Posts Tagged With: church life

RevGalBookPals: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is 515o5ugeajl-_sx329_bo1204203200_less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.

The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.

3a Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions,  and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others,  is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.

You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)

Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.

Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.

Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.

I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed 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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Ask the Matriarch: Allergy-Free Church?

For those with allergies, some of the best things in church — like food and flowers — can be uncomfortable and even unhealthy.

Today, the Matriarchs offer their advice about allergies in the church.

Dear Matriarchs:

Our congregation is a very welcoming congregation. No, really. We have been open to, and affirming of, “all the people” for so many years that it’s as automatic as breathing.

And, speaking of breathing:  

Now we are wondering how inclusive we can practically be of people in our congregation who struggle with allergies. When the Christmas tree goes up in our small-ish sanctuary, a few people have asthma that can be triggered by evergreens. When the Easter flowers are placed, some are allergic to hyacinths and others are allergic to lilies. 

Perhaps not in the same category: A woman in our congregation is scent-averse and is always uncomfortable and vocal when she smells a hint of deodorant or perfume or cleaning scents.

And then there’s food! 

Communion bread: gluten free? egg free? peanut free? soy free?

Church pot luck dinners — a.k.a. “covered dish” or “carry in” dinners — can be a challenge for those allergic to eggs, shellfish, peanuts, or gluten as these ingredients might be hidden in the dish.

Help! What can we reasonably do to minimize exposure to things that can make people sick? Have any of your congregations made any changes in traditions or practices? Please share what has worked for you.

Allergies Everywhere

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Our Matriarchs offer some great suggestions:

Dear Allergies,

Thank you for your thoughtful question. I think this is an important issue because there are many people with different allergies. The answer to this question will be different for every congregation or ministry.

Within our congregation we have addressed allergy issues in several ways:

1) For our children and youth programs, parents fill out information forms and one of the questions is regarding their child’s allergies. With that information we buy food for the children and youth programs accordingly. 

2) Regarding Easter flowers and allergies, we have been purchasing less allergy-prone flowers and/or buying lilies with the pollen already removed

3) We have artificial trees and wreaths for Hanging of the Greens instead of live trees.

We have not had a request for gluten free bread for communion but we post an announcement in our bulletin for people to request gluten free if needed.

Blessings on your efforts to be welcoming for all. 

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

Dear Welcoming Pastor-

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to my father and his brother-in-law discuss the use of an inclusive language lectionary. (This was pre-NRSV.) After debating original languages and familiar translations, it finally came down to this comment by my dad, “We need to do this so that everyone feels cared about.”

It seems to me that although the situation is different, perhaps the logic is the same. In order to insure that everyone feels cared about, maybe it’s time to invest in a good quality artificial Christmas tree.  They’re fire retardant, allergen free and less likely to fall over.  If the Easter lilies are going to make some folks feel ill, why not choose fragrance free flowers? A few to consider:  tulips, anemones, poppies, ranunculus, calla lilies and amaryllis. Perfume and cleaning products are harder to control, but it can’t hurt to ask.

As to the bread question, I recently attended worship at a congregation that offered the following solution for indicating a gluten-free preference.  As you came forward there was a table with small 1 inch cubes in a dish.  If you wished to have gluten-free bread, you took a block and placed it on the communion rail so that the person sharing the bread would know your preference.

I know it isn’t possible to accommodate everyone’s needs, but if we can consider the possibilities of change within the framework of hospitality and care, maybe it won’t be as difficult as we imagine.  

Best wishes!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath aka RevHRod

Allergies!!

So hard to deal with in the congregational context, because people’s allergies can be all over the place.   While the congregations I have served have kept fresh greens at Advent/Christmas in the sanctuary, and there are always Easter flowers (more tulips though, than anything), there are some things the places I have served to become more allergy-inclusive:

*At potlucks and bake sales, we ask people to label ingredients (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, tree nuts, shell fish, etc. )

*For Vacation Bible School snacks, I purchased all Gluten Free, nut-free snacks.

*In classrooms shared with the week-day school, we didn’t allow any food at all on Sundays. 

*Communion offers a gluten free choice.  We tried gluten free bread at one place, but that stuff just crumbles.  So does gluten free matzah, in case you are wondering. 

*One church I know of asks people to NOT wear perfume, after-shave, etc.  I think once people are sensitized, they are willing to accommodate.  Well, some, at least. 

I think the scent allergies are the hardest to work with, especially around the high holy days of Easter and Christmas (who doesn’t love a poinsettia, right?).  However, if there are people who just can’t handle these things, then I would bring that subject up with the Deacons (or the appropriate body in your context).   In one church I served, we decorated the sanctuary with balloons on Easter.  It’s a great alternative symbol for resurrection!   It’s also helpful if congregants let you know if they specific allergies that keep them away from worship or other functions.  That doesn’t always happen—some people don’t want to be a *bother*.    As a person of allergic reactions and faith, I know that I am ultimately the one responsible for keeping myself safe and not having to use the Epi-pen, but thoughtful awareness around me goes a long way, too—but the only way that will happen is if I let people know what is going on!

Hope this is helpful. 

Karla

@ www.revkarla.wordpress.com

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Thank you, Matriarchs, for your thoughtful and practical responses!

How about you, dear Revs? How have you responded to allergies in your congregation?  Let us know in the comments below.

Note: Please focus your comment on your congregation’s experience with, and responses to, allergies (etc.) &/or your own experience with navigating allergens in church life. Do not use this forum to question/criticize the legitimacy of any allergy or food sensitivity.

