Call, Discernment, Ministry, RevGalBlogPals

New Starts

RGBP feet header jpegI’m spent this morning at the Starbucks in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, working on things for RevGalBlogPals, which while it is not new is in a new phase as we try to make it a staffed non-profit instead of an all-volunteer organization. My role is not new, only newish, but it’s no longer riding alongside a church job. It’s all I’m doing now, and it’s a start-up with no infrastructure and a budget that is entirely speculative and no paycheck for the Director, which is to say, me.

And while it is exciting to note that our new website is up and running, the RevGals Facebook group has almost 800 members (786 as of this afternoon) and the webring, after a major update and move of the blogroll, numbers almost 300 (I think 288 exactly) and the Facebook page has over 1000 “likes” and 40 women are registered for the Big Event 7.0, the question out there – a reasonable one – is why pay for something that has been free?

For those who only know the Facebook group, it’s just another Facebook group, a free thing where some people share stories, and others share links to their books or articles or blogs or workshops, and where we hope the links to the RevGalBlogPals site will be noticed in between all the other traffic.

What would they be paying for?

Lots of people have given their time over the years – a handful of us have given an amount of free labor that adds up to ridiculous, in fact – why pay for *my* time?

I’ll admit I don’t know if people actually will. I’m taking a leap of faith because I believe God is calling me to make more of the ministry of RevGalBlogPals using the gifts and graces and hard-won skills and experiences and the absolute serendipities of my life to grow and enhance a ministry that was too much for volunteers to handle well.

For instance, people who love the Big Event cruises don’t want it to ever go away. People who don’t want to go on any cruise, ever, for entirely legitimate reasons, would love the chance to gather with other clergywomen under the banner of RevGalBlogPals for education, recreation and “galship.” But the truth was the second generation of our board and blog team grew up largely around and out of the cruise, and it wasn’t a deep enough bench to do more in-person events.

We said that, but I kept hearing the voices asking for something else. So, yes, the Facebook group is free, and I was open source before there was Open Source, but if we really want to be something more, an organization that offers an ongoing ministry to meet the needs of clergywomen and to provide education for leadership in addition to comfort and support in times of need, someone needs to work at it.

I’ll admit, I articulated this calling myself. The influences in my life are broadly ecumenical. I’ve long felt called to be a pastor to pastors. I’ve long been passionate about expanding the ministry of RevGalBlogPals.

But I want to say, in case anyone worries that I’ve forgotten, I’m not the only person who got RevGalBlogPals started. We exist at all because of Sally-Lodge Henderson Teel’s imagination. We’re a 501 (c) (3) because of the gift of Jody Harrington’s skills and knowledge. We’re a webring because Theresa Coleman figured out how to make one. We have a Cafe Press store because MaryAnn McKibben Dana put in the time and designed the first t-shirt. We know how much money is in our bank account because of Mary Beth Butler, who has been in it from the start. Every feature on our blog bears the handprints of women who had ideas or leaped to embrace the ideas of others and make something of them. Julie Craig, Cathy Stevens, Abi Carlisle-Wilke, Kathryn Johnston, Jenn Moland-Kovash, Stacey Midge, Karen Sapio, Sue Ivany and people who I still think of by nicknames they used on the first blog team 8 years ago — together we created something out of nothing, on the blog, in the work of a non-profit board with a history long enough that we had our first meetings in AOL IM (!), and in painstaking email discussions among the first generation blog contributors that established our ethos: the only qualification that matters for membership is to believe and support women in ordained Christian ministry.

So, why give money to RevGalBlogPals?

