So, You’re On Camera!

My dear friend and colleague the Rev. Meg Riley is directing viewers here, so WELCOME!! You may be a long-time pigeon (my term of endearment for my readers, an homage to Zero Mostel’s character in “The Producers”) or perhaps you’re a first-time guest to this salon. The mission here at BTFM is to encourage clergy and all religious leaders to take their public image seriously and to understand that everything visual about us communicates something important. We can consciously communicate through our instrument (voice, body, apparel) or we will project who we are unconsciously.

The mission of this blog has always been to equip readers with the tools to analyze and craft that image. My background is in theatre, costuming and the academic study of the evolving clergy archetype.

But today you just want to know more about how to do on-camera ministry! So here’s what I hope will be a helpful introductory video. The archives here at BTFM are CHOCK-FULL of resources for you! Enjoy them!

I’ll be back in days to come, but now: Target run. Wish me luck. xoxo PB

Archive links to on-camera and other particularly relevant posts:

Know Where The Camera Lens Is

Just a Fun Make-Up Video

Leading Worship in Street Clothes: What To Wear?

Coronavirus And Ministry, Episode One

Hey there.
Three days ago we were wondering if we should shake hands. Today we’re shutting down our churches. This pandemic is changing everything, disrupting everything and putting brand-new stresses on the clergy.

(I had a bottle of hand sanitizer with me on my walk and asked a teenager to use it before petting my dog. He said that was “fire,” which I think is good? We were both very good-natured about it)

I know that many of you are getting up in the morning to go to empty churches to record a Livestream or Facebook Live or Zoom worship. I see that some of you have pre-recorded services and have uploaded them to church websites. Good for you. We are all trying to figure this out. Good for you for just staying with it, addressing a steep techno learning curve, teaching others what you know, and in some cases keeping things analog. Any response is fine. If you’re showing up by phone or email to try to figure things out, you’re fine!

I watched a few seconds of one colleague sitting at his desk talking into the camera. He said he’d be doing a reading, giving a sermon, and leading a prayer. That’s FINE! It’s not dynamic and cinematic but it’s FINE! That minister will probably spend some of this week learning some tech skills and develop something else for next weekend. Or maybe he will decide to spend his time reaching out to health care workers or leaders in his parish, or do something else entirely. I only hope that he stays out of large gatherings and protects his own and others’ health as best he can.

The thing to *not* do right now is judge anyone else for their decisions, unless those decisions are a threat to public health. Any pastors who are pooh-poohing the public safety and health officials’ warnings and instructions to stay home, avoid large gatherings and practice social distancing are willfully ignorant and pose a serious threat to public health. I hope you will feel confident in your righteousness to speak to those pastors. “God will heal” is an asinine defense for their irresponsible behavior. Remember what Jesus said to Satan: “You shall not put your Lord God to the test!!!”

This is not time to go to the hair salon, manicurist or med spa for facials and injectables. And no, you shouldn’t risk going out to get your eyebrows waxed or threaded, sorry. Do what you can at home to do the beauty things that make you feel grounded and good. Get good sleep, stay hydrated, stay faithful in prayer.

I am with you in spirit from sabbatical. God help us all.

Happy Clappy Joy Joy Nope

Hey gang.
A hard week for those who loved and admired Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche community. Another blow in this era of disturbing revelations (although is there really any other kind of era?).

A word to pastors having a hard time with this:

First of all, don’t preach or practice cheap grace, rushed reconcilings and coercive forgiveness. To do so is bad pastoring. Such recommendations are based in shallow theology and perpetuate systems of silencing and oppression.

You are not required to stay positive and hopeful at all times.

There’s a reason the Holy Scriptures don’t hide the sight of Jesus crying over Jerusalem from us. You get to cry over Jerusalem, too.

Don’t let the American idols of perpetual happiness and self-improvement cloud your faith and your integrity of soul.

It may make your people uncomfortable to hear you express your pain, but they are acquainted with the psalms and the prophets, it won’t bother them. Help them build a tolerance for rage and sorrow that the wider culture avoids by any means necessary; many of those means being damaging and addicting.

Your people should be engaged in spiritual practice by which they can be in deep encounter with the love and mystery and even the absence of God themselves. Your feelings and affect (which you do need to manage to a certain degree so as to remain appropriate, functional, present and faithful) should not be the barometer of whether or not your community is doing well. If you and your congregation are so focused on your emotions that it causes people to go into a fix-it panic when you express discouragement or even despair with the world as it is, remind yourself and them that you are not the Faith-Haver-In-Chief. You are there to model faithfulness, to preach the gospel as best you can with an assist from the Holy Spirit, and to facilitate your people’s own spiritual practices and growth.

Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to tell him jokes, keep him happy, distract him or protect him the night he was taken into custody. He just asked them to stay awake with him. Staying awake is hard. Remember how badly the disciples screwed it up.

We approach Lent together. From what things, ideas, products, behaviors, beliefs will you abstain in order to enter into a more intimate relationship with the God who called you to this work?

I have been on sabbatical since November 10th and am beginning to truly understand and respect, through many many hours of reflection and recognition, how demanding the work of ministry has been in this last decade.

You are not responsible for the emotional tenor of your community. You are not required to bring joy and hope every day. This is not a show in which you are the star. This is a pilgrim journey and when the path leads up a steep hill, you are allowed to wipe the sweat from your brow, stumble on the loose rocks and stop for a breather just like everyone else.

Much love and strength to you, and also lots of pancakes on Tuesday. xoxo PB

Church Website And Welcome Rant: Advent Edition


Yours Truly has been looking at multiple church websites in the past weeks looking for Advent services and programs, and for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Please go right now and do a website audit!!! People like me are actually looking for your church! Go RIGHT NOW and check if your church website has the following:

Your actual physical location, including a street address I can plug into my GPS. You’d be amazed how many churches think it’s enough to announce themselves as the Central Congregational Church and don’t even tell me what STATE you’re in, let alone the city. SOME OF US TRAVEL A LOT. Be clear and explicit.

Clear, obvious information about your SUNDAY services on the front page. Yes, it’s great that you promoted your Christmas Eve services, but I had to click through with a magnifying glass in hand to figure out what was happening on December 22 or December 29th. Don’t make seekers do that.

Information about parking. Where can I park? Tell me right on the website! Last Sunday I stupidly parked in the church driveway and got blocked in by oher cars. It would also be welcoming to know what door I should enter through. How many of you serve as pastors in buildings where many of the exterior doors of your big ole buildings are locked? It’s a miserable physical and emotional experience walking around a church trying doors, especially when it’s cold out.

Genuine Welcome

I recently walked into the foyer of a church and stood there for a good two or three minutes being aggressively ignored by the ushers/greeters. Of course I am perfectly capable of asking for an order of service and seating myself, but I wanted to see how long it might take before they paid attention to the newcomer in their midst. After the few minutes, I took a couple of steps closer to the chatters. I didn’t exactly clear my throat but let’s just say that I looked expectant. One of the women looked me up and down like I was an errant cockroach and said “YOU LOOK LOST.”

That may be the single most terrible thing I have ever heard a church greeter say, and I have heard a lot of off-putting “welcomes” (ex. “Is your husband joining you?” and “Are you here with your family?” — to which I responded, “The Christian community is my family,” which flummoxed that Nice White Lady pretty thoroughly). I responded to this woman with a plastic smile, “I’m standing in a church foyer ten minutes before your worship service. I am a visitor to your church and have clearly come to worship with you. No, I am not lost. Perhaps you could just say ‘good morning’ and give me a program?”

I get bitchy because one rude person can undo the work of an entire community with an unkind comment that may turn away an anxious newcomer. How do we not realize in this day and age that the act of walking thorugh the doors of a house of worship for the first time is a risk, an act of courage borne of deep spiritual yearning or other serious need? Ushers, greeters, clergy, and the community need to remember this at all times and hold it before us as our commission: acknowledge those brave souls with a kind word!

Maybe the woman greeting that morning who stared me square in the face and said, “You look lost” and later stood at the Communion rail literally scowling at those queuing up for Communion and not offering a whispered word of instruction to this confused visitor has poor social skills or is neurodivergent. Whatever the case, she is almost certainly at least capable of not insulting or neglecting visitors. You, the Minister, must break the dysfunctional family system that too often indulges silence around this kind of issue in the name of Christian love and acceptance. It is not loving to leave someone in a position of offering hospitality on behalf of the church who has not been nurtured and trained to do a good job in the role. Not everyone is a natural! Greeting and ushering and offering hospitality can also be awkward, scary and challenging for good folks. Help them do their best. Do not neglect this pastoral obligation.

Happy ending, though: a lovely, smiling and relaxed church member helped me to know where to stand during Communion, lots of people passed me the peace, and later, a teenaged girl who was wearing Crocs under her choir robe spotted me in the corridor to the restroom made direct, friendly eye contact with me and said with utter sincerity, “Hi, I hope we’ll see you on Christmas Eve!”

