Things I Did Not Learn in Seminary by Kristen Muse

As I sit and think about the next children’s sermon or the volunteers that still need to be enlisted for the upcoming children’s event, I reflect on my time in seminary and wonder where I was when they talked about these things. Maybe I ran to the bathroom (I am known to do that with the amount of water I drink) or maybe I was off day-dreaming, but I do not think I could have missed so many of these things.

For instance, what do you do when the children’s sermon you have planned gets interrupted by children who love to talk? You want them to feel important and to share, but allowing them to answer by putting their thumbs up or down for an answer will only work for so many Sundays a year. Sometimes you just have to give in and trust that God has a plan and that they did learn something from the few words you were able to share that morning.

On the other hand, why do they call it children’s ministry? I think a more appropriate term might be ministry to those that work and live with children. I spend the majority of my time talking to adults: adults who teach and give their time to share God’s love and parents who are trying to guide their children in their faith. The time I spend with children is so little. My time is spent helping equip others to build faith foundations. As I consider this I am reminded that my impact is so much more than the life of that one child, but it is multiplied by the investment into a teacher’s life that gets to share with several children each week.

Oh and when I think I have it figured out, God teaches me another lesson that I missed as I talk with a child around the dinner table and learn how sick they got after they ate three sticks of butter when they were younger just because they loved butter. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Kristen Muse is minister with children at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Virginia BWIM’s Feast 2010 (Part 2) by Suzanne Stovall Vinson

In the breaking of bread, we acknowledge our presence together at the table. We share a meal of life’s staff. We look into each others’ eyes and watch each others’ hands. We take and receive. Through the 2010 Festival, we took and ate. We were given bread for the journey in food, in word, and in image. Together at table we prayed:

God, you encircle us with your love. You gather us under your wings, and call us each to serve, to love, to nurture. You create safe spaces where we can find refuge. You work through us, offering your love among us. We meet you now in this space, with our minds, voices, bodies, and spirits.

God of bright beginnings, create within us new spaces for love. You know us intimately, the losses we face: with children and loved ones, marriages fractured, friendships damaged, ministries wounded. Heal our brokenness; renew our hope and trust. May the stories we share around these tables bring love and healing. We celebrate this moment together where bread is shared and love is found. Amen.

We know that we are changed by food, by word, and by image. What we taste stays with us. Our bodies take the nourishment and use those good nutrients to give us energy and life. The words we use and hear move us. We are moved at times from ignorance to understanding, from understanding to pondering, from pondering to action. As ministers we meditate on the word, mingling our voice with the Spirit, until the voice is one and we speak in ways that others can hear. Sometimes we speak the very words we need to hear as we preach, teach, and craft our writing. What we see alters our perceptions and brings us to reality. When we see a child dirty and hungry. When we see the facade of a sister who is weary and worn. When we see through the lies to the truth, but can’t get there in time to bring light to that truth. When we hold hands with one who is at death’s doorstep, or hug a mother whose child has died. These images stick with us, they move us into a greater sense of God’s presence in and among us.

When Lynda Weaver-Williams spoke of Susannah and her plight, integrating the story of Precious and Artemisia Gentileschi, hearts turned from the weaving of these stories to women around the globe who are fighting, who are kicking, who are screaming for justice. Sometimes those screams have no audible voice, but they are felt with every fiber of being. The silent screams are heard and felt. They reverberate around the globe and they reach God’s ears. Those kicks are the kicks of the oppressor, kicking the life out of the women and children of Sudan, Cuba, Haiti, of the war-torn streets and the spaces of deforestation (or rape of the land). Where among us are the voices?

Inspired by Feast, women have committed to praying for their sisters, mothers, aunts, children known and unknown. When we awaken to the voices crying out, we need not search far to hear them. Open the door to hear your neighbor verbally assaulted on her front lawn. Look out the window to see how snack bags replace a serving of vegetables. As we awaken, we move gently into the world. A fresh loaf of bread is given, less the plastic wrap and twist tie to a neighbor. A woman sits on a couch and shares the story of an abusive relationship. A mother is embraced after her child’s life has been smothered by cancer. Where are we among these voices?

Speak, sister. Speak to yourself. Speak to God. Speak to your colleague. Speak, sister. Use your voice. Know your voice. Know that your voice is good and strong and meant to be used. Speak, sister. Speak to God who is present. Speak through stillness and rest. Speak through signs and sermons. Speak in a shared meal. Speak through bread. Speak in your art and creativity. Speak, sister. Speak.

Virginia BWIM Feast 2010 by Suzanne Stovall Vinson

When you have had a good meal, a really good meal, you want to tell your friends about it. When you have tasted something so fine, you want to have it again. Recipes and stories are meant to be shared. Bread is meant to be baked and devoured. Virginia BWIM’s annual festival, Feast 2010, was rich in its ingredients: Word. Table. Image. Each of the flavors had time to mingle, and with the addition of each festival participant became tasty morsels for every pallet.

