giving tuesday logo with the text #GIVING over TUESDAY with a cross-hatched heart instead of a 'V' in 'Giving'

Why We’re Thankful

Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States, making today #GivingTuesday. We asked our Young Clergy Women International Board members why they are thankful for this organization and why they give to YCWI.

giving tuesday logo with the text #GIVING over TUESDAY with a cross-hatched heart instead of a 'V' in 'Giving'Here are some of their responses:

“I’m thankful that YCWI enables me to experience the depth and width of the body of Christ. I have learned so much from my sisters in other denominations and I would not have found that in any other place.” –Sarah Hooker

“I’m thankful for YCWI because my ecumenical experience has been vastly expanded by learning how to navigate many ways of being church. I’m especially thankful that we get to do most this in an online community that works hard to be healthy. Plus, I’ve made friends along the way who get what it’s like in my weird little corner of ministry!” –Bre Roberts

“I am thankful for YCWI because the online community has been a supportive place to ask my newbie pastor questions. The online community was especially helpful for me when I was in rural ministry and in-person community was harder to come by. Now that I am in an urban area, I’ve been thankful for the local friends and colleagues I’ve connected with through YCWI.” –Kari Olson

“I’m thankful for an international sisterhood that gives me breath when it’s hard to breathe, smiles when I want to cry, and strength to press on and press in when I want to give up. I’m thankful for learning new ways to worship and for having access to endless resources when I need them.” –Dwalunda Alexander

“Early on in my participation in the FB group, I asked a question about abortion. That question produced a thread that I have never forgotten, because of how gentle, kind, and GOOD it turned out to be. I learned, was challenged, and was given space to explore my own perspective without condemnation. I have never been in another group that I would feel safe to post that question in. I’m thankful that YCWI truly does provide a place of meaningful engagement wholly different than most areas of the internet.” –Elizabeth Grasham


Though not all members of YCWI celebrate Thanksgiving in their respective nations, we encourage everyone to celebrate the gift that is YCWI! If this organization has helped, encouraged, empowered, or strengthened your ministry (or the ministry of a young clergwoman in your life), please consider a gift this #GivingTuesday and become a monthly donor to help sustain this organization all year round.


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Being That Relative

lift your hearts nov 2016We all have That Relative. You know, the one who makes us cringe every time they open their mouth. There’s Granny, who makes racist comments as easily as breathing; Uncle, who can sexualize any discussion; Cousin Norbert, who takes any and every opportunity to talk about 15th century construction methods in Andorra.

We all have That Relative. At least, I did… until That Relative became me.

Now, I’m not the one to bore the table with inane knowledge, although I HAVE been known to make eyes glaze over. And I am not the one who spouts casual racism or sexism.

I’m the one who calls it out.

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A Very Fidelia’s Thanksgiving



I am grateful for the witness of Sarah Sentilles. Her memoir, Breaking Up with God, actually helped me rediscover and re-embrace my faith and calling at a time when I seriously considered walking (running) away from it all. I continue to be inspired by her raw, beautiful truth-telling.
Amy Loving Austin

I’m grateful for the witness of Mark, who was the Associate Pastor of my childhood church during my teenage years. He was one of the first people who saw gifts for ministry in me, and gave me opportunities to cultivate those gifts. His ability to speak the truth in love—to compassionately invite me to do better—motivated me to live into my faith, and modeled for me how I could do the same as a pastor. Moreover, his vibrant, joyful, humble, unapologetic faith reminds me what Christian faith can look like.
-Emily M. Brown

I am thankful for Father Bill, who definitely belongs in my personal cloud of witnesses. He was the rector of my home church for over 30 years, and his example shaped so much of what I understand a priest to be. Sometimes, when I am saying certain prayers during worship, I can even hear his intonations in my voice. I know that his views on matters like the ordination of women and LGBT persons changed gradually over time, and I appreciate how he remained grounded in tradition while still having the ability to be stretched in new ways.
Diana Carroll

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So, Santa and John Calvin Walk into a Bar…


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.

When Tradition Becomes Commonplace


I suppose a pastor’s favorite holiday should be either Christmas or Easter…but truth be told, I love Thanksgiving. I have fond memories of waking up in morning and lazing around the house in my pajamas while the smell of turkeys filled the house. Did you catch that? I said turkeys: my parents always made one to keep at home (and snack on a bit…you know, just some quality control) and another to bring to my aunt and uncle’s house for the family meal. My mother would bake trays of homemade rolls and apple, pumpkin and coconut pies. Our house was full of warmth and scents of family togetherness during Thanksgiving.

One year I convinced my mother to make a crumble topping for the apple pie instead of her usual flaky crust. I thought it would be a fun, welcomed change that would give us all something different to enjoy. Unfortunately, she never heard the end of the grumbling and comments about it. Even to this day, I feel bad for the innocent suggestion, though it gave us time to bond over baking. I guess there are just some things that you can never change.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”
Mark 14: 22-25 (Common English Bible)

On the first Sunday of each month, my congregation gathers around the Lord’s Table for communion. There are always the familiar elements: the small square pieces of cut bread, plastic cups full of grape juice, a silver chalice with juice already evenly poured out, and a round piece of bread on the paten. White linen adorns the table so that everything is covered just so.

On my first Easter with the congregation, I invited all of the worshipers to come forward to break off a piece of bread from a common loaf and partake of an individual cup of juice. There was some confusion as our “decently and in order” Presbyterianism made walking forward and partaking of the meal in this new way an over-thought process. I love the imagery of coming forward to the Table but, like anything, there were a few who said, “That was, well, nice,” trailing off in their comment with a smile.

