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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ask the Matriarch -- Party Games

This week we hear from a troubled questioner, whose situation sent me to Google to look up the game she mentions:

I am in a unique position in that people think that as a female church leader/pastor, that I would just LOVE to plan and take care of baby showers, wedding showers and housewarmings. I do not. I usually don't attend because they are more than my family schedule can allow, but I will send a small homemade gift (personal) and then at the baby's blessing, give them a gift from the church (crib cross and a Bible).

We are a very VERY small church, and there's just not enough warm bodies to take on these projects. We also have a very transient population as our younger families are here for education, and then graduate and leave or get assigned a new post (military.) We ARE their family - most of them do not have family near by to host and plan these events.

Not into those "blindfold diapering" games either. But I also want these families to be loved on...


Give me a beer not another party game...

Our first Matriarch, Muthah+, does not mince words.

No!  This does not fall under the purview  of  the pastor no matter how large the congregation is.  Period.  Full-stop!  Quit picking up other peoples work.  You are not only mixing up the expectations of the role of pastor, you are setting up your successor with a horrible pattern.  If the parish has a need for such a ministry, someone will step up to it.

Not our reverendmother.
Terri ponders at greater length.

Oh my. This is fascinating. On the one hand you have a group of people looking for someone to be the "mom" and take care of the cultural expectations around family life. On the other hand they think that YOU, the Pastor should be that mom figure. In the Episcopal Church many of my female colleagues have opted to use the title, "Mother" as an equivalent to the often used male title "Father." But, both of those titles rankle me - I do not think the Pastor of the church should be in a parental role to the congregation. Spiritual Guide and teacher, perhaps, but not parent.

Nonetheless you have a community of people yearning for the cultural norms of wedding and baby showers and housewarmings (seriously, housewarmings? people still do that?). If this were my reality I would have a heart to heart with my governing board/vestry/leadership team. I'd let them know that this seems to be a need in the community but it is not one I can meet. Therefore, how do WE respond to this need? One response might be to say - people are welcome to use the Fellowship Hall (or whatever you call the area where you have coffee) for free to have these parties. The church will pray for you (we add these folks to our prayer list for the month before a wedding or baptism). Members of the church will come and celebrate with you, if you like. BUT you are responsible for planning your own party. Maybe even call it a "Have it your way" party? Seriously, is there anything wrong with planning your own party for a wedding celebration, baptism, or housewarming? If there is a procedure in place that normalizes this process maybe people would be able to embrace it? The procedure might include a list of where to get party supplies and local shops for gifts and discounted food?

Honesty, I'm not trying to problem solve - ideas like I am proposing may be completely ridiculous. But I am trying to think outside the box and offer an incentive to respond to a real need in the community - a need that you have already identified as a yearning for family - with some simple platform and procedure for others, even the individuals themselves, to take responsibility. That way you have paved a path for these events to happen - but YOU do not have to do them.

Praying for you and hoping some brilliant solution comes your way....

I would second Terri's suggestion of bringing the concern to a church leadership group. First, it's an erroneous assumption that a pastor who is a woman should be throwing parties for any occasion. Second, in a church with the population you describe, maybe there are some ways the church can be an extended family. When I was a young bride married to a law student, we had a spouses' group that made sure every new mom had a baby shower. We were the very definition of transient because no one stayed longer than three years. Some were very far from home. Can you, instead of catering or arranging parties yourself, call together a few church members who have the gift of hospitality and ask if they would take on this task? It's potentially a lovely, faithful way of blessing families, and opens up the possibility that as they move on to new places and churches, they will be moved to do the same for others. I would also suggest telling them about house blessings, which seem to be gaining in popularity, and are more faith-oriented than a traditional housewarming.

Dear readers, what think you? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And if you have a question for the Matriarchs, please send us an email by clicking on this link.


  1. So sorry I wasn't able to weigh in with my colleagues earlier in the week. Just to be clear, if you don't know Muthah+, she said all of that with an incredible amount of "don't you dare" in her voice. Heed her warnings, she is wise!

