Reflectionary

Group Coaching

Group coaching offers the guidance and accompaniment of coaching with the added benefit of collegial connection and support. Starting in September, I will offer two coaching groups for pastors, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time).

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $225 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

#amwriting, coaching, Ministry

Own Goals

The US Women’s Soccer team finished group play in the Women’s World Cup with a perfect record, and they are scheduled to meet France in the quarterfinals later this week. They are amazing athletes performing at the top of their game, and no one who knows soccer is surprised that they are dominating. Yet there were complaints in the early rounds that the team scored more goals than needed to win and celebrated goals and wins with too much enthusiasm. 

Play smaller, said the critics. Don’t make so much of yourselves. 

The pushback came on as strong as the soccer team. Would we ask this of men? No. In sports, you work hard and play hard, lead with your gifts, and celebrate your victories. 

For me, it’s easier to celebrate others, and that sometimes gets in the way of achieving my own goals. I hesitate to put myself forward at the same time I have no problem applauding and promoting others who do the same kind of work I do, whether it’s writing or coaching. I rely on peer coaching to be sure my goals don’t become an “own goal.” 

One of my goals, after Denial is My Spiritual Practice was published last year, was to work on another book. I’m delighted to tell you that I recently signed a contract with The Pilgrim Press to write for and edit The Words of Her Mouth, a collection of original psalms written, in conversation with scripture, by ten clergywomen and faith leaders who represent a diversity of age, race, orientation, and denominational affiliation. The book is scheduled to be published in 2020. I place a high value on amplifying the voices of other women, and I’m excited to bring this idea I have been nurturing to reality. 

What are your goals in this season?

Who will help you reach them?

When will you stop playing small?

Work hard and play hard.
Lead with your gifts.
Celebrate your victories.


Are you a pastor considering coaching? Beginning in September, I will offer two new coaching groups, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time).

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $225 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

Reflectionary

Run. Hide. Fight.

Wednesday dinnertime at the Manse is always catch-as-catch-can, given the back-to-back Handbell Choir rehearsals involving the rest of my family. I was not surprised this week to get a text from my wife, who passed our son in the rehearsal room, asking if I would take the starving 14-year-old out “for something fun to eat.” 

In the car, we talked about the day, and he noted that there had been another school shooting. I had just been reading about the student who died engaging one of the shooters in Colorado, and earlier in the day his mom and I had talked about the response being taught in some schools, to “Run Hide Fight.” As we stood waiting for our order in the short-handed Dairy Queen Grill&Chill, I thought, as I often do now, how vulnerable we all are. 

Over his 6-piece chicken strip basket, our son told me the strategy he had developed with his best friend, based on an elaborately imagined scenario taking place in their school cafeteria. These two 8th-graders have chosen the closest exit, the surest path out of the building, their destination to be a neighborhood close by where they could call for help. 

He also described the instructions students have been given to follow in a classroom. I thought of a mom on Twitter; her child reported the class was told to divide up, leaving the half closer to the windows more vulnerable. And what happens to disabled students in an active shooter scenario?

This is a kid who just a year ago heard our smoke alarm and stopped, dropped, and rolled, without realizing you only do that if you are on fire. I hate that he has had to grow up so fast and that this kind of worst-case scenario planning is his reality, yet I’ll admit I felt relieved that his inclination was to run and get help. And I recognize that even having these thoughts signifies our white privilege.

In a crisis, with fractions of a second to decide what to do, adrenaline fuels our responses. Two young men bravely fought at UNC-Charlotte and at the STEM High School in Colorado. I’m married to a person who runs toward trouble, and despite my limitations of size and power, I have readily inserted myself into situations of physical and emotional violence in the past. I’ve never been tested by the threat of a weapon, however, and do not know how I would react. I admire Wendi Winters, who charged the shooter in the Capital Gazette newsroom and saved her coworkers’ lives. The question is not whether sacrifice to save others can be noble; it is. Yet I worry that we are creating a culture of martyrdom that serves not God’s purposes but human ones, shifting the narrative to the courage of people who should never have had to use it.

We live in a slow-rolling crisis of gun violence in public places that threatens to numb us with its frequency. If we fear talking about it with our family members, our neighbors, our congregants, and even our colleagues, we allow people with pro-gun agendas to frame the narrative. We must find a way to incapacitate their arguments.

Will we run, will we hide, or will we fight? 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Community Organizing

What matters to you?

Pastors spend a lot of time talking to people, in meetings, as part of pastoral care, in contexts as serious as a hospital bedside and as casual as a pass-through in the church kitchen. People may bring us a problem to solve, or they may bring us a complaint. In a small congregation, we may have a lot of face-to-face talks with the same people, while in a larger faith community, there may be people we never speak to beyond a brief “hello” in the receiving line after worship. 

For my continuing education time in 2018, I attended NEXT Church’s week-long training in community organizing, which has continued as a distance learning course. The foundational exercise of organizing is the relational meeting, also known as a “one-on-one.” Both in person and via Zoom, my classmates and I have engaged in observed one-on-ones, in order to become more comfortable with being present to another person and eliciting their self-interest. Who are they? What matters in their lives? What might they exert themselves to support or accomplish? Where are the points of connection that might surprise us?

