Ask The Matriarch

Ask the Matriarch: Beloved Former Pastor Remains in the Picture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur question this week is from a RevGal who is dealing with her version of an all-too-familiar tale in RevGal world: the Beloved Former Pastor who has not made a gracious and supportive transition to being “former.” Here’s her story:

Dear Matriarchs ~~

I began at this current church last spring, following a man who served here for 20 years.  The transition — specifically the need for the Beloved Former Pastor (BFP) and his family to separate from the church and from the people for a year — was handled poorly from three different entities:  the judicatory person overseeing the church, the pastor himself, and the then-personnel committee chair.  

The BFP has stayed in the community, has relinquished his pastoral credentials, and has maintained relationships with church members, including initiating social gatherings. Most recently, he has convened the youth group — which had basically folded this fall — on a regular basis at the former leaders’ home. (Most of the youth group members had no connection with the church other than youth group.)  

The poor way this transition was handled has resulted in twelve people leaving the church, most of whom followed the BFP and his family to a new place to worship. This has resulted in a loss of about 1/3 of our small church’s income. 

One of the people who left has continued to invite people from our church to worship at the new church home of this group.  The people who have stayed at the church are sweet, wonderful people; I am enjoying the lack of bullies and disgruntled people who left in the upheaval. 

The one year separation period will be over this spring. At least one person — still in relationship with the BFP — has the expectation that we will be ‘one big happy family’ once the one year separation period is over.  Some church members are honoring that one year timeline, but will re-establish relationships with the BFP and his family this spring.   When he was pastor, the BFP did not set healthy boundaries with the church folks, maintaining family-type relationships between his family (with young children) and parishioners who often provided free babysitting, very generous gifts, etc.  

It seems to me that this BFP will continue to maintain relationships with these church folks, and I’m trying to figure out how/if I can live with that.  Since he has given up his pastoral credentials, there is no accountability with the judicatory to hold him to our code of ethics regarding leave-taking.  

I know the reality that most people who follow a pastor of long tenure are, in effect, interims and usually only stay a year or two. 

  • Do any of you have experience in a church where a bad start regarding the involvement of the BFP turned around and things eventually went ok?  
  • How did you learn to set aside any of your personal feelings about the interference of the BFP?  

Rev. CCP (Concerned Current Pastor)

* * * * *

You are not alone, Rev. CCP. Our Matriarchs are here with some awesome support and advice.

Dear Rev. CCP,

In my opinion, a working relationship between you and this congregation has been set up to fail on at least three different levels. I have seen a relationship start out bumpy, and eventually smooth out, but that was only because the judicatory was able to ‘right the ship’ so to speak. Clearly BFP has NO interest in doing this well, and so your options are very slim. I don’t know what your situation is as far as being able to move from there, but if you want to be anything more than the associate pastor of BFP then I’d encourage you to start/continue the process if possible. 

In a much more minor situation, I handle my own personal feelings by reminding myself that in the long run, things will smooth out and come to light. But I also recognize ‘in the long run’ may be long after I am gone. Also, I am in a larger congregation that can absorb some of that anxiety; not everyone had a relationship with the staff members that have remained in the area. It is admittedly hard to see the situation you’re involved in resolving any time soon, and I fear the one who is set up to get hurt the most is you.

Prayers ascending…
Kathryn Johnston

Hello, Rev. CCP–

I do sympathize, having some experience of a parish where a 22-year tenure blighted at least two of the ministries that ensued, and was still making ripples in the community 25 years after the retirement.

There is one tactic which I can recommend because it worked for me even though I stumbled on it inadvertently.  It requires a certain amount of cold, steely nerve… because it has to be whole-hearted and carried out with a smiling face (drown him in melted butter poured from a great height, if that image helps).

Basically — WEAR HIM OUT… Welcome him warmly, consult him about EVERYTHING (hey!  no and then you may learn very Useful Stuff by so doing) and invite him over and over to do all sorts of leadership tasks, preferably those which involve lengthy exposure to parish-members in less-than-perfectly-comfortable circumstances.  If the members of the parish don’t get thoroughly sick of him first, he’ll get tired…because at this point I am sure he has no idea how much less energy he has, than he thinks he has.  Let him find out.  (The Dear Old Soul I am thinking of came and looked at me reproachfully — after a funeral at which he had eulogized for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES — and said “You know, I don’t think I can take on these tasks any more…” This is your cue to pat the forearm affectionately and say, “Dear Old Soul, nobody in his right mind could ever say you HADN’T DONE YOUR SHARE — you are ENTITLED to take your ease, and I hope you will.”

Another tactic is to apprise him “in advance,” or “privately,” of new developments, new acquisitions, new assets and invite his approval.

As my dear Daddy used to observe, “You can slide a lot farther on some substances than you can on cinders.”  I commend that advice.

If this sounds cynical, I apologize…

blessings upon your patience
Crimson Rambler

Dear CCP,

 Err.  Your denomination should have indeed done a better job (and what’s with the one year separation policy?  Is that your denomination’s expectation because a year is not nearly long enough.)

 I will assume that your predecessor loves this church and wants it to thrive and flourish in the coming years.  This will not happen if he continues to interfere – plain and simple.  I wonder if someone he trusts in your denomination might go with you to have a friendly conversation during which you can convey that:

  1. You are grateful for his ministry.
  2. You know he must miss that ministry and the people he served for so many years.
  3. You know he wants that ministry to succeed and for the church to grow.
  4. This cannot happen without his cooperation which means:  allow you to live out your call; be intentional about stepping aside for at least another year; agree to refrain from anything that looks like “ministry” (e.g. gathering the youth, meeting former parishioners for prayer or friendly visits, etc.)

If he cannot agree to this, let him know that he is choosing to hurt the church and to hurt you.

Again, I will make the sacred assumption that he doesn’t want to hurt the church or you.  But ask him to put himself in your shoes.  You need room to connect with the congregation yourself and that won’t be possible if he stands in the way.

