Self-Care is Not Just for Clergy

yoga-post-300x200In the wake of the presidential inauguration, with the tsunami of executive orders that immediately followed, I have watched as my friends on social media have retreated. One by one, they’ve announced they are taking a break. They need to rest. Their souls must retreat. 

Of course, as these posts appeared on Facebook, that pesky comment box beckons for a response. Some comments are blessings for renewal. Some offer courage and solidarity. Others admit that they’re feeling the same pull and then… then there’s that person who insists upon engagement. Full of finger wagging shame, this person curses the rest that even God requires.

Read more on New Sacred.

The Rise of the Consultant 

I can’t remember when I first heard the term.

I do remember how I felt about it when I heard that there was such a thing as a church consultant. It was not pleasant.

I was of the impression that it wasn’t anything that a pastor couldn’t do and I was a pastor.  I knew the people in the congregation. I knew their hopes and dreams and was doing my best to understand what ministry we might do together. I wasn’t excited about anyone Lee helping with that discernment. It seemed like a waste of time and an even bigger waste of money to hire someone to help us ask the questions we already knew we needed to answer as a church. No, when I first heard the term, I was anything but excited about the idea of a church consultant.

I didn’t like it but it seemed like they were everywhere. Church consultants were popping up all over the place. They were the hot new thing but I couldn’t quite escape the fact that these were people who had left full-time ministry. That’s how it seemed to me. These were people that couldn’t hack it as a pastor, but they still thought they had something to offer the church. So they became a consultant. At that time, they were all older than me. They’d been in ministry a long time. They had a resume that I couldn’t fathom and most of them were connected to the now extinct Alban Institute as was true for the church consultant that I first considered hiring.

I had a fabulous conversation with this gentleman over email and then on the phone about how we might lead the church I was serving to understand their vision. The church knew that this was a question that they must answer. They were anticipating the retirement of the Senior Pastor and were wondering what their ministry might look like after he left. Ever eager to help, I rose to the challenge and did what I could to help them on this quest. It didn’t work. They didn’t choose to hire him and it became clear that I had stepped into something I hadn’t intended. So it was time and time again as an Associate Pastor.

That was then, but now, there are consultants my age. They have resumes like mine and they are immersed in the wondering what the future of the church might be. I’ve learned a thing or two since the first time I heard the term church consultant for the first time. Most importantly, they don’t have all of the answers. They have ideas and questions. They’ve seen some things work in other places but they don’t know what God is doing in this place. None of us do. Church consultants are curious. They are seekers. They are looking to find God in the midst of numbers and figures. They are trying to ask questions that they can’t answer and waiting for the Holy Spirit to show up and make herself known.

They have some skills too. They’ve studied change and tried to understand how much people hate it and what we can do to manage the inevitability of change still finding its way into our laps. And even though consultancy is an idea taken from the business world, the ones in the church are really people of prayer. They are open to transformation. It’s what they hope to find every time they sign a contract with a local church.

I never expected that I would be counted among this group of people. From the very beginning, when I first wandered into the halls of seminary, I have been called to the local church. I saw myself as a pastor. I still feel that I am a pastor but when I got married to a man in the military, my ministry changed. I got excited about interim ministry and eager to help congregations transition into a vibrant future with God. I got some training and got to use my new skills. And then, we moved… again. I interviewed with another church and they are delightful but I didn’t think I could give them my all. I’m newly married. We are only here for a short time. I just didn’t think I could do both well. So, I turned down the opportunity to be their interim pastor.

It was then that the conference minister in the region I find myself asked if I might consider being a consultant. The pastor that they hired is good and talented but she is not trained. She doesn’t have these skills yet and the church needs this work. They need to ask big holy questions about their future. They are not just looking to call a new pastor. They are looking to sell their building and they have to discern what their ministry might be in that unknown future. There was dead air on the other end of the phone when the conference minister said I could do such a thing. I could be a consultant. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure I could do it. She told me to think about it. “Pray about it,” she said “and if it feels right, write up a proposal.”

Tonight will be the first time that I attempt this new thing. I’ll lead the first session in a series of workshops. I’ll meet with the pastor and share in big questions about what God is doing in this group of people. I’ll be one of those church consultants asking questions and looking for the Holy Spirit.

