I Love You, Maria Von Trapp!!

Oh, oh, oh!! Did you SEE Julie Andrews this morning on Regis and Kelly? I was picking up a decaf at Dunkin Donuts at the time so I didn’t get to watch her for more than a minute, but darlings, she is the EPITOME of elegance, warmth and PRESENCE.

She’s been wearing her hair the same way forever, but it’s such a timeless style, it just works. It’s soft, full, swept back from her smashingly gorgeous face, and colored a soft auburn. Her eyebrows are penciled in so you can see their expressive, elegant arch. The lips are colored a soft rose-mauve (no big gooey glosses for our Miss Andrews!), lots of mascara to frame the eyes, and best of all, she seems to have no other plastic surgery besides her rhinoplasty Santa Barbara procedure. The skin is sagging — let’s say softening — where it should be softening on a woman of her years, and her bearing is regal. She is getting, if anything, more beautiful with time.

Her voice is still the cultured voice you remember from your childhood “Mary Poppins” viewings, with that wonderful gravelly undertone and throaty laugh that reassures you that although she’s a piss-elegant Brit, she’s got a good cache of naughty jokes and drinking songs in her repertoire to go along with “Do-Re-Mi.”

She was wearing a dove gray suit accessorized with big square earrings to highlight her face, a thick, classic, flat gold chain around her neck and a soft, ivory chiffon scarf tucked into her suit to soften its tailored lines. SWWOOOOON!!

Her posture and open, attentive expression is a thing of glory and should be studied by us all, men and women. As a singer, Julie Andrews knows how to keep her “mask” open; the part of the face that would be covered if you wore an old-school masquerade ball mask. All ministers should know how to open their mask, as it energizes the expression and makes you look more alive, aware and present.

How to Open The “Mask” of the Face:

Sit in a chair, slightly slumped over. Let your face totally relax, and even settle into a bit of a frown.

Now, pretend that you are Julie Andrews about to teach the Von Trapp children the first notes of the solfege. Sit up straight, but not ram-rod straight. Remember, you’re Maria, not Captain Von Trapp. Taking both your hands, lift them in a gesture that an orchestra conductor might use to signal musicians to pick up their instruments. Let your face open as your hands open. Your skin will feel pulled back, your eyebrows and eyes wide open but not in an alarmed or forced manner.

Practice in front of a mirror until you look poised, present, fresh and attentive but not like a deer in headlights.

P.S. Singers, you already know how to open your mask, since you know we can produce no rich sound without doing so. Teach your friends.

All clergypersons, when presiding at worship, should have an open mask at all times except perhaps when praying. There can be no embodied, relational worship if the presider does not understand or know how to produce an open mask and supported breath required for all good public communication.

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The Exquisite Decorum of the Episcopal Good Friday Service

No one does liturgy like the Piskies. They have it DOWN: decorum, demeanor, graceful transitions from element to element, gracious and confident administration of the sacraments. I attended a Maundy Thursday service at a liberal Christian church in Boston last night and Good Friday at the Cathedral Church in Boston. I love the people who presided at both services, but let me just say this:
liturgically-oriented Unitarian Universalists and other Free Church folk, hear me: attend worship with the Episcopalians and see how it’s done, please. I love you dearly but I beg of you. Go thou and study.

I attended today’s service with a friend and his comment at the end of everything was “They are better than anyone else at making a space for the Mystery.” And I said, “I couldn’t agree with you more, but that Acolyte totally should not have been wearing Merrell Jungle Mocs with white socks under her robe.”

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Everything else was glorious.

Thanksgiving Ideas And Manners

Hello, my pumpkin pies,

PeaceBang is in the midst of Thanksgiving Madness just now and won’t be blogging for the next week or so. Do enjoy the archives whilst I prepare hearth and home for the holiday. Meanwhile, keep writing it with inquiries and I’ll respond after I’ve roused myself from the chaise lounge where I will have collapsed with a dish towel over my eyes.

Remember: if you’re visiting friends or parishioners for the big day, don’t arrive empty-handed,* compliment the cook even if his or her eats give you heartburn and high blood pressure (you can always sneak out for a Big Mac on the way home), and help wash dishes even if he or she makes little “shoo-go away” gestures (PeaceBang used to do this but now throws an apron at her guests and says, “Go for it!” while she kicks back with a glass of wine. After all this grocery shopping, cleaning and preparation? Are you kidding? What kind of martyr was I?). If dining with parishioners, watch it with the booze. Be prepared to offer the blessing over the meal and observe family dysfunctions that aren’t your own, for a change.

