Claim Your Authority

I don’t know if I have said this before, but don’t you DARE pull a “gee-whiz, little ole ME?” when you get called to a new pulpit or entrusted with a position of authority in your church, denomination, diocese, etc.

ESPECIALLY if you’re a woman!

I see so many clergy women get called to a pulpit and tweet or post something like, “I don’t know what I did to earn such a deep privilege but I’ll give it all I got and hope I don’t screw it up!”

This may be a tiny bit of an exagerration (you know how I am) but not much. Gag! Barf! Stop it!

You do too know what you did. You responded faithfully to a call to ministry. You trained. You studied. You wrote papers until 2AM. You juggled jobs and family responsibilities and you met the requirements of the several internship and field placements you were required to fulfill over years. You got certified in clinical pastoral education. You were evaluated up the wazoo, you went before numerous committees and wrote hundreds of pages of theological exegesis about your own vocation and fitness for ministry. You underwent a psychiatric evaluation. You trained under mentors. You became a fully competent professional religious leader. If you were promoted to a higher office, it’s because you are a trusted and respected religious leader.

If you are a clergywoman serving in the United States right now, it is most certainly not the time for humble pie and “shucks, kids” public presence. No one is served by your excessive humility. If you aren’t accustomed to issuing a professional statement about your new ministry setting, call me. I will be most happy to wordsmith one with you that adequately represents the gravitas of the moment and that doesn’t shortchange your preparation and credentials.

Here’s a sample: “I am very happy to have been called as the settled minister at First Parish Unitarian Church of Nunchucks, New Jersey. I so look forward to our work together to bring about the beloved community of peace and justice in our community.”

No coy smiles. No toe digging in the dirt. “I am honored to be named Supreme Most High Reverend of the Tabernacle Congregation of God’s Left Earlobe. I pray that we will do fatihful and good ministry together.”

That’s IT. It’s not hard. Wipe out the hesitancy and the verbal curtseys. Practice until it becomes comfortable to speak about your accomplishments as a natural result of your hard work and worthiness.

Also, make it your business to make sure that no one submits any images of you to any press outlet that doesn’t flatter you personally and professionally. Do not allow a photographer to pose you like this (“toilet pose”). No infantilizing pigeon toes (can you imagine posing a man like this?). And that typeface should be exiled to the island of Malta for the rest of its life. Miss Kim here is a make-up guru and I bought one of her eye pencils, so sorry for making an example of you, ma’am, but I’ve seen clergywomen posed like this and it needed to be illustrated.

Claim your authority. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for other women who need to see you do it.

“Hey Pastor, Can We Meet?”

It took me two seconds to screenshot this Tweet from an active parish minister, save it and share it.

Before I get into how to manage this kind of request, let me say that it is never, ever advisable to reference a communication or conversation with an individual from your church or ministry practice on social media. If your parishioner could recognize themselves in a critical post, delete it. You are destroying trust and your post might even be construed as a violation of confidentiality.

If you want to use your socials as a passive-aggressive management mechanism, then by all means talk trash about your clients or parishioners! And good luck with that.

I say this myself as a social media pugilist who fights a lot of people on-line and with great gusto! The people I don’t discuss online are those in my spiritual care, unless it is to post general comments about the work of ministry on my own private Facebook page where only friends will see it. I save all “can you believe someone behaved like this” content for closed clergy support groups conducted on Zoom or Signal.

Don’t assume that anything is ever private; it took me two seconds to screenshot this post and to link to the thread that follows (which is a great conversation!).

We can all agree that no one loves to get vague requests; it is a best practice to ask for meetings and to be asked for meetings with a sense of what the topics will be. For my own ministry, I need to know how to prioritize: I immediately clear my schedule for people in serious crisis, whereas a casual exploratory conversation about programs or the church in general get scheduled like any other meeting. Board leaders and ministry team chairs get my attention right away for a brief check-in, during which we may schedule a longer talk for as soon as we both have time. I drop everything for the board president because the person in that role often has immediate business to deal with, and they have almost always been a person with a full time job handling a huge amount of responsibility on behalf of the church. I am there for them 24/7 and so far, no one has ever abused that ultra-availability. Your mileage may vary.

So again, this is a great conversation! I agree with the colleagues who advise a response of “Sure, I’m happy to meet but I need to know the general topic so I can plan.” That’s not an unreasonable request, but help your caller identify their category. Are they in crisis? Do they need spiritual support for a family/job/life issue? Are we talking about leadership? Are we talking about programming? Are we talking about staff issues? Is this a general complaint/venting?

All of these things are legitimate, ordinary reasons to want to talk to the minister. None of them should cause you, the pastor, undue anxiety: you have adeptly responded to all of these kinds of needs in the past, and you will in the future. We are all a bit fried right now, trauma-reactive, and we should be able to recognize that, get extra support for it, and even explain this in a non-anxious way to our people. Honesty, what a concept! Remember that how we respond to things that make us anxious are still a model for our communities.

“I’d love to meet. I do have a lot of scheduled meetings in the next several days, but I want to make time for you right away if this is a crisis. Please be honest, are you okay?”

“Happy to get together. It would help me know how much time to schedule if you give me a sense of what’s on your mind.”

“I’d love to talk to you, I know you’ve been frustrated with x lately, do you think we should include So-And-So in our conversation?”

I code my conversations in my calendar, and I really like doing that as it normalizes every kind of conversation we are likely to have: “Pastoral/Leadership/ProgramIdeas/ComplaintDept/RightRelations”

From my vantage point twenty-five years into parish ministry, I can confidently say that the vast majority of “Can we talk, I want to tell you something” requests are not about you at all, and are nothing to be anxious about.

Take care of yourselves and your anxiety, pigeons. Kiss of peace.

Online Worship Tips: CoronaChurch

I just watched my 37-minute Facebook Live broadcast worship and ran on here to give myself feedback from which you might also benefit!

We talk Hair!
We talk camera angle!
We talk song leading!
We talk about my favorite illustrator, Kay Nielsen (whose name is pronounced “KIE,” not “Kay” but I was flustered).

One thing I forgot to mention that was also nice and interactive: I asked those watching to hold up their “blessing hands” when I gave the online Benediction.

I also like that I stayed on camera for a few seconds after the “service” concluded to mention that we would be moving to Zoom Social Hour soon (keep your fingers crossed for next week!).

Blessings, friends. You’re doing great.

Command Central

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?

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.