Prayers for Abundant Life

Though it has been a month since I’ve been in the pulpit, and I’ve even said no to a possibility for ministry, I will be preaching again this Sunday at Gower Christian Church. It is their church that is the image above this post.

I had the opportunity to serve a Disciples of Christ congregation while I was in seminary but it’s been ten years and I’m not really sure that I remember it all that well. There is some holy trepidation in my worship planning this week as these are people of the table. These are people that gather every week at the table to share in gifts of God for the people of God. And well, I’m just not in that habit. I’m a bit more informal when I lead worship alone and I’m not used to sharing in this holy work with elders (though I’ve done it before).

Below are some prayers that will lead these good people and I through worship on Sunday inspired by the readings from the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in the Revised Common Lectionary. They are prayers I’ve written. Some of which I’ll even offer with my own voice. Others will be voiced by others. I am not yet sure where my sermon will go and if it will even hint toward All Saints Day or if I’ll focus on the stressors we are all feeling leading up to election day. But, that last line in the Gospel sent me back to the words in Joel 2 so you’ll surely hear those words in the prayers I’ve written for this day.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Job 19:23-27a and Luke 20:27-38

One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That life everlasting might be more than words
but the eternal hope we keep together.
All: O that we might live in hope!
One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That our worship and praise might inspire our sons and our daughters to prophesy, for our elders to dream dreams, and our young to see new visions.
All: May that hope be resurrected in us again this day.

Prayer of Invocation

Come Holy Spirit, come into this place.
Come into every heart and every open hand
for in this place we know that our Redeemer lives.
We know it and we believe it but our words do not always show it.
We open our mouths only to reveal more of our doubts than our hopes.
So, come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come and mediate between the words that we say.
Move through every pause and whisper through every silence
so that our eyes can behold your hope, rather than our own.
So that we can see your grace and hope
standing so close beside us that it becomes our own.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come.
Come into this place today, we pray.

Invitation to the Table (Responsive)

One: You have heard it said how some Sadduccees came to him saying that there was no resurrection. They had questions but no answers. You may too have heard it said that those with faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but you had more questions than faith.
All:  Christ invites to come to this table whether we doubt or believe. Christ invites us again, as he has so many times before, to partake of the questions that we have not yet answered.
One: Christ invites us to find life and find it abundantly in the ordinary gifts offered on this plate and in this cup. Might we find here, again or perhaps for the very first time, that our Redeemer lives. There is new life to be shared and hope to be restored.
All: O that we might live, and live abundantly!

I missed last week. Maybe you noticed. Oops! Still, check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Prayer for the Election Season

Like so many others, I watched the Presidential Debate on Sunday night. I gritted my teeth and joined others in lamentation and dismay on Twitter. When the debate was nearly over, one of my friends confessed via group text that she’d drunk way more wine that she intended while watching these two presidential hopefuls on her computer screen.

There were words of affirmation and support from the other pastors in that text. Each of them sharing in the unique struggle of being a pastor in the middle of this particular election. Maybe it’s always this bad. Maybe this year is especially horrible. Maybe it always feels this charged. I’m never quite sure but unlike my sisters in Christ, I am not pastoring right now. I am without a church to lead for this season.

I am not spending as much time worrying about how to preach on Sunday or how to heal the divides between those that don’t share the same political perspective. (Instead, I’m hiding out on a military post and wondering what it means to be a military spouse in this middle of all of this election nonsense.) My thoughts aren’t so much on how to lead the church through this quagmire but how to orient my own heart and mind. Perhaps these are not different things after all.

A colleague directed me to read the Epistle Lesson for this coming Sunday. She read it preparing for worship and felt it to be the very words that she needed to hear from God. I have to say that I concur. I’ve adapted the words from the New Revised Standard Version to read more like a prayer than an exhortation from Paul (or someone who wants to be Paul). I intend to use it in my personal devotion but it might be used each week in worship leading up to Election Day in place of a prayer of confession.

I confess that I’m writing this prayer just after finishing reading this week’s chapter in Drew G.I. Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen as part of the RevGal’s Anti-Racism Project. So the language might sound a bit like the chapter I’ve just read. Even as a personal prayer, the language is plural. It’s not just my personal transformation that matters, but how I am transformed to love and share in this life with others.

