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Surrounded: More Than Cumulus

We are excited to introduce another new column to our line up at Fidelia’s Sisters!  “Our Cloud of Witnesses” is a venue for exchanging the stories of those who surround us with strength and grace.  Some may have gone before us. Some may be journeying right along side us. Some may have spoken to us out of history. Some may be our favorite characters out of a beloved book. Some may be those who are the most unexpected. Tell us who has shed light on your own journey of faith and vocation, and help us to see the many ways we are truly embraced and held up by a great cloud of witnesses. Submissions may be sent to witnesses(dot)ycw(at)gmail(dot)com. 

Those were some dark times.

No happy clouds. No rainbows or singing birds. No warm sunshine or flowers lining the path. I was in my junior year during my undergrad and trying to figure “it” all out. What was I supposed to do with my life? How would I deal with my parents disappointment? Could I really pursue ministry full-time as an actual job? 

I’d chosen the stereotypical path in college. I would go pre-med and double major in something science and English literature (for fun). And then I found myself utterly failing those science classes. Just doing horribly. And loving English. Religion. Philosophy. History. I kept thinking to myself, Who am I??? I had always thrived in math and sciences, and I was supposed to become a pediatrician. What was wrong with me? The days got darker as I vacillated back and forth between what I thought I should do and what I thought I wanted to do with my life. Something else was drawing me in a different direction.

 “You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.” 

― Anaïs Nin

I began to have conversations with an associate pastor at the large downtown Presbyterian church. Because the church was conservative there were no female pastors. But there was a kindness and openness in his presence. He would welcome me into his office weekly as I verbally struggled to explain family obligations, parental sacrifice, Korean cultural expectations, and trying to be faithful to God’s gifts. He listened attentively. One afternoon he gave me a worn out copy of The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I couldn’t put it down. There was something about the vocation of ministry – journeying with people, feeding people with Word and Sacrament and literally, food, caring for people in all situations – this work called to me. I didn’t know what it all meant though and what I’d have to do to pursue the possibility.

Later, I had a phone conversation with my father. I’ve told this same story so many times:

I would never have considered seriously pursuing full-time ministry in a million years until that one conversation with my father in the middle of my undergraduate studies. He was attending Princeton Seminary at the time and enjoying the classes and community with numerous women who were studying to also become…pastors. “Pastors??? But the Bible says that women are supposed to submit to men…and church leaders are just supposed to be only men; I can’t imagine a woman being able to do it!!!” I argued with him over the phone and we went back and forth.

My father – ironically the symbol of Asian patriarchy – was trying to persuade me, a woman, but a young girl at the time, that women could and should do much more in the church. My father argued for an egalitarian view on the role of men and women in the church, even in the Korean church. He told me stories of how women had been leaders of the church for a long time, and many were elders in the Presbyterian church, and also becoming pastors all around him…and he admired and respected them, in fact, supported them. He said something to me that I will never forget: The first people to preach the gospel after Jesus’ resurrection were women.  I had never thought of that before.

“And, you can be a leader, too, an elder, a pastor, anything you believe God is calling you to be in your own life…” he said to me.

I was in the middle of all these questions, and they were making the waters murky. The clouds that surrounded me eclipsed the steps I’d carved out in front of me. I got lost. I was groping along trying to find some remnant or part of that original path. But. When I thought I was going along all alone I realized that I was also surrounded by another cloud. The voices of pastors, and my father hemmed me in with peace and comfort. I took one tentative step forward.

“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.” 
― Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

It was a reminder that all the communities that fed me, cared for me, raised me – these were the clouds that would define me, and help me live into my call. I didn’t have to figure it out own my own, and wrestle with the proverbial angel of Jacob’s all-night brawl. And the clouds that surrounded me had much more substance than the whispy clouds that produced rain and even storms.

