All of the Fun, None of the Work?

“All of the fun, none of the work.”

It’s the phrase I frequently hear from clergy when I tell them that I’m an Associate Rector. It’s the “truth-in-jest” description of associate clergy. You don’t have the highest level of responsibility and the buck doesn’t stop with you, so you don’t have to deal with the majority of the “work” or “business” of the church: personnel, conflict, roof repairs, fund raising, etc. I used to make this joke myself and laugh along with it, as if to say, “I know how good I have it – my job is the easy one!” I played along with the jab that being an associate pastor is like riding a bike with training wheels, a learning position where one prepares oneself to be able to handle the real responsibility of the “grown-up world” of ministry.

But you know what? This joke represents a highly problematic and diseased vision of church leadership, and I both resent and reject it. The claim that being an associate is “all of the fun, none of the work,” implies that a senior clergyperson does all of the work (and, perhaps, has none of the fun). It is “work” that one is supposed to aspire to do as one grows into positions of greater responsibility and scope  – and this “work” is generally non-pastoral. That is to say, it has little to do with the spiritual formation, nurture, and empowerment of the flock of Christians in one’s care. It’s all the stuff you “didn’t learn in seminary”- hiring and firing personnel, budgetary decisions, fund raising, reviewing proposals for roof repairs, approving the layout of the annual giving brochure. In contrast, associate clergy tend to have responsibilities that lean toward pastoral care, worship, outreach, advocacy, and Christian education – in other words, areas clergy are trained for in seminary. The unfortunate and unspoken belief this reveals begs a disturbing question: Does that mean that, deep down, churches (and the clergy who lead them) don’t view pastoral work as real work?

Many would immediately argue that “all of the fun, none of the work” simply means that associate clergy don’t bear the burden of the responsibility that falls on senior clergy, and this is mostly due to the hierarchical nature of the senior/associate clergy relationship. Indeed, many associate clergy would report that the majority of weddings, funerals, baptisms, and preaching falls on the senior clergy. Yet most associate clergy would probably also report being responsible for many areas that senior clergy don’t touch at all: youth ministry, Christian education, family ministry, outreach and advocacy.

This brings to light two major problems:

1)  Education, youth, advocacy, outreach, and pastoral care are often treated as too unimportant for the senior clergyperson to handle. Whenever “all of the fun, none of the work” means ministry to youth, families, the sick and homebound, the bereft, and those on the margins, it speaks volumes about how little the church values those people.

2) It falsely links specific skill sets with levels of importance in church leadership and administration. Overseeing Sunday School and Christian Education? The associate clergy, or a layperson with some sort of seminary or religious training, can do that. Clerical matters, like sacramental and pastoral ministry (weddings, funerals, baptisms, hospital visits, etc.)? Associates can do some of that. But when it comes to the real heavy lifting? Balancing budgets, hiring personnel, and running the business – well, that’s for the grown-ups. That’s for the senior clergy. Read more

gravestones in a cemetery

Can You Ask Them If They’re Okay With a Woman?

gravestones in a cemetery

“Can you ask them if they’re okay with a woman?”

It was late morning on the Friday after Christmas.  It was one of what feels like only a small handful of days each year when I didn’t have anything really pressing on my to-do list, so I came into the church that morning determined to clean my office.  My time that day felt like a gift – it wasn’t claimed already by someone else, and so I pulled up some music and set about making my space feel, once again, like my own, which almost never takes priority for me.  It had occurred to me, as I walked in, that these are the kinds of days when disasters usually strike, but I dismissed that thought as quickly as it had arrived.

So when the call came in from the city office, it took me a minute to wrap my mind around what the woman on the other end was asking.  Someone needed a pastor, and they needed a funeral in less than two hours.  Wait, what?  Who buries the dead that quickly?  Or if it wasn’t so quick, why hadn’t they called yesterday, or the day before?  Oh, I see, their priest is suddenly unavailable, okay.  And they don’t speak much English.  And you say they’re African immigrants?  They attend the Orthodox Church.  Okay.  It’s for a 6-week-old baby?  Good God.  And just the burial.  Right, just some prayers.  Christian prayers.  They just need a Christian minister; any Christian minister.  Got it.  Okay.