Prayer Before Election Day 2016
Inspired by 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

O God, help us to remember how you called us out
and gathered us from the margins to be your church.
Every good word you have spoken across the generations
reminds us of this radical reorientation you made in our world.
Teach us again. Correct us and train us in your righteousness,
so that every one of us might be so well equipped in your love that we do not seek to dominate and conquer but to be changed by your message for this world.
Help us to continue.

Remind us that to fight the good fight and carry out our ministry fully
is to remember that good news can be found in hardship
and that there is salvation that can change our whole world in Jesus Christ.
Let us not die, but let us live in your hope, O God.
Help us to continue.

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine,
but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves
teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away
from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
Let it be Christ who judges, not us.
Convince us, rebuke us, and encourage us,
with the utmost patience in your teaching.
Help us to continue.

Do not let us forget what we have learned and firmly believed in every good word you have spoken. Let it be that radical change toward the kingdom that helps us to decide how what we will preach and what we will teach. Help us to continue in the radical way of your hope and your love, especially in this unfavorable time, O God.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Blessing of the Backpacks and Briefcases

Today social media is awash with smiling children on front porches and stoops waiting for the yellow school bus to arrive and take them off to school. It is the day after Labor Day and it is the day where everything changes in our routines.

Gone is the leisure of summer. Here is the alternate pace of school lunches and homework. It is not just our children that experience this shift, but any adult that drags children out of bed and brushes their teeth before sending them off on the bus. It is a rhythm that changes all of our time, especially in the church. Our church calendars ebb and flow with the school calendar. When children go back to school, we mark that transition in the church with things like Homecoming Sunday and Rally Sunday to intentionally begin anew after a summer of relaxation.

I admit that this always feels a bit weird to me as discipleship doesn’t ever really have an off-season. Every year, when this shift arrives, we are in the middle of Ordinary Time. It is a time that we mark on the church calendar between Pentecost and Advent to grow in our discipleship. It is not stuff that can be done with any sort of leisure as the gospels remind us every week. Still, we need leisure. We need sabbath and restoration as much as we need each transition to be blessed. Several years ago, blessings of the backpacks started to become popular. This is a version that I adapted several years ago to include everyone in this time of transition and growth.

There are two selections from scripture to be read in this litany. I have recruited two people to help read, usually one that is older and one that is younger, to help lead this moment of blessing by reading these two biblical passages. That intergenerational connection is really important to me and it’s one that I want to overwhelm this moment of blessing. So you might choose, as I often do, not to worry about everyone having a bulletin but leading that unison prayer at the end in such a manner that the gathered congregation is more focused on holding onto each other than reading the words on a piece of paper. Encourage those still sitting in the pew to grab hands too. They are part of this blessing of holding onto each other, to be sure. I highly recommend with moving from this blessing into song. Something upbeat and uplifting would be ideal.

*Blessings of the Backpacks and Briefcases (Responsive)

Invite everyone to bring their backpacks and briefcases forward. This is not just a blessing for the children but for the whole family of God so be sure to add a few extra words of invitation to those that carry paper calendars in their pockets or purses. For those that carry their entire lives on their smartphones, that electronic briefcase is surely worthy of blessing. All are invited to come forward – with their bulletins – to receive this blessing for this new season of change.

One: There is nothing that should not be blessed. Each moment and every opportunity is worthy of God’s blessing. God began in the beginning of creation with the day and the night. God blessed the setting of the sun and the beginning of new wonders in great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. God blessed them all.

As the calendar changes again, and we prepare ourselves to see and do new wonders upon the great seas of life, we listen for God’s blessing in this new season. We need to hear words of blessing for we worry about whether we will like our teachers or if we will make new friends. We worry if we will be successful and honor God in all that we do and so we need to hear God say:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

As young school aged children, adults bustling to work, and retirees carefully keeping calendars of activities, we know that life is to be lived. We know that there’s a lot more life to experience, a lot more living to do and tons more to learn.  In this time, we ask for God’s blessing upon this shift in seasons for we remember the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8, 11)

We ask God to make this new season of commuting and learning, growing and changing, a blessed time for every living creature that moves. We ask God to release our worry and open us to enough grace that we might hold each other through all that troubles us. In that hope, we hold each other’s hands for the comfort and support and ask for God’s blessing in one voice,

Invite worshippers to hold hands, whether or not they are holding a symbolic object.

