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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ask the Matriarch

It seems that so many of the difficult issues we face in ministry have to do with the negotiation of appropriate boundaries. Some of these issues are more complex than we ever could've imagined, and we can hardly fathom how to move through the situation with health and wisdom. This week's question comes from a minister in such a situation - it's a doozy! Read on....

Thanks for your wisdom each week.  As someone in my first few years of ministry, I really appreciate it!

I currently serve two churches where one church is an awesome fit and the second church is, well, less than awesome.  My denominational supervisor and I have determined that it is necessary for my health for me to leave the smaller, dysfunctional church and just work full-time at the larger, healthier church.  My question is how to set up boundaries (and what boundaries to set up) when I'll be staying two miles from the church I'm leaving.  The churches are in a close-knit community and there are a lot of people who are physically as well as emotionally related in the two churches.  They also have joint traditions/ministries like an Easter sunrise service that are very meaningful to the congregations.  This service is scheduled to be hosted by the smaller church this year, but I am already having misgivings about participating (partly because I selfishly want to design the service myself and partly because I know it will be difficult emotionally to return to a place that has done their best over 18 months to get me to leave).  The folks at the larger church don't know all that I've been through at the smaller church. (I know that's surprising considering how closely related the two churches are, but it's true).  So what are the boundaries I should be thinking about with 1) parishioners from the church I'm leaving, 2) parishioners at the church I'm staying in, and 3) the new pastor?  (There are also a few families at the dysfunctional church that have said they don't want to stay at that church and might transfer to the other church----not at my encouragement but I'm sure that's how it will be perceived).

kathrynzj responds:
Wow. Can someone else (your denominational supervisor?) work with the smaller church on the sunrise service? One thing that will be helpful with boundary issues is your full time status at one church. Keep your hours reasonable and you won't have time to dabble in the other church's issues. Ignore emails from the other church or even from members in the larger church about the smaller church's issues. Treat them, as best as possible, as if they are 200 miles away. 

Not easy.. things will overlap a bit, but time will help. Blessings!

Muthah+ writes:
Dear Smart One,

This is the story of my very first position 30 years ago!  Often yoked situations contribute to the dysfunction of one of the congregations.  So let us pray that this happens for the smaller group.

First I would say, you do not have control over those who would leave the dysfunctional congregation.  The change of pastors bring about changes in the whole of the congregation always.  It is the way that churches change and grow.

If there are members from the smaller congregation come to you for care, remind them that you are not their pastor anymore.  It might spur them to take their own congregation in hand to change it.  I would suggest that you do not participate in combined services and suggest to the larger congregation that you suspend combined services for a while (certainly until they have called a new pastor).  The smaller congregation must know that there are consequences to their actions.

You do not need to tell your present congregation the ins and outs of the situation with the smaller group, but they will come out eventually.  Small towns keep nothing to themselves.  You may even have some rather hair-raising untruths told about you.  Try not to defend against these stories unless they begin to affect your parish.  Then tell your leadership the unvarnished truth confidentially.  Transparency is key but does not need to be for the whole parish.  Your lay leadership will take care of the tongue waggling.

You do not have any responsibility to the new pastor save that he/she will be a colleague.  If they ask, you can tell your side but you do not need to warn them.  When they call a new pastor, it may be the person that fits them when you did not.  

But what I want to tell you I did not learn until much later is that there is a reason that those 2 churches are separate!  They do NOT belong together being served by the same person.  And geography is NEVER a good reason for parishes to be yoked no matter what the judicatory thinks.  They are separate because they are drastically different and want different things as congregations. Otherwise they would be one large congregation. What will serve one congregation will NOT serve the other.  It is WHY they were formed in the first place.  So do not beat yourself up because you can't serve both parishes.  NO one really can.  The 2 parishes I served years ago had chewed up 4 priests before me.  I was able to help the larger congregation to go in on their own and they have been healthier for it.  The smaller congregation has continued to act squirrely but it is their own peculiar squirrelishness that seems to attract a certain group of people of that community.  Both parishes are stronger in their ministry in the community for it.

And RevHRod adds: 
Since I don't know which denomination you are affiliated with, my strongest advice may not be usable.  I truly think the best thing you could do for all concerned is to seek a call at a third church that isn't too close to either of the other two.  I am a bit surprised that your denominational supervisor is proposing this change as it sounds like it could be really sticky for you.  In regards to your three questions:
1.              You should consider the same boundaries that you would use after any change in call.  You are no longer their pastor so that means, you no longer perform pastoral duties in that place or with those people.
2.              I would think you would want to talk about details with your congregational leadership regarding the change in expectations since you will be their full time pastor.
3.              Be nice.  Be welcoming.  Don't tell stories.  Don't gossip. Don't stick your fingers in their pie.  And realize that even though you might want to do some things like design the Easter service, it may not be possible to do that and still be a good colleague.
Best of luck!  

