this really is about your email then let me give you the best piece of advice ever given to me about email - you don't have to answer it. Really. You certainly don't have to engage in the conflict every time and EVERY email about a conflict should be given a 24 hour cooling off period. What's going to happen if you don't answer it.... exactly. I have turned off every sound or icon that tells me there is email in my box. I check it first thing in the morning, handle the things from the day before, check it again mid-afternoon and maybe before I leave. Maybe. I see an email sent as someone waiting in line to see me, NOT as a reason to give them instant gratification.
You asked if this is what ministry is like - yes... and no. We experience amazing sacred and holy moments and we also experience the ridiculously petty and profane. Rest assured, God is in all of them, but you don't always have to be. Breathe deep, take care of yourself, and leave that email refresh button alone.


Terri offers:
Dear New Clergywoman,
First of all, I am sorry you are experiencing this stress. No doubt the role of being a clergyperson comes with some stress. However the stress is often cyclical - something happens to raise the anxiety of the parish or the parish experiences a large number of deaths, or the congregation is in transition from one size to another or a change in leadership, or there is conflict within the church over its direction and or with its leadership. The congregation you serve, as you say, struggles with issues of trust - particularly of its leadership. You state that this is for good reason, some previous cleric broke the trust and they are slow to regain it. That seems rather normal to me.

However I wonder what kind of work the congregation has done to understand the breach of trust and work toward healing? Has there been any outside assistance from the denominational leaders? Or are you there to help do that? (Seems like a might big responsibility to put onto a new cleric).

It seems to me that a first step may continue to do what you are doing: " I have a ranges of responses at my disposal, from standing ground, to apologizing, humanizing the conversation, stopping and listening... CPE did me well..." This  is awesome - just what they need.

Secondly, you may want to find an outside consultant to help the parish understand their anxiety and work with you to help them rebuild trust. There are any number of folk who can do this: Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, local family systems for congregation specialists, Jim Gettel at Middle Voice or a number of resources through the Alban Institute.

Third - I hope you will find a good support sytem for yourself outside the congregation where you can process the stress you are feeling and experiencing. This might be a Spiritual Director or a therapist and or some holistic body work like yoga or massage therapy, it that is your thing. I have been known to use any and ALL of these approaches when I am in the midst of serving a conflicted anxious congregation. As clergy tending to our health needs to be a priority. If we are not well we cannot tend to the needs of others.

Someone wise once said, "It takes a lot of energy to be a non-anxious presence."

So, I hope you are able to build a solid network of support for yourself and then as a result for the congregation too.

Most of all I want to assure you that not every day,week,month or year of ministry will be like this. But there will be spaces of time when it is so.  It may be a reality for the congregation you are currently serving for some time to come. But not all churches are this anxious and conflicted. And some, when there is anxiety and conflict have healthy ways of moving through it.

Lastly, if the anxiety and conflict continue regardless of efforts to address it and if/when the anxiety becomes too great for you and is compromising your health, then you need to consider looking for a new call/church. Again I say, not all churches will cause you the kind of stress and strain you are feeling where you are. I am not sure how long you have been where you are - give it a little time and effort (a couple of years, maybe) and see how things are.

I will pray for you and for you congregation.


Martha at Reflectionary writes:
Dear Not Quite Seasoned,

Gosh, I hope you don't have to plan on several decades of this! The truth is that every congregation has a unique temperament. You can think of it in family systems terms. Even new people will tend to come in with the same sorts of tendencies, drawn to a system that feels familiar. Some churches, like some families, seem to draw energy from conflict. If you as pastor are not a person who also thrives on the bickering, it's painful to think of being with them for the long haul. 

Hopefully, your situation is not chronic. When there has been an injury to or through a previous pastoral relationship, we hope it will be sorted out in the transition time between pastors, but when that hasn't happened, the new pastor can be left to deal with the consequences. From your question to us, it sounds like you know there has been past trouble, and they are testing you to be sure you can be trusted. 

Do you have support from someone at the judicatory level (Conference Minister, District Superintendent, Bishop, Executive Presbyter, etc.)? Or are there pastors in the area who might know your church's history? If the congregation is projecting past mistrust onto you, you're going to continue to be hampered. I once served an interim where we had to do the work that should have been done in the previous interim, and the pastor I followed had suffered all through his ministry there because people worked out there anger at his predecessor on him. People need to be gently brought to consciousness of what they are doing, but it's hard to be the one to do it when you are the recipient of their acting out behavior. 

