Thursday Prayer

For the troubles and the sufferings of the world,
God, we call upon your mercy:
the whole creation’s laboring in pain! 

Lend an ear to the rising cry for help
from oppressed and hopeless people: 
Come! Hasten your salvation, healing love! 

We pray for peace,
the blessed peace that comes from making justice,
to cover and embrace us, Have mercy, Lord! 

We pray for power,
the power that will sustain your people’s witness, 
until your Kingdom comes, Kyrie eleison! 

-Hymn by Rodolfo Gaede Neto “For the Troubles and the Sufferings”

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Ask the Matriarch: Supporting a Colleague in Trouble

Our question this week is from a clergywoman wondering how to be a friend when a colleague is in trouble.

Dear Women of Experience,

I know a few people who have been the subject of review by their judicatories. One friend was prevented from joining clergy formation, another friend was subject to fitness review and censure, and a third – an acquaintance – had her credentials suspended. As a friend, I was as supportive as I could be with the first two. But the third is someone I don’t know well, and is someone with a higher profile than the first two.

It’s easy to be a friend to someone when times are good, but sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge when people are struggling – especially when the person is a colleague rather than a parishioner. Yet it’s in these times that people need the most support, especially those whose star might have been burning bright before the problems became known.

So my question is: how can we be supportive of other clergy in trouble? If we can be there for the parishioner in jail, can’t we also be there for the colleague whose boundary, financial, or theological ethics have come into question?

* * * * * * *

Our matriarchs offer words of grace and wisdom:

Dear Friend,

We walk each day with the humility and the knowledge that we are held together by God’s unconditional grace. Those of us in ministry understand the temptations which surround us each day.  To deny support and forgiveness for fellow clergy in times of trouble would be to deny God’s own forgiveness for us. May we live into the grace by which we have been saved.

Blessings,

Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

Dear Faithful Friend,

I have to answer this first from the point of view of someone who has sat on and chaired a Committee on Ministry in the past. I find the situations you describe so different that I cannot speak to them collectively. A decision not to approve a candidate for discernment or formation does not mean that person has done something wrong. It means the committee, through prayer and its own discernment, sees some reason that the candidate is not a good fit for ordained ministry. In that case, one hopes the local church sponsoring the candidate will offer support and perhaps have a serious conversation both internally and with the committee about what qualities the committee feels are important. In the United Church of Christ, we use the Marks for Ministry. When a candidate came to us from another denomination, whether having withdrawn themselves or having been turned down, we took especial care to discern whether the person had a call to ministry *in the UCC* which is not the same thing as having a call to ministry generally.

When a pastor has violated ordination vows and undergone a fitness review (our terminology), the committee will offer support if there is a censure or suspension, with the support team drawn from the Committee on Ministry. I’ve also seen a pastor refuse the support and the program prescribed; that person lost her/his credentials permanently. I’ve never seen a CoM offer a plan of growth and not offer support along the way. 

As a pastor not in the process, and particularly as a friend, I would hope we would offer companionship, prayer and support, with these conditions. 

1) Examine your context. Are you the pastor of a neighboring church with a social or extended family overlap? Consider the hurt that may have been inflicted by the ethical breach and your local situation. The last three churches I served in Maine (two as Interim) were close geographically and had significant overlap of past and current members as well as multi-generational extended families and community ties. Would my contact with a suspended pastor create more suffering for his/her church members or mine? 

2) Be realistic. You may wish someone would reach out to you if that were your situation, but you are not the gal/guy who did the thing or engaged in the situation – whether the problem be sexual or financial or of some other kind – and, well, you’re someone who values relationship, and you probably already have the kind of friends who would support you or call you out before you got into trouble. The person in question may not want support anymore than he/she wanted honest feedback.

3) Be yourself. If you are moved to reach out to someone who is suffering, and not to be a hero or to get more information because you are curious (two of the reasons pastors sometimes do reach out to others, unfortunately), and you are not serving in a capacity where your responsibilities to others might be compromised, then by all means contact the person and offer your prayers and a listening ear if it is desired. 

We all need friends in ministry. Bless you for being a good one.

Martha Spong at marthaspong.com

* * * * * * *

Have you walked with a colleague through similar circumstances? Please share your experience and supportive advice in the comments.

