Thursday, December 22, 2005

And we're off

We leave today for a rare opportunity to travel over Christmas--to my in-laws in their little town on the prairie. I may not have much internet access for the next 10 days, so I'll see you when I see you.

Meanwhile, post your best wisdom on what to do and what not to do when arriving in a congregation as their new pastor. This wisdom can be based on your experience of this situation as a pastor, a layperson, or someone on a church staff.

See you in 2006! Blessings everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Angel Gabriel from heaven came . . .

I am so saving this picture to show his girlfriends ten years from now . . .

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Word is Out

Yesterday in worship the Pastor Nominating Committee of a certain Presbyterian church in a certain state south of Oregon announced that a certain blogger known here as PCIT/RWOP was their choice for Pastor.

Thanks to all of you who have provided advice, counsel and prayer during this process. You'll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks . . .

This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Drama of the Incarnation

I took my kids to Christmas pageant rehearsal this morning, then sat back and watched. How amazing to attend a pageant rehearsal and not be responsible for it in any way whatsoever.

The real drama of the day was not the play itself. It never is. The real drama began when a nine year old girl arrived for rehearsal fifteen minutes late. This child attends Sunday school sporadically. She had not been there the last two Sundays and so was not present when most of the information regarding the pageant had been distributed, nor was she there when the important casting decisions were made.

She wanted to be an angel. However, by the time she arrived all the available angel outfits had been taken by children who had been officially cast as angels and had arrived on time. The girl's lower lip began to get trembly and her voice switched into definite whine mode.

The Children's ministry coordinator was simultaneously trying to get twenty kids into their costumes, distribute scripts, hand out props and keep the kids away from the Krispee Kreme donuts that were the treat for AFTER rehearsal. Her ability to deal with this crisis was limited. She looked the girl in the eye and basically said, "You need to get over yourself and choose one of the costumes still available." Not the most sensitive response, to be sure, but understandable given the chaos of the moment.

Now the girl's mother had her own quiet tantrum. She followed the Children's Ministry director around for the remainder of the morning, chiding her for her callous dismissal of her child's needs. After some tense negotiations, they agreed that the girl could be an angel if she could produce her own costume by curtain time tomorrow morning.

Ah, but when this treaty was presented to the girl, she refused to ratify it. She wanted an angel outfit like the other girls were wearing or no deal. Now the power struggle shifted to mother vs. daughter. At this point my kids grabbed their donuts and we left. We'll see tomorrow who prevailed in the end.

So how is YOUR pageant going??

Friday, December 16, 2005

To dreidle or not to dreidle

My kids want to celebrate Hannukah. They've played dreidle as part of "multicultural December" at school, we've read books about it. Now they want to do it up right here at home. Part of me says, "Hey, I'm half Jewish. My kids need a connection to their heritage. This would be okay." But most of me says it's not fair to "dabble" in the fun parts of a religious tradition if you have no intention of taking on the obligations that go along with that tradition. So--no Mennorah if you're not planning to fast on Yom Kippur and give up shrimp curry as your favorite take out dish. No Latkes if you're not willing to identify publicly as Jewish and take the heat when the skinheads come to town.

How do you all feel about this? Where is the line between appropriately exploring another faith tradition and shamelessly exploiting it for your own enjoyment? (See, I'm not so sure the extra presents factor isn't at least part of my kids' Hannukah campaign . . . .)

Friday Christmas Party Meme

1. Have you ever had a really good kiss under the mistletoe.
No. Though I used to hopefully hang some up in likely places during my young years.

2. Have you ever had real eggnog.
Yes. My dad used to make it in the blender. I didn't really like it. I once had some really good homemade eggnog at a party. It seemed to involve amazing amounts of work--blending in a certain way so that frothy cream rose to the top while milk and booze settled to the bottom. Also it involved massive amounts of raw egg--so we are lucky we were not poisoned. But may whiskey kills salmonella?

3. Favorite Christmas Album.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for A Very Merry Christmas with Captain Kangaroo.

4. Church staff Christmas parties are pleasant but pretty buttoned down. I've gone to Holiday parties sponsored by my husband's employer. One year when the company was doing particularly well they treated us all to a dinner cruise on the Willamette river. Nice, but my most vivid memory of this event is one of my husband's colleagues bent nearly double over the boat's railing, hurling his dinner and all he had drunk into the dark waters below. This year they treated employees only to a catered lunch on the work premises and I was not disappointed.

5. A shrimp dip or Christmas Cookies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

True comparison?

In the Sunday Oregonian there was a quote in the humor sidebar of the Living section that said: Blogging is the CB radio of this decade.

True? Or not so much? I was in middle school when the CB craze hit. My parents were not into it and it was beyond my personal purchasing power, so I pretty much missed it--aside from occassionally riding with friends who had one. (Though I did buy myself a nice mood ring.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Advent 3--how many cats do we light?

A cautionary tale for cat lovers: It was dinner on the third Sunday of Advent. We had the lighted advent wreath at the center of our kitchen table. We were mostly done eating, polishing off some cupcakes leftover from my daughter's birthday yesterday, when the kitty jumped onto the table to check for any bits of chicken that might have fallen off our plates when the dishes were cleared. We're remarkably indulgent of the kitty, so I didn't think much of this until I noticed that the kitty's fur was beginning to smoke. I yelped, the kitty jumped off the table, the air was filled with the scent of scortched fur. The cat was annoyed, but otherwise unscathed. So--keep in mind that coddled kitties and lighted advent wreaths are not a good combo. Yikes!

Funny church visiting story #2

Well this was a first for us. We've been mostly hanging out at the Lutheran church where my son's best friend's parents are co-pastors. This congregation has a Swedish heritage, so today they were crowning the Lucia bride at the closing of worship.

All the kids processed into the sanctuary. The little kids marched in first, (my own included). They were dressed in conical hats with stars on them and were carrying wooden sticks with additional stars glued to the ends. Behind the younger kids were the teenaged girls wearing white gowns with gold braid on them.

The procession was very cute. But wait! There's more! Once they all reached the chancel, a reluctant teenage boy began reading the story of St. Lucia: her birth in Italy, her martyrdom at the hands of evil pagans, the miracles attributed to her in Swedish legend. After that, the teenage girls sang several verses of Santa Lucia in barely audible Swedish.

Could we just say that discipline in the ranks broke down during this portion of the festivities? During the hagiography and the song the star kids wiggled, whispered, fidgited and explored the use of their star wands as swords and/or cattle prods.

Finally, the Lucia queen was crowned, by order of the fire marshall, with a plastic wreath lit by candles with tiny, flame shaped lightbulbs. (I checked it out afterwards: it was made in Sweden, so I guess it's Lucia-kosher.)

On the way home my six year old daughter remarked, "I don't get why we did that." I guess some cultural divides you just can't bridge.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday Five Snow Meme

1. Love it or Hate it?
I love snow in December, January and February. I will tolerate a small amount of snow in late Novemeber or very early March. Snow that falls at Veteran's Day and does not go away until April Fools' Day is not okay with me. Fate has placed me, for most of my life, in places where it snows rarely. It's looking like that trend may continue.

2. First snow memory
Being pulled around the block on my little sled the winter I was three.

3. Best snow day ever
We had gone to Ohio to visit my grandparents right after Christmas. On the day we were supposed to leave, another snowstorm hit. My best friend in Grandma's town and I spent the day building a giant snow hill, then digging a tunnel through it. Weeks later, I received a note from my grandparents that the snow tunnel was just as I had left it.

4. Best us of snow in a song, book or movie.
In the Bleak Midwinter Now stay with me here. Lot's of folks ridicule this song because it's so patently obvious that there would not have been "snow on snow" in Bethlehem. But I don't think geographic accuracy is the point here. It's true incarnational theology. Christ is Emmanuel, God with Us. To those of us who experience Bleak Midwinters in either the climactic or spiritual sense, Christ is born there. That's the point of this song.

5. What will you do today, snow or no snow.
No snow. Typical for Portland, when it is cold enough for snow, it is clear. Moisture comes with warm fronts which heat things up to the point that all we get is rain, rain, rain. Today is clear and cold so I think I will take a walk in the park before the next warm front rolls in.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Just in case you haven't found this on your own yet, you must check out this amazing holiday compilation of awful Angel kitch. While you're there, also check out last year's compilation of bad nativities.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Home again, home again

Thanks everyone, for keeping me in your prayers while I was away on my interview weekend. It went well, though no final decisions have yet been made. I won't blog a whole lot about it right now because I am REALLY tired and also playing catch-up on errands, chores, mail, etc.

I will share one particularly memorable moment: I'm sitting up front at the neutral pulpit church where I am preaching. (Neutral pulpit= church that's not your church or the one for which you are a candidate that lets you preach at their service so the Paston Nominating Committee can see you in action--that's how we Presbys do this.) Anyway, I'm listening to their lector read the gospel text while I stare somewhat vacantly out into the congregation. It dawns on me that the older gentleman about ten rows back looks familiar. Do I know him from somewhere? Is he a transplanted Portlander? A member of one of my old churches? Suddenly my brain clicks into gear and I realize that in about 20 seconds I will be preaching in front of A RECENT FORMER MODERATOR OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, USA. Holy. Shit. I'm just glad I didn't I didn't notice him earlier and have the time to really work myself into a lather of anxiety . . .

Thursday, December 01, 2005

All the Leaves are Brown . . .

Today I fly out for an interview at the church that has appeared in these blogs intermittently over the last couple of months--the one that wanted at least six signatures in blood from Presbyterians in good standing swearing they thought I could lead a church of more than 50 members. (Okay I'm exagerating). Keep me and all concerned in your prayers--for travelling mercies and clear discernment.

