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Meet-­Up Week 2015

Treasure-island-mapIf you’re excited for the arrival of warmer weather, daffodil blossoms, and for the season of Lent finally being over, then you might want to add to that list of springtime joys the TYCWP Official Meet­Up Week! This is a time to get together with your local YCW colleagues and have some face­to­face time, meet new friends or rekindle old friendships. The support of our sisters in ministry is one of the greatest gifts of this project and we want to facilitate making connections in your area.

As our FB community grows, it’s important to deepen our connections through in­person contact and many of us wanted something more than once a year at the conference, so Meet­Up week was born. The hope is that it will spawn more regular gatherings of YCW who are in the same area. You might be surprised to find that a name you see regularly in the FB posts is a near neighbor.

So, without further ado, the third week of April (4/19­4/24) has been designated as Official Meet­Up Week for TYCWP. We’ve set up a Google Map with pins that designate where there will be a meet­up. Look for
one near you, or create your own!

The Google Map link is posted in the directions below and on the FB page and here’s what you need to do:

If you are looking for a meet­up, but NOT as a host:
1. Click on the map link. (http://tinyurl.com/o7gmdx4)
2. On the left, there should be a box with a list of places that are hosting meet­ups.
3. Click on the one you want to attend.
4. A box should pop up with the name of the host and her contact info, as well as the meet­up day and time, or other pertinent info.
5. Please contact the host if you plan to attend so she can make arrangements for the correct number of people.
There is an arrow button at the bottom of the box that should open driving directions to that spot as well.

If there is not a meet­up that works for you, either *start your own as a host* or come back later and see if one’s been set up in your area that does work.

If you would like to HOST a meet­up, here’s how to set up a new pin:
1. Click on the link to the map. (http://tinyurl.com/o7gmdx4)
2. Under the search bar, find the teardrop shaped ‘pin’ image; click it.
3. Use the cross hairs to mark the place you want to meet (you’ll want to be zoomed in nice and close already)
4. A box will pop up, fill in the top box with the city, state and in the ‘description’ box, fill in with “Contact: (your name and email)” as well as the name of the place, the day and time you’d like to hold the meet.
5. Hit Enter/Return. This should automatically save it.
6. If you hit enter too soon, just click on the pencil icon at the bottom of the box to go back into edit mode.

Hosts, please do try to get your schedules firm as soon as you can. This helps those of us with tight schedules and full calendars get things in place or rearrange if needed.

Ladies, please remember to take pics of your meet­up and post them to our Facebook Page. We love to see our YCW together and having fun.  Enjoy your time in community, together!

The author’s desk, with companions Buffy and Jesus

The Jesus Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Young Clergy Woman

Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer. -Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Opening Credits

The author’s desk, with companions Buffy and Jesus

The author’s desk, with companions Buffy and Jesus

At first glance, the life of a the Slayer is pretty different from the life of a young clergy woman. The Slayer is in high school, for one thing, while we have graduate degrees. She fights vampires and demons, we lead Bible studies, write sermons, visit shut-ins and attend committee meetings. And while the cross is central to Buffy’s life and to ours, the cross she wears on a silver chain around her neck serves purely as a talisman; it has nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with its function as a weapon against vampires and their ilk.

There’s something about Buffy and her –verse, though, that rings true to this calling as a young clergy woman. There’s some reason (beyond simple escapism) that I keep coming back to this story and these characters. When I feel helpless and ineffectual, overwhelmed and heartbroken by the needs I can’t meet and the problems I can’t solve, I find strength and comfort in Buffy. When I am frustrated and enervated by lengthy meetings that have accomplished nothing in particular, when I am filled with despair that the institution through which I intend to serve God is becoming increasingly irrelevant and out of touch, I find inspiration in Buffy. When I feel the loneliness of holding in confidence the heavy burdens others have shared with me, when I can speak to no one of the holy moments that have left me teary and trembling, I find companionship in Buffy.

Buffy taught me about what it means to have a calling. In the opening episodes of the series, we see Buffy resisting her call. The television series begins with Buffy relocating to a new town and starting a new school, hoping to turn over a new leaf and escape the supernatural happenings that plagued her previous life. As soon as she enters the school library, she is greeted with a dusty volume of demon lore and a new Watcher (mentor) eager to hone her evil-fighting skills. Like the reluctant prophet Jonah, Buffy longs to escape an inescapable call. Her Slayer identity can’t be escaped; she cannot remove it, flee from it, or ignore it. Like many young clergy women, she wishes she could choose an easier and more normal life. Like many of us, she finds that her calling has chosen her, but that she can choose how best to live into that calling.

As Buffy embraces her identity as the Slayer, we see that a calling by itself is powerful, but not always sufficient. As the Slayer, Buffy has natural gifts and abilities, but she becomes more capable as she hones her skills through study, training, practice, and mentorship. So it is with a calling to ministry: we hear the call, we find in ourselves the natural gifts that will help us to serve the church, but that isn’t the end. We have to steward those gifts carefully, building them up through ongoing education and collegial relationships, nurturing them through prayer and self-reflection.