All of this is to say, get some local, outside perspective. If you feel fairly sure the conflict is a reaction to their past injury rather than a way of life with them, begin to talk to leaders in the congregation about their past and share your concerns, not so much about your own stress, but about how stressed they seem. Are you pushing their buttons without knowing it? (They are certainly pushing yours, right?) Can you begin to sort out together the difference between how things once were and how things are now?

And if they can't hear you, I promise, it's not like that everywhere. Keep your heart and head open to where God might want you to be. Pray about whether it's with these people and in this church. Pray for them, especially the ones who send you the emails. And be sure you have a place to vent with trusted colleagues (not necessarily the ones mentioned above). We all need that in our ministry lives.


And RevHRod/Heidi adds:
I have thought about this long and hard.  What I am now going to write may be totally off base, but please know that it comes from someone who used to have her own moments of dread. 

No, this is not what it’s like.  If you are experiencing a regular sense of trepidation when opening congregational emails, there is a problem.  My strongest suggestion is that you talk with someone locally to provide you some good counsel.  Seek out a professional who not only understands anxiety but also has a handle on church systems.  Samaritan Interfaith has a network of offices across the country who may be able to help.  I can’t tell you what the problem is, I just know you need some guidance from a trustworthy and knowledgeable person who can help you get to the bottom of what is going on for your sake and the sake of your congregation.  It is time to reclaim your joy!


Thank you, matriarchs, for your wonderful and thoughtful responses. To our questioner, I hope you have found not only some wisdom here, but also some solace, in knowing that others of us have felt as you are feeling and that it won't always be that way. Hang in there and blessings on you!

What would the rest of you add to this conversation? Please join us in the comment section. And, as always, sned us your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Whose nation do we live in? Edition

King of Kings
Well here we are, once more at the end of the liturgical year...

And as we begin our planning for the Reign of Christ (or at least that Sunday) shall we pray?
God whose reign is one paradox after another:
Lamb or shepherd, of this world or not of this world, now and not yet...
As people of faith we wonder how best to speak of this kingdom.
As the year once more turns over, give us wisdom and vision.
Help us to see how your Reign is here, is being born, and is just over the horizon
so that we can be people of hope is a world too often given to cynicism and despair.

or is Pilate the bad listener???
A couple weeks ago when we sat down to talk about music choices for this Sunday the musician looked at the passages (see them here), got down to the Gospel reading and asked "is this Easter in November?"  And somehow that would make more sense than Jesus and Pilate as a way in to talking about the Reign of Christ.

But then again you could go into the last words of David.  Because nothing says God's eternal Kingdom than the words of a dying man.  Particularly one whose house is going to lose most of its glory (and kingdom) in the next generation.
Isn't that really the key question?

Then there are the almost requisite pieces of apocalyptic (seriously, what would Reign of Christ be without apocalyptic?).  This year an option from Daniel and a bit of Revelation fill that void.

So how do you generally deal with the Reign of Christ?  There is a discussion about the topic over on the RGBP Facebook page.  And of course we can carry the discussion over in the comments on here.

Monday Extra: Christmas Eve Worship Share

What does your church do on Christmas Eve? 
  • Do you have more than one service?
  • Are there varied services at different times, or do you repeat an order of worship? 
  • Do you plan a service for families?
  • Is your Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve?
  • Is there a late service, beginning or ending around midnight?
Join the conversation in the comments and let us know our denomination, your church size and whether you're planning something new this year or sticking with traditions that are tried and true.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sunday Prayer: Proper 28B/Pentecost 25

From the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer page 836
1. A General Thanksgiving

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

11th Hour Preacher Party: "Birth Pangs" Edition

Speaking of birth pangs . . .

I can't remember which baby it was, but it was either 34, 33 or 27 years ago . . .

The week before I gave birth, my obstetrician was suffering with kidney stones. As bad as his pain was, he considered himself fortunate that it was "only" kidney stones.  

It seems that, over the years, he had wondered about how severe labor pains could really be. So, he had asked "which is worse?" of his patients who had endured both kidney stones and the "pangs" of anesthesia-free childbirth. The women's experience was that labor pains are more painful than kidney stone pain.

He told me these things mere minutes after I had given birth -- anesthesia free -- as he expressed his newly discovered, very sincere empathy for women in the throes of labor!

Are you preaching on Jesus' announcement of the beginning of birth pangs? (I had to look that up to see if Jesus really said "birth pangs." Yes, he really said that!)  

