Knowing What Your Congregation Pledges

A thread on Twitter today made me want to blog a longer explanation of why deciding not to know what individual parishioners pledge is not the holy flex some pastors want to think it is.

The big argument put forth by the OP (original poster) is that she feels that knowing this information creates a bias or power dynamic that she wants to avoid.

If knowing what your congregation is pledging will harden your heart against them or create a sense of favorites, please search your soul. Take it up with your spiritual director. This is not a mature response to information about your church’s finances and stewardship spirit.

I call this approach the “precious piety” style of pastoral leadership, where the clergy is just too holy or whatever to dirty their hands with such matters as filthy lucre.

My grandfather was the Treasurer of his Greek Orthodox church for seventy years. So it was okay for him to know how much the members of his community gave financially to the church but not for the priest to know? I have no idea what his priests did in this matter but they raised a lot of money, so I suspect that they were fully informed.
If the priests avoided this administrative work, the implication is clear: the clergy must be distanced from this knowledge but it’s fine to burden the lay leaders with the entirety of the financial information, or to task them with feeding the pastor little kiddie-sized bites of it so as not to soil their opinion of people they have taken sacred vows to care for.

Got it.
As if money isn’t a prevalent reality for literally everyone in our communities.

What pastors who intentionally refuse to know what their parishioners give are saying is, “I can’t be trusted with this information,” or “I agree with you that I can’t be trusted with this information.” Neither of those options affirms pastoral integrity — and both need to be challenged. If a bishop or diocese or higher authority dictates this policy, this member of the clergy in the Free Church tradition thinks that’s a real tell regarding the hierarchy’s assumptions of the character of their clergy (or their own integrity). They worry about unconscious bias? So what are their policies around blocking clergy access to information about their parishioners that might trigger priests’ unconscious bias around gender, race, educational levels, home decor, weight and dietary choices, choice of spouse, child-rearing style, and… you get my point. Finance phobia is just that. Clergy are subject to have opinions of their people as a matter of being human. That is why we are expected to engage in strenuous spiritual practice to the goal of compassion, appreciation, love, forgiveness and the seeking of grace.

What does it say, Biblically, when pastors refuse to sit at the table with the stewardship chair or other key financial officer of the church to do a review of the annual giving campaign?
“This isn’t spiritual enough for me” or “I am too fragile to have access to information about members of our community: please handle all of this alone” is an abdication of leadership support for finance folks and I think it’s unbiblical to boot.

Finally, if the argument is, “Well, I am not afraid to know anything about my parishioners except what they give the church because my paycheck depends on their contributions,” then you’re saying that you can’t separate your position as spiritual and administrative leader of the church from your anxiety about your personal job security. That is understandable, just say that. Maybe the notion of seeing names and dollar amounts fills your with anxiety and messes with your feelings for people. Just say that. It’s your issue, it’s your decision, it may be something you inherited in the church culture when you got there and you have decided not to challenge it, that’s fine. Just don’t spiritualize it, please.

Bad Camera Angles

Hello, good people!

Isn’t it incredible how we are all learning how to produce church from our desks? So weird, so disorienting, and I was super sad today when I put my robe and stole in a garment bag knowing that it will be many a month before I will be wearing it with my people again.

This Sunday was to be my celebratory return to church after a sabbatical. It is the 7th anniversary of my call to my congregation. And it’s Mother’s Day and my mom died six weeks ago.

Is it any surprise that I have a huge cold sore on my face?

ANYWAY, it helps me very much to feel useful to you, so I have put together what I hope are edifying and entertaining (in a gentle teasing way) series of Bad On-Camera Ministry Angles:

THE GLORIA SWANSON

CAMERA, CAMERA, WHERE IS THE CAMERA?

THE NOSTRIL CAM

And my final in the series,

THE VON TRAPP

The Von Trapp is when you have pressed your kids or spouse into service as a worship team. The strain is palpable, the awkwardness is distracting, and people like me think that life is stressful and socially traumatic enough right now for children. Unless they’re on the payroll, let them be. We all miss our worship teams, but your family deserves their privacy, and that forced Von Trapp energy is inauthentic and upsetting. Someone like me can spot fake dialogue six miles away, and oof. If you have a child actor, put them in a theatre class. Don’t make them play themselves as a character for your ministry. And since I’m on the subject, PLEASE make sure not to make the people you live with the butt of jokes in sermons, or to use them as sermon illustrations without their non-coerced persmission. We should all have plenty of inner and external resources for preaching or giving messages right now without exploiting the suffering and confusion being experienced by children or housemates of any age (but especially children).

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

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.

YES, MA’AM.

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.

Directing Worship and Flubs

ARE YOU READY?
ARE YOU SET?

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!