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