The first Friday of the month is a FANTASTIC time for a party. (okay, I’m an Enneagram 7, anytime is a fantastic time for a party. But I especially love a Friday party!)
This month we are celebrating those of you ordained in August — happy ordiversary! Longtime RevGal Marci Glass is kicking off the party with a good story, insight into her process and experience, and some really great advice. So without further ado, let’s get this party started!
1. Tell us about your journey into ministry.
I was always a church kid, but I wasn’t as quick to hear the call to ministry as some others were to hear it for me. I considered journalism, law school, grad school in History, and once held the dream of being President. Shortly after I married and moved to Albuquerque after college, while discerning what to do for a career, the church we were attending was hiring a youth director. I ended up applying for that job, and after that, ministry was the only career I could imagine anyone would ever hire me to do. It was in that first job where I met fellow RevGal Kelley Shin, too, so that was a big bonus of ministry.
I happily served churches in youth ministry for many years. But then a youth was in a car accident, and died 3 months after it. Walking with his family and the youth group through that very dark valley was what finally sent me off to seminary. After Greg died, I realized how sacred a gift it is to be with families at the worst moments of life. One can never fully prepare for such experiences, but I wanted to be as equipped as I could be. I was 36 when we moved from New Mexico to Georgia so I could attend Columbia Seminary. Our boys were in 1st and 4th grade, and while that was a good move for them too, it wasn’t an easy one. I was grateful for the support of my husband and kids as I went to seminary.
2. What’s something you remember about your ordination?
The first church that hired me to do youth ministry was also the church that ordained me, fifteen years later. Aug 16, 2008 at the First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque. I remember what a gift it was to have people in the congregation from almost all corners of my life. Seminary friends, former youth group ‘kids’, youth ministry colleagues, family, etc all gathered with me and I understood the “communion of the saints” in new ways. As the congregation laid hands on me, someone took a photo of it, and the people are in the shape of a dove, surrounding me. I also remember being super nervous about remembering the communion liturgy and the benediction.
3. Your preaching is consistently amazing, and you always post your manuscripts on your website. Tell us a bit about your process and favourite ways of working….and why you post every single week’s on your site even if it wasn’t your favourite?
First, thank you. My sermon process feels more like an experience of lightly controlled chaos, but generally, I try to think ahead a little, reading through the passages so they can simmer on the back burner for a few weeks. That allows me to read the news, or my social media newsfeed, and allow those passages to inform my reading and understanding of the texts. I also do a weekly bible study with a colleague, where we read and the discuss the texts we are preaching. I would say I write best at crowded coffee shops where the noise can function as a soundtrack. There may be lots of people talking there, but they aren’t talking to me, so I can focus on writing. Since the pandemic, I’ve been writing alone in my apartment, and I’ve missed the energy I get from being around lots of strangers.
My sermons aren’t organized by me as I write them. I have never been able to write from an outline. I just start writing and see where it goes. I try to stay pretty close to the text from which I’m preaching, and often move through the passage, using that as a scaffolding for the sermon. I also try to stop writing when I’m done. That may sound like an obvious thing, but often I catch myself feeling like I need to preach every single idea I’ve had for a passage in that one sermon. One of my preaching professors, Chuck Campbell, taught me that lesson. “You’ll preach this text another time, Marci. Save something for the next sermon”. That advice really helped me let go of the idea that you have to say everything in one sermon. It helped me understand that preaching is a relationship with a community that builds over time. Also, I used to stalk Barbara Brown Taylor whenever she was on campus when I was in seminary. She only taught DMin students, but I once asked her how she wrote her sermons. She said that she reads the passage. And then reads it again. And then lets it sit for a while. And then she reads it and rubs her hand across the story to see where it gives her splinters. And that’s where she enters the text. So I look for splinters, the rough places in the passages where I feel discomfort or unease. That has helped.
If a passage is really giving me fits, I look for the verbs to see where the action is in the story and try to see how that changes it. And I write the passage out by hand, which helps me slow down enough to see things I would miss if I were just reading the passage in my head. Both of those tips I learned from Anna Carter Florence.
I developed the discipline of posting all of my sermons on the blog whether I liked them or not because one of the first things I learned preaching each week at my first call was that I was not the best judge of my sermons. The ones I hated to preach and wanted to apologize about were consistently the ones people commented about afterwards. It also taught me that the Holy Spirit uses a sermon in ways I don’t (can’t!) control. People hear what they need to hear and I don’t want to get in the way of that. Also, sometimes they hear what they want to hear, and publishing the manuscripts on the blog is a corrective for that too. I also developed a small community of people online who had either stopped going to church or had never gone to church, but who read my sermons. While I think there is great and important community that happens when we gather with people in person, I also realized it was sort of arrogant to think that bringing people into a church building was the only goal to have. If a few people could find some sort of spiritual care and direction from a sermon blog, it seemed worth the effort to post them all. “Online community” has even more importance now in the era of Covid.
4. You changed calls during a pandemic…having been in two very different contexts through corona-tide, what would you most want to celebrate about ministry through this particular challenge?
It was so very hard to leave a congregation I loved after 12 years of ministry without really being able to say goodbye and celebrate what we had. And it was also hard to start a new call last summer, completely online and virtual. But maybe that’s one gift we might yet learn out of covid. It’s easy to say church doesn’t like change and often that’s true. Change can be s l o o o o w in church. But it is also true that this past year, we figured out a way where we might have thought there was no way. Here’s to resiliency we didn’t know we had. There are still a lot of people from my last call that I didn’t get to hug goodbye, and I mourn the abbreviated goodbye, but trust they know how much I loved them, as I know how much they loved me.
I am grateful for the resilience of both congregations I’ve served through this time, and for the truly creative things I’ve seen from so many of my friend’s congregations. I pray we will keep a spirit of resiliency and will trust God’s provision through change, even when the world seems to feel more stable.
5. What advice would you give to those being ordained this month?
To those of you joining us in ordained ministry this month—welcome! I’m glad you’re here. When I was being installed in my first call, in the charge to the congregation, a colleague reminded the congregation that I didn’t work for them. I worked for God. And sometimes God might have different opinions than they did. She went on to tell them that if I didn’t have time to listen for God, it was going to make things complicated. So, trust in your calling. And if you’re too busy for God, you’re too busy. Spending 20 minutes each morning in centering prayer makes the rest of the day go better. It orients me to listen for God in the people I meet, and in the silent spaces of my day.
Take your vacation and use your study leave. Even Jesus took a day off. Your congregation will make it if someone else preaches for you (or whatever the task you’re called to do each week).
There’s a saying “we rise by lifting others” and that’s how I feel about my clergy women friends and colleagues. They have supported, encouraged, and celebrated with me. Call someone in a nearby church and take them out for lunch or coffee. If you have to find that support online, do that. Ministry is more fun with others.
Thanks Marci! Happy ordiversary!
How about you, friends? What do you remember from your ordination? And what advice would you give to those being ordained now? Let us celebrate with you!
Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland, where she ministers to a fantastic congregation in the most beautiful place, and lives in perhaps the nation’s best manse with the best view and a 15 year old cat who is the actual pickiest eater in the universe. She is the liturgy writer for the BibleWorm podcast, blogs (very) occasionally at CleverTitleHere, co-authored the book Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation, and serves on the RevGalBlogPals board.
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