And leave a comment telling a story of the clearest "sign" you ever got one way or another about taking or not taking a particular job/call/opportunity.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Alternate Advent Readings

On my morning walk in Willamette Park this morning, I noticed some new graffiti scrawled on the door of the tiny structure that houses the park restrooms. The restrooms are only opened from Memorial Day through the end of September--probably to save the Parks Department some maintenence and custodial costs. A big, official Parks Department sign on the door proclaims CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. There is a light on inside the building, though, which is puzzling. It's not a bright enough light to discourage loitering. It just looks like whichever hapless city employee locked up for the winter forgot to turn off that one light.

Under the official door sign, someone has scrawled, "The light is one, but no one is home." The graffiti artist either did not pay attention in spelling class, or was heavily under the influence of whatever it is that inspires people to scrawl graffitti on the doors of public restrooms." The Light is One, but no one is home.

As I proceeded with my walk, I pondered that this snippet of mis-spelled graffitti sounds like it wandered out of an Advent scripture reading.

Maybe from Isaiah: The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. The Light is One, but no one is home.

Or maybe John's gospel: The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world . . . yet the world knew him not. The Light is One, but no one is home.

Sort of like a post-modern Advent lament.

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls . . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Instead of a quiz

These days it tends to be a small crowd of immediate family at my Thanksgiving table. But back in the days when it was a more mixed crowd, we'd often get the conversation going by playing everyone's favorite game: What part of the Thanksgiving dinner are you and why? If I had the time and inclination to figure out how to create quizzes on Quizilla or some such, I could come up some quiz that would tell you your results.

Instead, I'll just let you tell me. I'd have to say this year my life feels like gravy: many disperate elements coming together that could either turn our really wonderfully or really badly depending on a lot of factors--some not under my direct control.

How about you?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hogwarts Churches

In honor of the new movie release, let us revisit the idea of Hogwarts houses reflecting styles of ministry. (See July 25 post for earlier thoughts on this.)

Ravenclaw Churches The church member who first uttered the sentence, "Let us appoint a committee to study the matter," surely was part of a Ravenclaw church. These congregations love to discuss, ponder, debate and contemplate. Once in a great while they might actually get around to doing something. Lay theologians and bible study lovers thrive in these churches. They like scholarly preaching and can sniff out a theologically incoherant argument from miles away. If they receive a huge bequest, they will likely use it to endow an annual lecture series.

Griffyndor Churches These are cause driven churches. While other congregations also address current issues, in Griffyndor congregations issues are THE focus. These churches are animated by commitment to some kind of crusade: anti-war, pro-life, inclusion of GLBT persons, converting the lost, justice for the poor, saving the traditional family---you will find these congregations across the entire theological/political spectrum. These churches are very exciting places to be and you are never in doubt about what they stand for. However, since members of these congregations are nearly required to think alike, the spiritual growth that comes from seeing Christ in "the other" is often lacking.

Hufflepuff Churches Think Jan Karon's Mitford congregation. Deep down, we all probably wish we had a Hufflepuff church in our lives. These congregations are not particularly intellectual or activist. They are ordinary places where ordinary people can experience the love of Christ at work in their lives. These churches are comfortable rather than exciting or stimulating. They have the best pot lucks. The same person has probably been directing the Christmas Pagaent since 1972, but if you go into emergency surgery, the pastor will be in the waiting room when you come out--not buried in her study, not marching on Washington. Because they are traditional and conflict averse, these churches have a hard time adapting to rapid social and cultural change. They thrive on stability and may not survive if their community changes drastically.

Syltherin Churches These churches sincerely believe that we bear the best witness to the gospel if we employ the very best tools the world places at our disposal: imposing physical plants, state-of-the-art technology, a staff of hard working ministry specialists, and the best mass communication access money can buy. Syltherin congregations attach much importance to quantifiable measures of success: numbers, money, market share. They are convinced that nostalgia for quaint, old traditions is getting in the way of proclaiming the good news in a world where secular forces are arrayed against the faithful as never before. They challenge the rest of us to re-think old ways and strive for excellence, but they can also get so caught up in the tools of the culture that the culture captures them after all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Skating Toward Bethlehem

School was out Thursday and Friday last week and it rained buckets both days. In search of indoor entertainment, we went roller-skating at a fabulous, old-fashioned, wood floor skating rink just across the river from where we live.

All in all it was a successful adventure--except for one distressing episode involving wads of paper towel and the discreet drying of small undies with the hand-blower in the ladies room. When it was all over my little girl commented, "It's complicated going to the potty when you are wearing roller skates!"

It is complicated. In fact, it's a lot like doing ministry at the beginning of the 21st century: it's a straightforward task you thought you understood, but suddenly everything is different. You aim and miss the mark. You think you're headed in the right direction and, without warning, you are sliding to a whole different place. You are chagrined to find that what has worked so well for so long suddenly seems not to be working at all. You find yourself all wet, embarrassed and flat on your butt. You become jelouse of your fellow skaters who seem to have it figured out better than you have.

But I suppose the only choices we have are to risk it with abandon--or hold it until it becomes to painful not to try.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Gord's Favorites Meme

Gord at Following Frodo, who is a nice person and prefers to focus on positives rather than negatives, invites us to give equal time to our Christmastime favorites.

Religious Music: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, especially the last verse. I like Christmas songs that look forward as well as back. The last verse of Once in Royal David's City would be another example.

Secular Music: The piano music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Movie/TV--How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch would be another possible favorite music choice

Food: Rum Cake

Tradition: Children's Christmas Pageants. Children's Christmas Pageants are icons of the Incarnation.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Too fun! Don't stop now.

Apparently people feel quite strongly about bad Christmas music!! I don't want to stop the flow of opinion on this, but the time has come to declare myself.

For pure secular torture you can't beat Jingle Bell Rock. Inane lyics: "Jingle be-e-e-ll time, it's a sw-e-e-e-ll time . . . ", and an irritating tune that nevertheless sticks in your brain all day long.

I have to throw my vote behind "O Holy Night" for worst offender in a religious role. The schmaltziness might be bearable if it was sung really, really well. But in 16 years of ministry and many more years of church-going, I have never heard it done really, really well. Congregations with top-notch music ministries don't choose this song as the highlight of their Christmas Eve services because they have better things to do with their lives.

Tomorrow--Gord's meme on favorites . . .

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Calling all Grinches

As we approach Advent/Christmas lets do some personal sharing: What is your least favorite Christmas song of all time? You get to nominate one religious and one secular candidate. Please include a brief explanation for your choices. So as not to unduly influence responses, I will reveal my own choices at a later date. Have fun.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Link and A Question

A friend in my pastor/theologian seminar is president of a group mobilizing a nationwide effort to spread the word that America contains many serious, devout Christians that are not conservative fundamentalists. They are doing some interesting things and their website is definetly worth a look.

Now the question(s): what is the best way to get this word out? What if you're not a conservative fundamentalist but can't quite get behind all of the "progressive christian" platform either? We often wring our hands over what would happen if all the conservatives or all the liberals pulled out of our denominations--but I read an intriguing comment on another blog recently, "What if all the moderates pulled out? Then how many would be left?"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Image and Likeness

When I wasn't busy slathering my hands with isogel, (see previous post), I spent lots of time on last weekend's retreat looking at a stained glass mosaic of Christ over the chancel in the sanctuary of the church where we were meeting. The sanctuary faces west, so the mosaic was most vibrant and colorful in the late afternoon--which is a shame since that is not a time of day when many folks are normally in church.

As my mind wandered from whoever was speaking one afternoon, I found myself thinking about the phenomenon in Harry Potter where the former Hogwarts headmasters in the portraits in Dumbledore's office are able to "visit" other portraits of themselves elsewhere to check up on things or deliver messages. I started thinking that perhaps this is one way to understand the function of icons in other Christian traditions: that Christ is able somehow to inhabit portraits of himself, drawn in faith, to communicate with us in some way.

But then my inner Reformer asserted herself. Painted portraits aren't where it's at. WE are created in the image and likeness of God. WE are the portraits Christ wants to inhabit to communicate with the world. The goal of our faith is to grow into truer and truer likenesses so that this can happen more completely.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Literary Pursuits

This morning my kindergartener hopped up on my lap to show me a work in progress. She is drawing the pictures for the book with the idea that I will fill in the words when she is done. Meanwhile, she was narrating the completed pages.

"Once upon a time in winter, a little bunny was hopping through the forest looking for a place to hibernate . . ."

Bad Editor Mom breaks in: "You know, sweetheart, I don't think rabbits hibernate."

Literary daughter fixes Mom with a withering stare. "Mom. This is FICTION!"

I'm going to have to remember that comeback. It could come in handy.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Isogel on the Altar

Okay. So this retreat for which I was on the leadership team this weekend includes communion on each of the three days. The pastor who was head of the clergy team, in whose church the retreat was taking place, was fanatical about each of the three of us clergy slathering our hands with Isogel before handling or distributing the elements. To be sure we didn't forget, he stashed a small squirt bottle of the stuff behind the base of one of the large candlesticks on the communion table.

This is a pastor I've know, albeit distantly, for fifteen years. From my limited experience and hearsay evidence of him he is a very sane, wise leader not given to fits of eccentricity. But this seemed a little over the edge to me. Now, anyone will tell you I am not Ms. Clean. However, I've always thought that if you practice basic good hygeine and are not actually ill, you needn't worry excessively about the germ factor in communion. If anything, the officiant is more likely to catch something from a communicant than the other way around. So--should we hand Isogel to one of the elders and ask EVERYONE to squirt and slater on their way to receive??

