Directing Worship and Flubs


I am SO not set. Today was the Children’s Pageant and I have been obsessing about the service on the 23rd and Christmas Eve (we don’t have a Christmas Day service). Then, a mere few days off and we bang right into the New Year’s Eve service! Not exactly, but almost. OMG WHAT TO DO?

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about!
I want to talk about what to do when you mess up worship.
I also want to talk about the fact that you’re a theatrical director, did you know that?
Yea, I’ll talk about that, too. Comment! Weigh in! Tell me if you learned anything!

Mary Poppins Returns… To Church!

Now, keep in mind as you listen to me cackle my lungs out that this is probably the tenth time watching this clip of a preacher levitating while giving his sermon:

This reminded me of a final dress rehearsal I attended last month for a production of “Peter Pan” directed by a dear friend. One of the details that made the show work so well was that the flying was very carefully choreographed. The children and Peter Pan knew what to do at take-off, while airborne, and while landing. Because the actors knew how to hold themselves gracefully, they never looked like they had been accidentally hooked by the back of their collars to a ski lift like this poor man does.

I hope he had so much fun. He certainly committed news, and that isn’t a bad thing.
But the moral of the story is, whether you’re getting yourself into a story, a ritual or an actual physical levitation (!), please at least think through — and rehearse of possible — what you are doing with your body and words at the beginning, throughout, and at the end. So many creative worship ideas or traditional liturgies are disempowered by worship leaders who have a poorly executed concept and don’t know how to stick the landing.

Michael, Wendy, John, Tinkerbelle, COME ON! “Peter Pan” at The Norwood Theatre.

What To Wear To The Protest

It’s hot.
You need to walk, or to be outdoors, for hours.
You need also to be dignified and not look like a wacky hippie no one needs to take seriously.

WE LIVE IN A VISUAL AGE. Remember that.
No matter how stirring your rhetoric or how burning your passion for justice, this is about image.
As you well know, one image of a child weeping for his mother has been more powerful than a thousand editorials decrying the Trump regime’s cruel policies.

You are part of that story as it is being told and reported.
We will be out a lot this summer, I suspect.
Get an elegant sunhat.
Groom your hair, your skin, your clothing, your visible legs (if they are visible), your feet.
Being out of doors does not automatically grant any of us permission to look like we’re on a camping trip just because we’re exposed to the elements.

No whining.
Dr. King marched in a suit. No one is asking you to wear a suit.
No one is telling you to march in heels and cocktail dresses, although it has been done and you won’t die.
No one is asking that you wear petticoats and corsets, although that too has been done.

Do not throw together a bunch of floppy, patterned garments, put a stole over those and consider yourself ready to represent moral authority. Your stole does not miraculously bestow dignity upon the wearer: trim your beard, wash your hair, put it back or cover it neatly. Cotton pants are better than shorts for protecting your legs from the sun: consider white linen or cotton pants.
Bras need to fit. Yes, no one likes foundation garments in the summer but they’re mandatory for those who want to look professional.

It is true that fannypacks are back in fashion, sort of, so make that work for you. However, check that the belt around your waist isn’t hiking up your skirt or making a mess of your shirt or blouse. Stick to neutral colors.

Please consider the tone and gravitas of your selfies: are you there as a social event, to self-promote, or to keep the focus on the victims of injustice? I’m not saying you can’t have fun or be joyful, but it is jarring to compare the suffering of the vulnerable with the “WOOT WOOT LOOKIT ME/US” images splashed across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Virtue-signaling is a real thing and it’s not a good look on anyone. I personally don’t need to see the tonsils or up the nose of any self-congratulatory white liberals “WOOTING” into their cameras on social media today. Call me cranky. I want us to have an impact.

Stay hydrated.
Participate however you can – marching is just one way.

Whatever you do, don’t stop with today. We must continue to engage and to equip and mobilize ourselves and others for action.

And yes, I meant what I said about fannypacks (hat tip to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg for confirming the terrible truth about the Return Of The Fannypack).

Crazy Candidating Week Schedules

So you got the invitation from the Search Committee to be their candidate!! CONGRATULATIONS!!
The next step is to meet the whole congregation during the ordeal we call Candidating Week.

Soon, or already, you will receive/have received a bewildering schedule for the week that contains about four times as many appointments and obligations as you would have in the normal course of your work, and that’s insane. DO NOT ACCEPT THIS SCHEDULE AS A DONE DEAL.

Get out your red pen and get to work. Create a reasonable schedule that allows for you to meet the important groups and people you need to meet, NOT all of the people the Search Committee has determined you ought to meet. Remember that they’re excited, you’re a hot ticket, and they have never done this before. They are hearing from all kinds of eager folks who are anxiously trying to get some time with you. These are their friends, fellow church leaders, and those to whom they are accountable in this work. Of course they want to try to please their constituents! Don’t freak out.

But remember: the Search Committee, leaders and congregation can tag team through this process. When an individual or team gets exhausted, they can take a break and reappear a few days later.
You are one person.


