the author and her chicken in a bathtub

A Chicken in My Bathtub

the author and her chicken in a bathtub

The author reading to Caroline Radesky, the chicken, soon after the accident.

At four in the morning on a Sunday, I woke up to infernal screeching. I threw on the lights, ran outside, scared the assailant away, and saw my favorite chicken, a golden fluffball named Caroline Radesky (after one of my roommates in college), shell shocked and bleeding standing over the tunnel that was dug into her home. We have three chickens in a coop behind our house. My spouse built the coop, complete with a roost up off the ground and chicken wire surrounding it. Only, a fox dug underneath that night and got to Caroline.

She was not dead, but I was sure she would be soon. My spouse is a pilot, and he was away on rotation for the week, so I was alone, unsure of what to do and not knowing who to call to help. So I just breathed deeply and moved Caroline into the roost, shutting the door so nothing could get in. Then I went back to bed. (Or tried to.) In the morning, Caroline was still alive, so I separated her from her sisters so they wouldn’t peck at her wounds and she could have some peace, and I went to church. I thought she would be dead when I got home. It was All Saints Sunday and I considered whispering her name under my breath when we lit candles for the departed saints. Laughing about a chicken with a halo helped me keep the panic at bay long enough to get through the service.

I grew up with cats and dogs. We got chickens at the urging of my spouse who grew up with chickens and ducks and horses. These chickens were three years old, and not the best egg layers, but Caroline was super friendly and sweet. I would let her and her sisters out after a long day at church and they would follow me and the dog around the yard, running away when I tried to get them back in the coop for the night unless they heard the sweet music of a Dorito bag opening, luring them back home. I love the sound of chickens cooing and the way they sometimes squat down to let you pick them up. These were simple pleasures of God’s creation; pleasures I was grateful for after the difficulty of years of three miscarriages and numerous failed fertility treatments that have frayed my relationship with God. And now my favorite chicken was dying and I had to lead worship as though nothing was wrong. Read more

Opening Worship

The last words of Rev. Rebecca Immich Sullivan’s sermon from opening worship at the Young Clergy Women’s Annual Conference on Monday, July 29.

Opening Worship
7-29-19

There were arches

and a peak

made of wood

and polished,

carved with a

clover symbol

for the Holy

Trinity.

 

And feathers were laid

on the altar,

beyond the rail

where the minister presides,

which was draped

with green and white

for ordinary time.

 

And the organ pipes

spread their arms

in welcome

and pursed their lips,

poised to sing,

but yielded

to the lighter notes

of the piano’s

joyous song.

 

And infants nursed,

And toddlers gave

their voices to

the large spaces

between our prayers.

 

And the pews

creaked amicably

beneath us

adding their amens

to the gospel

according to Mary

and to “Martha, Martha,”

too,

 

and “our presence was

gift enough.”

The Stained Glass Cliff

Like many of my fellow clergy women, I was shocked when the news broke last week that the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler was leaving her pulpit at the storied Riverside Church in New York City after only five years. This is a short tenure in the life of such a famed institution, and the announcement of her departure comes on the heels of her serving as one of the featured preachers at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod only a week prior. Riverside has long had a complex and turmoil-laden history, but I joined many who were hopeful things were turning around under Amy’s leadership. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

It was clear to many of us that there were myriad untold stories to her departure, and what we have learned includes only some of the layers of one of those stories. Although stories will continue to emerge, and some may never be told, we can conclude that Pastor Amy was, at least in part, pushed off the Stained Glass Cliff.

The research on this is very clear: women are more likely to rise to positions of leadership and authority in times of crisis or conflict. It’s seen as a “nothing to lose” phenomenon. “We have nothing to lose, so might as well hire a woman.” We often follow charismatic or well-liked men who were behaving egregiously badly, and we often don’t have clarity on how deeply broken the system really is until we’ve already said yes.

Women are held to a different standard (especially when we are the first). We have broken the stained glass ceiling, so we are expected to be exceptional, extraordinary even. We are expected to resolve conflicts, and clean up messes we did not make in half the time it took the men who preceded us to make them. We are expected to effortlessly juggle leadership (but not too much), nurturing (but not be too soft), and family (but without asking for too much time) without complaint.

As soon as we enact too much change, push to make the system healthier, preach a sermon seen as “too political,” or don’t clean up the mess quickly enough, we are pushed right off the cliff. If we dare, as Pastor Amy did, to name patterns of sexual harassment and ask for accountability, we are often painted as the problem and sent on our way. A narrative is then written about how it “wasn’t a good fit” or “she just couldn’t hack it.” Read more

Let’s Be Honest: A Guide to Worship

My boys love going to church. On Sunday mornings, as I’m rushing to get out the door, they are moving quickly right with me, excited to get there. It is amazing and gratifying and humbling to witness, and I do not expect it to last forever. I will cherish it while it does. 

The truth is that Sundays in many homes where people are trying to get out the door to church are not always peaceful and pleasant. But often, as soon as they enter the doors, there is a transformation. Arguments pause, smiles return, and all is well once again. Through unspoken agreement, we participate together in the rhythms and rituals of worship. It’s holy space, but susceptible to the overcrowding of the mundane or the lull of familiar patterns.