Are you telling the story of Hannah's much-anticipated pregnancy? Are you singing her song?

What stage of sermon labor are you in?

I am most definitely an 11th Hour Preacher this week. Where did the week go?

Let's get this party started New Orleans style!  Help yourselves to some delicious French Market beignets (pronounced ben-YAYS: fried puffy doughnuts with powdered sugar) and some dark roast coffee with rich cream.  

Welcome, friends!

(Newborn picture is precious grandson Daniel, now 2 1/2 years old.) 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Five: Thanksgiving Soon!

An old-fashioned American Thanksgiving!

The Cure

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?
2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?
3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?
4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?
5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?I

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - I'm Too Sexy for this Pulpit

Okay, so that isn't exactly how that old song goes, but same general idea. A female minister's appearance and sexuality sometimes seems to matter more to people that a male minister's. It's one of the reasons some people are uncomfortable with women in ministry to begin with, isn't it? 
This week, our question comes from a colleague who is uncertain how to handle comments about her looks. Read on:

I am still not sure how to reply to comments about how I am "too pretty" to be a pastor. Or comments about pictures on facebook, "should pastors be that beautiful?", "is it appropriate for pastors to be sexy?"

Now, I'm not posting pictures on fb where I am dressed like a slutty nurse at halloween or anything. And I'm not even sure I can even get my head around being called "beautiful" or "too pretty" in the first place. But how does one reply to such comments? Generally, I try to just say thank you, deflect, and move on to something less awkward.

But on the other hand, part of me wants to scream, "shouldn't we expect our clergy to be exactly who they are--frumpy or fashionable, thin or thick, etc--and spend less time trying to fit us into some outdated notion of what a female pastor should look like?"


Welcome to new matriarch RevHRod, who responds:

While my mother always taught us to say "thank you" to a compliment, my inclination is to respond to these questions by asking, "Why do you ask that?"  Put the responsibility for clarification right back where it belongs.  It may be an innocent compliment or it may be that this person just doesn't quite know how to deal with women clergy.  Asking the question, lets them do some pondering and keeps you from looking defensive.

muthah+ offers:

Dear Sexy,

I can assure you, I have NEVER had this problem!  Take it for the complement that it is unless it is a come-on.  You know the difference!  'Come-ons' need to be discouraged the first time they happen.  And for God's sake don't ever flirt even for fun!  It will really confuse them.
Know too that you will find envy from spouses, but you can ignore that too as long as you are genuine about your care for them.  

You have not said what kind of parish you have but I wouldn't be surprised if it is small town.  Both older men and women in smaller towns tend to have rather out-dated images of roles.  It is what makes small towns work--everyone has their niche.  I was the 'first woman' in every church I served and was always dealing with those issues of gender definition.  Allow yourself to define the ministry in YOUR way always being aware that the older folk will have difficulty.  And laugh!  Most of all laugh.  Have some funny stock phrases in your repertoire as come backs.  [Hmm, that isn't what MY mirror said this morning! or 'Oh, shucks!' finger in the dimple] just to make them comfortable.

Often it is their lack of being comfortable with a capable or good looking woman because you may be better than anything they have ever had before.  Help them to be comfortable with you and you will find that those comments will fade as they get to know you.

And Martha writes:True fact: People aren't always good at putting things into words. We do it for a living, so we may set the bar a little high for others. With that in mind...

While I must admit that no one has ever come close to saying I'm too attractive to be a pastor, I do receive compliments with some frequency on a range of personal matters (hair cut, hair color, pink sweater, new shoes and so forth). Now, I might tell my doctor I like her sweater, but I wouldn't tell her she's too pretty to be a doctor, and I probably wouldn't talk about her sweater either. It feels like a violation of a professional boundary, right? But we are in that odd profession where we are expected to maintain ethically correct boundaries at the same time people think we are their best friends or long lost daughters or surrogate sisters. 

It's my practice is to measure the intent of the person offering the compliment. Usually they are being nice. Often that niceness sounds awkward. Sometimes they are trying to say appreciative words and find it easier to make them about superficial matters than the thing they really mean. In all those cases, I smile and say "thank you," or if I want to give it a Southern polish that is also intended to bring the conversation to an end, I smile verrrry sweetly and say, "Well, aren't you nice?"

But sometimes it's not nice at all, particularly if the person is using remarks about appearance to minimize us or undermine our authority. I'm five feet tall, so I sometimes get this in the form of kidding about my size. If you suspect that is the motivation, you may want to find a moment in the life of the church to reflect your values about how we accept people regardless of appearance, just as Jesus accepted people regardless of their social status. I trust some text will come along at exactly the moment you need to say it. 

