Making a Life from a Living in a Rural Church

Parsonage flowers in May of 2017 next to Port Royal Baptist Church

They will invite you to

live with them, really

live with them. Do, if you can.

You will learn, in time,

a spirituality

with a little give to it.

How else can the people live

between variable sky

and forgiving earth,

and belong to both,

and to one another?


Your salary, which will be

considerably smaller

Than some of your urban

or suburban counterparts,

but measurably larger

than some who pay it,

must go to good.  It should

stay, as much as possible

in the community where you work,

Local doctors, local food

from farmers you love,

or will grow to love

as you learn from them

how to taste and see

that the Lord is good,

the place is good, the

hands reaching out to

you are good, and

they mean you well.


Your work, which will not be more,

if you are well-loved,

than what they ask of themselves,

will be seasonal.

And you must learn to trust

the gifts of each season,

and plan for spring, as

your people do. And trust, foremost,

that seasons do and must pass,

that weathering them will

strengthen all the best

in you.


Despair might set in if you let it.

Do not let it.

Determine in your own mind

to go out and find the good

in your people, in your place,

and in your life together.

Trust that it will be together

that you will see the Lord.


Your call, and your fellow workers, and

the culture around you will shock you.

Let it. And yet,

explore each inner scandal in

your heart with love.

Make no quick decisions.

Bless people as they come

and if they should go.

Those who return

and those who fall away

will surprise you.


It will take years, but not

as many as you suppose

before you can be the prophet

dancing, as you must,

along and across and back past

the line that marks outsider

from insider. [Stay years.]

And if you stay, you

will learn to speak the

dialect, and yet

you must introduce

new words, but,

with a little wisdom,

the right ones. Read more


“Oh, but you’re one of the good ones.”  

I heard this from adults for most of high school. Usually pronounced with bittersweet bewilderment, it would be followed by a conversation about the surprise at my presence. As a teenager I was highly involved in the Church. (My call and ordination maybe shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me.) Church was both refuge and fun for me. As a young overachiever who was a bookworm and enjoyed learning, I first heard these words with hope. I wasn’t, as I sometimes feared, unpopular because I was unlikeable. If I was exceptional, perhaps I was misunderstood—and what teen doesn’t like the idea of being misunderstood.

Too quickly I realized that exceptionalism did not make me less lonely. Whether it was for not being popular or not being ordinary, I was still isolated.  

As my peers and I began to mature, and I found more friends my own age, I gained new appreciation for the slight that had been offered to my equally accomplished and committed peers. It was, I increasingly discovered, easy to surround myself with peers who share my values if not my faith. My knowledge of which did not stop the comments. I kept hearing about my “exceptionalism” for the decade I spent being the youngest. The youngest person at a meeting, the youngest priest in the room and the diocese.

I am no longer the youngest priest in the diocese—though I’m often still the youngest person in the room. But I still hear how “exceptional” I am. Now that it is not rooted in my age, it catches me off guard more often. It sneaks up in conversations as they turn to refugees and immigration. It doesn’t start with the bewildered sadness in these conversations. Far more often its confused anger. “Those people” who come here and are a drain on our system, by stealing jobs or tying up resources. I am an immigrant. Read more

A Love Letter to My Swamp Monsters

When you are ordained, you agree to love your congregation in the name of Jesus Christ. When you like them and when you don’t, you love them because, well, that’s just the deal you’ve made with God. In seminary they told us this would be both infuriating and holy work. What I didn’t learn in the classroom was that, as a pastor, you are given a front row seat to the stories of diverse, fascinating people of Christian conviction. To be a pastor is, in the best case, an opportunity to praise God for the work of the people of God.  To give thanks while observing the intellect and compassion of God’s people as they pursue vocation as a primary, 40 hour-a-week vehicle of Christian discipleship.

I pastor a church of about 100 in Washington, DC. Our church is part of a small denomination in the lineage of Dutch theologian, journalist and statesman Abraham Kuyper who wrote, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus does not cry out, ‘This is mine!’” So, from earliest days, our church members were told, in church and Christian schools, that every subject they could ever study is part of knowing and thereby coming to love God’s broken and beautiful world. Almost any vocation can be, if you know where to look, a part of Christ’s Kingdom being redeemed.

Many of our church members attended denomination-affiliated colleges and universities that taught them to pursue of all kinds of work – philosophical, scientific, political, legal – as a means to benefit the common good. After graduation, these intrepid disciples of Jesus Christ went to graduate schools, pursued careers and moved to DC – not in opposition to their Christian faith, not even as a neutral parallel track to the journey of Christian faith, but precisely because of their sense of uniquely Christian calling.

