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My Last Conference

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Is it possible to have too much swag?  More than half of my travel coffee mugs (and two out of my three plastic tumblers) have The Young Clergy Women Project logo on them.  I have a little stash of boutique lip balms from Nashville, Minnesota, and Austin, all patiently waiting for me to finish using up my Chapstick (once watermelon-flavored) labeled “Sabbath in the City: Chicago 2012, The Young Clergy Women Project.”  Just today I tossed a change of clothes and my funeral shoes into a large canvas tote bag with “The Young Clergy Women Project, funded by the Louisville Institute & powered by faith, verve, chocolate, and really great shoes” superimposed over a spiral on the front.

Is it possible to have been to too many TYCWP conferences?  When I think back on the conferences and board meetings I have attended, I realize I’ve probably visited more seminaries, theology schools, and divinity schools in more states than the vast majority of my other local colleagues.  And very few of those colleagues can claim to be part of an intentional community that stretches around the world and across denominations.

Normally I would say: “It’s impossible to have too much swag, and impossible to have attended too many conferences.”  I rely on both the swag and the community to help me get things done in ministry with the least amount of damage to myself.  But perhaps it is possible to have too much, because each year’s worth of swag and each year’s conference reminds me I am one year closer to aging out of the project next spring.

Just as the community of TYCWP helped me figure out what it meant to be a young clergy woman, it is now helping me make sense of what it means to be a slightly older clergy woman.  My days of being carded at the liquor store are over.  My bodily aches and pains are increasing.  I still get inappropriate comments—but people have finally stopped calling me “kiddo.”

And yet I am so, so far from having everything figured out.  My authority, my identity, and my self-awareness are still developing.  I still routinely lean on the project to remind myself that I’m not the only one.  And seeing in person, at the conferences, what the project has become in the last eight years is truly a miraculous thing; I am moved to tears seeing the support and the community that we dreamed about so long ago come into being.

I’ve attended every TYCWP conference since 2010 after missing the first two conferences in 2007 and 2008 (but attending the board meetings in 2008 and 2009).  And every year I go into it putting pressure on myself, thinking “This is such a rare opportunity to see all of these YCWs in person, so I need to make the most of it.”  And I come out realizing how foolish it was to try and force this to be a mountaintop experience.  It’s going to be one, no matter what I do.

This year was no different.  I went into the conference thinking, “This my last chance to make these connections in person…I need to go all out, I need to be more outgoing, I need to meet and talk with as many people there as possible.”  Have my years in the project taught me nothing?  Have I not learned to respect my own body’s needs and my own emotional needs as an introvert?  Apparently not.

But you all reminded me that the best encounters of the conference are the ones you didn’t plan for, the ones you don’t engineer.  Sure, I haven’t taken a dance class in twenty years, but I’ll go to a Ballet Austin drop-in class with you and risk total humiliation just so I can remember the days when my body actually obeyed my mind’s direction.  Sure, the movie is sold out, so let’s find the best Tex-Mex around and perhaps enjoy a margarita instead. Conferences are places where you can be spontaneous and impulsive without worrying about what the church matriarch is going to think–or worse, say to others down the grapevine.  They are also places where nobody will ridicule you for choosing to spend a quiet night at the hotel and going to bed at a reasonable hour.

Conferences of TYCWP are places where I can be most authentically myself.  This happens only very rarely in other parts of my life.  If I feel like a party girl, I can be one for one night.  If I feel like giving my body the gift of sleep, I can do that too.  I can remember what it was like to make choices just for me, without thinking about a thousand other people and a thousand consequences.

Maybe that’s why no matter who I meet or who I connect with at a conference, I find myself in a different space when I return.  Because I’ve remembered who I am.  And I’ve shared in a community that embraces me as I am, without a thick layer of expectations.

Thank you, each and every member of the project I’ve met in person over the years.  You have been salt and light to me, and I treasure each one of you for helping me taste life again, and see myself more clearly.

