Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will the “real” preacher please stand?

Life in rural Pennsylvania is more conservative than I ever imagined. Discriminations that had been tested in Colorado continue to be part of my life here. Being female is one example. In Colorado, I was a member of a service club that had just admitted females --- much against their collective wills. (There were no racial minorities even though Hispanics are the majority ethnic group.) The club allowed me in and rarely made comments in my hearing about females. I was not only the only female member, but also probably the only Democrat; their comments ridiculed my politics and our President. Often the brunt of disparaging comments, they always made loud enough for me to hear. Sometimes, my friends in the club stood up for me, but they to be careful who they went against. Eventually, it was time for me to leave that club because their meeting day no longer worked for me. I resigned and joined another club that met on a different day. The new club had many women, as well as a variety of political and social views all of which reminded me that bigotry in any form can be situational.

My association with the new Colorado club was delightful and made me want to repeat the experience here. One of the first organizations I joined was the local branch of this service club. It took awhile to be invited to join.

Last week at my new service club, I overheard the following posed to the visiting pastor of a local church “If you join, then we will have a real pastor as part of this club.” I was sitting three seats away and don’t know if the comment was made so that I would overhear. I do know that the speaker knows I am a pastor because (I recently learned) there was a question when my name was considered for membership -- some in the club were worried that as a new member, a liberal pastor, I would be too (fill in a word here: liberal … female … self-assured … independent … pick you own word). The club members had to have a lengthy discussion about my desire to join the club without having met me or talked with me. I had to write and submit an essay about myself to a committee, who circulated it around the club. Not one new member since has circulated such a statement. There are other females in the group, so my gender is not the issue – could only be my occupation: New Church Planter.

Sometimes when things get tough, I am tempted to quit, to leave here, to go back home. But not this time. Right now, I am determined to stay and be more than they think. Let them get to know that I am ethical, keep my word and pull my weight. When I have them all convinced that the real preacher is keeping on and keeping up, then I can collect my pride and leave if I choose. We will see what happens when that time comes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caring for self and others

Good morning friends -

My first “blog” journaled my experiences as a seminary student at 60, telling of my experiences as I entered my third career – years after I had earned the terminal degree in my field – Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sociology. At 60, I responded to a call to the ministry – some might say I was always in the ministry as I worked in the nonprofit field for many years. Six years later, “Tuesday Thoughts” continues a journey: it is my response to a friend’s query: Do I journal my experiences as a pastor out of my element – new to rural Penna, new to church planting (but not new to starting organizations), in fact, relatively new to ministry? The nonprofit field shares many things in common with ministry: many hours, relatively low pay, high community involvement, as sense of call and, in my case, focused work with those living on the fringes of middle class society.

This day’s thoughts concern self-care issues: I don’t generally put self, exercise, health in my day planner although I try being mindful about this care of me. After this new church is planted, a “me” will continue sharing my life. How will my future self and me be our best?

In September when I did not get to go “home” for vacation some of my time here was spent soul-searching. I understood that if I were to remain in this call – in this church – it would be necessary to take better care of Sharon. September brought more purposeful early day prayer and meditation time. October offers one lunch hour each week for a yoga practice. I have long been a yoga practitioner but had let my practice go when I moved to this area. It feels good to have that hour and a quarter of focusing on my inner self. October also offers the opportunity to say yes to my son’s invitation to spend Thanksgiving with he and his wife in North Carolina. Weather permitting, I will drive the 10 hours each way to bask in family for 48 hours at their home. Still in October, but not the end of my self-care, on Sunday I discovered a Catholic Church in Elmira NY that welcomed me, an ordained UCC/DOC pastor, into their church family. During worship, grace washed over me. I sang, took communion, was blessed and listened as the youth band (three 2- and 3-year olds) played triangle, xylophone and marimba accompanying the congregation gathered as they sang the sending forth song. Since I work Sundays, I can only join this congregation one or two times each month; but it is worth the 1 1/4 hour drive to be ministered to. This opportunity also reminds me of what I need to do for my congregation to assure they are spiritually fed as they attend worship in Pennsylvania. God is indeed good!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Growth by spurts

Yesterday in worship, our attendance was 22. Paltry by most standards; awesome by ours. We are a congregation – a church - where a year ago, four to six could be counted on to worship. Today, in addition to the 22 in our pews, I could count eight regulars who were either away or at home or had company or were recuperating. In addition to the 30 regulars, we have a few who come, try us and then either come back or leave. Even if they leave, they have experienced a 21st Century progressive church.

The 22 in worship encourages me no end! The congregants who were missing but remain committed encourage me as well. The encouragement is critical because this past week, I emailed my coach with “I want to quit” this impossible task. He strongly encouraged me to look beyond myself – no wallowing in self pity allowed. At a similar low point, a priest I know told me that it does not matter whether this church is successful or not – what will have happened is that some will have been offered God in a way they had not before. A longing they experience for the Holy will have a new avenue for expression.

Church planting takes far more guts than I ever expected. I thought the congregation would grow just based on my enthusiasm and my continual marketing. A build-it-and- they-will-come outlook. How naïve. When I start thinking that church planting is merely a matter of offering God in a new way, I need to remember the Gallop online test I took, the phone interviews I participated in, the in-person interviews I enjoyed. This church planting is not for wimps. Nor is it for people who measure success by the hundreds of worshipers filling Sunday pews. Nor frankly, does the number of different weekly opportunities we offer measure it. Nope, church planting is a partnership between God and my advisory committee and my two denominations and the congregation who is always willing to step up and help. Church planting is a result of planning, patience and prayers. Lots of prayers.

I thank God for the 22 in worship, for their dedication and willingness to join this endeavor. I imagine I will find other days when I plan how get away from this impossible task; and days I will thank the Holy One for this incredible opportunity of offering a progressive expression to infinite love.