Among the ingredients highlighted in Feast 2010, each experienced dance as a heartfelt expression of faith and prayer, giving “voice” to our understanding of God in worship through physical expression. The Arts of the Every Day gallery enticed our minds as we witnessed a small portion of the wonderful work of our hands from quilting, photography, block printing, a table collage of the future church, to a table set with food and drinks to share, and other gorgeous works. The invitation to engage our hands and voices came through guided imagery and an experience of art as spiritual practice. Each song was carefully selected, adding to the words of each preacher, each story at table. The food, prepared by a true culinary artist, spoke to the mind, body, and spirit through the shared meal.

During the Festival was a movement from individual voices to a single, communal voice coming together in the Celtic-inspired service to share the words of institution in unison. The Celts embraced Christianity with parables, stories, saints, poetry, songs, visual symbols, and community. The ending elements of worship inspired by the Celts gathered all the ingredients together, honoring this shared Feast.

When the meal was over, the women went out into the world proclaiming good news:

“I heard three amazing sermons. Each was unique. Each was excellent.”

“The sense of community could be felt. I was so amazed by the Festival.”

“I loved the 2009 Festival, but I have to say that the Festival keeps getting better and better.”

“Walking into the space, seeing that we would worship at table, sitting at the table with fresh bread. We took a few minutes to dive in, but once we did, bread was shared by all.”

Each went her own way, called to share her voice in her community, with her children, with those she loves. We left restored, full. With time to digest, with the time and space to share, new tables will be set, and VBWIM Feast groups will spring up in spaces across the state this year: in kitchens, in gardens, at a local coffee shop, in the parish hall, in the home. We will continue to gather and feast on the shared story.

With full hearts, bellies, and spirits, we were called to use our voices to speak for the oppressed, the women and children and daughters of the world. We left with a call to pray, to speak, and to create for we are each called to create spaces of love, of light, and of hope for others.

The Sabbath of Motherhood by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

You don’t have to look far to find reports of how infrequently individuals in the United States find rest. Sadly, ministers in the church are no exception to this un-resting rule. I had so hoped my contemporaries in ministry, this new generation of women coming into places of service, would function differently and challenge the unhealthy work norms that have crept from corporate America into the church. Yet many of us are simply following that too-fast-pace in lock-step with the dominant culture as we brag about our endless meetings, compare notes on unending work, and relish in how impressively hard and long the clergy types labor.

I’m not on a church staff right now. I’m one of many minister-mothers who is cobbling together a freelance ministerial identity while also mothering two little ones. I’ve been at this mothering business for a few years now but have sometimes likened it to a wild horse being broken by savvy cowboys in the old, wild West. In case you’re wondering, I’m the wild horse. My culture has taught me to move quickly, to master to-do lists, to rest little, to vacation less, and to boast on Facebook about exhaustion and work accomplished. My children, however, have taught me to be still.

We grown-ups often think we are too busy for a day of rest or fantasize about the vacation that will enable us to rest one day, some day, another day. The Sabbath of motherhood is teaching me to discover rest as an integrated way of life. The more my life slows down, the more I begin to reconsider priorities and learn to carve out time in creative ways. I use work time differently and more effectively as my work is shaped around my slow life. The rest informs my work, my work is changed by my rest.

My children do not grasp how urgent my curriculum timeline is; they want to play in the sandbox. My son does not honor my pressing need to craft a sermon; he wants to tell knock-knock jokes. My daughter does not know the words for deadline or grant proposal; she wants to sit in the sun and blow bubbles. There are times when I throw my hands up in frustration because I need to get a few things done, dang it! But these two children are slowly, steadily teaching me to be still. With them I find rest. Through them, God is teaching me what Sabbath-honoring life really looks like.

What stills you? Where do you find rest? How will you slow your pace today?

It Takes Practice! by LeAnn Gunter Johns

A new skill requires lots of practice before mastery, right? Why is it that some skills take years of practice before they become second nature to us? Here’s a story from my real life ministry setting about a skill that I am working to master:

After six years of parish ministry, I decided to fulfill a dream I have had since graduating seminary four years earlier. I worked for a year at the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, California, as a Clinical Pastoral Education resident. I wanted to learn more about myself, gain additional skills in my pastoral ministry, and explore another ministry opportunity.

One of the first lessons I was able to put into practice in CPE was something I had found difficult to do in the parish setting—establish and maintain boundaries within my work duties. The nature of working in a hospital and, more specifically, in a military setting like the VA, lends itself to natural boundary setting. My tour of duty was from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and if I was not the chaplain on call, I was not to be on the premises. The VA had certain expectations and guidelines for chaplains to follow. The VA had other professionals, highly trained and qualified, to give care to the patient’s other needs. My job was to work with these providers to assist in the patients’ healing process by offering spiritual care.