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Holy Ghost Grab Bag: Year-End Review

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Catching up on Fidelia’s during your summer downtime? The Fidelia’s editors have compiled a list of their favorite articles from this past year of publishing. Each editor shares what pieces published in her column that she most enjoyed, and why. If your reading has been sporadic, don’t miss these must-reads!

Kelsey Grissom, editor of Single Rev:
I’ve edited Single Rev for two years now, and As A Mother is probably my all-time favorite piece to publish. Yejide Peters is not a mother, but in the metaphor of motherhood she helped me to understand my role as a pastor in a way that still sustains me.

Another piece I love is The Liturgy of the Mandarin Orange, which is a divorce ceremony by Kyndall Rae Rothaus. I love this piece because it offers liturgy that compassionately tends to the profound pain present in the loss of a marriage, while at the same time demonstrating how to seek out priests (and be priests to ourselves) during times of crisis and transformation.

 

Diana Carrol‪l, editor of Our Cloud of Witnesses:
My favorite article was the Interview with our Founder, Susan Olson. It was fascinating for me to find out more about how The Young Clergy Women Project began. Every member (and supporter) of TYCWP should read this to understand our history.

 

Amy Loving, editor of Holy Ghost Grab Bag:
I liked Bread by Kelly Boubel Shriver and A Companion for the Journey by Kelsey Grissom. The testimonies that were shared were simple and beautiful, making me think about sometimes overlooked things in a different way.

 

Emily Brown, editor of Ask a YCW:
“Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Holiday Drama Edition” was a favorite this year. It addressed the reality that most clergy are not able to spend Christmas with their families, and offered some suggestions of how families might readjust their traditions.

“Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Cosmetic Quandary Edition” was another favorite, generating righteous outrage from YCWs and non-YCWs alike, as Askie addressed a male pastor seeking guidance on how to handle the Ladies’ Fellowship’s demand that the church’s secretary wear makeup.

 

Erica Schemper, editor of The Jesus Review:
I loved What’s in Your Earbuds? Pastors were such a fascinating group to ask about podcasts (beyond the theologically/preaching oriented obvious ones) because we are professionals who are into the spoken word and people’s everyday lives. It gave me a new appreciation for how younger clergy are connecting to some of the new (-ish) media in the world.

And Tired Shoulders by Amy Wiegert. Such a beautiful example of an everyday moment inspiring theological reflection on current events. And I am so grateful to the author for letting us into that intimate moment with her daughter and giving us her perspective as a lens for looking at race relations in America.

 

Brenda Lovick, editor of Here I Stand:
One of my favorites was Holy Sexuality. The author really pushes the church—including her bishop—to consider a new paradigm for understanding sexuality and sexual activity in the church.

Another favorite was Eviction Monologues by Sarah Gladstone. This is no easy business: a pastor holds a family in reverence even though they did not obey the congregation’s wishes to leave the parsonage.

 

Kelly Shriver, general editor:
I loved Meg Jenista’s take on grace in her article “The Break-Up Flowers.” I think we’re so used to giving all of ourselves as pastors we need the reminder that it’s ok to take time, space, and matter (in this case, flowers) for ourselves. That’s holy work in its own way.

A few weeks ago my third son was born and went to the NICU with jaundice and a few related complications. Thankfully his story wasn’t nearly as complicated or severe as the tale shared by Kristen Corr Rod in “Gratitude for a Life Saved.” However, rereading her story felt so familiar to my last few weeks; it was a tender reminder that I am not alone…not just professionally, but in the life my family is living, as well.

 

April Berends, editor of Moms in Ministry:
One of my favorite articles was Unwrapping Grace. This piece describes an adopted daughter’s first Christmas with her new mom and extended family. I love how it juxtaposes the abundance of gifts with the experience of a young girl who is trying to put the pieces of her new life together. The story ends with the deeply incarnational image of a mother and daughter, lying beside one another at the end of Christmas day, pondering the richness and the vastness of the love that has been shown them.

