A Review of Speaking Truth: Women Raising Their Voices in Prayer

In early March, a copy of Speaking Truth arrived at my house, and I was excited to read it. I was busy pastoring during Lent and making plans for Easter, excited for this celebratory season in the life of the church, so this collection of prayers and reflections seemed perfect.

Speaking Truth: Women Raising their Voices in Prayer was published by Abingdon Press in February 2020.

And then, a few days later, everything changed. COVID-19 quickly rewrote all our daily patterns and our expectations.

As I write this, we’ve been living in this pandemic for over three months; though stores and restaurants have reopened, cases in my community are spiking, so worship remains virtual and my family remains at home.

Three months is a long time… and yet, I can’t really remember what life was like before; this season has been an entire lifetime and a breath, both at once.

If you’re like me, you started quarantine back in March with a big stack of books and, in the midst of dread and fear and anxiety, harbored a small sliver of joy that you would finally have time to get to them.

ALL THE TIME! I thought. THERE WILL BE SO MUCH FREE TIME!!!

Then, if you’re like me, it was much harder to take advantage of that time than I anticipated. After several weeks of quarantine, the stack of books still sat on my side table, staring at me. I opened a couple early on and had a hard time focusing, reading a few sentences until I found my mind wandering to how to upload the next worship video or making a mental checklist of the parishioners I needed to call.

That was my experience with every book I tried to read… until I got to Speaking Truth.

What a breath of fresh air.

This book, published by Abingdon Press, is a follow-up to We Pray With Her, a collection of prayers written by women who sent daily prayers to Secretary Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign in 2016. Speaking Truth took that premise and expanded it, including more voices — particularly of women of color and queer clergy.

Read more

The Mask

Did you know that for what seems like forever, I have had to wear a mask whenever I want to go out of the house? It’s a mask meant to protect me from an invisible disease. Did you know that people in positions of power knew about this disease but chose to deny it, and still do, for reasons unbeknownst to me? I don’t have the disease, but I am 100% certain that this disease is real. And I’m scared. I’m scared all the time. I am constantly checking to make sure that not only do I have my mask on, but I triple check to make sure that my spouse and child have theirs on too. I am obsessing over where they go, what they do, and how long they are gone. I don’t care what anyone says, this disease is real. This thing could kill us if we aren’t careful. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No one leaves this house without a mask.

I have to say though, the irony of this is that the masks keep us as safe as any mask could in this situation; yet, I hate the things. I actually resent having to wear mine. It restricts my breathing in a way that makes me feel claustrophobic despite being in wide open spaces. It’s almost like I’m losing breath and have to work harder to breathe once I put it on. I long for the day when I can go out and expose my face to the elements and breathe naturally. Without the mask.

Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, the mask is saving our lives. My life. At least, that’s what the officials tell me. I went out recently and I actually got away with only using half of my mask. No one really said anything, and I felt I had a lucky escape. However, when I looked around there were people with no masks on at all! I couldn’t believe that. In the middle of all of this, that someone would be bold enough to still go around with no mask on to protect themselves is incomprehensible! Most people of a certain age should know better! I mean, I knew I was taking a risk to only utilize half of my mask, but I never would’ve gone out with no mask at all. Now, I will admit that there are times that I forget to put on my mask and it’s not until I get too far from home to turn back that I remember that I am not covered. I normally recite a long list of expletives in my head beating myself up for not remembering to put it on before I left the house. Still, I am pretty crafty and can normally whip up something in a pinch that will do until I get back home. That’s happened to me a few times. It’ll be once I am about to enter an essential place that I get a glimpse of my reflection in the glass and I race back to the car, or somewhere private, and figure out how to cover my bare face so that I can gain access and get what I need. But, not these people. Their faces were exposed for all to see and who knows what diseases they could’ve been carrying?! At some point while I was out, I resigned myself to just wear the mask like I’m supposed to and stop trying to be more comfortable. There were more important things going on around me and soon enough I would be back in my car headed home where I could be free from the mask for at least the remainder of the day.