Not only are you one person, you are one person who most likely has another congregation to get back to at the conclusion of this candidating experience; a congregation with whom you want to do a good and grounded leave-taking process. It is insensitive and inconsiderate for congregations in search to assume that any clergyperson can travel a short or long distance to meet dozens to hundreds of new people over the course of one week, have multiple important conversations per day, research their new geographical area and do house hunting and possibly school visits for children, craft two worship services with church staff and lay liturgists, meet and work with administrative staff who may also have an official or unofficial say in the selection process, check in with local colleagues and then return to their current ministry setting anything but completely drained.

YOU ARE ONE PERSON, and you are an ordained spiritual leader. Now is the time for you to model reasonable expectations and to lead by example. In a non-anxious way, simply respond to the schedule with your revisions in a spirit of collaboration and conversation. Don’t be defensive; remember, the Search Committee may be working off a boilerplate schedule they got from All Souls Workaholic Overachievers Church. So you simply say, “I think we can combine the religious education committee and worship team meet-and-greet on Thursday afternoon, and then I’ll be meeting with a realtor at 3PM. I’ll plan to be back in the office on Friday at 9:00 AM because my family and I will be having dinner together that night.”

“The board meeting will be a big one, and I’m going to be scheduling a meeting immediately afterward with the chair and the treasurer to go over some questions I have about the Letter of Agreement, so the potluck with the choir won’t work for that day. How about if I come to their rehearsal a half hour early so we can chat then?”

You’re the professional. They are not in this profession and are making their best, most educated guess as to what a good Candidating Week looks like. Show, guide, converse, teach. Discuss. If there’s a retired or active pastor on the team that put together the schedule who pushes back, smile and red flag that. That person has just identified themselves as a competitor, not a congregant.

This is an opportunity for you to find out what kind of relationship the congregation wants to have with their minister: collaborative and considerate, spiritually mature, supportive? Or resentful and demanding, with grumbling when you suggest reasonable alternatives to an unrealistic, barely survivable schedule?

You will learn a lot. Assume the best intentions of everyone and be ye not afraid. You got this.

Kiss of peace, PB

#MeToo And Ministry

Happy Spring? I think? We had snow yesterday and I keep slipping just enough to twinge a groin muscle that I sprained badly in JANUARY, which is entirely charming and doesn’t at all make me feel like I’m 106 years old.

I have a serious subject to raise with you, clergy colleagues. I spent much of Friday night on the phone with a female colleague hearing about yet another case of sexual misconduct within our ranks — and trying to stategize an appropriate response with her within our current structures.

Lately, I have been adding up all the hours I have spent over the years discussing male ministers’ casual, jokey sexism — and in some cases actual groping and assault — against female colleagues and church staff, and I am angry at the theft of all our time and energy. I serve in the most lefty Protestant denomination in the country (we’re so Left, many of our members and clergy would deny we’re even Protestant at all, but we most definitely are in the sociological sense, if not theologically). We should know better. We have been doing work on human sexuality for decades and were the first (or second) to ordain women in the 19th century.

We do not know any better. Those of us who blow the whistle are still accused of being uptight and complaints or corrections in the moment are mostly either laughed off or diminished. Because we’re so bad at intersectionalism, we have been told that we’re “whiny white women” (this by other white leaders).

Particularly since #MeToo, women ministers have been talking amongst ourselves about how sick and tired we are of tolerating objectification, icky jokes, outright discrimination and uncomfortable situations with colleagues.
I am thinking of a wonderful woman colleague who went to peck the cheek of an esteemed old male colleague in greeting at an event she was hosting at her church. He quickly maneuvered his face and stuck his tongue in her mouth. She was shocked, horrified and traumatized, and still is. While she was still mulling over what to do, he sent her an e-mail thanking her for hosting the event and quoth, “Your tongue tastes like heaven.’

She did not file a complaint for reasons of her own, but continues to struggle emotionally with the fallout from this disgusting assault. Again, a terrible theft of her time, energy, wellness and sense of safety in the environment of collegial gatherings.

One of the reasons ministers in my denomination hesitate to report our colleagues for skeevy behavior is that our collegial covenant is outdated and paternalistic, and presumes some sort of baseline decency among our ranks that does not exist. Our covenant pressures all of us in ministry to assume best intentions of one another, to speak directly with one another when grievances arise (can you imagine being expected to speak to someone who has assaulted you? Try that in real life!), and to work things out with a Good Officer — a third party whose role it is to help the colleagues have the necessary conversation, to listen well, and to facilitate a fair process.

We call bullshit. We are not family, and we are not friends. We are a group of professional colleagues who have all been through the same rigorous educational, training, screening, vetting and discernment process that tries, but cannot possibly assure, that we are mature, healthy people with appropriate boundaries and egalitarian attitudes and practices. If we don’t know by now that such rigorous training is no assurance against the ancient assumptions and attitudes of patriarchy, we are practicing willful ignorance.

I have zero patience for the “oh, this is turning into a witch hunt” complaint. As Lindy West wrote, “Yes, this is a witch hunt. I’m a Witch, and I’m hunting you.”

I would like to know what your denominations have in place that specifically address sexual misconduct among religious professionals.