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure,
to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” – Annie Dillard

I learned to not let go. Not let go of those words of affirmation and confirmation. Not let go of the stories that were spoken into my life by the people who not only knew me but truly wanted me to flourish in something meaningful. Not let go of those hands that held onto mine even when I didn’t want them. Because these witnesses would not let me go. Later on I would find men and women, young and old who would join this cloud of witnesses: Dr. Grace Ji-Sun KimErica Liu, my husband, Andy, other pastors and professors, artists and musicians, women in stories that are not “historical,” but feel more true than anything else. The more I reflect on their presence in my life especially in those moments I’m caught up in storms of anguish and angst about my life season these words from Hebrews nourish me: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

The cloud of flesh-and-blood that surrounds us is God-with-us, and who we are, who we are becoming is caught up in God-with-us because of those witnesses. May we be mindful and genuine to these stories, and let them be God’s power to our communities.

“It is easier to find guides, someone to tell you what to do, than someone to be with you
in a discerning, prayerful companionship as you work it out yourself.” 

― Eugene H. Peterson

 

Difference: Stone Walls or Open Doors?

Follow the LightWhen my partner Steve and I met, we learned quickly that our family cultures would collide. I was studying in seminary; he studied science in college and worked in sales.  I spoke the spooky Minnesota “oh’s”; he spoke a southern drawl.  I devoted my life to the church; he was not a churchgoer and frankly didn’t care to be a churchgoer.  We often found ourselves caught in the middle of his family’s Southern gentility and my family’s Northern brusqueness.

Two months after we started dating, we went out for dinner. He drove me home and left. In my solitude, I launched my computer to start a search on WebMD. I had felt pain behind my knee for about four weeks, and I started thinking that it wasn’t merely a strained muscle. I called my doctor and was advised to go to the emergency room.  ASAP.  Sure enough, it was a blood clot.  It was urgent.  I didn’t leave the hospital that night.  I also didn’t call Steve.  He had led me to believe that he had one of the most important meetings of the year that next morning.  It was midnight – too late to call anybody.  I didn’t call my family.  They lived eight hours away from me, and I didn’t want them to wake and drive in the middle of the night. I was safe, I wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want to risk their safety.  I called them early the next morning.  I called Steve during his lunch hour, after his important meeting.

Steve was outraged that I didn’t call him. Certainly a blood clot trumped a business meeting! He burned to question me upon entering the hospital room, but my parents were already there. Yes – my future husband and my parents met over my hospital bed! It was awkward, and the culture clash made it more so. Our relationship was new and we were still adapting to that while simultaneously my parents were forced to deal with my illness and this stranger in their midst. Soon the conversation fell silent between the four of us. I was in and out of queasiness from the pain meds.  We were fishing for things to do. My parents and I tried to show Steve the card game euchre. We failed miserably. Not because Steve didn’t show any interest or want to learn, but because we were too good at playing cards and too bad at teaching. Then I puked.

I spent five nights in the hospital.  Two days later, it was Christmas.  Our Christmas was a mish-mashed mess of mixed family traditions. It was filled with uncomfortable introductions and last-minute gift purchasing.  There were many quiet moments because I needed to rest while everyone else hung out, almost twiddling their thumbs at one another.

These days were exasperating.  New people and situations, uncertainties, insecurities, and misunderstandings seemed to be a whirlwind that lasted two weeks.  When everyone went home, I finally had the chance to process the craziness that had transpired.  I realized the differences that I found so challenging in Steve and his family were exactly the reasons that I knew I would be with him forever.

We’ve made many interesting memories since that hospital Advent in our relationship.  Our Southern family is astounded at the ambiguous gender roles we exhibit.  Our Northern family sometimes shrugs their shoulders.  Some people see our relationship as challenge.  We see it as opportunity.

What would our world be like if we saw differences as opportunity?  Jesus loved Samaritans; Paul welcomed Gentiles.  Could the church be so bold?  We build stone walls between one another in so many ways.  These walls often birth the ugliest parts of humanity: sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, etc.  I easily see my family differences as opportunity; it’s harder to see when looking at my congregation, my community, or at the larger context of today’s world.

