Something happened to me on the morning of November 9th of last year. I felt so sad not just as a private citizen but as a faith leader.
I felt so sad for what our newly elected administration would mean for the rights of people of color, immigrants, women or any minority groups for that matter.
I felt so sad for what this new administration would mean for America's peaceful relationship with our global neighbors.
I felt so sad for how the Bible would continue to be misinterpreted to support a theology of nation over liberation and care for all the citizens of the world.
While many of you who also felt this way have found yourself doing more marching, more letter writing, or more organizing over the last six months, a desire bubbled up in me to return to a familiar place.
On November 9th, I told a dear friend, Amanda that post-election I needed to preach. Not just in the ways that I was already engaged in (and enjoyed!)-- through short-term interims and supply preaching-- but I needed preach to a particular congregation.
Who was in the White House became for me a heard calling for "all preaching voices on deck." My colleagues and I talked a lot about what it meant to preach in times like this. AND I could not not be one of these voices. I could not shy away from speaking up even when it was unpopular. I could not keep from leading toward hope. I could not hold any good news for living in days like this to myself.
But here's the thing. I knew I'm not a traditional pastoral candidate.
Different from when I began this ordained vocational journey over 10 years ago and immediately pursued a full-time position, I am not the kind of pastor that could give one congregation all of my work anymore. My soul thrives in diversity of tasks.
There's other callings on my life too whose nudges are equally as important to me as preaching.
Callings like being a writer. Promoting books like I just wrote, Birthed and new books to come!
Callings like being an advocate for children growing up in children's homes internationally. Raising funds for scholarships through the foundation, Our Courageous Kids, that I lead with the help of some great board members.
Callings like being a wife and mother and a friend. Making time for playdates and movie dates and long lunches where I believe the best conversations happen.
And a calling to not do it all, all the time. Sometimes our passions need to be put on the back shelf for a season so that another passion can shine.
Not willing to budge on calling, I knew I would not be a fit for most churches.
(And, I would never ask a church to accept anything less than they need. Most congregations believe they want full-time minister or at least a part-time minister who is full-time available. Yet, that's not my scene. It's ok to not be what someone needs.).
I was wondering how it would all turn out. Especially as my calendar continued to fill with short-term assignments that I enjoyed very much.
I was very content. BUT, here's the news:
I accepted the position of Senior Pastor of Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC.
This Preacher on the Plaza has a new plaza where you can find her most weeks beginning on September 5th. Palisades is a lovely walking community just outside of the Georgetown neighborhood.
I want you to know that I said "YES" to this invitation to preach and lead because it wasn't lost on me that this was a parish in Washington DC proper. Proximity matters.
I want you to know I said "YES" because Palisades Community Church is theologically and denominationally in the camp I find myself most comfortable these days-- ecumenical, progressive and with liturgy that looks a lot like a merge of the best mainline Protestant traditions. It's a congregation where gay, straight, young, old, believing or doubting are welcome. And this is how I know how to do church.
I also want you to know I said, "YES" because of how our relationship began with one another. I felt accepted right away. I did not hide the other callings in my life during the interview process. I told them that my child would need a nursery every week and times might come when my husband needed me to support his work in other places. And they said, "Great! We think your other work will enrich our life together."
So on we go together this fall. I'm excited to see how our congregation can grow in community with each other. I'm excited to welcome in more of our neighbors. I'm excited to see how the weekly texts lead me to preach.
Journeying with God is most certainly full of surprises, just as I wrote about last week. And I am continuing to learn how to talk about and lean into this surprise. Most of all, I'm glad for it.
Ever found yourself stuck and unable to act?
There have been multiple moments in my life, even some last month or maybe even last week that I felt afraid. I didn’t want to act. I stood on the edge and looked down for a long while thinking of all that could go wrong if . . .
And it took someone saying to me: “Elizabeth, go! Take the first step” so that I knew I could. I am indebted to the voices who have said through the years, "We believe in you!" Aren't you?
This weekend our nation has thought much about the birthday of a man who changed the course of our history as an American people—a man who was willing for his gifts, his graces and even his own life to be offered up as a sacrifice for freedom for all people, no matter the color of their skin.
