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Support TYCWP With A Year-End Gift

The Young Clergy Women Project LogoIf you are anything like me, you receive a lot of requests for donations this time of year. You’ve probably been hearing from a multitude of non-profit organizations throughout the fall, and now every single one of them is reminding you (via email, snail mail, and a phone call) that this is your last chance to contribute in 2015.

Due to my tendency toward procrastination, it has become something of a New Year’s Eve tradition for my wife and I to sit down together wherever we might be on December 31 and make the donations we have been intending to make all along. We’ve even been known to pack the stack of request letters and take them with us as we visit family, because we haven’t managed to get it done before Christmas.

One of the few exceptions to this pattern is The Young Clergy Women Project. Last year, when TYCWP made its first annual fundraising appeal, we set up a monthly recurring donation, so that we will never have to try to remember whether or not we have given. Supporting TYCWP is one of our top priorities, right beside giving to our churches, because of what this community means to us. You can join us by making a donation at youngclergywomen.org/donate.

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Poinsettias

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Holly Jolly Christmas Edition

PoinsettiasDear Askie,

The holiday season is busy for everyone, but I would guess that it’s especially busy for clergy. I can only imagine how busy and stressed my wonderful pastor must be with so many church events and worship services to manage, on top of all of her family obligations! I’d like to do what I can to make the season easier and merrier for her, but I don’t know where to start. Could you advise all of us church folks about what we can do at Christmas time to care for the pastors and their families who give so much to make Christmas so special for our church?

Merry Christmas,
Puzzled Parishioner

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Ask a YCW: Ordination Etiquette Edition

Dear Askie,

My college roommate is being ordained as a Presbyterian minister next month, and I’m traveling to attend her ordination. I’m Christian (Episcopalian, specifically), but I’ve never been to an ordination before. Is there anything I need to know? More importantly, I’d like to give her a gift for her ordination, but I’m not sure what to give her – is a Bible too obvious?

Sincerely,

Supportive Friend of an almost-YCW

Dear SF,

What a thoughtful friend you are! I can only imagine how your college roommate cherishes your friendship… and it will be even more precious as the years go on. I want to affirm what a meaningful gesture it is for you to attend her ordination. For ministers, this is one of the most significant moments in our lives, as we take life-long vows that will shape and guide our entire personal and professional lives. Lay people sometimes don’t understand how important this moment is in ministers’ lives, but it sounds like you do. Thanks and blessings to you for that!

Askie isn’t Presbyterian, but can give you a general sense of what to expect at many Protestant ordination service. If you’re accustomed to Christian worship, you can expect an ordination service to feel largely familiar. There are likely to be hymns, scripture readings, prayers, and a sermon. Hopefully, there will be a bulletin that helps visitors to know when to sit, stand, or (possibly) kneel, when you’re expected to say “Amen” or “Thanks be to God,” and whether you’re supposed to say “trespasses,” “debts,” or “sins” during the Lord’s Prayer.

There will be a section of the service where your friend will come forward to take ordination vows, and then there will be a “laying on of hands.” This practice varies from one denomination to another. In some denominations, a Bishop lays hands on the ordinand and prays for them. Other traditions (including Presbyterianism) invite all ordained people. A few traditions invite all baptized Christians or the whole congregation forward to join in the laying on of hands. In any case, through prayer and the laying on of hands, she will be set apart to serve Christ and the church. After your friend is ordained, she will be given a stole, a symbol of her identity as an ordained minister who has taken on the “yoke of Christ.” Many ordination ceremonies also include a celebration of the Eucharist, with the newly-ordained minister presiding at the table.

Going on to the second part of your question, SF, it’s very kind of you to want to give your friend an ordination gift! (Ordination gifts are welcome and treasured, but certainly not expected or required.) You’re probably right that a Bible is “too obvious”; more specifically, she’s likely to already have several Bibles, and to receive several more. Here are a few options that Askie and her YCW colleagues have appreciated:

  • A Stole: This is an especially apt gift because we can’t wear stoles until we’re ordained… and then we need them in a variety of colors and designs appropriate to the various church seasons, holidays, and events! If you’d like to give your friend a stole, it might be wise to ask her what she needs, so she doesn’t end up with four red stoles and no green. There are lots of beautiful stoles available online, ranging from very simple to very elaborate.
  • Book store gift certificate: Ministers always need more books! This is a great way to enable her to make the choice herself – maybe she has her eye on a set of commentaries for sermon preparation, a scholarly volume for a study group she’s planning, or a spiritual memoir. Maybe she’ll pick up a book from TYCWP’s imprint with Chalice Press!
  • Art: A small, meaningful piece of religious art to hang on the wall of her office can be a wonderful gift for a newly ordained minister! Of course, lots of religious art is horrifically tacky, so use your judgment. (Or go campy, if she’s the kind of person who appreciates that!) It doesn’t have to break the bank – a favorite scripture verse in a frame, a photograph of her childhood church, something by a local artist, or a reproduction of a painting are all wonderful choices.
  • Self-care supplies: Ministers give their time and energy, body and soul, to caring for others. We’re frequently reminded that we need to care for ourselves as well, but it’s sometimes easier said than done. A wonderful ordination gift would be something that helps your friend to make sure she is getting the rest and renewal she needs to be able to care for others. It might be art supplies or hiking gear, gift certificates for the movie theatre or the nail salon. You know better than I do what would be good for her soul!

More than any of the above, though, SF, one especially meaningful thing you can do is to promise to pray for her, and follow through. Let her know that you do it. It will mean the world to her, really. And stay in touch with her, even though she never calls you back in December. Every YCW – every clergy person – needs good friends. So thanks to you, SF, for being one, and thanks to all the other friends of YCWs out there.

Blessings,

Askie

So, Santa and John Calvin Walk into a Bar…

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Kinda looks like Santa, no?

It’s the time of year again, when we try to figure out what to do with Santa around here. And this year, I’ve reached some new clarity on the issue, with the help of Zora’s continually astute questions and a little assist from my dear John Calvin.

To review, we never really told Zora about Santa. She caught on when she got to preschool. Now in her third year of formal schooling, she asks if Santa is real. My stock answer is, “Well, what do you think?” (Good, huh? Feel free to steal that line. It’s definitely one of my finer parenting techniques.) I’m with my good friend Martha on this (well, truth be told I’m not quite as freaked out by the whole thing as she is, but I like her thoughts about gratitude.)

Around here, we do stockings. We also do shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas and give the kids one early toy (instead of a bunch of candy or crap they don’t need). We read the Demi book, The Legend of St. Nicholas. I recommended it to my friend John a couple years ago. And while he enjoyed it, he did point out that the stories about Nicholas from ancient Christian tradition are much much stranger and freakier than the creepy old guy who invades your house by chimney.

There are things, though, that bug me about the Santa tradition that I haven’t always been able to articulate.

But Zora, perceptive little being, helped me identify my  biggest issue with Santa this week. We were walking home from school and she was describing the class “trip” to Holland that day. (Her class is “travelling” to different countries to learn about holiday traditions this week.) Now, I don’t know exactly what was said in class, but, while there was no direct discussion of Zwarte Piet (aka Black Peter), there seems to have been some kid who brought up some version of the idea that someone travels with Sinterklaas and punishes the bad kids (curiously, it was also a different version than David Sedaris’s treatment of the subject in his hilarious description of Dutch holiday tradition).

So this gets Zora into discussing “the naughty list”.

And it hits me. I hate the naughty list. First off, it’s an empty threat. I mean what modern, with-it parent is going to actually act on the naughty list threat? This is basic parenting, folks. Don’t propose a consequence you have no intention of following through on.

But, I don’t believe in the naughty list.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: I don’t think kids should have “Santa” as their main model for how God is. But, at its best, the Santa tradition does embody something of the truth about God. Demi puts it well:

Throughout the world today, whether he goes by the name of St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas, or Santa Claus, this figure who shows enormous generosity, a love of children, deep care for the poor and needy, and a completely selfless nature is considered to embody the spirit of Christmas and the true spirit of the Lord.

And I don’t completely agree with the argument that a kid whose parents lie about Santa will make the leap to an idea that the parents are lying about Jesus.

But, I do think that we get some of our image of what a benevolent higher power is like from the cultural version of Santa.

And I would prefer not to have a God who keeps a naughty list. We’re accountable, of course, for the awful stuff we do. But the naughty list comes without a hint of grace.

We don’t get gifts (or “graces”) because we’re good. We get gifts because we are loved.

These thoughts all coalesce in my brain in about a half block of walking. I have 2 blocks left before we get home. And I have to figure out how to explain it to Zora.

So, here’s what I say:

Me: “You know, Z, I don’t like the naughty list. I think that’s just something parents tell their kids to try to get them to be good.”

Zora: “So, is Santa real?”

Me: “What do you think?”

Zora: distracted by water in the gutter…water is a novelty here in California

Me: “And, here’s the thing: I think you should be good not to get on a list, or because you’ll get presents. You should do good things because you’re glad that there are people who love you.”

And that, friends, is Calvin’s Third Use of the Law (*see brief theological explanation below), right there, boiled down to first grade level (yes, it is more complicated than first grade level, but we have to start somewhere).

God doesn’t keep a naughty list that determines whether or not you are graced (gifted) with the presence of Jesus. God just loves you.

And being good isn’t about getting on the right list: you’re already on. You’re good because God loves you, and you’re thankful.

And that’s my biggest gripe about Santa. The naughty list. I can keep hedging a little on whether Santa is real or not, mostly for the sake of Zora’s classmates, because she doesn’t need to disillusion them quite yet. But there’s no way I’ll be propagating the myth of the naughty list. I just like the idea of grace way too much.

* Here’s an oversimplified tutorial just to get you up to speed theologically:

John Calvin, sixteenth century theologian who is one of my intellectual ancestors, had a way of thinking about the purpose of “the Law” (i.e. the stuff the Bible says we should or should not do) that has come to be called “Calvin’s Third Use of the Law”. Luther (who came before Calvin) said that the Law’s function was mainly two things: to remind us that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing; and to keep us from doing even worse. Calvin added an additional use: it’s a guide for living thankfully because of what God has done for us. Different Protestant traditions used to fight about this a whole lot, but in my household (Presbyterian pastor married to a guy who was raised Lutheran; family currently attending the Lutheran church down the block) we mostly joke around about it. Because we are nerds about theology.

Thanks and Giving

Pumpkin handsI teach my son thankfulness and the practices of gratitude. I teach him to say “thank you” when someone gives him something. As soon as he learns his letters I will teach him to write thank you notes. We say prayers before bed every night (Okay, most nights; bedtime is hard) and that includes thanks to God for the good things in our lives.

I teach my congregation the same things: we say prayers of thanks throughout our Sunday services. We send thank you cards to those who help us in ministry. We say “grace,” which usually amounts to a prayer of gratitude to God, before all our church-wide meals.

Yet, there’s something about all of these thanks-giving practices that bothers me a little bit. Yes, when my heart feels ready to burst with gratitude because of something good in my life, I want to pray to God to say thanks, and I do. And yes, I believe that even when we are struggling, even when things are difficult, there is still much to be thankful for and we should express that gratitude. But even though I live and teach these ideas about thankfulness, I have always had an undeniable bit of discomfort with this giving of thanks. Read more