Maybe my reaction is more one of aesthetics than hygiene. Or maybe it's theology. Whoever said communion was safe and hygenic anyway??

Friday, October 28, 2005

Silly Loves Songs

Have you ever noticed how you are sort of bonded to the music of your coming-of-age years even if lots of it was REALLY stupid? That you can have an intense emotional reaction hearing one of those songs being piped over the PA system at the supermarket while you are shopping for ground beef and toilet paper? Something about the intenisty of that stage of life infuses itself into that music regardless of its quality.

I think the same principle operates in church music. You kind of bond to particular church music that you associate with times of personal conviction, conversion or other spiritual breakthroughs. Case in point: I'm one of the clergy leading a regional retreat this weekend. I haven't done this for this particular organization for about ten years, so there are lots of new songs in their song book. This outfit is more happy clappy than my usual crowd, so my gag reflex was starting to kick in on some of these new pieces that are definetely of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" variety.

Then they played one particular praise chorus that was part of my sojourn with the evangelical Anglicans in high school. On the face of it, it is musically worthless, poetically stupid, and theologically on shaky ground. The tears streamed down my face, my heart opened up--the Spirit seemed closer than in weeks.

Perhaps this is part of why music wars in church can be so vicious. It's not about the quality of the music, but about the spiritual experiences people associate with the music.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Today's worry

I'm worried. There seems to be a disturbing trend in this Presbytery of young pastors leaving the ministry. At least half a dozen pastors in their twenties and thirties seem to have given up on parish ministry in the last 18 months or so. One or more of the following factors were involved in each case:

1. It was their first ordained call.
2. They went into a "vulnerable" position--i.e. the church's ability to pay a full time pastor or a full time associate was dicey when they arrived and became impossible within a few years.
3. Their spouse's job makes relocation impossible or extremely difficult.
4. Their congregation expected these newly minted pastors to turn around a decline of several decades.

When something becomes a trend, it seems like we need to look at what's going wrong. What can we do about the fact that new pastors are the most likely to get tossed unprepared into small, struggling churches and that our call system is stacked against folks who can't relocate? We are losing gifted people.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Could be worse

Nothing like attending a conference with an ecumenical group to make you count your blessings. For all the crapola that Presbyterians have to contend with in our divided loyalties, at least we don't have to negotiate the minefield of deep-seated ethnic attachments.

One of the Lutheran clergywomen in our group rolled her eyes as she commented that, almost immediately upon her return home, her church would plunge into its annual Lefsa-making extravaganza. Her congregation is historically Norwegian and the yearly Lefsa sale is an important community event and fundraiser. They use up 800 pounds of potatos. The mind simply boggles.

The woman sitting next to her was a Lutheran pastor serving an historically Swedish congregation. I asked, ignorantly, if they made Lefsa also. The look of stunned horror on both their faces was like unto the look I might get if I'd asked a pair of Edinburghers if they like salsa on their oatmeal.

"No! Swedes DO NOT make Lefsa. They make tunnbrod!"

Like I said. Count your blessings.

Of course, we Presbyterians do have that Scottish heritage thang to deal with. Even congregations with not even a dozen full blood Scots will sometimes do the whole Kirkin' o' the Tartan Sunday.
At one church I served as an associate, a very tall woman in a new members class informed us that she played the bagpipes and would be delighted to play in worship whenever we wanted her to. In my humble opinion, the bagpipes were never intended as liturgical instruments and their use in worship should be strictly regulated. But then, I'm only 1/24 Scots or something like that.

A few days later, this woman made an appointment with the Senior Pastor. It seemed another interesting thing she wanted us to know was that she had only recently become a she. We would be receiving her letter of transfer from another congregation in our presbytery, but the name on their rolls was a man's name. She didn't plan to make a big public deal out of this in terms of her participation in our church, but she wanted the pastors to know. We appreciated that.

So--on the next Scot's heritage Sunday, we had our new member, the trans-gendered bagpiper, playing highland music in the parking lot as folks arrived for worship. Which is probably just what John Knox had in mind all along.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Back safely from the spectacularly beautiful Zephyr Point Conference Center. If there is an event happening there that you can possibly justify going to, you should--if only for the view of the lake. Lake Tahoe was literally about 20 feet from the window of my room. Whoever donated that land to the Presbyterian Church back in the day did a good thing.

My bottle of jalepeno wine from Quotidian Grace arrived while I was away. My husband was mystified. I had neglected to mention to him my victory in QG's caption contest, leaving him to wonder if unemployment was unhinging my brain and I was now ordering strange concoctions from Texas.

I'll catch up on my blog reading over the next day or so . . .

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Off to Hobnob with my fellow wizards

Cheers everyone. I'm off to Presbyterian Conference Center with Gambling Options Close By for a Pastor/Theologian seminar. Our question for the year: What role does the church play in Christ's saving work?

My working hypothesis is that most North American Christians, regardless of the ecclessial tradition with which they affiliate, see salvation as something strictly between themselves and Jesus and the church is sort of beside the point--a helpful add-on to nurture one's walk in faith and manage wider efforts towards addressing poverty, injustice, moral disintegration, etc. If one's current congregation or denomination isn't doing that, in your own humble opinion, you are free to bail and either find another church or go it alone.

What do you all think?

I may be out of blog range for a few days. See you on the flip side.

Friday, October 14, 2005

And perhaps I should send them this as well

Your Hidden Talent
You have the power to persuade and influence others.
You're the type of person who can turn a whole room around.
The potential for great leadership is there, as long as you don't abuse it.
Always remember, you have a lot more power over people than you might think!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What I actually said . . .

Being a musical person, I like musical anaolgies. Small church ministry is like playing chamber music: while there is great skill involved, the logistics are simple, each player's role is clear, and communication can be intuitive with little or no need for formal conducting. Large church ministry is like leading a symphony orchestra: there are whole sections to coordinate as well as individual players, there are varying parts to assign within each section, communication must be formal and thorough, and there is a clear need for a dynamic leader with the ability to communicate an artistic vision that unleashes the best talents of everyone in the organization. . .

Then I went on to discuss specific experience, qualifications, etc.

I suppose if any readers out there sit on this particular PNC, you now know my secret identity! Oh well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Write my resume

Okay, not really. I received an e-mail from a church to which my PIF was referred. They sent a list of supplemental questions for me to respond to. One of them was, "Since you've spent the last six and a half years at a micro church, just what the heck makes you think you've got the chops to take on a head-of-staff position at a big healthy (says them) church like ours??" Well, they said it more diplomatically than that, but that's what they meant. (I'm getting good at translating PNCese). Help me out sisters et al: I need some snappy comebacks to put me in the proper mood to compose a credible response.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Funny Church visiting moment #1

At the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland:

The bell rings (loudly) at the crucial moment of the mass. My son's eyes widen in surprise, then he turns to me and asks, (loudly), "Mom--was that supposed to happen???"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Friday Five

Earliest memory of church: a performance of Amal and the Night Visitors at our church the Christmas I was three. This is also my earliest memory of live theater. Funny that they are the same memory.

First time I took communion: I was about 10 when the "northern" Presbyterians decided baptized children could receive communion. Shortly thereafter we moved farther south where we joined a "southern" presbyterian church which had not made this decision yet. During my confirmation class at this church they made a big deal about what a special moment our first communion would be on the night, (Maundy Thursday), we were confirmed. I kept my guilty secret: it would not be my "first time". I was not a communion virgin on my confirmation night.

Favorite Bible verse: And blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord

Most discomforting bible verse: the whole binding of Isaac story

Favorite Hymn or Praise Song: Come O Thou Traveler Unknown

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Moving on

Several of you inquired in comments on my last post about what comes next for the members of my congregation and for me. I'll take these separately.

When we first began discussing the reality of closure, I wondered if it might be best for most of our members to transfer together to another Presbyterian Church close by--perhaps even making some of our assets available to that church, (with Presbytery approval etc, etc.) We have done VBS cooperatively with one nearby larger church for nearly a decade. This has always been a positive experience for those who participated, so to me this looked like a potential "match". I invited their co-pastors to visit a session meeting and say a few words about their congregation, it's vision for the future, yada yada yada. Our folks listened politely and asked some thoughtful questions. After they left, however, there was no groundswell of enthusiasm for joining forces with them in any official way. So I didn't push it. I do think some of our folks will end up there once all the dust settles.

I think the bottom line is that our members are still in mourning and not ready to commit to another relationship at this point. Most of them have talked to me about various churches they plan to visit: places they already have connections through friends or family, churches that have programs that are especially suited to the needs of their household; churches who have taken vocal stands on issues that are important to them--one family is even making the choice based in large part on which sanctuary is most wheelchair accessable for their increasingly mobility impaired grandmother. (Make note of this all of you who are wondering if that wheelchair ramp/elevator is worth all the trouble and expense.) I think most of them will settle into other church homes over the course of the next year.

Sadly, for some of our folks their sense of "church" is so completely identified with our congregation and their personal/family history there, that I don't think they will ever fully become part of the life of another congregation. I'd like to do a little butt-kicking to the younger folks for whom this is true, but my heart goes out to the elderly who are losing their church home at this stage of their lives.

As for me--I'm seeking another call. Anyone familiar with the Presbyterian call process knows that this process is painfully slow--both for pastors seeking new calls and for congregations seeking pastors. I'm trying to be patient. Actually, I don't mind a bit of a rest between gigs, but if it goes on too long it will be a financial hardship for us. I'll probably do some pulpit supply work as well.