 Be strong out there – Jan Edmiston

Dear Rev. CCP, 

While the judicatory cannot do anything about a pastor who has relinquished credentials, I wonder what other support they might put in place for you? Could someone (Presbyter, D.S., Conference staff, etc.) who has experience come and talk with your leadership about leave-taking and boundaries? I really think that’s a conversation best led by someone other than you. When the current pastor states standards and expectations, it often comes off as selfish or defensive. 

And, because I don’t know of any situations like yours that have worked out well, I wonder what sort of supports you have in place for yourself? Do you have a trusted colleague group, counselor/therapist, coach, or spiritual director to aid in discernment about whether this call feels right for you under the circumstances?

I hope you will be able to get support that will be of help.

Martha Spong
RevGals BlogPals executive director
Clergy Coach at

Dear CCP-

My strongest recommendation is that unless you want to function as the intentional interim for the next two years, start looking for a new call.  The systems that would protect you from the former pastor’s unethical behavior are not functioning. Without judicatory limitations, he can do anything he wants, including creating a new congregation. His behavior over the last year has been utterly unprofessional and his status as BFP puts you in the position of being unable to criticize him without seeming uncaring. 

As much as possible, please document the FP’s actions in writing and submit it to your judicatory official. This is their problem as much or more than it is yours. I would not measure your situation against other stories, negative or positive.  You need to decide if you are called to weather what is certain to be a stormy year or more. 

If you don’t already have a trusted mentor in place to support you at this time, please find one. Situations like this can cause us to second-guess ourselves.  If he’s so beloved, why am I so angry? Maybe it would be okay to be one big happy family.  You need at least one other person around who can keep reminding you that the FP does not have the best interests of the church in mind. 

Prayers ascending for bravery, strength and clear vision.

Rev. Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath  aka RevHRod

* * * * *

Thank you, Matriarchs! What a variety of approaches and ideas.

How about you, dear reader? Have you had your own experience with a BFP? What worked for you? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? Please weigh in below in the comments.

Are you facing a situation that is confounding &/or stressful? Our Matriarchs are here to support you through it. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com

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Ask the Matriarch: It’s Your Turn!

mosjdd2Today we offer up an “Ask the Matriarch” all-play!

This week’s question goes out from our Matriarchs to all of you wise RevGals:

Wherever or whatever your ministry might be, what is working well right now in your ministry context?

Lift us up with some good news! We are anticipating many helpful and hopeful answers.

Please share your strategies and stories in the comments below.

Thank you, faithful readers!


The Matriarchs would like to know: What is your greatest challenge in ministry? For some ideas and support, send your scenario to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com

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Ask the Matriarch: Relief from the Winter Blahs

pnwiqvc-1This week’s question is comes from a RevGal stuck in the winter blahs. Can you relate to her cry for help?

Dear Matriarchs:

I have a long stretch ahead with no vacation or continuing education time, just my usual days off (Friday and part of Saturday). Normally I try to get away every 7-8 weeks or so, but I’ll be at work for twice that this winter and need some self-care strategies to keep me from going insane!


From the Land of Never-Ending Winter

Our Matriarchs are ready to pour out upon us an extravagant array of self-care strategies, winter blah edition. Read on:

Dear Pastor of the Frozen Tundra-

I am one of those people who loves to take books on vacation and read in an alternate location.  My spouse doesn’t see the point.  “You could read at home!”  One of the things that I have learned about self-care is that it means different things to different people. I love books and movies and binge watching television shows from Netflix. As long as I can do those things without feeling guilty, I have a wonderful time. My spouse may think I have done nothing all day, but the truth is that I have gone on any number of adventures without leaving the living room.  So my first piece of advice is-  don’t let anyone, including yourself, make you feel like you’re doing it wrong.

When it isn’t possible to go somewhere new, it can be rewarding to make something new. Experiment with a new cuisine. Find a new craft. Explore a hobby you left behind. Do something that makes you feel creative or gives you a sense of accomplishment. 

Change the local scenery.  Clean out a closet. Sort out your books. Paint your bedroom or paint the coffee table. Rearrange the furniture. Plan out the spring garden. Do something that makes your space feel refreshed.

Give yourself a challenge. Take an online course. Check out what’s available at the local community college or park district. Learn a new language on Set a health goal. 

I could blather on and on, instead I will say this.  My own experience is that the measure of a good continuing education experience or vacation is whether or not I return with a sense of excitement for what I’ve done and where I’ve been. Did I come back wanting to tell my friends and coworkers all about my adventure? What could you do this Friday that might lead to that same boost of enthusiasm?   Me? I’ve been trying to learn how to knit socks. It’s a challenge and it’s creative.  Time will tell whether I ever end up with a decent pair of socks.  Right now it’s pretty iffy, but I’m still enjoying the learning process and the creative tension.

Best wishes!
Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod

Dear Winter Rev,

Having lived in a northern clime, my suggestion would be to look for some day activities that feel warm to you. Some possibilities might be a hot stone massage, a mocha in a coffee shop you know has a well-regulated thermostat, a visit with a friend who warms your heart, or a pajama day with movies you have really wanted to watch. 

Blessings in this winter of potential discontent,

Martha Spong

Dear Land of Never Ending Winter,

This is a difficult time of year to keep your spirits up and your body warm!

Since you do not have any immediate trips to give you a break, I would recommend you find some smaller respites along the way:

-a warm bath by candlelight
-a good book by the fireplace
-a long walk indoors in a mall or workout spot
-a dinner out with a friend or loved one
-a massage
-board game night with friends

Whatever you enjoy and brings you small pockets of joy.

Hang in there! Spring is coming.

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Centerville, Ohio

Can’t get away?

If your schedule and work load don’t allow for any time for even a staycation or a “reading week” at home (I’ve gone to the local library as a getaway when my family schedule or the demands of the church year weren’t conducive to leaving town.) Exploring one’s own area can be fun…

What about thinking about some of those Friday/part of Saturdays as a mini-break or study leave in place. Are there local continuing education events available to you? Are there online possibilities of workshops you could attend? Podcasts are great!