Read more

A Protest Chaplain’s Story

It was muggy and warm and not really comfortable in Atlanta that day. A minister friend and I put on our clergy collars, parked at the local church, and walked to the George Floyd protest. The national guard had blocked pedestrian walkways, forcing us to walk an additional mile just to join the others that had gathered. Armed soldiers were everywhere. Police were in full riot gear. It seemed as if the city “too busy to hate” was a warzone.

Protesters in Atlanta, GA gather in support of the Movement for Black Lives.

I did not fully know what I was getting into, but I was somewhat prepared. My friend and I had discussed what we were bringing, what we felt comfortable doing, and how we were going to do it. We stayed in contact with each other throughout and made sure we each knew what the other would and would not do.

But I had never been at a potentially violent protest before. I had participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., sure. I had been threatened with dismissal as a student (a couple of times, actually). I had even worked to get a local Confederate monument removed. I have never been one to shy away from challenging authority. But this was new.

My friend and I had been in a group of hot sweaty people who were yelling at police for only a few minutes when someone shouted “Allies to the front!” My fellow protest chaplain and I looked at each other, shrugged, and moved to the front of the line. A primary role for a protest chaplain is de-escalation. When allies are called to the front, the goal is to shield our siblings of color with our bodies. And a small white clergywoman in a collared shirt standing in front of a police line in full riot gear is a visceral image. We stood there at the front while our Black brothers and sisters chanted and talked and stood vigilant. Organizers handed out cold water and hand sanitizer and checked-in with people.

Read more

We Are Not All Having the Same Experience: Clergywomen with Children and Covid-19

Several days ago John Dobbs wrote an article entitled “The Coming Pastoral Crash.” Clearly this piece speaks to some deep truths that many are experiencing because it has already been shared by a number of clergypeople with whom I am friends with on Facebook.

You can read the full piece for yourself here.

I don’t know John Dobbs but I suspect that my theological tradition is very different from his tradition. That being said, I think he makes a number of excellent points but also leaves out some crucial parts of what some of us are experiencing.

Dobbs points to the fact that many are doing ministry in entirely new ways, ways that we are not trained or fully equipped to do. He highlights the fact that not gathering together in person does not mean that we are not working just as much (or more) then we did back in March.  We not only lack the training for this new way of ministry but we also may lack the electronic equipment to do it well and with ease. Again and again, I hear stories of my clergy colleagues making do with smartphones or tablets, make-shift tripods and unreliable internet connections. When Zoom went down a week ago on Sunday a huge number of my clergy colleagues had to desperately search for fixes, or start recording worship to post later, or switch to an entirely new platform. It was a stressful day for them and required an extreme amount of work. This has been the story of the pandemic, especially for smaller or less wealthy congregations. Clergy are trying to Macgyver engaging digital worship experiences and religious education opportunities armed only with a spork, an elderly laptop and grit. I see the emotional strain of this in many of my colleagues.

Dobbs also points out that many previous work boundaries have not been maintained during this time of crisis. Many clergy are finding it impossible now to take days off, vacations, Sundays off and are working at all times of night and day. Although I entirely agree with Dobbs on this point, I think he misses something significant: clergymen are not having the same experience during this pandemic as clergywomen with children.

Read more

The Lonesome Valley of Birthing this Holy Week

New life is coming into a sick and suffering world for me this Easter, just as it did that first Easter. As I sat reclined in the dim monitoring closet of my OBGYN’s office listening to the heartbeat of the new life growing inside me, I realized I was beginning to understand Holy Week in a deeper way. I feel my feet matching the footprints of Jesus as he made his way to the Holy city for the last time. My child is due to arrive just after Easter, and so this Holy Week I walk the lonesome valley of doctor’s visits, ultrasounds, and monitoring alone; even my husband is not permitted to join me. The virus has turned our world inside out and this joyous time into a time of great fear and sorrow.