Nearly a third of our congregation works for the government in a spectacular array of acronyms: DOD, DOJ, DOS, DOT, EPA, FDA, USDA, USAID, NASA, and a handful even work on Capitol Hill. Even folks who don’t work in government directly – educators, journalists, NGOs and non-profits – are inescapably connected to government fluctuation, personnel, and finance here in Washington, DC. It’s an honor to stand in the pulpit every Sunday to remind all of us that we matter to God and that our work matters to God. To celebrate the thoughtful folks attempting what their childhood churches, their Christian schools and Reformed universities told them was good, meaningful and even holy work. Read more

The Divine Waggle

The author’s son having chosen a front row seat for the Lord’s Supper.

At 20 months and 2 days old, my son extended his hand towards his sister, and waggled his fingers back and forth. It was his first ever unprompted wave. As all three of us stood there in the haphazard transition between car and door of childcare, I whooped and clapped and started an awkward mom-version of the running man, complete with child in arms. My son was confused and my daughter even more so, at this unusual burst of awkward energy so early in the morning. But this was a touchdown for him, for me. It was a WAGGLE deserving of end zone celebration.

There is a mantra in the world of kids with Down syndrome that I have come to learn in the last two years: ‘Celebrate, Don’t Compare.’ Children with Down syndrome are late developers, hence the usage of the word ‘retarded.’ The milestone calendars so carefully laid out in baby books and emailed to your inbox are of no use to a family with a child with Trisomy 21. Those are more of a GPS—which will lay out when you will arrive at the place you desire to be. Families with Down syndrome are given only a wide open paper map. There are places to go, but arrival time is entirely independent of your carefully laid plans.

The crunchier among us might see this as a good thing—‘Hey, my kid will get there when he gets there,’ laissez-faire approach to parenting. I was similar with my daughter. But for a parent who is constantly asked how old her child is when they exhibit no signs of development appropriate to their age, a lack of a timeline is disheartening. Laissez-faire is a beautiful, intentional, approach. When involuntarily taken out of one’s hands, laissez-faire or no, the waiting, as Daniel Tiger might say, is hard.

Hence the mantra. It was gently given to us by the first of our neonatologists. It was quietly repeated by our four therapists. Seasoned parents of children with DS lived it out in front of us again and again. Celebrate, don’t compare. Have joy in what is happening, rather than lining the present up with your neighbor’s children or your own former expectations.

As a follower of Jesus, a priest and generally sunny kind of lady, I wanted to love the mantra. Read more

The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

Striving for Justice and Peace Among All People: Advocacy, Activism, and the Baptismal Covenant

During Baptisms, Easter and other special occasions in The Episcopal Church, churchgoers are asked eight questions known as The Baptismal Covenant. It begins as a statement of faith laid out in straightforward question and answer style with questions aren’t all that questionable.

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Then the covenant transitions into questions about how we will live out our faith.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, their fellowship, communion and prayers?
Will you resist evil and return to God when you sin?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

And to these three questions we respond heartily, “I will, with God’s help.”

But then there are the last two questions, which have always been far more radical to me than the six preceding them.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Again, we respond, “I will, with God’s help,” but I’ve always wondered what crosses through folks’ minds as they respond.

These fundamental promises define who we are as Episcopalians. The way in which we live and move and have our being as Christians is deeply embedded in these baptismal promises. We know that seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being are things we should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ, but, truthfully, I found living out these promises incredibly challenging while working as a parish priest. Read more

Monday in Beverly Hills

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

I had just arrived a block west of Rodeo Drive to the church I would serve in Beverly Hills. The rector told me not to bring my lunch, that it would be the church’s treat on my first day. I decided that morning that the lunch venue would offer me some clues about how to navigate my future ministry and the people I would serve. Where would we be eating lunch?

When I was a seminarian, part of the thrill of preparing for serving a church community for me was the thought of integrating into the community I served. My bishop told our ordination class, “Be prepared to go anywhere and serve anyone.”

Being a young woman from Central Indiana, ministering to people in just about any place other than the Crossroads of America felt like a great frontier. I read the experience of author Kathleen Norris, a Washington, D.C., native, who discovered a vocation to serve God and God’s people in the quiet monotony of the Great Plains. As she writes in her spiritual autobiography Dakota, “The fact that one people’s frontier is usually another’s homeland has been mostly overlooked.”

I had arrived at my very different frontier: amid selfie-taking tourists, harried traffic, and busy storefronts.

On my first office day at All Saints’, I met the people who called this place their spiritual homeland. And as the noon hour drew closer, it was time for lunch. Read more

Firsts: A Response to Showing Up

The author

I was a grown-up — and an ordained grown-up at that — before I really noticed that the line between sheep and goats in Matthew 25 isn’t based on responding to an altar call, praying the sinner’s prayer, refraining from bad behaviors or being baptized.