Thank you, matriarchs, for your good advice! Muthah's experience, and what she learned from it, exemplify the profound blessing we have in being in community with sisters who have "been there, done that." Thank you, all three, for your wisdom.

I know that many in our ring are sailing the ocean blue, but the rest of us can carry on this conversation in the comments section. What advice would you contribute? Please join us!

And, as always, if you have a question you would like the matriarchs to discuss, please send it our way at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Festival: Rites of Passage!

This week some of the RevGals are at sea on a Continuing Education cruise - the Big Event 6!  We hope that there is plenty of laughter, learning and love.

Around the ring there is, as ever, lots of engaging reading.  This week the Festival begins with posts about birth, ordination and death.

Gluten Free Jesus Freak shares the story of the birth of her son, Lincoln, and the grace she experienced on that Holy Night.

Kristin at Liberation Theology Lutheran shares a powerful dream about ordination.  Please stop by to read her post.  Those of you who experienced seminary later in life, or who have pioneered new paths to ministry may especially like to offer encouragement, support or comment.

Elsa at (im)possible things with God writes about a funeral/memorial service she attended and what it's like to be told to celebrate when grieving.

Two other challenging topics invite our attention this week.

At Rev Mibi, Mary writes about charity and the experience as a pastor of making decisions about who to help and how to help them.  Stop by to hear about her recent dilemma as she seeks to be a faithful and generous steward of her community's resources.

Over at For the Someday Book, revjmk writes about the way in which our use of language can include or exclude others.  'Unconscious Othering' analyses the recent Inauguration Speech of the US President using it as an example of the way in which language that is intended to build community and to be inclusive can have the opposite effect.  The way we use language is such an important issue for all of us who preach or teach or prepare or lead worship.  There is a lively conversation in the comments - please add your voice.

As always you are welcome to add to the Festival by recommending your own or others' posts in the comments.  If you need help to make a link, please click here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings -- Acts of Love?? Edition

To start our discussion on this last Tuesday of January I offer this prayer with which my congregation will start our time of worship next Sunday (posted here)
God of Jubilee, God of freedom from oppression and healing for the afflicted, 
we gather to share your Good News. We gather to be transformed as the world is changed.
In this time of worship,
may we be fed in body and soul.
As we sing and pray, as we break the bread and pour the cup,
may the Spirit of the Lord fall upon us, may we be refreshed, anointed, and empowered.
And when our time of worship is ended,
send us back out into the world to proclaim the Good News.
We pray in the name and memory of Jesus,
our Rock and Redeemer, our Teacher and Guide, in whom we find the path that leads to the Kingdom. Amen.

There are appear to be multiple options this week.  Some may be recognizing the Presentation of the Lord (which technically is marked on February 2, Groundhog Day or Candlemas Day), some are following the RCL and using the readings for Epiphany 4C, and some may be on the Narrative Lectionary.

Indeed it is not...
 And that is too many readings to comment on.  But one thing that runs through all of them is love, sort of, I think.

The Brow of the Hill
In Epiphany 4C we have Paul's hymn to love.  And I have always had a desire to preach on that outside of a wedding or funeral.  On those occasions we simply don't get to immerse ourselves in this wonderful passage.  Also in those readings we have the call to Jeremiah, which I suppose is an act of love on God's part (although Jeremiah is dubious, and with good reason as his story turns out)--love of God for God's people.  Then we have the reaction of the people of Nazareth to Jesus' homecoming sermon.  And I guess it is true that sometimes you just can't go home again.  That is the one where I am searching for the love.  Mind you I am sure that few if any of us have ever had quite that bad a reaction to one of  our sermons....

Then the Presentation readings are used to commemorate what is in itself an act of love.  Love of the child and love of God.

Which leaves us with the Narrative Lectionary and its stories of healings.  And what are the healings if not acts of love?

Where is the Love of God being revealed in your midst this week?  Where will it find itself in your worship planning and presentation this week? 

And of course we continue to send best wishes to those of our body who are off on the big white ship for BE6.

RevGalBookPals: Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land

For today's RevGalBookPal review, longtime RGBP Julie Craig ( offers a review of RGBP Ruth Everhart's new book: Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land.

Many thanks to Julie for this review and recommendation!

Place Matters: a review of Chasing The Divine In The HolyLand by Ruth Everhart

I think there are two kinds of Christians in the world; those who long to visit the Holy Land, and the rest of us.  This book was of particular interest to me—and I was thrilled to be invited to review it for this blog—because several of my friends have recently done exactly what the author of this book, Ruth Everhart, has done.

Well, almost.  None of my friends were filmed during their Holy Land pilgrimages, that I know of. But more about that later.

I will admit sheepishly that a big part of my own hesitation to visit the Near East and walk the paths where Jesus walked is my own fear of the unknown. Like the author’s parishioner, when I hear of someone who is setting off on this type of trip, I am tempted to ask them, “Isn’t it terrifying to think you could lose your life?”