I try – sometimes well, most times wretchedly – to express difference as opportunity.  I often feel as though I am the one behind a stone wall, desperately trying to find a door to open. It took me nine years to get through a four-year process for ministry candidacy and ordination.  I am one of the youngest adult members in my congregation and my rural community. God has called me to be the first female (sometimes pregnant) pastor of my congregation.

I bring an unusual liveliness to ministerial meetings simply because of who I am. For example, when a conservative pastor shares a generalizing opinion about Christianity or what “we” believe, I tactfully remind him that there are Christian people outside of his ideology.  That’s not generally popular.  Some believe this may give people more fervor to say that women shouldn’t be pastors.  Many pastors loathe participating in this kind of conversation. I feel strongly that we need to plant conversational seeds that ask, “Who is this Jesus that we follow?  How do we faithfully follow together? How do we stop building stone walls? In our differences, how is God opening doors for new life?”

Eight years into our marriage, Steve still does not define himself as a churchgoer. He comes to church because it’s important for me and our family. He made the promise at our children’s baptisms that he would.  It’s not easy to be a single parent in the pews.  He supports me wholeheartedly; and when not wrestling with a toddler, he can listen to my sermons.  Steve gives excellent feedback.  He’ll say, “This didn’t make any sense; too much jargon.  Real people sit in the pews, not theologians. Talk to us in real language.”  Every once and awhile, we dig deeper in conversation.  He asks me why I believe the “silly myth” that I believe.  I challenge him to think anew about life lived in Christian community. We have conversation that helps us understand one another and our differences and binds us together as we discover new similarities.  People struggle opening themselves to those who are different.  I struggle with it too.  But living with someone who is so different from me opens all kinds of doors for us to learn more about ourselves and one another.

Steve and I have learned together that we can build doors into those walls our society puts between us.  This helps make our relationship authentic.

We keep hearing from the blogosphere that people in the postmodern, post-Christendom church want a reformed, authentic church. We lose authenticity when we ignore the truth that everyone is fundamentally the same. Differences can overwhelm the similarities; they keep us from seeing that we have the same basic goals: love, security, dignity, legacy, wholeness. When you tear down those fractious walls, our diversity becomes beautiful and we can actualize our common humanity.

I crave that people in our church dig deep into uncharted horizons where we love, honor, and invite different people to join our table. I want to see conversation that is tender yet challenging and visionary.  I hope to find doors built into our defensive walls so that “different” is no longer taboo heresy.  I long for the day when, rather than blaming someone for being offensively different, we embrace one another for our common humanity.  I yearn that one Christian learn from another’s human experience as if it was her own.  I pray to God with Jesus, “that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b, NIV)  My dream for Christ’s church is that it’s an open door, as bright as a skylight in the dark, thick walls, connecting two divided sides.  It’s an illuminating place where all God’s saints can peaceably abide together.

Rev. Brenda Lovick is the pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the rural village of Manlius in northern Illinois.  She graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and an MAMFT in 2006 and completed coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2009.  She leads a hobby-less life as she loves church people by day and chases small children by night.

Photo by Victor Bayon, http://www.flickr.com/photos/formalfallacy/2367382622/, August 13, 2013.  Used by Creative Commons License.

Pastor and Possible Friend: A Perspective of a Clergyperson and Clergy Spouse

friends stoneThe new president of Princeton Seminary wrote an article last December, titled “Pastor, not friend.”  In that article, he reflects on his relationship with a devoted elder of the parish who was shocked—and saddened—when Craig Barnes announced his leaving the parish.  He said “friends don’t treat each other like that.”  Craig responds, “He was right, but I was not his friend, I was his pastor.”

