Saturday, April 25, 2015

There's a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments, and the Healing Power of Humor

I had not realised, until I was ordained, just how blessed I was in the many strong women who surrounded me all my life. I’m one of five sisters, with an independent mother who went back to school for a graduate degree in civil engineering while I was in high school. The youth group pastor and director of Christian Education at my childhood church was a woman who gave me my first opportunity to preach (at the tender age of 14 or so). With so many examples of strong women around me, it never occurred to me that my gender might be a bar or an impediment to whatever I wanted to do with my life. As an adult, I have been surrounded with intelligent, strong women in leadership roles—military officers, entrepreneurs, professors of everything from information technology to Hebrew to ethics.

But when I was out there on my own, serving a new church in a new town, with no support system in place, I longed for those connections. I had started a blog, being a bit of a techno-geek, and just vain enough to think people might want to read what I wrote, which was mostly about ministry and books. After a month or two—and I am not even sure how it came about—I stumbled upon a “blog ring” of women clergy and their allies and supporters. The encouragement and support I received, and the stories they told, the prayer requests they shared—this was what I had missed so much.

These women were bright, aching to share their gifts with the communities they served, articulate, funny, spiritual, and real. Their blogs invited us to share each others’ lives, the deep sadnesses and the great joys, the petty annoyances and the first tender sprouts of hope. We began to meet up “in real life” and to “come out” and share our names and locations and to become friends away from our computers. And always, we shared what we experienced in this amazing, frightening, hopeful, messy, and blessed vocation.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit is a snapshot glimpse of our blogs in the aggregate—a “special edition” of RevGalBlogPals, so to speak. One of us has just had a God moment to share, another is grieving the death of a matriarch, someone else is celebrating the gift of sabbatical, and yet another muses on the power of children’s ministry. Each of the pieces is a taste of our collective stories—how we were called; how we continue to feel called, even in the midst of heartache and frustration; the pain, hope and joy we’ve encountered on the way to ordination, to our first congregation, to our first child, to new directions for our ministry, to retirement; calls for help and suggestions with snags and bumps in our ministries; support and prayers for the difficult times in our personal lives.

The RevGals became my online support and encouragement system, a feedback loop of care for them and care for me, in the way good support groups are. They are those women I missed ten years ago, those strong, bright, leading women of God.

If you are a woman considering ministry in any form (ordained or not) or if you support and love a woman who is responding to God’s call on her life, read this book. It’s full of insight into what it means, on a daily basis, to serve God and God’s people; to have to put aside your own grief or joy to be with others as they celebrate or grieve; to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in order to survive in some ministry contexts; to try to blend family and career in a calling that is notorious for being hard on families; to be a figure of authority when you don’t feel very authoritative and even when others challenge your authority; all the bright and shiny moments and also the dull and gloomy moments.

If you enjoy excellent writing, truth-telling even when it hurts, poetry, laughter, questions, quiet meditations—read this book.

I am humbled by the magical writing of my clergy sisters in this book; to be included is an honour and a gift. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Steward's Hands

Via Wiki-Commons
Manicures. They're something I do partly for myself but for my ministry as well. 

Yes, it feels great to have someone cleaning up my nails, shaping and filing them, and then painting them an interesting colour (and every once in a while, adding an air-brushed decoration). It's nice to have nails that don't chip or split or have raggedly cuticles, too. But there's another reason why I get my nails done every two weeks religiously (pardon the pun). 

One Sunday during my internship, I was the celebrant for Communion. Afterwards, one of the congregants approached me, almost in tears, and thanked me for celebrating Communion. She had grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, she said. "It was so powerful for me to see a woman celebrating Communion, and then you held up the chalice--seeing the Cup lifted in hands with polished nails--it was so moving for me!"

I know that for some, that would not be a meaningful moment. For others, it might actually detract from the sanctity of the moment. We can argue about whether manicures are good for our personal health or the environment, and whether polished nails are an indication of submission to patriarchal stereotypes and values. But for this woman, the sight of my hands lifting the chalice crystallized for her the fact that this was indeed a woman presiding at the sacred feast, her painted nails a sign of her womanliness, her femininity. For this woman, she felt fully welcomed home, in a place where the steward of God's table could have painted nails.

Now, I tend to basic, practical outfits. I don't think I have ever been called a clotheshorse. I do aim for reasonably attractive clothing that fits me well and is appropriate, and a hairstyle that is easy to keep up, neat and tidy; but that's about it. My nails, however... I have always liked to have my nails painted. I remember doing my nails in the high school cafeteria before school started (we had an early bus), and spending a lot of my employee discounts at the dime store where I worked after school on nail polish (Cover Girl Nail Slicks!). Gardening played a real number on my hands and nails, and again, manicures were important. And then, at some point, I discovered having them done in a nail salon. Heaven! 

So a manicure is my nod to a beauty routine, a personal pampering that I can fit in my budget a couple times a month, a fun way to spend an hour on my day off, laughing and talking with the nail technicians and other clients--an indulgence, if you like. But it is also my reminder of that congregant, so many years ago now, who said, "Seeing your hands, with that beautiful nail polish, lifting the chalice, brought home to me that this was a woman celebrating at God's table--and I thanked God."

Via Wiki-Commons

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Five Randomness!

1.  What are you wearing right now?

Sweatpants and a top—because it’s Friday afternoon at home, darn it!

2.  What are you having for lunch (or dinner)?

Almost dinnertime—thinking probably lasagne and a salad.

3.  Share an experience of community that was transformative or precious to you.

I’ve used this so often the congregation is probably tired of it, but the support and cheerleading I received while I was enduring chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer. Dinners, house-cleaning, being the lightening rod, shovelling snow (I had the poor timing to be in treatment during a Canadian winter…), attendance at my Sinead O’Connor party, little treats and goodies like slipper-socks, organic chocolate, and scarves… It brought home to me that people really cared, and they showed it, both in and our of church and in and out of the congregation.

4.  Describe your favorite mug or glass.

At the moment, a rainbow Corgi mug—how perfect is that? But I also have a Welsh dragon mug that I cherish (purchased on a trip to Cardiff back in 1983 or 1984,; a miracle it has survived this long), and a Polish stoneware mug too. I no longer have the clay United Methodist mug I picked up at seminary—broken in a move—but it was my favourite for a long time. I do still have the Disciples mug I received as a gift when I went through the Disciples facilitator training.

5.  Give a shout out to a friend or colleague!

Oooh, that one is hard! So many people are outstanding and wonderful! Perhaps a list, in no particular order: Martha Spong, Beth Rakestraw (who used to blog as Dona Quixote), Deana Dudley, Roland Stringfellow, Deb Dysert, Candace Shultis, David Williamson, Robin Sherman, Jo Bell, Kevin Kinsel, Steven Swafford, Kristen Foley, David Smith, Lance Mullins, Dawn Wheeler, Sharon Willis-Whitwell…and a special salute to Dan Schellhorn, no longer on this plane, but a mentor and friend, whose memory is always fresh and dear to my heart.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...