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?