I also liked Generation to Generation. Grace Pritchard Burson, an Episcopal priest describes her new vocation as a doula. She compares her doula work to that of being a priest and pastor, and eloquently describes the holy gift of being being present both at birth and at death.

 

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Meet the New TYCWP Board Members

Each year TYCWP welcomes a new class of fabulous, classy, wonderful women to join in the leadership of the project as Board Members. Board Members generally come in to serve a three-year term, and some women stay for a second, three-year term after their initial tour of duty. Starting this summer, TYCWP will look a bit different. Rather than dividing into two boards (Editorial and Community), we will instead be serving as one, cohesive board. We are looking forward to the ways our new organizational structure will help us grow as a project.

We are so thankful for the class of women who have served TYCWP faithfully and will roll off the board this year: April Berends, Christine Davies, Jessica Harren, and Mihee Kim-Kort. Their gifts and skills have been a blessing to each one of us in this project.

We are also thankful for each member of the board who will be returning for another year of service: Amy Loving, Brenda Lovick, Caroline Berardi, Diana Carroll, Diana Hodges-Batzka, Emily Brown, Erica Schemper, Jamie Haskins, Julie Jensen, Kelly Boubel Shriver, Kelsey Grissom, Lesley Ratcliff, Meg Jenista, Molly James, Phyl Stuzman, and Sarah Moore.

You can find out more about all of our off-going and current board members on our website.

 

And without further ado, please meet our newest board members! Welcome!

AustinS Austin Shelley: A native of South Carolina and a graduate of Columbia College, Austin Shelley received her Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. She was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in October 2012. Before attending seminary, Austin taught art, Spanish, and Latin and was the director of the Academically Gifted Program at Chapin Middle School in South Carolina. She then served as Director of Youth Ministries at Lake Murray Presbyterian Church. While in seminary, she completed her field education at Trinity Episcopal Church where she fell in love with high church liturgy. She now serves as the Associate Minister for Christian Education at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. Austin is married to Mark who teaches European history and makes the perfect sweet tea. Together they parent three mostly wonderful children and eat Fruit Loops for dessert after the kids are in bed.

Erin KErin Klassen: Erin has been ordained in the United Church of Canada for 9 years and has served in team ministry in both rural and urban contexts. She received her M.Div. from what was then known as Queens Theological College (now Queens School of Religion). She is especially passionate about faith formation. Camping ministry kept her involved in the church and youth ministry leadership is where she first heard her call. Prior to entering the ministry, Erin studied and worked in the environmental sciences field.

Having been born and raised in Saskatchewan, she is a lifelong Roughrider (Canadian Football League) fan. Erin currently lives in Calgary, Alberta with her husband, two young daughters, and dog, MacGyver. They are all Rider fans too. Erin and her family love hiking and biking in the mountains. She is currently trying her hand at herding cats/coaching U4 soccer. Erin is an INFP and an expressive introvert according to Myers-Briggs, and a Four on the Enneagram.

Julie HopJulie Hoplamazian: The Reverend Julie M. Hoplamazian, a Philadelphia native, is the Associate Rector of Grace Church Brooklyn Heights (Episcopal). Julie moved from the cheesesteak to the cheesecake in 2006 and is proud to call both the City of Brotherly Love and the Big Apple “home.” Julie holds a B.S. in Music Education from Gettysburg College and spent several years teaching classroom music, private piano, and voice before attending Princeton Theological Seminary, where she received her M.Div. Before joining the Episcopal Church, Julie served in her church of origin, the Armenian Orthodox Church, as the Coordinator of College Ministry. In her spare time, Julie enjoys keeping up her creative side, practicing her pliés in the ballet studio and her scales at the piano, or trying new recipes in the kitchen with her husband, Jeremy. Julie and Jeremy are animal lovers and enjoy the company of their sidekick Takouhi (“queen” in Armenian), a rescued Australian Shepherd mutt.

