Reflectionary

Book Review: We Pray With Her

During the 2016 presidential campaign, a group of United Methodist clergywomen offered support to candidate Hillary Clinton, a fellow Methodist, by writing devotions and prayers to encourage her. We Pray With Her: Encouragement For All Women Who Lead (Abingdon, 2018) draws on the writing of seventy women. I am delighted that their work has been gathered into this book. 

The section sections focus on Call, Struggle, Courage, Resistance, and Persistence. The devotions interrogate our assumptions about scripture (Is it possible, as Rev. Elizabeth Quick writes, that Mary wasn’t at home on the day Martha complained about needing her help in the kitchen?) and bring the voices of famous women into the conversation, from Sor Juana to Audre Lorde to Jen Hatmaker. 

And their own voices are a gift, as they write frankly about challenges they have faced as leaders and women. 

What no one tells you about leadership is that things will change and with some change comes struggle. I was utterly unprepared when my professional and personal lives began to orbit on different planes.

Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames

The writers are defined as young, by which the publisher means under the age of 40, and the topics skew toward that age range. The prayers speak to particular situations in the lives of women, such as leaving a baby at daycare for the first time, or in a time of relationship difficulty, or when a parent is ill. Some prayers, though, speak to all ages of women in leadership. 

A Prayer at the Time of Burnout

God of mercy, I confess I feel like I am bereft of sinew, a bag of dry bones, and my spirit in ashes. I have tried to take it all on myself. I have failed to seek sustenance. Give me courage to seek help. Help me find a moment of Sabbath today, breathe into me and revive these bones. Help me trust that you will walk with me through this land. Amen. 

Rev. Sarah Karber

This book would make a wonderful Christmas gift, for women who lead in their work, and those who aspire to lead, whether they work in ministry or some other field. My only complaint is I would have loved a full list of the writers to be included. 

I received two copies of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I am delighted to have a copy to give away. Please leave a comment to be entered into a random drawing. 

Books

Book Review: A Gracious Heresy

I’ve heard the story from my Presbyterian colleagues about the Rev. David Bailey Sindt, who stood up at the 1974 General Assembly with a sign that read, “Is anybody else out there gay?” Other mainline denominations have their semi-famous gay icons, but what of the gay and lesbian people who took their own stands on less-remembered occasions? 

Connie L. Tuttle was one of them. The first out lesbian to graduate from Columbia Theological Seminary, Rev. Tuttle stood in protest during an Atlanta Presbytery meeting in the 1990s, compelling those in attendance to remember that they were discussing people, not merely policy, as they considered Amendment B. That event forms the spine of her memoir, A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet(Resource Publications, 2018). She had no official standing to speak at the meeting, yet she stood, in a visible yet silent protest. 

Tuttle tells her at times tumultuous life story in frank prose. She does not spare herself and thereby gains the credibility that allows her to tell the truth, as any worthy prophet would, about the people whose preferences and prejudices affected her along the way. The narrative is grounded in the events of the world, giving the reader a sense of what it was like to be a young woman formed by the social and political climate of the late 1960s. Her childhood experiences as an Army brat exposed Tuttle to a non-denominational and accepting form of church, and that is what she hoped to find when, as a 20-something lesbian single mother, she began searching for a spiritual home and found it for a time in a Presbyterian congregation. In response to a strong sense of calling, she went to college in her 20s at Agnes Scott, with the goal of then going onto seminary. 

Call is not so much words as it is feeling. Not the imposition of feeling but the rise of relationship beyond words. (p. 23)

Tuttle’s writing voice communicates a sense of her energy and drive, whether she is remembering cooking for a community meal, taking a road trip, or learning how to be present to patients as a chaplain. Throughout she shares a vision of community in which people care for and nurture one another, despite the unkindness she faces from sexist and homophobic church and academic leaders. (For those who know anything about the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1970s and 80s, many familiar names appear in the text.) She takes us into classrooms and meetings with faculty, including a story from her first day of classes, when the professor teaching “Formation of Ministry” informed the students they must guard against “zipper problems.”

Shocked, I looked around. Zipper problems? Two things bothered me about this statement. One: there were enough women in the room for him to have come up with a different euphemism. Or did this just refer to male clergy? And two: WHAT? You mean to tell me that the people who are supposed to model the highest standards of ethics are no more than clay-footed mongrels panting after any women in heat? (p. 143)

As I said above, her tone is frank, and that frankness was much-appreciated by this reader. Sexism and homophobia have not gone away in the decades since Tuttle graduated from Columbia, in the church or in the wider world. I take great encouragement from her determination to push back even then, and from the cause of that determination: she had a call to follow, and she was going to find a way to respond to what God put in her heart. 

When asked to describe her gifts for ministry during an assessment required for her seminary graduation, Tuttle explained that her wide experiences prepared her to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, particularly those who had been hurt by the church.

I want my life to be prophetic and my actions to be pastoral. (p. 182)

What a worthy aspiration!

