Bienvenidos mat

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!

Bienvenidos matSunday morning after worship, I sat with Lidia*, trying desperately to hold back my tears as she occasionally wiped hers away, hiding them from her children. Lidia and her family are an integral part of our community of faith. They became members after Lidia and the previous pastor met in classes while they were both pregnant. As they got to know each other, the family started worshiping with our community of faith. In turn, our community of faith started including more Spanish in our worship service.

Lidia and her family are among the many migrant and immigrant residents of our rural Midwestern town who have come from Mexico to work on the local farms. Last year, our community of faith had been excited and energized by the relationships we’d been developing with the farmworkers and their families. The banner outside our church building, made for our annual picnic welcoming our friends back from their homes in Mexico, reads, “¡Bienvenidos! Welcome!” Each year, an extended family spends five to six months in our town, working for a local organic farm during their main growing season. And each year for the last few years, we have welcomed them with a picnic filled with food, games, and maps that allow all of us to point to the places we each come from.

We also pushed our School District Community Education Program to offer free English as a Second Language classes in the community. At the end of the harvest, we send the family back to Mexico with cookies, well-wishes, and cries of “¡Hasta la primavera! ¡Nos vemos en junio!”

Our members take seriously the love of God they encounter in communion—a love that means each person has a place at the table and each person should be fed and nourished. I wish the story could end there, with us all sharing in joyful welcome of each other at God’s Table, but when we form meaningful relationships with people, we also get to know the problems they face in a new way. This is especially true for problems that are rooted in systemic sins.

In 2016, we were in the middle of the eighth year of President Obama’s presidency—a year which touted a record number of deportations for any United States president. It was only a matter of time before the tragedy of deportation hit us personally as well. In November and December of last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) showed up at two area farms. Eight men were taken from their jobs to a detention center over an hour away.

One of the men detained had a relative who had been in the ESL classes where we volunteered, so one of our members began to dive into the deep and murky waters of the United States immigration system to see what she could find for her friend. She ran up against a few walls, and though she ultimately figured out where the man was, she couldn’t help him. There was no chance for bail. He was deported before we could even figure out what an alternative process would be for him.

The economies here in the heartland–especially on dairy farms–rely on workers from other countries because farmers can pay them less to do the job. Plus, the workers are generally reliable… unless ICE shows up in its usual sneaky way. The immigration system is broken in part because we need more workers in this country than those for whom we offer visas, and in part because we are unwilling to pay more for milk, cheese, and other food to compensate those who harvest it with a livable wage.

In the last week, we have received news reports of immigration raids throughout the country. Because of a mistake that was dealt with several years ago, Lidia’s family is in the government system.

Even a month ago, Lidia and her family were nervous about the new administration, but they were planning to stay so that their two kids, who are citizens, could grow up in the only country they have ever known, free of violence and with opportunities their parents didn’t have. As I sat with Lidia, she told me that they didn’t know what to do. They were trying to figure out a way to build a house back in Mexico in case they were deported, or to balance work, saving money, and child care if one was deported and the other remained with their children. They were even considering moving back preemptively to avoid the ongoing anxieties of the last weeks.

After that conversation, Lidia, her spouse, another friend, and I spent hours together, trying to find a way for them to legally move to Canada, seeing it as the only hopeful option. As I came home, I had to fight down my own anxiety and panic. This family is a vital part of our ministry as a community of faith. They are bridge builders. Their children are children of our congregation, sitting with different people in worship, comfortable playing with almost anyone. If they are deported, it will be devastating for them and for our whole community of faith.

We know that the immigration system in this country is broken, but right now the burden and anxiety rests most heavily on those who are already most aware of and most vulnerable to its brokenness. Children wonder if they’ll see their parents again when they get home from school. Parents worry about what will happen to their children (who have only known this country as their home) if they get picked up by “la migra.” If parents are captured, will their children come with them? Will they stay? Will they be lost in the foster care system?