I’m a Christian minister.  A Lutheran one, to be precise.  My church is the first one the city employee had called, and of course I said I was available.  To bury a baby on a moment’s notice for a grieving family on the worst day of their lives?  Can there be more holy work than this?

After I had taken down the few bits and pieces of information the city employee had about the family, I was about to hang up, when I remembered one last thing:

“Can you call the family back first?” I asked the city employee.  “Can you ask them if they’re okay with a woman?”

She scoffed.  I appreciated the guttural expression of support, and I knew what she meant – that this family was desperate for someone to meet this need, and I was both trained and willing to meet it – but still.  “It’s the worst day of their lives,” I said.  “I don’t know anything about their culture, and not enough about their religious beliefs.  Can you just call and make sure?”

She agreed.

She called back within three minutes, her voice sheepish and apologetic.  “You were right to ask,” she said.  “They said that they would much prefer a man.”

Read more

Not So Silent: Christmas Worship with Children

Dearest church people,

Get ready. In two days it’ll be Christmas Eve. Your congregation will welcome people in for one of the biggest nights of the year. You may be blessed with an overrun of visitors, and I hope some of those visitors will be children and their parents.

In the spirit of preparation (it is Advent, after all), I write to you with my qualifications as both a minister who has specialized in children and youth and, for the last few years, become a pew-sitter; as a minister without a full time clergy position, I have done more pew sitting than worship leading.

And this season, I suspect, is the hardest of my pew sitting: I currently have three lovely children, and we’re doing all the ages and stages right now. The oldest, at 10, is in that phase where she can follow along in church, but sometimes needs a reminder to do so. Sometimes, this nudge results in a little preteen, mother-daughter drama. The five-year-old wants to move. He has the energy of a Pentecostal, which is perhaps a bit more than your average grown up Lutheran. (We currently attend a Lutheran church.) And the two-year-old has recently learned that she has pipes, so she will deliver quite the yelp if someone takes what she believes to be her crayon. She’s also highly attuned to the Holy Spirit, occasionally making a dash for the aisle because she thinks that music is for dancing. And when it’s time to go forward to receive communion, she has a hard time waiting her turn. Sundays in our pew are sort of like wrestling a squirmy pet monkey, all while juggling hymnals and Bibles. Add candles on Christmas Eve (our church has one service, at 7pm, well past the littlest one’s bedtime), and it’s going to be anything but a meditative experience for me. Read more

Making Coffee Kind Again

4332255678_04819c4c94_z“Smile, sweetheart, the c*** lost,” he said.

Not exactly how I pictured starting my morning the day after the election, the first day into a President-elect Trump world.

“It’s inappropriate to speak to me in that way,” I said, before walking away from the man in the infamous red hat. Yes, that red hat.

It was 8:30am, as I stood in line at Starbucks to pick up my grande coffee with steamed non-fat milk before driving across the state of Florida to go home after vacationing with family. Good morning y’all!

And then it began, the running tirade in my mind:

I’m not your sweetheart.

I don’t exist to give you smiles.

How dare you violate me in this way, with that word?

And in one of my sacred spaces on top of it all. Read more

tears in an eye

The Choice to Look Away

tears in an eyeI do this thing in the mornings. I wake up and check the Rubycam in the nursery, and if Ruby is still asleep, I spend a few minutes in my bed on my phone, checking various email inboxes and my calendar for the day, usually scrolling through Facebook, before I go wake her up to start her day. I do this despite an admonishment years ago from my spiritual director that checking email first thing was the worst way to start a day.

This morning, as I read Facebook in the dawn’s light seeping through the bedroom shutters, I found myself face to face with the image of a tiny boy in Aleppo, covered in grime and dust, staring starkly back at me. He had been pulled seconds before from the ruins of a bomb blast and deposited in an orange safety chair in the back of an ambulance. It was a video, and so I watched as this child—maybe six months older than my own—in literal shell shock, sat slack in the chair, looked around a bit, rubbed absently at his forehead and hair, stared blankly at the hand that came back covered in blood, and then returned his eyes to the camera peering back at him. He was completely alone. I imagined his view in the back of this ambulance: of a stranger with a camera pointed at him, God only knows what raging in the background.

I had to turn it off. I’m not proud of that. I remember being told that once you have children, it changes the way you experience stories of children being mistreated or hurt or ill, because you can’t separate the hypothetical child from your own. Maybe that’s true.  Read more

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

The Stranger to You Shall be as the Native: A Rabbi’s Reflection on the TYCWP Conference

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

The summer before entering sixth grade, I joined a youth choir. On the first day, we received a folder filled with the music that we would be singing. I looked it over and immediately spotted a possible problem. That night at dinner, I raised it with my parents. I explained, “There’s a lot of Jesus in the music.” I didn’t how they would respond. My father is a rabbi, and I grew up in a committed Jewish home. Christian liturgical music was not entirely foreign to me, as my dad often did pulpit exchanges with other clergy in town. Still, I didn’t exactly know what to make of singing it myself.

My parents asked me how I felt about it, and I wasn’t sure. After much deliberation, my father finally said, “Some of the most important and beautiful music was written for Christian worship. Try it! You will learn something new, you will learn more about yourself, and you will be part of creating something beautiful.”

I was reminded of this conversation during my time at the annual conference of The Young Clergy Women Project in Boston this July. When I registered, I was simultaneously welcomed and forewarned. I was told that I should certainly feel comfortable joining the conference, and that this conference is Christian in orientation. I had a moment of hesitation, wondering what it would feel like to be the only rabbi in a predominantly Christian space. I decided to attend. I was initially attracted by the concept of “Leading with Presence” and was eager to learn with Susan Beaumont. While the learning was excellent, I was most deeply moved by being part of the community.

In my own context, I find familiar faces everywhere I go. The Jewish world is small, and when I am at a conference, a synagogue, or a Jewish summer camp, it takes about five minutes for me to stumble upon someone I know. In contrast, when I walked into the first session of this conference, I did not know anyone at all. I was immediately welcomed, not as an oddity who had to be carefully included in conversation, but as a full participant. I was awed by how much we have in common: how we share the struggles of navigating congregational life, balancing life and work, and managing the emotional turmoil that accompanies walking with people who are in the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow. I was struck by how much of Susan Beaumont’s teaching spoke to the realities of serving as faith leaders in a time of transition and uncertainty. While I was taken aback when she announced that we would likely spend the entirety of our careers in an era of religious liminality, I was heartened to learn that I am not in it alone. Smart, thoughtful, and creative young women are working to chart a path forward into the unknown.

I also loved the worship. It is liberating to be a tourist in worship. While the texts and the liturgy were unfamiliar, I loved to see how young female colleagues led: where they stood, what they wore, how they spoke. I was moved by the creativity and the flexibility of the worship that I experienced. There is a great deal of fixed liturgy in Judaism. Since the conference, I have found myself adding and inventing within the services that I have led, trying to bring some of the freshness that I experienced during the conference into worship at my congregation.

After breaking bread (and burgers, and Thai food) with new friends, sharing triumphs and struggles, and feeling genuinely welcomed into TYCWP’s community, my father’s words about my youth choir continue to ring true. During our time in Boston, I learned about other faiths and traditions, stretching to apply my new knowledge to my own context. I certainly learned more about myself, reflecting on what it means to me to be a young, female member of the clergy. And, as I look back on the conference, I feel fortunate that I was able to be part of creating something so holy and beautiful.

Welcoming New TYCWP Board Members

Each summer, TYCWP welcomes a new class of fabulous 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 service. We are so thankful for the women who have served TYCWP faithfully and will roll off the board this year: Diana Hodges-Batzka, Kelsey Grissom, and Brenda Lovick. 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 this year: Kelly Boubel Shriver (Co-Chair), Molly James (Co-Chair), Caroline Berardi (Vice Chair), Sarah Hooker (Treasurer), Emily Brown and Austin Shelley (Co-Managing Editors of Fidelia’s Sisters), Diana Carroll, Erin Klassen, Jamie Haskins, Julie Hoplamazian, Meg Jenista, Julie Jensen, Amy Loving Austin, Sarah Moore, Lesley Ratcliff, Sarah Ross, Erica Schemper, and Phyl Stuzman.