All: God of seasons and calendars, God of homework and alarms, bless these ordinary objects that represent the change in the seasons of our lives. Bless our backpacks so that they are not too heavy to carry with all that we hope to learn.  Bless our briefcases that they might bring work that reflects our love for you.  Bless smartphones and paper calendars that they might each allow for time without worry.  Bless us all as we try to live in all your seasons with wonder and delight.  Amen.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

The No Plan Plan

I don’t get to my home church very much. In fact, I’vbe-the-churche only been for worship twice in the past year. Once was my first official visit. The next Sunday I joined as a member. Since then, I’ve been busy on Sunday mornings preaching in another congregation.

Still, I love my home church. I’m proud to be a member of this tribe that is seeking to be the church in so many bold ways.

I want to help. I want to be connected even if I can’t get to worship on Sunday. So, when it was requested that members sign up to write for the newsletter while our pastor in on a much-needed vacation, I said yes.

Yes, I will write about how I’m learning about faith right now. Yes, I’ll say something about this crazy move in which I find myself. Yes, I’ll write about The No Plan Plan. It goes like this:

I am surrounded by boxes. Two months ago, everything I own was packed up by strangers, loaded upon a truck and transported to our next home in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Just three months ago, my beloved and I celebrated our marriage. It was wonderful. It was everything you could ever hope that such a blessing could be but after that epic celebration, we have been surrounded by boxes and bags.

Read the whole reflection on Old First Reformed UCC’s website.

Recipe for Learning to Pray

Last week, I finally finished Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. It really shouldn’t have taken me that long and it is certainly no reflection on the book. It’s me. I had three chapters back in April and then felt this overwhelming need to never read a book about church again. Of course, that didn’t last that long and I returned to these pages again. What I love about this book is that it’s really about the kind of community we can be in the church. It’s about technology, yes, but more about how we are creating community right now which inevitably involves social media for that so-called “new generation” (of which, I guess, I am a part). It’s about the kind of community we are looking for which Carol explains in this way:

When we are surrounded by a supportive community who is helping us discern and who feels free to agree and disagree with what we are hearing from God, then our listening for God can become a humbling experience rather than an exercise that puts a divine rubber stamp on our own decisions.

It is an act of prayer. It’s something we like to believe we’ll just find ourselves in. All of the sudden just surrounded by a group of supportive people who can help with such discernment.

We need someone that will walk with us and help us see what we can not see for ourselves.  We need a partner, a friend, someone who gets it. Someone who can listen and isn’t afraid to ask questions. Someone who won’t just say it’ll all work out in the end but someone who will dare to ask the hard questions. Do you know someone like that?

This is what prayer is all about. It is a practice in staying in the conversation. It is an intention to listen. It is the hope that I might be open enough to hear what God might be saying. It’s a practice that quite honestly I have to remind myself to which I need to pay better attention — and it seems to me that it’s really better to do together.

Cover
Learn more about Prayer Partners here

There are tons of ways to pay attention to the ways of God on your own. Some of my favorite practices include Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and the Daily Examen but I want to offer you a little something from my kitchen because I really do believe that practicing with another person makes all of the difference in the world. It’s something I wish for my own prayer life and something I hope will bless yours.

It’s an invitation to partner in prayer. I recommend it for congregations and friends. It’s something that I hope can be used in more ways that I can even imagine because, really, no one of us can know the will of God. It’s only something we can pray to understand together. You can order your very own guide here.

Like so many recipes for ministry, the directions sound incredibly simple but it takes a little flair to make these ingredients come together. It takes the right people and extra dab of trust and a big heaping of love that the recipe might not call for. For that reason, the recipe is incredibly hard to write but here goes nothing.

RECIPE FOR MINISTRY

 

 

Speaking to the Soul

I have not yet sat down to write my sermon on this Gospel Lesson but when I sat down to write this liturgy I was still thinking about that prayer that Jesus taught last week. I’m still thinking about the words that we choose and how they impact our relationships and our hopes. Because words matter. Words always matter.

Words like those in Ecclesiastes. I basically just wanted to read this as a confession because it feels so dang honest. Things aren’t going as they should. New people are coming along and mucking up everything that I started. They don’t understand. They are doing it wrong. That sounds like church to me. It sounds like the generational conflict that is playing out even outside the church as we continue to blame millennials for… well, everything. It even has a hint of this tension I keep seeing appear between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might have done in the Civil Rights Movement to what is happening now in the Black Lives Matter Movement. All is vanity! Wiser words were never said which is why I want to focus a bit more not the words of the Psalm because verse 3 seems to say it all.