For me, having some breaks and interesting things on the calendar that feed my spirit and anticipating them is as wonderful as the breaks themselves.

Best to you,

Oh, sister, I relate to this! I, too, have now begun my longest stretch of the calendar without vacation or continuing education to break it up (and I, too, live in a land where winter is very slow to end). But here are a few things I’m going to try to do this winter:

– Spend at least 15 minutes every day doing something I love – (something not related to my work!)

– Once a month, plan a day where I *only* do things I love (i.e., no church work, no chores or bill-paying, just enjoyable things *without guilt*) – this is a new effort for me, so we’ll see how this goes. It’s the “no guilt” part that I’m working on even more than the “where will I find the time?” part.

– Think about how I can institute weekly technology sabbaths in order to free up more space in my life (and mind) for the types of fun that will really nourish me. (I’ve written in Ask the Matriarch responses before about taking technology sabbaths, but I haven’t been able to maintain that practice for … awhile. I want to try again to unhook myself from screens regularly, even if it’s only for 12 hours a week rather than a whole day.)

As I’ve been thinking about doing things I love, I’m thinking not only of my favorite hobbies but also of some of the types of pursuits I would do if I were on vacation: going to a museum I haven’t been to before; trying out a fancy restaurant in another city (within a reasonable drive); going horseback riding with my family (this will have to wait for warmer weather!). Much of the time, my days off (Fridays and partial Saturdays, like you) are spent catching up on house/family/personal responsibilities as well as trying to get a little extra sleep. I know I couldn’t give every Friday to pursuing fun activities that aren’t related to responsibilities, but I’m hopeful that once a month is a reasonable target. 

Hang in there, and good luck taking care of yourself! I’m eager to see what others recommend.

Stacey aka earthchick

Dear Land of Never-Ending Winter, 

I share your dilemma. Aside from one week of study leave in early February, I’m on deck until May 1st. I live in a particularly snowy, cold part of Canada, so I’m with you on that front as well. 

I find the best way to get through the long winter is to enjoy it as much as possible, preferably outdoors. Whenever the temps are cold-but-not-ridiculous, I go for a walk or get out my snowshoes and hit the trail. There’s something so invigorating about getting your body moving, feeling the sun/wind/snow on your face, and breathing fresh air. Even on days when I think it might be too cold to enjoy the outdoors, I bundle up and promise myself I’ll make it a short walk if I’m too cold. I always stay out longer than anticipated and generally come across the same folks in the neighbourhood (the dog-owners, of course!) who are happy to stop and say hello. 

Also, it’s awesome to come back inside to the warmth and curl up with a good book! 

Blessings from Way Up North, 

Dear Winter-and-Work Bound,

If all you have is your 1 or 1.5 day off, make sure that time is distinguished from other days in as many ways as possible so that you notice and feel the difference.  Have something different for breakfast, linger over the newspaper, treat the free day as a day of adventure. Are there nearby museums, galleries, geological oddities, parks, etc. that you have not yet visited?  Take yourself on a little outing.  It doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun–you can do goofy things like riding a random bus to the end of the line to see what’s out there while you listen to a novel you downloaded from the library on your smart phone. 

One thing I did last year that yielded a great deal of fun one day at a time was pledge to visit every park in our county.  It was a hoot, and I saw parts of our county I hadn’t even imagined.  I personally like lists so it was enjoyable to check the parks off the county Parks and Recreation map as I visited and hiked in them.  What do you enjoy that you could visit every one of in your area?

If the weather is too miserable for outdoor outings, indoor movies are a nice mental break.  Make your own movie festival at home if you can’t get to a theater.  See if you can get “Enchanted April”–you’ll feel like you were on vacation by the end of it. 

Don’t look at your email on a day off!  Without being fundamentalist about it, I tend to think of even a little bit of work or work related thinking as a sort of pollutant that can spread through your freedom like a little oil slick on a pond–even 10 minutes of business-y email in a 24 hour Sabbath is an impediment to freedom and rest.  Let your computer rest when you rest. 

Also: Chocolate.  ‘Nuff said.

Peace, Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, Bainbridge Island, Washington


Thank you, generous and wise Matriarchs! I was taking notes.

How about you, dear Revs? Which of these sounds good to you? What gets you out of your own winter blahs? Let us know in the comments below.

What’s got you confounded or stuck or wishing you had a new way of looking at things? Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us support you through it.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com

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Ask the Matriarch: Creative Strategies for Leaving a Church

mzzy6gq’Tis the season to look forward to a new year and new opportunities. This week’s question asks for creative pre-transition strategies when a pastor is making a change:

Dear Matriarchs,

I’m planning to leave my current call next year, and while I already know this, the congregation does not, and won’t for several more months. 

I’m thinking of ways to prepare them–the elected leadership and the whole church–so that when the announcement comes, they are as ready as they can be: secure in their congregational identity and call, equipped for the transition, etc. 

I’m looking for suggestions on how to do some of that work now, before the anxiety and lame-duck phase begins, especially with the council. (Please no recommendations for Running Through The Thistles…been there, have that, looking for something more/creative/in-depth/interesting for this before-they-know period.)

From “Likes to Prepare”

* * * * * *

One of our Matriarchs has some ideas:

Dear “Likes to Prepare,”

I am also a planner. In each of my calls as I left I left a notebook for the pastor and the administrative assistant with all the things the next pastor might like to know to inform her/his leadership. I include the shut-in list, a calendar with monthly congregational expectations and traditions (like the 30th annual Scandinavian smorgasbord, or the ‘Blue Night’ worship – along with a sample bulletin), the current strategic plan along with projected completion dates for each item and who is in charge of each, a list of council and congregational teams, photos of arrangements for special worship services that have worked really well in the sanctuary space, passwords for various companies and the account information, who orders bibles for the third graders and when, etc., etc..  All the things that you wish you knew as the months ticked by in congregational life expectations, but no one thinks to tell you until it is very late for planning. 

None of these are meant to be prescriptive, but rather a “heads up” for the interim pastor or the next called pastor to inform them so they can determine how they would like to proceed knowing a bit of the history. 