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve done it all for love, every hour that I have spent, every html-coding skill I learned, every difficult email I answered as Board President, every blog post I did seemingly late when I was covering for someone else who had an emergency or simply forgot. When I took a three month sabbatical earlier this year, I took it from all those duties, and I hadn’t been away from it for a month before I was telling my spouse that not only did I want to go back to it, I wanted to do more with it. I have many dreams for what RevGalBlogPals can be. I want to see our blog offerings continue to expand to touch more people and offer deeper and wider resources for ministry. I want to keep teaching people how to use the Internet to connect with each other so they don’t feel isolated when the world of ministry crashes around them. I want to see us offer leadership development as well as personal renewal for clergywomen, and I see the summer Con Ed event we are planning (REVive 2014 – about which more is coming soon) providing the former while the Big Event continues to specialize in the latter. I see smaller scale opportunities that offer legitimate Con Ed but also don’t cost the price of a plane ticket because they are devised as regional gatherings; the first RevGals ReGroup will be at the end of October in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, with others to follow in Chicago (April 2014) and the Pacific Northwest (October 2014).  I see our offerings going across the ocean to the neighborhood of our UK members, and that plan is underway for 2015 with the help of Julie Woods. I see weekly lectionary discussions on Google Hangout (Narrative and RCL). I see RevGalBlogPals with a presence at denominational meetings. I dream of a larger-scale REVive leadership event in 2015 to celebrate the 10th birthday of RevGalBlogPals.

I dream of a scholarship fund that helps small church pastors, part time (in terms of paycheck) pastors, retired pastors and seminarians attend our events. 

If you share those dreams, and if you have more dreams, donate to support the ministry of RevGalBlogPals. If you think what we’re doing is merely interesting, or if you claim it as your spiritual community, think about giving. If it’s the support system you turn to when things go to smash, or the circle in which you’ve made some of your best friends ever, consider making a donation.

So far we’ve raised just a little money compared to our hopes, about $2300 when we really needed $12,000 to fund the final third of this year. I’m looking at non-profit versions of IndieGogo and Kickstarter, and also starting to look around for people who would feel called to work on fundraising with us. There may be some grant support out there to subsidize our education events, but like any non-profit, we’re going to depend on the giving of regular people who care about the work we do.

If 300 of those I named above – bloggers, Facebook group members, Twitter followers, the churches they represent, and even the kibitzers who point out what we’re missing – each gave $10 per month to RevGalBlogPals, we would be able to fund a half-time package for a Director.

Like most pastors in all kinds of ministries, I am making the case for myself and thinking how much more aggressive I would be about it on someone else’s behalf. Whether we raise the full amount or not, I’m probably going to keep doing the work, to the extent I am able, or until the Holy Wind blows me in another direction. My motivation is to create a financial infrastructure that will support a justly paying job for the next person who feels called to this ministry.

That’s my new start this fall. I don’t have an office. I work at home, or in a coffee shop (or maybe in your church building, if you are anywhere near Harrisburg, PA, and have some unused space and a heart for this ministry). All I need is WiFi to be in touch with the congregation of the RevGalBlogPals. Don’t you want to help make it happen?

Call, Ministry

To know the place for the first time

FPCC NY

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

It's my next-to-last day in the office at Y1P, and I'm glad to be able to announce my coming plans. 

In the United Church of Christ, with our Congregational polity, it's never definite until the congregation hears the candidate preach and takes a vote. But I can say that the search committee of the First Parish Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, Maine, has extended a call to me to be their settled pastor, and I have accepted pending a candidating sermon on August 15th.

You may read more about the church here. I'm sure you will note the Pet Place, a food and supply pantry for people having financial trouble caring for their pets. This gets many paws up at our house. 

It may seem strange, after all this flying around, that I am staying in the area, but I believe that the Holy Spirit played a role throughout the process, on both sides. I'm grateful to have had the chance to talk to and meet faithful UCC people from other Conferences, and to look far and wide, but I'm also quite certain the right fit is here.

Further on in "Little Gidding," Eliot writes:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

It won't be my first time in North Yarmouth on August 15th. I preached there once as a student in 1997 (Hope no one remembers, I suspect it was a terrible sermon! I remember it was hand-written and about King David.), and the former pastor is the friend known occasionally on my blog as Country Parson. I've been to a number of events in the gorgeous new Fellowship Hall. 