Craig goes on to argue that pastors can not truly be friends with parishioners. And yet, he argues when you do the math, there is little time leftover for other relationships because parishes are such “demanding lovers.”  And, on the one hand, as an Episcopal priest (who happens to be married to an Episcopal priest) I completely understand where the author is coming from. It is difficult to be aware of parish issues, like an on-going fight with one person or another on a committee, and not engage in any discussion about that topic.  Or even something as regular as our stewardship campaign.  Does this parishioner, who is my friend, understand that we have a deficit right now?  Should I mention it or not?  Should I assume they know about the deficit and talk about my anxiety with regard to the budget this year?  These are indeed delicate topics and each one must be discerned from moment to moment.  But, I can’t embrace not having parishioners as friends.

As a mother of two young children who moved across the country to have my husband serve as a rector to a parish in a Philadelphia suburb, the first people to bring us lasagna and take my kids to the playground were parishioners.  The first people who threw me a baby shower for the birth of my third child was the parish’s Moms’ Group.  And, over time we have developed close relationships with some members of the parish.  Of course, there are times when I am deeply aware that I need to be careful about what I say or do, but where would I be without these people?  Where would I find Christian friends who are willing to brainstorm ways that we can observe Lent in our home? Where would I find comfort when I needed people with whom I could pray and not feel weird asking them to do so?

There is something deeply resonant about the incarnational nature of our God.  And, as a priest, I know I have been set-aside to live a life that can be terribly lonely. You live with people’s joy and pain very close to your heart.  But, with that knowledge, I refuse to divorce myself prematurely from relationships because of the belief that I should “not” cross a line and make friends with parishioners. Even our ordination service from the Book of Common Prayer, asks us to pattern our life in holiness, but not alone. After all, in what other aspect of life are you expected to participate fully in the life of your husband’s faith community (which is his work), and your own, and yet not make a single friend?  I don’t believe it’s possible.

Yes, there are times when I wish I could say more to my “church” friends about my life, but with time I have come to understand that I have to reserve these conversations for my husband, a dear friend who lives out of town, or my spiritual director.  It has taken me almost three years to finally feel comfortable as a clergy spouse fully knowing that, at times, people will not like my husband’s decisions—or even him.  And yet, my children will continue to worship in that parish every week, sing in the primary choir, and run around like crazy at the parish pancake suppers.  Indeed, the Christian life is full of paradoxes.  If my husband were a doctor, I would not have to live next door to his medical practice, send my kids to him for weekly medical check-ups, and have chili cook-offs at his office.

In all my time as a seminarian, I never fully thought about what it would be like to be a clergy spouse.  And, now I know that it can be odd to be fully educated and formed as a priest, and be married to a priest.  The dinner table conversations can be interesting when we begin to compare newcomer programs and debate the use of Eucharistic Prayer C.  But, with regard to friends, we both recognize our need to have them—both within and without the parish.  And, because we are merely human we make friends.  And, of course, as mere humans do, we hurt our friends sometimes and they will hurt us, too.  But forgiveness and reconciliation seem a better path than distance and loneliness.

So, I say to the faith communities of which we are a part I will always be your pastor (or your pastor’s wife.). I may also come to be your friend.  Just as in any trusting and mature relationship, together we will discern what is best to share with each other—and when.  But, please don’t write me off as some pie-in-the-sky priest or pastor who doesn’t feel, think, and desire relationship just as much as you do. After all, in John’s gospel, Jesus even goes as far as to say that he will lay down his life for his friends.  And, he’s not talking about Facebook friends.  He’s not talking about pastoral boundaries. Instead, he is offering us a relationship with him of deep intimacy—a holy offer for sure.   A friend is a holy and beautiful gift, parishioner or not. A friend is someone with whom we share the integrity of our lives and live out the incarnational nature of our Christian faith.

Changing Communities

bath timeEvery time I bathe my one-year-old son, I think of baptism. Baptism leads my mind to community. Each time the water runs down his hair, I’m reminded of my changing community. 