Inspired by some musings shared by members of Young Clergy Women International, I present to you “Let’s Be Honest: A Guide to Worship.”1

Read more

This Pastor Loves You

Some of our young clergywomen in their Pride shirts.

Young Clergywomen International created t-shirts for Pride month to reclaim a message of radical love. Board co-chair Sarah Hooker had no idea what kind of response YCWI would receive. She said, “The fact that we’ve sold around 850 versions of the shirt and continue to sell them, and are getting requests constantly for different word choices to print up next year, speaks so much for the need of the Christian community to have clothing that expresses a loving and inclusive message to the LGBTQIA+ community, but also for our clergy siblings who identify within that community to easily express their existence and calling to religious work.” The simple message of clergy loving all people has had a big impact among clergy and at Pride events this month.

I wore mine at my community’s Pride Festival in Frederick, Maryland. An interfaith pride worship service was held before the festival started, and I found myself rushing down the still-quiet street to get there in time. A car slowed down at a light as I crossed the street. I cringed, waiting for a catcall because of my feminine gender performance or vitriol in reference to the rainbow words on my shirt. Instead, someone called, “Thank you! We love your shirt!” After the service when I was walking with some of the youth from my church down to the festival, people stopped and took pictures with me. A clergyperson who shows up in love and affirmation is still too much of a novelty. Later at the festival, I sat at the table for the local United Methodist Reconciling Community and listened to story after story of experiences of discrimination in church and hopes for the future. They thanked us for being there, for disrupting the narrative of hate that has co-opted the church and showing “a more excellent way.”

Mine is not the only story. My social media newsfeeds are filled with clergy colleagues of all ages and gender expressions wearing shirts from YCWI’s Pride Collection. Here are a few of stories from other young clergywomen when they wore their shirts: Read more

Midrash on the Beach

One of the things I love most about preaching is the opportunity to imagine between the lines of a story. I can’t resist a chance to illuminate the scene and characters from my own imagination. The Bible is often sparse in its literary detail, to put it lightly – I mean, come on, parchment is expensive! We can’t be wasting space with frivolous details, like the names of women and whatnot! But more often than not, my own imagination falls far short of the real beauty and complexity of the lives that must have been lived between the lines of those ancient pages.

That’s where a good book, movie, podcast, painting, or other creative effort comes to the rescue. 

As you head out into your summer, why not bring along a great book or download a new show to help expand your preaching imagination? Here are are few Biblical-story-retold favorites from some of our members and friends:

Read more

Submit? I’d Rather Not

When my husband made the decision to become partner at the ranch, a part of me felt betrayed.

As a pastor who leads day in and day out, I feel comfortable when I am the primary authority, giving vision and guidance to others on how things need to be done. But as a woman in an egalitarian relationship with a man, I feel less comfortable—all right, I admit it: I feel very angry—when I hear the word “submit.” The very word makes me feel gross. Gross, for the million ways abuse has transpired under the guise of religious teaching. Gross, for the countless opportunities this word has allowed self-avowed Christian men to ridicule, demean, and belittle the women in their lives. Gross, for all the reasons submission seems like such a backward notion after you have experienced the freedom of life in Christ.

Nevertheless, I have learned that I need to reclaim the essential idea of submission, using language appropriate for a 21st century covenantal relationship, for the sake of a healthier and more life-giving relationship with my spouse. My husband and I struggled for several years early in our marriage. One of the biggest tension points is how we made decisions. I’m stubborn, and my husband arguably moreso.

A few years into our marriage, our therapist gave us tools to discern that we both have ENFP personality profiles, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Knowing one’s personality type alone can’t determine a relationship’s health, but we did learn plenty about how we make choices together. When we’re on the same page, life is grand. And when we disagree, well…heaven and hell can’t sway either one of us. Being willing to submit is not a strength we possess.

I know, I know. I used the seemingly forbidden word: submit. It still rubs me the wrong way when I hear it, but in my quest to strengthen my own marriage (and, providentially, as part of the required reading for my graduate school courses), I happened upon the work of John Gottman. Ever heard of him? He’s not Jesus, and his narrative is hetero-normative, but he does offer some pretty excellent insights in his book called The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

The first time I read this book, I began to see patterns of conflict within my own relationship more clearly. Specifically, I saw the ways I resisted my husband’s influence in my life (a no-no, according to principle #4). Yes, I loved him. Of course, I wanted to support him. But let him influence the way I make decisions? Now that’s a bit too far! It sounds an awful lot like submission. My response to John Gottman was the same as to the Apostle Paul: “Submit? I’d rather not; thanks anyway!”

