Reflectionary

What’s Next?

I just spent half a week at the NEXTChurch gathering in Minneapolis, put on by a hopeful (no whining allowed!) cohort of creative and faithful leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The theme text was Jeremiah 29, which has been a crucial text for me over the past year, as I adjusted to a new geographical location and the sense of exile I feel from pastoral ministry now that I no longer serve a local church. Jeremiah exhorted the exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city in which they lived. I have been asking, what is my city? For the purposes of this blog post, I will claim it to be the cyber-diaspora of the RevGalBlogPals.

A major goal of our expansion of RevGals’ ministry has been to provide more opportunities for members to gather in person and form the deeper relationships treasured by those of us who have already had the chance to live into those friendships. I expected that our ever-growing Facebook group and our 300+ member blog ring would generate plenty of people interested in attending regional ReGroups. I also anticipated that the large group who have not chosen to attend our annual Big Event cruise would provide attendees for a similar event such as REVive, planned for this summer.

It seems the downside of being ecumenical and far-flung is that we don’t have the obvious lines of communications a denominational or local group might have. We are truly grass roots. If you want to host a ReGroup in your area, *you* need to be sure there are enough people to cover the costs. I can’t do that from where I am. It has to come from you. We also don’t have the access to funding that a denominational group might have. If you want our ministry to continue, you need to give to make it happen.

But is it our ministry? What does that mean, really?

image“This is God’s ministry. Not ours.”

RevGal ring member Kara Root offered a testimony at NEXT about the practice of Sabbath in her congregation (in the hereandnow is Kara’s blog), and when this slide went up on the screen, I felt them, hard. What does God want from RevGalBlogPals, for RevGalBlogPals? How is God working among us? Kara reminded us that we are not inventing things ourselves, much as we might like to think we are. The ministry is God’s. In a local church setting, we could gather together and work at discerning God’s call for us. RevGals exists in the Celestial Cyber City, and our coffee shops are as dispersed as our sanctuaries and board rooms. I had to fly from Harrisburg to Minneapolis to see group members in person this week, ranging from a board member, to blog contributors, to former and current bloggers and one-and-many-time-attenders of the Big Event and at least one lurker at the Preacher Party. We all have ideas and opinions about what would be good for RevGals.

A selection of RevGals in attendance.
A selection of RevGals in attendance.

We ALL have ideas and opinions about what would be good for RevGalBlogPals.

But here is the bigger question, which came next in Kara’s presentation.

“How are we participating in God’s ministry?”

What is God calling us to do and be? Honestly, we started out as 12 or so people who wanted a t-shirt. We debated the use of the word “butt” if printed on a mug vs. a t-shirt. Most of us blogged in secret in those days (pseudonymously). We encouraged each other to undertake self-care in the form of mani-pedis. It sounds pretty lightweight now.

Over the past nine years we have stood witness to each other’s lives. We have helped each other sort through crises both vocational and personal. We have evolved in unexpected ways. Blogging has declined in recent years as Facebook has expanded, with its capacity for quick responses and no frustration over Blogger’s security hassles or the sometime difficulty of signing into WordPress.

We have an ever-expanding Facebook group that reached 1360 members this morning. Many of those people have no idea of our history, nor do they even necessarily know we have a blog or that we offer events designed to build face-to-face community as a subset of our online community. How do we let them know? Dear readers, you play a part in that. When you see us link to the blog on Facebook, share the link, or in the Facebook group, comment on the post to keep it coming back to the top of the page. Even if you can’t come to an event, share it so that others might do the same. Tell them what RevGals means to you.

Now let me take on a topic from earlier in the week. As the church declines and we serve people who are naturally resistant to change, we were encouraged to look at Positive Deviance – The future lies in the places that seem strange to us now.

How can we be ahead of the curve?

Oddly, we remain ahead of the curve, overall, in understanding women as fully called to ordained ministry on behalf of Jesus Christ. When we collect together on the Internet, it may seem obvious to a lot of us, but on the ground, in the small towns, or the conservative enclaves, in the rural areas where pastors may not have the option of an in-person group of colleagues, it’s not always a safe assumption that people are okay with clergywomen.

Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, one of our founders, preaching at NEXT.
Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, one of our founders, preaching at NEXT.

Maybe our mission needs to be doing a better job of getting the word out there:
clergywomen are doing faithful work on behalf of Jesus every single day. We are providing pastoral care, and leading communities in discernment, and preaching and teaching the Good News.

Often we are doing it on a shoestring, although that should never stop us from celebrating with our sisters who are called to larger churches and witnessing in amazing ways that women are called to be pastors and preachers.

We work hard to understand each other and not stigmatize or demonize over differences of nation, denomination, generation or orientation. We work hard to keep it polite and peaceful and edifying.

Some times that work is harder than others.

I’ve come away from NEXTChurch with the following ideas that I think might serve the welfare of this Cyber City:

1) Proclaim – People need to know that women preach. After a great presentation on 90 Second Sermons (90secondsermon.com), I am devising parameters for a video feature on our blog. Whether you have great technology or a Flip Cam, I want to hear from you, and I will send you the basics guidelines. Just like the things mentioned above, we would need all of you to push these videos out, to show the world women proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

2) Imagine – We heard some amazing testimony from pastors doing fascinating things in their local churches. I want to hear from you about the things you are doing that come up out of your context, and I want to share that good news in written or video form on our blog. We’re not looking for best practices to share or programs to drop down out of the sky. We want to spark the imaginations of those watching and listening and reading, to open their eyes to the possibilities where they live and serve.

3) Pray – We feature daily prayers on our blog, and we take unlimited prayer requests on our Facebook group. I propose that we narrow that scope and take all the Joys and Concerns on one thread in the Facebook group. We are often weighed down by the fears and anxieties of others, or feel we cannot share our own because there are so many difficult situations. The overall effect is a dulling of senses and a timeline so crowded that the positive work we are doing has scrolled down the page beyond sight.

I hope you will share your thoughts about any and all of the above in the comments here and share this post via email, Facebook or Twitter with anyone you think might want to read it. My trip to NEXTChurch was my Continuing Ed for the year, paid for out of donations you made to RevGalBlogPals. While my monthly stipend (based on monthly gifts and our Fundly fundraiser) is not near what we hoped it would be (it’s just under $500 per month), the earlier fundraising we did last summer and fall provided enough to make this trip happen. I am grateful for the opportunity; it has been immensely fruitful. Thank you.

Faithfully,

Martha

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(Also posted at RevGalBlogPals)

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