We've remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his strong, steady and God-centered leadership that taught us that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
But, I dare say, weekends like this one would not exist if it wasn't for those who encouraged him first.
For Martin Luther King wasn’t a man looking to change the world. He was just a preacher. A preacher in Montgomery, AL, straight out of seminary, seeking to lead his own congregation in the best way he knew how under the laws of the Jim Crow South.
But, then some brave folks came along. There were many who sought to say enough is enough in Montgomery, AL. These unfair laws have to change! But then Rosa Parks is the protestor whose name we know best. On that December 1, 1955 she spoke a thousand words by saying no words at all by NOT moving to the back of the bus. And what came from her one-act was a big push.
Once Rosa Parks was arrested, the movement had momentum. Preachers within the black community in Montgomery got together and formed the “Montgomery Improvement Association.”
A spokesman was needed and the ministers' group nominated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of Dexter Ave Baptist Church first. Though new to the community and only 26 years old, this quiet but smart man seemed like the perfect choice. History tells us that Dr. King was hesitant to the minister's first requests but that in the end he just couldn’t say no.
Four days later, The Montgomery Improvement Association asked Dr. King to address the 5,000 folks gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church—his first major address. And from this point on, Dr. King preached to a larger congregation than he ever could have imagined, traveling constantly, and protesting through non-violence.
Studying about this time in history this week reminded me that sometimes it takes someone, anyone, calling us out, preparing the way so that we can take those first steps.
A couple of months ago I sat at a lunch table with a new pastoral colleague. My new friend shared with me that while she attended and graduated seminary and was active for many years in her local church, she never presented herself for ordination. Opportunities abounded around her to serve but in her mind ordination was out of the question because “it was that big thing out there, not for her.”
But then she said it all changed one day when a pastor she’d worked for many years alongside said:
That moment, my friend said was a wake-up call for her. It was her time to fully embrace her calling. It was time to say yes. And thank goodness her pastor had the guts to call her out!
My friends, no matter if you are a pastor, a church leader or someone who’s skeptical about the whole church thing altogether—God is calling you. God is calling you out, wanting to usher you to use your gifts and graces so that all the entire community can be blessed.
If I know anything about the Spirit of God and how God works in this world, I know there’s always something you and I have to do.
So this is my prayer—may this week be a week of moving forward. And if you need someone to encourage you along the way, find a friend. Or email me. Let's all continue to be voices of encouragement, shoulders to stand on for each other!
There’s a popular poem about JOY which you may have heard before. It's an acrostic:
It's another way of saying, "If you really want to be happy in life, you’ll learn to love Jesus more than anyone else, even yourself.”
I was taught this way of life as child. It teaches faith in God and selflessness. But as I became an adult, I began to wonder if this what Jesus’ own ministry modeled this acrostic of JOY? Did Jesus never eat, sleep, take retreats or be quiet from time to time? Christian culture seemed to teach me that Jesus was a robot of activity, never stopping.
But the truth is: Jesus stopped! He napped. He found quiet time just for himself. He prayed often alone. Go read any gospel and count the references to activities such as this.
Yet, often it's not what we model in the church.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at clergy gatherings where fellow colleagues have boasted of “never taking their vacation” or “working from sun up from sun down.”
I can’t tell you how many church suppers I've been to where there is nothing healthy to eat.
I can’t tell you how many times I've seen the joy sucked out of church folks because they don't ever stop and take a moment to enjoy the life in their own backyards!
What does this say about our faith?
As a child, I was taught salvation is making a stated confession to a community of my sin, repentance and acceptance of Jesus. It was such a big deal that people would ask, “What was the day that you came to Christ?” And, when you appropriately answered with a markable moment, your salvation story was complete.
But, in my third year of Duke Divnity School, Dr. Esther Acolotse, my pastoral care professor, challenged me on everything I thought I knew about salvation. She said:
There are so many implications of this definition of salvation, if we truly embrace it. But one important one is this: that, yes, God calls us to take care of ourselves.
For, there's no way that you and I can be human if our schedules are out of balance or if we're eating the wrong foods or not sleeping enough. And the list of self-care could go on.
And so maybe what is saving our lives looks like this:
Spending time with people who make us happy (even if they are not the people we should be hanging out with).