Around the town, LP learned to contra dance at the Westcustogo Grange. And locals should know, I'm extremely familiar with the menu at Stone's

I'm excited to learn what the future will hold and thank you for your prayers and good thoughts during this whole process. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call

Performing to Type

I've been reading Mary-Ann Bowman's blog for a long time now. She writes about her Bernese Mountain Dogs, how she breeds them and trains them and loves them. And she writes about life. Today she described different categories of agility competition for dogs, and the community pressure to perform in a certain category, when really, Bernese Mountain Dogs who are of the right "type," who match the standard for the breed, are really not particularly lithe in build and probably do better in another category, where the jumps are set a few inches lower. There is such a category, and oddly enough it is described as "Preferred" when in fact it's snubbed by other Berner owners, who prefer to have their dogs compete in "Regular," going over higher jumps.

This is not really about Berners and agility, though we did once sign up for an Agility class with Sam, only to discover he was terrified of the tunnel, and we ended up running Molly over the course, who loved it, but of course had Teh Arf-ritis from Heck and could never have been a competitor, though heaven knows she would have loved the attention.

This is really about community standards and expectations. What's in a title? I'm interviewing for jobs that are "Pastor" and for jobs that are "Senior Pastor." One sounds more impressive than the other, simply because of that hierarchical word, "Senior." It says, "You've arrived!" My Presbyterian friends talk a lot about whether they'll get to be "Head of Staff," something I don't hear in the UCC, but we all think the same way. If you get to be the boss of another pastor, that's saying something. 

I guess.

But the message in Mary-Ann's post is different. The point is not to collect a certain title but to express fully who you are (or who your dog is, in her case). The point is to figure out, am I the type for this kind of job, or for that one? Where will my gifts be best used? Everyone ought to receive fair compensation, but the title or the package is not the prime object, or rather it ought not be. 

Where is the fit?

So tonight I'm asking myself the same sorts of questions committees ask me. What are the things I love to do in ministry? What are the things I'd just as soon not? What sorts of challenges energize me, and which ones would I just as soon leave for someone else to try and accomplish? 

This doesn't begin to touch on the personal aspects of life and how they wrap into and around the search, but if the job is not a fit, the rest won't be either, at least I don't think so. 

The sturdy dog better-suited to pulling a cart can still run the agility course, but if you place the bars too high, she won't be successful. She's not the type. Let her take the course that fits, and see her fly. 

Bernerjump
 

Call, Ministry

What I’m Praying

I realize that my blog friends may wonder why I've been unusually quiet. It's because I'm engaged in a job search, and I can't write about it in this public forum. 

But I think I can tell you about what I've been praying, for some time now.

When I first went to visit Andover Newton in 1992, the text used in worship was Isaiah 6. It was the first time I sang, "Here I Am, Lord," and the text and the hymn inspired me throughout seminary.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV)

But all I really assented to was going to seminary. I had my fingers crossed about whatever was coming next. I hoped, hoped, hoped I could be faithful to God's calling without disarranging other lives, or having people be upset with me. 

Despite that tendency, which has absolutely continued, about six months ago, I started praying, almost without meaning to, "Here am I; send me."

I'm still praying, "Send me," and trusting that the rest will sort itself out, in God's time, in God's way. 

Your prayers appreciated.

Call, If I Were Preaching

A Large Spread Sheet Out


Peter's Vision
This morning, reading something before my eyes opened fully, I read a phrase about tomorrow's Acts passage referring to a "large sheet spread out" before us. 

The text is Peter's dream, his vision or trance about a sheet being lowered from heaven covered with all sorts of animals. I love the story, but this week was the first time I looked at art portraying the sheet. Until now the image resided only in my mind. 

Now I've seen this, and I've mused on the friendly faces of the stained glass animals. I've thought about the rules we set up for our communities and our own lives and the way they may structure us out of love.

It's an old story–I've told it before, I feel sure–that I once sat with the family of my friend, Paige, excited to be sitting with someone other than my people while "home" from Northern Virginia and going to church at Court Street Baptist in Portsmouth, the church of my mother, and my mother's mother and her mother, too. It's my first memory of the Communion trays being passed, and I watch what everyone does as it comes toward us down the long, curved pews in that dark, beautiful sanctuary. I watch what everyone does, and I practice in my mind how I will pick up the little piece of bread, although I don't know what it's for, exactly. 

I did not excel at paying attention to the soft-spoken minister.

