Eleven Things, or There About

elevenI’m readying myself and the household to be on vacation for two blissful, or differently stressful, weeks, and so I’m musing about the pastor/congregation relationship.  Here are eleven things (or there about) that I would want my parishioners, past and present, to know.

1.  I love you.  Sometimes it might appear that I don’t like you for a moment or two, or that I am exasperated by you, but I love you.  As my more evangelical friends would say, Jesus has put it on my heart to love you.  A pastor loving her parishioners is a non-negotiable in Jesus’ book.  So know that.

2.  The hand-shaking line after worship is not the best time to catch up or receive pastoral care.  I might try to gently move you along and say we can talk at coffee hour.  But if you really need pastoral care right then and there, I will listen and ignore the growing line or have the deacon wave everyone else along, because of #1.

3.  I have to have a “come to Jesus” conversation with Jesus every time one of you gets cancer, or loses a job, or loses a loved one suddenly, or gets a big ol’ pile of crap thrown into your particular fan.  Jesus never says much back, but I feel slightly better afterwards, until I think about you and my heart breaks a little.

4.  I really, really, really appreciate how you give my PK (preacher’s kid) room to be herself, and how you don’t have any expectations that she will be Good and Perfect and Completely Spiritually Formed because both of her parents happen to be pastors.  Thank you, too, for delighting in her as much as we do.  When she is a teenager, can she sometimes live with you when she hates me?

5.  I am spectacularly uninterested in being the Best Church in Town, or having the Best Choir, or Sunday School, or Youth Program, or Service Opportunities, or whatever.  Other churches are our partners in bringing God’s realm to earth, not our competitors for people or money or good Yelp scores.

6.  It hurts my heart when you say, “I wanted to call you about xyz, but I know how busy you are.”  I apologize if I appear too busy sometimes, or let my to-do list be a higher priority than you.

7.  I do not know everything and I do not have all the answers and if I start acting as though I do, please call me on it.  After all, God chose what is foolish in the world to confound the wise!

8.  It is a privilege to be invited into the sacred moments of your life – your baptisms and your weddings and your hospital stays and your hospice time and your funerals and memorial services.  I am honored to receive your trust, and I will do my best to channel a holy presence in that moment.

9.  Pay attention to how often you comment on a clergywoman’s appearance and how often you comment on a clergyman’s appearance.  There’s a reason we all wear robes on Sunday morning, and it’s not because black is slimming. (Well, maybe just a little bit because black is slimming.)

10.  Some of you think that four weeks of paid vacation and two weeks of study leave is excessive. Please remember that clergy  (like many others in the world) work weekends.  And we treasure our Saturdays when our kid is not in school and we might not have to work and we get to have family time.

11.  Thank you for four weeks of vacation and two weeks of study leave.  I am grateful for time away to relax and play and reflect.  I might swear a little more than usual, too.  (I recently read that people who swear a lot tend to be honest and trustworthy, so you want me to do this, I know.)

That’s it for now.  Really, it’s all about #1, so maybe I should have stopped there.beach

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The Multiplication of the Papers and Woo-Woo Presbyterians

papersOne of the benefits of being an Art History major is that I know all sorts of obscure titles for religious paintings.  The Assumption of the Virgin (in which Mary does NOT make an ass of you and me but rather flies up to Heaven); the Harrowing of Hell (in which Jesus, after the cross but before Easter, goes to Hell and rescues all the souls who died before he could save them, like Adam and Eve, etc.) and the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, in which Jesus feeds a mess of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  If you don’t believe me, type one of those titles into Google images and see the multiplication of Roman Catholic Great Masters’ paintings.

Of late, our household has experienced the multiplication of the morning papers.  It all began when for four days we didn’t receive our daily Oregonian, and then after one complaint call, we started getting three a day.  For ten days.  In spite of two more phone calls.

But today was special.  This morning when I walked the puppy at 6:00, I noticed our usual three papers on the porch.  My husband called and spoke to someone at the paper.  When I came home at lunch, there was a new paper – today’s paper – a fourth paper –  by the front door.  Maybe the earlier papers had a little Periodical Fun, and Fourth Paper in the Yellow Bag is their offspring.