Questions! RevGal Matriarchs love questions!

Let us help you with a ministry dilemma that has popped up in your congregation. Send your question to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

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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: Change Fatigue

fatigueDear Matriarchs,
I have an interesting situation. There has been a lot of change in our congregation over the past few years (some good, some painful), and I worry about change fatigue. I’d like to suggest that we just do what we’re doing for a little while, to settle in a bit. On the other hand, we have worked hard over the past year or so to really encourage lay leadership and participation in planning, and there are people and groups who have great new ideas they’d like to try…and I don’t want to be the one to discourage ideas and participation. It feels like a tightrope I might fall off at any moment, trying to figure out how to manage so much change (and its attendant grief) while also encouraging and empowering. Any suggestions for navigating this tension?
 
The Only Constant
Dear The Only Constant,Change is exhilarating and hard and threatening and inevitable. Have you thought about bringing together some of the people and groups with great news ideas to plan and strategize about the roll out of those ideas? Maybe they could help you gauge how much newness your congregation can embrace? I hope you have help in managing the change. That’s the best part—working in community with others so that all share in the challenge and the joy.

Best to you,
Jennifer at An Orientation of Heart

Dear Tightrope,
Bless you in your own fatigue. My own coach shared with me recently that – along with the grief that comes with change – there is anger, which may or may not be obvious. The rules have changed for your people and it’s so difficult. What if you planned something totally fun and unexpected? For example: I once asked church members to write down (on slips of paper in the church bulletin) the name and a few details about a person who was unappreciated but had done some kind act or sacrificial service. They were collected in the offering plates and after the offering, I chose one randomly, read the name, and declared that person “Saint of the Week.” They received a Starbucks card and we offered a prayer for the ministry of that particular person right then and there. People loved it. We only did this once (for All Saints’ Day) but you could do it quarterly or something.
Surprise a leader who’s been devoted doing a thankless job with a spontaneous party after worship. Bring chocolate croissants to the next Deacons’ meeting. Thank people with your words and facial expression.
And then go get a massage for yourself. 🙂

Blessings,
When things are lay led, I tend to err on the side of letting them go. My challenge comes in not rescuing it when one of my faithful attendees is hurt/frustrated that something isn’t going like it used to or isn’t being supported by the congregation. As for start-ups, follow the 3-5 people rule: if they can get 3-5 people involved in the idea/event/project then all systems go. Kathrynzj at Volume II 

Dear Only Constant,

How exciting that you have lay leaders who are enthusiastic about growing new ministries in the church! That level of enthusiasm is to be commended. I wonder if your lay leadership, and you, have taken the time to consider your mission. I realize mission is an overused word, but if you have a clear sense of the strengths of the congregation, discerned by a group of people who readily identify with those strengths, then they can be used to formulate a sense of mission. Have you organized this sense of mission into a simple statement “we are a _____church?”

If you have done that then the changes people wish to implement can be organized strategically into ideas that are just “seeds”, waiting to be planted; ideas that have already been “planted and need nourishing”; ideas that are well developed and “growing”; and ideas that need to “lay fallow” for a time; and lastly ideas that need to be let go of. You can literally create a chart with categories like these and make lists. Then you can develop a strategy for implementing one or two things a year.

All along the way you (all the leaders) need to say over and over what your mission is, who you are: “We are a ____ church.” And, here is how we are living into being a ____ church. Encourage the leadership to develop a strategy and to develop patience – it takes a lot longer for the congregation to adopt these ideas than it does the leadership.

Each idea, or two, may need at least a year of growing into and being presented over and over before the majority of the congregation will begin to recognize the idea and understand it.

By charting the ideas you won’t lose sight of them and the ideas can be developed over time instead of all at once. Hopefully the leadership is able to discern which ideas to do when and organize a strategy for developing them. Thus perhaps the enthusiasm can remain without too much change too soon.

Terri at Seeking Authentic Voice

Dear The Only Constant —

If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like you personally are fatigued with change but some of your people have energy. If that is the case, I think you are handling this the right way by acknowledging your own grief and fatigue, while doing what you can to keep the reins slack for others. Is there a way you can refresh and regroup for a season while other leaders surge to the front? Then you can rejoin them when you are ready. Leading change doesn’t mean you have to lead every change. It does mean every now and then you have to pause and evaluate what’s happening. You can also invite others to do this reflection with you. I found this article helpful, which applies 4-step management theory to churches: Acting On Your Plans by Susan Beaumont. Whatever you do, I’m glad to know you’re paying attention to your own energy levels, and thinking of the church as a system larger than yourself. God bless you!
Ruth Everhart at Love the Work (do the work)Dear Constant,

It may be that your own anxiety about change is talking to you. Can you try to step back and think about that? My best guess is you’ll find that’s what is going on so I’ve answered based on that. I would encourage you to keep moving forward holding your own anxiety while keeping with the change. That is precisely what it means to be a “non-anxious presence” in all of the various terminology that gets thrown around. Non-anxious presence is about feeling very anxious and not feeding that anxiety back into the church or family or any other system of which we are apart. Keep moving with the change knowing it is the right thing for the church and it feels like too much. Congratulations! You’ve made it! Now keep going because if you stop you will derail the process to get over the next barrier. That pit in your stomach is just like a roller coaster but you don’t get the thrill without that feeling; they go together! So know that that feeling means you are on the right track.Sarah, The Vicar of Hogsmeade

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Readers, what say you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Our queue of questions is short, so this is a good time to submit one. Please send an email to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

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