As Buffy grows into her calling, it changes her in ways we young clergy women might recognize. We see how saving the world every week builds her confidence. We see how constantly confronting evil, death, and pain burdens her with more than her share of sorrow. We see her growing hubris as she discovers the power and the responsibility of her calling as “one girl in all the world” who can do what she can do.

But she can’t do it alone, despite what she might sometimes think. For all its rhetoric about “only one Slayer,” it is telling that Buffy is an ensemble show. Buffy’s calling is unique, certainly, but she needs all kinds of support in her work as the Slayer. She turns to her friends and mentors for research and logistical support, for encouragement and advice, for comfort and for laughter, and to check her ego. Her calling is unique, but that doesn’t mean she’s called to be a “lone wolf.” She—like of all of us—needs a community in order to do her work well and faithfully.

I first encountered Buffy as I was discerning my call to ministry and preparing to apply to seminary. I count it as God’s grace that this story found me at that moment, offering images of another young woman finding her way on an unusual path. As Buffy resisted and accepted her call, grew into her role, learned to be both Slayer and daughter, sister, friend, she modeled for me how I might start to live into the call I felt in my own life. She, too, walked a path that the world thought was not appropriate for a young woman, and she walked it for some of the reasons that I did, and with some of the same wonder and trepidation. We have our differences, of course: Buffy’s job is to save the world; I believe that the world has been saved, and not by me. But ever since those early days of discernment, Buffy has been one of my companions on this sometimes-lonely road. This story has continued to nourish me, to teach me about vocation, about sin and evil, about repentance and reconciliation, about grief, and so much more.

The first time I watched the series ending, I was less than impressed. [SPOILER-ISH WARNING] In that final episode, Buffy finds a way to share her power, to stop being “one girl in all the world,” and to instead become one Slayer among a great multitude of Slayers. I was initially disappointed at Buffy’s loss of uniqueness. Her calling seemed somehow diminished because it was no longer hers alone. But as I’ve grown into my vocation, refining my own understanding of what it means to be an ordained minister, my perspective has shifted. Now, when I watch that last episode, I see echoes of the verse that has become my own mission statement as a pastor:

“Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:12-13

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Re-Imagining Youth Ministry

When I was in high school, I quit my church’s youth group. All the activities they hosted were social events with no spiritual component. They didn’t even pray before meals. If the only reason to go to church youth group was to hang out with my peers, I didn’t want to be there. I had nothing in common with the other kids in the group. We weren’t friends outside of church. Our faith was the only thing that tied us together, and youth group events didn’t address that faith.

What I experienced is symptomatic of a trend that has prevailed in youth ministry for several decades now. Churches often try to provide a youth group experience that is entertaining and provides a parallel experience to what young people could find in the secular world. There are two primary problems with this approach, as I see it. First, the world will always win. Secular groups will always be able to provide something flashier, more adventurous, more well-organized and better funded. Eventually the church will fail at this model of youth ministry, because there is simply no way for the church to provide parallel experiences for all the opportunities available in the world. Second – and this is very important – kids don’t want a church that only offers them lip-service. Young people typically want to know that their lives make a difference in the world. It’s what keeps them engaged in church if they are there already, and what attracts them if they are newcomers. Helping kids find ways to share their spiritual gifts with the world in a way that matters is perhaps the most important part of youth ministry.

Young people are very discerning. They’re smarter than many adults give them credit. They know the gist of the Christian message, even if they’ve only learned the basics from secular media, and they expect the church to live up to what it claims to be. They don’t expect to be entertained at their youth group events. If they are going to church, they expect to learn about God. They hope that they will be welcomed in the radical way that Jesus welcomed people.

One of the most effective ways to do ministry with young people, in my experience, is to treat them like you would any other member of your congregation. Why should youth be the only group to be segregated because of their age? (Yes, I’m well aware of age-based groups for older folks… but these are usually open to anyone post-retirement, meaning there is often a 30-year age range in these groups, spanning two generations!) Here I use the term “youth” very broadly. The examples below come from my experience with middle and high school youth (roughly age 10-18), but I have used this same basic idea with younger children and with young adults.

