Better Together

But as I moved through school and into my first call, and he settled in first one parish and then another,
we began to see how our gifts for ministry could work together – how we could complement each other instead of compete. Our own personal styles developed and emerged, and perhaps most importantly we began to add a new dimension to our relationship: we began to respect one another as a pastor.

We didn’t start out working together, and the situation that led to us doing so was not typical (if there
is such a thing in ministry). This congregation we serve is my first call. I’ve been here three years. He started this past January. I handle areas of finance and outreach; he oversees education and worship. We share the preaching schedule equitably but unpredictably. We still take vacations together. Sometimes we talk about a meeting or something that happened when we’re at home. Sometimes we talk about what we’ll have for dinner when we’re in the office. We’re co-pastors in title, call, salary and (hopefully) most people’s minds.

This collegial and cooperative ministry, in the ten or so months that we’ve been doing it, works well for us. I have come to value the way that we are able to develop ideas, naturally relying on one another’s gifts (not every day, of course). But it also has its drawbacks. We’ve always shared ideas and processed things with one another about our respective congregations – but now there’s just one congregation between us. Talking about an idea during a commercial break now feels much more like work. While I like being able to say to someone, “That’s not my area of responsibility,” it doesn’t take the stress or the responsibility out of the family. Read more

Miles to Go

Though it is in our lectionary, our Lamentations text – this prayer of pain and petition – is not something we hear every day. I doubt many of us could quote from Lamentations as easily as we could from Psalms, from Isaiah, or from any of the gospels or epistles. So when we do hear from this book, it may come as a shock to our system. When I’ve told people that one of the texts I would be preaching from this morning is Lamentations, I got very similar responses. There were a few “ohs” and “that’s interesting,” and even an occasional “oh my.” Not exactly the words of assurance a woman would want. But these words did not really surprise me for what we find in this book – undiluted expressions of despair – are rarely the passages we seek out for nice Bible studies or our bedtime readings.

We are fortunate, then, that though we may not seek certain passages out, they surely seek us out. The scriptures which testify to the Word made flesh are not just letters on a page. When engaged with the Spirit, they are a living witness. This living witness is a Word that does not sit quietly, waiting for us to stumble upon it. It relentlessly seeks us out, captures us in its warm grasp, will not let us go until we have thoroughly engaged it.

Though many of us may avoid a book which is consumed with such vulnerable grief, given the recent events in our country, in our world, perhaps it is not surprising that this particular Lamentations text is seeking us out. With its opening words “how lonely sits the city that once was full of people” the passage invokes disturbing images from our recent news reports: images of cities empty of people but full of water; images of homes, businesses, places of worship destroyed by rumbling ground; images of complete and total destruction; of ways of life and life itself lost.

These words recall such images because they were written in the midst of similar despair. Lamentations is a poetic response to perhaps the most traumatic series of events in Jewish history outside the Holocaust, the Babylonian exile. In 587 B.C.E. the people of Jerusalem were invaded by the Babylonian empire’s army. The siege lasted two years and saw the destruction of the city’s walls, buildings, and even the temple; saw a famine where men, women, children alike died from lack of nutrition; saw the deportation of Jerusalem’s king, the murder of the royal family, and the exile of many of its citizens. The lament we have before us, unlike the pain expressed in books like Ezekiel, does not come from those in exile. This lament is unique in the portrayals of the exile for it comes from those left behind. Those who look around and see the invaders in their homes, those who see their destroyed temple, those who see the mass graves. It is this people in this place who cry aloud as Daughter Zion: “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?”

Through Daughter Zion’s words, I can hear the voices of the victims of the unrelenting hurricanes, of the earthquake in Pakistan, of the places – too many places – where war is a way of life. In the face of pain and suffering in a multitude of places on such massive levels, Lamentations cries out to us. It cries out, speaking of loneliness, speaking of desolation. It cries out to God and it cries out to this body, the body of Christ, demanding to be heard. Read more

Being Single, Being Me

At the time, I was puzzled by – and occasionally scornful of – my classmates’ partnering inclinations. “Get Married” has never made it to my life to-do list. It still hasn’t. Although I’m sure I’d make it
work if it happened, I can’t imagine doing ministry as a married person. I can’t imagine living as a married person. Still, doing ministry and living as a single person has brought my classmates’ fears
into sharp and sometimes painful clarity.

Of course I had heard the stories about well-meaning congregational matchmakers and the joys of navigating dating relationships while living in a parsonage. I had wondered how a congregation would react to a single female pastor in particular. I had wondered about the willingness of potential partners to date a minister – because, really, what sane person wishes for that?

It wasn’t the rockiness of dating as a young clergy woman that caught me by surprise.  As an extrovert who has lived in many places and developed a wide social network, it never occurred to me that it would
be so hard to simply make friends as a pastor. No one warned me that, without the built-in connections of academia or work colleagues, I’d have to work so much harder just to meet people.  I never anticipated that once I met people, so many of them would instantly react to my vocation with either suspicion or neediness. Read more

There’s No Crying in Baseball

I always have been, and it seems as though I always will be. When I am hit by public or personal tragedy, when I am besieged by anxiety or drowning in hormones, my tear ducts kick into action and flood my
cheeks with saltwater. Though I haven’t let loose and sobbed in church (thank you, baby Jesus), in the privacy of the parsonage I have wept and sniffed and hiccuped until I’m all cried out. The blissful, empty
feeling after a good cry makes the reddened eyes all worth it,  and my blood pressure thanks me for not repressing my emotions. Crying really is a blessed release.

