Today, I was approached by two of our oldest ladies in church. They are 93 and 97 years old, and regulars at laudes (morning prayer), Monday soup, Sunday Mass and just about everything else that their frail legs can carry them to. They called me over to their table, and asked me with concern: "How are you holding up with all of these men around you?", meaning my male clergy colleagues. I have, for the last four years, worked almost exclusively with male clergy. I said in a light tone that I was fine, and weren't we all grateful that there at least is one priest without a beard in the parish? They chuckled, but would not let me off that easily. So I had to explain to them that it really is not a problem, that I on a regular basis work much more with only women, as the rest of the children's ministry team is made up of (surprise!) women. This they understood, and let me go with assurances of how glad they were that I am in their church.
I am telling the truth, you see.
It bothers me way less that my clergy colleagues happen to be of the male persuasion, than that the kid team is exclusively female. It's common, this. I am pretty convinced that most of you recognize this, however tiny or large your congregations may be. Because (sarcasm alert!) women are sooo much more suited for working with children.
NaNoWriMo is eating my soul.
This is how it happened: On the first day of this month, I saw a Facebook post about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I had not intended to do this. I had not premeditated my plan of attack. I hadn't even heard of it. But something about this challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month struck me. Before I had really thought it through, I was signing up.
I have a friend who takes a month every year to write one song a day. "Most of them are complete crap," he says, "but at the end, I have one or two songs that are good, or at least decent starts at being good. And that's better than having no songs at all." I've always admired his discipline in this. I've always wanted to commit myself to that kind of intensive creative process. One of the things you should understand about me is that I am not the kind of person who often commits to a regimen like this and sticks to it. I have begun and given up on songs, poetry, paintings, exercise plans, knitting projects, diets, language courses, book proposals... You name it, I've probably tried and not finished it.
We are engaged. Usually it comes out like this: “We're engaged!!!” Admittedly, I have been smiling for five months almost non-stop. Wedding planning is in full swing. Save-the-dates have been mailed, the reception and rehearsal dinner sites are secured, and china is selected. My father, the florist, has a zillion ideas and I think he’s planning to line the church aisle with arrangements on the pews that are five feet tall. (I’m serious.)
I’m excited. I’m 33 and have finally found my true love. He is the only man I have ever dated who has not tried to change me in some way. He loves me for me, with my impatience and my closet full of shoes. He doesn’t mind that I ask him to open the fridge by the handle because I don’t want to have to clean the stainless door again before the real estate agent shows the house. He rolls with my crazy ideas and supports my daydreams of opening a bakery someday. He comes to church. He loves my kitties more than I love his dogs.
I want to be married to this man. I cannot wait. So why do I have these momentary flashes, zings, and fears about not being single anymore?
While it may well be true of ministers in many settings, I found that as a solo pastor just starting out, the Advent and Christmas seasons were just the slightest bit daunting, particularly in a small church. Raised in larger congregations, I have long felt that church preparation for and celebration of these seasons should be fulsome: with special worship services (the Moravian love feast, and the Longest Night service); caroling to the homebound followed by parties at the parsonage; and other opportunities for fellowship and service (including the Hanging of the Greens and the making of Christmas ornaments with kids).
Add to those elevated expectations the regular responsibilities of planning worship and preaching each Sunday and on Christmas Eve/Day, and you have a recipe for an extremely stressful holiday season (and zero shopping time). One obvious solution would be to pare down those expectations. Another is to look for worship services that are rich and meaningful and don’t require a sermon.
A day (election day, that is) in the life of a bi-vocational local church pastor trying to strike a balance in the intersection of faith and public life.
5:30: Woke up in time to open up the church for the arriving poll workers.
5:45: Enthusiastically invited the poll workers in, thanking them for their civil service, proud that my church gets to be part of the democratic process. Found myself immediately ignored by poll workers as they busily rearranged the fellowship hall and complained about the lack of a coffee station. Filed away the possibility of setting up coffee for poll workers in the corner next year. Regretted not having changed the bulletin board, which is the same as it was last time they were here.
When I threw my coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome in February 2009, I never imagined the first wish would come true. For years, Romans and visitors to Rome alike have tossed coins into the great fountain and made wishes. I turned my back to the fountain as is the custom and tossed in the first coin--the coin that is supposed to bring you back to Rome.
Nearly two years to the day of our launch into multisite ministry, my husband and I found ourselves with heads bowed, peering over a small four-by-three-inch black and white printout of our 8-week ultrasound. As we peered at this little bean-shaped person in a black box, looking quite unremarkably like every other 8-week old, my husband said quietly, “I wonder who they are going to be?” I smiled at his thoughtfulness and as I pondered his question, about this new life, about all that we didn’t know, I thought again about my congregation. Before we launched our second campus, through that first year and even now into our third year, I often find myself asking the same thing of my congregation: “I wonder who they are going to be?”
Editor's Note: Audrey was recently featured in an article in The New York Times discussing various Christian responses to the rash of suicides among GLBTQI teens this fall. We asked her to write about the experience of responding to those suicides as part of her ministry, and to offer some thoughts about one secular response, the It Gets Better campaign.
“IT GETS BETTER.”
Three words that are simple, innocuous, and yet filled with hope and understanding of a reality that is not yet. “IT GETS BETTER”.