A beautifully challenging year came to an end last August, and I found myself back in the parish. I am serving as a solo pastor-for-a-year (a.k.a. interim pastor). Almost immediately after I took this position, an issue emerged related to one of the church’s renters, an issue that greatly affected some of the church’s property neighbors. Weeks turned into months worth of meetings with all parties involved disagreeing on any kind of peaceful resolution. The deacons relied on me, as the pastor, to be the go-between with the renters, neighbors, and the church. No one agreed on anything. It seemed like it was easier for the neighbors and renters to refuse and not cooperate because they were communicating with a messenger (the pastor) and not each other.

Finally, one night while finding myself researching property laws online, I stopped to think about the lessons from CPE. I prayed, “God, what am I doing? I am back in the same trap again. This is not the work You have called me to do.” I had no training or experience in property law, yet I had allowed myself to be triangulated in the middle of this situation. Immediately, I sent an e-mail to the members of the deacon board requesting a meeting. At the meeting, I shared my frustrations with communications and my realization of my own limits, and I set a boundary with them. I handed over the paperwork and all communications and asked for someone else to take it over. I said, “When I spend my time on these projects, I am not able to be fully present to the job you hired me for, to be your pastor.” Amazingly, they agreed. They took the information and began contacting all persons involved. Once the pastor got out of the way, a compromise solution emerged within a week!

Was it hard to be vulnerable and admit my own limits? Absolutely! But it was worth it in the end. I was able to claim more time and energy to do the things that bring me life in pastoral ministry. I had more time to spend with the congregants and preparing for sermons.

It also made a difference in the lives of the deacons. They saw what they were able to accomplish for their church. It empowered them to take on other projects since this event.

I have had ton of opportunities to practice this new skill of boundary setting in recent days. Sometimes I have succeeded, and at other times, I have failed miserably. But I have always learned something new about myself in the process, and it gives me hope for healthier ministry practices in the future.

What skills or lessons are you practicing in your ministry? With what parts of this wonderful vocation do you struggle?

A Snarky Memoir: A Review by Charity Roberson

“I know God is good, Martha.  He’s just not good to me.”– Susan Isaacs

Angry Conversations with God, A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir is the poignant faith journey of Susan E. Isaacs.  A well intending friend once tried to give Susan advice with the statement “our relationship with God is nothing short of a marriage.”  To which Susan replied, “Well, in that case, God and I need to go to couples counseling.  Because we’re not getting along.”

What do you when the God you knew intimately as a child seems to have abandoned you?  Well, of course, you take God to marriage counseling.  If the relationship isn’t working, you find a counselor that will help fix it and that is exactly what Susan Isaacs did.

Susan grew up, as many of us did, in the church, really knowing the intimate love of God.  However, as life got more complicated, so did her relationship with God.  This is an honest story of one woman’s journey.  It is a glimpse into her life and the experience of going to “couples counseling” with God.  It is a journey where the images of God get entangled with broken fathers and awful relationships.  It is a reminder that we all, including ministers, are just people doing the best we can.

This is an unorthodox faith journey story.  It does include some unorthodox language but it flows from Susan’s honest heart. It is a book you won’t want to put down. It will have you laughing and crying and wondering how she has been watching you live your life.  With Susan Isaacs, the reader learns that even the worst churches can still be used by God, what being a spiritual gold digger means, and that even when our noblest desires are not fulfilled, God is still love.

Dating.reverend.com by Amy Shorner-Johnson

I’ve had fun talking with friends over one of the recent articles on the Associated Baptist Press website about dating as a minister. I’ve enjoyed the conversation so much because I’ve been there, out in the dating world with a big “Reverend” on the front of my name that usually sent people off running before they had a chance to figure out my last name. I remember walking into the office of the church where I work in Athens, Georgia, talking to the office manager about the possibility of putting myself on a computer dating service. She looked at me and asked with a twinkle in her eye “Well, in a university town filled with undergrads, how else are you going to meet people?”

So the next week, I got on Match.com and slowly filled out the information sections about myself. Some questions were easy no-brainers. Others I had to choose carefully what I wanted to expose about myself. I debated about identifying words like “Baptist” and “minister” as they might scare men away. I decided that I would use them both to get it out of the way and ward off any folks I’d rather not deal with. I ended up taking out the “Baptist” part because it so readily identified me (I had a few folks I had decided to cross off my list show up to church, and I realized I was the only female Baptist minister in town)!

After a few weeks, and a few e-mails proclaiming that it was destined by God that we meet on-line (in their first e-mail to me, I might add), I met a wonderful man, and we began talking. We quickly learned that we both had only been on-line for a few weeks before finding one another. And to top it off, the music minister at my church was his advisor for his master’s degree.  He informed me on our first date that it scared him to death that I was a Baptist minister, but since he figured my being female afforded me a chance. I’m so glad he took a chance. We’ve been married for two years now and have many opportunities to look back at the fun stories and strange mishaps of meeting people on the worldwide web.

Does anyone else have an online dating story to share?