We love questions! If you are facing a dilemma or challenge in your ministry, send your scenario to the matriarchs at askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Wednesday Festival: Whose You Are

It’s one of those pastoral phrases that we say to one another and to those we serve: “Remember who you are and Whose you are.” It’s a phrase of encouragement, a bit of poetry intended to ground our feet on the path and to steady our quavering hearts. You are you — with all of your faults and foibles, gifts and stories, shaped and ever-forming in the image of God — and you belong to that very God.

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Across our RevGalBlogPals blogging network, the same truth is ringing with gentle & joyful acclamation: “Remember who you are and Whose you are.”

+ you are a traveler, and you are not alone (An Unfinished Symphony)

+ you are joyful and — sometimes, amazingly — carefree and youthful (Snow Day)

+ you are a treasure not measured by wealth (Liberation Theology Lutheran)

+ you may be situationally stuck, but “stuck” does not define your being (Kick Boxing Believers)

+ you are called to live as a testimony to the Holy One (At the Table with April Fiet)

And if you are still struggling with you and still struggling with God, may the beauty and liveliness of a church garden hold your questions and encourage your spirit:

“Okay my mortal friend? Do not despair
Just take a deep breath of the garden air
And know that all of this one day will go
Along with all the things you seem to know.”
(The Church Garden Gang, chapter one by Kate Newman)

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Be well, friends, and rest in God’s grace. Remember who you are and Whose you are. Have an encouragement to contribute from your own blog? Share a link in the comments!

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Wednesday Prayer

Dear Friend,

 

For all the bureaucracy

and forms to fill out

we thank you

 

For all the fusses

and hurt feelings

in a partnership

we are grateful

 

They mean there is something bigger than US

and bigger than OUR daily agenda

and You are the Biggest Thing

and the Main Agenda

 

forgive us when we forget

embrace us as we remember

We pray

(Amen)

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Tuesday Lectionary Leanings (Revised Common Lectionary): Gluten Free Edition!

The readings for this coming week can be found here. The good news in the Good News this week is that we are finally finished with the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel. (And the people said, ‘amen’). I’m ready for a bread free week!

Song of Solomon has our lover leaping over the hills like a gazelle.

Or, in the other lectionary, Deuteronomy 4 reminds us to care for God’s statutes and commandments: “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.

The epistle is James 1. He reminds us that our anger does not reveal God’s love. He also reminds us to be doers of the Word. Not just hearers.

And the gospel reading is from Mark 7. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, which is always a good time. While I agree with the Pharisees that we should wash our hands before we eat (hygiene, people!) I also agree with Jesus that when we start pretending human precepts are divine precepts, we miss the mark. “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.

Where is your sermon headed this week? We’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions, and even things to do in the Time with the Children.

Share your thoughts here in the comments.

Or, to paraphrase James, “Be doers of the Lectionary Leanings and not merely hearers!”

Categories: Lectionary Leanings, RevGalBlogPals, Revised Common Lectionary, Tuesday Lectionary Leanings | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

Tuesday Prayer: On the Road

This once happened to me.

Bless this situation, should it happen.

God of all journeys,
we pray for those
who do their ministry
on the road today.

Bless them at the gas pump,
watching the numbers rise.

Bless them at the on-ramp,
gathering speed for the highway.

Bless them in the right lane,
when trucks are whizzing by.

Bless them in the left lane,
passing to get where they need to be.

Bless them in their smart cars,
or their mom vans,
or their old clunkers.

Bless them through
I Heart Radio
or downloaded podcasts
or audiobooks
or – thanks be to You –
a time of silence.

Bless them when a strange whistle
emanates from under the hood,
and bless the mechanic who
will try, and fail,
to replicate it later.

Bless them in the parking lot,
gathering thoughts, lifting a prayer.

Bless them at the bedside,
and in the Emergency Room,
and at the funeral home,
or at the meeting.

Bless them when they travel
to a meeting of minds and hearts,
a gathering of friends,
or a needed one-on-one.

Bless them, too,
on the homeward way,
knowing that wherever they travel
on your behalf,
you go, too.

Amen.

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Entitlement–Sometimes There is a Free Lunch

The other day on Facebook, in response to a news story that all students at some Idaho schools will be receiving free lunches, an elected Idaho official made this comment:

goldthorpeOf course, the funding for this program comes from Federal money and not from a local school bond. And of course, parents are in no way kept from teaching their children any important principles.

He made a few other comments on the thread about “taking responsibility and paying my own way” and about “entitlement thinking”.

And it all made me sad. Seeing someone live in that kind of scarcity–where parents would not be able to teach their kids something because the kids had been exposed to another idea. The scarcity of thinking that if you help someone once, you’ll be helping them forever.