Because of that invitation and the other beauty I experienced in this church, I will be attending their 4PM Christmas Eve service tonight.

Now, sugar plums, go check that website, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Make sure you leave no detail out. Tell them about the time, the place, the door, the accessibility, the accomodation for children and infants (Are they actually welcome, merely tolerated, scowled at? Is there a nursery?) and also please don’t fail to include information about December 29th. You may not be preaching and it might be a “low Sunday,” but worshipers need to know what’s going on through all of Christmas, which is not one day.


Mwah, kiss of peace.

A Word To The Creepers

I got permission from my friend, the Rev. Kaji Dousa, to share a pointed Facebook post she wrote last week when she was attending a conference. The sad thing is that although we could read this as a bit of “hot goss,” it’s a strong statement that could have been written by many of us while at many church conferences.

Time is UP, boys.

We’re not going to giggle and dodge your icky hugs, your ass gropings, your comments about our boobs, your sexist put-downs and come-ons. We’re going to look you in the eye and say, “Who the hell do you think you are, and who do you think you’re talking to?”

We’re not just going to share what happened to us through the whisper network, we’re going to organize a formal response and report you. We are going to hold you accountable for behaving like a pig, and we’re going to make sure that you are no longer allowed to be a malignant presence that assures that women remain on the margins of our work and our gatherings.

Women are gathering power and learning how to use it. Some of you who have been getting away with your predatory behavior for years will no doubt pout and whine and claim that you are the victim of a witch hunt. To that I will respond with the words of Lindy West, “Yes, this is a witch hunt. I am a witch, and I’m hunting you.”

Kaji wrote,

I am delighted to be at this conference (& anywhere else, for that matter) to learn and grow.

I am the Senior Pastor of a church with a multi-million dollar annual budget. This means that most of my peers are men. I will talk to them. Do not assume or presume anything in these conversations except collegiality.

So no, my conversation with my friend/colleague should not be characterized as him talking to his “girlfriend”. Comments like this are a clear attempt to diminish my power and to put me in my “place” so that I cannot network and speak to the men with whom I need to be in collegial relationship. I am not here for this, nor should you be.

If I am friendly to you I am not flirting with you. There are no exceptions to this.

My attention to my aesthetics is not an invitation for sexual advances.

I am *NOT HERE* to hook up with you or anyone else.

So don’t test me with a lingering hand or an inappropriate joke. I may choose to laugh things off to diffuse tensions but that is not affirmation that you should try more.

Do not presume anything but my integrity and my fidelity to my vows. If you forget about this, you have permission to allow the unmistakably bright rocks on my left finger (though this shouldn’t be necessary) to serve as a reminder.

Just because you remove your ring before conferences (yes, this is a thing) doesn’t mean that the rest of us do or want to.

I thought that this would get better once I got married but then I remembered that no one is safe.

If any of this describes your behavior towards me or something you witnessed, please don’t slide into my DMs or corner me in the hallway with comments, excuses or apologies. I’m so accustomed to all of this that I’m not even mad. All I want is for this to stop. Don’t explain. Just do better.

And finally, for God’s sake: do not pet my foot. (!!!)

Alright. Carry on.


Don’t look for a sparkling ring on our left hand, either. None of us, married or not, are at conferences to provide cruising material for you. Stop sexualizing our encounters. Don’t hold me for an extra long hug: yuck. If I am charming, gregarious, engaged and cute it doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you. If I do want to venture into that territory I will let you know directly because I’m a grown-ass woman and not a target. In twenty-two years of ministry I have briefly dated one colleague. When he first propositioned me he was in final fellowship, still married, and I was a seminarian. I’ve learned a lot since then. I did tell him off at the time but I also should have reported him to the Association. He was a charming, self-effacing and serial violator of professional boundaries.

I am grateful to Kaji and to all the other women in ministry who support each other in dealing effectively with the pervasive culture of objectification and sexism in our collegial circles. Thank you also to the men and trans folk who speak up and out against this harrassment, who do not protect predators and who do not constantly expect women to do all the emotional labor addressing this issue. Thank you to the conscientious leaders within our denominations who are working to change structures of reporting and accountability for greater impact and health in our ministry.

Looking forward to hearing from other women in the comments. Cis-het men,it would be good if you would sit this one out and just listen.

If we’re not really close friends, don’t come at me like this. If I want to hug you I can make the first move.