There’s still time to register for The Young Clergy Women Project 2010 conference, held in Atlanta in June. I won't miss it, and here's why. In the spring of 2007, I was questioning where, how, and even whether God would use me in ministry again. The five years since my ordination had looked nothing like I had expected.The Plan had been a career of long-term calls at churches known for taking bold stands on theological and social issues, with modest but appropriate increases in compensation and visibility at each parish.But I had already served and departed two local congregations. I had become one-half of a two-denomination, two-system clergy couple, and I had trailed my husband Matt to a state where progressive allies were tough to sniff out.My “job” was a second unit of CPE, which I enrolled in just so I could tell myself I was preparing for something.As Matt was loving his new church, I floundering vocationally, flopping on the shore, gasping for air and waiting to be thrown back in the water. I had no idea I was about to get a blast – an almost unbearably powerful one – of O2.
Five hair products plus toothpaste!!!
Those were the words from a mow-hawked boy of eight who greeted me four days before the wedding. When he arrived with his dad (my fiancé) and his brother, his blond hair was nicely arranged in a ridge, just like a stegosaur’s plates, along the top of his head – and, he told me, it had been stuck that way for three whole days!
Welcome to your new world, Meg!
She stuck with him for about two minutes. Like all children, my daughter Ilse has a tendency to be unpredictable during the children’s sermon. As my colleague was talking about the promises God makes to us in baptism, Ilse’s eyes wandered up to the balcony and when she spotted that special someone her face lit up. I knew she only had attention for one person in the world in that moment: Sarah the ninth grader. I maintain that there are few other forces in the world that can match the power that teenage girls have for 1st grade girls like my daughter. At first, Ilse pretended she was still paying attention to the pastor, but it soon turned into waving to Sarah, shyly at first. But when Sarah waved back from the balcony Ilse began blowing kisses. Trying hard to keep my own giggles under control, I thought it was pretty appropriate for the girls to be blowing kisses during a children’s sermon about baptism.
I have been ordained for nearly four years. It seems like much longer than that—so much has changed since that warm April day and that nearly-two-hour service. If I think back to the worship service itself, my memories focus on a few things:
I'm not sure how to explain how I've been feeling recently except to say that it's been "heavy." My soul has been weighed down. I've been moving more slowly than I usually do, and I've been tired. And while I'm sure that I have felt this way in the past, in the past, I have eaten. Because it's easier and, let's be honest, more delicious than having to sit with the heaviness, the weight, and the emotion that I still am unable to adequately name. Today, though, I am sitting with it. And in my eyelids and my shoulders and my heart and my legs, I am feeling it.
So what's up? Two things, I think. One is, well, the stories. I have a colleague and friend who once reminded me that chaplaincy is hard. That, even when the work is life-giving and affirming, the stories that we hear and the conversations that we have with individuals on a daily basis are often those of loss, pain, and transformative change. We promise to be present with them, to witness to their hurt, and to carry their stories and their truths until they can bear the weight of them again themselves. It is an honor and a privilege to do so, but sometimes, it gets heavy. Good heavy.
Every time a book comes out about Christianity and sexuality, I read it. (Well, I have not yet gotten to Rob Bell’s Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality, but it is on my list.) The Church, in all of its multidenominational glory, seems always to be struggling with defining and controlling sexuality, and sexuality keeps rearing its head and refusing to be defined or controlled.
The thesis of most of these books (especially those directed to young Christians) is that sexuality only really counts if it is expressed in the context of marriage and that any sex outside of marriage should cause a person to feel ashamed. None of them explore sexuality and spirituality in a curious, non-judgmental way.
I spent twenty years of my life intimately tuned to the liturgy of the academic calendar - the rhythm and rest of lengthy breaks interspersed between semesters that flowed from introductions and syllabus to final exam. Progress in academic liturgy is measured in assignments completed and grades assigned. The tools are books, pencils, words, and lately, computers. The art, or music, or poetry comes in originality and articulation. Often times I miss this rhythm, at least the graduate school version of beginning to end, unbearable intensity to crash. The parameters are clear, and the center is well-defined by either teacher or topic, regardless of the pedagogy. This liturgy is lush and abundant and measurable.
And then there is the liturgy of the church.