Christmastide

When candles lifted
for Silent Night
wax-dripped and wick-burned
lie haphazard,
dropped in baskets
forgotten;

When cotton ball sheep masks
tinsel halos
spray-paint gilded gifts of the wise
shepherd staff and wooden trough
find storage corners
to mark time til next December;

When liturgies recited
carols sung
luminaries extinguished
bulletins recycled
sanctuaries draped in cloak of poinsettia red
have held the promise, past tense.

Then the tide of Christmas—
good tidings of great joy
heaven and nature sing,
the ebb of frenzy
the flow of good news
begins.

It is among my favorite words:
Christmastide.

This time that carries us to another shore;
these days that celebrate the one in the manger
who will soon admonish us to go across to the other side.

These moments to reflect and wonder,
to ride the waves of laughter
and the waves of grief that swamp our frail vessels
all the way to the One whose voice the wind and sea obey.

Hero

Everyone imagines themselves as the hero of their own story. Especially every child — and I was a child. They all imagine themselves as heroes. That’s not a new thing; it’s like that here in your twenty-first century American lives, but it was like that where I lived, in Nazareth two thousand years ago, as well. Your boys and girls have the heroes that they imagine: Wonder Woman, Iron Man, PJ Masks, Moana, GI Joe, Harry Potter. They’re inundated with them: hundreds of heroes, on television screens and in movie theaters, in newspaper comics and novels. Watch the children sometime, and see how they play: averting global disasters at the playground, setting up elaborate Lego battlefields, going on daring adventures through their back yards, covering themselves with temporary tattoos. They all want to be heroes.

So did I, but our heroes were a little bit different.

You have to understand that those Roman soldiers could do anything. There was no due process, no body cameras, no professional code of ethics — not that those things always make a difference for you, but even those flawed safeguards were not there for us. Rome had conquered my town and those soldiers could do anything they wanted.

So we would go to our religious services, passed off to the authorities as innocuous. They respected things that were ancient, and our faith was as ancient as they come: ancient stories, ancient scrolls, ancient traditions. They thought our religion kept us busy, kept us industrious, kept us docile. But every little child, boy or girl, wants to be a hero, and that’s what I was. So I learned the stories of our heroes. Moses, who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, who stood in the presence of God on Sinai. David, who as a boy stood fearless with his slingshot and felled the giant Goliath. Jeremiah, who heard the voice of God in his boyhood and fearlessly reprimanded the wicked and faithless. And there were other heroes, too: Ruth and Naomi, left widowed and making their way in the world. Jael, deceiving and impaling Siserah, Esther, risking everything to advocate for her people to the king.

Those were the stories that shaped me and formed me as a child. Read more

Zechariah: In Which God Redeems a Mansplainer

A painting by artist Alexandr Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Holy One, we come with many things on our hearts and minds. We come with grief and with joy, with heavy hearts and busy schedules. We come with certainty and with doubts. Bless the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, that each of us might hear your word for us today. Amen.

The silence changed everything. Everything. At first I tried to talk, I tried to hum, I tried to rasp, scream, whisper, grunt, whistle, anything I could think of. I lay in bed at night trying everything, my tongue working against my speechless lips, worrying at my teeth, begging in vain for my disobedient vocal chords to comply. Nothing worked – I was completely mute, every attempt to vocalize utterly noiseless. I might as well have been trying to fly.

It was so frustrating to be silent. I’d always been a big talker anyway. I loved to shoot the breeze on a quiet afternoon, to tell stories around the table, to debate about scripture in the synagogue. To be mute now, after this, was unbearable. I had so much to say!

It had been a lifetime of waiting for my wife Elizabeth and me. We’d waited for a child, waiting and waiting and waiting until slowly we accepted that it was too late. We’d waited faithfully for the Messiah, suffering year after year under the Roman imperial occupation, enduring the centurions and governors and their tyrannical puppet kings, praying for the day when God would save us and free us. And we’d waited years for my turn to offer incense in the sanctuary. Each group of priests served for a week twice a year, and each day one of us would be chosen by lots for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to approach the Holy of Holies. I had waited, time after time, for my lot to be drawn. The priests God chose for the task seemed to get younger and younger. Sometimes I wondered if God had forgotten us. But not anymore.