Eating foods that our bodies will smile about when receiving (even if it is not what our mamas cooked growing up).
Taking naps on our days off when we are tired (even if it means saying no to grandchildren to hiring a babysitter for our kids).
Staying at home some nights and doing exactly what we want (even if we were invited to an event and should make an appearance).
And, above all, I think activities like eating, drinking, sleeping, walking are not unspiritual. In fact by engaging in them, we are glorifying God through and with our bodies. We are saying the image of God is in us and so we must rest and love and breathe as God does.
In her book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says about our salvation journey: "My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
So, I'm taking a week off to do just this-- to become more human. I need more salvation. Like Taylor said- our lives depend on it.
What about you? What is saving your life right now?
"Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." -Mary Oliver
After I left my position as pastor in December of 2012 to follow Kevin to Oklahoma and his work with Feed the Children, I thought I might never hold an official position at a church again.
Much like I'd given up teaching elementary school after graduation from college, I thought maybe this "pastor thing" was over for Elizabeth Hagan.
During the previous four years I'd served as pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist in Virginia, I'd come to know a few things:
Why would I go back to an every week gig?
Maybe I was called to create a way of pastoring in the world that was altogether new? Especially as I found myself in a state where "my kind" of preaching (i.e. I was a woman) wasn't welcomed. It all seemed like a good decision.
Yet, I knew I'd always preach. I just figured I'd supply preach a lot for colleagues. And from January 2013- August 2014, this is what I did. I even found a lovely little Native American congregation in Watonga, OK that welcomed me almost every month to fill the pulpit.
I made peace (mostly) with my non-traditional status. I boasted in the prophetic possibilities of giving just one sermon in a congregation and then leaving. I used my free time to travel, "to feel like a normal person" who ate pancakes on Sunday mornings, and I wrote a lot. I even boldly blogged once that this preacher on the plaza life was who I was made to be!
But, then a weary season came on. Last Palm Sunday and Easter I sat in the pews for the second year in a row. I felt more than restless. My voice that once powerfully proclaimed truth now felt so shy. Being only "Kevin's wife" became a burden to big to bear. I started doubting I had anything to offer anyone.
Thanks be to God I didn't stay in this dark place. A few friends held me up until I had enough courage (or maybe desperation) to give Oklahoma another chance to surprise me.
Enter The Federated Church in Weatherford, OK into the story.
Six months ago, I accepted the position of interim pastor with them. And after a couple of weeks, I found myself in love all over again.
Standing the pulpit every Sunday morning felt like coming home.
Looking at dear ones in the eyes as I served them communion felt joyous.
Positioning myself between the children on the front steps of the church felt like a place I never left.
Even sitting in budget and church board meeting felt like returning to the zone for which I was made.
With astonishment, I learned this: I need the church. And the church needs me.
As much as I want to do church differently-- in a way that doesn't eat up all my time and emotional resources-- I realized that I can't leave altogether. Supply preaching is just not enough. I need to be in a church leading on a regular basis. Not only because it's what I have a degree and ordination status to do, but it is what God called me to do. To not serve the church, for me, is to miss out on the meaning of my life.
And as much as I want to say that the church must change and traditional structures are dead, they aren't. The church needs compassionate and thoughtful leaders that treat its congregation members with respect and dignity. The church needs leaders who can creativity imagine its new becoming even with all the changes in American religious life. I know I am a professional who can do this. I know I can love and serve a group of people well.
So, here I am telling you about it.
First of all so that you can give thanks to God with me for the hospitality and grace of The Federated Church for calling woman such as me into their pulpit and giving me this great gift!
And second so that you can hold me accountable for the seasons to come-- that Pastor Elizabeth is my name.
I need the church and the church needs me.
A Sermon preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 1:14-20
For someone in a long-term relationship and desiring to get married—especially for us women—most of dream about that day someone special asks us the big question.
“Will you marry me?”
I have a friend who knew her day was coming and called me regularly to practice how she was going to say that one word she’d be dreaming all her life to say.
Should I say: “Yes!” Like this she’d muse.
Or maybe like this? “Yes.”
She told me she’d be secretly practicing her answer for months and months in front of the mirror. Though I secretly rolled my eyes, I knew this was serious business!