The tray came closer and I lifted my hand and suddenly Paige hissed, "Noooo!!!!!!!" I looked at her surprised, and more than surprised, humiliated, as she continued, "That's not for us!"

I'm not sure how long it was before I realized it was not our age that excluded us, but our lack of the key to inclusion in that community, baptism. 

As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.'  But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. (Acts 11:6-10, NRSV)

Peters-vision-doug-jaques I guess this image speaks more of trance, of triune recognition, of an altered mind.

We've been watching Lost, and last night I saw some of the recent episodes for a second time. There's a scene from "Happily Ever After" that shows flash-sideways Desmond and Charlie sitting in a bar, and they have this exchange.

CHARLIE: Well, cheers then. Tell me perky, are you happy?

DESMOND: Quite.

CHARLIE: No you're not.

DESMOND: Well, I've got a great job, lots of money, get to travel the world. Why wouldn't I be happy?

CHARLIE: Have you ever been in love?

DESMOND: Thousands of times.

CHARLIE: That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about spectacular, consciousness-altering love. Do you know what that looks like?

DESMOND: I wasn't aware that love looked like anything.

CHARLIE: I've seen it, mate. On the plane back from Sydney.

DESMOND: Is that so? Well we were on the same flight, so…maybe I saw it too.

CHARLIE: Trust me, you didn't.

Peter's vision altered his consciousness. It altered his mind and his heart, and he came to understand that this love Jesus instructed the disciples to show for one another (see the companion reading in John 13) belonged to more than just the people the rules tell us to love. 

'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'

When I was in seminary, I made a lot of rules for myself, about how to balance my call to God and my call to being a mother. I spent a lot of time condemning myself for having ambition. That's not to say I didn't have it! I still do, though I think my sense of what would be a successful expression of my call is less about climbing a professional ladder and more about faithful use of my gifts for ministry. But it's never entirely clear, not for me. I always worry that I will reach my hand out and hear the hissed, "Noooo," this time from some cosmic voice.

That's why I'm glad to have an antidote for my anxiety in the person of Peter, the beautiful example of how many times we can course correct on the faith journey.

When I read the quoted line above this morning, this is how I saw it:

"A large Spreadsheet out" before us.

My current search, wider than any I've undertaken before, is recorded on a spreadsheet. It's columns describing when I sent my profile and when I received one from a church and when there was a phone call, all attempting to organize what really cannot be organized. When the connection is the right one, there will be love and certainty, and the bread will be shared by all.

Call, Church Life, Emerging

Spiritual, not…

Starbucks We met in a coffee shop on a rainy Saturday morning, the
wind blowing the bare trees across the way. They wanted to get married, but
although both grew up Catholic, they had decided against being married by a
priest. I asked why, then, they were talking to a pastor? Why not simply ask a
Justice of the Peace, or find a notary to do the paperwork? And they answered
with the statement we hear so often these days, “We’re spiritual, but not
religious.” They believe in God, and they want their ceremony to reflect that
belief, but they don’t want it to come with the trappings and strictures of the
church that nurtured them.

“We’re spiritual, but not religious.” It’s not only young
people who say this to us, and when those of us who are religious hear it, we
almost invariably react a little defensively. What’s wrong with being
religious? In church, I hope we can be both, connected by the history and
tradition passed down to us but also in touch with the leading of the Holy
Spirit that moves among us, guiding us to new ways of being faithful to God and
to Jesus Christ.

There is no question in this second decade of the 21st
century that being church means something different than it did when I was a
little girl growing up in Virginia or in the Maine of 50 or 100 years ago. We
live in a world, for better or worse, where businesses open on Sunday, where
people carry coffee everywhere and sleep with their iPhones nestled on their
pillows, a world where weekly attendance at worship and Sunday School no longer
goes without saying. When you meet a young couple and ask if they go to church,
you’ll likely hear the same thing I heard, “We’re spiritual, but not…”

But aren’t we spiritual? I want to think I am, in the sense
that the word means to me. Like the people who define themselves that way, I’ve
experienced the transcendent in nature, walking in the woods or watching the
waves break or looking west to Mount Washington while the sun sets. But I have
also experienced the transcendent, literally something beyond my rational
understanding, in the gasp of a gorgeous toddler surprised by the handful of
water I’ve just laid on his red curls as the water runs down his forehead. Our
rituals, our sacraments, retain their power as signs of God’s presence among
us. The breaking of bread, repeated so many times, does not become dull or
repetitive, but rather becomes amplified by experience. And whether we pass the
little cups in their special trays or dip the bread into a chalice, we are both
spiritual *and* religious when we experience the presence of Christ among us, a
presence we cannot explain but can feel in our hearts and souls.