Let’s detour for a moment to Woo Woo Presbyterians.  They call themselves this – I did not make it up.  I call them our Buddhist Presbyterians.  Whatever you want to call them, they are folks committed to our Presbyterian congregation who nonetheless see things on a different spiritual plain.  One of them once saw a delightful aura of white bouncing balls over my head while I preached.  (How AWESOME is that?)  Another can quote Buddhist masters, and pronounce their names correctly, at the drop of a hat.  I love them, because they are so generous in spirit, and let me be my usual frozen chosen self, not seeing auras and mispronouncing all sorts of names.

But because these Woo Woo Presbyterians are in my life, I’ve started to wonder if The Universe is trying to tell me something by sending me three or four morning papers.  I confess that my husband is the paper reader.  If I get to the Sudoku, I’m good.  If I finish the Sudoku and read the obituaries, it’s a banner day.  But is The Universe, by multiplying my Oregonian, suggesting that I actually read the paper?  That I know what’s happening in my community and in the world?  And that number three – that is WAY significant in Christianity: the Trinity, on the third day he arose, John 3:16.  But then what about the number four?

I don’t know.  And if tomorrow morning there is only one paper on the porch, or no paper, does that mean I should stop doing the Sudoku?  What would my Woo Woo Presbyterians say?

Maybe they would tell me it’s just The Universe pranking me.  Ha ha.  Funny.

Not an epic fail, but maybe a holy one

this pictures captures what the story was about

this pictures captures what the story was about

Yesterday in my sermon I committed the cardinal sin of pastor-parents: I told a story about my child without getting her permission.  Rookie mistake for this pastor of 20 years, but there you are.  It just fit so well into the sermon, and we had talked about it but in my mind we had not settled the matter.  But as it says in Galatians 6:7 (part of the passage I preached on) “you reap what you sow.”

So I’m in the first third of the sermon; my husband is sitting on the chancel near me and our daughter is sitting by herself in the front pew, as she usually does.  She hears me telling the story and she begins to cry, prostrating herself on the lovely needle-pointed pew cushion, weeping for not all but many to see and hear.  Crap.  Just the word the preacher wants to hear in her head while she is delivering the beautiful word of God.

I can handle a lot in worship.  I can handle crying babies, coughing parishioners, people who live on the streets wandering up and looking at the offering plates, fainters, barfers, organ ciphers, mangled liturgy, and laryngitis, but what absolutely does me in is when I have to be pastor and mom at the same time.  It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I become completely unglued – maybe because I suspect I’m not particularly good at either one, or maybe because it feels like both demand so much of my being.

So in the first third of my sermon, while my daughter is crying, I break the fourth wall of sorts, interrupt myself, and ask my husband to sit with her, which he does.  I then resume preaching, talking about accountability when we do something wrong, and being in community in our suffering, and reconciling with brother or sister before coming to the communion table.  And did I mention we celebrated communion yesterday?

At the end of the sermon, I issued this invitation to the congregation:

“I don’t know if gathered here this morning are people who are at odds with each other; sheer numbers would suggest that there are. I’m not going to ask  that we now pause for a minute for reconciliation – that would be putting all of us on the spot. But perhaps in the silence after the sermon, we might think of those we are at odds with. We might think about them, and about bearing their burden, about carrying our own load, about forgiveness and grace. We might imagine, as we all say the Lord’s Prayer during communion, sitting next to that person, and saying the prayer with them.”

It was so nice of the Holy Spirit to provide me with an opportunity to practice what I preach, and during the silence after the sermon I thought about how I could check in with my daughter before going to the table.  My husband/co-pastor came back up and said she was fine, mostly because one of her friends sweetly came up and sat with her and got her out of her funk.  During communion, my daughter passed by all the other celebrants to come receive the bread from me, and gave me a hug, and I told her I was sorry and I love her so much.

I thought it was a mediocre sermon that was made worse for the wear by my embarrassing my daughter.  As it turns out, what the congregation heard and saw were opportunities for grace, and realness, and empathy, and kindness, and grace again.

But if I ever tell a story about her again, I will get her permission in writing.