And as their pastor, I cannot help them. So instead I sit with tears in my eyes as they share their anxieties. I search fruitlessly for a crumb of hope for their situation, when I know there are no crumbs falling from this table. I make sure they know to call me and that I will show up if Immigration and Customs Enforcement does show up. I pray like their lives depend on it, because they just might.

When our community of faith started building relationships with strangers we hadn’t realized lived here in the “homogenous rural states,” we didn’t know where it would lead. So far, it has led to joy and discovery as well as heartache and pain. In other words, it has led us to Jesus, who made the ultimate journey across the divide of living and dead out of love–love for those of us with papers, and love for those of us without them.

*Name has been changed.

small girl covering her eyes

Coming out of the Clergy Closet

small girl covering her eyes

Hiding in plain sight

Last year our oldest child started at a new child development center. Unlike the commercial daycare setting we’d ended up at during the first year of our new call, the school is small and intimate, priding itself on a very deep sense of community. It’s the kind of preschool where we receive regular invitations from teachers to be involved in the life of the classroom and regular invitations from fellow parents to birthday parties galore.

Like most young clergy couples entering a new church, town, and phase of life, I was hungry for relationships outside of our congregation and thrilled with the prospect of meeting other parents. There is a known camaraderie among parents of similarly aged children, right? Knowing that nearly all the attendees of our preschool hold a connection to the large university that is the foundation of our lovely little college town, surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find some common ground?

But there it was. The question we clergy find ourselves staring in the face as we try to go about our daily lives. The question that traps us when we are young and single and are set up on a first date. The question we find ways to dodge when it comes from the person sitting next to us on the three-hour flight to a church conference. The question that confronts my husband and I when we are approached by a stranger at a cocktail party:

“What do you do?”

I hadn’t cringed at that question in awhile, but at our first preschool social (a dinosaur-themed birthday party) when it inevitably came up it was like I was twenty-two and out at a bar in Midtown Atlanta all over again, quickly muttering “I’m a pastor at the Presbyterian church” and moving the conversation right along. Driving home that day I engaged in a little self-confrontation…

“What was that all about?” I asked myself. It’s not as though I’m a seminarian or even a newly ordained minister. I’ve been at this awhile now and am comfortable in my pastoral identity. Call me to an emergency at the hospital? I’m there. Calm, cool, collected. Need to preach a sermon following a tragic event in the world? By the grace of God, I will. Yet for some reason this prayerfully forged identity becomes something I want to hide when I’m standing on the sidelines of the soccer field or the waiting room of the dance studio.

Eventually, I was able to identify at least a few reasons for this inclination to minimize my professional identity in social settings. The first is that there are very few places in my life where “pastor” is not my primary role. In the life of my own congregation the lines are beautifully blurred. The church I co-pastor with my husband has embraced our dual identities as pastors and parents as well as any clergy couple could ever hope or imagine. They understand when we have to reschedule meetings due to ear infections or trips to the pumpkin patch. They graciously smile when our children throw tantrums and green beans during the midweek fellowship supper. Yet our primary identity within our congregation is and will always be pastor, just as it should be. I love being their pastor, and simultaneously I long for a few small protected places in my life where I don’t have to be consciously in that role as I go about my business.

The second is that I don’t want “pastors’ kids”(PKS) to be my children’s primary identity. Or secondary. Or even tertiary (Yes, I had to look that up.). I often think our three little ones must be the most fortunate pastors’ kids in the world. My husband and I have now served two churches that take delight in them almost as much as we do. Yet, just like my own personal struggle, they are and always will be “the pastors’ kids”. Though they are blissfully unaware of this unique role at this point in their lives, I know the day is coming when they will put two-and-two together and realize that no one else’s parents are standing in the pulpit delivering the sermon each Sunday.

And so I want preschool, and later school, to be a place where they are just like every other kid. Where adults don’t feel the need to speak or act differently around them and where they aren’t expected to have an above-average knowledge of the Bible or be held to a higher standard of behavior. Perhaps these worries are all the result of my overly analytical imagination. However, generations of PKs who have gone before them might argue otherwise.