Connie Tuttle was never ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She went on to found Circle of Grace, “a small, progressive, ecumenical, feminist, Christian house church” in Atlanta, Georgia. She is part of the RevGalBlogPals blogging community; you can find her writing at The Gracious Heretic. I recommend her book to all who love to read call stories, and especially to readers who wonder why LGBTQ+ people stick with the church. (Short version: God called us.) Rev. Tuttle may be a heretic; she is certainly a prophet; she is also a hero.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. (Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.)

Church Life, Ministry, Reflectionary

Asked and Answered

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My favorite preacher

The question has been asked and answered so many times. At least on this occasion I knew the asker was friendly, offering an opportunity to make the case to an audience containing listeners of mixed attitudes. We had discussed a recent complaint on the matter before the recording began. Even so, I was a little surprised when I heard the question.

“What would you say to people who don’t think women should be clergy?”

He asked, so I answered, bearing in mind our earlier conversation.

“I would point them,” I said, “to the gospel stories of the Resurrection, and to the first evangelists, who were women. I would suggest they read Paul’s epistles carefully and take note of how many leaders in the early church were women.”

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Some other preachers I appreciate

My interviewer moved on to the next question, but I know that out in the ether, people will repeat the one already asked and answered. A vocal portion of humankind – which I like to think are in the minority despite the volume of their voices and the attention paid to them – continue to value women only in relation and submission to men.

They make these claims on religious grounds, forgetting or ignoring passages of scripture inconvenient to their thesis. At the church my wife serves, the staff and Session have undertaken a read-along, Four Gospels in Four Months, and invited the congregation to join them. Today’s chapter was Matthew 15, in which Jesus meets a woman who teaches him when she says, “…even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” She asks, and he answers, and the mission of Christ expands to become a mission to the world.

Holy God, give us patience to answer questions asked again and again, and keep us open to answers that will change us. Amen.


This post was written for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader. You can hear the interview mentioned above on Day1 in June.

Prayers for Pastors

For all of us (a prayer for pastors)

On our ecumenical block
Sunday at 8 a.m.
the Catholic bells are ringing
the Presbyterians who come early
are starting to arrive
and down the way
the Methodist church sign
asks what’s missing?

Wesley UR
Right down the street in real life.

U R

I’ll pass them all
when I leave for church
soon
but for now
the dog is snoozing
on the kitchen floor
a rare moment of peace
and so I’m praying

for my church
and all the others
for the pastors who are ready
and the ones in a panic
for the priests who go home
to an empty rectory
and the preachers whose kids
won’t let them nap

I pray for the Pope
because he asks everyone
pray for his health and strength
and give thanks he cares for the poor
pray that the work I do
the work so many women do
will someday be blessed by him
as I trust it is blessed by You

8:06

I need to get going
Go with me I pray
Go with all of us
to Mass on a parkway
and Eucharist in a stone church
and liturgy of the Word
and plain old worship
All for You, Holy One.

Amen.

#amwriting, Books, Ministry, RevGalBlogPals

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

RevGals book coverI’m excited to announce the publication in April of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It was a joy to edit this collection of stories and prayers written by me and over 50 of my colleagues who are members of RevGalBlogPals. We represent 14 denominations, 5 countries, and more than a dozen seminaries. Our stories will bring both laughter and tears as well as a unique perspective on the number and kind of plates clergywomen keep spinning in amazing fashion.

“In ministry, we constantly balance the sacred and the ordinary, juggling the two as expertly as we manage a chalice and a [baby] bottle. Even as we do things as simple as light the candles, set the table, break the bread and pour the wine, we invite people into a holy moment…. The women [in this book] not only have a wellspring of deep wisdom, but they also have the ability to dish out their knowledge with side-aching humor…. I am thrilled that their great wisdom and intelligence will be bound into the pages that I can turn to, lend and appreciate for years to come.”

—from the Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

Intended for laypeople, women hearing a call to ministry and clergy of all denominations, these stories and prayers will resonate with, challenge, encourage and amuse anyone who has a passion for their work and faith. A group reading guide will be available on the SkyLight Paths Publishing website – consider choosing it for your book group!

Prayers for Pastors

Our fragile bodies, and other prayers of intercession (a prayer for pastors)

For joints worn out
by inflammatory processes,
for immune systems that over-react,
or fail to protect us,

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayers.

For viruses that invade,
and infections that persist,
for sudden collapses
and heart-breaking prognoses,

Lord, in your mercy…

Some work miracles. Others, not so much.
Some work miracles. Others, not so much.

For cells dividing
in ways we wish they wouldn’t,
for drugs that heal
but also make us sicker,

Lord, in your mercy…

For lives well-lived
by faithful saints,
with ends that came
before we were ready,

Lord, in your mercy…

For our fragile bodies
in a world that claims
by dint of our effort
we could find eternal youth,

Lord, in your mercy…

For our own families,
our parents and children,
our partners and relations,
who will not, cannot, live forever,

Lord, in your mercy…

For hearts broken
and souls suffering,
for all those wondering
how to offer comfort,

Lord, in your mercy…

For all who minister
and deny our own fragility,
and believe you prize our activity –
O! Lord! –
for our own mortal selves,

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayers.