Cross-Posting: Journeying

This prayer was first posted on the RevGalBlogPals site, a collaborative and supportive network of women clergy and their friends. On the “even” months of the year, I write a prayer for Fridays. Sometimes they are more liturgical in nature, sometimes they reflect the world and its hurts. But most of the time, they echo my own spiritual journey.

A week from tomorrow, the progressive Baptist church where I have been serving these last three and a half years is closing and selling the property to another congregation. For the last eighteen months, the church was not able to pay me. I stayed, as I was there on a minimal, part-time basis anyway, and had full-time employment as a hospice chaplain. Besides, they were my community, my church family, my friends. You don’t walk away from your friends who will be experiencing a death – in this case, the death of a church. (Ok – you CAN walk away, but not for any reason other than selfish ones.)

Now as we round the final turn towards the church closing, I am wrestling with all sorts of questions: Where will I go to church? Where will I find a place to serve? What is ahead for me in ministry? Do I stay in my work as a hospice chaplain, or pursue a full-time placement in a congregation? 

These are all unknowns. And I don’t really need the answers today. Where I will be this week is in the liminal space of the now and the not yet. If I am honest, it is every week of my life, But this week, with the pending change before me, it is more glaring, more challenging.

So I wrote this prayer for my friends at RevGals who may be in a similar space. But I wrote primarily for me as I walk this road with Christ.

SDG

Deb


Looking down a country road, bordered by trees.

Holy One,

The way ahead seems lonely at times, and I fear the unknown…

But You sing,
I AM with you, I am with you always. I will not leave you abandoned.

The silence is awkward at times, and I worry I am missing something…

But you whisper,
I AM calling, I am calling to you in this wilderness. I will make your paths straight.

I am impatient at times as I peer ahead to see what is just over the hill, just out of sight, wanting the future NOW…

And you say,
I AM, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And I know that I know that you ARE, you are with me.

Thank you. Blessed be.
Amen.

In the middle of nowhere

“…Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men?
Make them hear you.
When they hear you
I’ll be near you again!”
-Ragtime
Music: Stephen Flahert
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

The roof of a for-profit ICE detention center

It was in the middle of nowhere. West of Richmond. South of Charlottesville. East of Lynchburg. I would never have found it if I hadn’t had a GPS (and a map when I lost cell service!) It was hot and sticky. The sun was merciless. The stole around my neck was damp with sweat and felt so heavy.

I met up with members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church from Raleigh, NC in Farmville, Virginia. As a sister church in the Alliance of Baptists, they responded to a challenge from their pastor, Rev. Nancy Petty, to bear witness to the incredible human suffering in these camps. I joined them and other Christians that summer morning to demonstrate the extravagant love of God. A God who welcomes. A Savior who stands up for the marginalized, who cares about refugees.

signsI had other things I could have done that day. I chose to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (Crazy, right?!) But with a strong cup of coffee, and the prayers and blessing of my church and my family, I hit the road.

After a short prayer vigil with the entire group, I drove with other clergy to pray at the prison’s training center. We held hands. We prayed. We asked For God’s Spirit of mercy and compassion to touch the hearts of those who decided to work there. We prayed for the Spirit’s conviction on churches who not only refused our group hospitality, but whose members are among those working at the prison.

Detention center sign

We were told that 700 people are detained in Farmville. 700 people removed from their families, their homes, their jobs. 700 people who are not criminals. They are not “illegals.” They are seeking asylum. They were forcibly detained when ICE raids scooped them up and brought them here. Many were in process with their petitions… for a safe place to live and raise their families.

No one chooses to go an ICE detention camp, except for perhaps some Christians who want to draw attention to the detainees’ plight. I made the 3.5 hour drive because I believe it is important to call out injustice. I believe my faith in Christ requires standing up “for the least of these.”

Crowd at prayer vigil
Prayer vigil

We did not gain access to the detention center to talk to any of the detainees. I’m pretty sure the detainees didn’t even know we were there! But God knew. God knows them by name. God hears their cries and holds their prayers. God sees the injustice. And God will hold us accountable for not seeking justice for them.

Prison guard videotaping us.