  • When you serve Communion in worship, ask any worshiper who has already received her first Communion to be the server alongside the pastor. The 5th-grader doesn’t have to be relegated to collecting the empty cups used when serving individual portions of wine (at one church I served, kids called this the Communion “garbage can”). Let the 5th-grader serve the wine. Or even the bread, if your tradition allows for such a thing! In your denomination, is any adult member allowed to help serve Communion? Then as soon as a child begins to commune, invite her to join the ranks of server.
  • When you ask a high school student who is recently confirmed to be a Sunday School teacher – let him teach the class! Don’t make him be the assistant. He probably has more biblical knowledge in his short-term memory than most of the adult members. Isn’t that why we put kids through confirmation in the first place? Once he is confirmed, help him keep that knowledge fresh in his mind by teaching it to others. Give the younger students a role model closer to their age than than their parents. And maybe encourage that high schooler to work at a church camp in the summer, too.
  • Resist the tendency to force all young people into one particular type of service to the church — instead, match their service to their God-given gifts. In my tradition, it is typical to require confirmation students (age 10-14) to serve as acolytes in worship. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to let the children play with fire in the Sanctuary is beyond me! I am not a fan of this requirement, and it actually goes much deeper than the fire risk. Some students are self-consciously short, and can’t reach the tall candles. Some are afraid of fire. Some are not well-coordinated (seriously, who was at 13?) and get nervous about being the acolyte. We don’t expect all adult churchgoers to serve as ushers or lectors or bake sale coordinators as a requirement of their membership to the congregation. Why should we expect something similar of our youth? It is crucial to get to know our members – ALL our members – and offer them ways to serve that match their spiritual gifts. If a person is bad at reading in public, don’t ask them to be a lector. But when you discover that one of your 6th-graders could be a professional storyteller, by all means, give her the chance to read in worship! Don’t make her the “child lector” on a special youth Sunday. She is important enough to be considered for leadership in the church 52 Sundays a year, and on any of the other 365 days that the church offers programming.
  • Follow through with the promises we make and inspire them to do the same.  Young people often see the world in black-and-white. They know that Jesus said to love their neighbor, so they expect to be loved by their church… and they expect the church to give them opportunities to love others in return. They expect the church to follow through on the promises that were made to them at their baptism or dedication or confirmation or at whatever other rituals the congregation took vows to pray and care for the children. Youth take these promises seriously — when they see that they are not fulfilled by adult members of the congregation, they see no reason to follow through for themselves.

Ironically, while in college, I served as a high school youth director for three years. I can’t say that I avoided all the pitfalls my home congregation had discovered, but I was able to lead differently after having the experience of seeing things done poorly. I have learned a lot since those days, and there is so much left to learn; but my basic recommendation to those interested in re-imagining a way of ministering with youth is simple: treat the young people like members of your church. Help them find their spiritual gifts and create ways for them to share those gifts with the community. When you do that, and believe it, then there’s a chance to expand that practice to the staff and members. When all churchgoers are given the opportunity to share their God-given gifts with the world in ways that matter, we will finally be the church that our youth believe we already are.

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A Quiet Generosity

This is a photo of my grandfather and me. It is from commencement weekend at Tufts University in May 2002. Three years later, we would take a similar photo as I received my MDiv from Yale. And six years after that, he would fly to England to sit in an auditorium and watch me receive a hug from a Baroness and my PhD from the University of Exeter. My grandfather was a big supporter of education, and in my case, he quite literally made it possible for me to have so many initials after my name. Even more importantly, though, he inspired me to seek after all that knowledge.

My grandfather loved learning. He loved puzzles and problem solving. He was a voracious reader, particularly of anything related to politics or American history. He truly showed learning to be a lifelong endeavor. Again and again, his witty brilliance and his joy of learning reminded me how we are enriched when we know more, when our horizons are expanded.

I am not only inspired by his love of learning. I am also inspired by his quiet generosity, which made my education and the education of so many others possible. My grandfather made a lifetime of doing good works with gentleness. He spent his career as a lawyer, providing estate planning and creating trusts to preserve assets for future generations. Much of this work was done for charitable organizations. And he sat on numerous boards that worked to provide programs, education, and recreation for inner city and vulnerable youth. He was a faithful member of his church, giving of his time and his expertise whenever they were called for. He refereed countless rule disputes at professional golf tournaments. He gave significant amounts of his own resources to support causes in which he believed. Through his professional work and personal generosity, he has made a profound difference in the lives of countless individuals. But his name isn’t on any buildings, and he didn’t seek recognition in the headlines or the society pages. He lived a life of quiet servanthood, because that is who he was and who he was called to be.

My grandfather died recently at the age of 94. He left this world just as he lived his life and just as he would have wanted to go. He died peacefully and quickly, without making a fuss or being a burden on anyone. He made a lifetime of caring for the people he loved and for people he never met. He lived fully until the end. He never retired from being a lawyer nor gave up helping charitable boards or his church. His generosity of spirit and his humble demeanor continue to inspire me. They show me that it is quite possible to live a life out of the spotlight that makes a tremendous difference in the world. They show me that being a respected member of one’s profession or society as a whole does not require announcing one’s accomplishments or seeking worldly recognition. Being who he was, he would not want to be made into an example or have the spotlight shine on him, but I share his story now because it has given me such an example to live by.