I have never received a similar book upon my arrival, and frankly it has always puzzled and frustrated me since it can take months to figure out the trajectory and expectations. Of course, you cannot know that it will actually be used. That’s why I give a copy to both the incoming pastor and the administrative assistant. Still no guarantee. At my last call I showed the finished book(s) to the council so they would know I had done what I could to help in the transition. Then I can leave knowing I have done all in my power to leave things in good order, and to hopefully eliminate congregational members being overlooked (especially shut-ins). 

Blessings on your transition!

Anne Andert

* * * * * *

Thank, Anne!

What about you, dear reader? When you have left a congregation, what creative strategies have you used to create an atmosphere of good leave-taking? We look forward to your ideas in the comments below.

Do you have a challenge to work through in your ministry setting, or an opportunity you would like to embrace to its fullest? Our Matriarchs are here to help. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com

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Ask the Matriarch: Books, Books, Books!

mhatup6This week’s question is about a subject that we hold dear: How to manage all those books! Hear this RevGal’s challenge:

Dear Matriarchs:

I find myself in need of a book-purge, as I’ll be moving soon and can’t take them all with me. Even when I pull out the ones I don’t use much, it’s still a LOT more books than I can take. a

How do I decide which books to keep and which to get rid of? 

What do you wish you’d kept, or wish you’d left behind earlier? 

And — I just need to ask! — what books are on your Christmas wish list?

Pastor Bookworm

Our Matriarchs hear your cry and they have some strategies for dealing with books:

Dear Pastor Bookworm,

 What a wonderfully daunting task – getting rid of books!  I would have a difficult time purging my books also!

If I were purging my books (and I definitely need to purge them), I would set some simple guideline rules for my purging.

  1. I have several books which I theologically don’t agree with because they were gifted to me or because I have grown in my understanding of theology.  I would definitely purge those books.
  2. I have double copies of several books which could be gifted to a younger minister to use in their ministry.  I would give those books away.
  3. I have several sets of commentaries which were given to me by beloved retired pastors who were mentors for me. I will eventually gift those sets of commentaries to a younger pastor for their ministry.
  4. I have several books which I have not read or have not looked at for over twenty years!   Depending upon their genre and content, I would purge some of those. 

Some of my most beloved authors are anything by Henri Nouwen, Barbara Brown Taylor, Frederick Buechner, and Walter Brueggemann.  I would hold onto all of my liturgical resources such as Feasting on the Word: Worship Companions, Worship resources by Ruth C. Duck, Maren C. Tirabassi, and Diane Karay.

And I would definitely keep my sets of commentaries which I use: Feasting on the Word, Interpretation, and Women’s Bible Commentary.

It is a huge task to decide which to keep and which to give away!  Blessings on your purging.

 Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Centerville, Ohio

Dear Pastor BW, never never ask me what books are on any of my wish lists, because the answer is “all of them.”

I would say that only you can possibly decide which to keep and which to shed; but shedding is easier if you are giving them away to particular recipients (also allows for emergency retrieval in the future!!)… I suppose it would also be a good idea to let go of the ones you NEVER read; or the ones that you can access electronically; or the ones you can find in a handy nearby theological library (pause while we all laugh heartily at that one).

Beyond that I can’t advise you as my attitude to my own books is hopelessly skewed.

Have you thought of simply inviting clergy colleagues to come and help themselves?

all blessings on your move, and on your book-purge…

Crimson Rambler

Dear Pastor Bookworm,

I undertook a huge purge four years ago when I was making a move. I started with the books I hadn’t looked at since graduating from seminary ten years earlier. If my only contact with the book had been to move it from one bookshelf/office to another, I let it go. The harder call came with books I found useful at one time but hadn’t referred to recently. In the end I kept most of the ones that had a direct relationship to the Bible and some works of non-lectionary liturgy. Books of any popular interest I donated to my church’s book sale, and books that seemed helpful to a new pastor I offered to a colleague in her first call. (True confession: there are some weeks I wish I still had my set of three Lavon Bayler’s RCL-based liturgies, especially as I moved to a more liturgical region for my denomination, but at the time it wasn’t clear I would be serving a church regularly again.)

Now I’m moving out of the office at a church I have served for a long interim period, and all my books are coming home with me. I need to pick through my books again and let go of two dozen or so titles. I’m prepared to release books I bought before my move four years ago but never read and books I read but am unlikely to re-read. I am more likely to add books than bookshelves at this point in my life, so this is like recycling. It has to happen to make space for what is new. 

On my Christmas wish list: 

Envelope Poems (a collection of Emily Dickinson’s work)
Upstream, essays by Mary Oliver

Poets are good for me. I keep their books forever. 

Martha Spong

Dear Pastor Bookworm,

I don’t envy you having to cull your collection of books.  I dread the day when I will have to do the same!

Pay attention to the books you find yourself re-visiting for ideas and comfort. Some of my books are bristling with post-its from tagging passages I might use while preparing to preach.  I’d think twice about getting rid of any of those. 

I find that I would at this stage want to keep my best scholarly commentaries (I really like the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, which throws in some good preaching ideas with the commentary).  I would keep all my books of stories, at least the non-cheesy story collections.  I would keep a large selection of poetry, especially the Mary Oliver, Rumi, Hafiz and Wendell Berry poems.  I would keep my volume of Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings (A Testament of Hope). 

Less urgent but still important: I would keep my Kierkegaard, Bonehoeffer, John Dominic Crossan, Walter Bruggemann, Marcus Borg, Huston Smith, Catherine Keller, and John Cobb; and let the other theologians go.  [Which theologians formed you and nurture you?  Keep those. Even if you don’t consult them all that frequently.]  I’d keep the works of my favorite fiction writers (for me, Margaret Atwood and Wendell Berry–how about you?)

The books I would find easiest to let go are the technique books about how to be/govern a church.  Often useful in the moment, but they have a more definite “shelf life”. 

Books are things, but they are also old friends and markers of our history.  Take as many with you as you can! 