When I was finishing Seminary, we had to write a 30 Page “CREDO” statement of our beliefs as a culmination to our years of studying and working.  Though I had dreaded writing it because 30 pages seemed so long (though it really wasn’t since I regularly wrote 20 page papers), I found it was actually difficult to write because it was too short.  How can one person possibly sum up everything she believes in only 30 pages (and not one more!)?  I focused on community created in Christ and spent 30 pages talking about how important I felt community is in the life of the believer and the Church, how the Sacraments bring us together as community, and so on. I had always been a person that had a church community, youth group, small group Bible study, and so on that I belonged to.  I only knew how to believe as one who is a part of a faith community.  My faith and belief have always been so strongly tied to my community that they are hard for me to separate in my mind.

One of the first things I started thinking about when I found out I was pregnant in 2011 was the community of faith that my child would be raised in.  My denomination practices infant baptism, and I believe that a large part of baptism is about the parents and community committing to raise the child in the faith and child being introduced and formally included into the life of the church.  Baptism calls the child into a life of faith and gives him his vocation as a follower of Christ.  It is an important Sacrament. When would we have him baptized?  How were we going to get all of our family (in two different states) in the same place at the same time to allow them to participate in this special event in my son’s life and also the life of the Church?

Then I left the ministry.  I announced I was pregnant one Sunday.  The following Sunday it was announced my call was coming to an end in the congregation.  I was four months pregnant when I left the church.  We visited churches in the area for a while, and tried visiting after he was born too, but found it challenging given napping, routines, and an uneasiness with unknown childcare workers in unknown congregations’ nurseries. 

I struggled with this sudden lack of community.  This was the first time in my life I could recall not having a community surrounding me, especially at this special and sacred time in our family’s life.  I spent many hours contemplating what to do about his baptism.  Where should we have it done?  When would make sense?  What community would we join in order to surround him with his Christian community?  Who were we asking to help us raise him in the faith and nurture his calling from Christ through baptism?

As my son’s first year came and went, his baptism did not happen.  Many hours of contemplation later, my husband and I have decided to have him baptized in the church I served in as a Seminary Intern.  It is the place we both feel at home, and we return there two or three times a year when we are in town (It’s 500 miles and 3 states away).  When we walk in the doors, we know we are home and we are loved.  It is a very special community and we treasure our time with them!  We’ve spoken with the Pastor, who is also my mentor, and she has agreed to it.  Now we just need to find a time that works for the church, our families, and our travel schedule. He’s already one now, so my sense of urgency is less.  He will not sleep peacefully through it and will instead wiggle, squirm, and make noise, and it will be ok.  It will happen when it happens, and we will all celebrate.  It will be good.

At his first birthday party this past November, we all gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” and have him blow out the candle on his cake.  It was in that moment, as I looked around at all the friends and family who had gathered to celebrate his birthday, that I realized something.  THIS is our community.  These are the people we love and who love us.  They are here to celebrate our son and his first year with us.  THIS IS OUR Community.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends from playgroup, neighbors, friends from middle school through college. It was beautiful chaos as the kids played and ate. We are truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in our lives.  This community had been there all along. I was just so focused on one particular community that was missing in our lives that I completely missed the greater community that we belong to.  

We still don’t have a local church family.  I don’t know when we will find the one that we fit into and will be the local community that helps us raise him in the faith.  We have a lot of church baggage that needs to be emptied before this process will likely happen.  Until then, we will keep singing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves The Little Children” before naps and bed.  We will keep reading to him the stories of our faith.  We will keep teaching him about how he is called to live a life of faith in this world.  And I will keep remembering his baptism yet-to-be each time I give him a bath.  The water running down his hair and over his face will continually remind me that we are loved.  He is loved.  We have a community that surrounds us and loves us.    And I look forward to the day that we can formalize his baptism.  Until then, lather, rinse, repeat. 