But back to preschool. I finally realized that, given that we live in as small of a town as we do, there is no escaping the reality of my identity. Wherever I am and wherever I go, I will always be both mom and pastor. So it was time to embrace this dual identity and stop glossing over it in conversation. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I came to this realization, something both wonderful and humbling happened.

Whether it was the princess-fashion-show-themed birthday party, the Thanksgiving feast, or simply walking through the school to figure out whether the class was on the playground or in the activities building, I can’t remember. But once again the question came up: “What do you do?” This time, it was from a mom I knew to be a professor at the university.

“My husband and I are the pastors at the Presbyterian church.” I said, this time without hesitation.

“We know lots of people in your church!” she said. “We go to the Episcopal church. Our priest is awesome. He came to our tailgate last week.

And just like that, it was over. No awkward silence. No “I didn’t-know-ministers-could-get-married.” or “Here are some reasons why my family hasn’t attended church in awhile.”

I’ve come out of the clergy-closet since then. In our preschool community it’s known that our kids have two preachers for parents. And guess what? I’m not sure anyone really cares. Teachers tell us when it hasn’t been a great day for the two year old. Or when we forgot to sign in the baby. Or when the four year old and her “best friend” had a dramatic falling out on the playground. Just like us, other parents understand that when we cross the threshold of the Child Development Center we all need a chance to shed our professional identities for a moment and tend to the little lives we, with the help of our extended childcare and extended families (including church families) are doing our best to nurture and grow.

The Pilgrim Pastor of Bethlehem

Heather with pilgrims at the River Jordan

Heather with pilgrims at the River Jordan

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

I stepped into Bethlehem for the first time in January 2005. It was the week of the first Palestinian elections since Yasser Arafat, but I had not anticipated that when I bought the tickets months earlier. My boyfriend wanted to come along, I think mostly to protect me. I enjoyed his company, so I obliged, even though I had no interest in being protected. We walked from our quarters at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, through an Israeli checkpoint, and into the “little town,” mostly unaware that it also happened to be the week of Orthodox Christmas.

Everywhere there were parades and celebrations. Colorful bunting hung from apartment windows. Palestinian youth dressed in kilts and playing bagpipes made my Presbyterian self feel right at home. “Happy Christmas!” they shouted to us as we passed by their celebrations – never mind that many of the shouters were Muslim. The colored political placards added to the sense of wonder, but the armored cars carrying UN officials seemed eerily out of place.

The most memorable part of that trip came when my boyfriend and I gave in to a persistent shopkeeper who beckoned us from the doorway of his lonely store. We had passed many persistent shopkeepers, but this one drew us in. We were surprised when he offered us tea but did not give us the hard sell on any authentic olive wood handicrafts. We were even more surprised when he invited us to come to his home for dinner on Sunday – the day of the Palestinian elections. With hardly a glance at my boyfriend, who had made me promise that we would avoid the West Bank on election day, I accepted the invitation.

The shopkeeper’s wife cooked makloubeh and he, with his vote-blackened thumb, told stories of war and peace. It was one of the most delicious and significant meals of my life. I set out as a tourist without any particular spiritual goals; but set free to wander in a strange land, to wonder at ancient relics and modern faith, and to encounter humanity in another, I was transformed into a pilgrim.

Sitting in my church office in South Carolina eight years later, my colleague and I chatted about our respective trips to the Holy Land. Did you go here? What did you think of that? He began recounting to me a story about a shopkeeper in Bethlehem. He and a couple of friends had broken off from the group and found themselves sharing tea with the cheery owner of a cramped store. Before long, he had invited them to come to his home for dinner. “Are you talking about Majdi?!” I interrupted. It turns out Majdi’s hospitality was not only effusive but legendary.

Together, we agreed that our congregation needed a chance to experience this extraordinary land and people. Fifteen months later, twenty-nine of us sat in a circle in Majdi’s living room while his wife and children offered us tea and cookies. We laughed together when he shared his stress at planning his son’s wedding – some things are the same everywhere! Much to my surprise, this second trip, which began as a sort of vacation, would become a vocation.