When it goes beyond saying you're pretty to wondering whether it's okay for you to be sexy, we've hit the creepy mark. That's a legit thing to talk about with your Pastoral Relations Committee, if you have one. Get some lay feedback. It's possible the person saying you're too pretty and/or raising the subject of your sexiness is actually predatory, and other people may experience that, too.
Lastly, your Facebook page is not the place for church members to be remarking on your appearance. I would recommend setting up some restrictions on Facebook, especially for photos other people tag that may present you in a less careful way than photos you choose yourself. You can set up a group of people restricted to Public status updates (go to Privacy settings and then to the category where you manage Blocking. At the top there's a place you click and then set up the restricted group). You can't control what people write on Facebook, but you can control who is able to read your updates and post on your page.


Thank you, matriarchs, for your good input. What about others of you? What is your experience with this issue, and how have you handled it? Please join us in the comments section for more conversation. And, as always, if you have a question for the matriarchs to discuss, send it our way at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

- earthchick

Wednesday Festival

Welcome to this week's festival of reading!

I know that holiday logistics and Advent worship are begging for preeminence in our hearts and minds, but there are other matters to consider as well:

I think I've got the players right: Mihee Kim-Kort, a PC(USA) pastor currently at home with children, shares in  First Day Walking a beautiful post entitled "Walking Tsuki" by Kiran Young Wimberly, a PC(USA) pastor in Belfast, Northern Ireland -- about the spiritual practice of walking her dog, an activity that should resonate with many RevGals.

Amy of Talk With the Preacher offers some hints about Barbara Brown Taylor's forthcoming book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  Can we reclaim the darkness in our own lives?  Always an intriguing question for me.

Is church boring?  That's a sin, states the always provocative Jan Edmiston, who has been writing a series of posts that have been a great help to me in formulating the questions that my small church needs to address yesterday if it hopes to thrive into the future.

Questing Parson reflects as only he can about . . . what, exactly?  About the deep relationships, questions, and confidences to which we are privy; about the joys of watching a young person grow from childhood to almost-college; about the incisive election analysis a high school student  has to offer those of us old actually enough to vote.

And finally, "Stayed on Jesus" was Martha Spong's sermon title for November 4.  I'm going to return to this one several times as I ponder what happened in my church last Sunday when, as I said afterward to some of our leaders, it became evident that the keyword which fills our church is "veterans," and not "Jesus."  It was a privilege to honor those who have served, but this pastor was left with a lot of questions about what we are doing, and how, and why, on all the other Sundays of the year.

Enjoy your reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Changed World Edition

Shall we begin with prayer? (prayer source)
You raise up the poor,
to give them the best rooms in your house;
you pull the broken
from the dust of the world,
brushing them off and clothing them with joy;
you exalt those we have pushed aside,
and let them say grace at the feast in heaven.
You are our God, and we worship you.

When we are tempted to wander off after
the rumors of sin,
you guard our feet so we can walk
as faithful people;
when we think we need to pay attention
to all the gossip around us,
you give us a double portion
of good news, so we will not fear.
You are the Christ, and we will listen to you.

When no one else will listen to us,
we can pour out our soul to you;
when no one notices us,
you see our misery, and fill us with joy;
when everyone else forgets who we are,
you remember us and call us by name.
You are our Spirit of Love, and we welcome you into our hearts.

God in Community, Holy in One, we raise our prayers to you,
even as we speak the words of Jesus,
Our Father . . .

Is tomorrow the Day?
The end of the liturgical year is fast approaching, and so it is time to talk about the world being changed.  Then again, as people of faith who regularly pray the words "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done..." shouldn't we be talking about the world being changed every Sunday???

At any rate there are all sorts of changed being discussed in the RCL readings for Proper 28B.  Maybe it is Hannah's prayer for a child.  OR her song of a world being turned upside down (which of course is so similar to a song we will revisit in a month or so).  OR Daniel's announcement that Micheal will come -- to the betterment of some and the ruin of others. OR the teaching we find in Hebrews about preparing for the Day that is coming.  OR Mark's Jesus warning of turmoil to come.  Any of our passages could be preparing us to be changed.

And is that change a cause for fear or hope?  The combination of passages (and 2 millennia of Christian theology) could answer with either option.