Luckily for us, there are those willing to make the trip, to engage in the art of pilgrimage, and to report back that yes, pilgrimage is dangerous. Not because of physical danger, necessarily (although Everhart does describe a harrowing moment when she had to run across traffic to avoid being hit by some young boys incensed by the sight of her knees in public) but because the act of stepping away from the safe and familiar is by its very nature an act of vulnerability, and carries some implicit danger.  As her hairstylist—of all people—explains, the Holy Land is dangerous “…it’s the navel of every belief. It’s dangerous because God is dangerous.” Indeed.

I was somewhat familiar with Ruth Everhart’s writing from her blog, Work In Progress ( so I knew her style to be engaging and descriptive.  This book does not disappoint in that regard.  The writing is vivid, evocative, and close to the bone. The reader is treated not only to a description of the various holy sites and their significance in the life of Jesus, and to the Christians, the Jews, and the Muslims who call this land their spiritual home, but also to her own spiritual reflection, sometimes in poetic paragraphs and sometimes in wry one-liners.  The chapter on the Sea of Galilee, “Flotilla” left me weeping from its sheer, raw beauty.

The reader is also invited to get to know some of Ruth Everhart’s fellow pilgrims on the journey.  After all, even though one must pilgrim at one’s own pace and for one’s own purposes, the communal nature of such a trip results in shared experience.  Or perhaps the shared nature results in a communal experience.

A book about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land would be remiss without mention of the conflict that resides there, and with this, the author uses a deft, measured hand. The descriptions and multi-faceted explanations are neither simplistic nor overly sentimental.  The hard truths of what it must be like to live in such a conflicted place come through loud and clear without apology, often in the words of those who are living it themselves.  The reader comes away understanding that there are no winners; there are many losers.

If I were to state one critique of the book, I would say that the ending of the narrative left me wanting more.  I wondered what happened to the group that was being filmed for the documentary.  What was their last night together like? How was the author’s re-entry into her ordinary life after such an extraordinary experience?  I’d loved to have heard more about the process of being filmed, and more about how that may have colored or influenced how the pilgrims behaved and reacted to things on the pilgrimage.

One can only hope that this ‘wanting more’ will be sated when Ruth Everhart writes her next book!
May it be so.     

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sunday Prayer: Epiphany 3

This day, every day, is holy
for the joy of God is our strength -
our rock and our life.

We give thanks for all the blessings of this life
for food and drink, for family and friends, for
neighbors and strangers, for those celebrating
birthdays and anniversaries, we give thanks.

This day is holy, and we give thanks,
for the joy of God is our strength,
our rock and our life.

We pray for those in need, those suffering,
those who need healing.Those struggling
 from any kind of distress. Be with
those who weep, be with the poor
in  mind, body, or spirit, and bring them hope.
Help us to be your hands and heart.
Help us to bring your love into world.

For you, O God are our strength,
our joy, our rock, and our life.

Friday, January 25, 2013

11th Hour Preacher Party: Preacher Sabbath Edition

I was lamenting earlier this week on the Narrative Lectionary Facebook wall that the only downfall I've experienced while following that schedule of readings is being out of sync with my sisters and brothers over here at the RevGals and Pals. Everyone is gracious, of course, but I miss the community of discernment when I'm on a totally different passage than most everyone else.

Community is important to me which is why I always start to get nervous when discussions of sabbath-keeping come up. (It's come up for me this week since my preaching text is Luke 6:1-16.) It seems too me that many sabbath discussions I have been a part of in recent months or a couple of years seem to focus on solitude, quiet, and individual reflection. I guess I have fallen off the introvert-extrovert fence squarely on the side of extrovert because that description of sabbath sound downright miserable to me. Instead I love this image of a orthodox Jewish sabbath or the image I see in my own community on pleasant Saturdays when the Messianic Jewish congregation breaks between morning and evening worship. Small groups from the congregation break off and take slow, purposeful walks together, talking about Scripture, their lives, and the world around them. They aren't in a hurry to get anywhere. They aren't rushing to the next activity. The sabbath day exists for them to be present, in community, a part of the people of God. I love it.

Sabbath is hard for pastors to observe. That's a sad understatement, but we know it's true. We know that Saturday is RARELY the sabbath for most of us who show up at this party, but I pray as I think about the day that is for saving life that all of us are cultivating the observance of sabbath.

As you are thinking about your sermon and your responsibilities for worship this weekend, if you have a moment or two, think also about how you will observe the sabbath, in some way, this week. Join our party in the comments and, if you can think of one, share one favorite sabbath practice.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A "Never Again" Friday Five

"It seemed like a good idea at the time..."

It was supposed to be a "staff bonding" moment for us... The church staff team and some of our spouses got all decked out in a harness and helmets and went on a high wire "confidence" course. It was supposed to be liberating and fun and build a spirit of camaraderie.
Yours Truly. Terrified.