It had seemed like a normal morning as I set off to the Jerusalem temple, joining along the way with the other priests from the order of Abijah. I had pretty much resigned myself by that time, but that day my name was chosen to enter the inner sanctuary and offer the incense. I had entered the chamber prepared to experience the silent, perfect peace of the presence of the Lord. As I lit the incense, there was a rush of wind, and a breath-taking, awe-inducing something stood before me, all wings and eyes and sound. I was terrified; my memory is fuzzy, all flashes and snippets. Elizabeth. A son. Name him John. Something about Elijah. Prepare the way of the Lord. Read more

Young Clergy Women Tell All: The Real Reasons We Became Pastors

“As the good book says… ‘let justice roll down like beeswax’”

There are lots of reasons to go into ministry: a feeling or experience of divine call, for instance. Or a deep desire to preach the gospel, equip the saints for the work of ministry, feed Jesus’ lambs and tend his sheep. An affinity for planning worship. A love of pastoral care.

But you know what? You’ve got our number. You figured us out. Here are the real reasons we became pastors, confessed by young clergy women, of many denominations and regions, speaking on condition of anonymity:

  • I became a pastor to head off controversies about whether or not corn tortillas are appropriate for communion.
  • I became a pastor so someone reliable could drive the church van.
  • I became a pastor so I could have tea with old ladies who like to endlessly ask me about my reproductive plans.
  • I became a pastor in order to run out and buy stamps and paper when we don’t have any in the office. I also became a pastor to fix toilets and shovel snow. And, I definitely became a pastor to recruit children (or if there aren’t any around, to create them out of nothingness) in order to fulfill 70-something-year-olds’ ideas of what Sunday School should be like.
  • I became a pastor so I could help my parishioners return things to Walmart without their receipt.
  • I became a pastor to ruin people’s church by singing “new” songs, including ones written in 1902.
  • I became a pastor so I could proofread everyone else’s work because apparently no one else cares about details or grammar.
  • I became a pastor so that I could coordinate vacatio- I mean, mission trips for the youth that absolutely MUST include a trip to an amusement park.
  • I became a pastor to annoy and distract people with my voice, bangs, clothes, lipstick, and children.
  • Three words: Boiler. Repair. Discussions.
  • One word: Casseroles.
  • I became a pastor so I could debate which one God loves more: beeswax or stearine candles. The debate is over which sort of solid candle to get: 51% stearine vs. 100% beeswax. Apparently God hates anything that isn’t pure beeswax. As the good book says, ”I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies when you burn stearine on the altar… let justice roll down like beeswax.”
  • I became a pastor so people would tell me how nice my hair looks.
  • I became a pastor because I needed the constant confusing affirmation that my bangs look much better THIS week.
  • I became a pastor because I cannot be trusted to make decisions about my hair, makeup, clothing or family all by myself. I obviously need six hundred opinions on all these topics. All the time.
  • I became a pastor so I could google things for people who “don’t do” the internet.
  • I became a pastor so old clergymen could steal my good hangers from the vesting room every time there is an ecclesiastical event.
  • I became a pastor so I could write a newsletter article every month that almost nobody will actually read, even though everyone reads the newsletter.
  • Speaking of which, I became a pastor so I could spend lots of time preaching sermons to people who won’t apply what I’m trying to impart. Futility is my jam.
  • I became a pastor because I secretly harbored a desire to do half of our office administrator’s job each week.
  • I became a pastor because I wanted to always have the final say in heated arguments about Christmas wreaths and tablecloth colors. Also, so I could teach people deep spiritual truths every day. And by deep spiritual truths, I mean how to use the copier.
  • I became a pastor so I could disappoint people by the fact that I am not Jesus.
  • I became a pastor to try creative things in worship, inspire people to Christ, and to preach theologically-sound sermons that I’ve exegeted thoroughly. Just kidding! I became a pastor so someone would live in the manse next door and provide access to a plunger when the church needed one.
  • I became a pastor to cancel events when nobody signs up.
  • I became a pastor because I was worried I’d become too confident in my own competence.
  • I became a pastor in order to micromanage the placement and removal of renters’ furniture.
  • I became a pastor to make sure nobody uses our tables and chairs, coffee pots and roasters. Because what kind of Christians would we be if we shared or resources with our community?

