Call, If I Were Preaching, Reflectionary

Face to Face

The idea of coming face to face with God feels daunting to me. What one question would I ask if I had the chance? (How do you choose when and where to intervene?) What would I wish God did not know? (Lots of things.) Would I survive the encounter if I met God face to face? 

I suspect most of the time we don’t realize our meetings with the holy have happened until later. When we read about Peter and Andrew, James and John, their nets (and father) left behind suddenly, immediately, we have to wonder what they saw in Jesus. This is some economical storytelling. Jesus invites, the men respond by getting out of their boats; it’s the kind of impulsive response to a preacher or evangelist we might view with suspicion if we heard such a story today. 

I have heard many stories about call, to ministry and to many kinds of service on behalf of Jesus Christ. Some of them came in dreams, or in a vision, or during contemplation. I had my own dream, and a moment of feeling the divine presence on the coast of Maine, but those experiences served to affirm something that had already happened when I responded to an unexpected invitation.  

In my early 30s, I was asked by my pastor to serve on the Committee on Ministry in my United Church of Christ Association. It was hard to find younger lay people to serve because the committee met during the day. I was at home with little children, and I don’t know why I seemed likely; perhaps because I had found the time to serve on a search committee the year before. I don’t want to suggest that recruiting people for committees is the way to build the kingdom, although many church leaders have tried! No. I responded to the call to serve in a needed role, to be a servant of God and of people.

Maybe that desire is what my pastor saw in me, or maybe he was just a tool used by God in that moment. (And maybe he was just the desperate chair of the Nominating Committee!) I only know that when he asked, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. 

My preaching approach to this week’s gospel lesson has often been about responding to God’s call. I’ve asked whether we are ready to drop everything and go; what’s the measure of our willingness? It might be helpful instead to come at this from the other direction. Whose gifts need affirmation? Who could we be inviting to serve God? Somewhere in every one of our congregations and communities are people who just don’t know how much their gifts are needed. They read announcements for volunteer opportunities and assume they are not part of the target audience, or they don’t read them at all. They hear this gospel story as bystanders, unsure if what they have to give will be noticed, much less valued, or whether the story of the disciples has any application to contemporary life. They may be looking for a way to serve God but not sure whether their gifts are needed.

Yes, the men in their boats were willing, but more importantly, they were invited, face to face. Isn’t that what we are all seeking?

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Call, If I Were Preaching, Reflectionary

Curiosity, Community, Confidence

Curiosity is step one in many call stories, to all forms of discipleship. My journey to discerning a call to ministry began with a 1987 visit to a Congregational (UCC) church. It amazed me that one of the pastors leading worship that day was a woman. As soon as the service ended, I found a church brochure that included her bio. Like me, she had grown up Southern Baptist. She wasn’t the first clergywoman I had met, and this experience wasn’t the first that pointed me toward ministry, but it was the first time I had seen a women serving as a pastor in a local church. 

Was this something I could do, too? I wanted to know more, so I came back the next Sunday. 

John 1 introduces us to John the Baptist and his disciples. Imagine standing around talking with people you know well and suddenly hearing your most trusted teacher say, “Look, it’s the savior we’ve been waiting for!” This vignette feels both odd and touching to me. Two of John’s disciples follow Jesus, and he asks what they are looking for, and – maybe not knowing how to ask what they really want to know – they ask where he is staying. They’re about as suave as a group of ninth-graders standing outside the high school on the first day, not sure of the right time to go inside. They want to know more, so they follow him.

Our call into Community, which I understand to mean both context and relationships, is step two. The disciples who followed Jesus that day were the first, and we are among the latest to join that mystic sweet communion beyond time and space. The greeting from Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth stresses the foundation for community laid down by God: grace, and testimony, and spiritual gifts, and strength. We can find joy in the gathered voices of a worshipping community, and comfort in the sharing of mutual burdens, and power in the collective will to serve and bring glory to God. In those seasons when the world burns and we can’t quite believe it all, there are others to carry us along. 

Although the church is flawed — it’s full of people, so of course it is! — I have confidence that the call to community comes from God.

That Confidence is step three on the path of discipleship. It’s not a belief in ourselves or our abilities. It comes with time and experience and cannot be shaken by circumstances. It opens the possibility of asking questions, and working things out, and growing through our misunderstandings, fears, and mistakes. Peter’s place in the gospel lesson reminds us that even the original disciples would get it wrong, then come back and get it right after all.

Whoever we are, wherever we are, whenever in history we live, God calls us beloved and calls us into relationship with each other and service to the world in Christ’s name. Holy Confidence is a trust in God so deep that we can say these words with the Psalmist, 

Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

Psalm 40:7-8

If I were preaching this week, I might unfold these three steps, or I might simply focus on Curiosity. What does God call each of us to do? How are the spiritual gifts of people in our faith community compatible or complementary? What is the work God has for us in the world? Whatever it is, God invites us to “Come and see.”

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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?