I was talked into doing it. Sounded simple. You put on a butt-hugging harness and clip yourself to a verrry thin wire. You go way high in the air and climb around trees with the squirrels. It ended with a zip wire. To this day, the memory of it sends chills down my spine.


You may have read David Foster Wallace's essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" where he notes his lack of enthusiasm for going on a cruise. (That's putting it in a nutshell. It's hilarious. Do read it!) However, I think it (perhaps) is just a wee bit of a hyperbole. ;) Some of our awesome RevGals are heading out on the next BE 6.0 (Big Event) for a cruise. They absolutely will have an amazing time. A very non-DFW cruise. And even the cruise-phobic among us would wish that! 

All this is the inspiration for this week's Friday Five! 

Perhaps you have tried something that everyone assured you was SO MUCH FUN!!! and you swore on a stack of Bibles that you would never ever be dragged to said activity ever again. Was it horseback riding? Rappelling? Ballet class when you were 7?

So share with us 5 Supposedly Fun Things You'll Never EVER Do Again. You may find some commiserating souls among us. A bonus if you share pictures. 

P.S. Bon voyage to our Rev Gal friends! May you have smooth seas, sunny skies and many little umbrellas in your drinks. :)

Oh - yeah - don't forget to put a link into your comments! 

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

Ask the Matriarch -- The Rev Is In, When She Is In

Every time I turn around, these days, I hear about more part-time or bi-vocational ministry situations.  It's a truism of course, that the only way to have a part-time appointment BE a part-time appointment is to have an additional part-time appointment!   But our enquirer this week is asking about appropriate ways to map "time on" and "time off" and communicate the realities to her congregants.  Here's her question:

Hey, Matriarchs!
I've just started a 1/3 time position as a rural pastor in a town about 20 miles away.  This congregation has been without a settled pastor for a few years, and it's clear from many of my initial conversations that they need some reassurance that their new pastor is, indeed, "here for them."  They're also very respectful of the fact that I, as a 1/3 time bivocational pastor, CAN'T be there for them 24/7.  (The church--and deacons especially--have done some good, hard work around this issue, and they have already taken on all the visitation duties.)

I've been trying to sort out ways to announce my genuine availability AND clarify my professional boundaries.  For instance, I only plan to keep office hours one day a week, but we're moving the pastor's office out of its current upstairs back-hall location and setting up a ground-floor office with clear sight lines and full disability access.  My office hours will also be posted/published clearly.

I'm toying with the idea of getting vanity plates ("rev"something) so that, when my car is parked there, it sends another clear signal that the pastor is in.  (I've seen other pastors do similar things, either with special parking spaces or plates.) Matriarchs, please advise me:  is this pure foolishness that will make me and my vehicle a target for any unpleasantness, or is it sensible after all?

What further advice do you have regarding the part-time pastor's delicate dance between reassurance of availability and clear boundary-setting?

Thanks in advance for your guidance, cautions, insights, and wisdom!

And here are our eloquent responses!!!

Dear Rev. Something-

If you can afford the vanity plates, I say go for it!  A former colleague has a set that date back to his days as a mission developer. It eliminated some of his anonymity but it also helped people see that he was present in a variety of places.

My guess is that if you live only  twenty miles from your congregation, you may already know a lot about rural life.  However, if you aren't familiar with life on a farm, ask some questions.  Get a tour or two.  I've never met a farmer who wasn't eager to show off their milking parlor or tell you about the cost of their combine.  Your interest in their life's work will help them to see your commitment to the community.

Is there a local coffee shop or diner where the locals go to have their mid-morning coffee or Sunday lunch?   Is high school basketball a big deal in your area?  Where do folks go for fun on a Friday night?  Make a point of being at one or more public places every so often.  You have to eat anyway and who doesn't want to have fun on a Friday night?

Last thing, and I know this is really obvious, but if there is an emergency, make every effort to respond.  If you can't be with them, do what you can to communicate your concern and provide them with care.  One of the saddest stories I have ever heard was of a part-time pastor who would not visit a dying parishioner because she was on her "stay-cation."  Healthy boundaries are important but there are times when is is simply not appropriate to say "no."

Best of luck!
Further wisdom --
Dear Bi-Voc.
   You have already made some of the changes I would have made.  And I am so glad that you have been thinking about how to signal your availability.  It is so difficult both in small towns and especially when you are p-t.

Be faithful to your Office Hours.  They will depend on them.  Is there someone in the parish who will function as your secretary?  Mine did the bulletin for Sunday and was the local contact person if there was anything going on in the parish.  I checked with her everyday.  This way you do not have to field every call that comes in, but are free to focus on the immediate needs of your people.  Perhaps the deacons can do this.