I have a lot of one-on-one conversations in my vocation as a leadership coach for clergy, but those appointments are not relational meetings. I do not bring myself to the conversation in the same way that an organizer would. Even a professional organizer is looking for points of connection with the people they meet; in coaching I am focused on the client’s goals. Perhaps this movement in my life has changed what I expect in a one-on-one conversation, because, despite being an extrovert, I was surprised to find myself uncomfortable in the one-on-ones we practiced. Either I gave too much information about myself, or I could not be present enough as I guarded what I felt might make me vulnerable. In the first Zoom opportunity, my mind went completely blank! As a person who is usually fairly confident in her abilities, I was surprised by how hard I found this exercise. 

When I began to develop a listening campaign – a series of one-on-one conversations with the board members of RevGalBlogPals – I knew I needed to prepare an open-ended question that would start each relational meeting. This was about more than creating a similar opening dynamic for all the meetings; I needed to be sure I knew what I was doing. I crafted an open-ended question, something I do regularly as a coach. In each conversation, I began with a review of the board member’s association, how many years and in what roles. Then I asked, “What matters to you about RevGals?” I was able to see some trends and some variables among the eight women who accepted my invitation to talk. 

My role involves a lot of picky-picky work done alone with my laptop, and it can be hard to step back and take a wider view of the impact RevGalBlogPals makes. I recruit volunteer writers, but I only occasionally do I hear how the prayers and resources they create impact other pastors. I oversee the details of event planning, but agendas and itineraries aren’t the measure of our in-person gatherings. I assemble data for our annual report, but donation numbers and page referrals cannot fully reflect the intangible values that provide a foundation for our work. Over the course of the listening campaign, I picked my head up from the keyboard and heard myself answer the question, too. What matters to me? 

And there, I think, is the rub of community organizing. When you ask other people to tell you what drives them, what they really care about, you need to be prepared to answer the question yourself. As my small group leader said during one of our distance learning sessions, sometimes, maybe always, the work of organizing will disorganize you.

So, what matters to you?

Are you listening to yourself?

Prayer

Oh, no!

Worship began with centering prayer.

“Draw us close,” said the pastor, 
a prayer for what we need, 
for what we ought to want.

“Draw us close.”

And before I could consider what that might mean for me, a little voice called out,
“Oh, no!”

O God, draw us close.
Oh, no!

We want it,
and we do not.

What will happen if we
accept what we ask for
from you, O God?

Oh, yes!
We will never be the same.

Reflectionary

I Go to Church

I love going to church. Except for 3rd grade, when I was expected to memorize the books of the Bible, I have always loved going to church. I’ve experienced a deep sense of God’s presence in the gathered community, found joy in singing both with choirs and congregations, made friends and encountered mentors, been comforted in times of terrible loss, and discovered my voice. I’ve also had my feelings hurt, wondered why bad things happen, and wished I could run away and never come back. This seems to me a reasonable aggregate of the human experience, with the the added benefit of incorporating a purposeful connection to God. 

As a little Southern Baptist girl, I aspired to marry a pastor. Later in life, and under different denominational influences, when I realized I had a call to ministry, everything made sense. I would be one of the people who helped make all those things happen for others. My great love in life became my work, and as part of it, I went to church, gladly, even when budgets were tight, or politics fraught, or justice undone. I believe in the possibility nascent in the gathered body of the faithful, and in the power God extends to us to make things happen. 

I’m smitten with this preacher.
(Photo credit: Kathie Carmines)

I still love going to church.

Almost every Sunday now, though, I sit in church as a worshiper, not a leader. Most weeks, I worship with the community my wife serves. I can count on hearing solid and often soaring preaching from both pastors on staff. The congregational singing is, and I do not exaggerate, amazing. I appreciate being part of a faith community that serves the wider world in tangible ways. I see the same people week in and week out and keep a neighborly eye on them as I know they do on my family. 

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do avoid the few people who have been guilty of micro-aggressions toward our queer clergy family, sing the doxology inclusively despite what is printed in the bulletin, and don’t always like what’s on the church sign. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes sitting in the pew raises existential questions about how I am serving God, and leaves me feeling a bit bereft. 

Still, I show up on Sunday, not because I must, but because I may, and I desire to be in worship, and I know full well that there is no church that will do everything to my complete satisfaction – not even one I serve as pastor myself. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Church that nurtured me by being present in a church that nurtures others, by offering my gifts when appropriate, by supporting the pastors and staff who work so hard and so faithfully. To all the pastors and program staff of all the churches, thank you for the work you do, often in the face of great challenges, and not just on Sundays. 

Thank you for making church happen. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Let the Words of My Mouth

God gives sleep

It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late,
    eating the bread of hard labor
    because God gives sleep to those he loves.” Psalm 127:2, CEB

Many nights I lie awake, most nights. I have prayed, meditated, read books until they fall upon my chest, played calming sounds, left my phone in another room, applied all the wisdom of sleep hygiene, yet still I lie awake.

If you give sleep to those you love, Lord, well…

A home sleep study revealed the problem; since the doctor himself called to share the seriousness of the results, sleep has come even harder.

I stop breathing so many times.

I grew up praying,
“If I should die before I wake…”

Tonight I will lie down in the sleep lab, to discover how technology can help. I am anxious as I read the list sent ahead of time: what to bring, which hair products to avoid, what will happen tonight.

Please, O God, give sleep to one who loves you.