Peace and blessings on your move–
Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational UCC, Bainbridge Island, WA

How about you, dear reader? Have you ever done a book purge? What got you through it? Leave your comments below.

Do you have a question or ministry dilemma for our Matriarchs? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com

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Ask the Matriarch: Is Large Church Ministry for Me?

mdroskwToday, we give thanks for new opportunities born of unexpected circumstances. Our question comes from a Rev who is considering new options for her ministry. She wonders about the challenges and joys there might be in a large church setting:

Hello Matriarchs ~~~

Grace and peace to you in whatever circumstances you find yourself this Saturday. 

This week’s question is a good one, if long, about the intersection of this election and our vocation. I think she sets it up nicely, though, so I’m not inclined to edit. I look forward to your responses to her:

Hello Wise Women,

I’m a happy solo pastor serving a strong, small church. I’ve always been drawn to small church life and have felt called to serve with small churches. Small church is my jam.

But this election has really messed me up and forced me to ask myself some questions. Questions about how and when I am holding myself back, making my voice small, hesitating to step up, and allowing louder, more confident, yet less qualified men to take the lead.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned to step up more at the denominational and regional level. This is work I also enjoy very much. And, it’s also making the issue more glaringly clear. The big church male heads of staff have a hard time seeing me in leadership. They try to out and over talk me in meetings. They look to a bigger church pastor for this and another big church guy for that. And they don’t even see that in picking only big church pastors, they’re picking from a very homogeneous pool. The more involved I get, and the more I think about the election, the more I start to see: we need more women, people of color, LGBTQ folks leading big churches. (I know. I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone but me. But I mentioned the part earlier where I said, I am a small church girl. I never cared what big churches did before…)

All this is making me curious about big church ministry. I’ve never been one to say, we need more women to do X, and leave it that. So, I’m ready to ask some questions. To explore what it takes, what the work looks like, what the call is, and to learn more.

Of you matriarchs who serve in leadership of big churches, who serve as heads of staff, how did you get there? What skills were important to develop? What experiences helped you discern that call? What training helped you along the way? What would you tell your earlier self looking back? What do you enjoy about this ministry? What do you miss about smaller churches or associate ministry? What advice would you give other women considering this kind of leadership/ministry?

Finally, how can other women in ministry be supportive to you in your current call? Im not one to ask tips and expect them to be free. I’d love to pray for you. I’d love to encourage and support you, too! Just say the word.

Peace and love and girl power and grace and thanks,

Curious and Committed

* * * * * * *

We have one Matriarch answer to get the conversation started this week:

Dear Curious and Committed,

You are not alone in feeling discouraged that women and minorities have such a difficult road to positions of leadership. 

I am currently a head-of-staff but not in a large church. My congregation is medium sized to medium small. I am head-of-staff over seven staff members.  I have been been in ordained ministry for twenty-nine years.

I have served both large churches as an associate and small churches as pastor and head-of-staff.  

So, my call journey does not answer your questions directly since I am not a head-of-staff of a large church. But I can address a few of your questions.

I think one of the most important skills to learn as a head-of-staff is the ability to get to know your staff and be available to them as a colleague and as an example of servant leadership.  There is a fine balance between being their head-of-staff and being their colleague and friend. Get to know the gifts of your staff and encourage them to use their gifts in ministry. 

I miss associate ministry because I really enjoy working with other pastors in a ministry team setting. But I also love the intimacy of a small church setting where you can know your congregation individually unlike in a some larger churches.

Follow your heart and your passions in ministry.  Be who you are as a woman called to ministry.  Find your voice, especially when male colleagues keep interrupting or speaking over you. Find your voice again and again.

Build those relationships in ministry which allow you to uses your gifts of leadership.

Prayers for your journey.

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Centerville, Ohio

* * * * * * *

Thank you, Kelley, for sharing your experience and advice.

How about you, dear reader? Curious and Committed has asked for advice about church leadership. Do you have experience that can help? She has also reminded us that our support of each other is mutual. How can support you in prayer today? Please respond in the comments below.

Could you use some extra support for a decision you are making or a situation in your congregation? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us know how we can help.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

Categories: Ask The Matriarch, RevGalBlogPals | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Ask the Matriarch: “Am I Being Shunned?”

mez8p0oThis week’s question comes from a RevGal who is facing the challenge of being the former pastor who is not beloved by her former congregation. How will she relate to them, and should she try?

Several years ago I was fired from my last church, with no reason given and no opportunity foreclosure. The church members were told to “not speculate or ask questions, and to respect my privacy.” We are in a community that understands shunning.

I still live in the community as my husband still has a ministry here. I am a healthcare chaplain and love my new calling. My family is not welcome at the church I used to serve, though my husband has to attend some events there.

My school-aged children have friends who attend that church. I alone attend a church in another town. This week, my younger child told me the child of a church member invited him to a Halloween party. We arrived late and the kids were out trick-or-treating. The father told us where to look and invited us back for chili. After much searching we found the kids with the mom, who had been friendly before I got fired, and cold after. She was publicly cold to me tonight, but more pleasant in a later text exchange when I thanked her for letting my child join the group for the evening and apologized for not contacting her before. Our kids had played together in the park over the weekend.

I left my child with the group and went home to my older child as my husband is out of town. Now I’m feeling shunned again.

How does one live in a community where so many of the people I know are publicly cold to me; and in a place where my children are part of the community and I don’t feel that way?

My husband loves his ministry and moving is not an option at this time. I have few friends and find it hard to nurture friendships with women my age (with kids home and working full time).

Thanks, wise ones!

Several of our Matriarchs weigh in on this one:

Dear Sister in Ministry,

I will be holding you in prayer for this very painful situation you have been living in for a long time.

The circumstances of your firing sound so unethical and painful but seven years have passed and you have found a new calling and joy in your work.

Since you do not have the option to move out of the community at this time (I hope you can some day), my best advice is to find a good counselor or spiritual director to give you a safe place to work through your real and justifiable feelings as you are still being shunned by members of the former congregation.