Okay, let’s get real. Here’s the real reason I became a pastor: so I could have awkward conversations on airplanes for the rest of my life.

Shared Leadership: Lessons from YCWI

Kelly Boubel Shriver (left) and Molly Field James (right) during their terms as co-chairs

After serving three years as a co-chair of YCWI, I am beginning my third month as “just a regular board member.” I am loving that I get to spend my final year on the board with the fabulous women of the editorial group. It is a joy to have the opportunity to lift up the voices of our members and to educate the world about the experience of being a YCW. And I even get to write occasionally!

While I am happy and excited in my current role, I am also aware of what is missing. I am no longer the co-chair. Serving in that capacity, I had the privilege of working with Kelly Shriver and shepherding the organization through some tremendous growth and transformation. It was time for me to step down, and I don’t miss all the challenges and responsibilities of that work. It is nice to have a little break from it. What I do miss, though, is the collaborative nature of that role.

As often happens, when you no longer have something, you become all the more aware of how wonderful it was. I have been reflecting on the gifts of collaborative leadership lately, and my most valuable insight has been that I can carry those gifts with me in the rest of my ministry. I might even be so bold to say that the model of collaborative leadership practiced by YCWI has some lessons for the whole church. Here are my top five reasons that collaborative leadership is a gift. I hope they are helpful in your context. Read more

A Litany Against White Supremacy

The author

As Charlottesville, VA becomes the focal point of white supremacy and those who stand against it, this litany was prepared by myself and Pastor Elizabeth Rawlings for use in worship.

Litany against white supremacy

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper. Read more

The Power of Words

Rev. Molly F. James, PhD
Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT
August 20, 2017, Proper 15A
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

May God’s Word be spoken. May God’s Word be heard. May that point us to the living Word, who is Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As a part of my PhD program, I spent three months living in England, which was a wonderful experience in many ways. There was, however, one huge downside. My husband Reade is a mechanical engineer. There is no such thing as a sabbatical in the engineering world, so he could not pick up everything and move to England with me. So I lived in England by myself. That is a challenging experience if one has been married for some years. But we found some wonderful ways to stay connected, even across an ocean. One of the ways came as a complete surprise to me. When I had settled into my apartment in Exeter and I turned on my computer for the first time, a window popped up with a message: “Hi Molly, 28 days until I come visit you. Love, Reade.” A new message popped up everyday counting down the days until he came to visit. And then messages popped up counting the days until I flew home.

I have been thinking a lot about the power of words this week, and that story came to mind. Read more

Out of the Human Heart

What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. 

In the name of God: the Source of Life, the Word of Love, and the Spirit of Truth. Amen.

On Wednesday evening, I attended a community prayer service at John Wesley United Methodist Church, right up the street. The pastor there, Jerry Colbert, called the gathering in response to recent violence in our nation and our community. And people came. People who belong to many different churches, and I’m sure some who belong to no church. People whose skin and hair and eyes were many different colors. We came seeking a place to pray and sing and cry together.

Near the end of the service, after he gave the final prayer, Pastor Jerry began to lead us in a song that I first learned in seminary, when I sang in the gospel choir.

I need you
You need me
We’re all a part of God’s body
Stand with me
Agree with me
We’re all a part of God’s body

It is God’s will
That every need be supplied
You are important to me
I need you to survive
 

It meant so much for us to sing those words to one other. After the song, Pastor Jerry invited us to greet each other, and I found myself embracing total strangers. We were all smiling at one another, so glad to be reminded that all of us belonged there, that all of us belong to God’s body. So glad to be reminded of our need for one another.