As I prepared to move from South Carolina to a small, urban congregation in Massachusetts, the possibility of a pilgrim vocation began to unfold. The congregation, like many small, urban congregations, could not afford the salary a pastor with nine years of experience might expect. Yet both the congregation and I sensed that God was calling us together. So I wrote a business plan, incorporated with the state, bought an insurance policy, and negotiated a “bi-vocational leave policy” with my new congregation. (My next article might be titled, “Things They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary.”)

The congregation met, discussed, and prayed about what it might mean to have a full-time pastor who is also a part-time tour guide. (I actually prefer the term “pilgrim guide,” but it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily.) There may yet be kinks to work out, but together we hope the Spirit is using us to envision new models for the pastor-parish relationship.

An organized pilgrimage is a different experience than that of two young adults setting off on an adventure with no itinerary, no guidebook, a limited bank account, and a reliance on the wisdom of strangers with an occasional stroke of luck. Now, as a business owner with liability and people’s lives to worry about, I must be more mindful of things like trip logistics and security. In fact, budgets and itineraries turn out to be quite useful for helping travelers see all that they hope to see; after all, no trip to this land would be complete without praying at the Western Wall, dipping your toes in the River Jordan, or bobbing like a cork in the Dead Sea.

With planned tours, I cannot rely on serendipity to create encounters like the ones my colleague and I had with Majdi; still, I strive to create space for genuine spiritual encounters that are not hokey or “put on,” with room left for the Holy Spirit to show up. When the Spirit shows up, and she always does, what begins as a group of tourists is transformed into a band of pilgrims.

Israel and Palestine – or the Holy Land – is a land of paradox that has captured my heart. The religious sites have become commercialized but still strike a spiritual chord. The geography is harsh but life giving. The people are complex but extraordinarily hospitable. In that first visit over a decade ago, my faith was deepened, my sense of justice rekindled, and my relationship with my boyfriend renewed. (We are married now.)  The second time, my sense of vocation was expanded.

Now, with each trip I lead, I find myself renewed not only by the land itself but by watching tourists become pilgrims and discover new layers to their faith. I am exhilarated not only by the politics unfolding in the land, but by seeing travelers grow wide-eyed at the complexity, nuance, and humanity of what seems like an intractable conflict. The landscape does not take my breath away as much as seeing a traveler weep as she rinses off the dust of the wilderness with the water of the River Jordan. I not only celebrate with my friends Majdi, Motasem, Islam, and Sarah but with fellow travelers who discover that strangers from the little town of Bethlehem are their friends, too.

In these moments, I feel the sacred weight of being not only a pilgrim but also a pastor. When the airplane touches down in Boston and pastoral duties resume at their frenetic pace, I cling to these moments and pray that the pilgrim Spirit will sustain me, and all those who have traveled with me, in our homeland, too.

Ask a YCW: Discernment Edition

Dear Askie,

I’m currently a senior in college, trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. I think I might be called into ministry, but I’m not really sure. How do I know if God is really calling me or not? If I am called, what are the steps I need to take? What advice do you have for me?

Sincerely,

A future Young Clergy Woman?

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chalkboard with mathematical equations on it

Bricks Without Straw: Hidden Figures, Young Clergy Women, and Intersectionality

chalkboard with mathematical equations on itI have been excited to see Hidden Figures for months. The trailer gave me deeply satisfied laughter, hope, and inspiration. The poster gave me goosebumps. I knew I was going to love this movie from the moment I learned that it existed. It exceeded my expectations.

Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), one of the finest mathematicians (called “computers”) in the history of NASA. Her parents advocated for her to have appropriate education for her mathematical brilliance. Through hard work and a supportive family, Katherine belonged to a team of black female computers, referred to as the West Computing Group, resourcing the space program.