I love the vanity plate idea.  It will help; however, it won't take long for the whole town to know what car you drive and whether you are in town or not.  Small towns consider you their pastor even if they do not attend your church.  If you go to the bank or the post office, you will be known and people will know if you are in town the minute you cross the village limits.  And make friends with the other clergy in town if possible.

My tradition wears clergy collars.  Wearing it in small towns was very helpful.  Since I lived there on the corner of N-S and E-W Main St, it was the way that I could signal when I was on duty and when I was off.  If that is not your practice, would a particular cross worn on duty mark you?  If nothing else, it will remind YOU of when you are on and when you are off.

I am excited for you.  This is one of the greatest ministries in the Church.  The possibility to build Christian community in small towns is one of greatest gifts God gives in my opinion.  Have fun with it.  It sounds as though your congregation is excited to have you come and they will treat you with great respect as they know that you care about them.  How you are planning to do that is right on the mark. Contact me if you need more help.


SOO true that the whole town will soon know what you drive (and will take note approvingly if you wave whenever you meet another vehicle, if your small town is like every other small town I've ever known!)
And a third take on the question:
I don't think a "Rev" plate will cause any unpleasantness and it's not foolishness, if you want to get one. I also think you won't need that identifier in a rural setting. Your car will be known, trust me!  And that's not a bad thing.
I have not been a part-time pastor but boundaries are boundaries in every pastorate.  
My advice: Publish a little blurb in each worship bulletin and in each newsletter stating your availability.  I always say "typical office hours" because you know how that is!  On the church answering machine, after "leave a message," it says "If the nature of your call is urgent, please call the pastor at (cell phone number)."  I also put something similar in the newsletter and add: "If it is urgent to you, then it's urgent."  I've had more problems with people who didn't want to "bother" me with a hospitalization or death than I have had with people calling for something that could wait.
When you get "called out" for extra things -- meetings, emergencies, etc., -- take extra time off when you want or need to.
Run your plan by a few people from your search committee and/or the church leader person.  You will surely tweak this along the way, as you see what works -- and what doesn't! -- for you and your congregation.
Many blessings in this new ministry setting!
I've little to add other than hearty endorsement of the excellent advice offered here--go where the people are, whether that's coffee shop or curling rink or garage sales...

What do YOU think?  We await your comments.  -- and your questions.  Questions should be addressed to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.

Great thanks  to earthchick for looking after Ask the Matriarch next week--this Matriarch will be "on the boat" and out of touch temporarily!!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday Festival: Reflections

Around our RevGals & Pals community, the writings are touching and honest (as ever, but we seem collectively reflective in recent posts):

Molly is considering the lessons of her recent sabbatical, including the need to keep our brain synapses open to new learning just as we keep our spirits open to new revelations. Sally, too, is reaching out beyond the familiar -- even beyond the familiarity of self-image -- for the grace of possibility and wholeness. Sharon shares the blessings of others reaching in with offers of support to the faith community she pastors, following the church's vote to sell their building.

CindiK dares fellow US citizens to live in community, without guns between us. Faith Hope Cherrytea also shares an invitation for relationship through authenticity and presence with one another. Emma offers a poetic hand in supportive friendship.

Many of you are sharing the creative insights that inspire you these days:

  • Linda introduces the music of Alyssa Bonagura, while Anita has been listening to Stravinsky and Beethoven;
  • Ruth is reading Daniel Pink's To Sell is Human and asking "What are you selling?"; 
  • Diane's sweater-knitting offers a creative parable about community & grace;
  • Lorna shares seven "up" encouragements that she found in the blogosphere, starting with "Wake up";
  • Kim considers the stones (and clay and stars) that echo our prayers;
  • and Michelle brings the beauty of her photography to warm the winter's sudden chill.
Celebrate the writings of the RGBP network on this festival day by reading and offering your comments in response to these reflections!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings--Tale of Two Sermons Edition

Good Morning (or evening, or afternoon depending on where and when you are reading this), and welcome to the week where we prepare for the 3rd Sunday After Epiphany Year C (for RCL followers anyway).  And as it happens this Tuesday lands us in the middle of the Week Of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It seems appropriate in an widely ecumenical group such as this that we hold that occasion up in prayer (prayer source --excerpted from II Praise and Thanksgiving)....
All around the world...
We praise you dear God for creating us in all our diversity.
For the gift of our many cultures, languages, diverse expressions of belief, customs, traditions, and ethnicities we thank you!
We thank you for the many church traditions which have kept our communities strong and active even in places where they are a minority.
Teach us to celebrate our different identities and traditions, so as to forge bonds of friendship and fellowship leading us to greater unity.

We praise you Holy Spirit for the gift of mutual interdependence and solidarity that has been our heritage as peoples and churches.

Teach us to treasure the bonds of unity we enjoy as we beseech your continuing presence with us.
Inspire us on our journey towards full visible unity among us, and with all those peoples and movements that engage in the struggles for life.

