Children, Interim Ministry, Music

But Like a Child at Home

My shepherd is the living God,
I therefore nothing need;
In pastures fair, near pleasant streams
you settle me to feed.
You bring my wandering spirit back
when I forsake your ways,
And lead me for your mercy's sake
in paths of truth and grace.

It can be hard to tell some stories about your children–their accomplishments or their gifts or their good fortune or happy moments in your relationship with them–without sounding like Hubris just begging Nemesis to stop by for coffee.

But I'm going to risk it.

Because #1 Son either shared or grew into my delight in singing along while listening to vocal music of one kind and another, we've done a lot of singing together. I got to hear his voice a lot. Mostly we loved singing along to musicals, and even today when I listen to the favorites in our collection, I imagine the parts he could play. On the trip to take him to college in 2004, we lined up our favorites and sang them with gusto, as if the chance would never come again.

Snowman joined in as a little fellow, although he became more of a listener when he began to pick apart the orchestrations in his mind. Still, even when he didn't want to sing so much himself, he didn't seem to mind if we did.

But we could not get LP to join us. She liked to hear the music the way it was supposed to be and still only tolerates the singing along sometimes. My days of singing in the car with a child seem to be over, and I miss it; I cannot tell a lie.

So I haven't heard our voices together much, except on the rare occasions we stand next to each other for a hymn on Sunday morning. I seize those moments when I can, but usually I am far away.

Last week, as I looked ahead to this final week in Freeport, and thought about the music based on the 23rd Psalm, I asked her if she would be willing to sing something with me for church. She surprised me by saying yes, and I suggested an adaptation of Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," set to the good old tune from Southern Harmony, Resignation. We used the words in the New Century Hymnal, mostly because it seemed less complicated to be singing exactly what the organist would be playing and we had limited time to rehearse. We agreed this tune should work, even for two altos, one long-time and the other newly-minted.

This morning we got to church early to practice. It's kind of a strange thing for me to be the "Special Music," and I wondered if I would regret it. I sometimes sing in the body of a sermon if it feels like the right thing to do, and I sang for a while with the choir at Small Church. Back then we got a friend of #1 Son's to come and play guitar once or twice a year, and we formed our own little family folk group with the young music director there.

But this felt more exposed and I wondered if we would work, or for that matter sound, well together. But I talked with the organist about the introduction, and we began to sing together.

When I walk through the shades of death,
your presence is my stay;
A word of your supporting breath
drives all my fear away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
My cup with blessing overflows,
your oil anoints my head.

It felt good.

Oh, we made a few changes after the first time through. I had to think about whether to sing all the lines in two parts, and eventually made some of them unison. LP asked for a slight pick-up in the tempo. We worked together to find a cut-off that gave us a chance to get our breath at the end of each verse.

Mostly, it amazed me how nice our voices sounded together. I managed to mangle a note or two when it came time to sing in the service, but really the whole thing felt wonderful.

I loved singing with my daughter.

The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others come and go
No more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.

As we began the final verse, I had that feeling of relief I sometimes get on the last page of a sermon–almost home!!–and realized I knew the last bit well enough to lean into it and not be so focused on the page of music in front of me. I felt the peace of the settled rest, although it will not be in that particular church.

And it's funny, I've been preaching for more than a year about the lack of importance of a set place to be present with God, at the same time I've come to hope for my own ministry to be settled again. And I don't like where this is headed, but I suppose the truth for them is also the truth for me. I meet God in those moments when I get my eye off the page and feel the presence.

O, may God's house be my abode, and all my work be praise.

Finally, Writing It, Interim Ministry, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Saturday, Early

I could be two different places today, but due to the wet weather and the need to have a voice for preaching tomorrow, I'm staying close to home. I feel frustrated by having a medical reason for this (the knowledge that I am more prone to become sickly due to immune-suppressing meds for RA).

Both the scriptures I'm looking at for tomorrow involve people expecting to do a particular thing and being frustrated by others. Before coffee this morning I tried to work through my decision for today using scripture as a lens, but that did not seem to help. No matter how I related myself to David, or Jesus and the disciples, I got the same answer: standing in damp grass/fog or being out all day in the rain (weather forecast different for the two locations/events) is not wise for a person with a final sermon to preach tomorrow.