When my friend asked me my engagement story to Kevin I was no help to her practice.
For when Kevin got down on one knee and proposed to me at this parents’ cabin on Christmas Day of 2006, I could not seem to get the word, “Yes” out. Even as I tried and tried nothing came.
Instead, I stared at Kevin and stared at the shiny thing he put on my hand and after a VERY long pause spoke saying: “Does this ring have insurance?”
True story. And I haven't been able to live down my lack of "yes" and the question since . . .
No matter if we are saying yes to a marriage or any other big life decision, there’s an assumption on so many of our parts that when we get to the big moment that we’ll magically say yes with roses and confetti falling from the sky, of course.
And our Old and New Testament lessons for this morning don’t steer our attention otherwise. For what we find are people responding to the call of God with seemingly radical obedience that makes our day-to-day struggles of following Jesus look weak and without conviction.
But is this really accurate?
Let’s start with Jonah.
As we read our lection taken from Jonah chapter 3 what we find is “the word of the Lord coming to Jonah” telling him to go to Nineveh, one of the largest city in the modern world at that time and preach the a message of repentance.
And what do we see happening? Verse 3 tells us “Jonah set out and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord.”
As he preaches, verse 5 tells us that the “people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone great and small put on a sackcloth.”
Seems beautifully simple doesn’t it? Jonah says yes to God. He preaches as he felt like God was telling him to do. And the crowds believed and turned their lives back to the Lord.
And then there is our gospel lesson. After Jesus returns from the wilderness of temptation, he goes into Galilee and begins to preach saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent believe in the good news.”
Soon after this we are told, as Jesus passed by the Sea of Galilee he finds Simon and his brother Andrew. Jesus approaches these two fishermen. Then, just as they cast their net into the sea, Jesus asks them to “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Again it appears to be a simple story: Jesus accepts God’s call to preach. Jesus extends an invitation to these brothers. And they respond by “immediately” following him.
So is this what we are to make of what it means to pattern your life after Jesus? Is this how we are to describe the call of God going out into the world? Simple, straightforward, full of lots of non-stuttering “Yes’s?”
Well, when we dig deeper into the context from which these two lections came what we will discover is not so much.
For, the witness of Jonah or Jesus’ disciples is not one of blind obedience, or even obedience without a long dialogue.
Let’s go back to Jonah. We might have missed something in verse 1. Let me read it again, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah for the second time . . . “
For by chapter 3, this was not Jonah’s first rodeo with God’s calling.
Because we know Jonah’s name is associated with one particular thing, right? It’s a ____ (whale).
For when we go back earlier in the text, we discover that the word of the Lord came to Jonah the first time and he said no.
He ran. He got on a ship heading for the farthest place from Nineveh because he didn’t believe “such people” were worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.
But when he found himself on that ship and the waves grew and the winds howled, his fellow passengers threw down lots deciding to kick him off the boat. And Jonah ended up in the belly of what scripture calls a “big fish.”
A metaphoric tale or not, we learn that Jonah got 3 days to sit and reconsider what it was that God asked him to do in the first place. Then he said yes.
And then there were those disciples—Andrew and Simeon Peter. If you were here last week, you remember that we studied how they ended up with Jesus from the perspective of John’s gospel.
It’s was a great education for me to prepare to preach last week—to see the longevity and interconnectedness of the disciples to Jesus.
Do you remember? Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. When John refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” Andrew jumps on over to Jesus’ camp. Then soon he tells his brother Simon about it. Then together they tell Philip who is from the same Galilean town, Bethsaida, and the story goes on from there.
But none of this back story is told in Mark’s version of the story. We only see Jesus passing by and using language that makes us think he’s in a hurry. Notice with me the words in the passage. Verse 18: “Immediately they left their nets” and in verse 20, “Immediately he called them.”
What we need to understand about Mark’s storytelling bent is he’s doer without hesitation.
He believes the kingdom of God is coming. So, there’s no time to waste in telling it to us and no time to waste in responding to it.
But all of this goes against our popular notions of what responding to God’s call looks like, doesn’t it?