This week the RCL readings offer us a choice between a really long sermon in Nehemiah or a really short sermon in Luke.  Mind you given the reaction Jesus gets to his sermon maybe it is just as well it is short--but more on that next week.

It strikes me that one could tell that story from Nehemiah any time people complain about the sermon being too long.  And after that long sermon the people weep for joy!  Should we maybe promise to preach till the people weep????  More seriously, coupled with the Psalm reading this passage really makes us think about our feelings toward Scripture.

Then in our other sermon Jesus gives one simple sentence.  Mind you that simple sentence coupled with a powerful passage of scripture makes a pretty potent (and somewhat terrifying) job description.  Then again at least this job description does not contain that pesky line "Other duties as required".  That line opens too many doors....
Nepotism at the highest levels?

Many Members but One Body
Or we could avoid preaching about preaching altogether and go with Paul.  Paul who continues to wax eloquent about welcoming all into the family (or body in this case) of God.  But maybe we should not ask which part of the body (literal or metaphorical) we would want to amputate...

Then again there is the Narrative Lectionary, which takes on Luke 6  and conflict with the Pharisees this week.

Wherever worship planning is tempting you to go this week, whatever wonderings/questions you have popping into your heads, any wonderful Children's Time ideas, or maybe just space to vent about church life--the comments are waiting.

PS: and of course best wishes (and maybe a little envy) go to those of our circle who are about to head off on a big boat for the Big Event (version 6.0) this weekend.

Monday Extra: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo from Mike Licht,
Some rights reserved.
When I was discerning whether or not to officiate a same-sex wedding (in violation of denominational statements), I re-read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

I heard voices of those who said, "This is not the time. This is not the way to address the injustice."

And I read King's words: "Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

I heard voices of those who said, "You agreed to certain rules by being ordained in this denomination."

And I read King's words: "The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'"

I heard voices of those who said, "You will destroy the unity of the church." And I thought about my own passionate love for the church.

And I read King's words: "But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."

It is important to take time to listen to the words of God's prophets--ancient and modern. I am grateful for this opportunity to listen with you and through you to the words and life of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Please share comments and links to posts related to your own experiences with the powerful voice of Dr. King. (Click here for instructions on embedding links in your comment.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sunday Prayer; Epiphany 2, Ordinary Time 2

Holy One, O Divine Wisdom
You look deep into the world and see all the broken places.
And, yes, the world and our lives are very broken - 
foresaken and desolate, your people cry out.
But - 
You, O Lord, are steadfast in your love
You take delight in us, O builder of hope
And we rejoice that you are with us. Through 
you we can be made whole once more - 
like a newly married couple, renamed in love.

Holy One, O Divine Wisdom,
We thank you for all the gifts of this life
those known and those we have yet 
to discover. For family and friends,
And -
for all those who are a blessing 
in our lives, known and unknown gifts
of mercy and grace, all signs of You.
The many ways you show up and reveal
the Holy Spirit active, present in love.

Holy One, O Divine Wisdom
in you we celebrate and rejoice 
for you call us to this party of life
this wedding banquet of delight
you love life and love us and
call us to do like wise - love you
and love others. And this is hard to do -
loving is hard! Some days - what concern is this?
But you, O lover of souls never quit

And for that we give thanks. 

11th Hour Preacher Party: "Look, Gifts!" Edition

Mardi Gras

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;
 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God 
who activates all of them in everyone. 
[1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NRSV)]

From all over the world and across time zones, here we are!

This virtual gathering turns preaching prep into a party just as surely as empty jars, in Jesus' hands, can overflow with the best wine.  Empty vessels? Bring 'em!  Let's see what the Spirit can do with what we've got.  

THANKS for stopping by today!

Stay as long as you want to or need to. 
Pop in and out. 
Share a story or a prayer concern.  
Update us on your sermon progress.
Post a link to your sermon so we can read it.
If you need help, please ask.
If you have snacks to share, please do!

What are you celebrating?  Do tell!

Carnival season has started here in New Orleans and, though I grew up 75 miles north in Baton Rouge, it turns out that's a world away from what goes on here.  I don't know how close to the action I'll get but the celebration crowds (and crowded streets) will apparently impact church accessibility. No one seems stressed about that, so neither will I.  It's a party, after all!

A special invitation to you friends who have not yet posted for the first time:
Today is your day!  If you've been wanting to be more visible here, go ahead and come out and play.  Tell us something about yourself or what's on your mind. We welcome you and want to hear from you.  

I am so grateful for the variety of gifts that you all are, and I am thankful for the community that God is creating here. 


Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Five: Smile!

For this Friday Five, what makes you smile? Remembering that Meister Eckhart said that if you pray "thank you" that that is enough of a prayer, share with us five things, memories, or activities that bring you smiles and gratitude.