We prayed as we marched. We sang. We interceded for the detainees and the guards. As we were leaving, walking back to our vehicles in silence, a guard videotaped us. (No doubt he was recording us for identifying us via facial recognition software!) I raised my hand and blessed that guard, making the sign of the cross. May he bear the full conviction of his actions in his heart.

On the outskirts of Farmville was “The Church of All Nations.” Since the local churches refused our group hospitality, I had to wonder… ALL nations? Or just light-skinned ones? How do these churches justify their inaction? How do they stay numb to the suffering in their midst? I made the long, sobering drive home reflecting…

I realized that in my comfortable suburban home, it’s far too easy to look the other way.  I frequently forget those who live ever wary of ICE raids. I don’t have to worry because my German-Irish roots and Midwest accent are a free pass. My whiteness means I’m not identified as a potentially unauthorized immigrant. I don’t have to carry around my passport to prove I am a US citizen.

These detainees still are my neighbors. How will I care for them? How will I support them? How will I work for change to comfort and protect my neighbors?

Pectoral cross made of forged nails

One thing I do know. Justice work is tiring and inconvenient. It is not done for attention or publicity or to create a scene. Justice work is meant to bring a voice for the voiceless, to remind us of rights we have, that others are denied. It is a Calling. And it is following the way of Christ.

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

I will choose to Love

In the never-ending pile of books in my “to be read” pile, I came across a quote recently that spoke volumes to the way I want to live my life. In reading A Testament of Hope, a collection of essays, sermons and speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I found these words:

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. 

(I now need to find my copy of this book so that I can properly cite the page, etc.)

In the divisive, winner-take-all mindset of our culture, choosing to listen and demonstrate compassion and love is, well, hard.

But why is it so hard for me to love others as a white woman, cisgender, educated, employed and (relatively) healthy? Why do I find myself struggling to be compassionate when I am hurt by someone’s words or actions? The list of reasons are many, and every one of them is selfish.

My Calling is clear – to demonstrate the welcoming, all-encompassing love of God. No strings. No qualifications. I will choose to Love.

Love Is from Freebridge Media on Vimeo.

 

10 years ago… An Ordination Happened!

ordinationhappy
Laughing during the ordination service.

Ten years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in a nondenominational church. For many years before that, I was serving in pastoral roles, but was not given the recognition of the title, “pastor.”

Some of us, like yours truly, take a long and winding road to get to ordination, partly because we don’t believe we really are supposed to be in the ministry. Or we believe the people who tell us that we “can’t do that” because of our identity.

What took me so long to become ordained?

I had to believe deep down to my toes that, yes indeed, God Called me. And then I had to speak up and say, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

My ordination day was shared with my friend Glenn. It was a party! A luau. A day with friends and family that is still, ten years later, very precious to me. Some of the friends have moved to other churches (or I have) and we don’t see much of each other any more. But their affirmation launched me and their prayers and commissioning spurred me onward.

handslaid
Surrounded by prayer and encouragement. (Family not pictured.)

I’m grateful for every opportunity offered to me over the years. Since the 1980s I’ve been active in ministry in many capacities. Directing choirs. Teaching classes. Writing courses, devotional guides, seminars and workshops. Administration. Leading worship. Marrying, baptizing, and burying ’em. Committees and council meetings. Mentoring and commissioning others. Going to seminary. Preaching. Protesting. Praying. Studying. Being an advocate. Standing up for the rights of the under-served and the disenfranchised. Working with like-minded Christian feminists. An ally, mom, wife, sister, and friend. Being a chaplain, counselor and midwife to the close-to-dying.

Each task has been something that, at the time, I did my best work possible. I was up late at night, or working through dinner. It meant a lot of driving, listening, and praying. Many times I messed up, teared up, or wanted to give up. But every time, the Call of the Spirit was louder than my whines.

Funny how that works…

I’ve served in churches, hospitals, out-patient clinics, sidewalks, long-term care facilities and homes. I have handed out tissues, made hard phone calls, and stood up for someone’s rights. Many times, I was the one who could hear the questions behind the words. Other times, I was afraid to be bold and confront the heartache that was as yet unnamed.