* TEN HOSTESS GIFT IDEAS:

1. A bottle of Prosecco — fun bubbly for under $15! Do NOT bring cheap wine whose quality you cannot vouch for to a nice dinner. This puts your host/ess in the embarrassed position of feeling obligated to serve it, and that’s not fair. At least be prepared to drink it if you bring it (hosts and hostesses, it’s perfectly good manners to tuck away all gift wines for later use, which PeaceBang always does although her friends generally have darned good taste in wine.)
2. A big bunch of fresh sage or mint from your garden.
3. 3-4 bottles of pretty seltzer water with a fresh lemon or lime (always welcome, always get used eventually).
4. A nice bottle of hand soap tied with a bow (TJ Maxx always has them for under $5).
5. A jar of fleur de sel or nice olive oil for the serious cook. Trader Joe’s has wonderful affordable options.
6. A pair of taper candles in neutral or autumnal colors.
7. A small bouquet of flowers (nothing overly fragrant or fancy) that you are prepared to put in a vase of your host/hostess’s choosing as instructed (it’s a help).
8. An offer of a good shoulder rub after dinner (and make good on it!). If that doesn’t appeal to your talents, why not offer to be the Event Photographer; something your hosts won’t have time to do but would truly appreciate!
9. Something super practical, like the time someone came over with a stack of tupperware containers which were SO useful for doling out leftovers after dinner! Great idea!
10. Fill a small jar with chunky sea salt. Sprinkle with a few drops of some essential oil (lavender or rose or rosemary, or whatever combination you like). Shake well. Tie with a sweet bow and give it to your hosts for a refreshing bath or foot soak.

HOW TO BE A GOOD THANKSGIVING GUEST:

1. R.S.V.P. in a timely fashion. Don’t make your hosts scramble to accommodate you at the last minute.
2. Don’t assume you can bring a guest to a formal dinner: ask first. If you’re not close friends with the hosts, don’t ask at all. There may be constraints of budget or space that your host or hostess would rather not reveal, and you may be causing more stress than you know with your inquiry. Again, this doesn’t apply to pals whose home and general financial situation you know can accommodate a few more pilgrims.
3. Arrive on time, or close to it. If your hostess says that drinks are at 3 and dinner at 4pm, don’t come at 4:15. A formal sit-down Thanksgiving dinner is a complex and highly-choreographed event involving many dishes in and out of the oven; you may actually ruin dinner if you hold things up. Don’t. If you get held up, have the courtesy to phone and give your hostess permission to start without you. If she has leeway, she’ll let you know, but consider the timing of the meal and respect the parameters of the invitation. A sit-down meal is NOT the same as a buffet casual dinner party.
4. Help the hostess by mixing and mingling yourself. Because of the nature of Thanksgiving dinner, your host/ess may have to be in the kitchen in the early stages of the party. She will not be offended if you abandon her to go eat appetizers around the fire and visit with other guests. In fact, she’d prefer it. That’s why the appetizers are there. If the appetizers are set up in the kitchen, get yourself a drink and by all means bug the cook.
5. If your host or hostess is single, make yourself a secret Party Spouse. Pick up plates and glasses and bring them to the kitchen. Keep the fire going. Fill the ice bucket. Entertain the children. Answer the door. Be a good fairy.

Thank your hosts before you leave, send a thank you note within a week (unless they’re good personal buds, in which case an e-mail is fine), and return the hospitality if at all possible. Pay attention to detail so that if you have the good fortune of being invited back next year, you can contribute something (“Linda, it must have been so much work to peel all those potatoes, why don’t I make the mashed potatoes this year?”). And that, my friends, is called the lost art of good manners and social etiquette.

Beloveds, may your turkeys or tofu casseroles be succulent and may your prayers of gratitude be sincere. PeaceBang is thankful for you.

[Update: Even the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct preaches the gospel of PeaceBang! ]

Table, Thanksgiving
(I did little cafe tables like this last year but this year we’ll go back to one long table)
Pie Open House

(Photos from La Casa de PeaceBang, Thanksgiblets 2006)

On Installations and Ordinations: Etiquette and Dress

It’s always tough to go from an ecclesiastical engagement to a social one, isn’t it? And what’s a girl to WEAR?

This Sunday I will be participating in an installation (wearing vestments to the service, but there’s the reception to dress for, too) and then meeting friends for a casual dinner. It would be so tempting to wear a cute dress with a long, granny sweater, boots and big earrings and do the Boho Look, but that just wouldn’t be appropriate for the historic congregation. I feel that a formal occasion in the church calls for structured clothing on the clergy. Therefore, I will be wearing a black suit, these shoes in blackbrown-belladonna.jpg, and try to add some “interest” factor with a neat belt and scarf. I’ll have to be overdressed for dinner but there are benefits: that belt and slightly snug blazer will probably keep me from chowing down too enthusiastically!