Except, of course, when it happens at church. Read more

In it for the long haul

We’ve been in our home for a year now. In actuality, it’s been almost two years, but that first year, this didn’t feel like our home. We were renting. Now we own our home (or at least part of it), and I feel settled.

I am a nester. Not in the sense that I like to clean, but in the sense that I like to decorate and I don’t like to move. I love to hammer nails into the plaster. I am the one who buys the paint entitled “late tomato red.” In our last home, my husband and I embellished our upstairs with the designs of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa.

I am from the South. I feel artistically alive when I travel along Rainbow Row in Charleston, the French Quarter in New Orleans, and the Mexican color of East Austin, and I want my home to reflect that vibrancy. I despise the white walls and beige carpet of rental property (For this reason alone, I could never be Methodist. The denomination would surely defrock me after they saw what I had done to the parsonage).

Our house does, in fact, still have the walls of an institution, except for the kitchen, which is a magnificent pumpkin. I’ve picked out the colors for the rest of the house, which I plan to transform, bit by bit. I’ve got time. We’re not going anywhere soon; at least we’re not planning on it. I am an AP, and the average life span of Associates is only two to three years, but I hope to beat the odds because I love the church so much.

Ed White’s research demonstrates that long-term pastorates create healthier congregations. I would suggest that a pastor’s particular housing situation is a key factor in how long the pastor can stay. Read more

The Morning She Was Betrayed

It was 8:35 when my alarm clock betrayed me.

And I only knew of his defiance because the phone rang. Twice. But I rolled over insisting that this, too, was part of my dream. The rebellion continued until the answering machine interrupted.

“Lexi?” My answering machine called out. It was then that I realized that this was the morning I was betrayed. It was now 8:37. Worship had started seven minutes ago, and I was supposed to be presiding.

Read more

baby napping

On the Seventh Day, God Napped

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. ~Genesis 2:1-2 (NRSV)

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
~Psalm 121:3-4 (NRSV)

baby nappingI was sure I’d be back in church within one week of my daughter’s birth—not as a pastor, but as one of the faithful, gathered in the pews, free to worship God without fear.

No worries about the Sunday School program, the evening youth group meeting, the prayer I was about to deliver, or the pile of emails waiting in my office. For my six blessed weeks of parental leave, Sunday would once again be Sabbath, a day of rest and reflection, a day to savor with my new little family, a day to relax in the good graces of God’s satisfaction with creation.

And so, a week and half after her birth, with twenty minutes to go before the service began, I found myself sitting on the couch with an adorably decked out baby. I, however, was wearing my pajamas and hadn’t
showered in a few days. Getting to church was not going to happen. I never made it back to worship services consistently until I returned to full-time work six weeks later.

As I began ministry, the idea of Sabbath was important to me. It was easier for the first few years after I was ordained because I was in a Monday-Friday para-church position. Sunday was Sabbath. I went to my
church, I relaxed a bit, I prepared myself for the week of ministry ahead of me.

Three months after beginning a new position in congregational ministry, I was pregnant. As a new mother and a new congregational pastor, I began to wonder how this whole Sabbath thing was going to work. Not only did I face the task of carving out a day other than Sunday, I had to guard this day with my life, keeping back the tasks and worries of ministry to allow for some open space. Plus, many of the ideas I’d had for my Sabbath seemed completely impractical with a newborn. Long walks in the woods surrounded by the glories of creation? Not if it interfered with nap time. A strict interpretation of “no work?” It sounds great, but try telling a new mom that breastfeeding or formula-mixing, not to mention changing diapers, does not count as “work.” Read more

This Month: Visual Art and Poetry

For this, our inaugural feature, we bring you two very different pieces, “On Women and Children and Poverty,” a visual piece by Suzanne Stovall Vinson, and “&,” a poem by MaryAnn McKibben Dana.

While the medium and focus of the two pieces differ from one another, each piece speaks to the particularity of women’s experience while touching on broader themes that unite many of us.

Are you a poet, fiction writer or visual artist? We want to hear from you! Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

And now, on to Christ & Creativity…

Read more

black and white photos of different faces covering a large wall, with three women on a bench looking at them

A Whole Person

black and white photos of different faces covering a large wall, with three women on a bench looking at them

Last night as we lay in bed, my husband Simon, who is a student at the college where I am the chaplain, mentioned that a fellow classmate had asked to “friend” him on Facebook. He asked what I thought he should do, so we began a conversation about his options and how he might handle the situation, knowing that there wasn’t really a perfect answer.

“There are consequences if I choose not to friend her, if I choose to friend her while locking her out of all the personal portions of my page, or if I choose to leave it all wide open,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure I don’t want her to see the pictures from the last time we went clubbing or the ones of me in the wedding dress at my stag do.”

Three years ago we never would have had these conversations, but now that I am clergy, these conversations are a constant. We both must filter what we share with the people around us based on context, their confidentiality, and what we want the world to know about The Chaplain.

We all filter the pieces of ourselves that we share with others. Often unconsciously, we build up certain parts of the story and censor others so that what we have to share will flow easily into our listener’s mind, mingling with what they already know about us. Sometimes we choose to filter in order to avoid difficult conversations and truths. And sometimes we filter because we must, because jobs or relationships demand that our story fractures, so that some pieces may remain carefully reserved for telling in special circumstances only. As ministers this is a reality of what we do. Sometimes it is the work that allows us to minister in our context and to our people. Read more