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.

Let the Words of My Mouth

When God did this…

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
    it was like we had been dreaming. (Psalm 126:1, CEB)

It’s a formula:
When God did this…
(Fill in the blank with fed, saved, freed, whatever you want now),
People celebrated and rejoiced.

Now, O God, please,
Do “this” again.
We want to celebrate again!
We want to praise you!

And it’s understandable, isn’t it?

We want a good taste in our mouths instead of a bitter one,
A spring of refreshing water instead of a dried up wadi,
A banquet so grand we will forget we were starving just a moment ago,
A bouquet of daffodils to replace our bowl full of ashes.

The Words of Her Mouth

Other people’s anger

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.

Psalm 124:6, NRSV

Lord, O, Lord!

Other people’s anger is nothing new,
and never seems to go away.
Ancient people felt chewed up by their enemies,
just the way we do today;
set up, persecuted, threatened
there are times when we rightly feel like prey.

(Church. Oh, Church.)

In the immortal words of noted theologian
Taylor Swift,
“Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,”
and sometimes I shake it off
the way my mother said to
when I scraped my knee.

But what I want to know, dear God, is this:

How can we not just shake it off,
or fight back in kind,
but make it better?


Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

The Words of Her Mouth

More than enough

IMG_2812We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud. Psalm 123:4, CEB

How do we keep faith when we are persecuted in your name?
We keep our eyes on you.
We live our lives for you.

We are not waiting for your mercy; we trust we have it.

When earthly powers claim you, claim your authority, but act without love, we know better.

You are more than enough; we keep our eyes on you.