Of course some of our USan sisters and brothers may be ignoring these passages altogether since this is the Sunday before Black Friday (and US Thanksgiving but I am unsure which is the bigger news day anymore).  And so they may be looking at these passages.  Or do y'all have Thanksgiving worship on Wednesday/Thursday?  Or even next Sunday? [So much easier in Canada where Thanksgiving Day is the Monday and so it is obvious which Sunday to have Thanksgiving weekend]

Back to the Day of the Lord stuff (and why are so many of these images so disturbing?).  How does preaching that topic go over in your context?  Is it about scaring folks into changing their ways in preparation?  Is it about gentle encouragement?  Are you going to talk about the Mayans?

Wherever your sermonic thoughts are headed, or stalled, this early in the week let us know in the comments.
The eternal problem of reading the signs...

Monday Extra: This Festive Season of the Year

"At this festive season of the year," said the Charitable Gentleman to Mr. Scrooge, we ought to be thinking of those in need. I certainly agree with him, but I also have a heart for my Sisters and Brothers in Ministry who will be right out straight from now until December 25th.

For this Monday Extra, I invite you to consider some way, large or small, in which you will take care of yourself. Will you meet a friend for lunch? Schedule a massage? Allot a day for spiritual renewal? Delegate home tasks to another family member? Pull a sustainable sermon from the well?

Whatever it might be, make a pledge to yourself and your RevGalBlogPals, right here in the comments. I'll post this at the Facebook group, too. And I'll be back in December to ask how it's going.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Music Video: Come Thou Font of Every Blessing

As I turned bread out from a bowl to knead yesterday, dipping my hand into a full bin of fine white flour to dust the table top, flour flying with abandon, I thought of the widow in Sunday's reading.  I imagine her scraping her flour bin, with its bits of grindstone that had settled to the bottom, reserving virtually nothing to keep the dough from sticking.  There is an expression of persistent hope there that I suspect you don't grasp until you've struggled with dough that sticks to everything in sight, including your hands. 

I love the percussion under this setting, that reminds me of the rhythm of kneading, of pulling and stretching and turning that takes the recalcitrant dough and turns it into a loaf.

What stretched you musically this weekend? What provided a rhythm for the week to come?
Share with us in the comments!

Sunday Prayer: 25B

Gracious God we bring to you our worries and concerns 
Hold them tenderly, like a mother, close to heart.
Transform our fears and still our rapid heart
fill us with your peace. Let there be hope.

God of love, be with those who are ill, suffering
in mind, body, or spirit. Be with those struggling
to recover from the hurricane, those without 
power, food, heat - the basic necessities of life-
Restore them to wholeness,
 as only you can in your grace.
Fill us with your peace. 
Let there be hope.

Dear God, we lift up to you our Veterans
and those who have served or do serve
in harms way. Protect them, and this world, too.
Fill us with your peace, that there may be hope.

God of all, we give you thanks 
for all the blessings of this life.
For the morning sun and rays of light.
For the moon and stars and gentle rain
For fresh fallen snow and birds that sing
For all our blessings. 
For hope.
May there be peace.

Friday, November 09, 2012

11th Hour Preacher Party: Widows and Daughters edition

Image: Ruth Agmon, Ruth and Naomi - the Dialog,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN

We're coming to the end of both this Year B and the very long Season after Pentecost. I always look forward to the end of one year and the beginning of another. I am already deep into thinking about Advent and plan to go on a pre-Advent retreat beginning Sunday afternoon. I am excited to be going with two of my ecumenical clergy women pals, one Lutheran, one American Baptist, and me, Episcopal. Alas, before I can get to that retreat there is much to do. In my context I will have two baptisms on Sunday morning as well as Commission a lay team from the congregation who are about to make a trip to Africa to work out our partnership with another church to build a school. The school will educated children from the church and local community. We are very excited about this project!

All of this means that my head is muddled as I think about my sermon for tomorrow. Shall I focus on Ruth and the earthiness of human life and love? (probably not exactly :-) ) Shall I focus on the atonement theology of Hebrews. I. Don't. Think. So. (remember what we have going on? Resurrection, yes. Atonement, not so much I think). Or shall I focus on the Gospel and profound giving of one who has little? Some of you have the option of preaching on 1 Kings, too...I did that over the's a good text IMHO.

I suspect I am going to tell baptism stories - mine, my daughters, our sons - as a way to speak about being and becoming a part of community. This could easily tie into Ruth, I think....