    As for me, I hate playing baby shower games but was so thankful for the many practical gifts we received before my daughter was born. And you know what? It was all planned, hosted and cleaned up by members of the congregation. Some people love this kind of thing. I say, get someone to form a committee and then sweetly step out of the way.


  2. There is another expedient which may not fit a-tall, but what about a regular monthly POTLUCK FESTIVUS THING at which is celebrated everything that has recently happened or is about to happen? I am thinking about a congregation too small to hive off into even one committee, perhaps...
    As to your own participation, I'm with Muthah+ on this one, "dissent is not an option" ;-) -- but there are two schools of thought about presence/participation. I used to try to be visible among the clean-up crew. It wasn't always well received. The elderly descendants of previous clergy objected that it was "undignified"; but if I sat down I could hear my own ancestral voices making remarks about "Mrs. Astor's plush horse..."
    So there you go.
    I'm with you on the beer. Pray tell us more about the blindfolded diapering games.

  3. I lean toward Muthah's response, because role confusion is no help to you or your parishioners (or, as Muthah+ said, to your successor). I also like Teri's response that this is a church leadership issue, not something for you to battle on your own. It also seems like there is confusion between personal/familial celebrations, like baby showers, and parish fellowship activities. I'm wondering if the church leadership could set a policy about the difference between the two, and if that was partnered with Crimson Rambler's excellent idea of a monthly Potluck Festivus thing, then events that are really personal/familial in nature can simply be folded into a more manageable fellowship event, and there is no need to do the blindfolded diapering thin, or for you to moonlight as an unpaid party planner. Tell 'em you were not trained in seminary to do party planning...but you will cheer on any folks in the parish who wan to take on the leadership of such activities!

  4. Planning and hosting parties and showers - not part of the job description. I agree wholeheartedly with Muthah+ - this sets up an unfortunate precedent for you and your successor.

    Question: Would they even consider asking this of you if you were male?

  5. Ay yi yi!!!
    Well, first of all, not part of your role. Church leadership issue, definitely. It's possible, though, that really nobody wants to plan these events, they just think it "should" happen. Perhaps the church leadership needs some guidance in thinking through these events--do we want to do this, and if so, how can we do this so as not to take on more than what we, as a small congregation, can reasonably do? I don't know the backstory but the church where I currently attend has a few "set" things that happen for babies and newlyweds. Both happen a month or two after the blessed event--not before. The menus for all these events are the same (costco cake and punch, if you wondered) and the gifts are the same, too (though homemade, so there is some sort of a personalization--blankets for babies, cookbooks and crosses for newlyweds). I wonder if these came about as a result of a similar battle? I have no idea, but both clergy are female!

    I don't know. I find that people sometimes tell me that things are my job as a way of delegating something that really doesn't need to be done in the first place.

  6. Unlike one of the Matriarchal responses, I have no problem with pastors being spiritual mothers and fathers (oh the irony of that statement here!). The role and functions of spiritual mothers and fathers is entirely distinct from the familial roles and expectations that are being projected onto pastoral figures in the situation described. Setting clear boundaries is the beginning of educating parishioners about the distinctions between spiritual and familial leaders. Then there has to be focused, intentional education from pulpit, in small groups, and one-on-one. Dear Give Me a Beer: Preach about this, teach about this, and allow space for someone in the parish to discern a call to the ministry of fellowship and hospitality. If no one discerns that call, I'd say that the parish isn't called to that ministry, either. Peace, Mother Suzanne

  7. Thank you all! I knew it was not something I could/ should do but wasn't able to put my finger on what f why... It is a boundary issue and I appreciate how you all helped me define it.

    I have abdicated my role :-) and found that it was, as they say, a "squishy ask" -- not really an ask, just a wish. I agree that they would not ask a male colleague to do this either.

    PS bring me that beer and ill teach you the blindfolded diapering game. It might actually be fun after a beer, actually!! ;-)


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