Ministry of Presence…

Presence1

As I prepare for work/worship on Sunday, I realize that I actually don’t have any huge responsibilities – it’s a “regular” Sunday School day, and the high school youth are doing worship. It’s also the last week of the month which usually means I don’t have so many meetings. So…I’m thinking that my work Sunday morning will comprise generally of hanging-out…which means playing with the babies in the nursery and visiting Sunday School classes, oo-ing and ah-ing over the little creations made by little hands.

The ministry of presence is the ministry of hanging-out. I’ve discovered it takes different forms but the core of it is consistent. It means simply being with people and then being a space for people.

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I Cannot Do This Alone

The doctor pushed the curtain aside and left to document the conversation in the file, leaving Shon and I to absorb the jagged pill he had just forced us to swallow. “There’s something on the left side of your brain.” How were we supposed to respond to that? No questions came to mind. There were no particular concerns I could voice. I really did not even have any feelings at all, save utter shock. In that moment of revelation I could only stare at my husband and try to imagine the big dark mass lurking underneath his
thick brown hair and perfectly smooth scalp. It had to be a joke.

As I gradually regained my senses, all I could think of was the Epiphany service I was supposed to be leading in a couple of hours. Not long before it had seemed vitally important for me to be there early to set up. Now my mind was trying to figure out how to cancel the whole thing. I picked up the emergency room wall phone and shared the devastating news with Shon’s parents and then mine. One more time, I picked up the phone and called our volunteer choir director, Mickie, and told her the news. Mickie’s response was to walk straight over to the ER—she lives across the street from the hospital—and give us both hugs and assurances. She asked where my notes for the Epiphany service were. I told her. “Don’t worry about a thing, we’ll be fine.” And they were fine, the service went on, not as planned, but as needed, with lots of prayer.

Early on I learned that in order for me to keep my sanity, my job, and my family I had to communicate constantly with all parties. This was before we had a cell phone, so my fingers quickly callused from dialing the ga-zillion numbers required to make a call with a calling card through the hospital network. I kept our Clerk of Session and the Worship Committee Chair up-to-date, and notified the Executive Presbyter. They lined up pulpit supply for the two Sundays following Shon’s surgery.

During the first two years after Shon’s diagnosis, there were relatively few interruptions to my work schedule. He had no follow-up treatments, only MRIs every few months. The biggest lifestyle change involved the seizures. Shon was having about 16 seizures a month that affected every muscle on the right side of his body.

It took us a year and two doctors to finally reduce the severity and the number to around 3 per month. The seizures wore him out and often made him fall. They also made it impossible for him to drive. The Session and congregation allowed me to be flexible with my office schedule so I could take him to appointments, do much of my work from home and be with him on the days when he was especially weak.

The Session supported and encouraged my weekly meetings with a local Clergy Support Group as part of my Continuing Education allowance. All of the other pastors in this small group had several more years of ministry experience than I. I found it immensely helpful not only to vent frustrations and sorrows in their empathizing presence, but also to try out ideas and seek the advice of their collective wisdom. At this same time, I began seeing a counselor who helped and still helps me explore the deeper psychological and spiritual consequences of my experiences.

I look back on this time before the recurrence and think how easy things were then. Certainly they were not easy. But everything is relative; when the tumor came back in 2005, it was bigger, more aggressive, and we had a toddler. Life got exponentially more complicated! Read more

Unexpected Gifts

This past June I had the pleasure of attending the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly meeting. It was a fantastic experience. From the moment I arrived in San Jose I felt a sense of deep connection to the people around me. These unknown individuals and I not only share a common faith, we share something more a connection based on the way in which we experience and express that faith. It was wonderful.

On that first Sunday I sat in a sports arena at San Jose State University and looked around at the diverse collection of Presbyterians gathered for worship. The songs we sung were familiar and comforting. The liturgy spoke to my soul. And I was thrilled to be in this enormous gathering of Presbyterians, to experience church. I left the service feeling incredibly blessed to have been present for something so special.