Maybe that would be good sense even without the medical complications. And perhaps I should have been able to see that when the Clam Festival, the Bernese Mountain Dog Summer Picnic and the last Sunday at Freeport are all the same weekend, something would have to give.

And hopefully not me.

So, instead of driving 60 miles each way to the picnic and enjoying the dogs on a foggy morning in wet grass, I'll be home drinking coffee and finishing a sermon, and hoping the thunderstorms hold off for my Y1P folks working at the Clam Festival today.

And contemplating limitations, and their source.

Interim Ministry

So Long, Farewell

In the car yesterday, Mary Beth and Light Princess and I listened to the Original Broadway Cast recording of "The Sound of Music," with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. My parents had the record when I was a little girl, and it was among the ones I took out of the dust covers, placed artistically on our family room rug and walked on in my little bare feet. I remember that they felt marvelously cool and smooth to the touch. I also remember that record in particular had a lot of skips, probably from my girl-handling of it. I memorized every non-skipped note on the record and didn't learn what they should have sounded like, really, until I bought the CD about ten years ago.

What is still true is that my favorite song in the musical is "So Long, Farewell." I can play the whole thing out in my mind, with the voices from the record and the voices and images from the movie. Marta hates to miss this pretty sight; Friedrich bids adieu; Liesl hopes for champagne; Kurt hits the high note; Brigitta cannot tell a lie; Louisa flits and floats and fleetly flees and flies; and Gretl, of course, tells us "the sun has gone to bed and so must I."

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye.

When I was 18, I spent three weeks staying at the Schloss Leopoldskron outside Salzburg, the place the outdoor patio and glass house scenes in the movie were filmed. My dad, along with other law school deans and then-Justice Rehnquist, taught a seminar for European lawyers at Harvard's Salzburg Seminar. All the participants brought their children along, and we had a fantastic time together, heightened for me by my lifelong love for the von Trapps and the scenes from the movie. We climbed mountains and visited locations from the movie and hung out in the glass house and just generally had a wonderful time. In the evenings, one of the European lawyers played the piano and people sang, and I was one of them.

(And if there was a red-headed friend of the son of one of the other law school deans who passed through on a backpacking trip and caught my attention, that was not the only reason the memories are magical, but it didn't hurt.)

I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye. Good bye!

It's time to say farewells at the 1FP. This will be my last Sunday with them, and next week I'll pack my books and clean out my files. I could not fix everything I hoped to fix. Can we ever? I leave certain things wide open and undetermined. I prepare to bid farewell to some people I will never see again, though I will not forget them.

I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly.

I'm already deep into my next job, at Y1P. I won't have the sharp transition of leaving one place and starting at another. But it's still hard, and it leaves me wondering about people who spend a career doing Interim Ministry, years and years of arriving already intending to leave. I'm happy to be at Y1P, which is a wonderful congregation, and I've loved the people at 1FP, but truly? I wish my life would have not quite so many farewells.

Interim Ministry, Vision

Not By Sight

(Thinking about the texts for Proper 6*)

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:6-9, NRSV)

At the end of 1998 I dropped out of seminary, because I could not figure out how to go fast enough to finish in a reasonable length of time without moving my children away from their father or myself away from them. When I returned to seminary in 2000, after a dream convinced me I had placed a period where God had placed a comma (yes, yes, a UCC reference), I had come to believe it would all work out somehow. Having children even that much older made a difference, and I imagined it would continue to get easier, even though I didn't know how it would look, ultimately.

We walk by faith.

Two years later I began my search for a pastoral call, and amazingly there were three full-time ministry positions open within a reasonable drive, and they were all considered appropriate as a first call, and all three interviewed me.

I say "amazingly" because as I look back I can see how truly unprepared I was despite my degree and my approval for ordination pending a call.

Churches walk by faith, too, when they take on an inexperienced pastor.

Seven years later, I'm in my third position as an Interim Minister. I never imagined that would be my calling. I'm still not sure whether it is or not. I like doing it. I enjoy the tasks associated with church transitions, the evaluation and the reflection and the visioning and the almost inevitable reorganization. But I miss things I had in a settled call, too.