Then there’s the unexpected tasks of ministry… Unclogging toilets, sinks and floor drains. Photocopying, collating and stapling. Buying helium balloons. Calling caterers. Dealing with vandalism. Standing up to church bullies. And an infamous run to the thrift store with donated items.

Me and JCfame
Giving the Holy Family a ride to the thrift store donation center.

God called. I answered. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. Always with this sense of “Who me? WOW! Yes! Me!”

Other times, God said “no… this Call is not for you.” And there have been tears and questions and a struggle to trust that a “no” from the Holy is a good thing. (I’m still working on that.)

So it’s been ten years… already? And I’m up for whatever God has in store for ten more.

If you’ve read this far, you get a medal. Or maybe a cookie. Thank you for persevering with me in life (and in blogging!)

A montage of ministry pictures from the last ten years:

dance

Here I am, Lord.
At times I’m bruised, confused and little deflated,
Or curious, enchanted and invigorated.
But most of all,
Lord of all,
My heart sings with a song of Alleluia’s
And my clumsy feet still dance with praise!
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But Holy One,
That’s why we do it.
You.
And me.
Together!
Soli Deo gloria!
Amen.

The Rock Piles of Ministry: Who Knew?

 

DSC_0382

Behold. A rock pile.

Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.

There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.

Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!

I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.

 

 

Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!

So now… those rocks are no longer discards!

It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.

pond

It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…

For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!

Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.

I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change!  For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.

And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…

You are not a cast-off.

You are not a mistake.

You are not in the way.

You are called… press on!

…for such a time as this…

 

Christmas in the Emergency Department

Not your usual Christmas feast!

I have to be honest. This pastor’s Christmas joy was a little flat this year. But inspire of how I felt, there was a lot of joy in the middle of the mess.

This Advent opened in a true Spirit of anticipation. I was aware of my own sense of waiting and longing. It collapsed around me when, during the week immediately preceding Christmas, I found out that I was not selected for a new ministry opportunity. It stung like hell. It was (and is) heartbreaking, but it is also for the best. Recovering slowly from my disappointment, I discovered I was not really up for the last minute Christmas shopping and planning.

On top of that, our church is facing a challenging financial twist which not only affects our church as a whole, but eliminates the salary for my (very) part-time job. I am serving, for now, in a volunteer capacity.

The usual hilarious disorganization of a Christmas Eve service was compounded by the Choir Director leading despite a bad case of laryngitis, and choir members inexplicably deciding to make other plans and miss the candlelight Christmas Eve service. By the time the service started, I was finally in sync, enjoying the people in our congregation, and our celebration of Love arriving on the Earth in human form.

Just to keep things interesting… In the early hours of Christmas morning, a GI virus and its complications meant that I spent Christmas Day in the ED with one of our beloved daughters. The rest of the family put the turkey dinner and gift-giving on hold.

As I sat with our daughter, watching over her, I had a new appreciation for the staff who work on holidays. I have worked many of them in years past as a chaplain. It is hard to keep your spirits up when you know you are missing your own family’s celebrations. The ED staff, was, to a person, kind, caring and helpful.

But I also thought about the families who had a disappointing Christmas that day. My hospice families who tried to celebrate in the middle of loss. I remembered the families and spouses of those in the military, and first responders. Their Christmas celebrations were impacted, too, and in far greater ways.

Today our daughter is on the mend. We cooked the turkey and all of the accompaniments. The cranberries and stuffing, potatoes and carrots graced the table too. (We won’t talk about my gravy… it was, as per usual, disappointing.) The cookie dough will get baked… eventually. Flights to holiday celebrations are being re-booked for a healthier day.  And all is well.

In the middle of the mess that is life in the ED, I was reminded that the message of the Christ Child is the center of my Faith. In impossible situations, with unlikely companions, despite all odds, God breaks through with another “I love you” and a “Hallelujah!”

I don’t want to make it an annual event, but I am grateful for God’s speaking through the clanging of culture, sickness and politics to declare: 

“Don’t be afraid!
Look! I bring good news to you
wonderful, joyous news for all people.”

Luke 2:10