At that point I had been married for three years. This week my husband and I celebrate nine years of hard-earned marriage. One thing I’ve gradually come to terms with, thanks to John Gottman and Jesus the Christ, is the need to let my husband influence me. I still don’t easily do this. It’s a discipline I cultivate day after day, and only because I’ve seen the real value it offers my marriage. It’s also something I expect of my spouse, because this principle only works when it’s given and received. Oh, but what a gift it can be! Read more

Putting Politics Back in the Pulpit: Growing a Politically Active Congregation

The first ballot I ever cast was in kindergarten for the 1988 election. I specifically voted for Dan Quayle because he was like our state bird. I remember people talking about who and why they voted for their candidate, citing religious views, personal needs, social values, and party affiliations. Me, on the other hand? I voted for the man I thought might also be a bird. I voted for Bush/Quayle because I related to Mr. Quayle the most. I knew quails were important to California and so, he must be as well. No one was talking to me about policy or vision; no one explained that who we vote for reflects our understandings of a just society. I was five, so why would they?

But all these years later, I still remember what people were saying around me — instead of talking with me — and why I chose the person I voted for.

As Jesus reminds us, ‘“there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.’” (Mark 4:22-24, NRSV). Our children are listening, just like I was. In fact, everyone with “ears to hear” is listening. But what are we telling them?

Now, as a 35-year-old woman, I am a proud registered voter. I am strong in my opinions and fierce in my support for my candidates. I am a woman and so my body is a tool in political dialogue. I am also a pastor, and whether we name it or not, being religious is political. Thus, I cannot divorce myself from the political acts of our governing systems.

But it gets more complicated: It is also illegal and unethical for me to use my vocation to encourage support for a specific candidate; I believe in freedom and democracy, so I wouldn’t dare to even think of it. But what I can do, and what I must do, is preach and teach the stories of God and God’s people as shared in our scriptures. And one of the acts of the apostles that we rarely mention is voting.

…And I cast my vote… (Acts 26:10, NRSV)

Voting matters just as much now as it did back then. Paul was talking about voting against Jesus and his followers because he thought he had the sole and dominant understanding of God’s truth. Then through life experiences, he changes his mind and his heart about Jesus. And I find it hard to believe that he stopped voting after that, in light of the other votes in scripture, such as the one between saving Barabbas and Jesus.

Scripture tells us that voting matters. Read more

Pastoral Care

Trinity member Lauren Strawderman held 5 week old Micah while the author unpacked boxes. Lauren continues to be Micah’s second mom at church.

“Does the Pastoral Care team care for the Pastor or for other people?” It was a fair question from one of the new Elders at his first meeting, a day-long visioning and planning retreat for the Session, the church council elected by the congregation. I responded, “Sometimes both, but most of the time it’s coordinating care for church members and friends.”

As I responded in the present, my mind traveled through the past. That January meeting marked 3 years since the moving truck arrived in Harrisonburg with all of our family’s belongings – almost to the day. I had a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 week old with me, and arrived first at my new church, where the many boxes of books would be unloaded. Mary Lou, the chair of the search committee that called me, was there to present me with my key to the kingdom, and after boxes were unloaded, she followed us over to the townhouse to help on that end.

She wasn’t alone. Over the course of the day and in days following, a number of folks came through to offer their help. They unpacked boxes. They broke them down and took them away. They put dishes in the cupboards and they held the baby so I could get a few things done (clearly the most coveted job). Food arrived. Diapers. As I assessed some new needs – toy and book storage – Larry and Donna went shopping. I was five weeks postpartum and needed to take it easier than I would have preferred. But they took care of me.

On my first Sunday in the pulpit, I was busy trying to get everything together and Lauren, another member of the search committee, came in to take the baby off of my hands. From that week on, Lauren was Micah’s church buddy. It was Lauren who was first able to get Micah to take a bottle. To this day, Lauren sits right behind me, usually with Micah in her lap, wanting to read books, and he recently referred to her as “the one he loves so much.” Lauren and Mike, Bryce and Chris, Dawn, Susie, Abby, and Anne are just a few who have had turns babysitting, taking the boys to the children’s museum, their favorite playground, horseback riding, or on some other fun adventures. They take care of us. Read more

The Gifts of Waiting

When I can help it, I do things early.

I learned to ride a bike at five, moved away from home at sixteen, and graduated college after three brisk years. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was in such a hurry.

And yet, I couldn’t hurry a call.

I tried. Believe me, I tried. I’ll spare you the gory details—but, suffice it to say, I spent a year unemployed and several more years broadening my understanding of ministry. I worked for a Catholic nonprofit and then Renewal Ministries Northwest, a dynamic prayer ministry in the Seattle area. In 2016, I was ordained to an unconventional, part-time ministry shepherding the remnant of a congregation that had departed the Presbyterian Church (USA) for A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). In late 2018, I wrote and published a devotional for teen girls (Simple Truths). I felt like I was making lemonade, growing gills. I could feel the Spirit pushing me toward surrendering my idol of ordained ministry.

And then, abruptly, She called me back to it.

I received the call itself through a series of unexpected events. I had finally found a rhythm with my work at Renewal Ministries, and Simple Truths had just been published. Then, the phone rang. On the other end: someone from the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) from my hometown back in Tennessee, wondering if I’d throw my hat in the ring. They weren’t even offering me a position, just a chance at one—and it unraveled my world. I spent a week in tormented talks with my husband. Could we move? Did I really want this (anymore)? Is this what a call feels like? Read more