We are taking some time to visit our friends' churches, go to mass with my RC husband, and (unheard of for clergy families), take some WEEKEND TRIPS!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dear Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners,
I am Pastor of a congregation that is dissolving for reasons I won't rehearse again here. We held our final worship service a week ago. Today when I arrived at the church to finish packing up my office, I saw a sign tacked to the front door. Under a beautiful photo of a sunset were the words: God Bless You! We are saddened to hear of the closing of this church. If you are looking for another church in this neighborhood, please visit _________ Church currently meeting in the Easter Seals building at (address). Our prayers are with you.

Now--maybe I'm a little over sensitive at this point, but am I correct in seeing this as the equivalent of asking the widow for a date on the ride home from the funeral?? Or am I over-reacting??

Peeved in Portland

Friday, September 30, 2005

A New Observance

We didn't usually have our very littlest kids with us for communion at our church, but a few years ago we made an exception on World Wide Communion Sunday. I visited their Sunday School class to talk about communion and, at the appropriate time in the service, we had the nursery attendant bring them to the sanctuary.

My daughter was around three at the time. It made a big impression. A few weeks later she called me into her room to see her playdough creations. There were variously shaped lumps placed very intentionally around her little play table.

She lifted one lump. "This is the bread." She held up another, "This is the broken body. And this," she flung her arms wide, "is Wild World Communion Sunday!"

I'm all for adding that to the offical liturgical calendar.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why don't I look more like Kate Winslet?

I've been getting "condolence" calls, for lack of a better word, from friends and family both near and far. One call was from a pastor I've known since we were both at the same seminary back in the day. He spent eight years as pastor of another small, struggling church here in Portland before leaving for an Associate job at one of the few big, thriving Presbyterian churches here inside the city limits.

He commented that, while he loves his new job, he often finds himself thinking that all he's really done is move from steerage to first class on the Titanic. The church as we know it is going to founder and the best you can hope for is caviar instead of stale bread while the ride lasts.

Maybe so. It does seem that there are not enough lifeboats for all of us.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Yesterday was the last worship service for my congregation. It was a hard day, but good. It felt to me like a funeral for a beloved relative who had lived a full life and would be greatly missed. The church was packed. The church down the road who volunteered to do the reception for us also cancelled their own worship that day to be with us. Lots of former members and the widow and children of a former pastor were there, as well as some neighborhood folks who haven't worshiped there in the six+ years I've been pastor. I was grateful for the support, but also VERY glad we'd done our grief work on a different Sunday without all the visitors.

I also warned our members: This is not the hard Sunday. The hard Sunday is NEXT Sunday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Of Course!

PRODUCT PLACEMENT! Of course! Why didn't I think of this before. I could have saved my church. Maybe it's not too late to save yours.

On The Writers' Almanac today, Garrison Keillor noted that today is the birthday of Fay Weldon who is known, among other things, for being the first author that we know of to accept payment for mentioning a particular product in one of her novels. (Some Italian jewelry maker.)

You guys! We could SO do product placement in our sermons. You know all those "slice of life" sermon illustrations we do? An interesting thing happened while I was grocery shopping/getting my car fixed/taking my daughter to ballet class . . . It would be easy as pie, (Sara Lee), to specify WHICH grocery store, which auto mechanic, which ballet school--for a small fee. Our congregations would not even notice the change until we produced financial reports showing income up 50%.

Now we would stay away from certain types of business, of course. Ethics are ethics. Come to think of it, though, some businessess would probably pay extra to be brought up in a sermon as examples of wickedness and dissipation . . .

At any rate, all our money worries are over. WE ARE SAVED!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tagged by Mindy

Five things I want to do before I die.
Write/publish a book
Have grandchildren
Travel to the continents I haven't been to yet
Play my guitar well
Teach somewhere

Five things I can do
Tell good stories
Mom stuff

Five things I cannot do
Keep my house tidy
Play sports of any kind
Find my keys when I need them
Keep up with fashion trends
Remember the rules to card games

Five things that attract me to the opposite sex
My husband and a number of my ex-boyfriends all have blond or light brown hair and wear round, wire-rimmed glasses. Yet I find Paul McCartney more attractive by far than John Lennon. I can't explain this.

Five things I say most often
Cut it OUT you two!!
Has anyone seen my keys?
Just a minute, let me finish reading this . . .
Have you actually LOOKED for it?
Who ate all the cookies?

Five celebrity crushes
Alan Alda (in Hawkeye Pierce mode)
Kenneth Branaugh
Denzel Washington
Daniel Radcliffe (if I were fifteen, I'd be a lost cause completely)
The two guys on Zaboomafoo

Five people I want to do this
The first five people moved by the Spirit to do so.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Unfamiliar Money

My seven year old on the walk home from the school bus stop yesterday afternoon:

"Mom? This year for my birthday, I'd like it if you gave me some kind of money I'm not so familiar with."

Me: "You mean like money from another country?"

Son: "No. I mean I'm familiar with one dollar bills and five dollar bills, but I'm not so familiar with fifty and a hundred dollar bills."

Him and me both!

Me: "What about two dollar bills? Have you ever seen a two dollar bill?"

Son: "Do they even have two dollar bills??"

Me: "Yes. Tell you what, we have to stop at the bank on our way to the library anyway. Bring your allowance money and we'll see if they can change it for two dollar bills."

Sure enough, half an hour later my son is the proud possessor of TWO two dollar bills. Momentary satisfaction, at least.

God? For my next job I would like a salary range I'm not so familiar with . . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bandaged Paws

Last week SpookyRach posted about Smokey the Bear. I grew up with Smokey smiling benignly down at me from various campground billboards, solemnly reminding me that only I could prevent forest fires.

But I haven't seen him around much lately. As I understand it, the big push to prevent forest fires at all costs and to ruthlessly suppress any that did break out turned out to be a mistake. It turned out that fire is actually part of the natural life cycle of a forest ecosystem--clearing out what is dead, nourishing the soil with ashes, clearing areas for new growth. Apparently Smokey's initiative to prevent forest fires actually messed with the forest ecosystem big time, eventually leading to widespread tree blight of various types and to truly catastrophic burns.

I think we may have made a similar mistake in our thinking about church vitality and viability. For many years, we seem to have taken a Smokey Bear approach. We thought that congregational decline and death was the worst possible thing that could happen--something to be avoided at all costs. So much money, energy, reasearch, etc. went into figuring out how to turn around congregations that appeared to be dying. There have been some small and a very few spectacular successes. But mostly we seem to have paved the way for an awful lot of despairing church members who believed Smokey and now think they could have prevented the decline of their churches if only they had more vigilent. And some experts think we are now facing a tsunami of church closures in the next 20 years.

But what if death is part of the natural life cycle of congregations --being the human organisms that they are? What if congregational deaths are part of what keeps the whole body of Christ healthy--clearing out what is dying, nourishing the church ecosystem with their legacies, clearing the way for new seeds to find good soil for growth. What if, in our emphasis on "saving" every dying church, we've messed with the ecclesiastical ecosystem and made ourselves sick? What if, instead of proclaiming that every congregation must survive and thrive, we let the natural cycle take its course--allowing congregations to live and to die at the acceptable time. Would more death bring more new life?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Comedy Central

Oh dear. We have hit the age of gross kid humor here at our place. Yesterday my second grader came home gleefully singing,

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a heater
Accidently turned it on
And Barbecued his peter!

What to do? Chime in with a number from my own vast repitoire of gross kid songs collected in my own youth and my years in youth ministry? Would it take the wind out of his sails to know that Mom has known those songs for years, ho hum--yawn. Or would it just spur him on to greater grossness efforts?

Maybe I should sign him up for that fundamentalist military boarding school that advertizes in the backs of magazines . . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fall Meme

Favorite fall dessert: Apple Crisp with carmel sauce and vanilla ice cream
Favorite holiday: All Saints Day
Best fall memory: Two fall babies
Worst fall memory: Two bad break-ups back in college/seminary days
Most puzzling fall memory: Trying to explain pumpkin pie to a chef in Zagreb, Fall of 1983
Best thing about fall walks: cool, dry air
Favorite fall chore: Buying blank notebooks for school
Least favorite fall chore: Stewardship Campaign
Best change in the home: Cat sleeps on our bed again
Favorite flower: Sunflowers
Best tree in the fall: Maple
Fall ritual: Pumpkin Carving
Most frustrating thing about fall: Rain returns to Oregon after the dry season
Favorite childhood game: Inhaling Helium from Balloons at School Halloween Carnival, then talking funny and laughing hysterically.
Favorite childhood memory: Gypsy costume from second grade
Favorite decorations: Luminaria
Favorite clothing: new sweater
Best scenery: First new snow on Mt. Hood
Best fall travel tip: Thanksgiving is a good holiday for clergy to take off
Favorite drink: Buy unpasturized cider from Amish farm, put it on the windowsill until it starts fizzing. (Old Ohio college kid trick)
Best method of transportation: Feet
Traditional fall candy: Candy snitched from kids' trick or treat loot before they were old enough to notice what I was up to. Those days are long gone.
Favorite Sound: Geese over Willamette River
Best for fall sex: Put the flannel sheets back on.
Fall song: For All The Saints
Reliable prediction: Cat will protest when we start closing the windows at night.
Best fall television show: Any M*A*S*H Thanksgiving episode

Monday, September 12, 2005

Home Stretch

My church is headed down the final stretch. Our final worship service is September 25th, although the dissolution will not be official until the next Presbytery meeting in November. There are some good things about being in a Presbytery that only meets three times a year, but the downside is that you can spend a loooooooooooong time in a holding pattern for a process that requires Presbytery action and can't be delegated to a committee.