The more I think about it, the more I wrestle with the fact that the Lord’s Supper is not just a nice meal that we celebrate because Jesus told us to do so. It was Passover and he chose to be with his closest twelve companions instead of the crowds he so often embraced. The simple bread and cup were the last communal meal to touch his lips before his betrayal, torture and death on the cross. I don’t mean to downplay that sacred moment.

Do we ever stop to think that the meal that we eat is the last meal of a man who was executed by political leaders? The bread that we eat and the cup that we drink, even the words that we say, are a part of the final hours of a man deemed a criminal by the Roman and religious powers of his day? Jesus was such a threat that those with power and privilege believed that the last resort, crucifixion, had to be taken or their political and religious leadership was at risk. If we dare to partake of communion weekly or monthly, we are defying the political prowess of our own day by testifying that we are governed by a different, holy power, too. We believe that neither execution nor death will ever have the last say for the one whom we call Messiah.

We could celebrate communion in our congregations and deem it nothing more than a holy tradition that feeds us to face the daily challenges of life. We could yearn for the familiarity of a Table with the same elements time and time again. I suppose that is reason enough for us, sometimes. But on those days when we need more, when God needs more from us, the Table reminds us that God is about anything but simple traditions. The story expands, tables turn, and a meal is transformed into a countercultural revolution that alters history over and over again.

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Attitude of Gratitude Edition

Dear Askie,

I know that gratitude is a good thing and that there are so many blessings in my life… I have enough to eat, work I feel called to, people who love me and whom I love, and so much more. But honestly, it sometimes feels stilted this time of year. With Advent planning, the stewardship campaign, the budget committee, and the community interfaith Thanksgiving service (which means I can’t leave town until late the night before Thanksgiving), and family dynamics around the holidays (did I mention that my mother asked again whether I could come home for Christmas Eve?), gratitude sometimes feels like one more unrealistic expectation. Do you have any tips for finding my sense of gratitude in the midst of stress, anxiety, and frenzy?

Too Busy to Be GratefulThank You Notes


I hear you, sister! As clergy, this is a time of year when our jobs include a lot of trying to help other people practice gratitude… often while persevering through some of the toughest parts of the annual cycle of church life. It isn’t easy, and the professional and familial expectations that we make a show of our gratitude at this time of year sometimes make it even harder to experience gratitude authentically.

Fortunately for us, gratitude is like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise (and atrophies with disuse). If you’re not feeling especially grateful, don’t beat yourself up about it! Instead, start by practicing gratitude, and you may find that authentic sense of gratitude starting to grow. Why don’t you try doing something concrete that might help nurture your sense of gratitude?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Participate in TYCWP’s #thanksliving14! Every day this month, young clergy women and others are posting photos and reflections around themes of thanksgiving and gratitude. Maybe hunting for the perfect photo opportunity for “abundance” or “feast” will make you more aware of the moments of grace and blessing throughout your day. If you’d like to join in or learn more, check out this article.
  • If you have children, one YCW suggests incorporating a “thank you prayer” into bedtime. Each member of the family thanks God for one thing about their day – “Thank you, God, for pumpkin day. Amen.” “Thank you, God, for pizza at lunch. Amen.” “Thank you, God, for my son. Amen.” This practice helps parents to model and teach prayers of thanksgiving, while refocusing the whole family on God’s blessing in our lives.
  • Another family practice (for families with or without kids) is a “thanks jar” – sometime in October, take an evening as a family to write down fifty-five things you’re grateful for and put them all in a big jar. Each day from November 1 to December 25, pull one paper from the jar during a family meal, and read it out loud. Big kids can participate in writing down things they’re grateful for; littler kids can help decorate the jar.
  • When your work life is tough, it’s helpful to have a file of “love notes”… mementos that remind you what you love about ministry. Your file might include hand-written notes of thanks, congratulations, or praise; mementos from events that made your heart sing; or photos of beloved congregants that make you smile. If you don’t have a file, start one this week and try to find a few things you can put in it.
  • Speaking of notes, you could write thank you notes to people who are contributing to your ministry. From the person who cleaned out the fridge last week, to the one who sang a solo in worship, to the one who can always be trusted to “pinch hit” if an usher calls in sick, I hope your ministry has plenty of people who are helping out in big and small ways. Making a habit of writing thank you notes each week is a great practice for nourishing congregational vitality – and it’s a great discipline for you, as well!
  • If you don’t have time to go buy some notecards right now, you can start with this baby step: start every email with a word of thanks. Sometimes it’ll be easy to find something to thank people for, and other times you may need to really dig deep (Wrong: “Dear Budget Committee Chair, thanks a bunch for your suggestion of cutting my salary.” Right: “Dear Budget Committee Chair, thank you so much for the dedication and creativity you’re putting into stewarding our church’s resources.”) I think you’ll find that the practice of searching for something for which to be grateful is a very fruitful one indeed.
  • A practice that one YCW encourages is telling the stories of moments of blessing and grace in your daily life. While it’s certainly good to notice those moments, sharing stories about the times we’ve experienced God’s grace helps to reinforce our gratitude and build one another up in faith.

Blessings and best of luck as you navigate this season, TBTBG! As the Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NRSV). I’m thankful for you, and for all my sisters in ministry.



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

A Generous Equation

She was not wrong.

I hate math. And numbers. And chores and errands and paperwork and details, and anything that requires my right brain to wake up and pay attention. As strongly as I felt the call to pastoral ministry, I’m not gonna lie—if Algebra had been required for an MDiv, I’d probably be a copy editor right now.

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