You cannot change their behavior and cruelty but you can empower yourself to hold your head high through it. 

I hope your husband has a good listening ear too! 

Blessings to you,

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

Centerville, Ohio

Dear Pastor-

After considering your letter, my strongest hope is that you can find some one-on-one care from a pastoral coach, a respected colleague, a therapist – someone who could help you unravel some of the issues you are facing. It may not be possible to change the external factors which are impacting you without moving to a new community. Have you and your spouse discussed this deeply?  Have you considered all the options and how the current situation impacts the health and well being of you, your kids and your spouse?

Twelve years ago I moved my family halfway across the country to a place they had never been.  We are 1,500 miles away from our aging parents. Our daughter started over in a brand new school district at age 12. Our family economics took a significant hit, but in retrospect it was a life saving move. 

Every one’s story is different, but I hope that these thoughts may be of help to you.

God’s blessings on your journey!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod

Dear “Shunna,”

I haven’t been in your situation but I am familiar with the dynamics of small communities and of the complexities of running into people for whom you were once pastor.  I have been in the same location a long time; people have left my church for various reasons, and I can’t avoid meeting them at the store, theater, parties, etc. 

It is painful and awkward, no doubt about it.  Without minimizing your discomfort, I would just say that time can be a great healer, in my experience.  I have had some beautiful reconciliations with people I once crossed the street to avoid meeting.  I didn’t plan or engineer these reconciliations; they just unfolded gracefully over time.  I want to convey some hope to you that things will not always be as uncomfortable as they are right now. 

If you can manage to keep an open mind and open heart even toward those who have hurt you, in spite of their bad behavior, you may be surprised by the healing that can happen as time passes.  I consider it one of the vexing blessings of being in a community for the long haul–we humans can and do behave badly, but we can also live long enough to forgive each other and see relationships evolve. 

I wonder if there are places you might work together in the community outside the church with some of those who are acting coldly, such as the food bank or a fundraising walk or a  town festival?  Cooperative service can also lead to healing ill feelings. 

Peace be with you, Dee Eisenhauer

Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, UCC, Bainbridge Island, WA

Dear Shunned Reverend, what an intolerable situation! To be treated poorly but not be removed from the system inflicting poor treatment. And as untenable as it sounds for you, I am even more concerned about your children. They understand shunning as well. What are they learning about the body of Christ?

From your letter, it’s hard to know what recourse you might have with your old church. If you are still angry, and feel that you were treated unjustly, I would encourage you to pursue justice, if for no other reason then to model it for your children. If you are ready instead to let it go, I would suggest a full cut off from that church. It seems like this “Halvsie” situation may be more heat than light for your family. 

Perhaps our other clergy sisters will see alternative options that I don’t see. 

Ruth Everhart  blogging at

Dear friend,

I am so sorry that this is happening to you. I’m afraid that I do not understand being fired without cause. It all sounds unprofessional, unethical and awful.

I don’t know if it’s possible to have word travel back to the congregation, or its board of council, with a message from you. I wonder if you could write to the board, acknowledge that seven years  a good biblical number) has passed, and while you do not wish to worship with your former congregation, you would ask that the “shunning” be over, and that you be treated like any member of the community in which you and your children and spouse live. 

 I will be adding my prayers for a peaceful resolution to this.


Wow! So much good advice and insight for our sister in ministry.

Do you have some strategies to share with her? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

Are you confounded by a ministry dilemma? We can help! Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


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Ask the Matriarch: Our Wisdom Sources

wisdom-key-picWhere do we turn to hear the voices of wisdom? This week’s “Ask the Matriarch” question comes from a RevGal who has missed having her mother by her side through challenges and tragedies.

Dear Matriarchs:

Of late, I have been pondering questions of wisdom and aging. At 63, I have lived longer than many members of my family. My five years of ordained ministry have been filled with caring for the elderly, many of whom seem to have few resources to fall back upon as their bodies give out. People often presume that I have wisdom, either because of my calling or the traumas of my life, but I don’t consider myself wise.

In recent conversations with my adult daughter (29), I have begun feeling very intensely the loss of my own mother — not of her, personally, exactly, since I barely remember her, but the loss of having had a mother, a woman of wisdom, through all the events and experiences of my life.

I have started making a list of my own ideas of wisdom figures, people whose work I either know a bit or wish I knew. So far, my list includes all kinds of people, some of them officially spiritual writers, but others are artists, and one is a scientist! 

My question is: Who are your own wisdom figures? What is the literature or music or science to which you turn when you want to understand something of life and death or seek expressions of mystery or comfort? When you are hoping that by 80 or so you finally know something? I figure I might have a few years left to learn some of what I wish I knew now, and still have time to share it.

Rev. Robin

* * * * * * *
Great question, Rev. Robin! Let’s hear where our own wise Matriarchs go for wisdom.

Dear Rev. Robin-

What an interesting question. My first response was that I am lucky to be able to still call my parents.  At age 80, my father is still one of the most creative problem solvers I know – always ready to offer you ten good ideas.  At 82, my mother is incredibly insightful due to her nature and her experience.

My second response is that I have “people.”  Those ones that you can trust with your frailties, your questions and your dreams.  The people you may not see for ages but the conversation picks up nearly where you left off. The ones you ask for prayer.

My third answer is books, books, books!  In particular, I love fiction shelved in the adolescent/young adult section of the library. In these books I find old friends and meet new ones who as they ask their questions, have often helped me find answers.  I regularly scout out the Newberry Medal winners and “Best Books Ever” lists. Some of my favorites…

  • Everything Madeleine L’Engle but especially The Time Quintet and A Ring of Endless Light
  • C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia read in the order of their original publishing.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
  • Anything by E.L. Konigsburg
  • Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord
  • The Giver and others by Lowis Lowry
  • The Ender’s Shadow series by Orson Scott Card, particularly Shadow of the Giant

I wish I could fully explain my book list. I am half way finished with my DMin and they are at the heart of it. Simply put, I find that there is much in children’s literature that helps us to frame our story of faith.