When I was a kid my dad went blind. He had multiple detachments of both of his retinas. Over the course of a few years, he went from being a respiratory therapist at the hospital to being home with the kids. My mom went back to work, and they survived the reversals of their chosen roles. We went from being a stable middle class income family to not having much money at all.

My brother and I got reduced price lunches at school. And the money my family saved through that program made a real difference in our lives. I don’t know if any of my classmates knew I received reduced priced lunches. I don’t remember that ever coming up. I didn’t particularly like it. It felt a little embarrassing and shameful as a kid. But I was also grateful for it, and grateful for the teachers and administrators who didn’t judge me for it.

You know what those lunches did for me? They “entitled” me to have the energy to focus on my education, which “entitled” me to work hard and go to college. They “entitled” me to treat all people with dignity and respect, helping them get a leg up so they can have a chance to succeed as I did.  Those free lunches “entitled” me to work for a better community, so all children, no matter the situations in which they find themselves, can have a chance to succeed.

As Christians, we believe there is, actually, such thing as a free lunch. It’s called GRACE. The free and unearned blessing of God. Every time we scream at others that there is no such thing as a free lunch, we deny grace. Every time we pretend we succeeded in life all by ourselves, without the help and kindness of others along the way, we deny grace. Every time we expect others to do what we have not been able to do ourselves, we deny grace.

Instead of denying grace, what if we participated in grace? In her exquisite novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson describes it this way:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.”

How different would the world be if we lived in the abundance of grace instead of the scarcity of self interest? I’m grateful for the grace I have received in my life, from all of those emissaries sent from the Lord to care for me and equip me for the journey. I’m grateful for free lunches and the entitlement to make the world a better place.

How different would the world be if kids grew up thinking that, sometimes, there is free lunch?

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Monday Prayer

Beginnings and endings…
End of the holiday season
Start of the new term, new seasons and new challenges
God of our beginnings and endings
Step out with us in this new adventure
For if we invite you in from the very start
We will know your presence
Help us to remember –
The Spirit has our back
The Son has our side
And you – God our Mother – you have our hearts
Amen

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Sunday Prayer Proper 16B

(with focus on the Joshua and Ephesians text.)

Sweet inviting God,

You choose us, you invite us, you call us, you feed us…

You bless us, you give us, you woo us, you lead us…

You want us—

In spite of the many ways in which we stumble and fall,

the many times we choose other gods instead of you,

the millions of moments we betray our promises to serve You

by being justice and mercy and kindness in this world.

Over and over you remind us of your constant companionship,

and over and over, you welcome our renewed vows to choose You and to serve you.

We know our stories, we can recount the many wondrous works and untold miracles that infuse our lives with your grace and holy touch.

As we draw strength from those stories, we pray fervently for your world, and for the places and peoples and beings that need your compassion and concern.

Arm us with your righteousness, your truth, with faith and the gospel of peace so that we can move forward with courage to change what we can,  to defend the defenseless, to empower the powerless, to heal the sick, the sad, the grieving.

We pause in these moments, to pray for those who are in need of your mercy……

We pause in these moments, to offer thanksgiving for the blessings in our lives…..

Sweet inviting God,

We choose to serve and love you.

We are grateful, that you first chose us.

Amen.

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11th Hour Preacher’s Party: Spinning it out Edition

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Schools in Scotland started back this week but families usually take another couple of weeks to get back into a routine of worship. So we’re still hosting  summer  services: less formal all ages together worship. Reflections tend to be briefer which is a great help, especially for those still working their way through John in the RCL. And, perhaps, a godsend for those who are trying to pitch the whole David, Solomon shenanigans in child friendly terms. Check out the Tuesday blog post on the RCL for some helpful discussion.

We’ve abandoned the Lectionary for summer to follow a series on Paul. That has been fun, especially when we used it in our summer holiday club (VBS) too.

And we’re also still having a trickle of Flat Jesus posts appearing on the Church Facebook page, that we check out each week in summer worship.

What about you? Does it still feel like summer where you are? Or, indeed, how is your winter and how does that affect worship? Does it feel like you are between seasons? Or that your sermon crafting gene is taking a break? Join us at the Preacher’s Party and, together, we’ll craft a word in season. Bring what you have and ask for what you need as we spin this out together.

Categories: 11th Hour Preacher Party | Tags: , | 73 Comments

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