I think what we’ve lacked in many mainline churches is an
inclination to talk about what our faith means to us, unless we’re in a very
safe space or a moment of crisis. We’ve allowed the world to think we are
simply religious, engaging in practices that are simply old-fashioned,
something your grandmother does, not necessary for today’s world. When we close
in on ourselves and insist on doing everything the way we’ve always done it
before, when we hold to habits and traditions for their own sake, we write our
own epitaph. When we’re reserved about the deeper reality of our faith lives—our
spiritual lives—we miss the chance to connect with others.

And that’s what people are hungry for, what they are seeking
on the Internet and in coffee shops, something they don’t believe we even care
about in the average church of Congregational heritage. Really, they don’t even
know what that heritage means. But we do. We know it means the freedom to
figure out for ourselves who God is and how we understand the life of Jesus. It
means agreeing to disagree when the person sitting down the pew from us sees
Christ a little differently. It means leaving each other enough breathing room
that the Spirit has some space to move among us.

In this second decade of this 21st century, I
believe we’re being called to let our friends and neighbors know that church is
not quaint or forgettable but real and meaningful, that the connections we make
with one another and the world through worship and service make our lives
richer and deeper. I believe we’re being called to speak up and tell our
stories, to share the ways God has touched our lives: in art and music, in
nature and in relationships, and even in church. When we are ready to share it,
the world will see we are spiritual *and* religious. 

Call, Church Life, Ministry of the Meantime

“a settled community of faith”

In the comments on my last post, Questing Parson drew attention to this phrase: "a settled community of faith."

I chose those words not uncarefully, but perhaps not carefully enough. 

 Comeonout (1)
I've been pondering this cartoon ever since I saw it posted on Bob Fisher's blog, church.nu, last fall. In both the church I'm serving and in the planning for the Annual Meeting of our Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, I've been challenged to apply the principles I learned at the New Church Leadership Institute in 2008. My dream of planting a church with the support of the Conference stalled because of the bad economy–that's a hard thing, I'm still sad about it. Weighing my diagnosis with RA and the economy together, it makes rational sense for me to let it go, to trust that it will come about in its own time and place, that I don't have the 60-80 hours per week of energy that might be optimum for a church planter. And so forth.

Still sad about it.

So. Coming to that conclusion meant also having to start reconsidering what in the world God might be calling me to do in ministry. I went back and forth, making lists of things I love about doing Interim ministry and things I dearly miss about being a settled pastor.

Settled–there's that word my friend noted, probably wondering if a community of faith can or ought to be settled. He's a Methodist, therefore committed to itinerate when called to do so. But that is not our way. We have settled pastors and transitional or interim pastors, and when we accept a call to be a settled pastor, we stay put indefinitely. 

Perhaps it would have been better, more accurate, for me to say "a call to settled ministry." 

I didn't, though, because I didn't want to be locked into the idea that I was talking about simply a job, as in "my ministry," nor did I want to use the word "church," because that sounds too much like talking about a building. 

And so I wrote those words "a settled community of faith," and however inaccurate or provoking they may seem to some, they meant something to me in that moment.

I was thinking of how it felt to be unsettled in my family life, in the years after my separation, when I lived for a year knowing I must sell my house, and then another year in temporary quarters, and then finally settled here. 

There are so many kinds of settling: getting comfortable as we did in this house; giving up on getting more; becoming stale and ceasing to move or grow. It's the first of those three I'm seeking, because in settling here we became free to grow and change instead of reacting constantly to loss and transition. That's what I'm hoping for, not to grow stale or to give up and take less but to become part of something, to stretch and deepen myself, and to help make that possible for others.