What about you? Are you feeling muddled like me? Seriously, I mean, all of this AND it's Veterans/Remembrance Day....Will you even address that one, and if so, how? (I will say a prayer for those serving in the Armed Forces from the Book of Common Prayer before we start the service). Do you have clearer thoughts about your sermon than I do? Maybe yours is even written! Please be sure to share your sermons, I do love reading the variety of directions we go in!

Regardless, here we go! The party is on, Sunday is coming.

I have plenty of coffee, tea, homemade chocolate chip cookies...and uhm... not much else. But I will gladly share what I have. Pull up a chair and let's have a party!

I Haz a Happy Friday Five!!!!

                                     I haz a happy and her name is Cooper dog who loves her ball!

Dearest RevGalBlogGals and Pals....
Yes, it's true, it's already the second Friday in November.   Lot's has happened--horrible storms, the election, plus, whatever is happening in your own lives....

It's time to take a breather, and so, our Friday Five is to find your happy places, so that in spite of snow (here), in spite of it getting dark by 4 pm (here), in spite of (fill in the blank) you (I) remember the joyful sweetness of our lives!

Give us five "I haz a happy"s...... for your Friday Five.  AND, bonus points for photos!!!!!

Tell us that you played in the comments by using the formula below.  Can't wait to read!

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Advice for a New Call

One of our colleagues has happily accepted a new call and is looking for some input on how best to navigate the transition. She writes:
I just announced that I've accepted a new call in a neighboring town. I'm looking for advice on leaving well (I've been an Associate Pastor for 6 years), starting well (I'll be a solo/Head of Staff), and boundaries (since I'll be commuting, not moving).

Kathrynzj responds:
I've done this! I'm not sure how far along you are in the process, but the first thing to keep in mind, especially since you are so close to both calls, is that each will hear how you handle things at the other. This means tell your first Call before you candidate at the next Call. It is a little out of order according to our polity, but word will get back before you are done with the charge and benediction. Now I re-read that you've already announced so... the next thing that is important is keeping your head in the game at your first Call while you are still in it. Especially because of proximity, Call #2 might want you to come to this or give thoughts on that. Unless it is related to COM or your reception - don't. Act as if you are across the country. This also counts for your time in between Calls if you have any. And here's the most challenging one - the folks at the first Call that you cannot wait to get away from? You need to do your best to make amends. A small booklet from Alban Institute called 'Running Through the Thistles' talks about this. In order for you to serve #2 Call fully, you will need to leave some stuff from #1 Call behind. Make appointments to say good-bye to the folks you struggled with - and the folks who supported you. There will be some in the former group (I'm assuming all pastors have them) who will refuse to do so. Fine, that's their choice. Now is the time for you to be the bigger person and for your own sake, let some of that stuff go. From my experience, this will go a long way for you as you head into a different type of Call. Congratulations!

Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing your wisdom! 

How have the rest of you handled this sort of transition? What advice or support can you offer our colleague? Please join the conversation in the comments section. 

And, as always, we welcome your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com!

-- earthchick

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Wednesday Festival - belated edition

Hi Friends!!  I forgot my duty today, so I hope you will accept my humble apology and freshman effort!!

Pastor Debbie has a great idea outlined on her site for a youth activity: Box City.  The activity looks like a great educational experience for the teens as well as a great way to motivate people to donate.  BTW – I love the picture of the desk on her header… not coveting, not coveting.

Fruitful Words is writing about letters of gratitude she writes this time of year.  She has posted ideas for writing the letters and who to include.  Think FB Thanksgivings on steroids… seriously, I wonder who all I should be writing these to.  Who do you need to thank this year?

A Plug for a Girlfriend – My friend, RevBeth, has a fairly new Blog: Visual Verses.  If you have not yet seen it, feast your eyes on this.  Beth works with children and her blog reflects the need to explain scriptures to our youngest among us.  It is beautiful and touching – a blessing to me and I hope to you.

Speaking of the election - we were weren't we?  Here are a few posts about that today as well:
Deb and Mary Beth are each reflecting on the political goings-on of the last 24 hours.  They are each reflecting on the longer-term consequences of choosing a candidate and how it affects those around us.  

Ramona has a great tutorial on the different ways to pray – sharing this on FaceBook might just be just what someone needs to see today in the aftermath of last night’s election.

Lastly, Debra reflects on the election with her connection to the Religious Institute.  Is you are not familiar with their work or their nuanced pastoral letters in support of reproductive justice, I highly recommend reading them.  This will get you started.

I pray for RevGals daily and I am so excited to be part of the team - love ya, mean it!