Pigeons, hear me on this: no minister should wear corduroy anything to an installation. It’s too informal. We have so few truly special occasions left in this jeans-and-Crocs world, the clergy should be impeccable at these events. It’s a visual way of connecting with the past and honoring the present.

Furthermore, my fine feathered friends, our conduct at installations and ordinations should be as elegant as our dress. It pains PeaceBang’s heart and makes her blood pressure rise when ministers get into the pulpit at an ordination and make jokey, social-clubby work of the Charge to the Minister, the Right Hand of Fellowship or any of the other elements. This is wildly inappropriate and PeaceBang ardently wishes she never felt the need to say anything about it, but she finally must. An ordination or installation is not a party, it is a religious ceremony. An installation is not a clergy hazing ritual, it is a sacred rite which establishes bonds between congregation and their chosen minister (I speak from a congregational polity perspective, of course). It is one thing to use warm humor and a personal touch in our moments with the ordinand or new minister; it is another thing altogether to chortle and fumble our way through some aspect of the liturgy that we have not thoroughly prepared on the theological, emotional and purely technical level. The former is delightfully human, the latter is inexcusably sloppy and disgraceful.

If we are asked to participate in an ordinaton or an installation, it is our responsibility to know where our piece fits in the liturgy, to meet with the liturgist (or at least speak with him/her) about our part, and to think through not only our words but our “staging,” if there is any. We should arrive early enough to robe and to receive our instructions regarding how and when to ascend the pulpit, and when to leave. Are we introducing a hymn? Should we remain up at the pulpit while another colleague gives a prayer or reading, and exit with him/her for symmetry’s sake? We must think not only of our piece, but of the transitions in and out of it.

There’s an awful lot of showbiz in these services, and as it is the participants’ responsibility to learn our part, so is it the responsibility of the ordinand/installee to stay in close touch with the presiders and to provide them with all the information they need. There should be a marshall chosen and trained in advance to “run the show,” if you will, so that the ordinand or “installee” is not troubled by these details on this big day. A water pitcher and glasses, tissues, cough drops and sufficient copies of the Order of Worship will all be appreciated in the robing room, as will a full-length mirror and un-messy, un-sugary snacks for pastors on the run who had no time for lunch. If we wonder why so few of our colleagues attend ordinations and installations, PeaceBang would tend to guess that low blood sugar and late-Sunday exhaustion has a lot to do with it. Set out some coffee and little sammies for the preacher boys and girls and we may see our district attendance rising at these events.

If they are traveling any considerable distance, a sit-down meal should be provided afterward for major participants (whom we may assume are especially dear to the ordinand’s heart and therefore a delightful prospect as dinner guests): they should not be expected to fill their bellies while on their feet during the busy din of a reception. This meal should be planned with the Ordination/Installation Committee and can be as simple or as fancy as the church budget allows. It should not be omitted for any reason, however, as it is most inhospitable to import colleagues from a distance and then fail to feed them before they get back on the road home. What have we come to that we should expect either busy colleagues or eminent retirees to travel to our church on our behalf, deliver carefully prepared words and prayers, stand on their feet for an hour “working the crowd,” and then climb back into the car or plane exhausted and unfed? I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, newbies, but a generation that considers gracious hospitality optional is a sorely deficient generation of the Church.

Hear ye! Preachers for the event should receive a gift in the mail within a month of preaching your service: they have, after all, taken extraordinary pains to craft a special sermon for your special event and very possibly their second of the day. It is an enormous honor to be asked to preach at your ordination or installation, but also a burdensome responsibility. Do not fail to recognize, and to appreciate, this. PeaceBang has preached one ordination sermon in her life that took her no less than 15 hours to craft to her satisfaction( and during her vacation, no less)! She doubts that this gets much easier with time and experience. Other participants should receive a written thank-you note within a few months.

Although we are in an era of modernizing the church and its programs, installations and ordinations are occasions requiring the utmost decorum and attention to detail. They are teaching moments for the Church and shining examples of our polity in action. Above all, congregations themselves should be educated well in advance of the installation or ordination on the history and meaning of these occasions so that they are not, as PeaceBang has too often seen in the Free Church, sitting in the pews under the impression that they are passive, fond observers of this ritual, but understand their centrality to the proceedings.

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(Random photo: I have no idea who all these Piskies are but they look nice for this event.)