This morning’s gospel is one of those texts that preachers dread, and it’s not hard to see why. The collect for today calls Jesus Christ “an example of godly life.” But in this encounter with a Canaanite woman—a foreigner—his behavior is anything but godly. It’s tempting to try to explain this away, but the truth is that Jesus is rude to the woman. He insults not only her, but her people. He calls them dogs. Put this interaction into today’s context for a moment. Whose words are you reminded of here? What groups of people are calling other people dogs—and worse? This is hardly an example we would want to honor, let alone follow.

I find it interesting that just before Jesus travels to the distant city where he meets this woman, he talks to his disciples about the power of words and what our speech shows about our character. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the human heart,” he tells them. Only a few verses later, it seems Jesus needs to pay better attention to his own teaching. The words of his mouth reveal the prejudices of his own heart. You heard me right. I said that Jesus was prejudiced. Is that so hard to believe? After all, we proclaim that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. As a human, he experienced everything that we experience, and that includes learning prejudices against people who were different from him.

But never fear; there is an “example of godly life” in this story for us to follow. Two of them, actually. Read more

Sinking: A Sermon on Genesis 37, Matthew 14, and Charlottesville

As the children leave, I ask of you a moment of personal privilege. I am grateful for the trust you give to your pastors and for the gospel which has been entrusted to all of us as people of faith. I also want to remind you that a pastor’s role in preaching, like the shepherd’s staff, is twofold. Sometimes sermons draw you near and bring comfort. Sometimes they prod and agitate. This sermon falls in the latter category. It is intentionally provocative. It may make you uncomfortable or even angry. I’m not flippant about that; all I ask is that you hear me out, and I promise to afford you the same courtesy should you want to remain in conversation. I believe our relationship as a family of faith can hold that tension. 

Keep your eyes open and pray with me: Lord, may your light shine. Lord, may your steadfast love endure forever. Lord, may justice flow down like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.

Small historical markers track the movement of the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada.

The snout of the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is just a few hundred yards away from Icefields Parkway, a stunning, scenic route between Banff and Jasper National Parks in the province of Alberta. When our family stopped to see the glacier just a few weeks ago, I underestimated the reflection of the sun off the ice and sustained a wicked sunburn. So I brought back from Canada souvenir tan lines which prove my lack of good judgment. But what has stuck with me even more than the sunburn is the memory of small historical markers along the walking trail leading to the glacier’s edge. I might have missed the first one on the far side of the parking lot just off the highway, except that my four-year-old was climbing on it. No more than 2 feet high, and definitely off the beaten path, the stone marker blended into the background. It simply said, “The glacier was here in 1843.” As we hiked toward the glacier’s edge on a trail of rock and rubble left behind by the glacier itself as it has receded, I noticed more of these markers—off to the side, unobtrusive, and yet still quietly telling the sad truth that the glacier is receding at an alarming and accelerating rate.

“The glacier was here in 1908” read the marker at the foot of the path. A ways later, “The glacier was here in 1925.” Then “The glacier was here in 1935.” We walked on, sometimes slipping and stumbling on the rocks left in the glacier’s wake. “The glacier was here in 1942.” We helped the children on the steepest parts of the climb. “The glacier was here in 1982.” By the time we reached the marker showing where the glacier was in 1992, the message these markers conveyed was growing painfully clear. At the 1992 marker, we were only about halfway from the parking lot to the glacier’s current position. You’re probably already doing the math. In the last 25 years, the glacier has moved roughly the same distance it had moved in the previous 149 years.

I could go on about shrinking glaciers and the truth they tell us about the damage we are doing to the environment God has entrusted to our care, but that is a sermon for another day. Read more

New YCWI Board Members

Every year we welcome a new class of fabulous women to join in leadership as Board Members. Board Members generally serve a three-year term, and some women stay for a second three-year term after their initial service. We give thanks for the women who have served our organization faithfully and will roll off the board this year: Diana Carroll, Jamie Haskins, Julie Jensen, Amy Loving Austin, Erica Schemper, and Phyl Stutzman. Their gifts and skills have been a blessing to each one of us on the board and to the organization as a whole.