I mean, isn’t following Jesus about saying yes during a “Just as I Am?” invitation hymn on the 6th verse right as the preacher is about to close the response time?
Isn’t saying yes to Jesus something we do around the camp fire at youth camp on the last night?
Isn’t saying yes to Jesus something we do when a missionary comes and gives a dramatic speech about how bad things are “over there?”
One of the great saints of the church who we hear mentioned more often these days because of the current pope is St. Francis.
Though many of us might know about St. Francis that he loved the dramatic and blessed animals and trees, do we know where his story all started?
Francis, one of seven children, was born in 1181 to an well-to-do family.
Francis grew up with everything he could have possibly wanted and more: the best clothes, the best food and drink and a high-class education.
And with this mentality, Francis’ father, Pietro, a respected cloth merchant, believed his son would follow his footsteps or even do something more honorable than him, I guess as most parents believe about their children.
And Francis has ambition and gumption too. He wanted to be well-known and accomplished.
When he was 20 years old, scholars believe that Francis left home and joined the army. Francis coveted the knighthood and sought to be brave in battle.
However, while fighting in Perugia Francis was captured. He is believed to have spent the next year of his life in prison. There began his process of listening and discerning the call of God on his life.
When released, Francis felt like he heard the words from God, “Repair my church.” He felt overwhelmed one day while visiting Portiuncula, a church in disarray.
Francis began to do just this. He used the resources he had, which was his father’s fine cloth, sold them and used the money to repair the church.
You can imagine how well this went over. His father felt disgraced, for this way not the way that his inheritance was to be spent! Francis could not bear to face his father and according to tradition, hid in the woods for one month before returning home to face him.
Francis soon stopped attending family events, going about business as usual and talked to the bishop about joining the ranks of the clergy.
Soon thereafter, Francis gave back the money he had made on the cloth. Then before the bishop of Assisi, he tore of his clothes and gave everything he had back to his dad.
Francis’ call to follow Jesus would be one of complete surrender—giving us his family ties, his money, his power and even his dignity to say yes to Jesus.
Later, he would take a vow of poverty and go about the work of “repairing the church” as he’d heard the calling long before—not as he’d first thought (in repairing the physical structures of church buildings) but in the work of reconnecting souls to the heart of the gospel.
And I love each of these three stories in all of their uniqueness because of how they tell us something about saying “Yes!” to God.
So many of us crave that moment when the light bulbs go off when we figure out exactly what we are supposed to do with our lives. Or we crave that dramatic conversion experience. Or even we crave the perfect moment when we use just the right infection of our voice—which we’ve been practicing for weeks of course in preparation.
But if we want to follow God and God’s call in our lives through the life and death of Jesus Christ, then, we don’t have to feel so anxious toward having a perfect moment.
No, because I believe God knows what it is going to take for each of us to say yes to the calls in our lives. And God gives us grace for the journey.
I don’t know about you, but from all of my years of growing up in church, I think it was easy for me to get the idea that God was somehow like a man standing over me with big stick. And that the nudgings of the Holy Spirit were somehow to be received like daggers in my back . . . when I felt like God wanted me to do something I needed to do it right then or else!
But, my friends, I don’t think this is how our God of grace works. God gave us our lifetime to walk with Jesus and learn.
We’ve all got our own process that will be completely different from our neighbor’s. And we’ve all got a loving heavenly parent who is by our side (if we allow it) encouraging us step by step toward the path that is our way.
So it is ok if it takes us a while to say yes. And it’s ok if we ask: “Does this come with insurance?” Questions, concerns and emotional ups and downs are welcome in God’s kingdom. None of us are ever asked to be faith robots.
God doesn’t want our forced conversions that we are going to wake up the next morning and regret like a bad hangover. No.
Of course it might be easier to say yes to God the first time God calls—I mean, if we don’t want to be like Jonah and in the belly of the fish and all—but still God’s plans for us remain the same.
And as long as we are breathing on this earth, there’s time to say yes.
So I ask today, will you say YES to the journey?
(If you are interested in learning more about the life and calling of St. Francis, I just read this lovely book. And while fictional it offers some great insights, in an approachable way about his life).