I’m sure I’ll think of something brilliant later…    but I’m only 56, so it might be a while.

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod

Dear Rev. Robin,

What an excellent question.  My first response is that I am glad that as I age I am increasingly comfortable with NOT knowing much about the things that really matter.  I like this quote by Henry Vaughan: “There is in God (some say) a deep but dazzling darkness.”   I am more and more of a frame of mind to be dazzled while in the dark.  One of my Bible studies is reading Ecclesiastes right now, and I also resonate with one of the refrains there: “Who knows?”  I don’t know if this cosmic shrug is wisdom, but perhaps it is. (Who knows?)

 Nevertheless, I do have my favorite wise voices.  Poets: Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry.  Theologians: Huston Smith, Catherine Keller, John B. Cobb, Soren Kierkegaard, Parker Palmer.  Musicians: Vasen, Leonard Cohen, Paul Winter, Steel Wheels. And I love the distilled wisdom of hymns old and new.  Artists: just about everyone–looking at varieties of art with an open heart is a great source of insight about the human spirit.  Trees: all of them.  I am growing ever more enamored with the company of trees; they instantly put my little life in perspective.

I very much believe in the wisdom of a trusted community.  My gathered church is very wise. My circle of church camp friends is both thoughtful and compassionate. I call on active colleagues and retired elders for consultation when I am stumped.  In short, I love the wisdom collected in human experience among people who will never be famous for anything.

You might like this book at this stage of your life: Breaking Free: Women of Spirit at Midlife and Beyond. It is edited by Marilyn Sewell, who also edited a couple of splendid collections of poetry. 

Most wise saying I know: “This, too, shall pass.”

Peace, Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational United Church of Christ, Bainbridge Island, Washington []

Dear Rev. Robin,

Your question reminds me of the Bible story about God’s approval when Solomon requested wisdom. Your request itself is wise.

My grandmothers always seemed so wise, and I miss them so much! I have always wanted to be wise like them when I got “older.” Now that I am older than when I thought they were old, and I am the same age as you, I wonder when (if) that wisdom will kick in!

In each ministry setting, I’ve been gifted with one or two local, in-person colleagues who have been generous with their voices of wisdom. Calling on the wisdom in these collegial relationships has saved me more than once.

Sometimes I play a game with myself: “What Would ___ Do?” — not Jesus, in this case. I imagine wisdom coming from one of my grandmothers or another strong woman that I know, or think I know. Some of those women are RevGals, some are world-leader sheroes (Michelle Obama tops my list) and some are writers or actors or characters in a movie or book.

If I am getting wise at all, it is that I am gaining the wisdom that wisdom is not one desired quality but a sharing of life experience, compassionate questions and focused listening to life and people. As I write this, I am with my grandkids (ages 2 and 6) and I am learning so much from them while they are simply being who they are in the world.  I wonder if my grandmothers had that same experience when they were with me.

Journey wisely,
Sharon Temple
Tidings of Comfort and Joy

* * * * * *
So much wisdom has been offered, in the question and in the responses. Thank you, Matriarchs!

How about you, dear reader? Where do you go for wisdom? Share your responses in the comments below.

Do you have a question about ministry life? Are you facing a challenge at church or in the world? Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


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Ask the Matriarch: Another Big Change?

2dk0br6How do you manage change in your congregation? What if a congregation has already taken many courageous steps and find themselves “justice tired”? Let’s hear about a change that one pastor and her congregation are walking through:

Dear Matriarchs:

I serve a congregation with a long history of taking bold, often controversial social justice actions. We have been open and affirming to LBGT persons for more than 20 years.

A newer member of the congregation recently expressed surprise that our kind of congregation still labels its two restrooms “men” and “women.” In that conversation, some around the table seemed excited to create unisex restrooms, and some (otherwise very open) people said “no way.” 

Have any of your churches addressed restroom re-labeling? 

I look forward to your suggestions about introducing and processing changes at the frontier of being a more inclusive congregation. 

Rev. Change Agent

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Matriarchs offer their ideas and suggestions:

Dear Agent of Change-

In my work as a seminary Director of Student Services, this question has most definitely been raised. Currently our main building has three women’s and three men’s bathrooms. Based on population and room usage, the decision has been made to repurpose one of the men’s bathrooms into a gender neutral space.  A new sign will be put on the door.  An announcement will be made by email to the community.  Signage inside the bathroom will indicate that the door can be locked for privacy.

The administration discussed whether this should be an issue for public conversation.  The consensus was to move forward and simply make the change. In the long run, I don’t think this is a big deal.  We have LGBTQ students, staff, faculty and visitors.  We also have parents with small children on campus. Now we will have a bathroom that anyone can use and the door can be locked for privacy. We will also have the traditional men’s and women’s rooms. To me, it’s a hospitality issue.  

Best wishes,
Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
Aka RevHRod

Dear Rev. Change Agent,

It is so encouraging to hear of churches that are stepping out in faith to change our limited way of thinking. 

Our congregation has not had this conversation but your question opened the door to imagining how we could create a unisex bathroom.

We have two sets of male/female bathrooms in the church and one stand alone bathroom which is not marked.  This single bathroom could be a perfect place to put up a sign saying “Unisex” on the bathroom.

I would want session ownership of the idea, so that they can explain the importance of such an act to anyone asking them.

Blessings on your forward moving steps!

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
Memorial Presbyterian Church
Xenia, Ohio

Dear Change Agent,

I don’t know of any congregations who have had an open, fresh conversation about this issue.  But I know many churches that have single/anybody can use them bathrooms.  People could be more skittish about multiple stall bathrooms being unisex – or not.  Context is everything.  It sounds like your congregation might be open to something creative.

 Jan Edmiston
A Church for Starving Artists

* * * * * * * * * *
What do you say, dear reader? How have you managed a big change in your congregation? How do you know when the congregation is ready? And is there ever a time to go ahead anyway?

Please add your comments and suggestions in the comments below.

