Help us to rememberstoles to go
that the Holy Spirit,
gave not one, but two gifts —

the power of voice
for those who needed to speak,
and, the power of listening
for those who needed to be quiet
and listen …

I am the every-other-Saturday-every-other-month pray-er for our blog and those words were in my prayer for Pentecost Eve. It is a small insight but a new one for me after many Pentecost sermons. I usually mentally place myself among those who needed a wind-spark-new-conjugation to have a voice. In fact what happened is also that the Holy Spirit gave not only a gift of voice but a gift of listening to about three thousand people.

Those were the ones that didn’t suggest the disciples were hair-of-the-new-wine. For white people in the United States in 2020 the gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of silent listening, silent, repentant listening.

It is the Holy Spirit’s gift in these day that black voices speak and I listen.

Small insights. I retired from parish ministry on Christmas Day, 2016 — it was a Sunday, you may remember, an amazing occasion after thirty-six years from that form of ministry. Since that time I preach about forty Sundays a year as a guest preacher — I don’t really like “supply” which sounds like I am curbside pickup at Staples. In the first year I preached at 27 different churches. I’ve been a sabbatical interim, illness interim, surgery interim, paternity leave interim, interim before the real interim comes and after the real interim goes (but before the … you got it). I’ve preached many clergy vacations and several Saturday afternoon snuffly calls “I’ve-got-the-flu.”

My concern and the concern of other guest preachers is speaking the truth to the moment while visiting a sanctuary or Zoom room where we won’t offer ongoing pastoral care. No pastor wants to come back from holiday or surgery to a stirred up congregation. No congregation wants to hear a retired pastor’s best-hits of the 1980’s (Not everything should be resurrected.)

My trial-and-error wisdom on being “political” in pastoral itinerancy: 1) small insights that emerge from scripture (rather than contemporary writers well-used in other settings but leaving a congregation listening to a guest feeling that they haven’t done their homework), 2) no sermons that would be defined as “prophetic” but no sermon without a prophetic moment, 3) heart-open prayers scanty on weather reports or stained glass words (and, oh, let me say how much I hate to cut my beautiful poetic phrases) and filled with vulnerable people and situations in the world and the deeply held needs, name by familiar name, of a particular congregation, 4) for me, — a story (from my wealth of choices) of a time when I have gotten things wrong.

That’s what I’ve got, my friends.

“You did it,” said the lay reader at my May 24 service after we finished recording. He knew someone who had been at a workshop I led on “Breaking the Silence Sunday” a movement in the United Church of Christ to set aside at least one Sunday a year when sexual violence is named to the end that those who have been raped, abused, emotionally violated hear their pain spoken aloud (particularly without “forgiveness” in a five-word radius.) I said — even better can be the simple naming in every pastoral prayer of some word … incest … date rape … body shaming … that many survivors may hear along with hunger … homelessness … gun tragedy … immigration injustice … as worthy always of the community’s intercession.

So sometimes I get things right. Unfortunately, at that moment I couldn’t remember what I had prayed, so …

The gift of pastoral itinerancy — thank you, amazing churches I have been visiting for the last four years, — is experiencing so many faithful people in so many places and recognizing the Body of Christ even sometimes when I have my foot in my mouth.

Maren C. Tirabassi’s most recent book with Maria Mankin is A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope and she blogs at She’s a retired United Church of Christ pastor and a writer with a beagle who insists on being in every picture.

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3 thoughts on “The Politics of Pastoral Itinerancy

  1. The link to Maria’s website is not correct (left out the “h” in hands)…
    Thank you Maria for such a thoughtful piece today.


  2. Yes! So hard to go into a congregation where you are a stranger and try to meet people where they are, when you don’t know anything about them. Prayers!


  3. True, and yet it has become much easier because I do it all the time and I don’t pretend to know them more than I do and simple project kind stranger and that has its own rhythm.


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