Of course, let us know if you've played. Although my computer never lets me spell out the formula as would be helpful, I suggest that you go here to find out how to do it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ask the Matriarch -- Acquainted with Grief

Good morning and a Blessed Thursday, everybody.  This week we're considering the internal challenges of our ministry at the time of death -- funerals, memorials, interments, leave-takings.  There are special challenges in providing that ministry for total strangers (what on earth do I say about this person whom I never met?); there are plenty of external challenges in officiating at funerals and memorials for members of our congregations (they want WHAT for music?  they want to display WHAT atop the casket?  they want HOW MANY eulogies?).  But there are more intimate difficulties when we are called on to officiate and at the same time we are very definitely among the mourners with our own grief roughening our heartbeat and cutting off our breathing...

 Our enquirer asks:
I am curious to know if any of you have any particular rituals for dealing with your own grief prior to the funeral of a beloved church member.  How do you care for yourself?  How do you deal with your own grief over the loss so that you may minister effectively to the rest of the congregation in their grief?

And we have two very helpful responses rooted in deep experience: 

Dear Sistah,
When I was a young priest and in my second year of parish ministry ( a small rural parish) I had 24 funerals in one year.  Many of them were of the parish.  Five were suicides.  I almost went under that year.  The grief that I was exposed to was at such a level that I was all but useless to my parish.  What I did not realize was that I had unresolved grief from the death of my father while I was in seminary.  It took a bit of professional help to get me through that.

We who must deal with the grief of others must be willing to first deal with our own grief in order to be of use to others.  If you have not dealt with your own losses in life or at least faced them, there is a temptation to avoid dealing with the grief of others.  Since then I have always chosen to have a spiritual director or a therapist to assist me with my issues as I faced death and grief in a congregation.  I would strongly urge anyone who feels alone in parish ministry to find a person who can help you address the grief in your life.  We all have it whether it has to do with the loss of family or friends or with the loss of a position or even a dream.  Be aware of your own loss and work it through with the help of someone.  Grief is not something that we need bear alone.  But we cannot bear others' until we are willing be healed of our own.  Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer was a great help for me.

Recently I heard from a family member of one of those who died during that horrible year.  I had not heard from him for decades and he blistered me in a Facebook message for my failure to provide the kind of care that he needed at that time.  I was stunned but had to admit that I had avoided doing my bounden duty that year.  I am thankful that I was able to admit that to him and ask his forgiveness.  He had been holding on to that grief for 30 years.  Grief is a mean burden; it can distort our whole lives.  So don't be afraid of your grief but do seek the help of others.  And sometimes just being willing to journey with others in their grief gives us insight into our own.  But I do not recommend sharing your stories with your parishioners.  Just be aware of the journey.

And may Peace be with you in your journey.  You are in my prayers.  Muthah+

A second response from a slightly different angle --

I get a LOT of funerals – and find that even the ones of people I barely knew (or indeed never met) are draining & I need to be sure to factor in that afterwards I will feel a sense of tiredness from absorbing and holding grief on behalf of others.

The funerals of those whom I, too, want to grieve are even more complex. Sometimes I allow myself a little time to grieve before the funeral – maybe after the visit to the family I will go somewhere where I can sit quietly with my own memories, cry if I need to, pray... Other times there is no chance to do that before the funeral and I will set aside some time afterwards. Sometimes there are cards or letters from the person which I re-read and allow myself the space to feel what I am feeling rather than being the one who is ‘coping’ (which is, I think the proper role when I officiate at a funeral). Sometimes I deliberately re-visit some of the readings and words used at the service, allowing myself to hear them as a mourner, not an officiant.

I look forward to hearing what others do...

Thank you both very much indeed.  I have encountered another resource -- a small book of Lutheran provenance entitled A Trumpet in Darkness by Robert Hughes (Fortress) -- it's not new (1985, or so, I think) but full of real wisdom and practical counsel clearly given.  Out of my personal experience, certainly one of the funerals at which I was most conscious of my own grief was for a woman who had been a "major antagonist" throughout my time in that parish--much to my surprise!  Otherwise I think I have dealt, or not dealt, with my own feelings of grief by setting them to one side because the task-to-be-done took precedence (I'm not recommending this, just observing it).  Because I buried both my mother and father within the span of a couple of years, and until the last words were said and the last shovelful shovelled, at the second burial, there were no tears at all.  But then, with everything done, there were tears a-plenty, and they were a great relief too.

I look forward eagerly to your comments.  As always, I hope you are observing your ministry with one eye out for questions to "Ask the Matriarch" -- please send them along to askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com!

Peace and joy and comfort to you all!

--Crimson Rambler

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday Festival: Something for Just About Everyone

Hello friends!

As usual one can find just about anything around here!  Just one of the many things I love about this community--everyone has a place!

If you're a poet head on over to LLM Calling and get inspired as Emma waxes poetic about the writing process.

If you're a parent or  need some good reminders about the way life is check out Called as Jenny writes a beautiful and thoughtful letter to her children.  She also posts some great pics to illustrate the top 5 things she wants them to learn.  Waiting for the Day shares some parenting insights about how mothering changes as children get older.