By Johnson’s side were Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), who functioned as the supervisor for the West Computing Group, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), a budding NASA engineer. America’s race to space depended largely on the mathematical and scientific work of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson. Not only were these women solving some of the most complex mathematical and scientific problems of their time, but they were doing it while juggling racism, sexism, and classism (all while in high heels).

There are many points of genius in the movie, and its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture is well-deserved. One of the most significant is its subtle pedagogy. The movie appeals to a wide demographic of viewers: fans of its actors, space enthusiasts, nostalgists, movie lovers, music lovers, women, audiences of color, teachers, etc. Whatever brings you to the theater will not begin to scratch the surface of what you’ll gain from this movie.

Hidden Figures demonstrates the complexity of racism and racial reconciliation. The movie opens with potential police brutality and the delicate balance between good citizenship and accepting oppression. Though religion is not a major theme of the movie, the characters attend the same church, which is the center of their community. Mr. Johnson’s military career success points to the anticipated double victory of freedom abroad and at home for black soldiers during the world wars, and the importance of affirming black male leadership in integrated public arenas. Segregation looms large in signage, work accommodations, and access to public places like libraries and court houses.

As a former engineer, I appreciated the way the movie depicted women’s second class citizenship. Leaders referred to mixed groups of staff as “gentlemen” or “you guys,” and told them to call their wives. Though they are among the leading minds in the country, the women of NASA are often assumed to be clerical staff or housekeepers, treated as expendable workers. In spite of putting in long hours doing demanding intellectual work, dress codes stipulated that they should wear dresses and heels. While some of the women had supportive helpers at home (largely other women), others began a second shift of domestic responsibilities even while defending their right to work. Many women in the movie, white and black, performed duties beyond the scope of their job responsibilities, without additional recognition or compensation, and without avenues for requesting advancement.

The movie honestly depicts the third and fourth class citizenship of black women. 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.”

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a red chasuble with dove detail

If the Chasuble Fits: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the Anglican Church of Canada

a red chasuble with dove detail

Red chasuble with dove detail

I spent the last two months leading up to maternity leave serving at All Saints’ Cathedral. It was a short interim, just enough to bridge their staffing gap, that allowed me to work a little longer after my previous parish was filled. Two other women in a row – both under the age of thirty – had held the same position. Down the hall, the first woman ordained bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada had her office. If my gender was an issue for anyone, I never heard it. I have benefited from much progress since the first ordinations of women forty years ago. Most of the controversy that raged through the church in 1976 has died down.

On the other hand, being female and nine months pregnant in that early parish was more of a stretch. Trying to arrange the chasuble when I sat down so it wouldn’t get wet in case my water broke was only a young clergywoman problem! I will never forget the Sunday a young parishioner brought her Roman Catholic boyfriend to church. Imagine how it threw him to see someone preside at the Eucharist who was dressed as an ordinary priest and praying using familiar words – but sporting a very large baby bump. We had a good laugh about it afterward. I never saw him again because I welcomed a healthy baby girl four days later. For much of the global church, I’m an oddity. But most of the time, in a diocese that has been led by female bishops for coming up on twenty years, I hardly notice.

No, my femininity isn’t the main challenge I see to the traditional view of priesthood. I stand on the shoulders of women who fought those battles in their own generations and so paved the way for me to serve God and the church in this way in mine. In this culture, people are put off more by a church that does not have women in leadership. At least in my part of the world, at least on the surface, we have progressed. Most congregations in my denomination accept me as a priest without question. Even my youthfulness, perhaps worn down by a decade of motherhood, no longer attracts the kind of dismissive comments it did when I was twenty-three and trying to fill my first clergy collar. I have grown into it. I have learned better to speak the language that people expect of leaders. I know more of how to attend to the liturgies, committees, and community rhythms that keep the institution of the church humming along. I can preach the life of Jesus in a way that is inspiring with just the right amount of challenge, and listen with the right blend of pastoral concern. In short, I fit.

But though a woman wears the vestments, how much difference has that really made?