KennenKennen Barber Ensz: Kennen Barber-Ensz hails from a small farming community in rural South Dakota. She attended Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained in the PC(USA) as a teaching elder in 2012. She is currently serving in her first call as co-pastor alongside her husband at First Presbyterian Church of Estherville, IA. In her spare time, Kennen enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Ophelia (a chihuahua/dachshund) and Ruby (a cocker spaniel). She enjoys cycling and running outdoors in the summer, or yoga and Pilates indoors in the winter. She also enjoys reading and long, hot baths (reading and baths together are the best!). Her favorite parts of pastoral ministry include creating unique worship experiences and pastoral care. She is excited at the prospect of “being” the church in new and perhaps unconventional ways. Her greatest challenges of ministry include worrying about what other people think and not having enough time to get everything done.

Sarah HookerSarah Hooker: Sarah is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Delhi, NY, a cozy farming community in the Catskill Mountains. She earned a BA from Macalester College and a MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary. Her passions in ministry are pastoral care, mission, and being involved in the greater church. Sarah and her husband Chris keep busy with their ever-inquisitive son, enjoying traveling, hiking, and biking, throwing stones in the many local creeks, and cooking together.

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Memorial Day Remembrance

3560856061_20a83080d0_zP: We gather together this morning to celebrate.

C: We celebrate a country of promised freedom, and the continuing commitment to ensure that all people might call themselves free.

P: We celebrate the many men and women who have served in the military at our behest.

C: We celebrate the courage and commitment of thousands of service people who have given their all in service to their country.

 

P: We gather this morning to honor.

C: We honor all who have left behind family, friends, and community to serve in the military.
P: We honor those who have loved these United States enough to risk everything for her prosperity.
C: We honor men and women throughout the years who have dedicated their lives to our freedom and our rights.

 

P: We gather this morning to lament.

C: We lament the state of a world where war seems the only or most expedient answer to our nation’s problems.
P: We lament the state of our nation which welcomes men and women back from war zones with silence and refusal to hear the stories of war.
C: We lament the state of our souls, ready to send others to do what we would dare not – and then refusing to recognize our own culpability in what they have done.

 

P: We gather this morning to mourn.

C: We mourn for all those who have given their lives in wars they believed in.

P: We mourn for all who have sacrificed their lives in wars they didn’t believe in.

C: We mourn for all who survived war zones, only to lose their lives in the fight against mental illness.

 

P: But most of all, we gather this morning to remember.
C: We remember the service personnel we have loved and lost.
P: We remember the sacrifices of so many in the service of their country.
C: And we remember our God, who redeems the unredeemable, forgives the                           unforgivable, and encourages that we love – both our neighbor and our enemy.

P: So, this morning let us celebrate, honor, lament, mourn and remember. And, as President Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

A Reading from Romans 8: 31-39:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Word of God, Word of Life.

C: Thanks be to God.

 

Time of Story Sharing

P: God of love and justice, it is your will that we live together in peace. Yet we live in a world in which war often seems inevitable. May we recognize with humility and sadness the tragic loss of life that comes in war. And as we enjoy freedom, we give thanks for those who have served with courage and honor; for those who resist evil and preserve justice.

We give thanks for those that are willing to serve. Let all soldiers everywhere serve with honor, pride, and compassion. Do not let their hearts be hardened by the actions they must take. Strengthen their families and keep them surrounded and guided by your love. We thank you for those that put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety. Let us all be inspired by their self-sacrifice in service to those who need protection.

We give thanks for those that have made it possible for us to have freedom. Let us call to mind and name those individuals who have served their country . . . . . . . .

We ask that you be with those in pain from their loss and keep us mindful that you have promised to comfort those that mourn and help us to be a comfort to them as well.