If you are struggling with food allergies, I have a feeling that you'll definitely relate to Gluten Free Jesus Freak's latest post. And if you don't, it's a good read to develop some understanding about the realities and struggles of food allergies.

Dirty Sexy Ministry calls us to examine what it truly means to "confess" as she considers the upcoming Lance Armstrong and Oprah interview.  I highly recommend you reading her thoughts as they draw us into some deep waters that deserve our attention, thought, and time.  Perhaps this quote will convince you:
Confession is a bare naked, raw moment of truth-telling. Confession is digging into the deep, ugly depths of our dark motivations, our spectacular shortcomings, our behaviour that damages others and betrays trust. Confession begins and engages the process of realizing the impact and consequences of our sinful behavior. Confession takes full responsibility for our actions, realizing that we do things that are hurtful to others, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.

a church for starving artists discusses "mean girls" and church bullies: "The original Mean Girls were probably church ladies. And some of the worst bullies I’ve ever met were Church Men."  I bet most of know exactly what she's talking about.  In addition to discussing the problem she challenges us to deal with the mean girls and bullies and provides some good ways to begin the process.  There's definitely a need for all of us church folk to be talking and doing something.

This is just a small sampling of the terrific blog posts.  If you've written or read something you want to talk about please post a link in the comments!


Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuesday LEctionary Leanings: Got Wine!?!? Edition

Saw this picture on FB last fall and when I sat down to work this morning I just KNEW I had to use it this week.


This week brings us to the 2nd Sunday After Epiphany (which is a short-ish season this year only lasting for 4 Sundays before we get to T-fig on February 10).  The RCL passages are here, but first, shall we pause for prayer? (Prayer comes from here)
When we stand at the edge of desolation, staring down into our emptiness,
     you reach out to keep us from falling.
When we fumble and stumble
throw the shadows of our world,
     you offer us a little light,
          which is all we need until our eyes
          grow accustomed to the bright dawn
          of your grace and wonder.
When we are worn down
by the rough edges of life,
     you polish us until we gleam with hope.
When we feel deserted,
     you adopt us as your very own.
When the world files a bill
of divorce against us, turning its back,
     you slip the ring
     of joy on our finger,
     clasping our hands in yours,
          as you whisper vows of love
          which will remain longer
          than the stars will burn.

God in Community, Holy in One,
we give you praise for your presence,
even as we pray as we are taught,
Our Father . . .

So in Isaiah and John we have weddings.  But more importantly in John we have wine.  Gallons and Gallon of wine.  I did the math this morning and it works out to between 720 and 1080 standard bottles of wine.  [At that point any of several songs about drinking came to mind].  13 years ago I went to a community theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar and during the overture they were enacting various scenes from the Gospels and at one point they had the actor pour clear liquid into a bottle and it turned a lovely shade of red.  I have always wanted to do that but can not remember the (fairly simple I think) chemistry needed to accomplish that trick.

Or there is the chance of going with 1 Corinthians.  I am not always fond of Paul but 1 Corinthians 12 is one of those passages where he is at his greatest IMO.  Given that this is the Sunday that falls during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this could be a wonderfully appropriate passage to lead into a discussion about why there are so many Christian churches in the world, particularly if you expand into the rest of the chapter and the metaphor about the body.

But it is a common "gift" in the church...
Then I believe there are those in our midst who are following the Narrative Lectionary and so will be talking about the calling of the first disciples (as Luke tells it) this Sunday.

And likely there are those who are off in a whole other direction.

Where are your headed this early in the week?  What questions, comments (relevant or irrelevant and also the irreverent) are jumping to the forefront of your mind?   Any great commentary columns you have found?  New insights?  Share all in the comments....

Monday Extra: Doing a New Thing!

There's generally a lot of talk about new year's resolutions in the first weeks of January. Some people make  heartfelt resolutions and take them very seriously. Others are just as adamant about NOT making any resolutions. I like to make easy resolutions that I know I will keep (like, eat chocolate every day, sleep at night . . . )--it's kind of a morale booster after the crazy holiday season.
New Year's celebration at our house!

This year, though, I'm wondering what would happen if I thought less about what new thing I want to do and more about what new things God is already doing within me and around me. What if I set aside New Year's resolutions and focused on New Year's recognitions?

So share with us your thoughts about "new things" as we begin 2013:

What are your thoughts on New Year's resolutions in general? On your New Year's resolutions in particular? 
 --Link us up with any relevant blog posts! Here's the html code you'll need to give us a direct link: 
<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a>

What new thing is God doing in your life? In your family? In your ministry?

What new gifts is God offering you for the year ahead?

**And just so you know, posting the Monday Extras is a new thing for me this year--while Martha is on sabbatical. I'm glad to be part of the Rev. Gals team! ~Joanna