I attended, (and blogged about) another closing service for a church nearby last spring. This service made me wary of final worship services as "celebration". The service at the other church was planned primarily by folks from around our Presbytery. They did a good job under the difficult circumstances surrounding the closing of that particular congregation. Still, there was a sense that we were desperately trying to feel "okay" about what was happening, when we were all very sad about it, really. Even those of us, (myself included), who believed that closure was the right thing to do, wished it weren't happening. And the remaining members of that church, (they were down to about a dozen by the end), were all kinds of angry, bitter, grief-stricken, etc.

So I was very supportive of the member of our session who said, as we planned for our final month of worship, "I don't want to celebrate. I'm not happy."

Yesterday was a Service for Healing and Wholness, with a bunch of time set aside for folks to share their sadness and anger about what was happening. Next week will be a Comissioning Service where we send each other out to take the love of God that we have found in this place into the wider church and world. Then the last Sunday we will invite all comers to come help us Remember, (we're not using the word celebrate), the 111 years of our church's ministry in this place.

Another small church not too far from us, one that has also come to the brink of closing and recovered, called and volunteered to take on the reception and clean-up following the final service. This kindness warmed our hearts.

Keep us in your prayers.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lowered Security

Okay--I'm going to try taking the 'blogger only" filter off my comments. But if I get heaps of mean annoymous comments it's going right back on, so be nice.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Boy Named Sue?

So my second grader's seatmate this year is a recent immigrant named Abdik Hussein. Poor kid. Abdik, not my son. I don't care how culturally sensitive the teachers are, this kid is going to get teased and taunted about the Hussein thing.

We've all rightly done some soul searching in recent years about the horrors heaped upon immigrants in the name of the great American Melting Pot. But really, an alert Ellis Island clerk who could have transformed Abdik Hussein into Alan Harris with the stroke of a pen might have been the best thing that could have happened to this kid-- at least as far as his social life in elementary school is concerned.

Now before you all pound me, let me explain that I am the child of an immigrant as well as the bearer of a "distinctive" last name. When my grandmother and my father arrived here in 1946, having just barely survived the Holocaust, my grandmother did a little reinvention. She changed their fairly obviously Jewish name to a fairly obviously Italian one. I can see how this made sense at the time. They were settling in New York City, she had lived in Italy for many years after leaving Russia. An Italian name would allow her olive skinned boy with curly black hair to pass, (sort of), as a less dangerous ethnic group to belong to-- at least based on her recent experience. She also packed him off to Catholic boarding school to complete the protective camoflage.

She could not have known that, one day, her son would find himself in a North Carolina mountain town filled with the descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants. She could not know that the Italian name she had chosen as protective camoflage would cause the granddaughter who would begin her school career in this town to stick out like pasta primavera at an apple pie festival. She could not know that this "safe" Italian surname she had chosen would be like Christmas everyday for the teasers and taunters stalking the halls of Scots Creek Elementary school.

So--I don't know. Maybe changing Abdik's name wouldn't be a long term solution after all. It might work for him, but not for his grandkids.

I will say that when I had the chance to switch to a truly safe last name--one that usually has nearly a whole page of its own in the phone directory--I didn't do it. This was partly on feminist principle, but even more so on the theory that a name you've suffered for and defended every day of your childhood is not something to relinquish lightly.

But my kids got the easy name.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Kindergarten Rubicon

So--as of 8:00 a.m. today I stand on the other side of the great river--looking on as diaper bags, baby bjiorns, strollers, tellatubbies, pre-school, tricycles, sippy cups, and mommy and me classes recede into the distance, turning toward where high school and drivers' licenses appear on the far horizon. No more having one foot on either side of the divide. Our baby/toddler/preschool years are over. My baby is in kindergarten. She doesn't even want me to drive her the next day. She wants to ride the bus and have big brother escort her to her classroom. Ms. Independence. Wonder where she got that from . . .

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Modest Proposal. . .

. . . That in lieu of overturing General Assembly one way or another on Ordination Standards, Covenant Network and Confessing Churches spend 2006 sponsoring joint service teams to New Orleans and Coastal Mississippi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

There must be fifty ways to lose your church . . .

I think the truth for my congregation in the Katrina disaster is that, while it is right and good for us to feel sadness and grief at the loss of our church, self-pity is not okay.

We are "losing" our church through a rising tide of budget difficulties, massive neighborhood changes, flagging energy, and Presbytery's closing off some options for us. All along the Gulf Coast there are Christians who have lost their churches to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Sure, many of those churches will eventually rebuild and ministry will go on more or less as before. But I'm guessing many churches will not reopen. For many that were on the edge of viability anyway, this will be the coup de grace, (or not so grace). Some churches will discover, once the dust settles, that most of their members have left the area for good. Some congregations will decide that, since they have to rebuild anyway, they ought to look for a better location. Presbyteries, Diocese, Conferences, etc. will have to make painful decisions about where scarce aid resources can best be put to use.

And if we widen our circle of concern, we can remember those whose churches have been destroyed in war, or declared illegal so their property could be confiscated by the powers that be.

The truth is, churches--with a small c--get wiped out all the time by various forces human and natural. Even the Church--big C--will disappear in the fulness of time. Our hope is in God.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This just in--a genuine typo disaster from a colleague of mine.

We've all seen those silly lists of bulletin typos, etc. But here is a real life screw up by my secretary. Seems that we have a cadre of volunteers who usher at funerals . Today we gave a lunch to thank them for their ministry. At the lunch we handed out the funeral guide that we share with families. It has a pull-out sheet for pre-planning purposes. Here's the way item H reads H. Wishes regarding flowers (Please check the appropriate box.)
____ Give to shit-ins
____ Place on grave

By the way, we also have a very well organized shit-in ministry.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

100 Things About Me

1. I don't think there are 100 things about me that are all that interesting.
2. My first, middle and last names, translated to their literal meanings mean Pure Christian I Think.
3. But I'm half Jewish.
4. My Dad and his Mom are Holocaust survivors.
5. My Protestant Grandfather was drafted at age 32. He was a high school English Teacher. They made him editor of the base newspaper. He said if the Japs attacked, he would throw his typewriter at them.
6. Writing runs in my family.
7. I lived in six different states and two foreign countries before leaving home for college.
8. The house I live in now is the house I've lived in longest of any house I've ever lived in.
9. But I'll probably be moving within the next year.
10. My great-great aunt was a lion tamer with a traveling carnival.
11. We have pictures to prove this.
12. My mother was forbidden to share this information as a child. Too socially unacceptable.
13. I first thought of becoming a minister when I was 11.
14. Like Peripatetic Polar Bear, I also had a crush on a tap dancing guy in my youth.
15. My tap dancer also turned out to be gay.
16. I was eating Bagels before most people in the places I lived even knew what Bagels were.
17. I also like grits.
18. And anchovies.
19. But not together.
20. I will always pick the celery and cucumber out of any salad.
21. My son is named after my grandfather.
22. My daughter's middle name is my grandmother's.
23. My husband is Roman Catholic.
24. Only Roman Catholics would be naive enough to marry a clergyperson, having no notion of what being a clergy spouse might involve.
25. We met through a video dating service. This was just before the internet really got going.
26. But we tell most people we met at Powell's Bookstore. This is not really a lie because that is actually where we first met face to face.
27. My father-in-law was the son in his family chosen to become a priest. He rebelled, but not until after high school graduation, because if his Dad had known, he would have been yanked out of high school immediately-- there being no reason/excuse for "higher" education except impending ordination.
28. My grandmother wanted to become a missionary, but her Dad wouldn't let her.
29. I once threw a watermelon out of a fifth story window and onto Broadway. I didn't hit anyone.
30. The states I've never been to are: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii.
31. My son wants to be a marine biologist/spy/artist when he grows up.
32. He is too hot tempered to be a good spy.
33. My daughter wants to be a ballerina. She is going to be too tall, but I won't tell her that yet.
34. One of my grandmothers never went gray. I look like her. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
35. I played the flute in jr. high.
36. I can play guitar as long as the song has no more than three chords.
37. And it's a slow song.
38. I'm a soprano.
39. When I do ballroom dancing, (infrequent), I have to consciously remind myself not to lead.
40. Most guys find this amusing.
41. Some don't.
42. I'm a good cook, but I am the world's worst housekeeper.
43. I'm not kidding.
44. Really.
45. P.E. was my least favorite subject in school.
46. I'm hopeless at anything involving a team and a ball.
47. But I was good a gymnastics, archery, and folk dancing.
48. Volleyball was the worst. At least in softball or soccer you could hide in some obscure corner of the field.
49. I decided in seventh grade that God had made me bad at sports so I would not become arrogant.
50. I was probably right.
51. I was a top student at every level of school except seminary.
52. I went to seminary just weeks after my 21st birthday. I had a lot of "coming of age" issues to work through. This may explain why I was not paying good attention in class.
53. Also, my seminary did not really give grades. They were all non-competetive and shit. You passed or you failed or, in rare and seemingly arbitrary cases, you got "distinction". I'm way too much of a gold star person for this to work for me. If there's no difference between D and A-, why put in the effort?
54. I found out I was pregnant with my second child on April Fool's Day.
55. My first baby never slept. Ever.
56. Then he started walking at 9 months.
57. I don't recommend this in a first baby.
58. My husband is one of 10 children.
59. God forbid.
60. Nevertheless, my mother-in-law is one of the sanest, most grounded people I know.
61. I'm not crafty.
62. Don't ask me to make the decorations.
63. You'll be sorry.
64. I'll make a cake and bring a casserole, however.
65. I don't excersize enough.
66. My mother poured a pitcher of iced tea over my head once.
67. I had dunked my dirty hands into the tea to rinse them off.
68. I was old enough to know better.
69. I like snow.
70. It doesn't snow much in Portland.
71. I think I have very mild SAD. I don't become non-functional during the late fall and winter, but I have trouble thinking straight.
72. I'm a Cancer.
73. And an INFJ.
74. Born in the year of the Dragon.
75. I like preaching, teaching and pastoral care.
76. I don't mind budgeting and building management.
77. I hate fundraising and recruiting and "small talk" events.
78. My favorite books growing up were the Little House Books.
79. I didn't like horse stories, but people kept giving me horse books.
80. I read The Thorn Birds when I was 13. Very educational.
81. I was an Anglican for a while when my family lived in England when I was in high school.
82. I might have ended up Anglican forever, if I had not gone directly from England to a Presbyterian related college where I was recaptured by the Calvinists.
83. I love murder mysteries.
84. I have never made it all the way through a romance novel.
85. I like fantansy, but not science fiction so much.
86. I want a dishwasher. The manse I live in does not have one, or the plumbing to make installing one simple.
87. I don't mind not having a garbage disposal.
88. My daughter wants her own bedroom so she can make it a girl bedroom.
89. I have one cat and three fish. We had four fish, but one passed away last weekend.
90. My cat can catch hummingbirds.
91. But she has not caught the mole that is chewing up our backyard.
92. My kids want a dog.
93. Not happening.
94. Not any time soon anyway.
95. My husband irons his own shirts because he doesn't think I do it right.
96. So why learn to do it right?
97. The first church I served was the fifth oldest Presbyterian Church in the country.
98. Let me know if there is a good Presbyterian church in your area looking for a pastor.
99. Or even a not so good one with potential.
100. Have a nice day!!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Vision Thing