I am tremendously grateful for the education that has set me on my career path and enriches my life, but I am even more grateful for the example of my grandfather’s life. While I no longer have the joy of helping him do the crossword, or discussing the merits of books we recently read, or hearing his take on the President’s State of the Union address or the outlook for the next election, I know that his spirit is with me. I hope that I will continue to be inspired by his example. I hope I will respond with genuine curiosity when confronted with an opinion vastly different than my own. I hope I will give generously of my time and resources to enable others to have the advantages his generosity offered me. I hope I will always stick to my principles and not get caught up in what someone else thinks I should do. I hope I will always make time to learn about that which inspires those around me. I hope I will always keep my sense of humor, and, like my grandfather, take time to enjoy a good cup of coffee after a delicious meal.

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My Marriage Isn’t Biblical, Thank God

One of my namesakes is a woman who spent decades trapped in a miserable marriage.  Her story is one of the reasons I often refer to the 1950’s as “the decade of lies.”  Society forced her to lie, pretending that her husband was a good father, that he would never hurt anyone, that they were happy together.  She had nowhere she could go, and no resources to enable her to leave, and of course divorce was nearly unheard of at the time.

After her first husband died, my namesake had a brilliantly happy, but very brief, second marriage, which was tragically cut short with her second husband’s death from cancer. And yet she never gave up hope, and she shared that hope with others.  Specifically she shared it with my mother, who was mourning the end to her own first marriage. My namesake’s perseverance when all seemed dark shone like a beacon, and I was named for her in the hopes that I would share her perseverance, but not her history.

Mom also spent my childhood (as her mother had done for her) drumming into me that I needed to be able to be independent.  She learned early that disasters do not arrive on schedule. I grew up on stories (not just from my mother) of women who suffered because they lacked the tools to be independent, whether those tools were money, connections, education or simply the right to own property in their own name. Having been named after one of those women, to say that my view of “traditional marriage” (when that phrase implies a lack of equality between partners) is negative, is a stunning understatement. I know too many stories of those battered and abused (physically and otherwise) by this system to view it as a cultural value or a folksy tradition.

And when people refer to “Biblical marriage” as something to be aspired to, my reaction is stronger. When I read the Bible I do not find it filled with marriages that function as good examples to the modern-day world. The majority of marriages in the Bible were not anything like what we experience in first-world countries today. The women did not choose their own husbands and many had no ability to own property, decide their own futures, or leave abusive situations. Polygamy and concubinage were rampant in Biblical times, and women were married off very young. Judges chapter 19 is only one Biblical example of how little women were valued in that culture. If you ever wondered what would have happened to Lot’s daughters if the angels hadn’t stopped him…. (Go ahead, read it, I’ll wait.)

But that’s not the only terrible example. Abraham pretended that Sarah was his sister so she could flirt with his customers to improve his business deals, at least twice. King David’s life is filled with troubling marriage narratives, Bathsheba’s being the most memorable, and Abigail perhaps the most positive (though she clearly had no choice in her husbands). Ruth married Boaz quite openly as the best option to avoid starving to death. Dinah, Joseph’s little sister, was married off to her rapist and then her wedding feast became a massacre. Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, had to resort to seducing Judah under false pretenses in order to receive her economic rights as a widow. The heroes of the Bible, the people we look up to as spiritual examples, are very often flawed and broken in the more earthly aspects of their lives.

There are vanishingly few marriages of the Bible which, if we met them today, we would still call good examples. Mary and Joseph had a relationship built on trust (after a little angelic intervention). Hannah’s husband Elkanah loved her dearly, despite her barrenness. Zipporah saved Moses’ life, and he had a good relationship with his father-in-law, though we know little else about their marriage. Many other marriages we know very little about; though the people in them may be good people (Aquilla and Priscilla) we know little or nothing about their unions.

If my marriage were Biblical, how would it be different? My husband would make all medical decisions for me, as my grandfather did for my grandmother.  We still have the paintings of shrunken heads she made, in an effort at therapy, because he wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist.  My husband is, thank God, not a violent or abusive man, but if he were, and our marriage were Biblical, no one would ever be able to step in on my behalf, and I would not be allowed to leave.  Obviously I would not have had any choice in who or when I married, that would have been decided for me and I’d be informed when convenient.

There are certainly verses in the Bible which can tell us what a good marriage should look like. Ephesians 5:21 and following tells spouses (both spouses!) to be subject to one another. And while Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 can be applied to friendships as well as marriage, the theme of interdependence, rather than dependence, is shown again. Jesus exhorts us again and again to love one another as God has loved us- that is to say, wholly and sacrificially. Yet mutual interdependence is not a theme that appears often in conversations about “Biblical marriage.”

I was married in a Christian church, I was raised in the church and am now a pastor; my husband shares my faith and was also raised a Christian.  Yet, we both give thanks that our marriage is not “Biblical.” We are full and equal partners. I do not aspire to follow in the marital footsteps of Dinah and Abigail and Bathsheba, I don’t want to share their history. But perhaps, if greater blessings even than I have now are heaped upon me by God, I will grow to share some of their perseverance.