Fetal heart monitoring

Last week, I felt resolved to let go of my visions for birth and instead just show up when it was time to do what I must. “We’ll just do what we have to do,” became my mantra every time a new worrying arose. But as I sat in a mostly deserted waiting room on Monday of Holy Week with my N95 mask on, I struggled to breathe and couldn’t help imagining what trying to breathe through contractions would be like with a mask on. Breathing got harder and by the time the nurse took my blood pressure things did not look good. As I reclined hooked up to the fetal heartbeat monitor, I wondered if Jesus had a similar resolve that he then lost. Palm Sunday’s mantra could have sounded like mine: “Just get to the city and do what you have to do.” But of course, just a few verses later in John 12:27, we hear Jesus is “deeply troubled.” Having defiantly removed my mask to breathe easier and hopefully lower my blood pressure, I feel some comfort at the thought that perhaps Jesus waffled a bit this week too. He showed such grace in getting in his last lectures and final blessings, and then in the garden he prays for any other way. I totally get it, Jesus. If there is any other way, I’d love to hear it too. But we both know there isn’t. The only way to new life is through death. The only way to bring this new life into the world is by entering the halls of death, risking, fearing, and hopefully, eventually trusting God will bring us out again. Knowing you’ve been through it already helps for sure, but I’m most appreciative to know you had moments of doubt and fear too.

Read more

What God Can Do with Dust

Our fifth frozen embryo transfer (FET) was on Ash Wednesday last year.

The ashy looking sonogram from the frozen embryo transfer.

Our first pregnancy ended on an Ash Wednesday three years before that. In between those experiences, Lent became a time not for deepening my connection with God but to try and wrangle my body into pregnancy through fertility treatments. I did not know if this last transfer then was ominous or an opportunity for redemption.

The senior pastor I worked with took care of everything that Ash Wednesday. I didn’t have to scramble to write notes for someone else to preach from as I did three years before while bleeding and cramping and crying. I didn’t just go to worship and sit on a stool to preach because I was so uncomfortable in preparation for an egg retrieval as I did two years before. I wasn’t meticulously planning my days around food, shots, and yoga as I was just one year before on Ash Wednesday. I had wanted then to be healthy and give myself the best opportunity to get pregnant, and I found out on the last day of that Lent that I was pregnant, only to miscarry again.

Lent, the season of forty days before Easter beginning with Ash Wednesday, should be a season of preparing our hearts for resurrection, of looking at our lives to see what we need to change to draw closer to God, of spending time in contemplation and prayer and discernment. Instead, for me, it has become a desperate struggle to keep believing resurrection is possible at all. It has been a desperate struggle to make meaning of the phrase from dust we are and to dust we return, instead of finding it a truth of the vast emptiness of my life.

Read more

Pathfinding

More than five years ago, I came to a junction in my life. My husband and I had to make decisions about where to live, how to proceed on our career paths, and when to have children. I remember the pressure of asking myself really big questions. Who is God calling me to be? What is the best path for my current and future family? Where will we be happiest? It was intimidating to try to find a single good answer to these questions to ensure that I’d be

“Path to Craigton”

“Path to Craigton”

following God’s will for my next steps. I’d been taught in business leadership literature that you have to have a vision first so that everything else can line up with the vision. It left me thinking I had to get the big picture right if I were to be aligned with God in the details.

But not everything, and particularly not our spiritual lives, can be filtered through current leadership trends. While I was wrestling with discernment, I stumbled across twin terms from a 12th century monk named Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius encouraged people to pay attention for instances of consolation and desolation in their days. Consolation refers to moments when you feel close to God, are growing in faith, and are able to give of yourself in joy. Desolation refers to moments that turn you in on yourself, when faith or courage shrink, and when joy is hard to come by. Consolations aren’t all obviously positive. Not getting a particular job could be a consolation if it increases the love in your life in the long run. Getting the job could be a desolation if it gets in the way of your capacity to share your deepest gifts. It’s not the outward content of the thing but the way we inwardly relate to it that reveals how God speaks through it.

Read more

How the Enneagram Shows Up in Ministry: Perspectives from Nine Young Clergy Women

How the Enneagram Shows Up in Ministry:
Perspectives from Nine Young Clergy Women

Compiled and edited by Alison VanBuskirk Philip

If you spend much time in clergy circles, you’ve probably heard of the Enneagram, a model for understanding the variety of motivations and fears of the human psyche. Its popularity in Christian subculture is due in part to the work of Richard Rohr, Ian Cron, and Suzanne Stabile. Unlike other personality-typing systems, the Enneagram’s focus is less on behavior and more on the desires and motivations that compel behavior. It suggests that there are nine basic structures that the ego takes on to meet its needs. Each type has a core motivation and a core fear that result in particular mental and emotional patterns. As the Enneagram helps name and illuminate these patterns, we are able to make informed choices about how to live authentically. The awareness it brings allows us to access and develop our healthiest selves in order to share the gifts God has given us.