I want those words to speak to my soul. I don’t yet know if this will become the focus of my sermon but I’m fascinated about how the rich man in this parable speaks to his soul. I’m not sure what I’d say to my soul. I’m not sure if I’d have anything to say but I would like some time to think about that — and that’s what worship can be. Time to reflect upon God and self. (It can be a lot more than that but that’s not a bad place to start.) Here are a few ingredients for such soul pondering.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Our mouths shall speak wisdom; the

meditation of our hearts will be understanding.

All: We are listening for wise words.

One: Let our worship be more than pithy

statements but let every word and every note

speak to our souls.

All: Speak to our souls this day.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

All is vanity. Wiser words were never said. We do so much to skimp and save. We try so hard to be good stewards at home, at work and at church but our hard work is never done. We have to entrust that work to others and so we can only wonder: will they be wise or will they be foolish? Teacher, speak to our souls We confess that we only trust ourselves. We do not trust those with who we share our work and sometimes, Teacher, we don’t even trust you. Forgive us and teach us to trust.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: Having confessed our sins, may our hearts now meditate on the grace that we do not deserve or understand. It speaks right to our souls to remember once again:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

This is a new feature on my blog that I hope to become somewhat regular. I’m not making any promises. I’m going to try to make Tuesday the day. We shall see what happens. But, please do check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Spicing Up the Lord’s Prayer

Ask… Search… Knock. Jesus offers these three bits of wisdom in the gospel lesson for this Sunday. Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you (Luke 11:9, NRSV). That sounds great until it hits that you don’t know what to ask. You have no words. You have no idea what to say.

It’s just as frustrating as not knowing what to cook for dinner. You’re hungry, really hungry but you don’t know what you want. Nothing in the fridge that looks good. Nothing grabs you but still you stand there with the door open, starting inside, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Worship is not like a recipe. Other parts of ministry can be written as a recipe but worship is an improvisation of ingredients. It is how those ingredients come together in the people that allows for God to be praised. That’s when things really get cooking! That is when we are transformed by God. I never want worship to feel like we’re standing in front of the fridge just looking to put food on the table. I want it to satisfy and that’s particularly challenging with something like the Lord’s Prayer. It’s like broccoli, right? You know it. You say the words. You don’t really think about it. How do you spice it up?

I am serving a tiny, rural church that doesn’t mix things up very much but I decided that this would be the week to change things just a little. We won’t be praying the same version of the Lord’s Prayer that we always use but will instead be using these beautiful words from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer. Check out this link for a few other great translations of this beloved prayer (several of which I hadn’t heard before).

The other prayers of the day hope to spice up those familiar words. Here are the ingredients that we will be cooking with on Sunday.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One:Together, we come to this certain place to pray

All: for things we understand and those things only God can understand.

One: We come certain that we need to learn new ways of prayer.

All: We come to hear new words from the Word.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

When we pray, O Lord, we want your love and peace. We are certain that only blessing will come from our time at prayer. Our lives will be holy and blessed but it is you, O Lord, that is revealed in our prayers, not us. We confess that we have convinced ourselves that we can set your world right. Forgive us for believing that we are in charge and do what you do best. Distract us from our own conceit with your way of justice. Teach us to hallow your name.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: When we pray, O Lord, words do not come easily but your Word is still speaking. Speak not now, O Lord, and assure us your grace. Put those holy and blessed words on our lips.

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

This is the first post in what I intend to become a feature on this blog. Check back for more Ingredients for Worship in the future and be sure to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

 

We Cry for Help

Just a few Sundays after Easter, Psalm 30 leads us into worship.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for another season on another day. Nevertheless, it would still fit well on Easter 3C. I’ve adapted it only slightly — and by adapting it, I mean that I threw in an “alleluia” because I can never say it enough. Especially during Easter.

Prayer of Confession 

O Healing One, we cry to you for help.
We choose to listen for your voice above all others.
Be gracious to us for we have made mistakes.
We have made choices that have harmed our relationships
with your children and your created world.
Hear us, Healing God, as we move next to you in silent prayer.

Extended prayerful silence 

Lord’s Prayer

Words of Assurance 

When we are silent, God moves!
Praise our Healing God with all your soul!
Give thanks forever for God loves and forgives you!
Alleluia! Amen!