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Not a Lone Ranger

I recall the first time I heard of the place that has become my call.  The phone rang while I was at a family picnic.  When the representative from the synod office told me that he had a place in mind for me, I was elated.  Finally, I thought, I would do what I believed God called me to do.

I remember the conversation well.  I began asking questions of the synod representative.  He filled me in with details without telling me the location.  It was a solo pastor position.  I told him that this was great news. I also said that in order for it to be a successful pastor/parish match, I needed to have a positive support network of colleagues.  He said, “Well, in this place you’re going to have to work on that.”

My heart leaped into my throat.

My panic was fed by the security I had.  I was blessed with incredible support throughout my life from churches and people around me.  I was baptized in the Moravian Church and started Sunday school there.  Around early elementary school, my family started going to the Lutheran church.  I always had one foot in Moravian Church and the other foot in the Lutheran Church.

As a Lutheran, I attended a Presbyterian seminary that had many different denominations represented on staff and in the student body.  I experienced incredible supervisory support from colleagues and professors. Then I had worked as a counselor in a wonderful team setting where we were always able to bounce ideas off of each other.  I had a parish internship where my supervisor and internship committee were very good at helping me grow to see my strengths and imperfections.

My biggest fear in my new, first call was that I would become a lone ranger. I didn’t know how to function without colleagues around me.

As I settled into my new community at my first call, I had only a few Lutheran pastors around me.  I had even fewer young clergy women around me.  So, I started going to meetings. I met people of all ages, genders, races, denominations, marital statuses, etc.  Many of the people I met were uncertain about working with a female pastor.  Some male clergy said they didn’t agree with women in the pulpit.  Some men were extremely supportive.  Some female clergy had given up on any clergy working together, and others were enthusiastic about finding a friend to support and confide in.

I knew I needed a support network, but I didn’t realize how long it would take. I learned that I needed patience.  I had some patience, and at times I struggled finding patience.  The longer I’m here, the more I work with pastors who are from all different kinds of denominations with many different backgrounds.  Sometimes I have to travel forty or more miles to get to these pastors, but I find that meeting with pastors is life-giving and ministry-enriching. It’s a joy to engage in conversation about why we think what we think and how we can further God’s kingdom in this place. Sometimes we get into some interesting and cordial debates. I learn from others’ successes and mistakes, and I hope they learn from mine too.  My faith grows as I talk about theology with Lutherans and non-Lutherans.  I learn all over again that I am indeed Lutheran.  These clergy and I even work together on projects to build bridges between our congregations.  The best part of this experience is that I have made life-long friends of all ages, denominations, genders, and belief systems.

Every once and a while, I’ll meet a lone ranger.  I wonder to myself, “How do you do it?” And I do the best I can to offer my collegial support to him or her.

None of us is alone in ministry because of the saints God places around us.  If anyone is alone, I’m convicted that it’s his or her own fault.

As I look over the first five years of my ministry, and even further over the first thirty-six years of my life, I see how God has used my experiences in childhood and young adulthood to equip my call to ministry in rural Illinois.  I am grateful for the challenges and nudges God has given me to reach out to people in my community for ministry support and to support another minister.

I know especially that God works in and through those heart-in-throat moments to reveal God’s faithfulness.  I am not a lone ranger.

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As A Mother

The sweetest part of my day is the sound of little voices calling “Mother, mother.” I have never given birth, nor have I adopted children. But most mornings, as I open the door to my church, I am greeted by the tiny denizens of my church’s preschool, and their chipper little hellos. They call me Mother; that’s the title I prefer as a parish priest. They say it with such confidence that it makes me want to be a better pastor, one worthy of the title “Mother.”

As a woman who has not had children, I have limited (mostly second-hand) knowledge of the work of mothering children. I have worked at a nursery school, assisted with younger siblings, and have done a great deal of babysitting. But I have never walked the floor with a colicky baby. I have never had to play the tooth fairy for a child too excited to sleep. I have never had a teenager sit at my kitchen table, her head hung in shame as I question her about blatantly violating her curfew.

I have, however, listened to the weekly frustrations of a parishioner with big dreams for the church. I have helped plan big surprises for parishioners in need of real cheering. I have spoken with community members about respecting our church and its values. I have even had to let someone know he was not welcome to participate in non-worship activities as long as his disruptive behavior continued.

In Christ, I am becoming a spiritual mother. That has more to do with the way I am called to love my parishioners than the ways in which they are called to treat me. That is the fundamental truth of parenting—it is a one-way street. You love for the sake of loving, not because of the love you hope to get at the end. And in doing so, however imperfectly, you hope to draw people more fully into relationship with the God who loves them endlessly and perfectly.

Our primary work as pastors is love. Everything we do: teaching, preaching, administrating, caring–all of it is the work of love. We shepherd people toward a deeper relationship with God, to preach and teach in a way that instructs, strengthens, and transforms. We help people grow (and grow up) into the fullness of Christ. We stand with people when they are heartbroken, we cheer them on when they feel discouraged. We love folks whether or not they are loving or loveable. We are called to love them whether they are A+ Jesus followers or D- community disrupters, and (mostly) we are called to love people who are both. We are called to remember that love isn’t always hugs, affirmations, and encouragements. Sometimes loving someone means asking a person to step back from leadership, or to stop behaving in a disrespectful or hurtful manner. Sometimes love means saying “no” or “not now.”

During Holy Week when the computer breaks, I have a frustrated parishioner on the phone, and my sermon feels like a wash, I still can’t think of anything I want to do more (except sleep). Doesn’t that sound like motherhood? Pastoring is day after day of nurture and patience, in a life that is by turns hope-filled and exasperating. Priesthood is the everyday ordinariness of serving others. And yes, it is also joy. Yeah. I’ll admit it. I love the people of God. Even when things are completely off kilter, I get up most mornings and can hardly believe God called me to this wacky, amazing, and wondrous work. Loving the people I serve is giving me (I hope) a mother’s heart.

 

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Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Here Comes the Bride Edition

Dear Askie,

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I’m getting married this summer! My fiancé and I aren’t particularly religious (we sometimes go to church on Christmas Eve), so we’re planning on having the ceremony outdoors at our reception venue. My aunt’s best friend’s daughter is a minister, so my aunt wants me to ask her to officiate. That sounds like as good a plan as any to me, but I have a lot of questions. Am I supposed to pay her (and how much)? How do we figure out what she’s going to say during the ceremony? Is there a polite way to ask her not to talk too much about God? Am I supposed to invite her to the reception, and is she supposed to get a plus one?

Puzzled by pastors,

Bride-to-Be

Dear Bride-to-be,

First of all, congratulations and blessings in this exciting, stressful, and sacred time in your life! Preparing for marriage is often the first major challenge a couple faces together, and one which can set the tone for how the two of you will deal with families, stressors, and joint decision-making in the years to come. My unsolicited advice to you and your fiancé (before we get to the solicited advice) is to give careful attention to becoming, and staying, a team. In some families, this will be easy. Other families try to play engaged couples against each other – “Why isn’t she letting you invite our gajillion family friends?” “Could you please convince him that he and all the groomsmen need to wear kilts?” Be sure to communicate with each other, come to decisions you can both live with, and communicate them as a united front (“We’d rather have the groomsmen wear tuxes, Aunt Madge.”) When your big day rolls around, please know that something – something you’ve never thought of – is going to go wrong. When that happens, take a deep breath, roll with it, and try to laugh. Someday it’ll be a great story, and the more able you are to take mishaps in stride, the stronger your relationship will be.

But that’s not what you asked about, Bride-to-Be. So let’s talk about officiants. First of all, give some thought to whether you really want a minister to officiate your wedding at all. It sounds from your letter like you might be more comfortable with a Justice of the Peace. If you do want a minister to officiate, you should be careful to find the right fit, not just to go with the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Get on the phone with her and talk with her about what you’re hoping for, and how she approaches weddings. If you do decide to go with a minister in general, or this minister in particular, here are some thoughts about dealing with your wedding officiant:

  • Money: Yes, you are supposed to pay your officiant. There are a few exceptions; for instance, in many churches, officiating members’ weddings is part of the pastor’s job, so there is no officiant fee for members (don’t join a church for that reason, though). Clergy typically waive fees if they officiate for immediate family or very close friends. Neither of those are your situation, Bride-to-be, so ask your officiant what her fee is. Some clergy are uncomfortable stating a fee and say something vague like “Whatever you feel comfortable with.” (Clergy: stop doing that, it makes things awkward for everyone.) If she does this, remember that she is a highly trained and qualified professional with a graduate degree, who is giving up a good chunk of her weekend time and putting 10-20 hours of work into shaping a meaningful ceremony for you and your beloved. I know weddings are expensive, but please pay her fairly for her time and expertise. If your officiant is coming from out of town, you should cover her travel and lodging expenses, as well.
  • Festivities: Having consulted some wedding etiquette books, Askie notes that it is considered proper etiquette to invite your officiant and her significant other (if she has one) to the rehearsal dinner and the reception. That said, clergy know that weddings are expensive, and we are typically more flexible on these matters than etiquette experts, so if you’re not inviting us, we usually won’t be offended. Either way, be very clear so we don’t have a miscommunication. If you do invite your officiant, many clergy will decline your invitation with thanks, wish you and your family a lovely evening, and go home. (Your “amazing wedding with all our loved ones” is our “working this Saturday,” so while we’re thrilled to be part of your joy, we don’t plan to stay until last call.) If you want your officiant to pray before the meal at the reception, please do communicate with her about that well in advance so she can plan accordingly. And seat her with the guests; Askie has heard a few horrifying stories of officiants arriving at receptions to discover that they are receiving a vendor meal in a back room.
  • Premarital Counseling: You didn’t ask about this, but let’s talk about it here anyway. Premarital counseling can be very helpful as you and your fiancé enter this new phase of your relationship. Some clergy require it, some merely recommend it. Some include it in their fee, others charge extra for it. For premarital counseling and all other meetings with your officiant, please show up on time, call if you’re running late, and give plenty of notice if you need to reschedule. Oh, and every officiant, regardless of her personal stance on sexual morality, knows that most engaged couples are sexually active, so don’t try to be cagey or deceptive about that. She can handle it.
  • The Ceremony: How do you decide what words the officiant is going to say? Can she leave out all that stuff about God and Jesus? It depends, and maybe not. Ceremony planning varies from one religious tradition to another, and from one clergywoman to another. Your officiant may be constrained to use the ceremony provided by her denomination, with very limited leeway to edit or revise. On the other end of the spectrum, she might be totally free to craft a personalized ceremony for you and your fiancé. Many clergy have denominational or personal commitments to include prayer and scripture, although others have a more flexible approach. Most have heard a request they weren’t able to accommodate on principle (“No, you can’t perform a pagan wine blessing ceremony on our Communion altar.”) As for religious language, some clergy have a strong commitment to using traditional religious language, some might be able to find language about the Holy that feels like a good compromise, others might be very comfortable switching to language that reflects the values you hold dear. Figure out what you want, and ask your prospective officiant whether she would be interested. If she isn’t comfortable providing the kind of ceremony you’re envisioning, thank her for her time and find someone who is a better fit… She won’t be offended, and everyone will be a lot happier in the end.
  • Vendor Trouble: Oh, the horror stories Askie could tell you about rogue vendors and their conflicts with officiants… You aren’t having a church wedding, so there’s no risk that your florist will fill the baptismal font with flowers. But if you have a wedding planner, talk with your officiant about the planner’s role and vice versa so they don’t step on each other’s toes. All too often, wedding planners treat the officiant as some sort of live prop: “You stand over there, I’ll tell you what to do.” That doesn’t work for most clergy officiants – especially in our own churches, but also at other venues. We expect to be treated as professionals by other vendors, and are happy to return the courtesy. While we might not know a whole lot about chiavari chairs or hydrangeas, we do know a thing or three about conducting a smooth and meaningful wedding ceremony. Askie’s personal approach: I run the rehearsal, giving guidance to the wedding planner about what is “my” domain and what is “hers.” During the ceremony, I ask the wedding planner to be stationed at the back, helping the wedding party to prepare and process. Once they’re at the front of the aisle, they are in my hands and her work is done until the ceremony is over. Your officiant’s approach might be different, though, so check in with her. Talk about photography as well: what guidelines does your officiant have about the use of flash? How close can the photographer get, and how much can they move around? An intrusive photographer can be distracting and disruptive to the sense of sacred space as two people pledge to join their lives together, and we clergy feel a responsibility to maintain the dignity of the occasion so that you and your loved ones can be fully present and attentive, honoring the commitment the two of you are making to each other.

Whether your wedding is conducted by a local clergy or a friend-of-a-friend, a Justice of the Peace or a Pastafarian you hire off the internet, I hope it is a really beautiful wedding, Bride-to-Be. Even more than that, I hope it is a really beautiful marriage.

Blessings,

Askie

Congress Street

2015 YCW Summer Conference

Congress StreetThis Summer, the YCW are GTT[1]

I look forward to the Young Clergywomen Conference every summer. For me, it’s a no-miss July ritual, right up there with hotdogs and fireworks. The Young Clergywomen Conference re-charges mind, body, and soul, comfortably navigating the line between solemnity and frivolity. Where else can you break from evening prayer and adjourn for beers at a local pub? The YCW conference, that’s where.

This year, YCW Conference will kick up its boot heels in Austin, Texas–that weird keeping, laid-back, music-loving capital of Texas. The dates are July 6-9, 2015 and  Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will be our gracious host. Located just across the street from the University of Texas, and blocks away from downtown Austin, APTS is nestled between restaurants, pubs, and the ubiquitous Texas treat — breakfast tacos. Fellowship with old and new friends is a cornerstone of all YCW conferences, and Austin will provide the perfect context to feed your soul and stomach with the food of friendship.

As it turns out, this conference is all about context — from its location at Austin Seminary, to its keynote speaker, Dr. Margaret Aymer, professor of New Testament at Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta).  She’s going to be working with us on Contextual Bible Study, a tool that arose out of the church’s response to Apartheid in South Africa.  You can find her over at Twitter, where she is very active under the handle @mayog.

In addition to workshops, the conference will also offer:

  • Self-Care Opportunities (such as the very popular mani/pedis)
  • Field Trips for Spouses/Partners/Traveling Companions
  • Childcare will be available!
  • Cost: Early Registration fee for 2015 is $160. Childcare, meals for traveling companions (non-conference attending adults), and t-shirts are extra.  You may pre-register here.
  • Hotel: We have a group rate set up at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, Austin. The cost is $99/night.  We may have more housing options available in the coming months.  If you would like to reserve a room at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, please go to this link.  You are responsible for arranging your own housing for the conference.