We love questions! Are you facing a ministry challenge or dealing with a big change? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

The Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a native Texan, adopted Louisianan, and currently thriving in Nashville TN where she serves the Brookmeade Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ. She contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs at

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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Ask The Matriarch: Sabbatical Re-entry


This week: A pastor realizes that her sabbatical isn’t complete until the re-entry is achieved. Hear her plea:

Greetings, sisters in ministry – 

I am wrapping up a much-needed sabbatical and beginning to feel human again. I return to my congregation this fall.  What practices might the Matriarchs recommend, to help the re-entry go as well as possible?  What feelings might I watch out for in myself as I return to work & ministry? What behaviors or reactions might I anticipate in the congregation?  Looking forward to your wisdom!


* * * * * * * * * *
Dear Tellthestories,

After my sabbatical in 2009, I found these things upon my return:

  • The congregation wanted to know what I’d done and it was clear that they needed to hear what I’d done which would help them/make me a better pastor for them.  They needed to hear that this was not merely a vacation.  I worked on resting for them (and for me.)
  • Some people will be resentful that you got this sabbatical.  I made it a point to say that – in a perfect world – everyone should get a sabbatical for the purpose of renewal one’s vocational purpose.  Like other academic vocations (teaching and medicine for example) clergy need this time to step back and reflect for the sake of their own spiritual health and the spiritual health of the congregation.

Hope the re-entry is beautiful!

 Jan Edmiston
Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry
The Presbytery of Chicago

Dear TellTheStories,

When I took a sabbatical a couple years ago, I was fortunate to have a connection with Dick Bruesehoff who wrote a book on sabbatical planning for The Alban Institute a few years ago. It was a fifteen year project, so he gleaned quite a bit of helpful information. I asked Dick exactly this question. This is what he told me from his research and the anecdotal conversation with many colleagues. (Sorry, it’s a little long.) Dick served on the churchwide staff of the ELCA for many years. 

Dick encouraged me to consider  (1) How do I re-enter personally?   (2) How do I re-enter with the leadership of the congregation?   

Then he emphasized this: “Regardless of how good the sabbatical had been, there is often depression that sets in the first few weeks. Don’t be surprised if you have a lingering sense of, “Oh, $##*!” You are loosing something as you return; freedom of naming your own schedule, and finding things you enjoyed doing.  Sabbatical consultants are helpful in the planning of the sabbatical (ideally), and it is helpful to find someone to help process these pieces following your return to full-time ministry. 

It is not at all unusual for folks to return from sabbatical more clear on what their work and life priorities are. It is good to pay attention to those internal rhythms that we have. We ignore those at our peril. What would it be like to talk with key leaders about 3-4 key priorities that you bring with you upon your return? Have you discovered any habits you established or reestablished over sabbatical that have been revitalizing, grounding, life-giving…

What challenges do you anticipate in maintaining those habits you’ve established or reestablished on sabbatical? Who will you connect with to help you with this? Is there a Mutual Ministry Team that is already established? A different group of leaders in your congregation? 

What feeds you? Pay attention to what you’re hungry for. Eat/drink liberally of that. What do you need to not just survive, but to THRIVE in ministry?

The biggest pitfalls to avoid post sabbatical are not anticipating that you come back different than when you left in ways that you may not even be able to anticipate yet. It may feel “clunky”, “disjointed”. Don’t be surprised by that. Let that be your teacher. Best not to try to get “back” to your old normal. You can’t go back, you can only go forward. Stand back and ask, “What is God up to here now?”

Spend a lot of time talking with other people who have been in the thick of things these last three (or so) months and ask them what they have noticed. Do a lot of listening when you return. 

I also found it helpful to write a summary of what I did and learned on sabbatical that I included as a bulletin insert for several weeks, as well as in the newsletter, and utilized several opportunities (council, adult education) to talk about my experiences. 

Blessings and peace to you as you return. In an ideal world your congregation will have grown some positive new leadership gifts while you’ve been away on sabbatical. Keep breathing.

SoulWiggles (aka Anne Andert)

Dear Tellthestories,

I just wrapped up a much appreciated sabbatical myself.  I was a little surprised at how hard it was to come back even though I love my community and love my job, and even though things went very well in my absence.  I am not usually cranky about work, and so I had to notice and make space for my own crankiness. 

I think the reason it was a bit difficult coming back was that I had very successfully laid down all the burdens of ministry and also had taken a break from paying attention to the world’s woes.  Picking up the sad stories of my parishioners and the sad stories of earth along with my responsibilities felt heavy.

I have been very grateful for a metaphor given to me by another minister I spoke to during the sabbatical time.  He told me about a keystone sermon he preached once, titled “Hamals Do It the Hard Way” that is illustrative of his model of ministry.  Hamals  are persons who unload the heavy cargo from pack animals and transport it up the narrow alleyways that a camel or ox can’t fit into .  This was a hereditary job in Middle Eastern culture.  Hamals spent so much time under heavy loads that they never stood upright.  Rick’s image of ministry is that we carry heavy burdens, heavy responsibilities, but we don’t have to do it stooped over like the Hamals.  He prefers the image of the African women who carry heavy jars of water beautifully balanced on top of their heads, walking upright.  Being erect and balanced is the perfect way to carry heavy responsibilities. This particular pastor spoke about his meditation practice and his love of classical music as two of the factors that help him stay balanced.  

I would encourage you to pay particular attention to whatever helps you stay balanced as you pick up the burdens of ministry once again.  If you cultivated a healthy habit during sabbatical that you would like to keep, make a commitment with yourself to bring that with you out of your sabbatical time.  

Peace, Rev. Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational United Church of Christ

* * * * * *

Thank you, dear Matriarchs for your wise and compassionate responses.

Join the discussion! Add your ideas and encouragement in the comments below.

We love questions! Are you facing a ministry dilemma or curious about a different way to handle a tough situation?

Send your scenario to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let our Matriarchs offer some help and support.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple currently serves as Designated Pastor of the delightful Brookmeade Congregational United Church of Christ in Nashville TN.  She blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy and contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

RevGalBLogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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