C: Amen.

 

Music for Meditation and Prayer

Taps by First Lieutenant Alicia Smith, Bugles Across America

Dear God, by your grace, may we have the strength and courage to truly honor those who have served by working for peace. May we see in them not only their courage, but also our own call to work for a world that no longer sacrifices life in the quest for peace; that we might envision in our hearts and work in our lives toward that which you have promised through the prophet Isaiah: that day when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, that day when nation shall not rise up against nation, and that day when we shall not learn war any more.

C: Amen.

 

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Write a Book with the Chalice/TYCWP Partnership

3293117576_43be00bdf4_oIn the last several months, TYCWP Board has heard wonderful ideas for book proposals to Chalice Press. The Project has had an imprint relationship with Chalice since 2008, and Chalice has published seven books (find them here) with TYCWP. An imprint relationship means that the YCW Board helps Chalice read and filter proposals to send to their editing board for publishing consideration. For books that do get published, TYCWP receives some royalties, which supports the mission of the Project.

Writing a proposal and/or a book for a real-life publishing company can seem like a daunting process. TYCWP has several members who have successfully completed publishing a book through Chalice. Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology, offers her perspective on what to expect in the process of writing a book. Brenda Lovick, who serves as the Chalice liaison, crafted some questions for Mihee to consider.

Brenda: How do you know if you have a good idea to write a book?

Mihee: Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they seem like epiphanies that drop out of the sky into your lap. Sometimes they’re like seeds. Sometimes they’re the tip of an iceberg, and the deeper you go you discover that there’s so much more to it and your very life is intertwined with it.

Talk with people that know you. You want to pursue something that is close to your heart, mind and spirit because it will take a lot out of you, and you need support. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to commit – so no matter what the idea – go for it if you feel the fire in your bones. Put it out into the universe and see what comes back.

Brenda: How do you do it all?  Spouse, mom, career, and write?  Where do you find time to do it?

Mihee: I do everything kind of half-assed, honestly. That’s what it feels like. But, I try to integrate everything. I try to double up – if I’m writing a blog post that can be used in multiple places, that’s awesome. Or a germ of an idea might be found in a number of writings. Time is not very gracious or accommodating, but you do what you can do with the minutes or hours.

Ultimately, there’s no one way to do it. One day I’ll write for 15 minutes. Another day, a few hours. Maybe it will be in the morning. Maybe at 2 in the morning. It’s not easy and not everything will be good (actually, most of it is shit). It’s usually just not that pretty or romantic. But Anne Lammott writes some hard-but-good words about writing first drafts (in Bird by Bird, which I highly recommend for life, in general). All writing is not readable or useable, but writing – the practice and act of writing – is always good. You’re developing your voice, you’re developing habits, you’re shaping your craft.

Brenda: What makes a good proposal?

Mihee: Being clear as possible. Being passionate and authentic. Being thorough.

Brenda: What happens after your proposal is accepted?

Mihee: After you kind of freak-out, pass out, get drunk and celebrate or do whatever, you get down to brass tax and figure out the details about deadlines, time tables, and if you’re editing a book with numerous contributors, figuring out who’s writing for you.

There’s a lot of back and forth with one of the acquisitions editors and nailing down the actual book contract. At this point it’s helpful to have a second pair of eyes to look over the contract. Some signatures and mailing it off…then, you get yourself at your desk and start writing (if you don’t have a complete manuscript). There will be  instructions about format and footnotes – read carefully.

Otherwise take it a step, a sentence, and chapter at a time. Ask questions if there’s ever any uncertainty about anything!

Brenda: What do you think is the most important thing for a new or potential author to know before writing a proposal or book?

Mihee: Be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect to write a best-seller or manifesto or for it to be totally representative of who you are and your life right now. But, do be invested in it and expect it to consume most of your life. It’s going to be a labor of love. It’s an incredible experience and process, and if you have writing in your DNA then it’s going to be worth it.