Over at St. Cass's rant day, Quotidian Grace was looking for a biblical curse on visioning committees. I had to chuckle. Being in "call seeking" mode myself, I have read dozens of Church Information Forms in the past month. At least 3/4 of them seem to include a statement to the effect that the congregation has just completed a Visioning Process and is now ready to do Great Things, (assuming they can find Super Pastor to come lead them).

So what is it with the Vision Thing? When I look at the Bible, it seems that the people who received visions: Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple, Mary with Gabriel, Peter on the roof of Simon's house, Paul on the road to Damascus--had not put themselves through a committee process to prepare themselves to receive these visions. They were not, in fact, expecting a vision at all. They were knocked on their butts with surprise and most of them were none too pleased. Visions in scripture seem to be surprising movements of God's grace, not something God's people can produce through their own efforts.

Now there is in the bible and in church practice a tradition of discernment. This is probably a better word for what QG and these pastor-seeking congregations are actually doing; trying to discern what God is calling them to do as faithful disciples in their time and place. I honor that. I do worry, though, that for them and for me the models we often use for discernment come more from contemporary market research trends than classic spiritual disciplines. Instead of fasting, listening, prayer, confession, etc. it becomes all about collecting demographic information and finding out what the market will bear.

How do we move past this? How do we make way for the visions we didn't plan for and aren't sure we like? How do we engage in honest discernment that is not captive to market forces??

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Small Blessings Dept.

One good thing about serving a church in the process of closing-- we have absolutely no need for: better long distance service, cheaper internet connections, curriculum samples, t-shirts to sell on consignment, package tours of the holy land with discounts for pastors, corporate credit cards, wholesome videos for our children's ministry, sports equipment for the youth group, yard service, roof repair, chimney pointing, office supplies, creative bulletin covers, church data base software, new pew cushions, bulk supplies of plastic communion cups or any of the other things telemarketers call us about on a daily basis. Well--almost any--we'll take those 50% off pizza coupons, thanks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Surprised by Joy??

Today is a nice day in Portland. As I drove through my neighborhood I noticed a guy out on his front porch working on his laptop. Just as I passed his house, I saw his mouth drop open and his face light up with happy amazement. He was leaned forward in his chair, staring at his computer.

My first thought was, "I'll never know what that was all about!"
My second thought was,"When was the last time I saw someone look like that in worship?"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

For the Doctoral Students among us . . .

And especially Friday Mom.

During my weekly phone call to the parents they reported that my old high school and college buddy had been in town visiting her folks. This friend has just finished her doctoral work after many years, much to the relief of her long-suffering husband and two small daughters. My dad, also a PhD, was congratualting her and remenicing about those long ago days when his own doctoral studies were stressing the life of his young family. My friend responded with this story.

Toward the end, she was home one morning, tapping away at her computer, when she heard the phone ring. Her preschool daughter ran to answer it. After a pause, my friend heard her darling cherub say, "Yes, my mom is home. But she's working on her fucking dissertation."

Could I add that this dissertation was being written for a respected east coast divinity school??

Friday, August 19, 2005

another step

Hi folks. I just added word verification to my blogger comment settings. Supposedly this will discourage those who believe that readers of this blog depend upon it for referals to used car vendors, stock brokerage firms, cheap pharmacueticals, etc. Hope it's not too irksome.

Casting Problems

My daughter woke up in the night throwing up. I'm not sure if she is truly ill, or if this is but one more manifestation of her extreme anxiety over the little playlet her daycamp is supposed to perform today. They are doing Snow White and she has been cast as the Wicked Queen.

She was devestated not to be Snow White. She has her own Snow White costume purchased for her last birthday by Doting Aunt. Besides that, she has moral qualms about playing an evil character. "I don't want to be on the bad side, Mom," she told me.

In the preschool from which she just graduated, (the one with 'collective' in its name), this would never have happened. The teacher would have encouraged the children to choose their own roles and if they ended up with eight snow whites, two dwarves and no queen--so be it. You'd work with that.

I'm struggling with how much "fixing" I'm supposed to do here. She's almost six. When is it time to learn the hard truth that, in life after preschool, you don't always get the role you want. You play the role that comes to you and learn what you can from it.

This is all complicated, of course, by the fact that I'm not liking The Great Casting Director's choices for my own life very much right now. I didn't want the role of compassionate pastor closing a struggling church. I wanted the role of incredibly talented pastor bringing a struggling church roaring back to life to the amazement of all who witnessed it.

It may be that my little sweetie has fixed her own problem by getting sick and bailing out. I don't think I get that option.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust??

I got a call yesterday morning from one of my microchurch colleagues. (I coined the term microchurch to distinguish the type of church we serve from the "small" church which, according to the literature can be as large as 150 members--four times the size of my church.)

Anyway--the last time we talked, she'd shared that she was probably going from full to half time at the start of the year due to financial realities in her congregation. However, last week she sat down with her treasurer and chair of the finance comittee to crunch numbers and discovered that even supporting a half time pastor is not a sustainable possibility for them. What she wanted from me was advice and counsel on how to lead a congregation through a discussion of the possibility of closing.

Believe me, this is the last thing on earth on which I wish to be considered an expert. But I was glad to talk to her because when I had that same question a year ago, I couldn't find a lot of helpful stuff out there in church publications land. There's a lot of church revitalization literature, church growth advice, creative thinking about the future of THE CHURCH--but not a lot of "how to" advice for when a congregation is truly running out of options and really needs to have a healthy conversation about the possibility of closure. And there is even less info on what you do when you've decided to close. How do you do this in a healthy, faithful, healing way? I'm guessing that a lot of members of churches that close do not find their way to new congregations because of lingering pain, anger, shame, etc. from the church closure experience.

Some of you have suggested I try writing about this (besides here in the ole blog). And I'm thinking about it. But I think what would be more widely helpful is input from many pastors and congregations that have experienced this--as well as actual hard research from some Alban Institute type place--how many churches are closing? Why? What are the stats on what happens to members of dissolved churches? ARe there case studies of congregations who have hanedled this process creatively and well and case studies of churches who have not? What role does the governing body play in shepherding a "good" or "bad" closure? Are there examples of where dissolving a particular congregation led to some hopeful "new thing"? That would be very helpful to hear.

If you have experiences to share--or know of folks who do, let me know.

Monday, August 15, 2005

This lonesome valley . . .

Honestly, I don't know that I'm spiritually strong enough to endure the Presbyterian call process right now. It brings all the demons out to dance . . .

First there are the voices that explain that you will never recieve another call because you are a total wash-out as a pastor--too lazy, too people-pleasing, too introverted, too bookish, too plagued by doubts. Who'd want that for a pastor anyway??

And then, from the opposite direction come the voices that explain that you are brilliant and well-connected and are destined for greatness. Don't waste your time with small churches in small places. Go for the gusto. Call your friends in high places and tell them to hook you up. If that loser from your old seminary class can get the call to _________ then ANYONE can get a big church call. You're ten times smarter than he his. Ask anyone.

And while all this is going on, other voices remind you that you are a terrible mother for even thinking about returning to full time work--any full time work, that your children will be scarred for life if you move them away from their friends, that if your husband were to leave his current job to follow you somewhere, he will resent it forever and run off with some model named Raven.

And don't get me started on the housekeeping demons who kindly point out, "You've got mold growing in your silverware drawer and ants eating the cheeto crumbs in the TV room and you think you can run a friggin' church? Get out of town!!"

save us in the time of trial . . . .

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bishop Envy?

We've talked to quite a few unchurchy-type friends and neighbors about the impending closure of our church. With few exceptions, one of their questions is, "Where will they send you next?" These folks are surprised when I explain that, in the Presbyterian system, there is no "they" to "send" me anywhere; that when the church closes this fall I will be just as unemployed as they would be if their company, school, clinic, service agency, or whatever were to shut its doors-- That I'll be sending out the Presbyterian equivalent of a resume, working my network and waiting by the phone just like any other job seeker in town.

"Wow!" they blink.

