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Seeing God in Sequins, Eyeshadow, and Ice Cream

Mama and Daughter enjoying dinner, dancing, and ice cream

Being a minister in a small town is complicated. Being the local tattooed, lesbian, single mama pastor – one whom you might see out in a low-cut leopard print dress, and from whom you might hear a few curse words now and then – in a small town is . . . complicated. I’m a mama, a public figure, and a person who loves time with friends. I’m known.

My congregation is an important part of the community, and when I was called here, it was a clear expectation that I become involved in this community. I’m on the library board. Everybody at the cafe knows my name. Options for friends are more limited, but that has also been a blessing for me. I make connections that I might not necessarily seek out. Take, for example, my friend Jason.

Jason is the dad of one of my daughter’s former preschool friends. He owns a property management company, and does everything from snow plowing to landscaping to building incredible gardens. He’s a pillar of our community, and he’s also a kind and thoughtful man. He once seriously considered seminary, and we often talk theology (though I’ve yet to convince him to come to church). I might not have been surprised to receive a call from Jason, but his invitation was definitely unexpected.

Jason called to invite me to attend the Daddy/Daughter Dance at the school, and to join in a larger group of dads and daughters for a fancy dinner before the dance. Honestly, I’ve got major issues with the whole concept for many reasons—many kids don’t have a daddy, many kids live with grandparents or foster parents, and, frankly, the whole heteronormative daddy dating daughter thing seems a bit sketchy. But, with many other places where I push the envelope, this hasn’t been a hill on which I’m ready to die, so I had resigned myself to ignoring the event for the next few years.

Jason’s invitation was sincere and warm. He and his daughter, now 11, had cherished this tradition since she was my daughter’s age. My daughter was near me while we were talking on the phone, and she asked me what it was about. I told her there was going to be a daddy daughter dance. Her face fell. She said, “I don’t have a daddy.” (That’s the first time she’s ever expressed distress about this fact.) I said, “No, but you do have a Mama, and I will take you to the dance.” She responded with joy. I knew we needed to go. Read more

empty chocolate candy wrappers on a wooden surface

The Permeable Collar

empty chocolate candy wrappers on a wooden surface

“as I sat in her office eating chocolate and crying about the inevitable tragedies of life…”

I recently had a particularly rough pastoral day. One of those days that would leave even the most faithful priest questioning God’s divine providence. As I was driving home from the last encounter, I spontaneously turned toward one of the office buildings on the campus where I am chaplain. I was looking for one of my close friends to whom I might express my feelings of impotent sadness. I did not find her, but I did encounter another individual, someone who inhabits the spaces between friend, neighbor, campus colleague, and–yes–also parishioner.

As I sat in her office eating chocolate and crying about the inevitable tragedies of life, I could not help but think that there might be those who would find our interaction inappropriate. Was I breaking some priestly boundary by emotionally unloading on a member of my parish?

When I first set out to write for this column, the proposed topic was a reflection on how the clerical collar never really comes off, particularly in small-town rural ministry. But as I reflect more deeply, I wonder if it is more appropriate to say that the collar is permeable, not just ever present.

To say that I live and work in small town ministry is an understatement. I am chaplain at a small liberal arts college (with a student body well under 2,000) and the priest at what is essentially the village church. Our immediate community has fewer than 1,000 single-family residences. I live on the same street as both my junior and senior warden.

The reality of work in this job is simply the work of living in this community. My work is to be present at important campus events and to be a public witness for religious identity on a predominantly secular campus. My work is going to the grocery store, knowing the name of the barista who makes my Americano in the (one) coffee shop we have, singing in the campus community choir, and being engaged with important local issues.

When your work is quite simply the work of living your life in and among your community, how are you ever “off the clock?” Sometimes that means receiving the life burdens of the woman who works at the deli counter in the local market when I am quickly trying to grab a sandwich for lunch. Sometimes it means prayerfully guarding my language in matters of local conflicts—even while engaging as a “private citizen”—because people on both sides of the issue worship in my congregation. Sometimes it means refusing to leave my house on a day off because it is the only way I can truly be “off the clock.” Read more

Small Town Listening

geograph-2468910-by-mike-quinn

Antony Gormley’s statue “Untitled [Listening]”, Maygrove Peace Park, Great Britain

Munoz.
Munzo?
Moon-YO-sssss.
Mun oz?
Moon yo SSSS
Mnozee?

Moon, like moon in the sky. Yo, like “hey man.”  Ssss like snake.

People often assume that I met my husband on a mission trip. I imagine that their version goes something like:

Young female pastor meets attractive and impoverished but dashing young man in a third world country and rescues him to be her beloved husband and they live happily ever after.

It makes me chuckle on the days it doesn’t drive me crazy. I met my husband at a bar while shooting pool. I’m a decent player. He’s better.

Pastoring is a strange thing. One of the paradoxes of ministry is that being a pastor is both a vocation and a lifestyle choice. I think I always knew that, but it isn’t so obvious as you are journeying through seminary living in an anonymous atmosphere. It doesn’t sink in until you’ve taken a call, accepted a position, and discovered that your life is fair game for gossip in small town ministry. At that point it becomes crystal clear that pastors are fair game. Read more