Do you have an idea and want to submit a proposal?  To learn more about the process of writing a proposal, click here.

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Text in Context: TYCWP Conference 2015 is Texas Bound

14126101201_873b59f77d_oOver two years ago, I responded to a Facebook post, like so many of us do regularly in the virtual community of The Young Clergy Women Project.

The question: Where would you like to see a future TYCWP Conference?

My answer: Austin. Texas! We should go to AUSTIN, TEXAS!

As a pastor, I should know better. Within a matter of months, I was doing initial site inquiries with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Soon, I found myself on the TYCWP Conference Committee. Last week, I wrapped up one more site visit to put final arrangements in motion. Because, y’all, we are going to Texas!

July 6-9th TYCWP will take Austin, Texas, by storm as we join together in incarnational community for the 2015 Text In Context Conference.

Our keynote speaker is the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer. Dr. Aymer spent the last 11 years serving as New Testament professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and has recently accepted a new call as Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, beginning July 1, 2015. At the conference, she will guide us through her work in contextual bible study, join us in conversation and reflection, and give us tools to take contextual bible study back to the unique contexts we each serve in our churches, parishes, hospitals, schools, and all the other places God calls us to ministry.

Contextual bible study comes out of the South African bible studies during apartheid where, historically, white academics were engaged in biblical studies with black women who could not read. The big question: How do you foster the conversation with folks who have wisdom but no formal training? To put it another way, how do we engage our varied communities in authentic and faithful biblical study without simply giving participants the answers or assuming we have all the answers and our communities do not in the first place?

Since TYCWP is nothing if not a varied community, comprised of over 1200 members representing 37 denominations in more than 12 countries, what better place to learn and practice contextual bible study before taking it back to our own communities? With practical applications for creating missions studies, planning year-long youth or small group agendas based on a particular Scripture passage, approaching sermon preparation as a community activity, and ultimately parlaying bible study into inevitable action, this year’s conference is a must for my continuing education time and money, and I hope yours, too.

And that’s just the keynote. The Conference Committee is hard at work finalizing break-out workshops, self-care opportunities around the city, child-care, spouse/travel companion activities, worship, snacks, meals, quiet prayer space, and all the other community building, spirit renewing, ministry equipping things we’ve come to love about TYCWP conferences. Because, as important as the keynote sessions and formal learning opportunities are, the networking, brainstorming, and fellowship that happen informally between sessions carry over and keep us connected in our virtual, regional, and denominational communities, until we can all gather together again.

If you haven’t experienced a TYCWP conference yet, Text in Context at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, with Dr. Margaret Aymer is a great time to start.

Plus, it’s in Texas! Austin, Texas: home of cowgirl boots and Keeping Austin Weird, an internationally renowned live music scene and the world’s largest urban bat colony, warm summer nights and more Tex-Mex food than we can possibly have time to eat in four short days.

Whether you are a member of The Young Clergy Women Project or On the Road to Ordination (formerly Future Young Clergy Women), make plans to join us this summer, July 6-9th, 2015. Registration, opportunities to help with worship and workshops, and up-to-the-minute conference details are available through the The Young Clergy Women Project website. Y’all come!

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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.

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

IMG_20141102_085157

Bread

IMG_20141102_085157“Give us this day our daily bread.”  Too often, I think, we hear this phrase preached as a call to the daily, a reminder to live in the moment, not thinking too far ahead and not lingering too long in the past.  I know I’ve preached that sermon more than once.  And although this message isn’t wrong (after all, the manna in the desert went bad if the people took more than they needed for a single day), I wonder if it is at risk of becoming narrow and myopic.  If bread is merely a daily commodity, I wonder if we miss the abundance of the larger picture.

Bread, in my experience, is not a commodity measured in 24-hour increments, but is instead a substance which demands thought and planning.  Most of the loaves of bread we in America love to eat, the fat, crusty, seedy loaves from the bakery baskets, take days of planning and care to create.  A loaf of sourdough bread, for example, can take months or even years to develop.  Once a strand of yeast is captured, developing, feeding, and caring for that yeast strain amounts to something of a family tradition.  Bakers across the world are known for the strain of yeast they build their sourdough from: here in the US, most of our sourdough comes from the San Francisco yeast strain.

Artisan breads, including sourdough, start from what is called a “sponge,” a paste made from flour, water, and a little yeast, which you let sit out for a number of hours or even days.  The sponge bubbles and ferments, building the flavor and complexity it will add to the loaf of bread.  The crumb of the bread also takes time to develop.  Crumb refers to the density of the loaf: How much give does it have against your teeth as you take a bite?  The chewier your crumb, the longer the bread takes.  Gluten, from the flours, needs to convert to create the crumb, and it converts through the hours of rising time.  Needless to say…bread is not a “daily” endeavor.

A beautiful loaf of bread also demands sweat and elbow grease.  Our poor kitchen table has grown all too wobbly thanks to many hours John and I have spent kneading bread on its surface!  In The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, which is a lovely exploration of food and theology, Rev. Robert Capon, a chef and Episcopalian priest makes the following comment about kneading:  “Knead well.  It perfects the texture of the bread, and, more important, it is good for your soul.  There are few actions you will ever take that have more of the stuff of history in them.  A woman with her sleeves rolled up and flour on her hands is one of the most gorgeous stabilities in the world.  Don’t let your family miss the sight.”

There is something about bread that is, at least in my house, the very definition of home, in all of its time consuming activity and work.  The sight of the sponge bubbling on the counter raises the anticipation of fresh bread for tomorrow, the sound of John kneading away at the table is truly a sound of stability, and the scent of yeasty bread baking in the oven makes even the coldest days seem a bit warmer.  Bread, from start to finish, is decidedly not daily.

For most of us, the thought of baking bread might stop here, but growing up in the Palouse region of Washington State, it was impossible to escape the ubiquity of the grain needed to make the bread.  You see it when you drive out of Spokane in any direction.  There are large, community grain silos in every town.  Even our local distillery markets their whiskey as produced from 100% WA wheat.  In the Spring, the fields are full of young wheat, rippling like a green lake; by the height of summer, the stalks are brown and pregnant with grain.  Fall brings the gathering of the sheaves, and winter marks the fallow period, when the stubble of harvest promises to restore the soil.  Just as bread is not a daily endeavor from the perspective of human bakers, bread is even less so a daily endeavor from the perspective of the land and those who farm it.  The Psalmist reminds us that the rivers of water, providing the people with grain, the furrows and settling ridges are blessed with growth by our creator and provider (Psalm 65).  The years are crowned with bounty by the one to whom the valleys deck themselves and shout for joy.  Our sustainer has been planting our loaves of daily bread years in advance.

Every year, the grain once again grows up as tender, green stalks.  Every year the sun continues to dry those stalks into the amber waves we sing about.  Every year the harvest comes again, and every year, the stubble of the fallow field stands testament to the God who has once again provided daily bread.  And just as the fields seem their emptiest, full of overturned dirt, the little green shoots spring up again, a moment in which it seems our God has said, that was fun, let’s do it again!  The soil does not forget the one who has caused it to overflow with richness, so let us not forget either.  For our God has planned our daily bread before we could imagine it, be it the literal bread of the field and table, or the sustaining friendships and vocations we are called to live into as the body of Christ.

So, yes, let’s enjoy the bread given to us this day.  Let’s take freely of the abundance of the table set before us.  But in the bread of today, let us also remember the hope that God’s provision did not start in this moment…and it will not end when this table is emptied.  Our bread is not daily.  Our creative God cares for us abundantly, preparing for us bread, through the days, the seasons, and the years we have been given.