Many young clergy women have found the Enneagram to be a helpful tool in ministry and spiritual growth. One school of Enneagram tradition is called the Narrative Enneagram, pioneered by David Daniels, which bases its teachings on panels of people who share their experience of their type in their own words. In this spirit, we have invited nine young clergy women to share about how their type impacts their ministry and about the wisdom they have gleaned from applying the Enneagram to their experience in professional ministry.

Read more

 I Want to Be a Homemaker

We found out we were pregnant the day Mary Oliver died, life entering into this world and life leaving. Opening pink box after pink box just to be sure, I began to have the best and worst feelings of my life, wanting to constantly vomit and simultaneously filled with revolutionary hope.  This was our polar vortex baby that taught me about life finding a way in the deep cold and dark of a midwest winter. I sat by bedsides and anointed the dying in my church and held onto our little secret of life and hope. Our little one was of dreams and poetry but never to be more.These days parents-to-be can know so much, and it is a gift as you dream and track your little one. Our little one grew from the size of a chocolate chip but will never be more than my maraschino cherry.  All this knowledge is a gift until it isn’t and saying “I had a miscarriage” seems woefully inadequate, as if I was careless or irresponsible, language here fails me. I was and am heart broken. But life is full of consolation prizes and clubs of which you never want to be a part.

I had been planning on taking parental leave, postponing my first sabbatical for diapers, sleepless nights, and the life changing love of a newborn. My consolation was that now I would get three beautiful months to tend my soul and my broken heart. Becoming a parent, and specifically the parent that carries, I was excited about making my body a home, a safe place that would nourish, tend, and cherish this little human as it grew and developed within. The words of Genesis “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” taking on a whole new meaning.  I wanted to make my body a home. I wanted to be a homemaker. I still want to be a homemaker.

Read more

“Targeting Gun Violence with Gun Buybacks”

I’m a bit of an outlier among my young female clergy colleagues. I’m a gun owner and a hunter— I use my guns exclusively for hunting wild game. As a kid, hunting with my dad was a way for me to get into nature. It allowed me to observe how I fit “into the family of things,” as Mary Oliver once wrote in her poem “Wild Geese.” To this day, hunting helps me unwind from the stressors of ministry. I can clear my thoughts and catch my perspective. It’s sometimes harder to pray in my church office than it is to pray in a deer stand— even if I’m waiting on an 8-point buck to cross my path. Owning guns helps me fit into my ministry context. I currently pastor two small churches nestled between timber woods and cow pastures in rural South Carolina. Most of my parishioners are farmers and they use guns for hunting and protecting livestock. I’ve really come to enjoy learning about the guns they shoot. Some parishioners even have legacy guns: priceless relics they’ve inherited from ancestors long dead. It is humbling to be trusted with these family histories. But while there are many proud gun-carrying members, there are also many for whom guns are a painful reminder of the epidemic of violence in our society.

Many churches in my area still feel unsafe in the wake of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting five years ago. But most of our gun violence in South Carolina does not come from domestic terrorism: it comes from suicide. Over 90% of suicides in my state involve a gun, and we are 50th in the nation when it comes to availability of mental health first aid. South Carolina is also the only state in the southeast of the U.S. with an increasing suicide rate. During my high school years, I experienced profound depression, brought on by a family crisis. At one point, during the height of my depression, I imagined a handgun to my head and felt a sense of relief rather than dread. This image propelled me to tell a friend, who encouraged me to see a counselor. Thankfully, my family had the financial resources to pay for a counselor. Therapy likely saved my life, but many people don’t have the financial resources for counseling services. These memories, statistics, and ministry experiences propelled me to start a new model for ministry in my community: a gun buyback program.

Read more