As you might imagine with my days in local church pastor land drawing to a close, I've had a lot of packing to do. I've been sorting through books, papers and sermon files over the past several days. And in doing so, I've discovered all sorts of treasures, as you usually do when you begin to pack. Books I forgot I had from seminary. Extra copies of book studies to send to friends who might enjoy them. A letter from my grandmother lodged in the jacket cover of a book (who has been deceased over 7 years!). And also several CD and DVDs of ministry related files and activities.
I've been tempted to stroll a bit down memory lane this afternoon as I've tried to figure out exactly what these DVDs, in particular are of. Who cared if I was behind schedule on the packing!
And, I'm glad I did. For, what I jewel I found in re-discovering my ordination service on DVD from November 2006. A shout out to Michelle Mesen for recording it! It took place at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC with important contributions from Amy Butler, the pastor, several seminary friends including Anna Kate Ellerman Shirley, Abby Thornton and Sarah Jobe as well as head of the DC Baptist convention at the time, Jeffrey Haggray, my colleague from my first church, Charlie Updike and my parents too.
As I watched this service (which I hadn't viewed in many years), I couldn't help but notice the look of terror in my eyes as words poured over my life and call to ministry.
I was excited yes, about FINALLY being ordained. But, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. I came from a ministry family. I knew the toil would take on my life, my schedule and any future family members I added to my household. I knew I wasn't really as holy as everyone made me out to be that day. I wasn't sure how to keep pace with this emotionally draining vocation. Yet in spite of myself, I knew, though, I wanted to be in a church more than anything.
I remember the morning of my ordination I had a long talk with several seminary friends about my concerns: "I'm afraid my life is now over. I'm getting married to God today," I offered with tears in my eyes.
My friends were great, reminding me that indeed my life was not over. There's still be time for fun and holidays and new adventures even though they agreed, ordination is sort of like getting married to God (though not like our Catholic priest colleagues thank goodness!).
And so for the past six years, I've dutifully labored. I've supported two churches in associate and solo pastorate roles. I've preached a lot of services. I've planned a lot of funerals and wedddings. In doing so, I've learned much about myself, people and the role of the church in the world. People have loved me and I've loved them too. My theology has shifted and shifted some more. I've been brought back to center time and time again through the gift of colleagues.
In all of this, I wouldn't go back and change a thing. These first six years of ordination have been about serving the local church and the church has served me along the way too.
I hear folks commenting around me (when they find out I'm leaving my church), "I can't believe YOU are giving up your church." Or, "What a waste that you aren't going to be in ministry."
Such sentiments sting a little because they aren't true-- though of course my landscape of ministry is changing.
Hear this: I still am a big fan of the church. I still believe in its purpose in the world. I still will call myself a Rev. and seek to use my life in gospel pursuits.
Of course it is all going to look different soon. My calling has changed. I won't wear a stole and rise to a pulpit every week now. I won't plan worship for Lent this year. I may not make as many hospital calls.
But, I am going to still be a minister. I don't know if I could ever stop.
Someone asked me the other day, "Are you afraid of the future?"
And the answer is no.
It took me a LONG time to get to this place. But with every book I pack today, I really feel ok. The details of the ins and outs of the future life I will be creating with Kevin are sparse (I can't even tell you where I'm going to live in six months), but I realized today that I'm not afraid. I feel the gift of calling.
And in calling, I know we'll figure it out (though of course I'll have those days like everyone else when I'll cry about it). In due time, I know the Spirit will make things plain. I know I'll keep studying, learning and preaching somehow. And, most of all I will live into writing as a vocation in the upcoming season. In fact, what I get into next might just be more fitting of the person I was created to be-- who knows?
Above all, I no longer have the fearful look in my eyes I projected at my ordination service six years ago-- even though several in my life think I should be MORE scared now. God's calling is messy. Yet, it is also one of peace. This I know.
I'm glad I stumbled upon the DVD of my ordination service today. What a gift to remember and gain perspective.
Over the course of our travels and many meetings with Feed the Children staff, partners and other NGO leaders there is one question I find myself asking these folks over and over: "Why do you do this work?"
The answers I have gotten from Africans and expats alike have varied but the heart of all of them has come back to calling.
"We are here to serve because we can do nothing else, be nowhere else."