So, to the apparent belief that churches are fixed parts of the landscape, running on no visible means of support, I can now add the apparent notion that pastors pretty much have no employment worries. Apparently, if folks think about this at all, they assume we're kind of like the military or CIA agents: we might get difficult or dislikable assignments, but we've always got some kind of gig.

Of course, I could have joined up with the Methodists . . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bad Hair Day

My son has undertaken a bit of self-barbering. He did this on a dare from his best buddy, Nathan, whose parents are both Lutheran pastors. I'm not saying Lutheran theology necessarily had anything to do with this blatant manipulation of a young Calvinist's insecurities--I'm just laying out the facts. You can judge for yourself.

Last week while I was driving these boys to daycamp, my son asked what the difference was between Lutherans and Presbyterians. I said they were very alike in many ways, but they had some differences based on the beliefs of two men named Martin Luther and John Calvin. I was busy trying to work out how I would interpret those beliefs in second-grader language when Nathan interrupted.

"The difference between my church and yours is that our sanctuary is MUCH bigger!" Six days later the hair thing. Coincidence???? You tell me.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Take this Cup

At her daycamp this week, my five year old daughter has learned to make oragami paper cups. Last night she got ahold of a pad of post it notes and folded dozens of them. They looked like nothing so much as tiny, oragami communion cups.

I'm thinking that for our congregation's final worship service we'll hang the tie-dyed paraments, use the oragami communion cups and I'll get that recipe for whole wheat rosemary bread that we used at Summer Conference. Better yet, we'll just use granola . . .

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Horror, The Horror . . .

Recently one of our Sunday school teachers asked me if she could organize a tie-dye party for the Sunday School kids. It sounded like a fun summer activity. This woman is creative, generous, and nurturing with perhaps just the merest hint of space cadet stirred into the mix. Really just the kind of person you want to have active in your children's ministry.

A few days before the event, which I was going to be unable to attend personally because of a prior engagement, she asked if she and the kids could make some tie-dyed paraments. Now, normally I would have channeled this energy in another direction. ("I know! Let's tie-dye a dozen pillowcases for the women's shelter!") But I'm trying to be very gentle with my people right now; attending to the possibility that odd suggestions and behavior are part of their process of working through their grief at the church's closing.

So, against my better judgement, I said, "Why not?" I figured at least we'd only have to use them once.

But when she asked, "Can we make some tie-dyed paraments?" I assumed she intended to make them out of some old sheets or bath towels cut down to the approximate size and shape of paraments. But no. NO!! She took our ACTUAL WHITE PARAMENTS and TIE-DYED them!!! Whatever you are imagining in your mind at this moment, let me assure you they look worse. When I arrived to retrieve my own children from the event, they were already drying on the line. I was stunned speechless.

"What do you think?" she asked.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," I replied.

Now, dear friends in the blogosphere. My church is closing this fall. We will have no further use for these cutting edge liturgical art creations. To the first person who contacts me with an interest in acquring these for your church, I will ship these to you, free of charge. Yes, to even international addresses.

Friday, August 05, 2005

When this was noised abroad . . .

Word is starting to travel through the neighborhood about the church closing. I've been amazed at the folks who have approached me with real dismay at this news. These are people on whose doorknobs we've hung invitations to church stuff , people who come to our annual rummage sale, people we wave to from the church porch on Sunday mornings as we prepare for worship and they head off to Starbucks or the little French Bistro down the street that does fabulous brunch. These are people who send us info about their association, club, etc. to put on the church bulletin board, who call us when they have a used computer or copier they need to unload---but people who almost never enter the building.

I can only conclude that, while these people--who are a fair representation of your average SW Portlanders--don't want to DO church, they want church to be there. They want church to be part of the landscape, they want it to continue to be an option even if it's an option they almost never choose. They don't want to go to church, but they want church to be there to not go to.

What are we church leaders supposed to do with that, anyway??

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Accomplishments in Present Call

That's the heading of one of the sections of the Personal Information Form that Presbyterian Pastors have to fill out when they are seeking a new call.

In my present call I am closing a tiny, struggling urban church. This congregation has been teetering on the brink of viability for the last twenty years and finally ran out of money, energy and time.

How, exactly, am I supposed to spin that into an "accomplishment" that will make Pastor Nominating Committees stand up and yell "Hallelujah! Just who we're looking for!" Maybe the Roves and Carvilles of this world could do it, but I'm having a hard time spinning this particular straw into gold.

Ideas anyone???

Monday, August 01, 2005

Eschatological Camping

This past weekend was the annual church camp-out. My own kids look forward to this all year--and I usually enjoy it myself. (This is somewhat surprising given that my family of origin was highly camping-impaired.)

This year we went to a state park on a large lake. In Oregon, if you are under 13 you don't need a fishing license, so the younger kids took advantage of this in a big way. They fished and fished and fished. They caught dozens of four inch perch which were duly admired and released. They narrowly missed hooking each other with wild casts. They discussed various worm cutting techniques. One kid fell off the dock and into the lake--high drama, no injuries. Their sunscreen wore off and their ears turned pink. They quarreled over whose turn it was to use the "good" pole. They learned to sit and wait for a tug on the line instead of reeling the hook in every twenty seconds.

Finally it got dark and thoughts turned to s'mores. My son sat by our campfire, his marshmallow roasting fork extended over the hot coals.

"You know," he remarked. "This is a lot like fishing."

Long thoughtful pause.

"But this is easier, because you're waiting for something you've already caught."

Now--here's my question for all of you: Is Christian hope more like fishing or marshmallow roasting?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Grief and Santa Tchotckes

As my congregation struggles to come to terms with its impending closure, one member remarked that it feels like a death in the family. This is even more true than she realizes, I think. The feelings folks are expressing are absolutely representative of the various manifestations of grief I've seen in bereaved parishoners over the years.

Guilt: If only I/we had done something differently, this would not have happened.
Blaming: It's THEIR fault, THEY could have stopped/prevented this from happening.
Minimizing: It's for the best. She was suffering. She lived a good long life.
Globalizing: I'll never love again. This was the only place for me.

And . . . Fighting over the Deceased Possessions: The daughter of a member who died last year called to see if she could come get a couple of Christmas decorations her mother had bought for the church in the past. I said sure. She came over and was distressed to discover that one particular item was missing. I remember the item well. It was a tiny sleigh with Santa and his reindeer. More than once I had to remind these reindeer that they were only allowed in the fellowship hall--not in the sanctuary, not in the narthex. I have a big feeling the reindeer were set free into the wider world last Christmas when a group did a big purge of the Christmas decoration bins.

For the still grieving daughter, though, this missing-in-action tchotcke was symbolic of the many perceived slights to her mother at the hands of other church members over the years. And of course, in her mind it is these same members whose selfish, power-grasping, unchristian behavior has brought low the church her mother loved more than life itself.

Ah well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

It's not easy, bein' green

Last night we took the church kids to Oaks Park, an old fashioned amusement park down on the Willamette River. (More like a permanent fair midway than like a slick Six-Flags type place.) Since last summer my own kids have somehow graduated from kiddie rides and now want to explore more thrilling possibilites.

Sisters and Brothers, hear my testimony: My inner ear, she ain't what she used to be. I, who in my prime could fly on the tiltiest, spinniest, twistiest, twirliest rides that ever graced a theme park, found myself staggering off the Tilt-A-Whirl and lurching toward the nearest coke machine for some stomach settling elixer. I haven't turned that particular shade of green since a stormy English Channel crossing the winter I was sixteen.

Oh well, there's still the bumper cars--at least till my back gives out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Is there a Pastor in the House?

Last week's Harry Potter extravaganza in the blogging world made me wonder: Is there a particular Hogwarts house that would produce the best pastors? Here's what I'm thinking.

Ravenclaw: You delight in the intellectual aspects of ministry: the study of theology, the crafting of sermons, the assimilation of vast knowledge regarding church history, polity and tradition. Your study is your sanctuary--it is here that you feel the presence of God. Your keen mind penetrates to the heart of ethical and ecclessial dilemmas. However, the relational aspects of ministry can be hard for you. You have to drag yourself out of your study to connect to people on an emotional rather than intellectual level. You have a limited amount of social energy, so you have to focus it carefully and pace yourself. Alternate careers: Professor, author, librarian.

Hufflepuff: Hufflepuffs loooved their Practical Theology classes at seminary. Your greatest delight in ministry is the actual tasks of ministry: pastoral care, visitation, organizing programs, recruiting volunteers, managing the organization. You know where the church furnace is located and could fix it in a pinch. You are generally quite popular with your congregation for your hard work and availability. However, your focus on the practicalities of ministry sometimes keeps your from seeing a grander vision, a bigger picture. Your congregations will be solid and healthy, but will seldom make the news for taking daring stands or developing cutting edge ministries. Some folks will exploit your willingness to work hard, so you have to guard against early burnout. Alternate careers: Director of community center, chef.

Gryffindor: You are attracted to the ministry because it offers a context for your need to be involved in a heroic quest: Defending the Truth, Working for Justice, Spreading the Gospel; Building God's Kingdom. You are willing to take a stand, be part of an embattled minority, sacrifice everything for The Cause. Your ministry is inspiring. As a charismatic leader you can motivate your people to great undertakings. However, you are easily dillusioned with the petty realities that inevitably crop up in congregational and denominational life. The day-to-day routine of running a church can make you tired and frustrated. You have absolutely no patience with church politics or polity and can become enraged when you run smack into it while on your quest for Truth and Justice. Alternate careers: missionary, non-profit founder, social work

Sytherin: You have incredible entrepenuerial skills. You look at a swath of farmland on the edge of the suburbs and get that Megachurch gleam in your eye. You can size up a congregation or community and immediately identify who has resources and connections that can be tapped for the success of your latest project. You may scorn denominational structures and rules, but you know how to use them to promote your mission---or to take down your enemies. Members of your church are grateful for the growth and money you bring to your congregations, but deep down they may feel that you don't care about them personally. They may hesitate to approach you with problems, feeling that you only want to hear "success stories". Alternate careers: business owner, Archbishop.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Do not go gentle into that good night

At our congregational meeting today, the congregation voted to petition Presbytery for closure. Those if favor of this option were the clear majority, but it was not a unanimous decision. It was interesting to me that those who were the most angry and upset seemed angry not because they had a burning passion to transform our church. They were hopping mad at the trustees of Presbytery for denying us permission to sell the manse. It was more of a "turf" thing than a ministry thing.