The dignified, authoritative country parson still inhabits our institutional memory. I have seen him live on in a church whose drive to spiritual maturity and collective imagination was crushed by a particularly harsh version of Reverend-knows-best. Stodgy women’s groups fill our caricatures and, whether or not they are real, they limit women in the church to bake sales and gossip. We second- and third-generation ordained women find ourselves – still – with the task of gently and intentionally laying down what has held us back from fully following the call of God. As we do, we find that the only church most of us has ever known is still deeply burdened, still stumbling through an incomplete story, still fallen so far short of reflecting the life of Christ. I and my daughters have the privilege of being educated and of choosing to pursue any vocation, but deeper sin-bound patterns still affect us.

I sat in a gathering of our national church in 2001, as Archbishop Michael Peers offered an apology on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada to those who had been devastated by the Indian Residential Schools and their terrible aftermath. He had first spoken those words eight years earlier to an indigenous council, and now it was time to renew them before the whole church. As I heard the Rt. Rev. Gordon Beardy, our first Indigenous diocesan bishop, receive the apology and embrace him as a brother, I did not understand that we were watching an empire crumble. I didn’t realize that this was the mighty falling and the wealthy being brought low. I couldn’t know how much this marked the church beginning to turn aright.

The legal settlements that followed required millions of dollars. The church sold buildings and drastically cut programs. Several dioceses were decimated. It did not make up for such a great evil, or begin to pay for our healing, but it forced us to sit and listen to those whose voices we had too long ignored. It forced us to be honest: we can no longer claim to be righteous, or even right. Though we have been given the hands of Christ, we have used them for violence. We may not now believe the lie that our empire is the hope of the world, or that divine favour will guarantee us material success, or that our sin does not matter. If we are honest, we cannot deny our need for grace and forgiveness, for Jesus.

When I stand at the altar with baby spit-up on my shoulder and wearing robes not made for my body, I hope that I will remember that I am not there to fill a mold that looms large with authoritative confidence, but to point to a life that leaves no wounds forgotten and untended. Jesus has always led away from our comfort and security. When I get comfortable with the church of the empire, I risk losing sight of him. Not with our power, but from the humble, forgotten edges, he will make all things new. I hope the church will remember this, too.

A friend took on holy orders this spring. Before the service started, as we always do, the mass of clergy, presenters, acolytes, and ordinands gathered outside the cathedral doors to pray. But this time, there was sweetgrass burning alongside the incense. Before the organ swelled, the surrogate grandmother to several clergy families’ children rose and offered blessings in an ancient language that most of us do not yet understand.

I can only bear witness to what has already begun. Read more

Young Clergy Women on Marching

On Saturday, January 21, young clergy women participated in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, and in sister marches all over the world. We’ve gathered some of their reflections on these events.

On the visibility of being clergy

  • I intentionally wore my collar to serve as a public witness as a faith leader: I had a conversation with a woman my age who has an advanced degree in Hebrew literature and Scripture, but did not go on to be a rabbi because she didn’t have female role models. She expressed gratitude that I was showing young women today that they, too, may be called to lead faith communities.
  • A reporter interviewed me and another clergywoman, and was surprised to hear that we were pastors. “Wait, you’re Christian, but you’re at this march?” I explained that I was marching because of my faith, not in spite of it: part of my baptismal call is to follow the example of Jesus, serve others, and strive for justice and peace for all.
  • I wore a collar to show that young women clergy exist, and that Christians stand for love and justice. My husband observed that when photographers saw a young woman in a collar, they ran over to snap a picture. It was interesting to notice how young women clergy were “desirable optics” for a reporter’s narrative. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about that.
  • I had planned to wear my collar, but I start a new job next week at a non-profit that is primarily donor funded, and is supported broadly by churches and synagogues across theological and political spectrums. While I wanted deeply to participate, I also didn’t want my collar to get me on the front page of something and alienate church folks in a new city before I get to know them.
  • I marched beside my mother, also a clergy woman. I wore my collar because the reason why I march is my faith and my role as a faith leader: I was marching for congregation members who are queer and don’t feel comfortable being out at church; for undocumented parishioners who have sought help but come up against roadblocks; for the woman who had an abortion when she learned her much-wanted baby would not live and was in pain.
  • I marched with a group of fellow clergy women wearing matching jackets that said “Nasty Clergy Women.” The comments ranged from “Pray for me sisters!” to “I’m not religious, but that I could get on board with!”

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Cemetery with flowers

Circling Around Grief, Celebrity and Otherwise, in 2016

Cemetery with flowers

Cemetery with flowers

2017 will be a year without Carrie Fisher. I am not sure what to make of that. Whatever changes and transitions have come and gone in my life, Carrie Fisher is one of those public figures who has always been around. Like most children of the 80s, I grew up on Star Wars. Princess Leia was my princess (even if my hair was, alas, far too thin to pull off any of her iconic looks).

Beyond Star Wars, though, Carrie Fisher was … Carrie Fisher! My college roommate and I went through a phase when nearly watched When Harry Met Sally on an infinite loop. Who else could make a line like “I promise you, I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table” into a touching expression of true love? And there was Fisher’s defiance of the patriarchy just by her public existence as a self-possessed, opinionated, middle-aged woman who was open about her mental health struggles. The audacity! Our world will be less without Fisher’s voice and presence in it (even if we do have one posthumous performance to anticipate in Star Wars: Episode VIII).

Fisher’s death late in December (followed by the almost immediate death of her mother Debbie Reynolds) marked the end of litany of celebrity death that felt endless. Beginning with David Bowie on January 10, there was speculation that an abnormal number of prominent public figures passed away in 2016. No doubt the false intimacy of online communities feeds into the collective cries of grief when we hear news of yet another celebrity passing. For good or ill the internet allows us to feel a connection with other human beings who would not ordinarily be part of our lives, giving us a connection to prominent public figures that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. In our collective expressions of grief or loss, however, social media also holds up what would otherwise be private feelings for public scrutiny. Read more

God’s Grace and My Father’s Love

Sometimes the hands of God are right in front of us

My father was a force of nature. He was a big man, both physically and in spirit, and had the kind of laugh that had a way of booming itself across a room, hovering for a while before dissipating. As a little girl I was fascinated by his size, putting my hand up against his and watching in awe as his fingers closed around mine, hiding them away completely. There was such safety in seeing my smallness tucked up and protected in the hugeness of his hands.

Still, he looked impossibly small when I walked into his ICU room many years later, where he lay stricken by a sudden infection that would take his life. He was a big man made tiny and still beneath a nest of tubes, his face obscured by the ventilator that kept his chest rising and falling with mechanic precision. The years between being an awe-struck young girl and a fully grown, ordained woman had not been kind to us, and I found myself standing next to a man that I loved with the whole of my heart, but who felt so very much like a distant stranger, a person to be wary of.

My father was a man who walked between worlds of light and dark. In the light stood his faith, his joy, his playfulness bordering on prankster, his sweeping generosity. Our church loved him deeply and it was a love that was richly returned. Everyone drew close to his light, which seemed to radiate warmth. There was a sense about him that no matter what might go wrong, he would set it right, and over the course of his years in our church leadership he did so again and again. But he was a man in whom shadows made their home as well. His joyful side would fade and he’d quickly become withdrawn and disengaged, choosing to be alone in his office or his bedroom instead of spending time with his family. He was quick to temper and could be casually and laughingly cruel – though usually only to his family and closest of friends. We loved him because we could not possibly do otherwise, but each of us carried with us the wounds of that love.

My father’s illness lasted a month to the day, and he was conscious, even talkative, for most of it. The days mostly blur together, but I remember my anger with clarity. I was absolutely furious, pacing trenches in the halls of the hospital. I railed against God, a madwoman in her clerical collar, shouting at heaven from the parking lot. My Presbyterian theology taught me to expect my prayers to change me, not to change God’s mind, but I had no patience for that. I had no patience for God’s plans, and cared not at all what was going on in God’s mind. Read more