See y’all in Texas!

[1] gone to Texas

Taize Magnificat

There’s Something About Mary

Taize Magnificat

Magnificat Window at Taize Community (Photo by Diana Carroll)

Saint Mary the Brave

by Ann Bonner-Stewart

Since I have been serving at a community called Saint Mary’s for the past six years, I think about Mary a lot. When you factor in that this Saint Mary’s is an all-girls high school, I think about her even more. I am intrigued that most images of Mary show an obedient, calm-looking woman. I highly question and seriously doubt that image. I’ve come to think of Mary as curious, as she questions how this can be, and thoughtful, as she ponders in her heart. I’ve also come to think of her as extremely brave. Though Joseph chose not to put her aside, there is no way that what she went through was easy. In a world where girls and women are often evaluated by how likable we are, I find hope in the strong likelihood that Mary may not have been well-liked, and that later this was completely overshadowed and forgotten.

 

The Real Annunciation

by Katya Ouchakof

One of my ongoing projects is a Bible translation/paraphrase that portrays the mood of a scene, while translating the Greek into everyday English. The Annunciation is one of my favorite stories, because I don’t imagine Mary as the docile character portrayed by most Bible translations. Here’s a more realistic version of this defining scene, in my mind:

The angel said to Mary, “Peace, favored one, the Lord is with you!” And Mary was scared speechless. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, God will bless you by making you pregnant so you can bear a son, and you’ll name him Jesus.” And Mary was like, “WTF?” So the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will ‘come over’ you and impregnate you, so your son will be called ‘the holy child of God.’ Don’t you know what has happened with your cousin Elizabeth? They said she was barren, but now she is six months pregnant! Absolutely nothing is impossible for God.”

And Mary said, “Whatever, dude. Sounds like I don’t have much choice in the matter. So if you’re actually serious, and I’m going to be the mother of God, I guess that’s cool.” Then the angel departed from her.

 

Saying “Yes”

by Hilary Bogert-Winkler

Mary’s “yes” terrifies me.  It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss that I really had to wrestle with what saying “yes” to God might mean. I pray it every day in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done.” But I know a part of me isn’t fully invested in that part of the prayer. I hold back. What if saying “yes” to God means I never get to be a parent? What if it means my community and I have been completely wrong in our discernment that my husband and I are called to be parents? It’s only in this space of incredible longing in the midst of infertility that I’ve come fully to appreciate Mary’s “yes.” Her courage is incredible, and I pray that I may find the courage to pray with my whole self, my soul and body, “let it be with me according to your will.”

 

Mary Statue

Statue at Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona (Photo by Sara Shisler)

Mary’s Blessing for Advent

by Sara Shisler Goff

 

Sit with me awhile,

here by the fire.

Feel the warmth

radiate

and cover you,

and envelope you,

from your toes up to your cheeks.

 

Accept its many blessings.

 

You did not kindle this fire,

but you will kindle it

one day.

 

We will kindle it together

as we wait.

Light shining in the darkness.

 

Flinching fire giving glimpses of

the angels sitting here

with us

as God grows among us

and within us

the Son of Life.

 

Inspired by the Carmina Gadelica and the Blessing of the Kindling.

 

A Truer Mary

by Anna Doherty

I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with Mary. Traditional church doctrine, liturgy, and devotional practices have turned Mary into someone or something unattainable for most women. A virgin and a mother. Meek, mild, and a divine intercessor. A girl and a goddess. I’ve never been able to successfully connect myself or any of my roles as a woman or a clergy person with the person of Mary.

Three years ago, I traveled to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which is built on top of the traditional site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The church is a big, gorgeously decorated, Catholic cathedral. It is filled with paintings, sculpture, and stained glass depicting Mary and the infant Jesus. Though beautiful, most of the artwork and decoration didn’t resonate with me.

Church of the Annunciation

The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth (Photo by Anna Doherty)

Then I descended the stairs and went underneath the magnificent sanctuary to the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. As I looked at that tiny, meager room—the remains of a first century Palestine cottage—Mary became more real to me. I realized that she was poor, she was young, and she was also incredibly courageous. She said yes to things she didn’t fully understand. She challenged many of the confines for women of her status. If you look at the words of the Magnificat, then Mary was also a social radical. Someone once said to me that Mary was the first person to truly offer the Eucharist, in that her very body, her very blood, made the first home for Jesus Christ in this world. These are all things that I can connect to as a woman and as a clergy person.

Like the church built atop the shrine of Mary, we pile things onto this Palestine girl, Mary, the mother of our Savior. Some of it may rightfully belong to her; a lot of it doesn’t. We have the power, as women of faith, to sort through all of it and find for ourselves a truer Mary. A Mary we can adore, and emulate, in the spirit of who we are.