Shortly after we left a few friends began discussing the problems they had with the service. As seminarians they had fascinating critiques, most of which I thought were right on target. While the worship was good, maybe it hadn’t been great. It was quite possible that the music was a bit excessive, and well, the liturgy had some low points. So why had it spoken so clearly to me, to my place? Read more

My Elective in Musical Outreach

That was a Wednesday night in May 2000, and for the next two years I was a weekly fixture for karaoke unless I was out of town. Stomach bug? I’d take my saltines with me. Paper due at 8:00am the next morning? I’d get it done ahead of time. I joked that karaoke was my spiritual discipline. At the very least, it was a sacred ritual. At first glance, my devotion was out of character for me. For one, I never have been a partier. I am actually an extreme introvert. And I am not a singer, not in the car when others are with me, not even in a choir, where my flat voice would be drowned out by much more ear-pleasing ones. For goodness’ sake, as a child I lip synced for the elementary school talent show.

Yet the elbows of trusted friends convinced me to pick up the mic that first night, and I guess you could say I caught the fever (The Spirit blows where it wills…). After a few weeks the DJ started choosing songs for me, and I would occasionally get requests to sing someone’s favorite number. This was due to my willingness to put a little hip into the routine, not to a miraculous shoring up of my voice. I had a signature song and competed in monthly contests. I was part of a community of regulars who encouraged my dramatic side. I enjoyed a “Norm!” moment every week when I walked into that hallowed space. Read more

Taking Your Baby to Work

This relaxed attitude about parenting has made my balancing act of life a little easier. I think this attitude started when my first born began attending school with me. I was a full-time student three and a half years into a four year MDiv program when Meg was born (just in time to be baby Jesus in the Festival of Lessons and Carols). I took two weeks off completely and then finished the semester taking my exams and writing papers. Since I couldn’t imagine taking the whole next semester off, when February rolled around and classes started, I popped Meg into a sling and off we went. She slept and nursed and got passed around a lot. I often left her in one person’s arms and returned later to find she was ten sets of arms down the row.

There were things I had to let go of to make this school/parenting thing work, things like hovering over my newborn, housekeeping, New Testament (I did get around to taking it eventually), perfectly word-smithed sentences, and many hours of sleep, but I would not trade it for anything. Meg became everybody’s baby, and my husband and I loved it. We really felt like we had one huge extended family helping us raise our daughter.

Fast forward four years. Three months into my new job as the Associate Executive Presbyter of a small presbytery in Wisconsin, we found out we were expecting again. The pregnancy was not entirely unplanned, but came a little sooner than anticipated. Once you are working, in any profession, and you become pregnant, the number one question is, “What are you going to do when the baby is born?” Wise from having done this once before, I told virtually no one until I had a plan. Read more

Silent and Still

The silence of my prayer was replaced with the noise of the narthex. The hymns were sung. The people were blessed. And now, it was time to share in the joy of being together as the congregation participates in the exodus from the sanctuary to the promise of the Parish Hall.

Babies wake up from the sermon, and the silence fades. The squeals of the children just released from Sunday School nearly drown out the mutterings of “good sermon” and “thank you for worship.” Familiar faces sojourn to coffee hour while insisting I must remember their names. My laughter mixes with the hesitant laughter of visitors. Hands are held. Hugs linger too long. Shoulders are touched. The silence disappears.

Only for a moment, the silence disappears. Only for a moment, there is a clamor of giggling children and a racket of slurping adults. The clatter continues until the Parish Hall empties and I am left to lock the doors.

And then it becomes silent and still once again. My distress grows worse, and my heart becomes hot with me as the silence returns. This silence is not like the stillness of prayer. Those are moments that I crave. I need that respite from the insistence of so many demands screaming incessantly. I need that sacred time to be still and know that God is in the silence. This is precious silence. It is not the same silence that greets me with the click of the lock in the church doors.

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