Doing it Differently

This is the Rev. Maurice L. Haehlen. He was the pastor of the church I serve from 1962 until 1970 and there isn’t a week that goes by that I am not compared to him. You see, Maurice was quite the preacher. He spoke with gusto about Veitnam, Jesus and everything else. They give me a knowing glance when they comment on his preaching. Because I’m not that kind of preacher. I preach from a manuscript and I have a little girl voice that sometimes can’t be heard in certain points of the Sanctuary. I can’t recite parts of the Bible from memory. I use notes. People are always impressed when you don’t use notes — and man, I wish I was that kind of preacher. How I once dreamed that I could fill a huge pulpit and a big steeple with my short stature.

But, I don’t look or sound much like Maurice and his contemporaries. I still get measured by this yard stick — and I’m happy to listen to it because I understand the frustration. I do. I really do. Because I’m frustrated too. Maurice and his boys did ministry one way and it fit their time. It also happened to be around that time when churches were bursting at the seams. So, of course, these guys were doing a great job. And I trust that they were. But, a bunch of things changed in our country and in the church so that a person that looks and sounds like me could break into this old boys club.

The problem is that I don’t want to play by their rules. I don’t want to join the club. I’m not even sure I want to start my own. I do all of the same things that Maurice did but I do it differently. Just because I am who I am. Even if I try to do it like Maurice, I do it differently. Because… well, I’m not really sure. I know that the church has changed. I know that my world looks very different than the world of the late 1960s in America, but I’m not sure what makes my ministry style so different. I took a whole week last week with a circle of friends with the blessing of a grant from Austin Presbyterian Seminary to figure this out. We won this grant way back in July when I first blogged about it. But, this was the first experiment in trying to understand what makes our leadership as young clergy women different.

Except that we didn’t focus on this question. What we spent most of our time talking about was how to lead transformation in the traditional church. There are all of these new church starts appearing where it looks really easy to go and create a new set of norms without any Maurices looking over your shoulder, but where does that leave the churches that exist now? How can we help bring them through this awkward teenage phase that Christianity in America seems to be undergoing right now? Can they (and we) be transformed? We directed all of these questions at Theresa Cho who serves at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco — and though I think we might have overwhelmed her completely, here are the things that I heard.

  • Give Permission. Something happens when you let go of the rules just enough that people who wouldn’t feel otherwise comfortable in church find a place. St. John’s has seen this particularly with children as Theresa and her colleague John allowed those kids to run wild.
  • Covenant. I gotta admit I was surprised to hear this from a Presbyterian because it’s so much a part of my United Church of Christ heritage. But, the sacred act of covenanting can hold together so many differences. Interestingly, Theresa wrote the covenant (for which I’m hoping a copy will appear in my email) and handed it down to the congregation as the way that they would live together. My Congregational ways balk at this but…
  • Know where you are. Theresa talked openly about her own journey through call which I even found on her blog here. She’s given herself space to work through her own spirit to the point that it’s even part of her job description to figure out her vocation.
  • Worship can be the change. I have assumed for far too long that you need all of these other community building things like potlucks and small groups for a church to transform into a community. St. John’s has done this in worship. Everything that they do as a church (including their two meetings) happens on Sunday. In our world that is always looking for more, this seems so simple. And that simplicity sounds kinda like Jesus to me. It is a radical new thing to live that simplicity and make Sunday a true sabbath.

I am so grateful for this sacred space and so curious what will happen next with the next site visit and the new insights we glean from other pastors trying to figure out how to do this crazy, wonderful thing that we do with all of the passion and love Christ gives us.

And I’m so thankful for these four women who allow me to be my crazy self. We didn’t spend the whole time talking about ministry. We walked labyrinths, ate good food, read, drank wine and laughed. I forgot how beautiful the laughter is in this group of women. And that alone is enough for me.

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