I'm walking by faith, not by sight, considering all possibilities as each interim position comes to an end.

People say to me, "You're such a good pastor, you should have your own church," and while I appreciate the compliment, I worry that they see Interim ministers as somehow "less than," when in fact it is a specialized ministry and, for some of my colleagues, a calling. But that is not always true. Sometimes it's a place-holder. Sometimes it's a retirement supplement. And sometimes it's a last resort.

I'd like to think I've been called to each of the churches I've served or am serving as Interim Minister; I'm simply called in a different way than a settled pastor.

But that's hard to explain sometimes, to others and even to myself. I would appreciate a chance to have a chat with God about what the long-term plan might be.

Really, wouldn't you?

I wouldn't mind knowing, at least I think I wouldn't mind knowing, whether my path will be a series of short stays or end in a long unfolding, whether I will stay in my house or move away, whether I will walk my dog on a beach or in the woods or on city streets. I wouldn't mind walking a trail with a map instead of depending solely on the sometimes difficult to find blazes.

We walk by faith and not by sight, and we hope that we're reading the messages the right way, and we take the next step and hope it pleases the One who calls us, however indistinctly, wherever we are, wherever we are going.


*Although I'll be preaching less at my current job, I plan to continue reflecting on the week's lectionary passages.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Cats, Interim Ministry, Knit Without Ceasing

In Which Our Heroine Blocks a Sweater

I've had the pieces of LP's "Christmas" sweater carefully tucked away in a see-through zipper bag acquired on a trip to the Gulf Coast of those holidays ago. I began the project early last summer, knowing that given my hands I might not be able to get it done if I waited until fall. She didn't like her most recent Christmas sweater; it's in my bottom drawer, and I still feel tempted to weep when I see it there, knowing how much effort went into it. But I understand the problem she had with it. And I think perhaps I should have blocked it.

I had never made a sweater for a young lady before. Oh, years ago, I made a sweater for myself, but I did not have the same standards for fit that certain middle school girls do, and I don't think I had ever heard of blocking, that means for making your knitting look the way it really ought to look. To block a sweater, you soak the pieces in a warm water bath, gently squeeze out the water, and then dry the pieces flat before assembling. For some reason this sounded daunting to me. What if I ruined the hand-washable wool! (By hand-squeezing it. Yes. I know it sounds silly.)

A great deal of effort goes into a sweater. This sweater, a tunic, has five pieces: a front, a back, two sleeves and an i-cord belt sort of thing. Blocking allows the knitter to be sure the pieces really match up in length and breadth, to encourage the yarn in a certain direction. The tunic has darts, and I am using blocking to encourage those little tucks in the pattern to NOT look like little holes!

Which is to say, I'm finally blocking it. The dining room table cleared off, the weather dry and cool, enough towels clean that half a dozen can be spared, the pieces lie flat and drying gently. Influenced by Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World to practice reverence as a kind of focused attention, I blocked both a scarf and the sweater at lunchtime yesterday. (So far, so good, though the darts continue to be a problem and that piece may be going back into the water.)

In the past, I've blocked socks on the dining room table, and I've walked off and left them there, because my cats just didn't go into that room, a favorite of the dogs. So it took me by surprise when Baby followed me in on an inspection tour and, before I realized what she meant to do, took a walk across the pieces.

When did the dining room become a cat-friendly zone?

Well, Sam does not chase cats (much), and the cats have grown bolder and bolder in the months since Molly died.

As I look back over the past year at 1FP, I see us making similar efforts and living through our own changes. We've tried things that felt new and perhaps challenging. We've gone back to the drawing board. And we've learned that without some people in the church family, the dynamics change in unexpected ways, ways that open possibilities for some of us while reminding others of their losses.

LP will, I hope, wear this sweater, and I will move on to other projects. I'm finishing a necktie, and have two pairs of socks on the needles. 1FP will continue into the next phase of a transition when I go, and this is the hard part of Interim Ministry. The reports I get on how their sweater looks will be second hand, at best. But if the process has been reverent, and it has for me, I must let them wear it and trust the fit.