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

Dear Celebrity

writing-1209121_640Dear Celebrity,

The first time I met you was a very memorable occasion. I’d met celebrities of your stature before, but they’d all been a meet-and-greet sort of thing or strictly business—the kind of official interactions where it didn’t matter at all who I was. Honestly, I haven’t liked many of them. So when I saw you, at the end of a long day that had started twelve hours before, I wasn’t exactly giddy. You were there, at church, with your kids, having just moved into the neighborhood a few months before. You were looking for an Episcopal church with kids’ programs, because apparently not everyone in Hollywood is either atheist or crazy, right-wing, born-again Christian. I found that hopeful. You were also there on the most somber of holy days: Ash Wednesday, that day when we smear ashes on our foreheads with the reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. I thought, “Good Lord, what an introduction. Welcome to our church. Remember, you’re all going to die.”

I talked to your kids about Sunday School, about how long the class is and what they’d learn. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation, that you had entered my world. I’ve entered into your world—worlds you’ve created—many times. I’ve loved everything I’ve seen you in. You’re really one of my favorites. And there I was, talking to you in real life, like you’re regular folk. I mean, of course you are a person like anyone else, but let’s be honest, in many ways you’re not. You and I live in the same neighborhood but not in the same world. Yet there you were, in this church, on my turf, interested in things that are my responsibility. All I could think was, “I really hope I don’t make an idiot of myself.” I’m pretty sure I did, even though I was trying very hard to act normally and not geek out. Most importantly, I was trying to make it about the kids, because that’s why you were there. You were not there as a famous actress. You were there as a mom, and I wanted so much to make sure that’s how I treated you. I’m sorry I let it slip that I was a huge fan of your hit show while your son was talking about being friends with your co-star. It was a natural segue, but I hope it wasn’t unprofessional.

None of that is why your first visit was memorable, though. Read more

Susan Beaumont

Leading with Presence: TYCWP’s 2016 Conference

Susan BeaumontMy first few months as a solo rector were a strange combination of familiar ministry that I was confident I could do well and bewildering new challenges. Design curriculum for adult education? I’d done that a number of times as a first-call associate. Visit members in hospitals and nursing homes? Clinical Pastoral Education taught me lots about pastoral care. But hiring and supervising staff? How in the world was I supposed to do that? My seminary had not offered a course in parish administration during my time there, and I hadn’t learned much about staff management as an associate. I was eager for these challenges––I’d moved into a solo rectorship because I was ready to take them on––but my experience hadn’t prepared me for them.

Thank God for Susan Beaumont. Her book, When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations, co-written with Gil Rendle, saved my bacon as I was learning the human resources aspects of my new job. Read more

little boy running

A GIF From God

little boy runningI pushed back from the table, breathless at what I had just seen. It was July 2011, and I was sitting in a room at Duke University with dozens of other female ministers. We were gathered for the last morning of The Young Clergy Women Project conference, and keynoter Winnie Varghese had invited us all to close our eyes and picture our lives in five years.

This kind of personal visioning was a luxury I hadn’t afforded myself in some time. After all, I’m married to a United Methodist pastor. For the eight years before that moment, I had struggled with the reality that itineracy dictated not just where we lived and Matt served, but also what opportunities were available to me. When someone asked me where I wanted to be in five, ten, or twenty years, I usually gave a partly true, partly cop-out answer: “Oh, that’s for the Holy Spirit to decide.”

Winnie’s invitation, however, shook something loose. I had closed my eyes for the exercise, because I’m a rule-follower, an obedient eldest child. But it wasn’t long before I saw an image like an animated GIF projected on the inside of my eyelids. I was holding a toddler, who was struggling to be put down so that he could wobble excitedly over to Matt. The detail was striking: the blooms on the trees, the look of adoration on the boy’s face as he looked at the man who was obviously his father. What made my breath catch in my throat, though, was the convergence of my deep ambivalence toward becoming a parent up to that point with my advancing age and my sudden certainty about wanting to be a mom. Read more