The author and her piano

A Companion for the Journey

 

The author and her piano

Above: the author at her piano

I sat in the blue Queen Anne’s chair (not mine) in the formal living room (not mine) of the parsonage (not mine, of course) and watched, nervously, as he took the cover off the grand upright piano (mine). He had a case of ancient-looking tools behind him on the bench, a cell phone in his back pocket. He opened the lid of the piano and removed the upper panel. He ran his fingers, unmindful, through the thick dust on the wood as he reached to touch the pin block where a name and number were still engraved.

“You can look up the serial number if you want. See how old she is.”

I took a worn book from him and looked up the maker, Mendelssohn, and the serial number. The book tells me this instrument was manufactured in 1909. My piano is 105 years old this year.  It’s been with me for twenty-three of those years.

My grandmother played piano. When we kids were little she taught us “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I played the melody while she played chords underneath it. We played on her Winter console piano, the key edges gnawed off by the teething children of multiple generations. I thought it was magic, the way those keys made so much sound. One day my dad asked me if I might like to play piano like Granny. I said yes.

Dad bought this piano for a hundred dollars when I was in the second grade. It was beat up with multiple layers of paint, its own keys damaged. It came to live in our garage while Dad took it apart, piece by piece. He repaired what he could, replaced what he couldn’t, sanded down the wood, stained it all again, and put it back together. I don’t know how many man hours went into that piano, but I still remember the smell of varnish and the sound of the evening conversations between my dad and the man he called to consult about pianos and how to fix them. Before too long, I was taking lessons and learning to play. Like Granny.

Through the years, I had six piano teachers, countless lessons, seasonal recitals, many competitions, hours of practice, frustration, joy, careful work…and one beautiful faithful piano. It stayed at my parents’ house when I went to live in a dorm room at college. I played many pianos in the practice rooms at Birmingham-Southern College, but “home” was always that old grand upright. On visits to my parents’ house I gravitated toward the instrument in the corner. Sometimes I’d practice, then stop playing and stare at the dark wood before my eyes, my feet kicking lightly at the bottom panel, just as they had when I was a kid.

Though I majored in music, I was feeling a tug toward sacramental ministry. So after college I moved to seminary, and my piano stayed in Alabama. I moved to my first church, then another state, then my second church. With each move I left behind friends and made new ones, left behind old worlds and learned new ones. Yet no matter where I lived or who I left, I came home to visit Mom and Dad and my sisters…and that piano. How many times had I sat on that bench and kicked my feet against the bottom panel, hearing the echoes of space, the potential of sound, inside? How many times had I been comforted with that familiar seat, that dark wood—unchanging, the old friend that was my piano, still there?

When I moved to my third call, I was compensated with a large parsonage. I was determined, this time, to move my piano with me. It was expensive and difficult to get such a heavy, unwieldy piece of furniture up to a second-story living room. It took four young men and some luck on a rainy day, but here it was, before me: my dear piano. And the piano tuner.

I handed the book back and watched as he jiggled pins and tapped the soundboard.

“It’s very old,” he said.  And I listened as I do when a doctor shares a loved one’s diagnosis.  “But it’s a good piano. Amazing shape, considering the age.”

He explained that some things simply could not be fixed, that wood is wood and it decays over time. He explained that even the metal wears and becomes loose, that eventually what is now only a little flat will be completely without sound. I felt as if he were telling me how many years the piano had left to live because, of course, he was.

Some objects are just objects. But others are (or become) important friends. I don’t know what lives my piano was a part of before it came to me, but I remember the life that I poured into it: the curiosity and boredom (by turns) I shared with it during practice hours as a child, the emotion and turmoil I felt I could only express through its sustained sounds as a teenager, the discipline and determination I worked into it as a young adult. Now, after the piano tuner left, I sat on the bench once more. A new church. A new home. A chair and a living room and a house (not mine) and an old piano (mine). My beloved, faithful friend.