These are all fine responses to the Gospel, of course, but Jesus’ invitation into the Kingdom literally hinges on showing up with food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, shelter for the stranger, clothes for the naked, tending for the sick and presence to the imprisoned. “Whatever you do for the least of these, you have done it to me.” These are not just fine responses, but, according to Jesus’ own teaching, our necessary and grateful responses to the grace we have received.

These responses to God’s grace are available to everyone, though perhaps not always in exactly the same way. My necessary and grateful response was made available to me by way of a Charlottesville consortium of faith communities inviting their clergy colleagues from around the country to bear witness, provide direct action, non-violent counter-protest, or offer physical, emotional, and spiritual support during a rally of white supremacists in their city on August 12, 2017. I showed up on Friday night, not knowing what to expect. And the resulting 20 hours were full of firsts for me: Read more

Pastor in the Pew

When I let it slide into conversation that I am a pastor, the natural follow-up question is, “Where’s your congregation?” For me right now, that answer requires extra explanation. I am a “pastor in the pew,” a phrase I am not entirely sure I am, but may be, coining. My national church body’s term for my status is “on leave from call for family reasons,” but in plain language, I am staying home with the kids for awhile. I do not believe at all that everyone should (even if they can, financially) do this, but for me and my family many factors converged at once to make this option the right choice for now.

I’m not alone. Others become “pastors in the pew” by going into specialized ministries as chaplains or counselors, by serving camp ministries or non-profits, by going to graduate school, by becoming professors or synod/regional church staff, or by retiring. No matter the method, there we are: in the pews of congregations of which we are not the pastor.

There in the pew, we hold the specialized education of seminary and also gifts and insights into various kinds of ministries developed through experience. We carry the confidence and wounds of being deeply embedded in congregational life. All of those gifts can benefit the congregation if noticed and stewarded by the thoughtful pastoral leaders in whose flocks we bleat. My skills for ministry continue to be useful. But what of my identity as “pastor?”

My church body does not ordain pastors until they have received a call from a congregation (only rarely to specialized ministry first), and we imbue the “call process” with spiritual weight, believing that the call of the Church is the action of the Holy Spirit herself. As I sit in the pew, I am plagued by the notion that if I am not actively leading a congregation, my call as a pastor comes into question. I ask again and again: how might I best be a faithful pastor in the pew? Read more


A word
about vulnerability:
This morning, I revisited my first love–
ballet class.
I haven’t danced in years.
I have lacked the courage to step
into dance studio space
for a while now,
I’m overweight,
and society says:
Shame on you.
I’m out of shape,
and the dance world says:
Shame on you.
I am carrying many burdens right now
emotionally and physically.
Society says:
Keep that to yourself.
So I did what I used to tell my students to do.
I took it to the studio




I lacked strength,
I struggled to learn and remember combinations.
I lagged behind everyone else in the class
and made a lot of mistakes.
I was dancing alongside Juilliard graduates.
People could say
I made a fool of myself.

But I held my own.

Alongside some of the best dancers in the world.
And when I thanked the teacher afterward,
she said,
“You looked really beautiful.
You really must have danced pretty seriously before.”
I don’t know
what made the nourishment of dance
finally outweigh the starvation
of fear,
and insecurity.
But it was helpful to be reminded
that vulnerability
is a risk
worth taking.

The Work We Leave For Others

One of my favorite podcasts is ‘Judge John Hodgman,’ in which comedian John Hodgman pontificates over somewhat trivial disputes between friends and family members. It’s a funny, well-produced, and often thought-provoking romp through pop-ethics in all the best ways. If you haven’t listened before, it’s well worth your time (and may I recommend the episode wherein Hodgman judges how often a pastor’s beloved must attend church with her?).

Over the span of hundreds of episodes, some aspects of Hodgman’s ethic have become “settled law.” For example, “people like what they like,” meaning: you can’t force someone to like (or not) like something just because you do (or don’t) like it, we all have our own preferences, it’s part of being human. My favorite bit of settled law is this: be mindful of the work you leave for others. I think on this advice often, when I’m tempted to put back a grocery item in the wrong aisle (because it’s just so convenient for me…) or when I grumble about putting my children’s books back on the book shelf for the umpteenth time in a given day. It is sage advice: be mindful of the work you leave for others. It’s not revolutionary or unique or even all that new, but it is wisdom which bears reminding.

And so we come to the question of women in ministry…you knew I’d get here eventually. There are several dozen things I wish people knew about what it means to be a woman serving in a profession where you can be legally discriminated against based on gender, but for today, let’s look at the settled law: be mindful of the work you leave for others. Read more