We are also thankful for each member of the board who will be returning this year: Kelly Boubel Shriver, Caroline Berardi, Sarah Hooker, Emily Brown, Austin Shelley, Molly James, Erin Klassen, Julie Hoplamazian, Meg Jenista, Sarah Moore, Lesley Ratcliff, Sarah Ross, Sarah Weisiger, Whitney Wilkinson, and Elizabeth Grasham.

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

Without further ado, we are excited to introduce our newest board members!


Dwalunda Alexander was born and raised in Houston, Texas, where she graduated from Texas Southern University with her BA in Psychology in 2005. She moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 2005 to attend Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University where she received her MDiv with a concentration in Black Church Studies in December 2008. She is currently in her final stages of completing her DMin in Preaching from Lincoln Christian Seminary. Dwalunda is an ordained elder through the Rhema Fellowship of Churches and currently serves as a part of the worship ministry at Destiny Church in Fort Worth. She is also the founder of Antioch Kingdom Ministries and an educator with Fort Worth ISD. The best part of her days is spent loving, laughing, and enjoying life with her husband Jon and their four wonderful children.


Megan Clapp serves as Associate Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Northwestern Minnesota. She is a graduate of Luther Seminary, and, along with her MDiv, received a degree in Children, Youth, and Family ministry. She was ordained in 2011. Megan is passionate about helping God’s people grow in faith that is connected to every part of life and equipping families to grow together in discipleship. Megan is married to Eric (who serves as Pastor in a nearby congregation) and they are parents to Lillian. She loves good books, delicious coffee, great conversations, and spending time with friends and family on any available patio, deck or lake.


Jo Kershaw is the parish priest of St Anne’s Wrenthorpe, in one of the south-eastern bits of the north of England. She grew up in Scotland, studied German at St Andrews and Oxford, where she completed a doctoral thesis on Mechthild of Magdeburg. She still loves all things mediaeval and thinks we could learn a thing or two from the writings of the period and its deep attention to the body and incarnation – even if, sometimes, it’s what not to do. She trained for the Anglican priesthood at Westcott House, Cambridge, where she married her husband Jonathan, also a priest. Her ministry has been spent in the North of England – her current context is famous for rhubarb and brass bands (luckily she likes both these things!). Jo loves knitting, photography, and science fiction and fantasy – though she’ll read most things. She also loves to travel, and probably drinks too much coffee.


Jennifer Quanbeck is an ordained ELCA pastor who has served congregations in Washington and Montana. A graduate from Luther Seminary (MDiv 2008) and The College of William and Mary (BS 2003), Jen enjoys working with youth, health/fitness, and to-do-lists. An analytic at heart, but with a twist of artistic flair, Jen is motivated by opportunities for innovation and change. A lover of hiking, photography, and sunshine, Jen and her clergy spouse, Ben, share life with two young children and currently serve the same congregation in Billings, Montana.


Elizabeth Riley is the Associate Rector of Trinity Church (Episcopal) in Menlo Park. Born and raised in Alaska, she migrated south for sunny California to attend Saint Mary’s College of California where she studied Theology and English. She then went on to receive her MDiv from Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Elizabeth especially enjoys justice ministry and interfaith work. She and her husband Scott spend most of their time chasing after their toddler, Eleanor, and look forward to welcoming their second child in winter of 2017. In her free time Elizabeth loves quilting, is an avid reader, and enjoys exploring the Bay Area with her family.


Bre Roberts is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and serves as co-pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, alongside her husband Ryan. Together they also co-parent two charmingly ordinary pastors’ kids. Bre received a BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona and a MDiv from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Prior to living in the Land of Enchantment, she served as an associate pastor in Baltimore, Maryland. Bre speaks fluent nerd, has four tattoos, attends a gaming convention or Renaissance festival in costume whenever possible, is a novice quilter, and is also the caretaker for the family’s cats, Cow and Drizzt.

Here we go into the next decade. May God’s outpouring of love through this organization be transformed into acts of justice and mercy in the communities to which we are called throughout the world!