In fact, a line that was said in our program with the staff last Saturday as part of the litany of blessing for the week ahead was "God has called us to serve." Drivers were called to serve. Cooks were called to serve. Administrators were called to serve. All staff of Feed the Children, we said together were called to serve.
In my pastoral work, I talk a lot about calling. I preach a lot about calling texts in scriptures. And I even call out the callings in others when I sit with folks in counseling sessions. But somehow hearing about the motivation behind why the many here on the ground here do what they do has made me stop to ponder calling once again.
Calling I believe is more beautiful than I ever imagined. For, as I have observed it and even felt it in my own heart, I have observed calling as a gift. It's a gift that can ground the right people in the right situations even if these are circumstances that others many call difficult or unimaginable. Calling is God's way of helping us be in the place where we are blessed by our giving and receiving.
When you have a calling, you can't say no even when it leads you to feed hungry children in the smelly slums.
When you have a calling, you can't say no even it leads you to remote villages to love on kids on bumpy roads for long hours.
When you have a calling, you can't say no even if it wrecks the plans you previously had for your life only one day before.
I am excited to continue to support the work of Feed the Children through Kevin's calling to be there and thus mine in some way too. I truly consider this time in our lives all the joy. How did I get to be so lucky?
I don't know if it is my new addiction to the Kindle app on my IPad or just the season of spring, but I've been on a reading kick lately of some really wonderful titles that I think many of you, blog readers, might like too. So, I've decided to devote the next five days to informal book reviews and reflections.
And first up today is a newer release especially for those of you who are young clergy women or want to know a young clergy woman in your life a little bit better. Bless Your Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman by Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith is a e-book I downloaded and completed over the weekend.
I'd remembered fellow female clergy, especially friends from the Young Women's Clergy Project, excitedly promoting this title when it came out more than a year ago. A colleague's Facebook status read of her enthusiastic praise of the text saying something like, "Finally there is a book about someone who understands me!" So, I sat down to see what all the hype was about.
I was a little disappointed in the style of the book-- all stories came in the first person but we never knew who "I" was. (And so, I had trouble following if the stories shared were of the authors or of other clergy they interviewed said). And, really felt like the scripture sections of the chapters were a big too simplistic for the topics. But, overall, I am glad this book was written and I'm so thankful to the authors for taking up this task.
I couldn't help but recall as I read, several of my own stories about clothing, dating and what it means to have a social life as young clergy woman. And with each recollection, this book helped me grow in gratitude for my own journey. Though there have been hard times of misunderstandings, lack of respect and "How in the world could YOU be the pastor?" I know I'm in exactly the right vocation.
No matter how times have changed, almost all of us female clergy, like Smith and Masters write, have stories about comments on "inappropriate shoes," "not being in the office long enough to the tastes of the secretaries" or "honey, you are as cute as my granddaughter." This book read to me like a testimony that while we as young clergy women might have different tastes in footwear, Sabbath keeping or hair color than our male or even older female colleagues, we still are clergy, gifted and eager to learn as we serve. So many of the stories told within speak to a growing edge in young women must climb in their efforts to claim their authority, exude confidence and individual style in a religious world that wants us to conform, and balance family and work roles. We all are a work in progress, no matter our age or gender!
I also became grateful because of how much less "green" I feel now in my soon to be 6th year of ordained ministry. I have grown much over these past six years, especially during my tenure at Washington Plaza, a place where I have been lovingly supported by church leadership, given opportunities to experiment, and always taken seriously as a spiritual leader (no matter my age).
If there is anything I would want to share with my young clergy women sisters after reading Bless Your Heart, it would be, keep going. This is what I know: it will get better. Not necessarily better because societal attitudes about young clergy change, or all senior pastors suddenly become instantly supportive of maternity or family leave or that because all young clergywomen who want jobs find them. But as we stick around the ministerial life, we change. Our voice becomes stronger. Our focus becomes clearer. And our ability to let go "all of those stupid things" people say to us quickens. No matter what kind of ministry space we find ourselves in, we know who we are and we know who we serve and who we don't! So the next time an elder says to us "Bless your heart" we smile with our hands held high and say back "bless yours too!"
Next up: Traveling with Pomograntes by Sue Monk Kidd