Here's my take. As we were going through the process of deciding whether or not we should ask to sell the manse, I thought to myself: "Even if we sell the manse, there's still a 75% chance we won't be here five years from now. But if we don't sell the manse, there's a 100% chance we won't be here five years from now." In my mind, it seemed worth the gamble. But then, I've invested 6+ years of ministry here, I love my folks, I love our legacy in this neighborhood. I'm far from objective on this question. Maybe that's why our system is set up the way it is: so that there is a group of less emotionally entangled brains making that final judgement call.

If I'd sensed that there was real energy and passion for congregational change, I would have encouraged my folks to fight the trustees' decision. But I don't see fighting just because we want control and autonomy. That seems wrong for a group who supposedly model themselves on fore-mothers and fathers who, "held all things in common--no one said that what they had was their own . . ."

After we'd voted on the motion to close, someone rose to make a motion that we write a letter urging Presbytery to explore creative possibilities for new kinds of ministry in this place. This motion passed overwhelmingly. Let's hope someone out there is listening.

Friday, July 22, 2005

It's a Jungle Out There

My kids are attending their third VBS of the summer. (Occupational hazzard for PK's, perhaps.) Our church did Around the World in Five Days in which three of the five countries involved exotic animals and terrain. At summer conference, they focused on the Creation story which also involved much reference to the animal kingdom. And this week they are attending a friends' church that is doing A Prayer Safari.

Yesterday as we were driving home from the pool, my five year old daughter piped up, "Mommy? Why is Vacation Bible School always about the jungle?"

Why indeed? Is it just barely possible that we have gone over the top with curricular themes, especially for VBS? Do kids remember the God stuff, or this year's gimmick? Would it be so outrageous to say, this year's VBS theme is The Parables of Christ, and leave it at that? No jungle backdrop, no bible-totin' cokepokes, no talking tomatoes? Are we afraid the bible isn't exciting enough all on it's own? Seems to me with giants, angels, parting seas, multiplying bread, and tongues of fire our own material is pretty good without dragging in cheap special effects. I don't want to offend any curriculum writers out there, but what's up with the jungle?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

All Things Work Together for Good

I've been working with this Romans text for preaching Sunday when it suddenly hit me: part of my deep anxiety about the church's decision is that I have it in my mind that there is ONE right answer to our dilemma. I've been operating on the premise that if we fail to discern this one right answer and act on it, we will have failed some cosmic test and divine remonstrance will be in store for us all.

But-- all things works together for good for those who love him and are called according to divine purpose . . .

What if this means that, in difficult and complex situations like this there are any number of ways that God can work God's purpose out. We need to be faithful in trying to discern God's word to us in any given situation, but God's purpose is not dependent upon us "getting it right". This isn't like the Monty Python scene where you misguess the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow and you're thrown off a cliff. This isn't like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where one wrong move in a game of Wizard's chess means Voldemort wins.

Maybe the decision to close the church is totally the wrong decision: God will still be at work. Maybe we'll decide to try to hang on and fight back when we should realize that our work is done and step aside for something new to happen here. God will still be at work. Maybe the truth is: we can't get this wrong because in Christ all things work together for good for God's people. God's not going to cut us off if our discernment process falters. Nothing, not even a questionable decision on a complex dilemma, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From the Mixed up Files . . .

This Sunday my congregation meets to vote on whether to petition Presbytery for closure. No one is happy, but there seems to be a sense of moving toward decision and resolution. BUT today I talked to a Presbytery staff member, (not the one usually in charge of churches in my region of presbytery, but everyone else is on vacation), and he asked didn't I think that was a little premature. Were we sure we'd thought through all the options? Had we considered fighting the Trustee's decision not to grant us permission to sell the church manse.

So now I'm confused. Should I be encouraging my folks to fight harder? Are we giving up too quickly? I thought I was pretty clear on this, but now I'm feeling guilty.

AND I've been encouraged to look into an interim possibility opening in our Presbytery--we'd have to move but it's at the beach! I think I could live with that for a year or so! But is this really a call or is this just me wanting to escape this Chinese water torture, "to close or not to close" marathon?

Yikes. We J's are not good at limbo and living with multiple options. Maybe I should brew up some Felix Felicis!!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Funny church conference moment #2

Today we had our closing worship service just before lunch. It was much better than the opening one: the leader had done all sorts of things to make the service inclusive of children and my two each had parts. The high point of the service was communion. We received by intinction so me and the kids filed into the aisle when it was our turn. With people coming in from the row across the aisle as well, my daughter and I got separated from my son so that he was ahead of us reaching the communion servers. There seemed to be a delay of some sort. I got a bit nervous. My son was bowed intently over his piece of bread. Was he deep in prayer? I thought this unlikely, so I craned my neck to see what was happening. I leaned forward in time to hear him mutter, "There's GREEN stuff in my bread!"

Indeed there was. A member of a local congregation had lovingly prepared homemade bread for the sacrament: whole wheat flecked with fresh rosemary---which my kid slowly and carefully picked out of his piece before eating it. So----it's Body of Christ, yes; Rosemary, no. Got that???

Monday, July 11, 2005

Funny church conference moment #1

The kids and I are at our Presbytery's annual summer conference. (T didn't come along--it's not really his thing . . .) Most conference logistics snafus go largely unnoticed by participants, but I happen to be on the planning team for this one, so I can tell when something "off script" is happening. Our Presbytery is quite large geographically, and many people travel long hours to get to the college campus where the conference happens. The conference starts on a Sunday evening to give folks plenty of time to make the trip. We try to keep that night simple: registration, dinner, introductions of staff and speakers, and a brief opening worship service. This is about all folks can take in after travelling all day or after doing church, frantically packing, and making a shorter journey.

Last night's worship was supposed to last 30 minutes. At the twenty minute mark, our keynoter got up to speak. Twenty minutes later he was still holding forth. The sermon may have been quite good, for all I know. I was no longer alert enough to tell. My daughter was asleep in the seat next to me. A quick glance around the room betrayed many of our Presbytery's finest staring slack-jawed in the general direction of the pulpit.

The preacher himself seemed to be aware that this thing was taking WAAAAAY too long. (My theory: he grabbed an old sermon out of the barrel shortly before leaving his home on the east coast and did not take the time on the plane trip west to check if it fit the time perameters we sent him for this service several weeks ago.) But I guess he's not the "edit-on-the-fly" type, so he kept going.

My seven year old son was not sleeping or slack-jawed. He was writhing in agonies. He turned back-flips in his seat. He whimpered. He lay on his belly on the floor and tied my shoe laces together. He checked to see if his seat cushion could be used as a floatation device. Still the sermon went on.

Finally, after fifty minutes of service and thirty minutes of sermon, the preacher said "Amen" and headed toward his seat. At which point my son's voice rang loud and clear through the auditorium, "He's FINALLY done!"

You know what they say about preacher's kids . . . .

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Grandma's Eggplant

My Dad's mom was Russian Jewish. When she came to visit she always carried bundles of delicacies from New York that we could not find in the any of the small, southern towns in which we landed. This was WAAAAAAAAAAY before they sold Bagels at the local Safeway. She also came ready to prepare my Dad's favorite foods which my mom, descendant of many generations of Ohio Protestants, couldn't quite pull off.

One of these was her eggplant spread. You roast a whole eggplant until it is completely, entirely slimy and sqishy. (Poke holes in it to let the steam out.) Then you let it cool, scoop it out of the skin, chop it with onion and mix in olive oil and salt. Take a slice of rye bread, the darker the better, slather it with this stuff and eat it.

We all loved this stuff. However, it looks like mucilage and it has a strong eggplanty flavor that is something of an acquired taste even for those positively disposed toward eggplant. And it was nothing like anything our neighbors were eating. It was not a company dish. We made it for ourselves and enjoyed it privately. Why expose Grandma and her eggplant to misunderstanding, rejection and ridicule? Why make our friends uncomfortable by offering them something they almost certainly would not like?

Once, however, we happened to have a guest hanging around when we made a batch. To our surprise and shock she liked it and wanted the recipe. But this was an accident and we did not test market any further.

It occurs to me that many church members feel about Church something close to what we felt about Grandma's eggplant. We loved it. It was a family tradition. But we knew it looked weird to outsiders so we didn't push it. We were blown away when an "outsider" actually liked it, sure that this must be a total fluke.

In fact, some church growth experts exhort us to expunge any trace of eggplanty-ness from church life. The key to success is to get rid of anything idiocyncratic or odd. Jettison anything that is not immediately accessible and enjoyable: old hymns, prayers of confession, creeds, terms like Advent, Trinity, Ascension, Atonement, or Incarnation. Include nothing that one must learn love over time.

Perhaps this is what Paul was refering to when he claimed, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel!"

And in case you were wondering: yes, the eggplant can be cooked much more quickly in the microwave, but the resulting spread will have much less complexity and richness of flavor. Sort of like certain praise choruses . . . . .